National Government? Only after an election…

Adrian K avanagh, 8th October 2010

There has been increasing talk in recent times about the need for a national government,  but also increasing reticence on the part of the opposition parties. Not surprising, as this would be a Fianna Fail dominated administration – the Dail arithmetic being such that Fianna Fail could push their own agenda more and could pull out of such an arrangement should they choose. The only real prospects for the creation of a national government would be to arrange to create one immediately after a general election has taken place. This election could then be to determine the relative strenght of different parties in this government – the more Dail seats a party wins the more cabinet/junior ministerial posts they attain, with the largest party attaining the post of Taoiseach and the second largest party getting the post of Tanaiste… A crazy off the wall idea???

13 thoughts on “National Government? Only after an election…

  1. It sounds pretty dangerous to me, Adrian – while the current legislature is feeble in terms of overseeing the government – one might imagine that any efforts at oversight would disappear if every party in the Dail had a stake in the executive.

    Opposition is important in a democracy, especially one without term limits, where the governing class is a near closed shop housing a fairly narrow section of the population.

    Stronger committees, with real powers and chairpersonships allocated proportional to party sizes, as well as a far greater level of information sharing between the civil service and the legisalture as a whole would allow parties outside of government to make a meaningful contribution to the way that we are governed.

    Indeed, several serious reforms are needed to the way that the legislature works to make it, as an entitiy, more relevant. I suggest that the scenario you lay out could make it even more redundant than it currently is.

    • @Michael Wall,


      Probably the best outcome after an election – as I have indicated previously – is for Labour to hold back and compel a suitably chastened FF either to provide minority support for an FG government or to engage in coaition with a larger FG bloc.

      • Personally, I believe anoyne earning’ over €100,000 in any and all PS jobs should already have taken a voluntary reduction: 20% at a minimum. 33% off €150,000 and 40% off €200,000 (the cap). Those who haven’t volunteered yet hardly deserve major thanks if they do do under duress now. Those who have reduced to date deserve condemnation.The simple answer to all this would be to publish the salaries of ALL categories of PS employees setting out also the EU average for the equivalent position in smaller EU countries and maybe the pre-2000 (Irish) salary.As for so called expert consultants’ they should not be needed at all (given our huge, overpaid PS whose job it is to do the work unaided). If we do use outsiders the cost should be set at an absolute maximum of €1,000 a day to consultants (inclusive of all expenses incurred including junior staff etc.).

  2. @MatthewWall

    I think the reforms you outline are essential if politics is to regain its relevance. The vast majority of TDs have little influence.

    Have you written in more detail on this topic?

  3. If Fine Gael really wants to reform the country, it would recoil in horror when it sees the real books, assuming even now the Dept of Finance doesn’t keep lying, and announce things are so bad, it cannot possible support the government in any way a day longer, no more pairing etc etc.

    But the killer blow would be …

    Things are so bad, on the first day FG is in office it will bring in legislation to cut the salaries of every single person in the entire public sector, be they the President or the Supreme Court Justice down to €100k, and reduce their pension entitlements according, cancel all expenses for TDs, Senators and Councillors, (none of them need to be claiming expenses for anything) and that the situation is so bad they are calling for all the people affected to step up to the plate for their country.

    It should also remove the state cars, the pensions paid to the likes of Peter Sutherland and cut the pensions paid to anyone who held office by the amount they get from private income ie if Bertie wants to ‘earn’ €100k by doing ads then go for it but his State salary and pension will be reduced accordingly and apply it to Reynolds, Bruton, FitzGerald and all the rest of them, even the widows of former office holders – no exceptions for anyone. Period.

    That is the scale of reform needed and the scale of change needed in the mindset of the political class to deliver would make their head explode, hence it won’t happen.

    Then get rid of the tax breaks and all forms of pension payment tax relief for a period of 2 or 3 years – it’s a luxury we can’t afford at the moment.

    Only then could we look at cutting class sizes or special needs teachers etc.

  4. Those calling for a national government outside of war time are invariably from the right. The recent call by right wing free marketteer Ed Walsh is a case in point. Outside of war time the only function of a national government is to heap burdens on the population generally in a way which avoids political accountability to the people by the political parties. It is the recourse of those who refuse to adequately tax the assets and incomes of the very rich and seek dictatorial powers to attack the population generally instead of this. Currenyly we have a government which was elected on the basis of a manifesto which is the direct opposite to the policy it is implementing.It has no democratic mandate.In order to make governments more accountable to the electorate, the Dail term should be reduced from five years to three years.

  5. @Adrian Kavanagh
    To what extent would National Government differ from the consensus government that Bertie Ahern ran under the Partnership process and which delivered little or no reform of the way we govern ourselves, despite promises to do so?

    It seems that those who call for national government want some kind of corporate statism, the results of we now see – private banks behaving without any fiduciary responsibility (“Green jersey” policy making and blaming poor regulation – which was also true, to make matters worse!), government now at the mercy of the bond markets, EU and ECB.

