47 thoughts on “We the Citizens is launched

  1. I thought everyone had gone for early Easter holidays. Interesting initiative, but I’m not sure what it’ll achieve. We have a representative parliamentary democracy in which, for a huge variety of reasons, the vast majority of citizens seem to have an abiding faith. But it doesn’t work very well.

    It is a strange irony that the individual citizen can engage very effectively with his or TD – indeed individual TDs are at the beck and call of their constituents (much more than is typical in most other parliamentary democracies), but citizens collectively cannot engage with TDs collectively. Some engagement of this nature is desperately required to chivvy TDs to reclaim the Dail and to reform its procedures in the broader public interest.

    Perhaps this initiative will fill this gap, but I sense the objective is to promote a Citizens’ Assembly. Not an outcome to be dismissed, but it would fall far short of what is required.

  2. “We the Citizens’ see this as a moment which gives Irish people the chance to help renew our Republic and to contribute to new models of citizen engagement.”

    Thats very vague. I dont get what this is about.

  3. At some point why not set up a Provisional Dial, whose members are pledged to disown the government’s responsibility for the debts of privately owned banks. After one session, and educating the public, hold an unofficial referendum on the issue. Then demand an official referendum.

      • Some of my relatives served in that first Dail.

        After the famine, Ireland made so many social/revolutionary innovations to advance a new national identity and social order: the Land League, the Boycott, The GAA, the Gaelic Revival, provisional courts to decide disputes, and finally the Provisional Government. What has happened to that spirit?

  4. It’s very cheering to see a new initiative for political reform but on a closer look it seems only to have the objective of listening to the citizens. Dissatisfied citizens will have a great deal to say on many topics but it’s very doubtful if they will collectively give voice to the complex proposals needed to reform the political system. Our exisiting political system listens quite well to citizens but it rarely seems to develop the worked out ideas that would answer their concerns.

    The challenge is to come up with the details of a coherent political system which would concentrate sufficient power to solve citizens problems while giving those citizens enough feedback to exercise accurate control. A citizens assembly or national convention will only solve our problems if it has before it at least one proposal for a well-designed structure of government.

    Unfortunately, wethecitizens.ie does not offer any mechanism by which complex political ideas can be marshalled into a consistent structure that would be worth a vote in an assembly.

    • The first things that could be done:

      1. Not allow Irish banks to borrow above a prudent limit from foreign banks. If the banks are not given excess “crazy” capital they will not lend it irresponsibly.

      2. Require property developers to have raised 25% to 50% of the cost of a project before they can borrow one cent from an Irish bank.

      3. Reform the Irish bank regulatory system by having some Swedish bank regulators on the Board overseeing Irish banking. Give them veto power over any exceptions/favors done for bankers who are cozy with this politician or that one. Give them the power to bring lax practices/deviations/frauds before the Irish courts and the Dail.

      4. Reduce the principals owed on mortgages to reflect current market values. This will keep some of those properties from going into default, the owners either staying in the property or having a decent chance to sell it and rent or buy a more affordable home.

      5. After guaranteeing depositors, put the Irish banks into an orderly administration/bankruptcy process. Let the bondholders and creditors take the losses.

      6. Have the government invest a substantial amount of capital in the new 2-3 banks that will emerge from the administration/bankruptcy process. That is, the government would own shares but be a passive investor.

      7. Find some honest bankers to run these banks. Make sure some are NOT Irish.

      8. Forbid taxpayer/government bailouts for banks. Let them succeed or fail on their own. Remember, the government would be guaranteeing depositors (not banks), so a bank failure will not result in losses for depositors.

      These steps should restore banks to their core mission: to lend to businesses and individuals based on prudent criteria. The banks would be privately run but well regulated against foolish risk and speculation. And the regulators would have to answer to the Swedish regulators on the overseeing board. These banks could be profitably run with the right management.


      Reorganize the Agriculture ministry to encourage recycling so that rural towns and townships will be able to produce their own electricity. An entire city of 80,000 has done this in Sweden. This will lower the cost of food for the domestic and export markets.


      Develop a practical plan for how to manage if the decision is made to withdraw from the Euro. Or the whole concept of the Euro collapses, as it well may do as the politics of the EU becomes more and more Neo-Liberal rather than Social Democratic. That is, as the governments of the big countries decide to govern primarily for the benefit of their banks as opposed to the benefit of the EU peoples. Fortunately there are still some independent currencies in Europe that could be used as a transitional currency.

      A plan needs to be in place rather than simply face the collapse of the Euro in a crisis mode.

      Withdrawal from the Euro, or its collapse, should move Ireland to be more closely aligned with England, the independent or semi-independent Scotland, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. This is a more natural and productive international development than aligning with a French-German union.

