Presidential nomination debacle shows up a dysfunctional elite

It seems hard to believe that, back in 2004, we didn’t even bother to hold an election for Ireland’s president. There was no campaign and no election that year because our elected politicians prevented ANY opposition candidates from being nominated (not providing their support to Dana, who looks set to be frozen out again in 2011). This meant we faced an ‘ incumbent-only’ ticket – and hence held no election. We are happy to criticise such travesties when they take place in, say, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or Sepp Blatter’s FIFA – but, as I recall, there wasn’t much of an uproar in Ireland at the time.

This time around, with the incumbent stepping down,  an election is inevitable. This hasn’t stopped our elected politicians seeking to use their nomination powers strategically to benefit their party’s popularity, rather than focusing on putting forward candidates who could win broad support across the country. Even with this narrow objective in mind, spectacular incompetence has been demonstrated. Looking at how atrociously the nomination process has been managed by Ireland’s political elite, it’s hardly surprising that the exchequer is in the state it’s in.  FF have particularly shown a lack of respect for the office of President and considerable political clumsiness. Having botched their effort to endorse a celebrity candidate – FF party policy is now to block the nomination of all aspirant candidates.  I’m not clear on the logic behind this churlish decision – however their deputies and senators look set to show their usual deference to the party whip on this matter.

Nominating presidential candidates should be a simple process – Michael Gallahger’s recent post outlined many straightforward improvements that should be made to the way this is done. However, there are few sets of rules that could compensate for the partisan use of supposedly ‘above political’ nomination power by our parties and individual representatives. Our political culture facilitates and encourages nakedly partisan behaviour among our elites – even when it produces results that are sub-optimal for the public at large. As long as we vote for people who act in this way in Ireland, changing the rules can only help so much.

Several highly popular potential candidates have not been nominated (many people I talked to would have loved to see Fergus Finlay in the race, for example) and one of the principal frontrunners is struggling desperately for inclusion (D. Norris is on 18 Oireachtas votes at the time of writing).

In the meantime, of course, Ireland remains in an unsustainable fiscal position – and ultimately the presidential campaign is little more than a distraction from our deeper problems. Our political elite have demonstrated their inability to manage a transparent and nationally-focused candidate nomination process – which doesn’t exactly inspire hope in their capacity to forge a solution to our economic woes. On the plus side, at least we’ll have an elected (not appointed) president after October 27th.

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39 thoughts on “Presidential nomination debacle shows up a dysfunctional elite

  1. We’ve only had 3 presidential election votes in just under 40 years – 1973, 1990, 1997. In 1997 the largest voice in the election was the voiceless – those who didn’t vote with less than 50% turnout. Less than half the population voted (approx. 1.25m).

    It’s a pretty decadent occassion I think and further in the “normalising” of the freakshow as Michael Lewis put it. As you note, “the presidential campaign is little more than a distraction from our deeper problems”. To talk of the prestige of the office while the important stuff is ignored – http://www.irishleftreview.org/2011/09/23/undemocratic-sixpack-prolonged-austerity/ – shows how far the commentariat is from the reality.

    I agree it lays bare how our elite opperate but I don’t think they’re dysfunctional – they’re obviously functioning fine. As Fintan O’Toole said it a few weeks ago in the IT, this is the “other” state where there’s money available for the elites.

    Meanwhile, back in A&E….

    • Decadent occassion is a nice tur of phrase, Alan, I’ll have to remember it :)

      One wonders whether we should expect more from our president in terms of political decision-making, given the fact that the office is directly elected and quite expensive? Is it really acceptable that our bailout of Anglo and our loan deal with the EU/IMF was not questioned by our president? Iceland had a different experience in this regard.

      Like most changes in Irish politics, empowering the president would involve taking power out of the hands of the cabinet/senior civil service. Given that these same groups control any and all proposals for change – it’s not too likely to happen.

      • If by “expect more” from the president you mean demand the office have a somewhat more active role in the stuff that matters, consider what may happen. Would the president then be subject to the same deluge everyone else is? By that I mean, pressured into accepting what is the “really real reality” about how there is no alternative etc.

        Mary could have referred the NAMA bill to the supreme court but she didn’t – there was subsequently a constitutional challenge to the NAMA which probably could have been avoided had she referred it. If there had of been a remote possibility that she would have referred it against the wishes of the govt. – which would have upset somebody, somewhere – you can bet there’d have been some type of shape throwing. But alas, the president and government are as one.

