Will the new government change politics?

Eoin O’Malley (10 March, 2011)

For much of the election campaign parties promised that there would be a change to the way politics was done. This continued to the first day of the 31st Dáil. But will it? One way to judge the government is by the programme for government, and another by its actions.Its actions so far are not encouraging. Though Labour had called for the election of the Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot, there was no move toward this (it could not have happened on the first day, but it could have been arranged). Instead it was used to reward a ministerial hopeful who had delivered two seats in his constituency. The fact that no minister was appointed to drive the reform agenda might indicate a lack of commitment.

What about the programme for government?

The programme for government contains many rhetorical flourishes in favour of reforming the government and the Dáil and how the two relate. It is encouraging that the new programme recognises that there is ‘an over-powerful executive [that] has turned the Dáil into an observer of the political process rather than a central player’.

However it is more important that credible institutional changes are put in place which ensure that these happen. We should not expect that the Dáil should become a legislative chamber – in that it proposes and passes its own legislation. It would be one of the only parliaments in the world were it to do that.

The programme for government is high on aspiration but less clear on how the executive’s dominance is going to come about. For instance the commitment to introduce a role ‘for the Ceann Comhairle in deciding whether a minister has failed to provide reasonable information in response to a question’ has two faults. First, how will a Ceann Comhairle know whether a minister has been economical with the truth? Ministers have a great deal of power because they have a monopoly over information – the commitment to revert to the pre-2003 Freedom of Information Act is welcome, but ministers will still be able to keep information from TDs, and the Ceann Comhairle won’t be able to tell whether the minister is answering as fully as she could. Second, the Ceann Comhairle is appointed by the Taoiseach, and is could still be responsive to the Taoiseach’s wishes than that of the members.

Much of the focus is non reducing the cost of politics. By reducing the number of TDs, abolishing the Seanad and shortening the holidays it is hoped money will be saved and politics will be more effective. However, as has been argued here many times, these ‘reforms’ are for optics and will have little real impact.

The programme does have many sensible proposals on Dáil reform, which should be introduced and will enable TDs make more relevant contributions to debates, thus incentivising them to focus on national issues. Setting out committee days, more time for private member’s bills, and allowing more topical debates will help the Dáil appear relevant. But while these may increase the opportunity, they do nothing to affect the incentives of TDs. Cinn Comhairle have been protective of ministers not just because they couldn’t challenge ministers, but because they had no incentive to.

The decision to allow Dáil committees full powers of parliamentary investigation is welcome (though it’s not clear that it needs a constitutional amendment). But one might question whether a Dáil committee is the appropriate vehicle for investigation is we want to find out what really happened – it might generate more heat than light. More crucially however is that the government will still have a majority in the committees and is unlikely to want to allow a committee investigate its own government’s handling of an issue. Even had there been no legal question over the right of a committee to investigate, say, the decision on the Bank Guarantee Scheme, do we really think that the committee would have done so?

Government backbenchers in Ireland are rarely openly critical of their government. The primary reason for this is probably that the party leader in government, parliament and the organisation controls the careers of TDs. We need only look to the appointments to cabinet and junior ministers where loyalty to the leader is one important factor in selection. Without reducing the patronage powers of the government, and dismantling the system whereby all TDs see cabinet as their ultimate goal, party leaders will still control their backbenches quite effectively.

The proposals in the Labour-Fine Gael programme for government will affect the opportunity to scrutinise government, but without more radical changes in the separation of powers, the incentive for the government backbenchers to do anything is limited.

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43 thoughts on “Will the new government change politics?

  1. I don’t think they will change anything and you only have to look at the manner in which people were appointed to cabinet. What I see are far too many of the same tired jaded faces even before they begin to give us two more years of the FF agenda. Did Enda Kenny surprise us with the appointment of even one cabinet minister? It is politics as usual at Leinster House. Take the case of Peter Mathews they were quite prepared to parade him and trumpet his knowledge and grasp of the banking mayhem before the election but now they show their real colours. Remind me again of why Michael Noonan is entitled to finance besides the fact that he supported Enda Kenny in the heave against him? Phil Hogan is an expert in cobbling together election manifesto’s and ringing TD’s in the middle of the night to see which way the wind is blowing, but what exactly, is his expertise in environmental matters? I could go on and on but what is the point, they have divvied up the cake on the same old, same old criteria which is against the national interest. Oh! and where are the “experts” from outside the Dail? Nere a one to be found!

  2. “….but without more radical changes in the separation of powers, the incentive for the government backbenchers to do anything is limited. ”

    Certainly.
    In a democracy, how does one bring such a change about, when the incumbents (both in government and in opposition) have no incentive to do so?

  3. There have been a number of changes already brought in by the new government on Day 1 which are not for “optics”.

    1. Dail Sitting on Tuesday next (normally 2week break)
    2. Reduction in Saleries
    3. Reduction in number of T.Ds abroad during St Patricks Day Festival
    4. Cabinet bused to the Arus

    • John,
      I’m breathless! Such huge national decisions. Thet will do us a world of good in negotiating with Brussels. How about sticking to the requirement of 40% women on committees? Should that not include the Cabinet? How about the promise to reduce the number of Ministers of State? I could go on, but what’s the point!

  4. @Donal,

    You have raised the key question once again. I see two issues here. First, this is probably the most important Dail in the history of the state. It, and the government it has elected, will determine the trajectory to any prospect of economic prosperity and general well-being for Irish citizens. The continuing Eurozone (EZ) crisis is fundamentally the result of a failure of governance. The EZ, as an association of sovereign nations, lacks the legally binding mechanisms to impose losses on private sector investors to the extent they should bear them. And, insofar as some national governments have these, there is a reluctance to apply them for fear of exposing the fragility of the EZ banking system. Those who can manage, fudge, hide or defer attending to the underlying bank solvency problems will do so for fear of calling on their voters to provide fiscal support. And they are even more fearful of calling on their voters to provide fiscal support to assist those countries whose misgovernance has left them fatally exposed.

    A demonstable commitment to better governance and to meaningful stuctural economic reform is a key quid pro quo to secure any meaningful support from our better governed EU partners. But it is first and foremost in our own interests. On economic reform, with the current dominance of a centre-right/centre-left government, it may be possible for FG to allow Labour to go after FG’s sacred cows and for Labour, in turn, to allow FG to after its. Each faction could parade its set of scalps before its own supporters. Such ‘politcial balance’ could facilitate some meeangful structural economic reforms.

    My second point is related to this. Any propsoed refroms of this nature should be subject to full, adversarial scrutiny by the Dail and its Cttees. The Ceann Comhairle has been elected under the old dispensation, but it should now be possible to ensure Cttee Chairs and Deputy-Chairs are elected by secret ballot and given powers and resources to hold ministers and their offcials, special advisers and consultants fully to account. It is vital that an alternative parliamentary career path to power and influence exists and there never was a better time when the dail has been so refresehed with competent politicians who have little prospect of securing a ministerial appointment.