  5. is this to the promote the idea of official government run citizens forum, by doing one yourself first? know there’s some here very keen on that.

    how keen is Mr Feeney on this?

  6. The Citizens Assembly is scheduled for Sat-Sun 25-26th June next, along with other regional events between now and then.

    I wish this very ambitious programme in a very short time every success, even if is not yet clear what the ultimate aims are, in terms of how our democratic power is delegated, used, controlled and developed. see http://www.wethecitizens.ie/index.php

    It is worth noting that, in British Columbia, a Citizens Assembly took 18 (yes eighteen) months to look at only one aspect of the political and institutional system ie. the electoral system. see here http://www.citizensassembly.bc.ca/public

    and here

    Click to access Kenneth_Carty_18_10_10.pdf

    Elaine Byrne has described the aims of a Citizens Assembly as
    “I see this as a means of demonstrating how citizens can recapture trust in their political process and take ownership of the decision making process….
    …The point of a citizens’ assembly is to make passive voters engaged citizens. It is a means of addressing a perceived democratic deficit by creating a context for collective decision making which seeks to promote long term rather than short term solution. It keeps citizens, as well as academics (who incidentally are also citizens) happy.”

    While I suspect that it will take more than a Citizens Assembly to restore public happiness, I welcome this as yet another response to the strong feeling for political and institutional reform, so evident during the recent general election.

    I hope that wethecitizens will add to the long-overdue process of designing, discussing,implementing, operating and renewing a series of checks and balances to limit the scope for excess by the powerful, whether they be public or private, elected or appointed in order to ;
    · ensure competence and moderation in government
    · overcome inertia at government level, both national and local;
    so 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.

    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
    · the capacity and of adapting to the changes that constantly descend upon it.

    We citizens need to ensure that the state’s decision making-processes are structured and disciplined. We need to copper fasten new ways of governing ourselves to avoid the kind of muddling through, inertia, lack of foresight, and reversal that marks previous efforts at political and institutional reform – the consequences of which we are now living with.

    As Madison put it “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. In framing a government which
    is to be administered by men over men the great difficulty lies in this: first you must enable the government to control the governed and in the next place, you must oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions”

    Among such “auxiliary precautions”, I am firmly convinced that we need to embed both
    · Swedish style Freedom of Information
    · Swiss style direct democracy
    into our constitution.

    However, these steps will take longer to research, consider and implement.

    For expediency we must take those steps which we can, just to get us started on political and institutional reform. Only thus can our skills and energies open the paths to sustainable standards of living and greater justice for all who wish to live and work here.

    “Dans la vie, il n’y a pas des solutions. Il n’y a que des forces en force. Il s’agit de les creer et les solutions suivent.”

    • @Donal,

      Thank you for the update on the timing of the CA; it wasn’t clear from the site. I can understand your willingness to support this initiative ‘for expediency’, but, while I applaud the effort being being made, I fear it will fall far short in terms of ‘popular legitimacy’.

      We have a citizens’ assembly; it’s called the Dail. That’s where those to whom citizens have delegated their ultimate authority for a variable period of time up to a constitutionally determined maximum meet to elect a government and to enact laws. Until TDs affirm that their primary duty is to the citizens they represent as members of the Dail – and that their secondary duty is to the faction they support – I fear extra-parliamentary initiatives of this nature will be futile. Getting TDs, irrespective of faction, to take their responsibilities seriously is the challenge. Achieving this is the sine qua non; after this everything is possible. Anything that doesn’t contribute to achieving this is irrelevant – regardless of how much of a warm and fuzzy feeling it might generate.

  7. Correction
    “Dans la vie, il n’y a pas des solutions. Il n’y a que des forces en marche. Il s’agit de les creer et les solutions suivent.”

  8. I welcome this idea but only if We the citizens body can and does make direct representation to the current Dail and Government. Talking and meeting as a body is useless unless this body has direct access to government and can force government to bring in real cost-cutting political reform such as immediate abolition of the Seanad, abolition of all expenses for all elected salaried representatives, reduction of the Dail to no more than 100 TDs. Payment to incoming President of a token salary only or abolition of the role of presidency is also required immediately. All these can be achieved by the government holding the appropriate referenda and implementing the changes immediately. I think We the citizens should confine their action to political reform. Economic solutions will follow political reform.

  9. @Donal,

    Thank you for this. I wish this effort well and apologise for being a ‘Doubting Thomas’, but I’m both intrigued and pessimistic. Not sure how closely you’re involved in the organisation, but I’m fascinated by this proposed weekend CA. Will the selected ‘150’ be financed to participate? Will there be alternates selected (and alternates for the alternates) if some of those selected decline to participate? Will there be some measure of self-selection? Or pre-screening to ensure the population from which the selection is made includes those who have an interest in these matters and would be prepared to participate? Are there safeguards to prevent the exercise being hijacked by politcial factions with specific agendas? To the extent that the selection will be genuinely random (and will contain participants who have never had any interest in these matters) how far up the ‘learning curve’ do the organisers think they will get these participants during a single weekend? I don’t doubt the capability of those leading the deliberations, but what of any use or sustainable value will be generated by the participants following such a ‘crash course’? Even if something of value is generated, what engagement, if any, is envisaged with the established political process.

