A 10 Point Manifesto Towards a Second Republic

Posted by Elaine Byrne

An excellent  collection of discussion papers on options to transform Governance and Leadership in the Irish Republic for the Better by the Dublin City Business Association can be found here

The State We Are In – Mr Roderic O’Connor

Planning for Problem and Solutions – Mr James Kelly

Rebuilding the Economy – Mr Jerome Casey

What is Wrong with the Tax System  – Mr PJ Henehan

Governance is a Public Affair – Ms Eibhlin Byrne

Governance Reform  – Ms Mary Frances McKenna

Towards a Second Republic – Mr Donal Ó Brolcáin

The Public Sector -Value For Money? – Mr Tom Coffey

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16 thoughts on “A 10 Point Manifesto Towards a Second Republic

  1. Well done to all involved. It is an excellent contribution to the debate. My only quibble is that there is so much slamming of previous ineptitude and presentation of, generally very good, policy initiatives that insufficent attention is paid to the process of policy fomulation, scrutiny, testing (with rebuttals and counter-rebuttals before Oireachtas Cttees), enactment, implementation and review.

    This is the key area where things went pear-shaped in the last decade – and it is the one area that all the political parties are at pains to avoid in their refrom proposals (as it would curtail the exercise of executive dominance).

    • Let me first state that, despite sharing a name, we are not – as far as I know – related. 🙂

      Watching the election campaign unfold from abroad, I’m becoming increasingly worried that most of the necessary reforms to the system will not happen.

      The party campaigns seem to be focussing on how Ireland’s financial system was broken and what tweaking can be done to a largely foreign dictated effort to fix it (leaving SF and various extreme left-wing views aside, which, while interesting, are likely to be largely irrelevant after the election).

      The problem is that the breaking of the financial system was largely made possible by deep flaws in the whole political system of the country. This recognition was what inspired this excellent web-site in the first place; and, indeed, the past couple of months have seen many good, interesting, imaginative proposals about how the Irish political structure might be changed for the better – both here and elsewhere.

      I’m afraid the elections will take place, a new government will be formed, a lot of smoke and noise about achieving basically cosmetic changes from the EU and IMF will be produced and then the new government (probably a FG/Lab coalition) will get down to business as usual.

      How can the momentum for real reform be sustained and translated into reality after the election – given that any form of real reform would involve targeting numerous vested interests and sacred cows beloved of all the political parties?

      • Not related to my knowledge either, but if one goes back far enough…. 🙂

        You have hit the nail on the head. The more expansive, comprehensive and radical the proposals the less that will be implemented. And there is little understanding among the general populace of the huge edifice of complex, yet devious and quintessentially Irish, arrangements that ‘insider interests’ – both public and private – have constructed to advance and protect their positions.

        That is why I am seeking, though totally ineffectually, to focus on some limited changes to the powers and procedures of the Dail and its Cttees. These could be implemented quite rapidly and easily and would numerous intended, and unintended, but beneficial, effects.

        The political factions will avoid these simple changes at all costs, as it would curtail the exercise of executive dominance and expose the sheltered, cosseted sectors to reform initiatives. Instead, they will focus on changes that will require amendments to the Constitution – and this will allow them to kick the entire exercise into the long grass.

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  3. Ok I know it sounds a bit idyllic, but I want as much democracy as I can get. The election now will produce two parties that will form a govt and off they’ll go. All the rest will slosh back to back benches shouting and screaming into the void.
    But what if.. the Parliamentary Party was composed of representative elements of each group, based probably on nr of seats won. In effect it would be the board of directors forming policy and strategy
    That would give each voter true representation in GOVT, it would lead to true openness and be inclusive of all sectors. It could also replace our redundant senate,
    The biggest problem is that it takes complete power from the governing party/parties and turkeys dont vote for Christmas. But this country is crying out for radical change and that’s a good start.

    • That’s depressing, looks like they’ve found alternative avenue way to buy off backbench MPs with jobs. And the HoS is probably a lot more functional than our parliament. But all is not rosy in the garden there either. There was a good but likewise depressing programme a few weeks back by Andrew Neil on the BBC. Illustrated the very narrow and privileged path to becoming an MP in the UK, typically via an elite school like Eton, then onto Oxbridge, followed by a stint as an assistant or secretary to an MP, building some influence in the party, to finally being selected for a constituency. It bemoaned the demise of the grammar schools. For quite a long period, politics in the UK became much more upwardly mobile. Quite a few bright kids from working class backgrounds forged successful political careers. A succession of PMs were from grammar schools: Heath, Wilson, Thatcher and Major. But that phase seems to be well over now and being a British MP seems again to be becoming the domain of those in a particular privileged social background.

