The people have mumbled. What was it they said?

election-count-1_3By Seán Patrick Donlan (University of Limerick)

It’s all too easy after any election, no matter how slight the margin of victory, by however small a portion of the electorate, to declare that the result represents a mandate of some sort. When this isn’t merely spin, it’s often the product of wishful thinking, the hope that some clear intention is waiting for us to discover and act on. Indeed, both the winners and losers might desire this clarity so that each can move on with their lives. Continue reading

Dáil reform just doesn’t cut it

0007ebe6-642The Government’s planned reforms of the Dáil announced last week, while welcome, are underwhelming. There are some good proposals such as the routine use of pre-legislative scrutiny.

But much of the reform just tinkers with the details of when and where TDs will work. Working extra days or longer hours won’t achieve anything if the basic structures of the Dáil and its relationship with government are not addressed. Continue reading

Dáil reform announced by the government

Below I’ve pasted the announcement by the government for Dáil reform. One thing to note I suppose is that it is the government that does this and not the Dáil itself making its own rules. On the reforms themselves, the phrase ‘a day late and a dollar short’ comes to mind.

dail order

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Dáil Reform Note

The Programme for Government outlined an ambitious agenda for Dáil Reform to be introduced in a phased process over the lifetime of this Government.

The first phase of Dáil Reforms introduced in the summer of 2011 included: Continue reading

Is the Seanad Bill 2013 what we want?

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Posted by Eoin O’Malley (15 May)

A new Seanad reform bill was introduced in the Seanad today by Senators Katherine Zappone and Fergal Quinn. It is available here. The main point of the bill are that it should move to a reformed house with new powers, but without requiring constitutional change. It proposed elections by universal suffrage, to close the democratic deficit, with non-geographic constituencies (on these see an interesting post by Michael Gallagher here). The other reforms are to allow the Seanad conduct public inquiries, to monitor secondary legislation (Statutory Instruments), Continue reading

ReformCard: a tool to help voters decide

The editors and contributors behind polticalreform.ie have teamed with a large volunteer team of project managers, web designers and others to produce ReformCard a measurement tool to rank each party based on the quality of their policies on political reform.  We hope this will prove a critical instrument in informing the election 2011 debate. It provides the 25 proposals for political reform in Ireland which we believe provide the best possible combination to transform the political system and ensure it is fit for purpose in the 21st century. Continue reading

Parliament must lead and ask serious questions of itself

This is a truncated version of the speech delivered by Dr Maurice Manning at the launch of The Houses of The Oireachtas on 25 November 2010

The Irish Parliament is one of the oldest continuously surviving parliaments in the world. Aside from its earliest years, its legitimacy has never been seriously questioned; it has provided stable government and generally has done most of the things that are traditionally expected of a parliament. But when I say the Oireachtas has justified most of the traditional expectations of a parliament, a question immediately arises. Put simply, it is the fact that most of our other major traditional institutions have been found seriously wanting in the events leading up to the present great crisis. Continue reading

Radical poltical reform needed

In his weekly column in The Irish Times yesterday Stephen Collins argued cogently that radical political reform will be an urgent task of the new government

Collins argues that it is now blindingly obvious that our multi-seat system of proportional representation played a big role in bringing us to where we are. “The system throws up elected representatives who are good at constituency work but who have little interest in, or capacity for, policy debate or innovative thinking.” His prescription is the introduction of single-seat constituencies with a top-up by a list system to retain proportionality.

The problem is that if the electoral system is to be changed it will not work on its own. Collins and many of us would like to see the emergence of quality legislators who have the interest and ability to understand the national interest and to prioritise it. The electoral system may or may not be central to that but what is crucial is changing the system in which our elected representatives operate. The Dáil at the moment is simply a talking shop, a “joke” as Richard Bruton put it at a recent PSAI meeting. Legislators largely read prepared scripts to a largely empty house. The whip system ensures that they have little or no influence on policy. Simply electing them by another means will not change that. Continue reading

What’s the point of political reform?

By Michael Gallagher

This rather provocative title is intended to raise the issue of just what end it’s hoped will be served by political reform.

Possible ends could be classed as process-oriented or outcome-oriented. Regarding the former, having a political system that is more transparent and participatory is worth trying to achieve in its own right, regardless of whether anything actually changes ‘on the ground’. The fact there was very little talk of political reform while the economy was (or seemed to be) booming might suggest that, while process considerations no doubt play some part in the minds of reformers, for most these are a secondary consideration, and they are either seen as not important or as important primarily because it is hoped they will lead to better outcomes. Continue reading

Changing the electoral system will have no effect without reform to the political system

By David Stanton TD

It is clear to everyone that our parliamentary system needs reform. Dáil Éireann in its current state is not fit for purpose.  Fine Gael recently published a policy document “New Politics” which sets out wide-ranging proposals for Dáil reform including the abolition of the Seanad.  We have not addressed the electoral system as we are awaiting the publication of the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutions report on electoral reform. I would maintain anyway that changing the way we elect Deputies to Dail Eireann will have no impact unless reforms are introduced to improve the workings of the Dáil.

While some of the proposals contained in “New Politics” would require referendums to be introduced, there are many worthwhile reforms which could be implemented immediately to the workings of the Dáil and do not require constitutional change.  Simple changes to the daily Dáil business such as improvements to Taoiseach’s and Minister’s oral question times could enhance debate.  Changes could also be made to how legislation is drafted and debated in the Dáil and Committees to allow for better interaction between Deputies.  The practice whereby Deputies read scripts to each other or to an almost empty Dail chamber must be urgently addressed.

One of the main reasons quoted for reforming Dáil Éireann is its failure to hold the Government to account for its decisions. The Ombudsman, a very respected and independent commentator, was recently extremely critical of how parliament functions.  She stated that the Dáil was largely a “charade” and parliament in Ireland has been side-lined and is no longer in a position to hold the executive to account.  From my 13 years as a Dail Deputy, I would have to agree with her. Dáil Deputies and our entire legislature are very weak in comparison to the Executive.  As the Executive makes all the decisions in relation to Dail business and timings, it is the Executive who controls the Dáil.

The legislature should also have more say in state expenditure.  In “New Politics” Fine Gael proposed a radical overhaul of the budgetary process.  The hundreds of quangos established in the last ten years must also be held to account through the parliamentary question system. Despite some receiving hundreds of millions of public finances Ministers are not accountable to the Dáil for their actions.

Urgent reform is needed of our political system. The above are just some of the things that could easily be implemented immediately and would bring tangible improvements to Dáil Éireann making it more efficient and effective.  We also need to look at a longer-term process for large-scale overhaul of our entire political system.  Such reforms however cannot be implemented by politicians alone; all of our citizens must have the chance to be involved.  If the Dáil is even to become relevant to people’s daily lives, public confidence in politics must be restored.