    Apologies for all the questions and, perhaps, you’re not the person to whom they should be addressed, but, as usual, I’m oscillating between hope and despair.

    • Paul,
      I am not involved at all in the organisation.
      I only heard about it last week and did attend the official launch.

      Your questions should be directed to to David Farrell, Elaine Byrne, Jane Suiter and Eoin O’Malley – who are the promoters of this project, according to David interview on the Drivetime programme on Wednesday last.
      Alternatively, you could direct them to WetheCitizens directly.

      Oscillating between hope and despair! I can understand, but think of Camus phrase “Hope in the future is treason to the present”.

      I welcome Wethecitizens as yet another serious drive to push for political and institutional reform. You know well that forces of inertia and incumbency are ranged against this effort, as against all other similar drives. The “do-minumum” approach will be adopted and then, only at the last minute, when external forces make mandatory – as the powers-that-be are demonstrating daily.

      In the last general election, we voted for change. IMO, without serious political and institutional reform, I suggest that we are now back to the electoral pattern that prevailed from for 33 years (1969-2002), when no out-going government was re-elected.

      The many groups that emerged during 2010 (eg. Claiming our Future, Second Republic, Direct DemocracyIreland) have not gone away. Many of them continue to work away and are re-grouping that energies used during the general election have been restored.

      Political and institutional reform is simple, but it ain’t easy 🙂

  10. @ PH:

    We (our politics class) put some of these concerns to David Farrell to-day. He appears to be well aware of the ‘problems’. Solution? “Just suck it and see!”


    • Thank you, Brian, for this up-date. I feared/suspected as much. Our editors on this board – who are academic advisers on this exercise – seem to have gone very, very quiet.

      • Take a look at WetheCitizens.ie.

        New topics for discussion have been introduced. This suggests a slow un-veiling of the agenda of the promoters of this initiative.

        I suspect they are trawling to find out what ideas can gain traction, in a kind of pilot project kind of way. This may then form the basis of some questions in the national opinion poll that they have commissioned.

        I do note that the same people put up a poll on this site, but have not reported the results, yet. In the small talk after the Wethecitizens launch on Tuesday last, one of them did promise to publish the results.

        However, some time ago, I did comment directly to the academic promoters that the questions in that poll were tendentious – in that the option of a citizens assembly was clearly the favoured option.

  11. I’ve just noticed that Chuck Feeney’s philanthropic outfit seems to the main funder of this exercise. No problem with that, though I would much prefer that these funds were used to organise a national petition to hold a referendum on putting an oath of office for TDs into the Constitution that all TDs would be required to swear or affirm. It might be along the following lines:

    “I declare that my first duty as a TD is to all the citizens in the constituency for which I have been elected.

    Irrespective of whether I will vote in support, vote against or abstain in the vote to elect a government I will endeavour to hold the government elected fully to account.

    I will ensure, in collaboration with my fellow TDs, that sufficient resources are applied and procedures are in place to scrutinise throughly all policy and legistlative proposals whether advanced by government or others, that the most relevant expert advice is retained to test and contest these proposals and that there will be opportunity for effective enegagement between those proposing and those contesting to ensure robust and well-reasoned decisions in the Oireachtas and its Cttees;

    Where the interests of individual constituents (or groups of constituents) conflict with those of others or where individuals or groups seek to advance their interests through policy and legislative changes I will endeavour to ensure these conflicts are resolved or special interests advanced in a manner that is consistent with the broader public interest.”

    This would be a far better use of Chuck’s money as TDs would have clear guidance on their role and every citizen would be able to challenge his or her TD at any time to demonstrate compliance with this oath. Far better in my view than 150 citizens wittering about reforms that are extremely unlikely to secure any traction or support in the established politcial process.

    • I am amazed that TDs do not have to take an oath of office, to uphold the constitution and put the well-being of citizens ahead of ‘special interests’ – including party! Explains a great deal!

      Will make some further ‘enquiries’ next Wed. See what emerges.


  12. @Brian,

    Many thanks. It seems we are relying on your good offices to winkle out the underlying agenda and mechanics of this exercise.


    I took your advice, visited the site and observed, as you indicated, a further instalment of this ‘dance of the seven veils’. This whole exercise is getting more worrying. There has to be a clear distinction between how policy is formulated, scrutinised, enacted, implemented, reviewed and amended and what policies are advanced. People, quite rightly, have all sorts of ideas about what policies should be implemented. But by mixing the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ many people are trying to find the ‘how’ that will deliver the ‘what’ they want implemented.