  4. @Finbar,

    You make some valid points, but the key point I am trying to get across is that TDs in the governing factions are either suborned on the ‘payroll’ or treated as lobby fodder. Opposition TDs are even worse than ineffectual. Political parties (or factions as I prefer) are a necessary evil, but until TDs on Cttees are empowered and resourced to summon/invite/retain the necessary expertise to advise them and to scrutinise proposed policies and exective decisions in an adversarial manner, we’re at nothing.

    • @Paul
      Completely agree even if I wandered off on a tangential point 🙂 Committees to be effective need i) to have sufficient powers, ii) be properly and independently resourced, iii) have their memberships chosen by backbenchers (not party leaderships), and iv) ideally opposition parties should control or at least chair a number of important committees. On i) some kind of constitutional basis for some committees and a reversal of Abbeylara may help. A resequencing of their role in the passing of legislation is also needed. They should have a far earlier say in the process. Maybe the Swedish committee setup would be a good role model. On ii) it’s vital their funding isn’t dependent on the whim of a minister for finance. Their funding should be subject to an open parliamentary vote. On iii) and iv) some party policy documents mention the possibly to divvying up committee chairs to parties via the d’Hondt method proportional to their Dáil strength. Does meet the criterion of giving some committee chairs to the opposition. But that would still leave them in the gift of party leaders. A strength of the UK system is that backbench MPs choose the committee chairs. Even if a government MP chairs a committee it’s more likely he’ll be more independent minded because he has to also rely on the support of opposition MPs in winning the position in the first place.

  5. @Finbar,

    You’re more on the ball than I am 🙂

    To reinforce the points you’re making I have this enjoyable scene in my mind of Charlie McCreevy or Brian Cowen pitching up before a properly constituted, resourced and empowered Oireachtas Cttee on Finance & Public Service with their senior officials, advisers and consultants and having their existing economic and financial policies and policy proposals being taken to pieces using facts and figures by one or two competent economists (I’m sure we all have our own favourites now to play that role). They would then be given an opportunity to respond to the critique and both they and the economists would be subject to questioning from the Cttee members.

    There’s no guarantee that this would have prevented the subsequent property/banking/construction bubble and the accompanying fiscal bubble, as the government would have the ‘payroll’ and lobby fodder votes to whip the policies through, but citizens and the media would be able to see the gaping holes in the policies. Ridicule is often the best antidote to policy stupidity.

  6. This is not a really a reply but one idea that I believe would fundamentally change the nature of our society, beyond even a new constitution for a new “Second Republic”
    I believe a new Second Republic for Ireland should alter the basis of our Roman legal system and base its legal system on Breton Law suited to the Irish culture and nature.

    I have quoted a paragraph for reference below

    Brehon Laws. [I] The oldest surviving codified law system in Europe. The ancient laws of Ireland, named from breitheamh, a judge. The ” laws are sophisticated and complex, the result of many centuries of practice and oral tradition. They were thought to have been codified first in the fifth century under the instigation of St. Patrick. It has been said that the Irish law tracts are probably the most important documents of their kind In the whole of western Europe by reason of their extent, their antiquity, and the tradition they preserve. Their roots are in ancient Indo-European custom and not in Roman Law. Of the surviving tracts the Senchus Mor deals with civil law, while the Book of Acaill deals with criminal law. Both of these are to be found in the Book of the Dun Cow, which is one of the most complete copies of the tracts that survives. The language of Irish law, Berla Feini as it is called, is ancient. In spite of English attempts to destroy this law system, it persisted for centuries, with many English colonists turning to it for judgments. Even through the seventeenth century the laws were still in use in parts of Ireland. They were finally suppressed during the Penal Law period. Comparisons with the codified Welsh Law system, the Laws of Hywl Dda, are fascinating as they show a commonality of social perceptions. The most detailed account of the Brehon Law system is given in the six volumes of Ancient Laws of Ireland, Dublin, 1865-1901.

  7. This is not a really a reply but one idea that I believe would fundamentally change the nature of our society, beyond even a new constitution for a new “Second Republic”
    I believe a new Second Republic for Ireland should alter the basis of our Roman legal system and base its legal system on Breton Law suited to the Irish culture and nature.

