In elections it’s not just how votes are counted that matters

The first annual report of the highly influential Electoral Integrity Project has just been published (see here). Professor Pippa Norris and her colleagues have carried out an extensive survey of the electoral process across the world’s democracies over the past few years. Ireland’s last election (2011) preceded this project so it was not included on this occasion, but as the work of this project continues, our next election will come under scrutiny. Continue reading

Political parties, like other public bodies, need to have their accounts fully audited

The ongoing standoff between the Minister for the Environment and the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) is yet another signal of just how much this government has backtracked on its supposed commitment to open government.

At the heart of this issue is what level of party accounts should be made available for auditing and public scrutiny. The Minister (and in fairness, it seems all the other parties with him – I stand ready to be corrected on this ☺) is of the view that the legislation (the Electoral (Political Funding) Act, 2012) requires that the parties need to only audit their national accounts. SIPO disagrees. As a letter this week from the outgoing SIPO Chair (published on their website here) makes clear their legal advice, on the contrary, is that the auditing should also extend to the sub-national units (i.e. the party branches) of the parties’ organizations. Continue reading

A political system friendly to independents but not to new parties

jfoley11aEvery day there is some opinion piece or other speculating about the possibility of a new political party emerging in Ireland. Journalistic eyes are peeled, watching every movement, signal or nuance from the likes of Lucinda Creighton, Michael McDowell, or any other obvious contenders seen as most likely to lead the way in establishing a new party. But how our political system is set up makes life very difficult for ambitious individuals aspiring to establish a new party. By contrast, it’s very easy for ambitious individuals wanting to run for office as independents. Continue reading

Ministerial responsibility, policy design and implementation

At a conference in the IPA recently there was some talk about changes in how ministers and civil servants are held accountable, and for what they are held accountable. The traditional doctrine of ministerial responsibility, set out in the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924, hold the minister to be the Corporation Sole, so s/he is legally responsible for every action of the department. This is obviously not very realistic and few would subscribe to the view of the UK Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan that the sound of a bedpan falling in his local hospital should reverberate in the Palace of Westminster.

Continue reading

Let’s think about the type of inquiry that will work before we set one up


The current calls for some form of inquiry into the economic collapse and the government’s response to it are understandable in the light of the Anglo tapes. While they probably didn’t reveal much that we hadn’t already suspected, their tone was abhorrent to most. What is not reasonable is that we concentrate our blame on the banks for the debacle. They were probably doing what any interest group does when looking for government assistance – they bluff. Continue reading

Lobbying legislation

Posted by Elaine Byrne

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are currently engaged in a process of consultation in order to introduce a regulatory system for lobbying in Ireland. Department officials will publish a policy paper on the process in May and the anticipated legislation is due early next year.  I believe that this is one of the most significant political reform initiatives of this government. The attempt to legislate for influence is not an easy task. The approach by Minister Brendan Howlin and his team is very welcome and perhaps a model in how consultation and legislation should be introduced in the future.

I met with the Department’s civil servants last week to discuss my submission on lobbying. My colleagues Gary Murphy and Raj Chari have been very much involved since the early stages of the process. The Department has received over 50 submissions from different organisations and interests.

Key issues for lobbying regulation

  • -How ambitious should the legislation be? Would an over regulated system actually prove counterproductive because of cost issues and the administrative burden on those engaged in lobbying?
  • -How do you define *lobbyist*? Transparency International argues that the term lobbyist is misleading and too narrowly defined. Is the President of the IFA, for example, a lobbyist although he is not paid?
  • -What exactly should be regulated?
  • -How influential are PR firms in the lobbying process?

Any observations on these or other matters related to lobbyists are greatly appreciated. I hope to write on this shortly.