    Reforming the ‘how’ doesn’t guarantee the ‘what’ will always be better than what we have. The best possible system of democratic governance will always generate stupid policy decisions; the challenge is to minimise the incidence and severity of these decisions.

    In actual fact the legislative process should be ‘blind’; it should be trusted to winnow out malign and stupid policies and to advance those that are genuinely in the public interest. I have my own set of policy preferences, but I’m prepared to suppress advancing them in this context with a view to securing the primary objective that a process of demoratic governance is in place to assess them (if, perchance, by reason and debate they are advanced for assessment). This exercise should follow the same course.

    I fear this ‘wethecitizens’ exercise will raise false expectations and generate even more frustration among the public as I foresee that, in so far as it will give it any attention, the approach of the established political process will be to patronise it or to ignore it or to extract elements it likes (or feels obliged to adopt) while ignoring essential features or a mixture of all three.

    • @Paul
      “There has to be a clear distinction between how policy is formulated, scrutinised, enacted, implemented, reviewed and amended ”

      Agree entirely. This what I call the mechanisms of how we govern ourselves – on which I have written a little recently. see the Dublin City Business Association (DCBA) 10 point manifesto see. p. 57ff here

      Click to access Towards_a_Second_Republic.pdf

      “and what policies are advanced.”
      This is what interests most people – public services, how they are paid for, the who get what? when? where? how of public debate and elections

      Both are the stuff of politics.

      However, I do believe that underlying both is an issue about what I term “the right of the citizen versus the liberty of the subject”

      In our Republic, the 1937 Constitution is clear that all powers of the state derives from us, citizens. IMO, the only time serious attention is paid to this is when elections are held. We have seen the powers-that-be do everything they can to limit when elections are called – the incumbents retain that power, by-elections are delayed, not reform of the third level electoral panel for the Senate, despite a referendum being passed in 1979 to allow this very limited change to take place.

      Having seen the complete and utter failure (three times in my lifetime – of which this latest is the worst) of the powers-that-be (public and private, elected and appointed) to use our power for our collective benefit, we need to pay a lot of attention to the mechanisms of how we govern ourselves.

      Most of us are not that interested in what goes on under the bonnet, as we move around. When the car breaks down, we call for roadside assistance and/or get to a garage of some sort.

      The complete and utter breakdown of our motor is now clear to all. We in this Republic now have to re-examine how we govern ourselves – analyse the machinery of government, see how it all fits together, compare it to other smaller democratic countries and political entities, learn lessons from our experience and from these, formulate proposals of discussion, debate and decision.etc.

      Fortunately, some of the analysis has been done for us eg. the Wright Report on the Dept. of Finance, reports of tribunals, C&AG reports etc.

      We just have to go beyond the usual mantra of those calling for political reform ie. change the electoral system, usually to the German system with all that involves in terms of centralisation of power into the same hands and structures that got us into this crisis.

      You never hear the well-known advocates of electoral reform calling for checks and balances, embedding Swedish-style FoI in our constitution etc. They just want more power to grant liberties to the subjects. They would deny this interpretation of course, but they are rarely confronted with this kind of analysis.

      In fairness, the academic political scientists have been forthright in confronting them on the idea of electoral reform as a panacea and even on the idea that abolishing the Seanad is a serious reform. see

      Farrell, David. Abolishing the Senate does not a political reform make. 4 January 2011.
      —. “Irish Electoral Reform: Three Myths and a Proposal.”
      https://politicalreformireland.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/irish_electoral_reform-2.pdf. July 2010.
      —. Political reform yes, electoral reform maybe. 28 March 2010.
      —. Yet another crazy idea for electoral reform. 10 January 2011. https://politicalreform.ie/2011/01/10/yetanother-

      O’Malley, Eoin. “Government considering referendum to abolish the Seanad.” 8 December 2010.

      La lutte continue!

  13. Thinking (a little) about the matter -whatever it may be, I thought about Operation Overlord. This took about two and a half years of intensive planning. It even included a couple of practice runs (which ended in bloody disasters!). Eventually they got the formula correct. That’s how it has to be with political reform. Model your plan of action as a giant assault on a strongly fortified position, guarded by well trained and determined defenders. A rush job will be repulsed with horrible losses.

    You really need to conduct a careful research of the nature and extent of what you wish to achieve. Hope is no good! – you MUST succeed in subduing the defenders to such a state that they will comply with your demands. A few platoons of enthusiastic volunteers will not suffice in this endeavour. You need to recruit several divisions of full-time ‘professionals’. Full-time for the duration, that is. After that they are demobbed.

    “Knowledge that reform is possible may make the problem appear less formidable, and result in a weaker committment to undertaking the task of achieving reform”.


