A couple of interesting stories in the Irish media today caused me to re-consider the notion that political reform should be the exclusive domain of elected politicians. With their electoral mandates, experience of the day-to-day functioning of political institutions and (in Ireland, at least) their exclusive right to initiate constitutional change, our professional politicians certainly have more claim than most other social groups or organisations to take the lead on this issue.
A link here to the RTE Player’s version of ‘Inside the Department’, a documentary that provides some interesting insights into the realities of governance in today’s Ireland. Among other things, it documents the difficulty of leading a department that you have verbally eviscerated in opposition (“malevolently dysfunctional” is a particularly good catchphrase).
John Drennan’s Sindo article points to growing backbench opposition to the government’s proposed referendum on abolishing the Seanad. This development is unsurprising, given the tightness of electoral margins in Ireland’s political system and the personal investment of Oireachtas members in retaining their positions (although, as we all know, the pension’s not too bad if you do get the boot). However, the naked self-interest on display in this debate is enough to sicken even a seasoned observer of the venality of the Irish political class.
Posted by Matt Wall
A letter to the Irish Times from six former Senators represents a faltering start to the campaign against the government’s plans to abolish the Seanad. The six argue, as many others have and will, for reform rather than abolition. Sadly, their case is not helped by the farcical nature of many of the ‘debates’ that unfold with such regularity and futility in the current Seanad. Such debates are all-too-often nothing more than set pieces. They tend to be treated as such by their participants – rhetorical grandstanding and political point scoring are par for the course, and considered, constructive inputs are far more rare (though by no means absent).
Interesting article from Dan O’Brien in the Irish Times here, flagged up by Paul Hunt in a comment. Should Ministers also be TDs? A response that usually comes from the political system on this is that there is provision to nominate 2 ministers via the Seanad, though this very rarely happens. Would having a minister with a shred of economic training in the Finance portfolio have led to a better decision on the bank guarantee? Certainly, a little expertise couldn’t have hurt, the apocryphal image the late Minister Lenihan taking a crash course in economics while chewing raw garlic in David MacWilliams’ kitchen comes to mind.
Anyway, perhaps another issue that the Constitutional Convention should consider but won’t, unless it radically expands its agenda via the ’8th item’ (all other issues).
Really interesting debate on the government’s plans to involve citizens in Irish constitutional reform with contributions from: this site’s Elaine Byrne, Conor O’Mahony, a constitutional law expert from UCC, and Oliver Moran from the Second Republic civil society group. Labour’s Alex White gamely defending the government’s performance and plans to date – though he was batting on a sticky wicket on many specific points. I get the feeling that many Labour members are feeling rather shortchanged on their party’s campaign promise to completely re-write the Constitution by 2016. If you didn’t catch it last night, it’s well worth a watch on the TV3 player.
So I recently learned that The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 will soon be passed as law. Looks like some really progressive stuff, especially when you look at the ongoing hyper monetization of politics that is taking place in the usa. I can’t wait to see the parties publish comprehensive accounts, which should let the media, academia, and general public keep a closer eye on how we fund our politics.
Here is a link to the ‘The Week in Politics’ coverage of the political reform debate on RTE last night – Brian Dowling’s report touches on a lot of key themes, and much of the discussion explores important ideas. Definitely worth a watch IMO. I’ve posted some reactions of my own below…
I just finished reading an article in today’s IT on the constitutional convention. In the article, Dr. Conor O’Mahony claims that the government’s plans on the constitutional convention will be little more than a ‘charade’, indeed, Dr. O’Mahony goes on to describe the planned convention as a ‘joke’. I have to agree with most of Dr. O’Mahony’s assertions, it is no coincidence that they overlap considerably with my own assessment of the government’s plans - I think that the shortcomings of these proposals would be clear to anyone who cared to read them.
The government’s recently unveiled proposals on the forthcoming constitutional convention make for disappointing reading for those who, like this author, had hoped that such a body could facilitate profound political reform in Ireland.
The proposed convention, to be comprised of a chair, 66 members of the public and 33 elected politicians, is hobbled by a narrow and disjointed pre-set agenda, and limited to a strictly advisory role.