Here is an article from the Irish Times today outlining what we have all long suspected that senior Irish cabinet ministers indulge in a peculiarly Irish form of pork barrel, directing funds at their home constituencies. Voters are assumed to vote for candidates who have a good chance of becoming a minister in order to secure these funds for their constituency. However, the evidence is that there is little systematic delivery to cabinet ministers constituencies in general. Rather it is only the ministers who control the purse strings who appear to benefit systematically, this means the decision making minister and the minister for finance. For example, under the cabinet that was in office from mid 2004 for three years John O’Donoghue secured almost double the national average in per capita sports funding when he was minister in charge of sports. However. O’Donoghue’s constituents did rather less well when it came to primary education funding securing just below the national average at €138 per head.
However, the problem is not just the skew in funding towards particular constituencies. More worrying there is little evidence that funds are directed on the basis of policy. Part of the reason for this is that there is a lack of evidence in the relevant departments on which to base policy.
One of the factors which could account for this pattern include the electoral system which promotes intra party competition leading ministers to focus on their own re-election efforts. But would changing the electoral system fix the problem? Perhaps not. However, if ministers were forced to resign from their constituencies, as is the practice in much of Europe, a good deal of the incentive would be removed. An enhanced role for the Oireachtas vis a vis the powerful executive could also allow backbenchers to monitor spending more closely. But perhaps the fastest way to more equitable spending would be for the Government to publish all spending decisions allowing the citizenry to do their own analysis.