The O’Callaghan / O’Brien Triangle

Jim O'Callaghan TD
Jim O’Callaghan TD, Dublin Bay South

If you’ve read this link Representative Government? Democracy? Oligarchy? you’ll understand that oligarchy is government by the few, while democracy is government by the many.

As it also pointed out in that post, oligarchy does not arise through some secret or malicious intent, but instead through complacency.

A good example of this has surfaced in the aftermath of the 2016 Irish General Election.

In the constituency of Dublin Bay South, the Fianna Fail candidate, Jim O’Callaghan was elected to the 32nd Dail.

Jim O’Callaghan is the brother of one of Ireland’s most influential media personalities, Miriam O’Callaghan, who anchors several current affairs programmes on RTE, who previously had her own talk show and who chaired the final televised leaders debate in the run up to the election.

Jim O’Callaghan is also a Senior Counsel (a barrister), and has represented both GMC Sierra (who install our water meters under contract from Irish Water) and Denis O’Brien, owner of Ireland largest media group, Independent News and Media.

There is no suggestion that any of these people have used their influence to the benefit of any of the others, or that any have executed their public and professional duties in anything other than a legal and impartial way.

However, what this type of relationship does point to is the exclusivity of effective power, and the impregnability of the barriers that exist between ordinary people and the institutions of government.

Democracy is not something than can exist in theory only. For it have legitimacy, it must exist in practice. The use of elections cannot be relied on for this, as evidenced above.

Record levels of funding committed by Oil and Gas industry to US Presidential Election

Sortition Ireland takes no position on environmental policy issues, but this report does indicate the extent to which money influences the outcome of elections.

It is the view of Sortition Ireland that elections are being increasingly influenced by money and that this diminishes the democratic legitimacy of elections as a process of choosing law makers.

Oil and gas industry has pumped millions into Republican campaigns

Study claims that Google can influence the result of elections

Can Google influence elections?

A study by a psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology has determined that Google has the power to create swings of opinion among undecided voters of between 30% – 80%, with the capacity to swing elections. Further analysis suggests, given Google’s dominance worldwide, that the search engine has the power to determine the outcome of 25% of national elections around the world. And it can do so undetected and without leaving a paper trail.

Simple answers to common questions

The most immediate bar to acceptance of Sortition as a viable alternative to elections is the fear engendered by the random nature of lotteries.

Chaos? Really?

Simply put, people cannot accept the idea that a random person should be given a role in the process of law making. They fear chaos.

In promoting Sortition, it is vital that this concern can be immediately and comprehensively addressed. Here are some simple responses that can be offered in response to that concern.

(The common theme is that the concerns people have about Sortition are also concerns they should have about elections.)

In any assembly, established by lottery or elections, power does rest with the individual, but with the assembly itself. A single person, or even a group of people, does not have the ability to unduly influence the process.
The lottery process is only partially random. Members are not chosen from the population at large, but from a list of people who have volunteered to serve. Entry on to the list can be limited. For instance, a person may have to make a donation to a registered charity, or complete community service. A person convicted of a criminal offence, or tax evasion, would not be eligible.
The membership of the list of potential assembly members is available for public review. Any member of the public can review the list and take a view as to what type of assembly it will produce. They can then add their name to the list, or encourage others to do the same. Essentially, the composition of the list is within the control of the wider population.
Statistically, the probability of the assembly membership including a disproportionate number of undesirable people is extremely low, provided the number of members of the assembly is sufficiently large, and that they are drawn from a list of candidates that is sufficiently large.
An assembly chosen by Sortition will always retain the power the regulate its membership based on a super majority (eg 90%) of its members.
An assembly chosen by Sortition would be governed by rules. Members would have to demonstrate participation and not break laws. Members who breached those rules would be required to surrender their position to another candidate from the list.
Our current system of elections does not prevent undesirables from participating in the process of law making. Parliaments throughout the world have members who have been convicted of crimes, tax evasion, fraud, corruption and who do not participate in the actual process of law making.
While there is a remote possibility that Sortition may produce an assembly that is not representative of the population, our current system is almost guaranteed to produce a non-representative assembly. Participation in the law making process is generally only available to people who are wealthy, who are in certain professions, and who are members of political parties, who are involved in community activism, and, most particularly, who are men. And because participation in elections is declining, it is not possible to say that assemblies chosen by elections accurately represent the wider population.
Someone who is undesirable to one person may be desirable to another. We live in a diverse society. Everyone is entitled to representation.

Another frequently expressed concern is that ordinary people, who do not have the support of established political parties, will not have the necessary expertise to perform the function of law making.

To offer this as a barrier to Sortition is a rejection of the most basic principle of democracy, that Government is of the people, by the people for the people. To state that the responsibility of law making can only rest with an elite is fundamentally undemocratic. It is an admission that we do not live in a democracy.
Elections do not guarantee that members of the assembly have sufficient expertise to carry out the function of law making. The election of a member to an assembly is a measure of their popularity, not their ability.
The process of law making, in a system where assembly members are chosen by elections or by Sortition, is dependent on the existence of a competent and experienced civil service, who can provide advice, data and context to the members of the assembly in their deliberations over a particular decision. There is no difference in elections and Sortition in this regard.