    I believe the incentives exist – or, at the very least, the indirect incentive (with so many backbench TDs) of not having to continuously quell backbench cabals, revolts and disaffection by provding them with something to do that is genuinely in the public interest (and will signal our bona fides to our EU partners).

  5. @Paul
    “….full adversarial scrutiny by the Dáil and its Cttees”

    It will be interesting to see what emerges from the huge majority that the Government parties have.
    I remain to be convinced that a full separation of powers between the Dáil and the Rialtas (Government) is necessary.

    In a recent essay, Muiris MacCarthaigh observed that “…it is clear that the Irish Parliament tend not to be one which stands out as a strong legislature in international comparisons, and it is difficult to escape it dominant characterisation as a parliament substantially subjected to the prerogative of the executive” (The Role of the Houses of the OIreacthas: theory and practice in The Houses of the Oireachtas – Parliament in Ireland. IPA Dublin 2010)
    The same essay pointed out that Ireland ranked 29th our of 31 when comparing national legislatures according to a number of criteria relating to their structures, resources and time spent debating their budgets. Four of the top five were smaller countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, New Zealand) – the first being the US. Ireland ranked ahead of Turkey and France.

    This table was based on the Sustainable Government Indicators for the period 2005-2007, published by the Bertelsmann Stiftung in 2009. (Brendan Walsh mentioned this work in a posting in August 2009 here
    http://www.irisheconomy.ie/index.php/2009/08/18/competitiveness-benchmarking-report/#comment-12545)

    Perhaps the Taoiseach and Tánaiste will see some merit in strengthening the Dáil, if only for the reasons you outline.

    It remains to be seen whether they can start new traditions to give us the checks and balances we need.
    I believe that sustainable economic recovery will only follow from changes in management. Our history suggests that eg. setting up the ESB for the Shannon Scheme led to electrification on a wider scale that might have happened under the privately run generation and distribution systems that existed. Something similar happened when natural gas was discovered and landed here.

    We, the electorate, have now changed the “managers”. So far, the senior managers have not shown any indication that they will continue the transformation needed by changing the criteria used in other appointments.

    Perhaps back bench pressure from 75+ new TDs will lead to the kinds of changes needed to bring about the scrutiny that you suggest.

  6. @Paul
    Correction to my second sentence which should read
    “I remain to be convinced that this can happen without a full separation of powers between the Dáil and the Rialtas (Government).”

  7. Well that was a right ray of sunshine. Fine Gael and Labour don’t have a mandate to fully separate the branches of government, so to condemn them for its absence is facetious. Besides, no person in a sound mental state would ever aspire to be an Irish TD as the apogee of their short time on the planet.

  8. @Donal,

    We’ve been around the block on this before. I think Edward is right. There is no desire, intention or mandate to move away from our current ‘government in, and of, parliament’ model towards your more US-style separation of powers. But where, perhaps, I would disagree with Edward is that, by increasing the powers and resources of the Dail and its Cttees to hold government to account and with the election of Chairs and Deputy exercising and directing these powers and resources, Irish TDs would have a career path other than the current pursuit of ministerial office.

    • “There is no desire, intention or mandate to move away from our current ‘government in, and of, parliament’ model ….”

      Yes, we have been around this block before and I will continue to advocate a complete separation of powers between the Dáil (Parliament the representative assembly) and the Rialtas (Executive, Gvoernment) on the following grounds
      1. “Government in, and of , parliament” has failed us – the most recent evidence being the EU-ECB-IMF intervention coming after the crisis of the 1970s/80s and the 1950s;
      2. The Wright report (http://www.finance.gov.ie/documents/publications/reports/2011/deptreview.pdf) on the Dept of Finance provides a further basis for the view that critical elements of our public administration has failed systemically,again following on the failure documented by John Travers in 2005
      see http://www.oireachtas.ie/documents/committees29thdail/committeereports2005/document3.pdf.
      3. There is lots of polling evidence that people here have very low levels of trust in our government, the most recent being the Edelman 2011 Trust Barometer, which found that “Ireland is now the least trusting of government out of all the EU member states surveyed.” http://www.edelman.ie/index.php/insights/trust-barometer/;
      4. I suggest that our academic political scientists have left something to be desired in educating us – the public – about other ways of governing ourselves. This lack of awareness may be at the root of the lack of “desire” that you cite as a basis for continuing to try to tweak our existing system.
      5. All that said, we have the freedom here to raise these issues, investigate and present options, publish and debate them, form associations to advocate changes and last but not least, change our governments peacefully and within reasonably predictable time-periods.

  9. I’d be quite sympathetic to the idea of a more explicit separation of powers (if the right balance is struck between the powers of executive and legislature). But I think we’ll be lucky to even get a properly functioning committee system, let alone an even more fundamental restructuring.

    The government parties’ proposals to increase the powers of committees, e.g. witness compellability, seem reasonable enough to me. But it’s also important committees are properly and independently resourced. Requiring that decisions on their financing be always made by an open Dáil vote (rather than controlled behind the scenes by the Minister for Finance) would further increase their independence IMO.

    I’d really prefer any committee system reforms to be embedded in the constitution. Ordinary legislation or standing orders are too easily changed, e.g. we’re seen reform like FoI been rowed back on before. And I can think of some grubby deals done in the past to modify standing orders. And there’d be nothing to stop a future government from riding roughshod over any reforms confined to standing orders.

    The process to elect committee chairs and determine committee composition is of crucial importance. Ideally this should be by secret ballot. It would also be desirable for chairs to be allocated to parties in proportion to their numerical Dáil strengths. And, since our constitution doesn’t even mention political parties, I’d feel any such process should not be overtly party based (particularly if such a process was to be easily incorporated into the constitution).

    It’s quite tricky to come up with a process combining and balancing all three of these criteria. The UK system has secret ballots, but lacks the automatic proportional allocation of some chairs to the opposition. Many continental committee systems have party proportionality but lack a secret ballot, with much control remaining with the parties.

    The following is a procedure would satisfy all three of these criteria. This would be a two step process.

    The first step would involve a series of separate PR-STV secret ballots, one for each individual committee. All TDs would vote in each such election. A TD would require a nomination of perhaps 3 or 4 other TDs to run in one of these committee elections. This process would run until all but 2 candidates remained per committees. One of these would ultimately become committee chair, and the other candidate the vice chair. One would generally expect one of the candidates to be from the government benches and the other from the opposition side of the house.

    The second step in this process would be another secret PR-STV election. This would decide which of the candidates would become chairs and which would become vice chairs. This would be a fairly standard PR-STV election (maybe using the form of PR used in the Seanad). If there were 15 committees, there would be 15 “seats” (i.e. chairs) to be won, and 30 candidates in total. A 15 “seat” election would normally be very large for ordinary PR-STV parliamentary elections. But wouldn’t be a big problem here, with a tiny electorate, and a quite restricted election form. This second step would give the opposition a great deal of control over allocation of chairs. It would likely result in a fairly proportionate allocation of chairs to the opposition.