    We are getting more detail on what partnership (corporate statism ?) actually meant, in practice. How many more “slush funds” (to use what a Public Account Committee member called the HSE payments to anaccount controlled by some SIPTU people) exist?

    Another issue that deserves detailed investigation is the way in which one state company energy company(with monopoly ownership of gas transmission) paid about €500m for a portfolio of electricity generation assets ( which another state-energy company considered too expensive a few months earlier ( Given that this did not add any extra generation capacity on the island, what was going on? Another form of Partnership continuing after Bertie had been replaced as Taoiseach?

    Why should we, citizens, believe the basis (the Department of Finance calculations and projections) which, for example, Minister Eamon Ryan offered as basis for the all-party consensus that the Green Party is now calling , when
    1) an experienced observer wrote the following about the Department of Finance
    “Most damningly, the report found a total lack of foresight capacity….the study covered prudence…. to judge whether finance ministries had in place measures that would insulate the public finances from crisis or set warning lights flashing if one approached. Ireland not only came last among the 19 in this sub-section, uniquely, it was found not to have a single safeguard in place.
    While the commission’s 2007 study was the most comparative, it was not a one-off. In 2003 the OECD devoted most of its Country Report to needed reforms and modernisation …In 2005 the Department of Finance openly rejected an IMF suggestion that greater outside involvement was needed in its work…..
    Dan O’Brien “Looking back on a unique absence of foresight” Irish Times 28 June 2010

    2) The senior public service recently admitted that it was not very active in working out the full implications of joining the €uro in 1999.
    “In the past decade, Ireland’s approach to fiscal policy, prices, costs and financial regulation were not sufficiently adapted to the disciplines of a single currency.“
    (Press Release from National Economic and Social Council (NESC) released with a report “The Euro: an Irish Perspective” 17th August 2010. The Secretary General of the Government chairs National Economic and Social Council (NESC), which is a forum for social partnership. Among the seven Government nominees are the Secretaries-General of five Government Departments ie. Finance, Entreprise Trade and Employment, Social and Family Affairs, Environment Heritage and Local Government, Education and Skills)

    Trouble is that the governing class cannot claim it were not warned. In 1999, the year we joined the €uro, the International Monetary Fund(IMF) raised this very issue
    “If the risks of overheating and a subsequent hard landing to a more sustainable rate of growth is a concern, what policy actions can be taken in the context of monetary union?”

    @Matthew Wall
    “……as well as a far greater level of information sharing between the civil service and the legisalture as a whole ….”…..
    Is there any realistic chance that this will happen, given the recent history of Freedom of Information (FoI) here

    IMO, it was the civil service which took the
    initiative to restrict the 1997 FoI Act following the 2002 General Election, during which FoI was not an issue. Six years later, the Senior Civil Servants reinforced that stance with their response to the OECD 2008 review of the Irish Public Service – for more detail and an alternative way of looking at FoI, see my earlier posting

    “….allow parties outside of government to make a meaningful contribution to the way that we are governed.”

    It is simply not part of Irish political culture – reinforced by the constitutionally specified majority grouping in the Dáil from which the Government is formed – for parties outside government to be allowed to make any meaningful contribution, if by this, you mean political parties.

    As I have suggested above, other non-political parties and even individuals are very welcome to present ideas in the Partnership/Corporate Statist approach outlined above – provided they co-operate, which they usually do once they are “remunerated” in some way or other.

    If political parties offer something and the government accepts it, the government claims the credit and more importantly ensures that this is what gets into the public consciousness/domain – by spin, hype and PR. How long can an opposition maintain its motivation to do the hard work needed to offer credible new ideas before a general election is called?

  6. Constitution Of Ireland

    Article 16:5

    “The same Dáil Éireann shall not continue for a longer period than seven years from the date of its first meeting: a shorter period may be fixed by law.”

    Section 7 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 1927

    “The maximum duration of the Oireachtas without a dissolution shall be five years reckoned from the date of the first meeting of Dáil Eireann after the last previous dissolution, and if a dissolution of the Oireachtas does not take place before the last day of any such period of five years the Oireachtas shall be dissolved on such last day.”

    So less than twenty months before an election must be called.

    Unless, the Electoral (Amendment) Act 1927 is itself amended. That would amount to a suspension of democracy for two years.

    Fianna Fail & the Green Party want a “National Government” of “Multi Party Forum” for a period of less than twenty months.

    Yet they are producing a four year fiscal plan.

    The only reasonable way to proceed is a general election.

    If Fianna Fail and the Green Party are anxious for “unity” of purpose let them acknowledge the political will of the Citizen Electorate.