        To give the president something more to do that would matter and some independent powers, this would as you note, involve taking some power out of the hands of the people who hold the power.

        When you read the parts of Bunreacht concerning the presidency it is absurd the degree to which the role is tightly circumscribed.

        Like this for instance:

        “Article 13
        10. Subject to this Constitution, additional powers and functions may be conferred on the President by law.

        11. No power or function conferred on the President by law shall be exercisable or performable by him save only on the advice of the Government.”

        It would seemingly require nothing short of a constitutional amendment to give the president new independent powers. We can expect change and new powers all we like but they ain’t gonna give them over just cause they’re nice people or on foot of a letter in the Irish Times.

        On The Week in Politics last Sunday, Pearse Doherty said repeatedly that if elected President, Martin McGuinness would/could refer legislation to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. Now, obviously this is hardly news that a president can hold up legislation like this but the inference here, subtly made, was that there may potentially be some strife between the United Right Alliance government and a President who would not be in favour with the elites of the state possibly as a result of him disagreeing with the govt’s policies.

  2. Nominating presidential candidates should be a simple process

    Why? In most countries it isn’t easy to get on the ballot paper to be Head of State. Indeed, in nearly all similar countries to Ireland, only the political representatives have a vote.

    People can get on the ballot paper based on the signature of less than 10% of the members of the Oireachtas, or a simple majority in 4 out of our 33 local authorities.

    Its difficult, but not that difficult. Non-party candidates have been selected in 4 out of our 7 elections.

    With regard to uncontested elections, if more than 90% of the Oireachtas are happy with the person proposed, then why have an election? Can you demonstrate how such an election would be optimal?

    Several highly popular potential candidates have not being nominated (many people I talked to would have loved to see Fergus Finlay in the race, for example) and one of the principal frontrunners is struggling desperately for inclusion (D. Norris is on 18 Oireachtas votes at the time of writing).

    Fergus Finlay sough the nomination of the Labour Party to contest the election as their candidate. When he was unsuccessful in that, he withdrew. That has nothing to do with the nomination process.

    David Norris ignored one avenue of getting a nomination – the local authority route and was well on track to getting an oireachtas nomination when he withdrew from the race after various facts from his past emerged. The debacle of his nomination has more to do with him, than the system. Mary Davis and Sean Gallagher have done okay.

    • My point on the rules was that simple alternatives are available – probably the easiest solution involves lowering the thresholds for nomination, as discussed by Michael G.

      On elections being preferable to nominations for public office – there are several instances where the Oireachtas has been overwhelmingly in favour of measures that were not supported by the public. The most vivd illustration of this phenomenon is the disparity between the elites and the public with regard to EU integration – where measures approved by over 90% of Oireachtas members have been voted down (and then subsequently voted through, ostensibly after some ammendment) by the public.

      Generally, it is held that directly elected public officials hold more authority and legitimacy than nominated officials.

      Fergus Finlay was unable to go forward without Labour support because he would not have mustered sufficient votes for a nomination in our whip-controlled political system. Whether he would have done so or not is difficult to say.

      David Norris, to my knowledge, has addressed several councils (I heard recently that he was refused permission to address one of the councils) who have refused to support him. The man has consistenetly topped opinion polls sin e declaring his intention to run.

      Incredibly, members who stuck by Bertie Ahern throughout his ‘sterling deposits’revelations have grown a very selective political conscience, and are blocking the Norris nomination with the excuse of being shocked by his use of Oireachtas headed paper.

      The same party whips who control nominations in the Oireachtas control votes in the councils. Indeed, it is precisely because he has such a good chance of winning and becoming a non-partisan president that Norris is being blocked.

      • Unfortunately, Matt, any hint of evidence that a legislator sought to intervene in the judicial process – other than as a character witness or a material witness in the case under consideration – in my view is sufficient grounds for refusing the necessary support for candidacy. And it is even worse if there is evidence of an attempt to intervene in the judicial process of another jurisdiction.

        The powers of the Irish President are very limited, but very specific and vitally important when there is a requirement for them to be exercised. A failure to grasp the vitally necessary separation of the legislature and the judiciary (irrespective of the sincerity of the repentance for this failure) is simply a bridge too far.

        But I agree that this matter of principle is being employed very conveniently to advance factional interests over the public interest.

