Fianna Fail reform: radical but too late?

Fianna Fail has released their manifesto today. There is a large section on political reform, covering some 8 pages. In many ways these are radical proposals, the pity is that none were even considered over the past 13 years.

Crucially, there appears to be some measure of joined up thinking. For example, the party only proposes abolishing the Senate if measures to increase the power of TDs and reduce the dominance the executive are first enacted.

On the positive side, the party is proposing a citizen assembly to consider constitutional changes. However, there is an odd commitment here to say it should not exclude elected representatives. But if the assembly is to be made up of randomly selected people then by definition elected representatives can only be witnesses and experts not random citizens.

One area which is very notable for its absence is local government reform. As many here have noted local reform is an essential if localism and clientalism at a national level are to be reduced. Simply ignoring it points to the likely hurried nature of the reforms proposed here.

Also notable for its absence are moves to improve openness and the proposals to move towards open government are as minimal as possible. There is no mention of opening up government data, looking at Official Secrets, Cabinet confidentiality, reducing FoI fees or introducing a register of lobbyists.

There is a section on electoral reform and unsurprisingly the favoured system is a German-style mixed member system. Only last week Michael Martin was talking about single seat PR, a logical impossibility. Today at the press conference he admitted that he is a very late convert to the notion of a propositional list system. Without that element the proposal would actually have been to move to AV, a majoritarian rather than a proportional system.

The measures to reduce the dominance of the executive are welcome and indeed across much of Europe Ministers are not simultaneously elected parliamentarians although many do hail from those ranks. The idea to introduce an alternative system is likely to be greeted withes some derision by an electorate tired of cronyism and jobs for the boys. However, in a mature European democracy it is a sensible move. Martin today said the reason is to free up Ministers times so they do not have to rush back from abroad for votes. If that is the only reason then simply providing an automatic 15 pairs for Ministers would suffice. It should be more and should be a move to separate ministers from their constituencies to ensure they have an incentive to act in the interest of all the people rather than encouraging clientalsim and the delivery of partisan funds to their own constituency.

Another area which is welcome though lacking in detail is in Cabinet appointments. Fianna Fail also says that persons who are not members of the Dáil should be able to become TDs. It does not specify whether that the the few already allowed under the constitution who must be members of the Senate. Or whether as it is also proposing abolishing the Seanad that the number ought to be the prerogative of the Taoiseach.

Of course, in many ways these proposals are important most in how they will compare to those to be released by Labour and Fine Gael in their   manifestos. It is to be hoped tart some of the  deficiencies are addressed when we see these manifestos. Both parties have to their credit been advocating political reform for longer, perhaps will now publically stress a commitment to move further and beyond populist measures such as abolishing the Senate and cutting the number of TDs.

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7 thoughts on “Fianna Fail reform: radical but too late?

  1. Another ‘curate’s egg’ probably caused by a mad ‘me too’ rush to get on the band-wagon. Apart from some waffle about allowing ‘debate on the principles of legislation’ before the legislation is actually drafted, these proposals – similar to the previous FG and Labour efforts (with a likely ‘cut & paste’ job into their manifestoes) – fail to consider empowering and resourcing Oireachtas Cttees to scrutinise policy proposals effectively. The ‘corporate sole’ status of ministers remains unchanged – even though taking ministers out of the Dail and replacing them with previously nominated alternates is something of which I approve. Until officials and advisers are forced to accompany their minister and front up before Oireachtas Cttees, justify their proposals and respond to expert critiques, we’ll continue to get the same balderdash being steam-rollered through that landed us in this mess.

  2. Seems very much like something cobbled together in a hurry. Very similar themes and ideas to FG’s and Labour’s proposals. Electoral system and having non-TD ministers perhaps the most notable features. They’ve finally given up on a forlorn hope of a pure AV single seater system! But was expecting some kind of single seater constituency topped up by a parallel and limited number of list seats to be honest. At least the German mixed member PR system, whatever its flaws, is proportionate. And also, not surprisingly quite friendly to large parties like FF. Am I right in supposing that intermediate sized parties like Labour would be the main losers under such a system? Not big enough to get many single seaters, and losing any kind of a bonus the more limited proportionality of a five seater might provide? And at least their proposal to have non-Oireachtas ministers is a new addition to the various party reform proposals. All a bit sketchy though and many gaps to be filled in.

    • And good to see they’re a bit more measured in their approach to the Seanad, and aren’t hung up on populist numbers games regarding the Dáil size.

  3. I would not waste my time reading such drivel. FF’s tactic is cynical in the extreme, for god’s sake, when they were in government they had to be brought to the high court to make them hold elections. FF are a disgrace and a rag taggle bunch of has beens, how they can even show their faces at our doors is beyond me. Where are they going to sit when the 1916 commemorations commence, not that there will be much to boast about.

    Cynical also, is FG and Labour trying to re-negotiate an IMF/EU deal they gave their blessing to when they endorsed the Finance Bill another bill they did “not agree with.”

  4. It’s easy to be radical when you are heading into 10 years of opposition.

    I don’t get why anyone thinks changing STV into some form of seat system is more democratic when a list system just gives the party more control.

    The problem isn’t STV itself, it’s the mentality of the Irish people who don’t want TDs to be legislators and TDs don’t want to be the first to say no to a stupid request to get a passport etc and make people start doing things for themselves.

    If a list system is the most likely route of reform then it should include a primary system so the party head office doesn’t have a death grip on candidate selection.

    Also, I note FG claim they will ban corporate donations and have TDs expenses vouched – makes you wonder who was stopping them do this for FG up to know – the other point is that FG don’t seem to have a problem with a TD milking off another €50k on top of a €98k salary – just that there should be some vouching – the ‘radical’ reforms are pretty pathetic really in the area that annoys the public infinitely more than areas of policy failure – the remuneration of politicians at all levels not just TDs but there was complete silence on that matter.

  5. Cut the number or TDs, reform the Seanad, rid the country of quangos, etc but real politcal reform in country may need to come from the bottom up rather then the top down. The general public seem to feel corrupt practices are intrinsically linked to the practices within all the polical parties and political institutions and they need to be able to see openess in practice

    For example perhaps public housing lists and hospital waiting lists being published in local newspapers or internet sites, with people being allocated a number so as not to impede on privacy rights. These easily veiwed lists would allow for transparency, responsibility and accountibility from those who are charged with making decisions, these based on meeting specific criteria, as oppossed to implied or actual ‘bumping up the list by a local politican’.

    The exact details may need to be worked out but openess and fairness in decision making is needed without impacting on privacy.

    People tend to take an interest in their own local decision making process, particularly when they feel they can voice their concerns should they see injustices arising.

    There are so many ways that people could be actively encouraged to expect proper and fair procedures be implemented and followed. If the system is changed from the ground up, then people dictate their needs as oppossed to polical parties dictating what is needed. Very simplistic but maybe we need to keep it simple!

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