    • @Donal,

      Thank you. I’m not seeking to implicate you or to demand you defend this initiative – which is looking more and more like a well-funded, smooth public relations exercise that gives the impression of engaging with the public while pursuing a very well-defines, but not entirely transparent, agenda.. But in the absence of any engagement from the editors of this board, all one is left with are queries, speculation and doubts.


      This should not be seen as a campaign by some hardy bunch of ‘true democrats’ on behalf of the silent majority of Irish people against the political establishment. The effort should be focused on engaging the Ceann Comhairle, the Leas Ceaann Compairle and the other 149 TDs outside of the Cabinet. (I’m not sure about these Minister of State creatures. They’re on the ‘payroll’ of Govt., so perhaps we’re down to 135 TDs or so. But this still constitutes an overwhelming majority of the Dail.)

      In a free and fair election the Irish people delegated their ultimate authority to these TDs. Encouraging, persuading, cajoling, – even, on occasion – browbeating these TDs to establish and apply Dail procedures that are in the interests of the citizens who elected them should be the focus. Rather than raise and dash hopes – as this exercise is likely to do – even it might generate a raft of interesting academic papers.

      • @ PH: “. . . even (if) it might generate a raft of interesting academic papers.” ?? You think?

        I have tried ‘reform’ in structured institutions. Very cumbersome activity. Two ‘successes’ out of three, so far! The third is mired in official obstruction – know they are ‘wrong’, but cannot accept this. Might make them look foolish!

        Know CC personally. Thanks for tip.


      • @Paul

        “Thank you. I’m not seeking to implicate you or to demand you defend this initiative – which is looking more and more like a well-funded, smooth public relations exercise that gives the impression of engaging with the public while pursuing a very well-defines, but not entirely transparent, agenda.. But in the absence of any engagement from the editors of this board, all one is left with are queries, speculation and doubts.”

        Here’s one more person still reading this board! Hopefully it’s going through a lull rather than being defunct.

        Have mixed feelings about this “We The Citizens” exercise. Its timescale seems very compressed. Therefore I wonder how coherent the “bottom up” feedback can be. But in principle I’m all for such grass-roots deliberative approaches. Maybe with all the international experts advising it it can still be a success.

        Now for the part that may well upset some of the moderators here! I think something of an own-goal has been scored with the choice of board. The current issue of Phoenix magazine, perhaps not entirely seriously, wrote off the exercise as some sort of Euro-conspiracy! Sounds ludicrous! Most board members look very capable and seem like good choices. Some of the Atlantic Philanthropies-connected choices seem particularly good to me. And Europe/Lisbon is really neither here nor there with regards to political reform. But at least six members have European movement/IIEA/Lisbon referendum campaign connections. And the presence of a board of trustees member of the organization/charity “Common Purpose” is only likely to wind up Euro-conspiracists even further. All kind of unfortunate. It might have been more advisable to steer the board composition in a more bland and unexciting direction. Probably am now in hot water for saying all this. But I still really do wish the exercise well. I think as long as the separate academic team are just left get on with their stuff in an impartial way, then this could still be an interesting project.

      • Slight correction: should be “wind up Euro conspiracy theorists” in my last post rather than “wind up Euro-conspiracists”. Want to be precise. Jeez! This all sounds extremely silly. Best out in the open I suppose, no matter how ridiculous sounding.

  14. @Brian,

    Good luck with your efforts. Some of the opinion formers seem to be putting thier shoulders to the wheel on political reform. The IT has a leader:
    and there is an op-ed by Dan O’Brien:

    But apart from that, now that the editors here seem to have been absorbed by this ‘wethecitizens’ exercise, I wonder if this board has now become defunct.

  15. Pingback: Don’t stab at Irish political reform « Slugger O'Toole

  16. I’m a bit nervous about turning up here as the last person here might be asked to switch off the lights – and I don’t know where the switch is!

  17. ‘s KO! Still here two!

    Am reading some useful stuff ’bout reform and all. Form v Function ring a bell? John Healy put it somewhat pithly: “Cut bait, or go fishing!”. Bucket of bait seems to be filling up nicely. But that ocean looks awfully rough and greylike. Your fine as long as you are geared up and your craft is sound (and most imp.) you have emergency gear in full working order! Don’t forget your personal flotation device either!

    Switch is to the Left, sorry, the Right!


  18. It’s good to see a few of us seeking to keep the light a-flickering here. But I’m still bemused by the unwillingness of the principal contributors to engage here. This ‘wethecitizens’ exercise is an element – what impact it will have is uncertain, but still just an element of the wider agenda for political reform that I, perhaps, foolishly, assumed was the raison d’etre of this board.