        But why is anyone surpised? We are in this economic mess beacuse factional interests have always trumped the public interest. And it’s not just Ireland. The serious and costly delay in resolving the Euro crisis is due to efforts to preserve factional interests ahead of the public interest and the interests of Europe as a whole.

  3. Excellent post, Matt. Well said. While the presidency is formally ‘above politics’, this election has illustrated that it is a very partisan game. Also, the 35+ candidate age limit is wholly undemocratic, ageist and, like the 21 limit in general elections, essentially goes against the logic of the extension of suffrage – if you can vote for the president at 18, you should also be able to run. Imagine the uproar if those aged over 65 weren’t allowed to run!

    • Thanks Claire, this topic is close to my heart. Call me egocentric, but I feel that I, as a 28 year old, should have as much of a right to run for president as any other Irish citizen.

      Our over 35 club hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory to date – but I’m sure they’ll keep telling the younger generation to shut up and stay out of politics. As long as under 35s tolerate this status quo, it will remain in place.

      I’d love to see a huge protest vote – some form of constructive ballot spoiling perhaps -to signal frustration with this state of affairs.

      Sadly, the likelihood of that happening is probably pretty low – given our pathetic levels of youth political awareness/activism. :(

      • Perhaps I’m just a crusty old 30 year old, but I really can’t understand why anyone under 35 would want to be President of Ireland. It’s a largely honorific role with extremely limited powers. The thought of someone in there twenties, thirties or even 40′s or 50′s, being happy to spend 7-14 years reading out prepared speeches and hosting tea-parties as the limits of their ambitions is rather depressing.
        Surely the argument for involving more young people in politics is to allow them to actually do things, to reform the system and to make policy. They could not do this from the Aras.

  4. Agreed. As a 23 year old, I also find the whole ‘you need life experience’ argument in politics more generally very disheartening. Given that various governments throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the ones that led us into the economic mess we currently find ourselves in, were predominately middle-aged (and male), the so-called ‘life experience’ thesis doesn’t prove itself very well!

  5. @Ken – I think I know a few under 30s who’d take the job (great pay, free accomo, and a stellar pension are pretty attractive!).

    More generally, I agree that the office is mostly pointless – I would be in favour of expanding the role/powers of the office, or getting rid of it TBH. But as long as the office is there – I think that under 35s have as much to bring to the table as anyone else.

    • I’m sure there are plenty who would take it, but that’s probably an argument for keeping the age barrier rather than removing it. (and for drastically reducing the costs and associated perks of the office in general).

  6. Interesting post Matt. While the FF parliamentary party’s strategy was pretty “all-over-the-place”, the fact that FF county councillors have bee free to vote as they wanted on the question of nomination for the last few months (something that the Taoiseach has (rightly) allowed FG councillors to do too)has probably opened the nominations up somewhat. The point is well-made though: for nomination to the Presidency, the party whip shouldn’t be so rigidly enforced. In fact, had FF, as a parliamentary party, allowed a free vote of its Oireachtas members (as it did with members of local authorities)- would this have been welcomed, or would it have been held up as indecision on their part? Personally, I think the former would have been the wiser tactic, and to be fair, the stronger one.

  7. Interesting post Matt. While the FF parliamentary party’s strategy was pretty “all-over-the-place”, the fact that FF county councillors have bee free to vote as they wanted on the question of nomination for the last few months (something that the Taoiseach has (rightly) allowed FG councillors to do too)has probably opened the nominations up somewhat. The point is well-made though: for nomination to the Presidency, the party whip shouldn’t be so rigidly enforced. In fact, had FF, as a parliamentary party, allowed a free vote of its Oireachtas members (as it did with members of local authorities)- would this have been welcomed, or would it have been held up as indecision on their part? Personally, I think the former would have been the wiser tactic, and to be fair, the stronger one.

    • Yep – think MG has the right answer with his idea of relaxing the numbers. Pity for FF that G. Byrne didn’t run – think that could have energised the party. I guess now they’ll have nobody to canvass for?!

  8. I wonder are these testable hypotheses for the polsci heads?

    1. In Ireland, for those occasions where success at an election confers some power on the winner(s) to govern or to influence governance, the public interest in the election campaign, the election and its outcomes varies inversely with the subsequent interest in how this governance is exercised.
    2. This inverse relationship is much stronger in Ireland than in other established democracies with electorates of roughly similar size such as the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland and Austria.
    3. Where the spoils of success are limited (as in the case of this Presidential election – huge prestige, some very important but rarely exercised constitutional powers, and no ‘real’ power), the election process is dominated by the antics of the political factions rather than an attempt to ensure the successful candidate matches best the requirements of the elected position.