    This scheme avoids explicit dependence on party structures, fairly allocates chairs to both sides of the house, and permits a secret ballot. It’s not perfect. It would give the opposition a fair allocation of chairs, but small opposition parties might still find it hard to get a chair/vice chair without some form of opposition pact. And if a government had a very large majority, significantly over 2/3 of the Dáil, then we might get to the stage where most of the chairs and vice chairs would be from government benches. The system then becomes in practice more like the UK setup. But having a secret ballot will even then still ensure more independence.

    Ordinary committee composition could also be determined by secret ballot. There should be an upper limit on committee size. I’d allow TDs to nominate themselves for membership. However, if there were more TD nominations than places on a committee then a secret PR-STV ballot should be held.

    • To clarify the second step, this part would only determine which of the two remaining candidates from each committee becomes chair, not which actual chairs they get; that’s already determined in the first step. The PR-STV process would also not be the standard one, since two candidates from the same committee are eliminated at a time.

      At each count, one looks at the TD with the largest number of votes. If he/she exceeds the quota he/she is deemed a chair, and any surplus is redistributed. The other candidate from that committee is automatically only a vice chair. He’s also eliminated and all his votes are redistributed. If no candidate exceeds the quota, then the TD with the lowest vote count is eliminated. This TD automatically becomes a vice chair, and all his votes are redistributed. The other candidate from the same committee is, of course, then automatically a chair. He’s also eliminated from the count. His votes wouldn’t be transferred any further (except for a surplus if any).

  10. All we need is for those making decisions to do so more transparently and with greater accountability – we don’t need a new ‘system’ for that – the current system workls fine it was allowed to and we’ll see over the nexyt few weeks when bill heads are published on FOI and Dáil powers etc how things are going to pan out – they’ve in about 4 days so give them a break.

    • “All we need is for those making decisions to do so more transparently and with greater accountability – we don’t need a new ‘system’ for that – the current system workls fine it was allowed to ”

      Who precisely is not allowing the current system from working?

      Consider that the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) has clearly admitted how the political,administrative and financial elites failed over the past 10 years.
      “In the past decade, Ireland’s approach to fiscal policy, prices, costs and financial regulation were not sufficiently adapted to the disciplines of a single currency.”
      Press Release from National Economic and Social Council (NESC) on a report “The Euro: an Irish
      Perspective” 17th August 2010. NESC is 30-person social partnership body made up of representatives of government, business, trade unions, agriculture, community and environment. The Secretary General of the Government chairs NESC. Among the seven Government nominees are the Secretaries-General of five Government Departments.
      http://www.nesc.ie/dynamic/docs/The%20euro%20MEDIA%20RELEASE%20from%20NESC.pdf

      for more my response to Paul Hunt above

      We have already seen FoI restricted after the 2002 general election, during which FoI was not issue at all see my posting here
      https://politicalreform.ie/2010/06/21/freedom-of-information-and-corruption/

      Yes, we do need more transparency and greater accountability. IMO, we are not likely to get it implemented and enhanced over time without a new way of governing ourselves – if only on the basis that one cannot put new wine into old wine skins!

      If you want to read more my basis for not agreeing with you, see my contribution to the Dublin City Business Association 10 point manifesto on p.56ff here
      http://www.dcba.ie/static/doclib/Towards_a_Second_Republic.pdf

      • I meant to say the current system would work fine it was allowed to.

        I am not disputing that cronyism ran riot in Ireland over the last 40 years or from 1979 onwards but even with an outdated system, when there were honest people in government the system didn’t fail.

        Obviously things in Ireland are at the stage were we also need to build in warning and checks instead of relying on the people in power being honest.

        Also, it wasn’t just the government and civil service were corruption and cronyism were rampant. There is not one single area of Irish society that came out of the Celtic Tiger period covered in glory. Everyone, and I mean everyone, got it wrong and contributed to getting it wrong even if it was only casting a vote for FF or the PDs.

        If the FOI is restored and its cover expanded this will go a long way.

  11. @Desmond FitzGerland
    “Everyone, and I mean everyone, got it wrong and contributed to getting it wrong even if it was only casting a vote for FF or the PDs.”

    If everyone got it wrong, then no one is responsible.
    The Allies did not accept that after WWII, with the resultant trials in Nuremburg.
    Neither should we accept it now!

    re. FoI – the forces that limited its scope, in the 2003 Act and in other ways have not gone away. This experience suggests that restoring FoI to the pre-2003 status will not be enough. For this reason, I advocate embedding Swedish-style FoI in our constitution.

    • @Donal,

      I don’t think there is any fundamental difference between us in terms of the requirement to separate the executive and legislative powers. But we need to recognise that even a full separation of powers will not prevent the enactment and execution on occasion of stupid policies. No system of democratic governance is capable of achieving this. The best we can achieve is to minimise the incidence and severity. (The most relevant exampple of this is the bonfire of financial regulation that was enacted by the US Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton in the late 1990s and has engulfed most developed economies. The implications of the inevitable blow-out continues to roil the EU.)

      And we also need to recognise what is possible and achievable. I suppose I’m an incrementalist rather than a ‘big-bang’ fan. Arguing about how far we should go tends to prevent taking the first steps. Let’s start walking and, as we go, we’ll see more clearly what is desirable and achieveable. This is the essence of the democratic process of governance.

      • Agree with you about the aim of minimising the incidence and severity of stupid policies.

        I would like to be an incrementalist. But the time for that is past, given the increasing centralisation of power in this Republic coupled with the decreasing checks and balances (eg. FoI restrictions, lack of fiduciary responsibility* on the part of bank boards and senior public servants) and the state of the public finances.

        * see Niall Fitzgerald’s comments here
        http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/foreign-investors-dont-want-any-part-of-inherent-irish-cronyism-2425540.html
        …..If you don’t take action, and do things to hold people accountable for what happened, and go instead with a crony capitalism kind of society, you will find that foreign investors do not want to be part of that.”

        It is not just Ireland’s economy that has been damaged, he says, but its reputation — and that may be even more harmful in the long run. He strikes a surprisingly populist note in saying that one big reason for the loss of Ireland’s reputation as a good place to do business, is the fact that nobody seems to have been held accountable for the financial disaster.

        “I realise that these are complex processes. Cases of this kind are not easy to prove.” But he is clearly puzzled, and impatient, about the fact that nothing has actually happened, more than two years on. ….

  12. @Donal,

    Agree, but I tend to be a bit uneasy about the pronouncements of ‘captains of industry’ – irrespective of their pedigree or apparent good intentions.

    If you want some ‘big-bang’, I think there is a case for requiring the top two levels of all government departments, state agencies, quangos and semi-states to re-apply for their jobs in open competition during the next 6 months. I realise there is some commitment to look at the boards of the various semi-states and quangos – and that there will be some culling and rationalisation of quangos – but the purging of the stables must be more comprehensive to match the purging of the political stables by voters on 25 Feb. All that dramatic purging has achieved is a change in the identities of those holding ministerial office (and of their special advisers) and a change in the composition and disposition of the factional forces in the Dail. Much, much more is needed.

