Posted by Elaine Byrne
The Labour Party published a Private Members Motion yesterday which sets out 29 separate proposals for government and public administration reform. Labour
The proposals can be found here and cover a wide range of measures including cabinet confidentiality, freedom of information, whistleblowers legislation, political contributions and electoral spending limits, registration of lobbyists, Dail reform, the establishment of a Fiscal Advisory Council and new legislation to clarify the respective roles of Ministers and Departmental civil servants.
Labour were responsible for introducing the substantive Ethics Act and FOI reforms in the mid 1990s which is why it was surprising that they were a bit slow out of the blocks in re-claiming their reform clothes.
The PPM covers four pages but perhaps it should be accompanied by a more comprehensive document detailing the proposals?
11 thoughts on “Labour Party’s political reform proposals”
What is interesting about both FG and Labour’s political reform proposals is that neither party wishes to bring in reforms that will improve the power of voters, such as permitting voter initatives or changing the voting system to increase voter choice. It’s all Leinster HotHouse stuff. Necessary, admittedly, but only part of what’s needed. Even Labour’s constitutional convention is rigged from the beginning with politicians and people funded by politicians, with actual voters only making up a third of its members, and there’s no guarantee that its outcome will go to a vote.
Jason, there is a reference to a provision for petitions in the document but it’s damn vague. As indeed is the entire document. Vague and aspirational. Now, I’m not claiming the FG new politics document (which I’ve my own problems with) is a repository of exacting detail but it’s at least more concrete than this wishlist of goals and aspirations that I’m sure someone in Labour will now claim counts as a policy document. It’s not a policy, a policy details how you will do something, not merely ballpark notions of what you want to do.
“Spending limits for local and Presidential elections and the reduction in the ceilings for European and general elections.”
I thought the Greens had brought forward limits for the locals? Or did that not make it in time for the 2009 locals, was it bound up with the reforms of corporate donations, I forget whatever happened to that? So what should these spending ceilings be, I wonder, is the Labour party going to tell us or is that too much detail to be asking for at this time.
“– Reform of the system of appointments to state boards to ensure that the process”
Reform indeed, you say you want reform but what form should the reform take I wonder? Any hints? Dunking in a lake to see if they float or drown? Trial by fire perhaps. Who knows, so long as it’s called reform.
Trial by fire? I like that. Or maybe each nominee could fight a giant six foot lizard like on Star Trek? Would certainly make Oireachtas Report more watchable.
I might begin to take this half-seriously if they were prepared to spell out what they mean by:
“A break-up of the Government monopoly on legislation and its stranglehold over the business of the Dáil”
It is disappointing that a so-called reforming party should expend so little effort in thinking through its reform proposals. The will may be there, but why has Labour not had someone working on these proposals to produce some detail? Much of the broad outline of what is here is very welcome but much more detail is needed and in some areas the proposed changes fall woefully short of what is needed.
Labour calls for the restoration of the Freedom of Information Act to its original form and scope
and the extension of its remit to the Garda Síochána and other public bodies. That is welcome but as a matter of course much of the information which is released under the FOI should be released on a specific open government website. The Labour party would do well to examine the full extent of open government reform in the UK recently.
Labour also calls for spending limits for local and Presidential elections and the reduction in the
ceilings for European and general elections as well as legislation to further restrict contributions to political parties and candidates But there is no further detail and no mention of extending the 6 week period which allows widespread flouting of the spirit of the rules.
Perhaps the one area where Labour has fleshed out more than minimal details is in the reform of ministerial and civil services accountability. Here it is calling for reform of the e system of appointments to state Repeal of the Official Secrets Act and repealing the Ministers and Secretaries Acts and the Public Service Management Act are both very welcome ideas.
There are also very welcome measures to break the stranglehold of the executive over the legislature with Labour citing a restriction on the use of guillotine motions, the introduction of a
petition system for the Dáil, –and more power to Oireachtas Committees to publish reports on the economy and initiate inquiries, as well as a role for the Ceann Comhairle in deciding whether a Minister has failed to provide reasonable information in response to a question. Of course, this does not go far enough in breaking the stranglehold of the executive and much wider ranging measures such be introduced here, involving the separation of powers and a far wider role for committees far earlier in the process.