  9. there are always two options on significant historical turning points – the general post office and fairyhouse races.

    unfortunately the tendency of some is to opt for fairyhouse races, then to get very vocal afterwards about what did, should have, could have, happened in the post office.

    those who want to change the racing rules of the presidential election when the runners are already in the parade ring, are only parsing the wind. this year’s race will be run under this year’s rules. get over it.

    the blogger of this piece says : “In the meantime, of course, Ireland remains in an unsustainable fiscal position – and ultimately the presidential campaign is little more than a distraction from our deeper problems.”

    wrong again.

    the fiscal position is shallow and only symptomatic of ireland’s deeper problems. at the root of those problems lies the almost religious assumption that global and exponential industrial and economic growth can be revived within a finite biosphere.

    yeah, right. and there is nothing safer than to invest in bricks and mortar / gold / german government bonds, because they always, always, always, go up and up, up, up.

    in the presidential election there are moral choices. if you think that moral choices are subordinate to financial options, then you are part of the age that is now ending, part of the problem.

    eat cake. vote for marie antoinette. some council will nominate her even if she’s dead. dead means safe.

    if martin mcguillotine wins – leave town.

    • This year’s race certainly will be run under this year’s rules, by definition. I think several of those rules are inefficient, and that the 35 year age bar is openly discriminatory.

      The fiscal position of the country may be a cause or a symptom of our other problems – probably a little of both. Certainly it’s a pressing issue when your day-to-day spending is funded by debt accumulation.

      The global economic crisis is the context within which politics is taking place at the moment, and, as paul points out, political elites in other countries are just as concerned with holding on to power at whatever cost as the Irish.

  10. Gillies: “those who want to change the racing rules of the presidential election when the runners are already in the parade ring, are only parsing the wind. this year’s race will be run under this year’s rules. get over it.”

    @Gillies – In fairness, I know of a number of political researchers, myself included, that have been quite vocally critical of the presidential nomination process and advocated reform long before this year’s election. Critics are also all very that this contest will be held according to the rules, that isn’t even an issue, and the author made absolutely no suggestion to the contrary.

  11. Yes, it’s depressing, but entirely predictable. This is the only elected office in the state that FG has not secured. Labour could claim they secured it vicariously via Mary Robinson. With 14 yeas out of power there is a lot of patronage to be dispensed and, in addition, these campaign frolics give the backbench TDs, county councillors and grassroots activists something to keep them occupied while the ‘serious people’ get on with running things.

    And we have to remember that very little really has changed. We have 15 different people around the cabinet table support by their special advisers. (And in many cases, these Ministers are merely highly-paid PR operatives for the ‘government machine’ behind them.) But the top levels of the ‘government machine’ have seen hardly any change. And the Troika is still calling the big shots.

    On previous occasions I have proposed that the top two levels of the entire government machine – civil service and all statutory bodies – should be required to re-apply for their jobs (other than those appointed from outside the machine in the last, say, two years). It could be done on a rolling basis over, say, 6 months and it need not interfere with the delivery of services. I’m sure there are plenty recently retired senior public servants from far better governed jurisdictions who would be prepared to assist in the interview process in return for a modest stipend.

    It is probably very convenient for those exercising real power that so many voters, their public representatives, the media and other commentators (many of whom should know better) can get so excited by these electoral contests that, in reality, change so little of what really matters.

  12. great blog but I have more hope than you I think that Martin McGuinness could be a break through moment for Ireland perhaps we can be an actual republic

  13. congratulations to those who campaigned to change the rules between presidential elections. no marks at all to those who whinge about the rules during elections, when there is no possibility of changing them.

    the entries for the race close tomorrow. the range of candidates is not tweedledum, tweedledee. it is not even michaeldum and michael d. there is a real choice : this can be a genuine contest, big bucks not just small change. not just obamachange.

    we, the electorate, have shown the politicians that we have the power to bury not just a candidate who fails us – but an entire political party.

    the renewal of the presidency of the country is our opportunity to define the soul of the nation, and redefine it. when the pillars of society – the catholic church, the banks, the dominant political party, the euro currency – have all lost credibility together, the importance of the presidency is vastly increased.

    we near the collapse of the western empire. the withdrawal of the legions in 410. not just a double dip recession but the contraction of global industrial civilisation.

    those who say nothing ever changes are not cynics but crypto-conservatives. deep down, they hope nothing changes.

    well, things are changing, big time. maybe even, who knows, the rules ?