    • “Captains of Industry”
      IMO, these have as much validity as those of any other citizen. In some cases, they actually have some insight that merits attention, in term of managing organisations which have to sustain themselves by supplying goods and services to other citizens who are willing to buy these – with all that implies in terms of planning, organisation, motivation and control.
      This experience has as much to offer as say those who come into political life and hold office, having an occupational background in primary school teaching or running (smallish) professional practices/farms etc.

      re. Big-bang.
      I agree with you that much more than the change of government is needed.
      Actually, what I favour is that options on how we govern ourselves be developed, investigated, presented, debated and put to people in a referendum or series of referenda.
      To this end, I favour holding a national convention – citizen-dominated – focused on drawing checks and balances to limit the scope for excess by the powerful – be they elected or appointed, public or private.

      In this context, I prefer to spend time and effort on looking at new institutions, by which I mean a different expression of our current set of democratic values together with an organisation to serve those values.
      Rejigging state boards and appointment systems for senior pubic servants is part of it. But the key is to ensure that our constitution is a framework for a free government that limits, restrains and allows for the exercise of political power, which we as citizens of a Republic own, in order to ;
      · ensure competence and moderation in government
      and
      · overcome inertia at government level, both national and local;

      We need to ensure that our way of governing ourselves has both
      · the means to be successful for the common good with increased democratic accountability
      and
      · the capacity and of adapting to the changes that constantly descend upon it.

      For more see my contribution to the Dublin City Business Association 10 point manifesto Towards a Second Republic on p 56 ff here
      http://www.dcba.ie/static/doclib/Towards_a_Second_Republic.pdf

  13. i once queried a county kildare accountant on tax compliance. how widespread was petty tax evasion.

    his estimate was that 98% of his clients would evade tax where the risk of detection was slight. the 2% ? “a few nuts and born again christians ” was his verdict.

    i concluded that punitive taxation plus loopholes was not the way to maximise the national (state) tax take. FOI or new and sweeping transparency laws are the answer. at least each individual’s – each companiy’s – percentage annual tax level should be a matter of public record, and a summary of their accounts published within six years.

    tighter squeezing of the taxpayer only drives the toothpaste to seek a way out of the tube.

    as d fitzgerald sagely observes : (paraphrase) it is not stricter regulations which save the nation, but men of principle acting in the spirit of the rules that we have in place already.

  14. but anyway : congratulations to the noble people of japan, for not looting the tsunami wrecked shops – and to the decent plain people of ireland, for not breaking any windows on their way to trashing the governing party.

    solidarity and democracy – deemokratia – ( greeks please copy ).

    • I would like to second this expression of congratulations to the people of Japan and to the people of Ireland.

      And re Donal’s views on the value of the insights of ‘captains of industry, it appears, even as we speak, that the cavalry, comprised of some superanuated politicos and some leading lights of the Irish business firmanent, has crested the hill:
      http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2011/0315/1224292164700.html

      For some time I have been calling for some strategic thinking, but I would prefer it to emerge from those whom the people have elected. Perhaps, they are so inured to thinking tactically that they are pathologically incapable of thinking strategically. It’s probably just me, but I get uneasy when those who exercised political power and those who continue to exercise some political and economic power – all self-appointed and notwithstanding their credentials, combine to seek to shape our future. And I’m even more uneasy when their ‘blueprint’ remains under wraps.

      • “…some strategic thinking, but I would prefer it to emerge from those whom the people have elected. Perhaps, they are so inured to thinking tactically that they are pathologically incapable of thinking strategically….but I get uneasy when those who exercised political power and those who continue to exercise some political and economic power – all self-appointed and notwithstanding their credentials, combine to seek to shape our future.”

        It is not just you who gets uneasy about this way of doing things, when the political class seems to lack any interest in strategic thinking beyond winning the next election.

        This means that they are open to ideas…
        Which strategic ideas the political and governing class choose to act on is something that we should be aware of – before they act on it and before they change what ideas they are acting on.

        The best example is Ireland’s behaviour on joining the €uro. I had assumed that this was to bind us into the fiscal and monetary disciplines implied in a low-inflation, low-interest monetary union – so that our exporting industries could have access to funds needed to develop sustainable international businesses.

        As we now know, the governing elite (which is much wider than the political class) did not act on this – preferring to rely on a concept of economic growth based on land re-zoning/development. This led to a ponzi-scheme whereby people thought that we could sustain economic and social development by selling properties to one another at ever-increasing prices, way beyond inflation rates.

        That it happened twice during the last 40 years means that our elites have learnt
        very little.

        Perhaps, now you will understand why I do not think it worthwhile to spend much time trying to tweak our existing way of governing ourselves.

        It is just typical that those, who prepared the blueprint “the blueprint”, would not publish it. Same old, same old instincts which got us into this crisis.

        It contrasts very neatly with Andrés Velasco account of how the Chilean government adopted a fiscal policy (first voluntarily and then in law), designed to even out the local effects of the copper cycle. http://www.irisheconomy.ie/VelascoFISCAL.pdf

        A key element in developing that rule and getting political acceptance for it was the question of legitimacy ie. would it pass the taxi-driver test?

        Having a separation of powers (where the Minister for Finance holds office on the say-so of the directly elected President, as in France and the US) meant that Minister had to work hard to persuade the public and the parliamentarians of the wisdom of embedding a fiscal rule in law.

        Can you imagine any of our elected politicians reaction to being burnt in effigy – which is what Andrés Velasco said of himself yesterday?

        Can you imagine any politician in a system of “Government in, and of, parliament” risking such public displeasure?

        Without a separation between the Dáil and the Government, it is hard to imagine our political class engaging seriously in the kind of strategic thinking that the Chileans did (from Slide 18 of the Velasco presentation)
        “Why did Chile need rule?
        Economic concerns:
        No longer-term framework for fiscal policy;
        Contingent liabilities: pensions, infrastructure;

        Political concerns:
        Inefficient negotiation inside Executive and in Congress;
        Subnational governments.”

        In a democracy, strategic thinking on he common good is welcome whereever it comes from – once we can see the options being presented.

  15. LET THE TRUTH BE IN THE FIRST PLACE and let the light shine in by way of a clean and open window to the power house of the peoples right to know why they pay the bills of a state found to have lied to us the very people and let the law makers make laws of the people for the people and not for political dictate and to hold power for self an new way is the only hope for a now broke country as in SECOND REPUBLIC

  16. @Donal,

    I understand your aversion to ‘tweaking’, but I would continue to assert that the ‘government in, and of, parliament’ model seems to work quite well for the ‘northern core’ countries (Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland). It may be that the rotation of centre-right and centre-left governance (with the incoming government rolling back the excesses of its predecessor) is a factor (and something we have yet to achieve), but I think the fact that parliament is much more than the ‘rubber-stamp’ of government may also be a factor.