  7. @Cui Bono
    Interesting angle. Just changing the electoral amendment act gives the great and the good the 4 year time period that they say they need.
    Given the reported reluctance of incumbents to face general election campaigns, it could garner the support of non-party affiliated TDS and swathes of public opinion who regard politics as generating far more noise, than signal.
    As a bonus, FF would not even have to change leader.

  8. Donal O’Brolchain

    I think the situation is graver than we (the public) have been lead to believe.

    Lenihan & Gormley have information that the opposition cannot possibly have.

    Imminent implosion of AIB? Ireland cut off from the bond market? Additional losses in the financial system that will become apparent?

    I think Cowen is out of the loop. Lenihan doesn’t trust him anymore.

    A tough budget or series of budget is not the stuff that “National Governments” are formed to address.

    What would National Government mean in the context of reducing the deficit? The army on the streets to quell disquiet?

    Gormley said on RTE radio today that he “was confident” that Cowen would change his mind and that all parties would be “on board” (or some such) by the end of next week.

    There be monsters.

  9. In a way there’s a part of me wishes the whole country to go down the drain as the depth of denial among the establishment and the public about the scale of change needed is shocking.

    The Irish establishment have proven they are unfit to govern. That is established and yet whe the general election is held, the public are going to be givne the choice of electing the same people who caused this mess or who offer no alternative – is PJ Sheehan not the personification of Fine Gael – is he really that different to the rest of FG?

    There should be a campaign funded by a wealthy person, there are still plenty, to get people to vote for first time candidates only – so pick the party of your choice but pick the first time candidate or if there is no first timer, pick the candidate you gave a 3 to last time and vote in reverse order.

    But something radical has to give to get a different political class elected and that buck stops with the public and how it votes.

  10. @Cui Bono
    I agree with you entirely about the situation being more serious than the powers-that-be care to admit. In these circumstances, I do wonder when John Gormley and co will be open enough to let us know just what kind of a vessel they are shaping for us all to board? ARe they going to give us the option of choosing who will govern this vessel?

    While we may never actually be able to confirm this, I would not be surprised if – let me put it this way – it is a pre-condition of EU level support (which the other lenders may also be watching) that we pay attention to a dictum phrased along the lines of “I am all in favour of tradition, that is why I like starting new ones”.

    As with Patrick Honohan, the first Central Bank Governor without a Dept of Finance background (as far as I know), similar changes may also be awaited by those who make it clear that if we want to change the results, we have to change the approach.

    Just as with the appointment of the Central Bank Governor, it is up to us to find the right people, appoint them, etc. The electoral process is the only means we have to make our views count. I have not doubt that we will, collectively, take the right decision, if we are presented with all the options.

    re.More “financial black holes”
    One way of looking at it is that the moral hazard loosed by the 1985 “rescue of AIB” from its own bad management of ICI has caught up with us.

    What is completely unacceptable is the inertia of the government system (elected and appointed) to take key steps identified by the same Patrick Honohan and Jane Kelly* in 1997 (both then in ESRI) eg.
    “….The emerging conventional wisdom on financial crises stresses the need for thorough prudential supervision on a consolidated basis of financial conglomerates. It seeks to ensure that the
    methods chosen to allocate the cost of failures does not destabilize confidence in the financial system, but is not such as to induce carelessness on the part of management, owners or customers of
    financial institutions. The ICI affair revealed a lack of administrative preparedness and several mistakes were made…..”

    That said, they were able to conclude that
    “Ireland’s worst banking crisis passed off with scarcely any disturbance on the markets and with practically no taxpayer cost.
    Although the total losses came to well over 1 per cent of GNP, this sum is negligible beside the losses in banking crises of other countries. Our experience has no counterpart to the severe and
    widespread bank failures which have occurred in France, Spain and the Scandinavian countries, to mention only EU member states that have experienced deep problems. In a way it is the exception that proves the rule of apparent stability and prudence
    in bank strategic management. Though the authorities’ inability to forestall the event, and their actions in trying to contain it and to allocate the cost, can be criticized, they did muddle through to an overall outcome which has proved reasonably satisfactory.”
    **The Insurance Corporation Collapse:
    Resolving Ireland’s Worst Financial Crash Administration, vol. 45, no. 3 (Autumn 1997), 67-77

    Unfortunately, the success of the 1985 “muddling through” does not appear to have been a spur to further action, judging by other IMF comments made in public notice in August 1999 ie.

    “In light of the rapid growth in credit and strong housing price increases, a number of Directors expressed concern about the risks of an asset price bubble and the potential vulnerability of the banking system. Directors stressed the need to enhance the forward-looking aspects of regulatory policy and, in this regard, welcomed the supervisory authorities’ recent initiative to assess the financial system’s vulnerability to specified macroeconomic shocks. They felt that a peer review, particularly by supervisors from a country that had undergone a real estate boom, might be helpful.”

    Although I have raised the “peer review” question in a number of web-based fora, I have not yet have any hint that such a peer review was carried out or if it was, what other action was taken.

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