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.