    I’ve no problem with the EU dimension. In fact I’ve argued for this here previously – and been gently discouraged. And Lisbon (TFEU) allows for Citizens’ Initiatives across the EU – even if these run the risk of the silly, damaging populism and vested interest extremism to which California has succumbed. But it is a bit unfortunate in the context of the silly, but for some, blood charging, narrative of lil ole Ireland on its own against these big, bad EU Grand Panjandrums.

    Let’s keep the faith!

    • @Paul
      Personally would consider myself to be neither a Europhile nor a Europhobe. IMO Europe has been broadly positive for us. Have indeed some reservations to as what kind of political mish-mash it might be evolving towards. And EMU was probably a mistake in retrospect for Ireland given its wide divergence from the core European economies (can remember the mutterings of several Irish economists at the time that this might not be such a good idea for us). In balance has probably been a good thing so far. But will be a pity if this “We the Citizens” exercise gets tarred as being part of some European bogeyman narrative.

    • @Paul Hunt
      “I wonder if this board has now become defunct….”
      Not defunct, but it has not (yet) got the kind of momentum that irisheconomy.ie got – which I understand was part of the inspiration for this board.

      “bemused by the unwillingness of the principal contributors to engage here. ”

      IMO, the key issue on this board is that so few of those engaged in political science work, focused on how we govern ourselves in this Republic, employed in Irish and other universities are involved in this forum – in comparison with eg.
      http://irelandafternama.wordpress.com/Irelandafternama – set up mainly by geographers focused on the impact of human activity on our environment
      http://www.humanrights.ie/ – set up mainly by academic lawyers working at third level here and abroad.

      “Lisbon (TFEU) allows for Citizens’ Initiatives across the EU”

      I have promised David Farrell to write a posting on this issue for this forum and will do so, shortly.

      Suffice to say that what the Lisbon Treaty provided for and which has not been implemented bears no relationship to direct democracy as practised in California (or other US states or Switzerland (at either federal or cantonal levels).

      It is simply the European great and good deigning to set up a mechanism to allow EU citizens to address a petition to the Commission.

      As with many EU treaties, it does represent another element of addressing the democratic deficit in the operation of the EU.

      IMO, it does show that the EU great and good (Council, Commission, Parliament) continue to see us as subjects to who liberties may be granted, rather than citizens who have rights that can be directly controlled.

      That said, throughout the EU, we have freedoms of association/expression, written constitutions (not in the UK), political institutions that allow us to change our governments peacefully at intervals of no more than 4-5 years (I believe) and lots of other things that people dying for in Arab countries at present.

      This forum – with all its weaknesses – does provide a means of airing ideas and finding others interested in debating/discussing/exploring ideas.

      The involvement of the promoters in wethecitzens does not stop that public discourse.

      Like them, we have lots of work to do on political and institutional reform – the need for which continues to be made apparent almost daily by people who do not post here, but do “post” in other fora eg.

  19. @Donal,

    Thank you. All points noted – and I admit I was being a tad mischevious re California. But there is a serious issue here. I’m cuurently reading Peter Kellner’s ‘Democracy: a 1,000 years in pursuit of British liberty’. My sense is to recognise what we’ve got, identify those things which aren’t working very well and seek to repair them. Should that nor prove sufficient, we should then, and only then, contemplate more radical initiatives. There is grave danger in concluding too rapidly that everything is broken and must be changed fundamentally. That’s principally why I’m uneasy about this ‘wethecitizens’ initiative as it seeks to make the case for bolting on another institution and set of procedures.

    And I do accept your observations about the editors on this board. I remain immensely grateful for their efforts here. But I intend no respect by wondering out loud about the extent to which they may have been ‘captured’ by this initiative.

  20. @Paul
    “My sense is to recognise what we’ve got, identify those things which aren’t working very well and seek to repair them. Should that nor prove sufficient, we should then, and only then, contemplate more radical initiatives.”
    After years of ideas for various political and institutional reforms being proposed and not acted on, the key issue is to recognise the sources of inertia.

    How many reports on have there been on say reforming the Senate? I have lost count, but think it is about 10. At least FG took the issue seriously enough to propose a referendum to abolish it – thus getting rid of one institution and associated procedures.

    What about reforming the senior public service?
    Latest indications are that new senior posts will be filled from the same pool – see here

    This inertia comes from the same culture that admitted that it did not work properly to ensure that the implications of joining the €urozone were understood and acted upon.
    “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.

    Click to access The%20euro%20MEDIA%20RELEASE%20from%20NESC.pdf

    If the Dept of Finance was well structured and know to have barked publicly, why did the recent Wright report suggest so many basic changes?

    “There is grave danger in concluding too rapidly that everything is broken and must be changed fundamentally. ”
    Of course, but there is an equally grave danger in NOT recognising the scale of the breakdown here and thus avoiding the steps needed to recast our way of governing ourselves.