People who doubt the viability of Sortition will argue that political parties are necessary to provide long term vision and to frame the direction of legislation, and that this would not exist if members of the assembly were chosen by lottery.

Sortition does not bar or remove the need for political parties. Political parties would still exist in a system where the assembly was chosen by lottery. They would be able to formulate their long term vision and policies and present that to the assembly members for support. If a majority of the assembly members thought that a particular legislative proposal was worthy, they would be able to vote to pass it. Similarly, other groups or political parties would be able to appeal to the assembly not to pass a particular piece of legislation.
In theory, political parties offer a vision based on a particular ideology, but in practice they more frequently react to public opinion and media commentary. The ability to implement long term change is also limited by their requirement to seek a new mandate a regular intervals.

First meeting of Sortition Ireland

The inaugural meeting of Sortition Ireland is booked for 8pm in the Teachers Club, Parnell Square Dublin 1, on Wednesday April 20th.

Anyone interested in attending who cannot attend in person will be able to join the meeting via a Google Hangout link. Details of the Google Hangout will be provided on this page closer to the time.

To attend remotely, please email and we will send you the Google Hangout link. You can email any time up to 7pm on April 20th.

The meeting will be an open forum with no agenda. No decisions will be taken at the meeting, other than to establish the purpose of the next meeting, and the time and date of the next meeting.


Lecture by Etienne Choard on Sortition

Etienne Choard came to public prominence in France during their referendum on the Constitution for Europe (he opposed its adoption).

In this video, he explains his support for Sortition. The lecture is largely apolitical, but he does veer into the realm of conspiracy theory near the end. It is still a very good exposition of the subject.

Checks and Balances

Sortition was first practiced in the ancient city of Athens in and around 500 BC. Like us, ancient Athenians had lots of concerns about the random nature of Sortition, so they devised a system of checks and balances to ensure that the people chosen exercised their duty responsibly. The principles that guided them are just as applicable now.

We will refer to persons chosen in the lottery as drawees.

We can consider these checks and balances before the appointment of the drawee, during the appointment of the drawee, and after the appointment of the drawee.


All candidates have to volunteer for service. Participants are not simply drawn from the wider public.

Candidates have to make a contribution to society to demonstrate their commitment. This can be a payment to a registered charity or participation in community service. Registered political parties would also be able to nominate candidates.

Candidates have to be able to demonstrate their citizenship with official documentation.

A person who has been convicted of tax evasion, corruption or an indictable criminal offence in the previous 10 years would be not be eligible for candidature.


Drawees who did not attend the Dail with sufficient regularity would be required to surrender their place in the Dail to the next candidate drawn from the register of candidates.

Drawees would be paid a salary, but would not be able to earn income in excess of 120% of that salary during their appointment. Drawees who are unable to meet this requirement would be required to invest their excess income in a State bond. Any drawee who was found to have breached this rule would be required to surrender their place to the next candidate drawn from the register of candidates. In each year, a lottery would be held to select 20% of drawees for audit of their income.

A drawee who has been convicted of tax evasion, corruption or an indictable criminal offence during their term would be required to surrender their place to the next candidate drawn from the register of candidates.

A drawee would be forced to surrender their place in the Dail if a super majority of both the Dail and the Seanad passed a motion to remove that drawee, subject to the power of veto on the part of the President.


Drawees who complete a term in the Dail would be awarded a title (eg “Teachta Dala”) after their term was over. Their name would be added to a register of drawees, and be inscribed on a national monument. Any subsequent Dail would have the power, by super majority, to remove a drawee from the register and the inscription on the national monument.

Representative Government? Democracy? Oligarchy?

These are important terms to understand.

Representative Government

This is the academic definition of our current system of Government.

Voters elect representatives. Those representatives elect a Government. There is no direct contact between the Government and the voter. The Government is only required to communicate with and seek the approval of the person voters have elected as their representative.


“Democracy” is what we inaccurately call our current system of Government.

What democracy actually is is direct participation on the part of the voter in decision making. Democracy is not elections. Elections are a system of representative government.

Direct Democracy

Direct Democracy is a system in which referendums are held to allow the wider population overrule the decisions of representatives, or to propose new laws.

Direct democracy suffers from the same flaws as Representative Government, in that it still allows the Oligarchy (see below) to control outcomes, as Direct Democracy is still based on voting.

That said, a system based on Sortition can contain elements of Direct Democracy. For instance, if a particular decision could not be made by the parliament, it could be referred to a referendum.


This is the most important one.

Oligrachy is a system of power (ie Government) in which power effectively rests with a small number of people.

This is the most accurate description of our current system of Government. The “oligarchs” are the people who own and control the media, the people who fund political parties, and the political parties themselves (including non-registered political organisations who organise around “independent” politicians).

Oligarchy is not a conspiracy theory. It has not been foisted on us by evil or malicious forces. It is something we have allowed to develop through complacency.

And the final and key point is this:

Representative Government, or more precisely, any system based on elections, will always lead to Oligarchy. The only way to establish true democracy is to remove the system that allows Oligarchy to develop. The only way to remove the current system is to replace elections with Sortition.

Next: What is wrong with the current system?