Seanad Éireann: Lots to Reform

After the Irish people chose to retain the Seanad last year, the focus has now shifted to the question of reform. The government has announced its intention to reform the University franchise as allowed by the 1978 amendment to the Constitution. The main campaigning platform for Seanad retention, Democracy Matters, has embarked on a new campaign to argue for reform. The Royal Irish Academy recently held a symposium bringing experts on Bicameralism together to discuss the prospects for change.

The main focus of reform is on the extension of the franchise as envisaged in the Zappone-Quinn and Crown bills tabled last year. However David Farrell, in today’s Irish Times, points out Continue reading

The Vatican, Cloyne and Diplomacy

Ken McDonagh


Enda Kenny’s 20th of July speech on Child Protection was broadly positively received by Irish public opinion. That it was given by a practicing Catholic and leader of a conservative and Christian democratic party only amplified the message that a final straw had been reached as regards child protection and the responsibility of the Church in relation to civil law in this area.

The speech, and the diplomatic spat that followed, has also served to highlight the curious case of Vatican sovereignty and the dual role of the Pope as both spiritual and temporal leader. The temporal power of the Pope traces its roots to the donation of Pepin, a Frankish king, in the 8th Century and not the fraudulent ‘Donation of Constantine’ occasionally used by medieval Popes to attempt to assert their authority over the kings of Europe. As the power of the Papacy and the size of the Papal states waxed and waned over the centuries, the Holy See emerged as the unit of Papal sovereignty regardless of the size or even, occasionally, the lack of actual territory. Regardless any uncertainty over the status of the Pope as a temporal sovereign was finally resolved with the Continue reading

Party finance and Political Representation

Ken McDonagh 13 April 2011

Vincent Browne has a new bugbear – party finance. In today’s Irish Times he writes: ‘The only reason anyone would give money to a political party is because they expect to get something in return’
He goes on to link the problem of private funding for political parties to the disproportionate representation of the views of the very wealthy, (to read the full article click here) however his proposed solution is neither fair nor practical.
This is due to the fact that Vincent has misidentified the problem, the transactional nature of political support is not the core of the issue – namely the willingness to donate in order to have your view represented, essentially this is the same logic as voting – the problem is the relative difference in power and influence between the very wealthy and the ordinary citizens produced by the ability of the former to use their substantial financial resources to influence policy makers. Continue reading

Citizens doing it for themselves: time for a 2nd Republic?

Posted by Kenneth McDonagh, Monday 6th December

On Saturday afternoon last, I attended the first meeting of a new grassroots movement called ‘Second Republic’. As someone who has stared forlornly from the lectern at a mere scattering of undergraduates, the very fact that up to 80 people freely gave up their time to discuss political reform on a wintry Saturday afternoon is evidence of the prevailing appetite for change. That they sustained the debate for 2 hours or more is testament to the seriousness with which this issue is viewed. Continue reading

Party Games: Pay to Play

Posted by Kenneth McDonagh, Dec 3rd 2010

One of the recurrent themes of the recent debates on political reform has been the lack of engagement and/or connection between ordinary citizens and the political system. The public ranges between rage and apathy when it comes to the question of how to influence politics. Calls for electoral reform are criticised because the voters will always get the government they deserve regardless of how you count up the preferences. Calls for institutional reform may be doomed to failure because the same party minions toiling under the same party whips will find themselves in these new institutions, you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Or in social science terms: Garbage in, Garbage out.

Continue reading