Survey: TDs 'put constituents before national affairs'

National politicians rate tackling issues in their own backyard as being more important than developing new laws, it was revealed today.

An Oireachtas survey found Dáil deputies spend more than half their time on constituency work and just over a third on legislative matters.

And the majority of TDs said they were in parliament to represent the interests of voters back home rather than people across the country.

Sean Ardagh, chair of the Joint Committee on the Constitution, which carried out the study, said for every hour a TD spends working on new laws, almost an hour and a half is devoted to constituency matters.

“According to the survey, TDs typically see their role as being primarily constituency representatives and they rate constituency-based activities as more important than legislative activities,” Mr Ardagh said.

Dealing with individual constituents’ cases accounted for just over a fifth of TDs’ average workload.

The survey also revealed an identical study carried out in Malta found that while MPs in the Mediterranean Island hold down other jobs as well as their political roles, they give equal time to constituency and legislative work.

And in terms of the role of politicians, more emphasis is placed on national issues.

The survey of 74 Dáil deputies also found the majority of members wanted to keep the current electoral system, although the numbers opting for change jumped just over a half in the last 11 years.

Key findings from the Joint Committee on the Constitution report include:

:: 53% of TDs spend their time on constituency matters and 38% on legislative work;

:: TDs typically see their role as being primarily constituency representatives. They rate constituency-based activities as more important than legislative activities;

:: When asked who a TD should represent, the highest ranking option was all voters in their constituency, rather than their own supporters, their party’s supporters, or all voters in the country;

:: Female TDs appear to engage in slightly higher levels of constituency work than males;

:: The study found that the amount of time spent on constituency work increased with distance from Dublin and the presence of inter-party competition;

:: The majority of members favour retaining the electoral system with 43% in favour of changing and 57% in favour of keeping the current system. But support for change jumped from 27% recorded in a 1999 survey;

:: There was also a range of opinions on the current electoral system, with 31% saying they were extremely satisfied, 36% fairly satisfied, and 25% not happy.

Mr Ardagh said the Committee on the Constitution was carrying out an in-depth examination of the current electoral system.

The Fianna Fáil deputy said members would be questioning whether the system of proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote in multi-seat constituencies was fully inclusive.

The most popular alternative proposed by members who wanted electoral change was the ’mixed system’, used in both Germany and New Zealand.

It gives voters two votes – one for a particular candidate and the second for a party.

The second most preferred electoral system is the ’Alternative Vote’, which maintains the current system of vote transfers, but operates in single-seat constituencies.

Suggestions were also made for improving the electoral system, including randomising candidates’ names on the ballot paper, lowering the voting age, altering constituency sizes and improving the voting register.

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