The Constitution Review Group report – a great (free) resource for Irish citizens

A topic that emerged rather unexpectedly from the We the Citizens event that I attended in June was the importance of civic education. At my table, the argument for focusing attention on this topic was that citizens need to be politically well-informed in order to understand the powers of political offices and the consequences of  their political decisions.

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A Proposal for A Citizens’ Assembly on Political Reform – by Oliver Moran and Matt Wall

Two weeks ago, it was reported in a post on this site that Second Republic, an independent citizens’ group campaigning for political reform (which we are both involved in), was preparing a detailed proposal for a  process of citizen-led political reform in Ireland. The group has today released a draft of their proposal for public comment and discussion. 

The group’s proposal can be downloaded in PDF form here:

Oliver Moran explains how and why this document came about in this post.

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A real move towards open government

Jane Suiter
This move towards open government  may arguably be the biggest piece of political reform that this Government has undertaken and yet they have made little of it.  Yesterday, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform  launched a new databank, improving access to data on public expenditure back to 1994.

For now only very macro figures are available and of course we need far greater granularity. Some decent visualisations would also go a long way to making this accessible for most people. But this is a great start.

Even better the recently-appointed Secretary General of the Department, Robert Watt, has made it clear that this information is the beginning, and not the end, of the process of opening up the State’s data.  “As far as the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform is concerned, information on public expenditure should be available to the public and should be available for public use,” he said.  “Our aim is to put Ireland at the leading edge of what is available, in terms of openness and transparency of public expenditure data.”

If he can do that he will potentially transform our public services.

Constituency-level analysis of June 22nd Irish Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne opinion poll

Adrian Kavanagh, 22 June 2011

The latest edition of the Irish Independent-Millward Brown Lansdowne series of opinion polls almost mirrors last month’s Red C-Sunday Business Post-Red C opinion poll and offers very good news for Fine Gael whose support levels are seen to stand at 5-6% higher than the levels attained in February’s general election. Applying my constituency level analysis to these figures, seat estimates based on the simulated constituency support estimates suggest that Fine Gael would win a more than sufficient number of seats to form a majority single-party government if these figures were to be replicated in an election held today.

The opinion poll figures estimates the party support as follows: Fine Gael 42%, Labour 19%, Fianna Fail 16%, Sinn Fein 11%, Green Party 1% (not included in Red C poll), Others 13%. Based solely on assigning seats on the basis of the constituency support estimates (simply using a d’Hondt method to determine which party wins the seats), party seat levels would be estimated as follows:  Fine Gael 90, Labour 32, Fianna Fail 19, Sinn Fein 11, Green Party 0, Others 14. When the factors of vote transfers and vote splitting/management (based on vote transfer/management patterns oberved in the February 2011 election) are accounted for and constituency marginality levels at the February 2011 election taken account of, the party seat levels would more than likely be as follows: Fine Gael 85, Labour 36, Fianna Fail 16, Sinn Fein 16, Green Party 0, Others 13. Continue reading

No Contest: Shane Ross on election of Public Accounts Committee Chairman

Very interesting article from Shane Ross on Sunday about his perspective on the ‘contest’ for the PAC chairmanship. If you didn’t get to read it, I’d suggest following the link for a look.

This is a story that went relatively unnoticed in the Irish weekend radio/newspaper coverage that I picked up from Amsterdam, but it seems to me to be quite telling. The story builds on Jane’s earlier post about the depth and impact of the reforms that the new government has undertaken to the Committee system. This insider account of the nomination process for the PAC chairmanship reinforces Jane’s conclusion that ‘ The parties still nominate and divvy up the chairmanships’. 

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The first 100 days

By Jane Suiter

The Government is now 100 days in office, a date by which it stated it would have achieved significant reforms. Eyes have of course  been on the economy but what is its record in political reform?

The Programme for Government promised reform in a number of area including parliamentary reform, a broader constitutional review and measures to reduce executive dominance/

Specifically it promised to put a number of issues to referendum and some of these have now been promised later this year or next year. But a few remain outstanding Continue reading

Committee reforms – a good start or not enough?

From Jane Suiter

The new Dáil committees made their first appearance today as reported here and here. The government is flagging its reform and ministers have been keen to stress that this will be a new era for committee powers. If this were true it would be excellent. We know through the work of Niamh Hardiman and others that Ireland has the most dominant executive in Europe, greater even than in the UK from whence it came. The problems with this dominance for policymaking are manifold and are arguably at the centre of many of our problems as has been rehearsed many times on this blog.

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2nd Republic – Designing A Citizen Assembly

By Oliver Moran

A surprising aspect of the debate on political reform over the past few months is that discussion has been not only on the question of what needs to change but also on how we are to answer that question. It is possibly a consequence of the seriousness of the situation that we found ourselves in that the need for reform appears to be accepted and so the question falls onto a) what reforms and b) who decides. Furthermore, the second question demonstrates a seriousness to answer the first and a determination to answer it correctly.

The editors of this website have long advocated a Citizen’s Assembly as a means to decide on reforms. The ‘We the Citizens’ initiative is in the act of demonstrating the value of these kind of deliberative processes. One of those benefits is the legitimacy that they give to decisions that arise from them. Do we really want to look back in a decade’s time and see the decisions made during this time of change through the lens of ‘cui bono’ (‘who benefits’)? For the less conspiratorial minded, do we want to look back and ask if the fullest possible discussion took place? Will we be satisfied to know that  decisions were arrived at through the intercourse of a (well-meaning) few? Who decides on reform is as central a question as which reforms. Continue reading

Mandarins to review top level pay

Just noticed a piece in the Irish Times yesterday . It appears that the senior mandarins in Finance are once again to dictate the pace of top level pay across the public and civil service. In the last round  of negotiations the mandarins held out to be omitted from the cap and it now looks as if they may manage the same feat again. The government had promised to cap all public salaries at around €200,000 as part of a wider programme of public service reform. To now seek to hit the pay of those on less than €10 an hour while allowing those at the top to cite contractual and legal arrangements to maintain salaries is arguably not in Ireland’s best interests. It would be interesting to see how many would end up in the High Court should the Government do as it promised.

Nepotism still ruling appointments process

In recent days there have been reports of widespread nepotism continuing with Irish political parties. assistants and drivers who are family members. Some of those involved have justified this by citing the involvement of those given the work in electoral work over a number of years.

The Oireachtas spokesman told Joe Duffy today that all those receiving jobs are vetted by an outside HR agency and meet basic competency requirements for the jobs.

At the same time Enda Kenny insists that these are personal rather than party appointments and thus while he disapproves he cannot stop them. Eamon Gilmore appears to have a similar position. In fact it is some of Labour’s so-called younger brighter stars who have employed family. While all of those involved probably have the ability to do the job there is a serious question to be asked about the continuing perception of cronyism and indeed direct patronage in Irish politics.

On a related note it appears that committee chairs have been “informed” who they will be, this is arguably another form of patronage. Allowing the chairs to be elected could have done much to increase the power of the legislature vis a vis the executive.