    As evidence, how is one to interpret the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer findings
    “In a year of political and economic turmoil, trust in government fell by 11 percentage points since 2009 in, to an all time low of 20% in 2011. This compares to a global average of 52%, according to the latest findings of the annual Edelman Trust Barometer which is conducted in 23 countries. Ireland is now the least trusting of government out of all the EU member states surveyed.”

    Admittedly, this was published before the 2011 General Election. But it does suggest that there widespread recognition that Government is not working well.

    IMO, Fiach MacComghail suggested that he sees this, in his comments during the launch of wethecitizens.

    Some initiative is needed and is being taken by all kinds of people/groups, of which wethecitizens is one.

  21. Thought this might be of interest to anyone who’s still hanging around here now that the grown-ups seem to have abandoned us. The Medical Council commissioned Millward Browne Lansdowne to survey public attitudes to selected professions/vocations/trades:

    Click to access MC-Trust-Survey.pdf

    Not surprisingly the medics came out on top with almost 90% of respondents believing that they generally tell the truth. Interestingly, TDs came bottom with 12%. This raises a number of interesting questions. For example, do citizens vote with eyes wide open, accepting the pathological inability of politicians to tell the truth generally and vote in those whom they deem marginally more truthful? Or do they hope the apparent difficulty with truth-telling by the major competing factions will cancel out and leave some residual truth-telling that is in the public interest? Or are Irish voters almost totally relaxed with public representatives whom they believe do not tell the truth most of time?

    There seems to a huge disjunction between people’s abiding faith in the democratic process (turnout was 70.1% on 25 Feb. and, despite the economic situation, there was been negligible extra-parliamentary protest) and the trust they have in those whom they elect.

    So, once again, the spotlight is on TDs.

  22. @Paul
    No, the spotlight is on us – citizens who decide to take part in politics (at many levels) and who also elect TDs.

    IMO, it is up to us to insist on checks and balances to limit the scope for excess by the powerful – including the incumbent TDs, senior civil servants, the rest of the state and governing classes.

    If WetheCitizens is serious about more than just running a Citizens’ Assembly, that is what it will be about as will all the other groups working for political and institutional reform here – using peaceful means.

    As I said before, it is simple, but it ain’t easy>

    • If you, genuinely believe that ‘peaceful means’ will trigger any meaningful reforms in parliament, nat. government and local gov., then you are sadly mistaken. It simply cannot happen. There is a thing called inertia. Think of it as a brick on a table to which you have attached a piece of bungy string. You clamp string between teeth and pull – string stretches; brick stays put. You pull string harder, string stretches more; brick still stays put. You pull again: force overcomes gravitational inertia. Brick promptly removes your teeth.

      Many folk are seriously worried. Just talking now. But I should not presume that situation would continue when the reality of our ‘austerity’ is exposed. Focus group deliberations, of whatever hue, are not a substitute for openess, truthfulness and moral behaviour. I should advise all of you who have a deep interest in democracy in this state to take a close look at the ‘delusional’ predictions for global GDP growth by IMF – and compare those figures with the probable levels of nett global oil supplies (oil is a mandatory, essential ingredient of economic growth). The amount of oil available to us is declining a tad faster than predicted.

      There comes a ‘tipping point’. I do not know were it is, nor when it will occur – but like that brick on the table – its not if, but when! Then the legislators will have to act, but I suspect it will be in a diametrically opposite direction to which you hope. Clampdown!


      • “Focus group deliberations, of whatever hue, are not a substitute for openess, truthfulness and moral behaviour.”

        Have you any proposals on how to create institutions that are rooted in openess,truthfulness and moral behaviour?

        I am fully aware that our governing classes do not value openess at all and as a default position opt for secrecy eg. the restrictions on the 1997 Freedom of Information Act.
        Bad management, inefficiency, cronyism and corruption need such secrecy.

        re. Clampdown –
        Worryingly enough, there are increasing rumours of action being taken to stifle debate and discussion.

        Yes, it would be very nice to have moral behaviour by the powerful. But we know that there is a general tendency to equate morality with what is legally permitted and what the incumbents regard as sound judgement.

        As regards tipping points, I suggest that on this island, we have seen enough bloodshed, death, personal injury, trauma and destruction over the last 40 years, arising from the inertia of incumbents. However, we also have another potent tradition of peaceful confrontation with similar forces of inertia eg. Daniel O’Connell on Catholic Emancipation, Michael Davitt on land issues and John Hume on how to govern a deeply divided society – work which is still in progress.

        In a recent attempt to scope out what we need to do here in this Republic, I suggested that
        “It is necessary to identify a means of restoring a proper balance between the Dáil and the Government, in order to make certain that the Dáil can carry out its work of ensuring that Government does not lose control of itself.

