5 Apr 2019, 10.00

The Joint Committee on Housing, Planning & Local Government has examined matters relating to the establishment of a national election and referendum study that would provide knowledge and evidence-based research arising from the democratic electoral process.

The Committee has detailed its recommendations in the report on Engagement on a National Election and Referendum Study. It reflects the Committee’s view that an important aspect of democracy involves an understanding of electorate behaviour and attitudes.

 “To ensure that we continue to have a strong democracy it is important that we have a thorough analysis of elections and referendums, to allow us to better understand the impact of such elections for the benefit of policy makers and citizens. The Joint Committee gained valuable insights and these are reflected within the contents of the report”, said Committee Chair Maria Bailey TD.

The Committee engaged with stakeholders to assess the potential of establishing an electoral study that would provide a permanent democratic audit process and contribute to electoral analysis.  

The witnesses informed the Committee that prior to 2007, funding was provided to enable analysis and studies of elections. The economic crisis led to a reduction in available finance and since then political scientists have had to secure ad-hoc funding for election or referendum research. Moreover, the Committee learned that no funding has ever been provided on a permanent footing for referendum research. As a consequence, limited studies of the 2011 and 2016 elections occurred.

The Committee discussed several matters relevant to the undertaking of a study, including:

  •   Evidence of best practice both at a European and International level;
  •   Format of any proposed study and criteria to be used as part of sampling;
  •   Means to ensure that studies remain independent and transparent;
  •   Management of the process and appointment of qualified personnel;
  •   Costs associated with undertaking such exercises.

The Committee recommends that the relevant Departments and stakeholders continue to engage constructively in developing an appropriate study for Ireland. In the interim, the Committee recommends that a funding line be provided to enable the undertaking of a study of the series of upcoming elections. The Committee also supports that the Electoral Commission when established be sufficiently resourced to manage the undertaking of future studies of elections and referendums.  

Members also stated that in order for the study to be truly democratic, it was imperative that it would be properly funded on a public basis. It was also important that such studies should be permanent and not subject to fluctuations in the economic cycle. The Committee considered it important to ensure that any research undertaken would be independent, scientific, transparent, and maintain the highest standards of integrity.

The Joint Committee is fully committed to monitoring progress of implementation of the report’s recommendations detailed below.

  • Evidence based research and analysis is critical to understanding and developing the democratic process and public value benefits far outweighs the cost.
  • A dedicated permanent and public funding line be established to support the undertaking of electoral and referenda studies.
  • In the interim, for the next General Election, that a funding line be established for electoral research until an Electoral Commission is established.
  • The Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government engage constructively with stakeholders in regard to finalising the appropriate funding structure for electoral studies.
  • All such studies should be published and made available to the public within a specified timeframe following the conclusion of any election/referendum.
  • This report be debated in both Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann.

The full report can be viewed here

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