Citizens’ Assemblies: delaying mechanisms or reform catalysts?

Following the publication of the Committee on the Constitution’s report    on Ireland’s legislative electoral system, there has been relatively little debate about the merits of its proposal to establish a Citizens’ Assembly (CA). Would establishing a CA be the first step in a process of public engagement and radical institutional reform, or would it simply be an expensive and time-consuming way of  producing yet another report on institutional reform that would, once written, be consigned to gather dust alongside the numerous Seanad reform reports?

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Is a proper register of lobbyists finally on the way or is this the politics of the long finger?

by Gary Murphy (July 29 2010)

It seems that the Minister for the Environment John Gormley is ready to move on implementing a register of lobbyists. Speaking at a meeting of Green Party members in Limerick last weekend, he said that he intended to change the way politics was funded and to curb the influence of lobbyists, when the Dáil returns in September. Gormley said that his planned reforms on corporate donations to political parties would also involve the introduction of a register of lobbyists to regulate their activities. Strongly criticising the influence of lobbyists in the political process, Gormely noted:

“These individuals or companies who are paid handsomely by companies to achieve certain policy objectives have ready access to those in power. Many of them have previously been involved in political parties and know the system and the personalities. They also know the journalists and opinion formers. The influence of lobbyists is pervasive and at times pernicious. This is why we need a register of lobbyists to regulate their activities. It would immediately allow the public to identify these individuals and the causes they espouse.”

And for those of us who have been calling for such a register for a number of years, we might say hurrah for John Gormley. Continue reading

Votes for emigrants?

David Farrell (July 29, 2010)

A letter in today’s Irish Times makes the case for votes for emigrants:

Madam, – As it is now agreed 1, that political and administrative corruption rots (our) society from the inside; 2, that root and branch reform is needed and 3, that we should look to the Irish diaspora (viz Farmleigh) for help with our problems I suggest the following: Take our courage in our hands and follow the example of Australia, the USA and Britain et al and extend the voting franchise to our emigrants.
They have been so far denied this right precisely because their vote can certainly not be bought and must effect a sea change in our cosy, nepotistic, self-interested and failed political system. – Yours, etc,
BOB QUINN

The correspondent in correct in noting that other countries grant overseas voting rights. As reported in the newspapers only a few days ago, Ireland is once again top of the class in the EU for the numbers of people emigrating in search of work, many of these Irish citizens. Should we add insult to injury in denying them a voice?

Final report of the Joint Committee on the Constitution launched today

David Farrell (July 22, 2010)

The Joint Committee launched its long-anticipated final report (relating to its deliberations over the electoral system) earlier today — running at over 200 pages, with 29 recommendations. There is lots to pick through, but for me the main headlines are the following:

  • The establishment of a Citizen’s Assembly to consider electoral reform
  • Centralizing and streamlining voter registration, with the use of our PPS numbers
  • Lowering voting age to 17 Continue reading

Political funding reform needed

This has been mentioned in passing on this site before but perhaps it is worth its own thread given recent events. The Irish Times points out today that It is not just Fianna Fáil that has behaved badly over ethical legislation and transparency.

Because political donations below a certain limit do not have to be disclosed to the standards commission, many donations were set below the limit.. The commission also suspects that large donations may be split up into small amounts to avoid disclosure. Last year, when local, European and byelections were held, not a single donation was publicly recorded by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Labour Party. This is a disgrace. Ethical standards and political funding mechanisms require fundamental reform.

In its  2009 annual report published this week SIPO also argues that liabilities should be declared by public representatives and public servants in their annual statements of interests.

Lucinda Creighton and Reform

Elsewhere on this site the full text of Lucinda Creighton’s speech to Magill is produced. However, there are no comment faculties there and given the importance of some of what she said I thought I would link it here for comments. She is obviously disillusioned but makes some interesting points. In particular she points to the party whip as a real source of legislative weakness.

In Ireland, however, the most stringent form of whip, the
three line whip is imposed for every single vote. This
demonstrates to me a lack of confidence amongst political
parties. It shows an immature democracy, which urgently
needs to grow up to meet the needs of a mature people. It
also creates a fertile environment for mediocrity to flourish,
where politicians are enabled and indeed encouraged to
avoid individual accountability. The result of our entrenched
and archaic party whip system is that our politicians can
dodge personal responsibility for their own political
decisions.

A call for debate about political renewal

David Farrell (July 17, 2010)

A letter in today’s Irish Times calls for debate about political renewal:

Madam, – Now that the members of the Dáil and Seanad have gone to the beaches and the races, discussion of public affairs moves to the summer schools, where participants listen to the great and the good in decentralised locations.

In view of the state of the country, perhaps there is a need and an opportunity for participants in at least one school to take a collective initiative by calling for renewal, outlining what it requires and suggesting how it is to be achieved.

Renewing the Republic will not occur without proposals and pressure by people who care about the common good and who are willing to speak up for radical renewal. – Yours, etc,

MYLES McSWINEY

This sunday sees the start of a week-long summer school on that very issue. Continue reading

Bank Guarantee Scheme documents released

Posted by Eoin O’Malley (15 July, 2010)

Even if there is no inquiry into the events leading to the decision on the Bank Guarantee Scheme, the Dáil Public Accounts Committee release of many of the relevant documents today, should allow us to draw some conclusions about the adequacy of the process, information etc. The documents are available here, there should be 56 up by the end of the day. Continue reading

It’s déjà vu all over again – what is blocking Oireachtas reform?

Vincent Browne’s article in today’s Irish Times takes up a familiar theme; typically described as the institutional ‘weakness’ of the Oireachtas, or as Browne puts it rather more forcefully, the idea that the Oireachtas ‘plays no meaningful role in our society’.

In many ways, this is the flip side of the debate on the electoral system reform issue. Even assuming that some sort of reformed electoral system would lead to the election of TDs  who were totally focused on playing the role of the national legislatior, engaging with their constituents only to bring their concerns and insights to the national legislative process; what exactly would such TDs actually be able to do in the Oireachtas as presently configured?

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If reform is the question, the electoral system is not the answer

Eoin O’Malley takes Dr Ed Walsh to task for his call to reform the electoral system.  Essentially he argues if we want to reform the political system we need to rebalance power within the political system. We need to enable greater scrutiny of government to allow the opposition and backbenchers do their job. The public should have greater access to independent information, not spun by government departments. Government statistics could be generated by independent agencies and government policy could be independently analysed and tested against their stated objectives.