    And with regard to strategic options for Ireland, how these are formulated and by whom, there seems to be this idea abroad that we can ‘cut a deal’ with our EU partners, commit to getting the deficit down over time and return to the pre-bubble Celtic Tiger. That world has gone and, even if it were recoverable, our EU partners would not allow us to exercise the licence we enjoyed then. We need to recognise that our room for manoeuvre, and our ability to get on a recovery path, is entirely contingent on the nature of the relationship and engagement with our EU partners.

    But we lack a legitimate forum to discuss our strategic options and constraints. A better governed polity would have a government appointed commission putting these issues and options out for public discussion or have hearings before a committee of parliament or the legislature. All we have is partially revealed tactical manoeuvering by government and the ‘great and the good’ getting straight into Govt. Bldgs. to secure engagement on their unpublished ‘blueprint’.

    I respect the basis for your disagreement, but I remain convinced that a few ‘tweaks’ that might let in the light of day could trigger an avalanche that would blow this nonsense out of the way.

    • re. “Government in, and of, parliament”

      The “northern core” countries (Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland) do not have the kind of Government that you imply.

      TCD’s Professor Michael Gallagher has pointed out
      that in the Netherlands and Norway, about half of all Ministers have never been MPs:
      “The ‘fusion’ of government and parliament, with virtually all ministers simultaneously being TDs, greatly affects the way in which TDs, especially government backbenchers,
      see their role. Fusion is a characteristic feature of Westminster model countries, and as such is by no means typical of European practice generally. While in Ireland all ministers must be members of parliament, in certain European countries (notably
      France, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden) the offices of MP and government minister are incompatible. Whereas in Ireland only two of the approximately 150 ministers since 1922 were not previously MPs before or upon their appointment….the average European figure is 25 per cent. In the Netherlands and Norway around half of all ministers have never been MPs…..”
      see Michael Gallagher “The Oireachtas: President and Parliament.” Chap. 7 in Politics in the Republic of Ireland, edited by Michael Gallagher John Coakley. PSAI Press Routledge, 2010.

      In addition, UCD’s Niamh Hardiman pointed out, that Ireland is at one end of a spectrum in Europe, in terms of as pointed out in insisting that Ministers must be members of parliament, in contrast to to the mixed system in most Western European countries see her excellent paper at a Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland
      Symposium on Resolving Ireland’s Fiscal Crisis in November 2009.
      http://www.ssisi.ie/Hardiman26-11-09.pdf.

      In researching my contribution for the Dublin City Business Association 10-pint manifesto, I formed the view that holding ministerial office is not compatible with being a member of the legislature is not usual in many OECD member states. Of the 22 countries that I was able to get some data on (see Table 2 on p.72
      http://www.dcba.ie/static/doclib/Towards_a_Second_Republic.pdf), I found that
      · four (Ireland, Iceland, Lithuania, UK), make it mandatory for Ministers to be members of
      the legislature during their terms of office as Cabinet members;
      · eight (Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden, US), do not allow
      Ministers to be members of the legislature while being Cabinet members.

      If by “tweak” you mean using the existing constitutional provisions which would allow two Cabinet Members (excluding the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance) of the up to 15 members, fair enough.

      No sign of any such tweaks in the current Government parties election manifestos.
      However, during the recent general election campaign, Michael Martin did raise the possibility of appointing non-TDs as Ministers in some specialist areas eg. energy.

      You should also note that there is no constitutional restriction on who can be appointed Minister of State.

      IMO, we are dealing the effects of an avalanche. What more will it take for the “powers-that-be” to let in the kind of light that would blow what you call for “blow nonsense out of the way”?.

      “But we lack a legitimate forum to discuss our strategic options and constraints. ”

      IMO, the Dáil and its committees are the fora for discussing such matters – in public.
      I accept entirely that analysis/development/interpretation of such options/constraints may be done by others eg. the Ireland First group, researchers/academics, interest groups, fora like this etc.

      • @Donal,

        Thank you for continuing to engage so constructively. I only hope our terrier-like determination to tease these issues through hasn’t turned off visitors to this board.

        I take your points about separating the role of ministers from parleimentary representation – and I’m all for it – but, apart from two via the Senate (who would still be expected to perform parlimanetray duties there), we can’t change this immediately. My suggestion is that at the next election all candidates would have to nominate an alternate. An elected candidate appointed to government would vacate the Dail and his/her place would be taken by the alternate. (This would also remove the need to by-elections.)

        But what we can do immediately is to empower and resource Dail Cttees to hold ministers (and all who advise them) to account. The Irish people have learned a bitter and costly lesson. People delegate their ultimate authority to their elected representatives who then elect a government. It is right and proper that voters should trust those whom they elect, but the rule should be ‘trust, but verify’. And verification is possible only via transparency and scrutiny (and I fully support your FoI proposals). And because people have to live their lives and have delegated their authority to these ‘deputies’ they cannot be expected, individually, to enforce the vigilance that is required. So they have to rely on the Fourth Estate which has also performed absymally in holding government to account.

        We may also need to consider reforms in this area so that the Fourth Estate performs its duties as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the people.

        These kinds of reforms (including a clean out of the upper-layers of the whole unelected, appointed machinery of governance) could be implemented in the next 6 months. Once these were bedded down, the basis for, and the need for, more wide-ranging and deep-seated reforms could be contemplated.

  17. IMO if the scale of current crisis can’t spark our politicians into significant change in the next 2 or 3 years, then I don’t believe it will ever happen. But I’ll give the current government the benefit of the doubt for the moment; they’re barely just in office. A central issue for me is excessive executive dominance of the Dáil. This will really have to be tackled. If we stick with a parliamentary system, this will mean weakening the usual levers of control a Taoiseach has at his disposal (via his chief whip) to keep his TDs in line. These would include control of TDs’ pay/expenses, parliamentary jobs, patronage, pork, party candidate selection and Dáil dissolution.

    On TDs’ pay and expenses, this type of control perhaps reached its height under Bertie Ahern, with all kinds of sweeteners being thrown around like confetti at a wedding: 20 junior ministries, and up to 23 Dáil committees, each with their own positions: chair, vice chair, convenors. A government TD would really have to have been out of favour not to have received one of these goodies. And all these parliamentary jobs, including even Ceann Comhairle, were essentially the gift of the government/Taoiseach.

    Patronage also is a great tool to keep the backbenchers happy. There’s nothing like giving some plumb job on a state board to some TD’s relative to keep him/her happy. Pork is another great inducement: “Vote with the government on this crucial bill and that community centre in your area will get the go-ahead”. We’ve seen how ministerial budgets can mysteriously flow into particular localities depending on who’s the current incumbent. And threatening to give that young, up and coming councillor the nod to run in a TD’s constituency in the next election is a really good stick to beat that TD into line. And a Taoiseach’s ability to dissolve the Dáil is perhaps one of his trump cards: “If this bill fails, you’ll be out in the cold and facing the people in a month”. Nothing like that to concentrate a TD’s mind on a vote! Any serious attempt to give more power back to the Dáil will have to curb the Taoiseach’s ability to use these carrots/sticks.

