By Matt Wall
Fintan O’Toole’s summary of the reforms that he proposes in his new book: ‘Enough is Enough’ advocates ’30 key steps’ to that we need to take to reform democracy in Ireland – many of which have been debated intensely on this site.
Some of these are more contested than others, there are well-rehearsed arguments on either side of the electoral reform and gender quota debates for instance – but I think he is to be applauded for laying out a suite of concrete proposals for debate. Hopefully this is a signal that we are starting to look towards the future, so that we don’t end up repeating the mistakes of the past.
5 thoughts on “O’Toole Lays His Cards on the Table”
While there are some valuable proposals designed to deepen democracy in the proposals of Fintan O’Toole, his advocacy of a list system is unfortunate. If a proportion of Dail seats were filled on the basis of a national list, this process would reduce democratic accountability. Political party leaders,including senior ministers and frontbench spokespersons would place themselves at the beginning of the list. If the party retained any significant proportion of the national vote, most would be re-elected irrespective of their record in office
Under the current system, several ministers are in danger of losing their seats.
Proposers of a list system share an analysis which holds that answerability to local voters is a key source of the malaise that afflicts our political system.
Many of those responsible for the current economic debacle are unelected—members of board of central bank, chief executives of banks etc. The notion that highly qualified and experienced persons freed from sorting out health and welfare problems of constituents would provide integrity in national governance is a prejudice of some members of the middle class intelligentsia and of business interests. There is no evidence for this.
In a society which glorifies money-making and greed all are vulnerable to inducements. When communications media are under the control of wealthy vested interests the problem festers further.
The only counter weight to this tendency is a genuine deepening of accountability to the population generally. This must include the ability of the electors to recall their “Deputy”. The present government is pursuing a policy entirely different to that presented to the people at the last election. Established parties see no problem in putting policies to the electorate and subsequently abandoning some or all of these policies in coalition talks without consulting the electorate. A list system would worsen this problem.
I believe that there should be additions to the current electoral system to enhance accountability to voters. The Dail term should be reduced to three years. This would be a beginning.
I agree with Paddy Healy that the power of recall is a must in any reform of our political system. However we require a root and branch reform and any reform of one element of our system must be measured synchronised with all other reforms. We need to distinguish national legislature from local government and establish clearly their purpose. This will involved building strong local government and strengthening the Dail by reducing its numbers and allowing it the room to concentrated on legislation.
Representative Democracy alone is no longer fit for purpose. We need to devise structures of deliberative democracy especially at local level, whilst also establishing clear open and transparent channels of communication between national government and civic society. We also require a second house made up of elected members drawn from civic society, one of the purposes of which will be to ensure that proposed legislation is not biased, is in the national interest and not sectoral interests, and that an open and transparent process involving all stakeholders and been gone through.
I believe that convention on political and economic democracy is required in order to drawn together a framework that may be presented as a serious alternative to the shambles we are currently inflicted with.
Most of this just looks like motherhood and apple pie. So who would possibly be against “abolishing the two-tier health system and radically reducing the size of the Health Service Executive.”?
“19 Switch more health spending towards community and preventive services. Implement the primary-care strategy.
20 Charge university fees to those who can afford them. Increase grants for those who are currently excluded.
21 Expand adult and continuing education. Consider the idea of individual “education funds” attaching equally to each citizen.
22 Identify children at risk of failure from an early age and intervene immediately with personal and family supports.”
He may as well have said “reduce crime and increase happiness”. The question is how do you achieve these?
Where he does talk about significant institutional changes, no arguments are put forward (not even in the book) for why these would work.
l would include right of recall and maximum terms for all elected officials.
There is a further problem which reduces the accountability of deputies and senators. There is no reqirement that oireachtas members attend in order to draw basic salary having registered after election. Attendance requirements relate oly to the payment of expenses. Deputies have no difficulty in neglecting their legislative function to go on lecture tours, to concentrate on constituency work, to participate in “junkets” or to evade embarrassing votes by feigning illness etc.Deputies can also make pairing arrangements without the permission of the Ceann Comhairle. Deputies should meet the same attendance requirements as their pay analogue–principal officers in the civil service.
In addition deputies and senators should be required to register a vote, if only an abstention, on all pieces of legislation at all stages. Until this basic reform is put in place, deputies can evade their basic duty as legislators and electors will be unable to fully assess their performance and representivity.