    I have quoted a paragraph for reference below

    Brehon Laws. [I] The oldest surviving codified law system in Europe. The ancient laws of Ireland, named from breitheamh, a judge. The ” laws are sophisticated and complex, the result of many centuries of practice and oral tradition. They were thought to have been codified first in the fifth century under the instigation of St. Patrick. It has been said that the Irish law tracts are probably the most important documents of their kind In the whole of western Europe by reason of their extent, their antiquity, and the tradition they preserve. Their roots are in ancient Indo-European custom and not in Roman Law. Of the surviving tracts the Senchus Mor deals with civil law, while the Book of Acaill deals with criminal law. Both of these are to be found in the Book of the Dun Cow, which is one of the most complete copies of the tracts that survives. The language of Irish law, Berla Feini as it is called, is ancient. In spite of English attempts to destroy this law system, it persisted for centuries, with many English colonists turning to it for judgments. Even through the seventeenth century the laws were still in use in parts of Ireland. They were finally suppressed during the Penal Law period. Comparisons with the codified Welsh Law system, the Laws of Hywl Dda, are fascinating as they show a commonality of social perceptions. The most detailed account of the Brehon Law system is given in the six volumes of Ancient Laws of Ireland, Dublin, 1865-1901.

  8. Roderick O’Connor’s piece “The State We’re In” is interesting. However, his proposals for the public service deserve some comments.

    1. Bonus scheme should be based on performance.

    This would require managers actually “managing”, as opposed to steering a course between the Scylla and Charybdis of public service politics, which is what passes for management in the public service.

    Management in the public service consists of staying out of trouble, not rocking the boat, lumping work onto the workers while letting the idle and corrupt away scot free.

    The other problem, of course, is that the Unions are embedded right into the centre of public service “management”. This makes effective performance management impossible – because any criticism of performance will precipitate a union action down at Beggar’s Bush, (where the LRC and Labour Court are located).

    Unions must be removed from the centre of management, and limited to representing their members.

    Consultants are not the problem in the public service. I don’t have a problem with hiring consultants. What I have a problem with is how these contracts are drawn up, awarded, and managed. Of these, the most important is management. A good consultant establishes a beachhead, and then expands. A good manager recognises this, and limits the consultant to circumscribed areas of value delivery.

    The government should have no need to hire legal counsel whatsoever. We have an Attorney General’s Office and a DPP. These should be expanded to provide the services. The current position, where big law firms populate large buildings in Dublin with solicitors piling up legal fees payable by the taxpayer is ludicrous. (Not to mention a very risky temptation to corruption that no genteel “Chinese Wall” can prevent).

    Meaningful sanctions in the public service are impossible while unions remain at the heart of management.

    Regarding his points about failed projects. The reason for the failure of PPARs can be laid squarely at the feet of Unions and Management. It was their conspiracy of the mediocre that led to the constellation of roles, terms, conditions, and remuneration packages geometrically expanding in the public service.

    No programmer could produce a Human Resources system that could cope with so many variations on themes. At first view, it might seem fairly straightforward, but for each layer removed, the complexity expands at a ridiculous rate. For example, why do Public Health Nurses in Galway work longer hours than Public Health Nurses in Dublin? Why do PHNs in Dublin have flexi-time, when they don’t in Galway?

    When one considers the huge variety of role, and locations in Ireland, the complex beast of health service costs becomes much more understandable.

    This profusion of roles, terms, conditions, and remuneration has come about because Unions prefer to create differences and distinctions. By creating these, they artificially create more fronts on which to negotiate. Management have conspired in this corrupt practice.

    The first step in removing waste from an organisation is to remove difference, and standardise all aspects of an organisation. Typically, in any performance improvement engagement (like LEAN, or 6 Sigma, or similar), a 30% improvement can be assumed as easily achievable up front.

    The public service in Ireland is so inefficient and badly run, we could assume a much higher saving in cost.

    This could lead to redundancies, or redeployments. Either way, a 30% cut in operating costs frees up an enormous amount of budget that the government could use to pay down debt more rapidly.

    The first port of call for ANY change in Ireland today has to be a root and branch reform of every aspect of public service in Ireland.

    Good public servants around Ireland, currently suffering under the yoke of ossified practices and sacred cows would thank us.

  9. I was just reading Mr Heneghan’s article about the tax system, and his quote of a revenue employee tells you everything:

    The response received from the smiling bureaucrat still
    resonates today “everything belongs to the State and you (business people) are lucky that we allow
    you to keep as much as we do”.