    Some ideas on how to actually do this:
    On patronage, there are virtually no checks or scrutiny of government appointments in this country. FG’s proposal to give committees a limited ability to veto more senior quango/state board appointments would be an improvement (even though this idea doesn’t appear in the recent programme for government). And this idea does depend on a strong committee system that’s genuinely independent of government control, otherwise there’s little point. An even more radical solution would be to take away completely the power of appointment from government (except for a few limited cases). I have the Finnish office of President in mind here. Finland has a semi-presidential system, i.e. a parliamentary system that also possesses a president with significant powers. The Finnish president lays aside political affiliations upon taking office, has significant control over foreign policy, and also makes most senior public appointments: judges, army officers, provincial governors, senior civil servants, the board of the central bank etc. I’m not proposing anything as radical as that, just simply giving our own president the power to make most public appointments (just for jobs that are supposed to be non-political anyway). A downside would be slightly increased politicization of this office. But an upside would be that appointments to such jobs might themselves become less politicized. Giving the Seanad (or Dáil) a weak ability to veto such presidential appointments (perhaps a 2/3 majority would block) could be a useful check, but would be still weak enough to not overly politicize the process.

    On parliamentary jobs and TDs’ pay, obviously it’s important we end up with a strong and independent committee system. Committee chairs and vice chairs should be paid a higher salary, but only if they are elected by secret ballot. The position of Ceann Comhairle should also not be a job doled out by government. And is there really any need for so many junior ministers? I’ve no problem with the Oireachtas creating such positions by legislation (even if there’s no mention of such posts in the constitution). But I don’t believe junior ministers should receive any higher remuneration than an ordinary TD. I would also feel it would be desirable to take control of TDs’ pay away from government. This could be quite tricky to do. One idea might be to constitutionally benchmark TDs’ pay against the Irish median wage. This is about 25k at the moment. Currently an ordinary TD’s pay would be about four times this; the Taoiseach’s a multiple of 8 times this figure, with the Tánaiste, cabinet ministers and the Ceann Comhairle coming somewhere in-between. If it were up to me, I’d insert a clause into the constitution fixing TDs’ levels of pay (including expenses and maximum pensions) to specified and fixed multiples of the average median wage (as measured by the CSO annually). This would tie politicians’ pay/pensions to general economic performance and to the more modest wages earned by ordinary workers. The Taoiseach could then create as many junior ministers or other parliamentary jobs as he wanted to, but would no longer have the power to remunerate them any better than ordinary TDs. Greater separation between the cabinet and legislature would also help. Ministers’ votes are “bought” votes; they won’t go against the whip. If cabinet members couldn’t vote (maybe because they were not TDs or a substitute had their vote) this would also tend to weaken the government whip.

    On pork and party candidate selection, I must admit I’m short on ideas for weakening these. Changing the electoral system could have some impact. But it’s not entirely obvious how this might be done. Having at least some TDs elected on a regional or national basis could lessen the effects of pork (or at least give the pork a less local flavour). But if a list system (particularly a closed variant) were used instead, this could give parties greater control over candidate selection. An advantage of the current PR-STV system is that parties’ control over this selection is not overly strong. A snubbed TD can always go and run (often successfully) as a “gene pool” independent. Perhaps some TDs being elected using a regional or national semi-open list system (giving voters some ability to override the party list order) might be an improvement. Certainly more open and transparent government (via FoI or a strengthened ombudsman) could only help.

    On dissolution, requiring that the Dáil could only be dissolved if an absolute majority of TDs voted in favour would be a useful and simple curb on this power. IMO our dissolution arrangements really need a close examination in any serious executive/legislature rebalancing. My ideal solution would be the introduction of a “constructive vote of no confidence” mechanism (as suggested in pages 86-89 of the 1996 Report of the Constitutional Review Group http://www.constitution.ie/reports/crg.pdf ) and a semi-fixed term setup modelled after that in the Swedish Riksdag, where ordinary parliamentary elections are always held exactly every four years, and where a government can still call mid-cycle extraordinary elections, but where such a parliament can then only last until the next scheduled ordinary elections; this setup discentivizes dissolution but is not overly rigid.

    • @Finbar,

      You’re really going after some of the things that would make a real difference! Thank you. But, unfortunately, our esteemed parliamentarians have no interest in doing these things or, more importantly, no real intent or incentive to do them. Once elected, we can’t coerce them against their will, but it might be possible to shame the governing factions into, at least, starting to implement some of the things in the programme of government (though we all know they will see how hard and how quickly they can kick anything difficult into the long grass).

      It might be possible to encourge a very fragemented opposition to make the running, as a government, with such an overwhelming majority, will provide almost impossible to hold to account in any meaningful way under the current arrangements.

      So it probably makes sense to focus on identifying incentives that might encourage the three major sets of players (the government, the governing factions’ backbenchers and the opposition factions) to advance reforms.

      The government will be the most resistant to refrom because it will argue that anything that might curtail its executive dominance will damage its ability to engage effectively with our EU partners at this crucial point in the state’s history. (In addition, getting their hands on the levers of power, having being deprived for so long, and, given the age profile of the current cabinet, they will be loth to countenance any diminuition of these powers.) Moral suasion exerted by the public and the media to require them to adhere to the reforms set out in the programme of government might have some impact, but it is difficult to identify an incentive.

      The only one I can see is the possibility that giving backbenchers some useful work to do in cttees might mollify those who expected to, but didn’t make, the ‘government payroll’. It might also restrict the mischief (cabals, revolts, posturing and grand-standing) that idle hands might indulge in.

      This incentive might also be relevant to those on the governing factions’ backebenches whose ambitions have been twarted – and some might see chairing a properly resourced and effective cttee as being a valid career path within parliament granting some power, influence and prestige.

      The fragmented opposition factions should have the most to gain from reforms – in particular of Dail procedures. It is likely FF will be out of government for at least two Dail terms. SF, I suspect, will struggle to advance from this surge and many of the independents, I fear, will be one-Dail wonders. Despite their lack of numbers, all these factions, collectively, should have an incentive to reform dail procedures and resources in such a a way that would allow them to hold a government with such an overwhelming majority to account.

      So, it seems, some incentives do exist, but it will be very difficult to persuade our parliamentarians to recognise them – not to mind identifying a package of reforms and securing the plurality to implement them.

      But I think that setting out these incetives and presenting them to the three sets of interested parties might be a useful exercise. Any takers?

      • @Paul
        I do share your pessimism, but am also willing/hoping to be surprised. And if I am, then my opinions of Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore will increase hugely. Genuine reform will necessitate the executive actually giving some real power away to the Dáil, whether it’s temporarily lent via standing orders/legislation or more ideally permanently given via constitutional amendment. If a government with a huge and record majority, on foot of an unprecedented crisis, will not cede some degree of power during this Dáil term, then I’ll have to admit that no government ever will. We’ll see!

