Political Reform Poll Results

By Jane Suiter

Political reform ran a poll here for a number of weeks, it has taken a little time to report the findings for which I apologise. We received some 485 responses to the poll with people from 16 to 65 responding from most counties across the country. These are of course not nationally representative but are probably representative of those that read this site. Some of the results make for interesting reading with unsurprisingly an appetite for political reform, some of it quite radical. 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

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

Political funding reform needed

This has been mentioned in passing on this site before but perhaps it is worth its own thread given recent events. The Irish Times points out today that It is not just Fianna Fáil that has behaved badly over ethical legislation and transparency.

Because political donations below a certain limit do not have to be disclosed to the standards commission, many donations were set below the limit.. The commission also suspects that large donations may be split up into small amounts to avoid disclosure. Last year, when local, European and byelections were held, not a single donation was publicly recorded by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Labour Party. This is a disgrace. Ethical standards and political funding mechanisms require fundamental reform.

In its  2009 annual report published this week SIPO also argues that liabilities should be declared by public representatives and public servants in their annual statements of interests.

Lucinda Creighton and Reform

Elsewhere on this site the full text of Lucinda Creighton’s speech to Magill is produced. However, there are no comment faculties there and given the importance of some of what she said I thought I would link it here for comments. She is obviously disillusioned but makes some interesting points. In particular she points to the party whip as a real source of legislative weakness.

In Ireland, however, the most stringent form of whip, the
three line whip is imposed for every single vote. This
demonstrates to me a lack of confidence amongst political
parties. It shows an immature democracy, which urgently
needs to grow up to meet the needs of a mature people. It
also creates a fertile environment for mediocrity to flourish,
where politicians are enabled and indeed encouraged to
avoid individual accountability. The result of our entrenched
and archaic party whip system is that our politicians can
dodge personal responsibility for their own political
decisions.

Fine Gael’s New Politics

A couple of things strike me about Fine Gael’s ‘New Politics’:

1. Much of the debate in the last few months concerning political reform has focused on two assumptions: (a) ‘Ireland is broken’ (taken from The Irish Times series on ‘Renewing the Republic’) and (b) the political institutions are responsible for this.
While there is no doubt that at the moment there is definitely something wrong in this country, where is the evidence that institutional reform will right these wrongs?
For example, in the context of one particular institution – the electoral system – which has unjustly been the target of a considerable deal of blame, it is particularly ironic that when the citizens’ assembly in British Columbia assessed all the world’s electoral systems, it favoured our own PR-STV.
The political institutions seem to be used as a scapegoat upon which to lay culpability when things go wrong. However, in this context, the old adage ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ springs to mind. Rather than focusing on the actions of individuals or groups (be it the clientelist culture supported by politicians and voters alike or poor policy choices made by politicians and civil servants alike), we quickly look to shed blame. It’s not our fault, goes the argument, it’s the conditions (i.e. the institutions) under which we work. In this way, neither we as an electorate nor the politicians as a legislature can ever be held truly accountable for their actions.
Think about this. Do we ever thank the political institutions when things go well? Certainly no one in either Canada or Australia, two western countries that have escaped the worst of the global recession, is suggesting that their electoral systems are responsible for this.

2. The lack of public debate about these issues. Even if, as seems likely, Fine Gael leads the next government, to what extent will it have a mandate concerning its New Politics document? This would only be the case if it was the main issue affecting people’s votes. We all know that the length of presidential terms or even the presence of an upper house of parliament will not influence the next election. It’s the economy, stupid.
That is why we should have a citizens’ assembly on these issues (as Fine Gael proposes), but before any such constitution day.
If we rush ahead with changes without fully considering their consequences, we may have another e-voting type fiasco that cost the taxpayer millions.

3. Why is Fine Gael tampering with the presidency? It appears a rather soft option for reform, particularly given that it’s an entirely symbolic position with no real powers. Does anyone really care about the presidency? After all, where was the fuss when there was no presidential election in 2004, 1983, 1976 or 1974? Shortening the term of office and expanding the franchise will certainly not help to create the New Republic to which Fine Gael aspires. If anything, the latter change creates the possibility of a republic headed by a president without a mandate from its inhabitants. For example, could the granting of a vote to Irish citizens abroad, although in line with comparative experience, expand the electorate in such a manner that overseas voters will outnumber residential voters? If so, what if the overseas votes swung a presidential election in such a way that we were left with a president who did not win majority, or even plurality support, amongst voters living in Ireland?

4. I don’t wish to appear pedantic on this matter, but I have to agree with Matt Wall on the typos in the New Politics document. These include:
• Citizens Assembly (sic)
• Fianna Fail (sic)
• Children Rights (sic)
• Peoples’ concerns (sic)
• Private members time (sic)
• the peoples’ representatives (sic)
• Fine Gael will give backbench TDs establish a bigger role (sic)
• whistleblowers charter (sic)
• Fine Gael will register all lobbyists are ensure that their activities are overseen (sic)
• Irish peoples’ trust in government (sic)
• A desire to afford every term it deems important with upper case status. Why not then write the whole document in upper case font?

I am quick to reproach students for sloppy errors, usually because it indicates a lack of time or care afforded to their efforts. It is in this context that Fine Gael’s typos surprise me. One would imagine that in such an important document as this, every word and phrase would have been carefully considered, more so than in a regular undergraduate essay.
If the party can’t get this wholly right, should we be concerned about its abilities to forge this new republic?

Liam Weeks