  14. As Michael Marsh pointed out in various TV interviews last evening, opinion polls show more overall support for independents than ‘party ticket’ candidates. Something is going on out there, with the opinion polls, perhaps, reflecting an accelerating alienation amongst the public with the political establishment. People recognise that we need political parties to form stable governments, but when it comes to the Presidency election that no longer holds. The Presidency represents something more than the economic and political choices that predominate in general elections. The Presidency is the only institution that brings that third strand – the cultural voice of the country – into the foreground of electoral choice, which is just as important to the definition of who and what we are as the vagaries of economic performance or ideological preferences.

    I’m not too concerned about the rules for candidate selection, as no system will be perfect. True, it would have been embarrassing for the political elite had they failed to make room for Norris on the ticket and no doubt some last minute fudge would have been devised to ensure that Kilkenny County Council did the ‘right thing’ at the last moment. The party antics around this contest, generally, illustrate two contradictory notions, namely that (1) they don’t have much respect for the office per se, but (2) appreciate its symbolic importance as an endorsement of their political value systems. What the cat’s pyjamas surround the nomination process shows is that It’s not the rules governing selection that are the problem, it’ s the autocratic way our elitist leaders go about doing their business at every level, down to the lowliest county councillors.

  15. Great insight….
    “Something is going on out there, with the opinion polls, perhaps, reflecting an accelerating alienation amongst the public with the political establishment.”

    Back to the 1980s – with the emergence of a new political party – at that time, the PDs?

    Or the pre-2011 General Election groups – some of which emerged as a response to the invitation to the EU/ECB/IMF to set up a support programme, following the increasing costs of Government borrowing?

    Or something different along the lines outlined by Keith Payne here
    in last Friday’s ITimes entitled “Can we convert indifference at crisis into peaceful uprising?”

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2011/0923/1224304576465.html

    Or some combination of all the above?

    • Donal,

      I think Irish people are more embedded in the political process than some of our fellow Europeans,in most part due to the much-derided PR STV system and the so-called excessive clientilism that it encourages – our politicians are never as remote from their electorate as in other EU states. But even that may be breaking down under the strain of the current crisis. Besides, with the exception of the IT, the media in Ireland are not reporting what’s going on elsewhere in Europe, especially in Spain, nor even properly analysing what’s happening in Greece. What the recent Red C/SBP polls indicate, however, is that the thirst for change may be intensifying. Right now, it’s coalescing around the Presidency contest because there’s simply no other political forum available.

      “We the Citizens” has turned out to be a bitter disappointment, and most of the other groups set up post-election are withering on the vine already and making no inroads into national political consciousness. So people go on living lives of quiet desperation – in my own neck of the woods I suggested to a neighbour that our estate might be renamed the ‘Hyacinth Bouquet Estate’ since it’s chock full of people ‘keeping up appearances’. As the Irish middle class become more aware of what’s happening to their social counterparts in Greece, and if a grand solution to the EU crisis fails to emerge and thus, things keep going on as they are, the peaceful uprising referred to in the IT article may not be too far away. Except there’s no guarantee it will be peaceful.

      • @Veronica,

        There is much talk of a ‘squeezed middle’ comprising perhaps up to half the population in the northern hemisphere Anglo-Saxon economies (UK, Ireland, US) where income inequality tends to be more accepted, but it is also impacting on the more cohesive continental European economic model due to the inroads of the Neocon hegemony over the last 30 years.

        There is quite a bit of research on this, but it isn’t sufficiently up-to-date to capture the more recent dramatic changes. Michael Taft, over on Progressive Economy:

        http://www.progressive-economy.ie/2011/09/party-nation.html

        has summarised some of the more recent data for Ireland quite effectively.

        The middle is getting seriously squeezed in Ireland. And this seems to support your perceptive observations. How this economic pain will be communicated politically will be very interesting. My sense is that a large majority of voters on Feb 25 focused on giving FF and the Greens the serious kicking they deserved and elected this FG/Lab combo almost by default and without any great enthusiasm.

        A large number glumly accepted that it would be more of the same economically, but with a different shower around the cabinet table. They are not happy by any means.