        Many of the reforms I listed wouldn’t be threatening to the average TD, and would indeed pass the “turkeys voting for Christmas” test! 🙂 A Swedish semi-fixed term setup, say with five year terms, would probably be quite attractive, and actually make a TD’s life more predictable. Reforming how committee jobs and the Ceann Comhairle position is handed out, while perhaps initially disadvantaging government backbenchers, would longterm ensure a fair chance of a job for a TD whether in government or opposition. Benchmarking TD salaries/expenses to fixed multiples of the national median wage might not be popular (well, unless the multiples were generous). Even a simple amendment specifying that the salary/expense setup had to be identical for all TDs (except for the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, cabinet ministers, and a limited number of committee chairs/vice chairs) would achieve the same results. Would mean any extra allowances for legislatively created jobs like junior ministers or committee convenors would no longer be allowed. And a “constructive vote of no confidence” mechanism would in some ways actually strengthen an incumbent Taoiseach’s hand.

        There’s very little incentive though for a government to give up control over public appointments. The huge proliferation of quangos was precisely because of this lack of scrutiny. There are some controls over appointments to the civil service, therefore it’s easier to create a quango and stuff it with one’s cronies. Public appointments are a huge cancer in our system. We’re seen that over a long period with our regulatory and criminal justice systems. The Taoiseach/government has an unchecked tight control over appointments of regulators, senior gardaí, judges and the DPP. No one was ever really held properly accountable for the ICI banking scandal in the 1980s, which occured under the current government parties, until Dessie O’Malley later much to his credit pressurized AIB into handing some money over to the state under threat of its banking license being revoked, and for a number of questionable incidents in the intervening period, and even now no one yet has been brought to book for our recent banking disaster. Seems to me our justice system works differently for those with connections in high places. A lack of checks and scrutiny on public appointments is for me the common thread running through many of these incidents.

        I think the forthcoming referendum on Seanad abolition will be one of the best opportunities during this Dáil term to pressurize/shame the government into going further with its reforms. Most of the other proposals will likely pass. But my guess is that the ballot on Seanad abolition will be one of the most contentious. An Irish Times opinion poll two or three months ago put support for/against abolition as 59/41%. And there’s a long history of referenda starting out with strong public support for the government’s proposals, which gradually melts away as the issues are discussed in more detail. The passage of this referendum is by no means a foregone conclusion. And it’s quite likely the discussion will branch out to a general discussion of political reform.

        A properly reformed Seanad (perhaps directly elected and with increased powers to delay legislation) could be a useful check on executive power. It could also be usefully given a role scrutinizing public appointments. If the intent is to abolish this body then the obvious question is what will be put in its place. A strong independent constitutionally based committee system, with powers to vet and block government appointments, might greatly ease the passage of such an abolition referendum. Some “Mickey Mouse” tweaking of the current committee setup may not help the argument at all.

        Plus there’s more than one way to abolish the Seanad. Any abolition is going to force the government to make a number of hard choices.

        The first choice will be whether to immediately abolish the Seanad at the same time as the referendum, or alternatively leave the Seanad and its various political hacks there limp along for 3 or 4 years until the end of the current Dáil term. There’s been some waffle and spin in the newspapers about retrospectivity and compensating sitting Senators, that the Seanad therefore would legally have to exist until the end of the current Dáil term. Not true! Retrospectivity only exists in the framework of the constitution (from article 15.5.1). A appropriately drafted amendment could end the Seanad there and then (with no compensation needed for Senators), just like De Valera summarily abolished the first Seanad in 1936 (granted under the Free State constitution).

        Another choice will be what to do with the provision for up to two Senators to be ministers. Will that be modified to allow external non-Dáil ministers, or just done away with entirely?

        Perhaps the most interesting choice is what will be done with the article 27 provision for a legislative referendum. Currently, 1/3 of TDs and a majority of Senators can petition the president on a bill of national importance. If the president consents the bill is then put to a binding referendum. An almost automatic Seanad majority has prevented this from being used. Would this provision be kept after abolition? If just 1/3 of TDs were able to petition the president in such a manner, then this could be a very useful check on executive power. Actually, as mentioned in FG’s own reform policy document, Denmark currently has an almost identical provision, where 1/3 of Danish MPs can petition the speaker of the house for a referendum on a bill of national importance. This is another interesting choice that the government will be forced to make regarding abolition. If this article 27 provision is entirely done away with, it will be a clear signal they are not really serious about curbing executive dominance, and will be excellent ammunition for those arguing against abolition.

        So, I think the forthcoming Seanad abolition referendum will be a great opportunity to pressurize the government into make some deeper reforms.

      • One more thought occurs to me (and I hope I’m not boring people to death with these long meandering posts 🙂 ). I’ve probably been guilty of being a bit too prone to cynicism. My expectations for reform in this Dáil are indeed low. But people can occasionally be wonderfully surprising. And I think it’s fair to say that Enda Kenny has exceeded the expectations of many people for quite a long time now. Ultimately all this talk of reform will either succeed or die in his hands. He’s now the 13th Taoiseach (hopefully for all of us that won’t turn out to be an unlucky number!). He seems like a hard worker and at least seems personally sincere. Leadership can be a funny thing. Those one would really expect to be good leaders can at times crash and burn, whilst some of the most unpresupposing candidates can do surprisingly well.

        The two main issues that will define this Dáil, I think, are the economy and political reform. I think digging our way out of the economic hole we’ve dug for ourselves would be a sore challenge even for the greatest of leaders. And much of that is even probably out of our own hands. We’re at the stage, as Morgan Kelly put it, where we will have to “rely on the kindness of strangers”. The political reform agenda is, in contrast, actually far more straightforward. The public would be very much behind a Taoiseach pushing hard on this agenda. Coalition partners are unlikely to pull out of government just because reforms are too radical. Enda Kenny could use this public desire, and an unprecedented majority, to persuade, cajole, indeed shame, government TDs into following quite a radical reform agenda. There’s quite a wide gap between what I expect will be done, and what *could* be done, or indeed *should* be done.

        There have been several Taoisigh who, while looking very capable on paper, lacked any coherent vision for what they were trying to achieve, and whose primary goal seemed to be just to hang onto power. Leaders aren’t always wholly motivated by such power politics however. They usually want to leave some kind of legacy for the future. On reform, it’s quite possible (even likely) Enda Kenny will listen too much to the conservative voices of many in his own cabinet and among his backbenchers, and bring in a middle-of-the-road “don’t rock the boat” series of reforms, which will be scarcely remembered in 30 years time. Or he may actually stick his neck out and do something far more fundamental. Only time will tell.

  18. Many of the changes, so referred to as ‘optics’, are in fact very welcome. They are necessary and important in their own right. But the early barometer as to the government’s intentions to fundamentally reform our political system was whether the new government would reduce the number of junior ministers from 15 to 12 as FG promised during the election. This was hardly an earth shattering reform and still they couldnt manage to bring themselves to do it. If the new government cant stomach the fallout from upsetting a few TDs who feel entitled to a ministry how can we really expect them to do anything fundamental. Really disappointing. Same aul same aul.