    Surely this is a position that is unconstitutional. Doesn’t our constitution protect private property? How is it then that we have public servants who have a communist outlook on how our society is run?

    How can we rely on a person with such an attitude to operate public service departments efficiently and effectively. If his attitude to sovereignty, (which lies with the people – not the state), our constitution, and its protections is so contemptuous, how can we think he will be conscientious and careful about how tax revenues are managed and spent.

    Mr Heneghan goes on to discuss property taxes. He regretfully points out that most EU countries have property taxes, and implies that this means we too must have one. One doesn’t follow the other necessarily. There is no reason that we should impose a property tax just because other EU member states do so.

    Capital taxes, such as property taxes are not sensible. They are yet another example of tax levied upon tax, upon tax. They are unfair, and can only act to retard social mobility.

    Taxation should only be levied on transations, such as income (transaction = effort for money), commercial transactions, (VAT, etc.), Capital GAINS (not idle Capital), and similar.

    Taxation on property is, as far as I am concerned, anti-family and counter-productive from a medium to long term tax revenue point of view.

    That people have a notion that the “rich” are somehow morally corrupt, and therefore should have their money taken away doesn’t mean that this attitude is correct.

    Second property taxes are fine, because such properties are often revenue generating – in other words, a transaction occurs in which value is exchanged. It is legitimate for a government to levy tax on this. Mind you, tax is already payable on such transactions, by way of income tax if the landlord is a private citizen. So we’re back in the realm of two taxes levied on the one transaction.

    Multiple taxes on single transactions are great for creating spurious jobs in the Revenue, but are truly wasteful of public money. A simpler way would be to transparently simply increase the tax on the transaction, thereby avoiding the need to add complexity to the taxation system, not to mention the need to add to Revenue headcount costs.

    But the Leviathan must be fed bodies. It can’t grow without them.

    Local authority financing doesn’t have to be by way of property tax. It can be done by means testing, which would be fair and equitable.

    I have worked and lived in various cities in the UK, where each local authority levies a tax based on the property and where it is located. The impact of these properties is to atomise society into stratified ghettos. The rich live in one area, the middle live in another, and the poor are condemned to still other areas. This is not a good scenario for society as far as I am concerned.

    So:

    1. Governments need to be cleverer when preparing taxation measures for the budget. New taxes should be very rarely implemented, and when they are, old ones should be mothballed.
    2. Revenue should be obliged to rationalise their operations continually, and should have as their credo: 1. This money is public money. 2. This state upholds private property, and I have been given a solemn position by the public to take care with their money
    3. Governments, public, and civil servants need to work to simplify the tax system, rendering it cheaper and more efficient to operate. A new tax that requires more revenue officials must be examined carefully for alternative measures to achieve the same impact.
    4. The general principle of taxation must be that tax should only be levied on transactions involving value transfer. No capital taxes should be considered, as they harm economies in the medium to long term – they precipitate capital flight.

  10. I’ve just been reading Donal O’Brolchain’s “Towards a Second Republic”.

    He quotes Ray McSharry as having said:

    It has been pointed out that while the civil service has traditionally recruited the
    cream of the country’s talent, not enough effort was made at institutional level to
    exploit the full potential of that excellence. My experience as a Minister bears
    this out… The Government has a duty to facilitate Irish policy-making and implementation. It is true that many of the problems affecting our society at
    present – reflecting the trend across Europe – stem from our failure to carry
    through decisions on institutional modernisation. In turn, this is often the result
    of over-reliance on modes of thinking – which have become obsolete.

    Perhaps this was true of the public service until the late 70’s, when the notion of getting a job in the public service, permanent and pensionable, was the primary goal of those pursuing educational achievement. Perhaps in those days, the cream of the crop did go into the public service.

    However, by the time I was going through secondary school, going into a government department was considered to be a last resort of those who couldn’t hack the private sector. It was looked down upon. There is no possible way that the cream of the crop went into the public sector from the late 70s to the end of the Celtic Tiger.

    NOW, we are seeing talented people going into the public service, even though wages have been cut, and punitive taxes have been levied.

    The public service should not delude themselves that they are the elite of our society. They were far from it the day they walked in the door of their department, and have strayed further from that position ever since.

    This is not to say that there aren’t superb civil and public servants. There clearly are. But the public service was not the object of ambition for the cream of Irish workers for the last 30-40 years.

  11. Re my last comment – just to clarify – I would like to see a large portion of the cream of the crop going into the public service. We need more of that.

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