Bailout and loss of sovereignty: time for a New Republic?

by David Farrell (November 17, 2010)

Now that the EU/IMF are en route it can only be a matter of time before the pretence that we’re not being bailed out is dropped. In due course we will learn just how painful things are about to become for each one of us. Already the economists are debating whether in the short term much will change: as Michael Breen suggested in an earlier post, we might not notice that much of a difference (at least in the short term).

There have also been some (among them the Latvian ambassador to Ireland) who have argued that the bailout will not represent a loss of sovereignty – the argument being that by signing up to EU membership and its ever-deepening commitments we’ve already gone down the road of ‘sharing sovereignty’. Is that correct? It’s one thing to agree to abide by decisions taken by consensus or even by majority vote, it’s quite another to have outsiders pour over our books and effectively dictate terms (on this, see for example the statement of the Dutch finance ministers when door stepped in Brussels yesterday). In short, this is a loss of sovereignty – even if only short term. The state may, in many respects, still run as before: the government controls foreign policy; the trains still run; we all go to work every day (those of us lucky enough to be still in jobs). But in one fundamental respect we are no longer masters of our own destiny: finance matters are now a matter for others to determine; at best all our government can do is try to negotiate favourable terms. The long held adage of Politics that we should ‘follow the money’ shows just what a watershed moment this is: the money is no longer (for now at any rate) ours to determine.

Can there ever be a more appropriate time to consider major political reform? The loss of economic sovereignty marks the death knell of Bunreacht na h’Éireann: the first ‘Republic’ has failed its citizens. Surely now we should give serious consideration to how we might design a New Republic fit for the current century – and, this time, let’s make it one designed by the people for the people.

19 thoughts on “Bailout and loss of sovereignty: time for a New Republic?

  1. While I’m all in favour of a new republic, I can’t see that one designed by The People for The People is likely to be an improvement. Judging by the vox pops from Donegal, The People are likely to want to ensure a hospital in every town, limitless spending on public services, protection from competition, subsidies to all and sundry — and politicians who will keep on dispensing the goodies in a political system built on that basis.


  2. Agree strongly with the last comment. The root cause of our roller-coaster ride for the last three decades is that the public has been deeply committed to destructive and frequently parochial policies and the political class has relentlessly fed back same.

    If all we get out of this crisis is “they did it to us” and fail to reflect on collective errors little positive is possible.

    Our wretched system of choosing members of parliament and government is the first and most important change required. Yet the only party to even begin to think about this still puts regional/local contacts at the core of any change – with none of them calling for an end to TDs monopoly on government positions.

    • What’s wrong with engaging with citizens in an effort to produce a better functioning political system? Why should we distrust our citizens so much that we can’t dare to let them (us!) have a say in designing a new political system? What’s wrong with at least trying to fix things? Surely that’s better than simply wringing our hands and leaving things as they are….

      • The reason to distrust citizens is that their record of decision-making is poor: look at the people they choose as representatives.

        There are other options: leaving things as they are is not the only alternative to engagement with citizens.


      • There’s nothing wrong with this, but if the public continues to absolve itself of any responsibility for the political culture we have (except the empty ‘they fooled us’ or ‘look what they did to us’)it is likely to be an exercise in futility.

        ‘Engaging’ citizens will only produce credible reform if it also involves ‘challenging’ citizens – the single biggest deficiency in our politics.

  3. Being bailed out does not mean we’ll never be able to run our own affairs again. We will, over time, slowly and painfully regain a modicum of sovereignty or “shared-sovereignty”. But right now, with the IMF at the door all we can do it try to negotiate a better deal (which is what all the posturing from FF is about). Once powers outside Ireland are calling the shots, deciding what public servants get paid, what infrastructure gets shelved and what hospitals get closed we are no longer sovereign or “sharing-sovereignty”. We will have (temporarily, I hope) have lost our sovereignty so it will matter little who we elect while this state persists because the people we elect will not call the shots.

  4. The evidence is that if the people are asked sensible questions and have an opportunity to seek out the answers then they often come up with sensible ideas. I dont think anyone is talking about being populist and unthinking here. In Ken Carty’s presentation on a citizen assembly in BC the evidence was that ordinary people worked hard, paid a lot of attention and came up with well thought out proposals. Why could Irish people not do the same?

    • Our EU partners take the view that the officials from the Troika (EC/ECB/IMF) arriving tomorrow will negotiate the terms of a baliout; the Government is sticking to its line that these are talks about restoring financial stability in the Eurozone. Despite obvious Government – and huge popular – opposition to a perceived loss of sovereignty, Ireland needs to be taken into ‘protective custody’ for its own sake – and for the sake of other vulnerable peripheral sovereigns. Huge effort will be put in to crafting a formula that will provide the Government with some political cover for the inevitable climbdown. Irrespective of the bluster of the Government, the reality will be Troika dictation of the terms of economic and financial policy.

      The outcome is likely to be a general election early in the new year. But what sort of popular confidence will an incoming government have which is unable to exercise any effective economic governance? And this will impact on its credibility to initiate reform of politcial governance. ‘Working’ politicians are genetically incapable of devising and implementing effective systems of governance – the US Founding Fathers were the exception that prove the rule. Citizens’ assemblies may have a role to play, but it needs popular confidence and political commitment to make any outcome of this process stick. Not sure we’ll be able to get the relevant ducks into line.