        Madison, one of those who drew up the US constitution over two hundred years ago, put it as follows —
        ‘Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men the great difficulty lies in this: first you
        must enable the government to control the governed and in the next place, you
        must oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is no doubt the
        primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the
        necessity of auxiliary precautions.’

        TDs must be given the power and motivation to use their positions as TDs – not just ministers in waiting! Describing the effects of the fusion of parliament and government Andrew Turnbull (a
        former UK cabinet secretary and head of the UK Home Civil Service) pointed out the harmful effects of this on parliamentarians’ independence and motivation”
        ‘The nearly complete fusion of executive and legislature is also harmful to the
        legislature. Staffing the government from the ranks of MPs denudes the Commons
        of a great deal of talent. Financial incentives favour taking a government job not just a committee chairmanship. This overclose relationship undermines an MPs
        independence. Someone aspiring to be in Government is hardly likely to throw
        his weight around…..Democracy would be better served by ministers who are less
        political and more expert but held to account by an independent, self-governing
        and self-confident parliament”
        For more see p.56ff of the Dublin City Business Association 10-point manifesto

        Click to access Towards_a_Second_Republic.pdf

  23. @Donal and Brian,

    We seem to have been left here to our own devices – as happy as children playing unsupervised in a sand-pit!

    Brian, you seem to very much focused on the looming energy crisis. This may feed your apocalytic take:
    It is by Matthew Hulbert, Senior Fellow of the Center for Security Studies (CSS) in Zürich. However, a piece by Karel Beckman, editor of European Energy Review (to which, to an extent I would subscribe) takes a different tack:

    Donal, I take your point that the focus is also on us, the citizens, but we can only vote for those put in front of us. I think it’s safe to assume that very few citizens take the interest in these matters that we, or anyone else who visits or comments on this board, take. Most citizens elect a politician to do a job for period of time. (I quite like the US approach of ‘hiring’ a politician.) They have busy lives and are happy to delegate these matters to others who present themselves as being capable of doing the job. (Indeed, the current policy thrust in developed economies to avail of technology and IT developments to increase consumer choice and competition whereever possible means that businesses are imposing more and more of the costs and burden of choice on consumers and, given all the other pressures of daily life, this is actually diminishing the time citizens have to engage in the civic sphere and in civil society activities. And I suspect sport, recreational, community and other voluntary activities will absorb much of whatever time and energy is available before political engagement gets a look in.)

    So, I think, we are back to the politcial classes and, as an economist, I tend to look at the demand for and supply of political reform. And the demand is diffused among demands for better politcians, better policies and better institutions and procedures of governance. The ‘wethecitizens’ initiative seems to be reflecting this diffusion – and, rather than seeking to disentangle these demands and idnetifying them separately so that they may be tackled appropriately, it is mucking them up even more.

    My contention is that better institutions and procedures will ensure better behaviour from existing politicians and attract politcians of a better calibre as well as ensuring better policies are crafted and implemented. Therefore we should focus on clarifying the demand for better institutions and procedures of governance and then look at how we might encourage or provide the necessary supply. And the biggest challenge, as Brian points out, is to overcome the built-in inertia. My focus here is on providing inceentives. If chairs and deputy chairs of suitably empowered and resourced Oireachtas Cttees were to have status and remuneration equivalent to that for ministers and ministers of state, I’m pretty sure there would be much more interest in reforms that open up this career path for TDs. It may prove necessary to use the stick, but carrots are often more effective.

    Taking this approach opens up a variety of possibilities. I think it should be explored and I fear this ‘wethecitizens’ exercise is heading in the wrong direction. The galling thing is that it using up so much resource, energy and capability that could be much better directed.

  24. @ DO’B: Thanks for taking the time to construct a thoughtful commentary. I appreciate it.

    Points you raise are tricky to deal with. No easy or simple solutions. The complicated ones would do the trick, but being complicated they are wide open to manipulation.

    It has to start at the top (Gov and Parliament). The ‘lower’ orders can try to prod and influence but with limits to our access and especially financial respources, we are simply attempting to maintain a chock to prevent the rock from rolling over us. Attempting to push it toward the summit is not possible.

    The ‘tipping point’ I mentioned is to do with our very precarious economic situation. Our overall situation is similar to those crippled nukes in Japan: a massive toxic sludge of credit, slowly fermenting into an insoluble and intractable political predicament. The econs and financial bozoes have lost control of the issue – although to listen to them you would think they are inspired! Hence, its the pols who will have to get their hands dirty on this one. Prognosis: very poor.

    Moral behaviour? Now I fancy that might be the province of the reverends with the croziers. They seem to be awfully quite about the situation. Hmmmm.

    Openness + Truthfulness: Much better FOI is urgently required. Any chance here? Not ‘talk’, but ‘walk’!

    Thanks again. Back to the books. I have an exam for DF next week!


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