Last week the Dáil passed a government motion to make three important changes to Standing Orders (in typical Dáil fashion with little debate). In summary, the changes that will be in operation from the start of the next Dáil session are:
- A secret ballot to elect the Ceann Comhairle,
- Use of d’Hondt formula to allocate Oireachtas committee chair positions proportionate to party size in the chamber (with the tradition remaining that the main opposition party controls the Public Accounts Committee), and
- A requirement that twice a year the Taoiseach appear before the Working Group of Committee Chairs.
I’m currently reading José Saramago’s Seeing (a gift from a former student), which tells the story of how panic sets in among a city’s political classes after the vast bulk of the citizens cast a blank ballot in an election. It’s a great read, though I have to admit I thought the storyline a bit far-fetched. Even with all the problems of our political system are we ever likely to end up in a scenario where such large numbers of citizens are so angry that they simply refuse to engage in the political process at all? Granted, electoral turnout is in decline, but outside of the USA and Switzerland across most of the world’s democracies the bulk of citizens still vote.
To my mind Saramago’s image of a citizenry so turned off that they disengage completely from the political system just didn’t seem credible. That was until yesterday when I stood in the centre of Barcelona and witnessed Catalonia’s (now) annual independence day rally of September 11. Continue reading
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
Dr. Deiric Ó Broin, NorDubCo
I present the third opinion piece in context of the debate on Local Government Reform, organised by the Regional Studies Association – Irish Branch.
The package of proposals contained in the Local Government Bill, 2013, the Report of the Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee and the Final Report of the Local Government/Local Development Alignment Steering Group, taken in conjunction with the introduction of the Residential Property Tax and the incorporation of enterprise development bodies in local government represent the most significant set of local government reforms articulated by an Irish government since the introduction of the city/county manager system.
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.
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
Posted by Eoin O’Malley (7th January, 2013)
One of the most common complaints about democracy is that it shortens our rulers’ time horizons to an extent that damages our interests. If you are a hereditary absolute monarch, presumably you take a very long view, as you care about the inheritance you leave your children and grandchildren. But if you’re an elected politician you tend to think in terms of the next election.
Political scientists tend to assume that all politicians care about is re-election, and while this might be an oversimplification, it is hardly a controversial assumption. Then politicians think in four or five year cycles. Internationally there is some evidence, though it’s hardly overwhelming, Continue reading