Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Democracy and a referendum on fiscal union in Ireland

Many people understand democracy only in terms of the will and dominance of the majority. However, as was well recognised by Thomas Jefferson and many others, majorities can be just as tyrannical as the worst dictators. That is why the free world operates under a system of constitutional democracy, which has other elements in the mix, like parliamentary representation and a constitution that guarantees the rights, not only of minorities, but of the individual.  
A referendum in Ireland on EU fiscal union will, almost certainly, be bedeviled by euro skeptic campaigners who will be quite happy to condemn the Irish people to all the very significant disadvantages of having to operate, in a globalised marketplace, outside of the membership of a major monetary unit, so long as they can strike a blow against abortion / the end of neutrality / the perceived defects of current government / whatever you're having yourself.  
At the end of the process it will be discovered, yet again, that half or less of those entitled to do so will have actually voted. Therefore the outcome will go to the faction that is best able to mobilise its troops.  
In the referendums on the constitution that were held in the years in the chart at the top, on no less than four occasions the turnout was below 50%. For what it’s worth, at those times a majority of the people was saying, in effect, that it did not want referendums. On no occasion was the turnout greater than 60% and in many cases it just managed to pull above the 50% level. In the 17th amendment referendum, on cabinet confidentiality, the number in favour was 52.6% of those who voted, but this was a mere 23.5% of all registered voters. Significantly less than a quarter of the eligible voters in the state were thus able to have the constitution changed. This was not really a good exercise in democracy.

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