It is also disappointing to note that there is very little on the merits of evidence based decision making, in general. The only proposals here appear to be the work of Joan Burton with Labour proposing to bring forward the Estimates cycle as well as a very welcome independent fiscal council.
All in all as Elaine says it is disappointing that a party which has a tradition of producing political reform has no seen fit to spell out its proposal in far greater detail.
Agree completely. They should not have been caught on the hop by FG’s detailed effort because it is built on previous detailed policy papers and announcements, but this has all the signs of a rushed, ‘me too’ job.
The reality is that neither party is really serious about restraining the exercise of the extreme executive dominance that got us into this mess. They are just itching to get their hands on the levers of power – who’d blame them having been excluded for so long – and they’ll kick lumps out of each other to get first dibs on the lion’s share of the levers.
Paul as a FG member, I’d love to issue with you re: “They are just itching to get their hands on the levers of power” but in all honest I can’t.
I’ve been accused elsewhere of being partisan, but I’m only partisan in the interests of good governance. I approve of much, if not most, of what FG is proposing, but it simply doesn’t go far enough. (Labour’s effort is very much “Hey, we’re here too.”) And I have no doubt that both in government will provide much better governance than we’ve experienced in the last decade – but then, the bar isn’t very high.
My concern is that, given the bond market scrutiny to which Ireland is being exposed – and this is likely to continue, bond investors will look askance at a combination of factions which normally sit on opposite sides of the politcial divide in mature, developed democracies. And remember, FG/Lab have form from the ’80s and Labour then were the successors of the “most decent, harmless bunch of men that ever graced a parliament” described by Sean Lemass – and the not the outcome of the reverse take-over by DL.
Is a requirement that TDs must attend Dail Eireann on sitting days and must register a vote, if only an abstention, on all stages of all bills in order to be paid basic salary hiding under any of the vague formulations in this Document?
Labour Party Motion on Reform
Not only is the Labour Party motion disappointing, but it is also not surprising. The Party has failed to take the lead in political and economic reform. Indeed this motion appears to have arisen as a response to the Fine Gael proposal than any thought out strategy to introduce reform. The motion is for the most part a list of heading, and lacks detail. While some of the headings are interesting we are left wondering about the substance of the Labour proposals. Perhaps I am being unkind but I suspect that the motion is made up from points that have been raise from political and social commentators rather than any in-depth consideration of the deficit that exists in both our political and economic structures. They may even have just lifted most of it from Fintan O’Toole’s book ‘Enough is Enough’.
I am left wondering if this is a case of the Labour Party trying to have its cake and eat. It is difficult to engage with a list of headings. So the Labour Party appears to be doing something while in reality it is giving us nothing. If this is a stop gap while they begin to form policy around these heading, it has to be asked why have they taken so long? Why have they not already addressed these issues?
While there are some interesting heading, there is a lot missing. What about local government, the Seanad, financial and business regulation and economic democracy? And much more besides. Nor does the Labour Party give us any idea if in forming these policies that it will engage with civil society or whether they will go off into a dark corner and devise them on their own. Presenting them with great fanfare to a grateful electorate.
The Labour Party really needs to do better. If we are too have reforms worthy of a republic then Labour has to stop sitting in the wings waiting for its turn in power, and begin the process of inclusive reform that treats the people of this country as citizens and not subjects waiting for the generosity of their betters.
The usual dull bland ness you’d expect from Labour – I have a feeling FG is resting a bit more easier seeing that Gilmore wilts under pressure and has no policies to back him up, whatever about Enda, at least there are FG policies backing him up.
However, yet again it is truely remarkable, or maybe not and that’s the whole problem, but not one single mention of the expenses claimed by politicians and public servants of all hues.
It can’t be that they don’t intellectually understand that, while the amount of money overall won’t solve our problems, the perception remains they are all lining their pockets and when not one single elected representative, not to mention all the others who claim to the hilt every cent they can like judges and the President, provides the actual receipts to prove the expenses they claim were honestly incurred, how can anyone believe the system can be reformed, if those charged with reforming it can’t even do that first step, and the second step being state funding of political parties with parties publishing to the cent aduited accounts of everything they get and spend.
It is deeply wrong that we are in a position where special needs staff and such services are being cut but former office holders get to swan around in state cars with massive pensions – the fact the political class won’t face up to this hypocrisy shows all you need to now about how they haven’t changed one jot.