        However, it is very important to note that Irish voters, probably even more so than those in other countries, are extremely jealous of their right to communicate political messages directly to government via any elections that take place between general elections. Irrespective of the purpose of the election (presidential, local, European, by-election, referendum) a message will be communicated and governments seem to accept this and will seek to divine the message.

        So we should not be surprised if the Presidential election were used to convey a message of widespread anger, resentment and discontent. This is productive and healthy and we should be pleased and proud that voters use the democratic process for this purpose – and refuse to vent their discontent outside the process.

        But it has downsides. The most obvious is the conflict between the purpose of the election and the use made of it by voters. The outcome might get their message across, but it might not be the one they really wanted. Another is that some voters will focus on the real purpose of the election and others will use it to convey a message to government and the message will be muffled. It may prove to be neither an efficient nor effective means of communciation.

        But the major downside is more subtle, far more serious and goes right to the heart of the purpose of this blog. Once the results are finalised after a general election and a government is subsequently elected, this government, not unreasonably, assumes that it has secured all the democratic legitimacy it requires until the next general election. While it retains a secure Dail majority and operates within the bounds set by the Constitution there are no effective procedural checks or balances on its behaviour.

        And it seems that most voters are happy with this once they can use any election that occurs between general elections to send a message to the government. They are so jealous of their right to send a message directly to government via the democratic process that will force government to work to maintain its democratic legitimacy that they see no requirement for precedural checks and balances. They also appear to be reluctant to delegate any responsibility whatsoever to others to ensure that a government endeavours to maintain its democratic legitimacy. (This may explain the failure of the various ‘citizen initiatives’ you mention.)

        And, again, most voters appear to see no need for TDs to have procedures that might impose checks and balances on the exercise of governance. It appears they are happy once an opposition bloc is in place to provide a government-in-waiting (imposing some discipline on government) and to make enough noise if the government were contemplating doing something really silly or stupid. TDs are there to ensure a share of state largesse for individuals and groups – either nationally or locally, to minimise the damage caused by reductions in this largesse and to provide a means of securing redress.

        These seem to be the services most voters require from their TDs. they would prefer voters to focus on these tasks and not be distracted by any high-falutin’ notions of employing procedures to impose checks and balances on government. If anything of this nature is required, voters will do it themselves using whatever election happens to be next.

        I think there should be enough evidence to convince people that this describes the political reality in Ireland. Changing it will be very difficult. And far more difficult than many seem to realise. One has to be extremely proud and pleased that the vast majority of Irish voters rely exclusively on every opportuity provided by the electoral process in an attempt to ensure that governments have to work hard to maintain their democratic legitimacy.

        But it is both inefficient and can be ineffective. It would be far more efficient and effective if parliamentary procedures were in place to ensure that governments worked to maintain the democratic legitimacy they secured when elected. As i see it, the task for the polsci heads (the subject of an earlier comment) is to demonstrate the benefits of such an approach when compared to the current one.

        But I remain convinced that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to convince enough voters that the kind of political reform advanced on this board is really required. They are simply far too jealous of their right to give a government a kicking when they feel it deserves one and they are extremely reluctant to delegate any responsibility to keep government in line to any other party – even to the TDs whom they elect.

        If a government needs a kicking, they’ll do it themselves. Letting anyone else in on the act might diminish their ability to admimister this kicking – and they do so enjoy administering it.

      • “No guarantee that any uprising will be peaceful”

        We do have a record of getting major – even radical – change without uprisings and using non-violent means with some creative imagination eg. Daniel O’Connell on Catholic Emancipation (eg. getting out the vote, large public meetings) Michael Davitt on land issues (eg. boycott).
        Just because our immediate past history does not pay much attention to such movements is no reason to draw the attention of people to that fact that it is possible to get real change – without violence.
        It is simple, but it ain’t easy.

        re. PR STV
        I actually like it as a voting system – for the reasons you mention ie. it keeps TDs in close touch with constituents, provided the constituencies are multi-seat (minimum of 3 TDs/constituency) and that these constituencies are drawn by an independent commission.
        I do regard it as one of the checks and balances that we need to keep. But on its own, it is not enough to limit the scope for excess by the powerful.

        If we called PR STV a constituency-based open list voting system without any additional “top-up” members, I wonder to what extent those who call for list systems would continue to urge us to get rid of PR-STV.
        Just because it puts pressures on members of the same party is not a good enough reason to get rid of it

        In the current Presidential campaign, it means that we vote once for the Head of State – unlike France where it is a two-vote process – with all that entails in terms of costs etc.
        (I would have thought the French would like the finesse that PR-STV can give – even in a one seat constituencies such as we have the Presidential and by-elections).

