Participation in Democratic Process
The right to participate in politics and public affairs is a fundamental feature of democracy. The integrity of the political process is fundamental to democracy. The Constitution includes provisions that seek to maintain equality and structure in the political process and election.
See the section on the referenda in relation to the McKenna judgment affecting the use of the public funds to advocate changes in the Constitution. McKenna was followed in McCrystal v. Minister for Children where the Supreme Court found that publications by the government before the children’s referendum in favour of a, yes vote, was not fair, equal or impartial and in disregard of the principles of the McKenna case.
Neither the Constitution nor legislation regulate political parties to any significant extent.. However, political parties are an integral part of the functioning of the political and governmental system. The Electoral Acts govern elections and the range of issues regarding candidature, political funding, canvassing, etc.
In order to register as a party, it must be organised in the State or part of the State to contest elections and must have a minimum membership of 300 members or 100 if operating in part of the State only, or contesting local elections only. This does not apply where the party has an existing sitting TD or MEP.
Party’s name must not be too confusingly similar to that of an existing registered party. It must have no more than six words in the title. If it operates in part only of the State, this must be set out in the name of the party.
In Loftus v Attorney General, the Plaintiff sought to register a party to be known as the Christian Democratic Party of Ireland. The Registrar refused the registration on the basis that it was not a genuine party, organised to contest elections. The Tribunal rejected its appeal and on an appeal to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Tribunal that the party was not adequately organised to contest an election. The claimant had run in one constituency only for many years.
The Electoral Act as amended provides for funding of political parties who have achieved at least 2% of the first preference vote at the last general election. The funding has been increased and laterally decreased following the economic crisis. The four main political parties receive funding of approximately €6 million annually.
Money may be used towards the party’s general administration for research, training, policy formation and for party activities. It may be used for the general conduct and management of its affairs and the lawful pursuit of its objects. Parties who received State funds must furnish returns of how they spend the money to the Standards in Public Office Commission.
Gender quotas provide for a 50% reduction in State support for political parties unless at least 30% of the candidates are men or women, which ratio is to increase to 40%.
Article 27 of the Constitution provides that a Bill may be submitted by the President to the people for a consultative referendum, where it contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people ought to be ascertained. This may arise where a Bill is passed by a majority of the Seanad and at least one-third of the members of the Dail have petitioned the President. The Presider
The Bill is deemed passed if approved in the subsequent referendum. At least one-third of the entire electorate must constitute the majority. If the referendum is not passed, the President may not sign the law into being, unless following dissolution of the Dail and reassembling, a resolution is passed approving its contents.
In Coughlan v. Broadcasting Complaints Commission, a complaint was made about RTE’s coverage of the divorce referendum in 1995. Most of the major parties supported a yes vote and each received party political broadcast time with a result that the yes side received 80% of the allocated time. The Supreme Court majority held that “vote no2 side had been unconstitutionally discriminated against. The minority found that the criteria were not unreasonable.
In Colgan v Independent Radio and Television Commission, a constitutional challenge to the prohibition on political advertising was rejected. Political ends need not be those of a registered political party. The case involved an advertisement by Youth Defence, an advocacy group in relation to abortion.
In Madigan v. RTE, the fairness of RTE’s coverage of independent candidates in a general election was challenged. It was held that the test was whether the approach was so unreasonable and irrational as to be beyond common sense or be undertaken in bad faith. This was not found to be so.
In Green Party v. RTE, it was argued that this judicial review standard of review was inappropriate, given the constitutional nature of the rights and that stricter standards should be applied. The argument was rejected in the context of coverage of a party conference.