    • Cutting the number of office holders isn’t the main point – there is plenty for twice as any office holders to do. It is the cost of them, the salaries, perks, pensions and expenses that are completely unacceptable.

      The modest car changes and salary reductions are not the end, they show intent and there’ll be even more reform – it’s only been a week – it took 35 years to ruin the country, it will take some time to fix things.

      • @Desmond
        Frankly it took only one night to bring the country to the current state ie. the night the last Government took the decision to tie the country’s fate to that of the banks.

        Going back further, I suggest that up to about 2000 or perhaps even the 2002 General Election, there was considerable scope to set the country on a trajectory that did not depend on selling ever more expensie houses to one another, leading to the ponzi-scheme fuelled by the Boards of Bnaks whose sense of fiduciary responsbility left a lot to be desired, as is emerging, clearly and unambiguously.

  19. @Paul
    “I take your points about separating the role of ministers from parleimentary representation – and I’m all for it – but, apart from two via the Senate (who would still be expected to perform parlimanetray duties there), we can’t change this immediately. ”

    Looking at Cabinet ministers only overlooks the possibility of bringing in non-parliamentarians to be Ministers of State.
    This is something I proposed in my contribution to the DCBA 10-point manifesto. see the Figure on p. 74 of http://www.dcba.ie/static/doclib/Towards_a_Second_Republic.pdf

    This is a major and radical change in the culture of the governing class. But I regard it as a tweak as it does not need constitutional change!!!

    “My suggestion is that at the next election all candidates would have to nominate an alternate. An elected candidate appointed to government would vacate the Dail and his/her place would be taken by the alternate. (This would also remove the need to by-elections.)”

    Once you start on this, you have gone beyond tweaking because this requires a change to our Constitution. Article 16.2 is clear on this

    “1° Dáil Éireann shall be composed of members who represent constituencies determined by law.
    ……
    5° The members shall be elected on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.”

    So, if one is going to open up the debate to more than tweaking (eg. changing the constitution), why not go the whole way to separate the Dáil and the Government completely?

    Our present structure is like a scales, with the Dáil/Senate (the representative legislating power) on
    one side and the Government/Rialtas (executive power) on the other.

    Unfortunately, the weight of the Dáil is so light compared to that of the Government that the scale is
    permanently tilted against the Dáil. Our system is completely unbalanced because the Dáil and Senate have no effective power to control or monitor the Government. Once in power, there are few checks and balances on Government.

    To improve the workings of the Dáil and the Government, the two need to be separated in a way
    that increases the power of the legislature without reducing the effectiveness and efficiency of
    government

    Only thus, can the power of both branches of government be used, in complementary and
    sometimes conflicting ways, to enhance the common good.
    It was Montesquieu, a pre-revolutionary French political commentator, who proposed that the
    legislating and executive branches must counter balance each other to achieve real liberty.
    “When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, there can be no liberty.”

    For more see p. 75-76 and p. 80ff in my contribution
    the DCBA manifesto already referred to above.

    • @Donal,

      I think we are broadly agreed on what is best, but my focus, at the moment, is on what is achievable – and how. My response above to Finbar Lehane’s excellent outline of desirable changes tries to focus on the incentives our parliamentarians might be encouraged to recognise and act upon.

      They will all wax lyrical on how they are intent on pursuing reforms that are in the public interest, but we all know that nothing of any substance will happen unless it can be aligned with their interests – or might be preceived as advancing their interests.

      Apologies for appearing so cynical and Machiavellian, but this is politics after all.

      • @Paul
        re. Finbar Lehane’s excellent outline of desireable changes include
        “… just simply giving our own president the power to make most public appointments (just for jobs that are supposed to be non-political anyway).”

        This also requires radical changes to the Constitution see Article 13.9.

        I do not find your proposals/reasoning either cynical or Machiavellian.
        It is just that I feel that the time spent in tweaking might be more productive if spent trying to persuade the powers-that-be to go much further – based purely on the assumption that you cannot put new wine into old wineskins – particularly ones that have been found to be very leaky!

  20. @Noel
    “…. But the early barometer as to the government’s intentions to fundamentally reform our political system was whether the new government would reduce the number of junior ministers from 15 to 12 as FG promised during the election….. If the new government cant stomach the fallout from upsetting a few TDs who feel entitled to a ministry how can we really expect them to do anything fundamental….”

    Agree entirely. see other responses above

    The Government has so far failed to mobilise people with experience to enhance our presence at EU level. Or at least, they have done so in public.

    As an example, I offer the idea of appointing Pat Cox (former lecturer in Economics, TD, MEP and President of the European Parliament) as Minister with special responsibilities for EU relations. (No, I was not a member or even a supporter of the PDs) Not do I have any idea of whether Pat Cox would be willing to serve in such a capacity!

  21. @Finbar Lehane
    “…I think digging our way out of the economic hole we’ve dug for ourselves would be a sore challenge even for the greatest of leaders….”

    If you were cynical, I doubt you would be putting so much thought and effort into your contributions here.

    I suggest that political reform is a precondition for getting out the hole we have dug for ourselves.
    If we see serious changes in the governing class, I believe that will help us as we work if only that we will know that we are not going back to the way of governing ourselves that got into this hole … and that of the 1970/80s… and that of the 1950s…

    “Enda Kenny could use this public desire, ”

    As grist to that particular mill, you might be aware of the findings of a Eurobarometer 2010 poll which found that more than 70 per cent of us in the Republic of Ireland agreed that
    “· Our country needs reforms to face the future;
    · Reforms that benefit future generations should be pursued even if that means some sacrifices for the present generation.”
    http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb73/eb73_fact_ie_en.pdf p.4

    What remains to be seen is the extent to which the current political and governing classes respond to this sentiment for political and institutional reform.

  22. @Donal O B: Thats a very positive suggestion Donal re Pat Cox, one I would fully endorse, but can you just imagine the screams of disapproval from Lucinda Creighton and the dogs abuse she would give Enda Kenny if he made such an appointment and thereby over shadowed her junior ministerial role!!!!

    • Yes, indeed.

      But, if we want to change the results (ie. the current fiscal crisis, following that of the 1980s and the 1950s), we have got to change the approach, to ensure that we can have sustainable social and economic development for all who wish to live and work here.

  23. @ D’OB: “. . . to ensure that we can have sustainable [social and] economic development. . . ”

    Donal, ‘sustainable economic development’ means that you abandon the contemporary Permagrowth economic paradigm (long-term trend of annual, incremental increase in aggregate economic activity) for the exact opposite, long-term, annual decrement! Are people really ready for that? I fancy not! Some very hard, very uncomfortable political thinking is in order. The current set of clones, so far anyway, seem incapable of such intellectual efforts. Let’s see what emerges.

    Brian

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