        I firmly believe that we in this Republic would use PR STV equally well to select a directly-elected Taoiseach (Head of the Government) in a full separation of powers system

        IMO, such a Taoiseach would then choose Ministers from the population as in the US. These should not be members of the Dáil or Seanad..

  16. @Veronica,

    You are quite right to point out the autocratic behaviour of elitist leaders, but what is really being displayed is the ‘tyranny of faction’. It’s ‘my party, right or wrong’. And this prompts an interesting hypothesis.

    Most developed democracies have two competing power blocs that rotate their periods in government generally determined by switches in the allegiance of a group of median voters. The difference between the blocs is largely determined by conflicting views on the roles of the state and markets. (Ireland has always been a bit of an outlier, but, after the next election, we might get there. And it took the competing power blocs in the US many years to break fully from Civil War allegiances, so we are not alone.)

    In contrast, and by definition, in authoritarian, single party states where an effective leadership succession policy is pursued (China and Vietnam provide the best examples) there is no rotation of blocs or factions in government.

    This leads to two contentions. First, in many developed democracies, since the bloc or faction in government has only some degree of certainty about remaining in power until the next election and re-election is uncertain, there is a tendency to pursue executive dominance to the limit. In other words they will seek to exercise every ounce of power they have to do everything they can while they can. And this requires intense factional discipline and top-down control of every layer in the faction. And for the blocs/factions out of power the same applies to ensure the cohesion to secure power and to exercise power if or when it is secured. Any open, public debate on policy issues or scrutiny of proposals that might result in their being amended or over-turned is completely prohibited. Decisions are made behind closed doors or, if more time is needed to square all the various parties to a decision (again behind closed doors), totally time-creating and ineffectual ‘reviews’ or’ consultations’ are conducted . And what is decided is enforced – irrespective of whether the decision is good, bad or indifferent. The governing faction may not have the opportunity again for some time.

    The second contention is that, In contrast, authoritarian, single party regimes tend to allow considerable internal debate and discussion prior to policy decision-making – even if this is generally hidden from public view. However, all groups and interests in the society and economy are represented. And, although it may be difficult to discern the extent to which their interests are represented, it is probably safe to assume that there is generally broader representation in decision-making than there is in the develped democracies where, at any time, up to half of the members of the legislature are excluded from any meaningful role in policy decisions.

    So the hypothesis is: authoritarian regimes of the type described develop and apply economic policies that are in the long term interests of their citizens than those developed and applied by governments exercising executive dominance and applying the ‘tyranny of afction’ in the established democracies.

    A subsidiary hypothesis is: established democracies where the executive dominance of government (and the tyranny of faction) is curtailed by the legislature do best of all.

    And so, returning to this presidential campaign selection process, faction leaders, whether in power or not, will get what they want almost all of the time. This is neither healthy nor wise.

  17. Re whether the age limit is discriminatory:

    Forbidding black, or Polish, or Northern Irish-born, or women candidates to enter is discriminatory. For example, a black woman born in Abuja will never become a white man born in Offaly.

    Forbidding under-35s to enter is considerably less discriminatory. Everyone born on God’s good earth will sooner or later become 35, unless unusual and unpleasant health problems intervene.

    Of all the requirements demanded of those who would wish to become a president of Ireland, becoming 35 is easier than any of the others. You only have to be patient. Please, if you are 28 now, there will be many, many chances to fulfil your desire down the years. That is absolutely the least of the problems in the Irish political system right now.

  18. “Dans la vie, il n’y a pas des solutions.
    Il n’y a que des forces en marche.
    Il s’agit de les créer
    Et les solutions suivent.”

    Back to the future – between 1969 and 2002, we did not re-elect an outgoing Goverment.

  19. i wonder if i could move the discussion of what the president actually does, there hasn’t been much looking back at what the previous president has done as the focus is on the new candidates

    I tried to figure out a way to show what the president does with their time.

    http://dublinstreams.blogspot.com/2011/07/what-does-irish-president-spend-their.html its incomplete

    apart from the constitutional parts the president is said to highlights causes. do community groups/charities who a president visits get more funding or assistance by the government or others ?

    it reminds me of Jane Suitor’s money following the minister study, a complicated thing to figure out.

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