    • That is, though, a different definition of “The People”: consulting 158 (or 160) somewhat randomly selected people is a bit like consulting a focus group. Couldn’t (say) six political scientists devise proposals more cheaply?


    • The BC example was interesting indeed – but it produced a recommendation for a system which I believe has failed here and, more importantly, it clearly failed to enthuse the public given its failure to be enacted.

  5. That a new Republic is needed to rid us of a failed political system is beyond question. What is the more pressing question, is how does such badly needed reform get put on the national agenda when such knowledgeable political science luminaries like Fintan O’Toole and Eamonn Delaney are used by the media as ‘experts’ on political reform?

    Ireland has deeply knowledgeable, patriotic and publicly funded academics in the area. Surely it is time for the PSAI to draft a proposal for political reform utilising this expertise and make a strong case for its implementation to the media and the public.

    • As we say in the ‘About Us’ section, this blog is an effort by PSAI members to help promote informed debate about political reform. If this is going to get anywhere it will need to have buy in and support from as wide a range of citizens as possible.

  6. While I support a renewed political system, I suspect that the arrival of the IMF and the erosion of national sovereignty may be largely ignored by public.

    Political elites and the political system deserve their criticisms but the nation also needs to mature politically. Over decades, it has colluded with our political leaders in distorting political realities. Avoiding the hard decisions and harsh realities are a long standing trend. Ireland has a history of self delusion in dealing with major national and international events. World War Two never happened, we experienced The Emergency. Ethnic conflict in Northern Ireland became The Troubles.

    We moved from the Emergency to the Troubles. The question which arises now is what the next era of national self delusion will be named. Suggestions so far have included; the Germanic Period, the Assistance and When Klaus Came to Town.

    But, I am imagine that pretence is precisely how this will continue.

  7. There is now quite a strong consensus that the failure of governance and the political system underlie our current straits. Change of some sort must happen to address that but it is unlikely, I believe, that the degree of change required will come out of the Houses of the Oireachtas (particularly the Dáil).

    For that end, and quite naively, I am inviting participants here – and where ever else – to come together to set about establishing a determined, credible and able movement in Ireland towards an agenda for wide-ranging political reform. The theme of that movement, whether tongue-in-cheek or literally, is the establishment of a Second Republic.

    I would appreciate it if those contributing here would join the mailing list of the website () and distribute this invitation to others who may be interested.

    I have no pre-defined agenda of what shape reform would take or how this movement should go about achieving it ambitions. Rather, I am merely taking the initiative to invite like-minded people to come to achieve their common goal.

    If you are interested, please visit:

  8. The issue of sovreignty being lost due to the IMF coming in is a humbug – it is only a result of the sovereignty which was voted away by joining the euro.

    The real issue is the renewal of the republic, which, as evidenced by the lack of public faith in the government, the lack of leadership elsewhere in Leinster House, is long overdue.

    In years to come, when my children ask me what I did in this time of crisis, I don’t want to say ‘nothing’. Do you?

  9. The apparent reaction of many citizens to the arrival of the team from the IMF is interesting. The IMF team has a professional and institutional reputation to uphold and will perform accordingly. It appears many people are contrasting this to the bluster and obfuscation they have experienced and are likely to experience if the two most likely factions form a government.

  10. A major shortcoming of the present system is that there is no procedure within the Constitution for the people to put forward proposals to amend the Constitution:
    Article 46
    “1. Any provision of this Constitution may be amended, whether by way of variation, addition, or repeal, in the manner provided by this Article.
    2. Every proposal for an amendment of this Constitution shall be initiated in Dáil Éireann as a Bill, and shall upon having been passed or deemed to have been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, be submitted by Referendum to the decision of the people in accordance with the law for the time being in force relating to the Referendum.”
    So, proposals to overhaul the political system would need to be instigated and supported by the benificiaries of the current system.

    The level of willingness of the current bunch of turkeys to vote for Christmas can be gauged from the 220 page REVIEW OF THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM FOR THE ELECTION OF MEMBERS TO DÁIL ÉIREANN Final Report, July 2010

    Click to access 20100722.pdf

    Although the Committee clearly engaged deeply with the issue, identified the key failings of our current system, and analysed the pros and cons of alternative systems, its overall conclusions are distinctly underwhelming:
    “5.12 Based on an evaluation of the performance of the electoral system against those
    criteria, the Committee concludes that the current PR-STV electoral system has
    served Ireland relatively well since its adoption in 1922. While the Committee
    identified a number of shortcomings with the outputs of the electoral system, such as
    the under-representation of women and the desirability of achieving a higher degree
    of proportionality, these are matters that can be dealt with without changing the
    electoral system per se.”

    So, where does that leave us? The report does float the possibility of convening Citizens’ Assemblies (using the examples of BC and New Zealand) to debate Electoral reform.
    But we still remain in the catch 22 where these reforms have to be instigated by those with most to lose from the process.

    Peadar Kirby of UL wrote an article last year outlining how the process of reform was initiated in Iceland last year:
    The procedure seems relatively replicable in the Irish context: sustained, peaceful, popular protest brought down the government. The new government had a strong mandate for political reform, and is currently working at reforming the Constitution and Constituent assembly.

    Why can’t we try that here?
    Step 1: get out in the streets
    Peaceful, SUSTAINED, popular protest.
    Not just in Dublin.
    Last word to Patti Smith: ‘People have the power to redeem the work of fools’

    A lot of fools. A lot of redeeming to be done.

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