Incrementalism or radical reform

By Jane Suiter

Writing in The Irish Times Eoin Daly of DCU argues that citizens should have access to non-sectarian public schools. While the argument is interesting in and of itself what appears to be at the heart of it is a kind of radical reform where, instead of the usual incrementalism typical of Irish public policy making, we ask what sort of system is it we want for the future and design for that. In many ways this can be applied to policy making in most government departments, where many things happen simply because they have always been done this way. Is it the case that if we are to reimagine Ireland then we need to look at all areas where vested interests have had an overly substantial input into policy making in the past? Some possible questions arising are whether our Ministers should be bound by precedent, or should they engage in radical reform? And if they do what are their chances of seeing come to fruition in the face of a possibly unenthusiastic public service?

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15 thoughts on “Incrementalism or radical reform

  1. This is an interesting topic – in my experience Ireland isn’t a country where first principles are deemed important; it’s always a question of ‘we are where we are’.

    The idea that state-funded schools would give priority to admitting studens of a certain religion strikes me as completely unfair, particularly when there may be no other choice for parents/children in an area. Taxation, after all, comes from people of various religious beliefs – so how can it be fairly spent in a way that targets benefits at members of a particular religion? Even worse, concerns denomination-based access policies to the local school system may effectively force parents to have their children baptised.

    Similarly, the idea that you have to pay extra money for faster access to state-funded health services is a disgusting one, but nonetheless that’s our system.

    It would be nice to start with rights that we wish to protect:
    Religious freedom
    Access to education for all children
    Access to healthcare according to need

    And then to build our institutions from there. Sadly though, it’s much harder to make such changes without surplus money in the exchequer to smooth things over. More generally, dramatic and principle-based changes seem to run against the inclinations of the political and public service establishment in Ireland.

  2. A great point that gets to the heart of current conversations, although I don’t think it’s a choice between inching our way towards a slightly improved future and a dramatic resetting of society.

    The real challenge with radical reform is that it is too risky and scary to engage with for both policy makers and the general public, except in an abstract sense of pushing ideas at each other via the media.

    Testing and prototyping is the way to a radical future – building examples of that future now to show how it could be, resolve pragmatic challenges of implementation and build a constituency to demand alternatives.

    ‘We the citizens’ is one good example of this prototyping, but we need many more – not necessarily all working of some grand vision but building alternatives that we can point at, debate, and experience for ourselves. At a practical level, this means tuning down the time spent worrying about newspaper articles and turning up the effort on seeding, observing, learning and scaling real world examples of the future, both Irish and global.

    Within the public sector there seems to be appetite for change, but this needs to be built on at the front line, creating agency in people, rather than reforming in a top down or centralised manner. Personally, that seems like the most radical reform of all.

  3. How many years is it since the Ryan Report and has anything changed? No.

    How long is the new government in office and is there any evidence they are going about the business of governance in a new way? No, look at the way the JLC issue about Sunday pay is being handled – not an ounce of evidence provided to quantify in what way cutting the lowest levels of pay will get the economy going, no assessment of why the cost of living is higher in ROI than NI – just a statement that it is 25% higher in ROI – why is that then Mr Bruton?

    Why is there still no hint of a full spending review and line by line audit of every government department – if a household had to make radical cutbacks wouldn’t it make sense to start with the largest expenses and see what can be cut – and start from the top down – the people who caused the mess Ireland is in have been allowed walk away with their pensions – Mary Harney was in the front row at the NCC when the event for the Queen was on? WHY? Why is she in receipt of a €150k + pension and Bertie and Clowen and Calamity Coughlan and all the rest of them.

    Also, notice how fast all the new TDs learnt how to claim the maximum expenses but not one of them have provided and published the receipts for their expenses – not one of them, not even Mr Angry himself from Dun Laoighaire …

    There is no doubt Enda Kenny is leading a vastly better government but is it good enough? Everything so far has been compromised or put on the long finger – why can’t there be a constitution day in November on a range of issues – are Irish people especially thick that they can’t make more than 1 or 2 choices.

    Most of the proposed constitutional changes require a simple yes or no, reduce President term to 5 years = yes, allow judges’ pay to be reduced = yes, abolish the Seanad = yes, give backing to the Abbeylara issue = yes, allow Oireachtas committee make an opinion without legal precedent = yes etc.

    We have to remember pretty much all of the government are old school who were hard wired in the 1980s/90s – are they anymore likely to change as someone’s grandparent is to buy an iPad – some will but they will be very much the exception.

    The government needs to be kept under major pressure to deliver on its promise of reform because left to its own devices, it will never do so.

  4. Eoin Daly’s piece caught my eye less for what it about as for what it implies about how we do change.

    Education of course merits debate in its own right – and not just among those on its inside – as the reality in Ireland is that for all of the talk about commiting to education and its importance in the shaping of our future, there no place for education in the oft quoted ‘5 point plan’ – we may need the chirch in that regard for longer than movements would suggest

    Coming back to the point that first piqued my interest, we have got to step back from tinkering with what we have as a starting point for political or societal reform.

    We live in a society that is managed around a political and public service system that was designed to manage an empire in the era of the horse and carraige. Access to political discussion and decision making is framed accordingly. The society they serve however is instantly connected, mobile, increasingly pluralist and entirely intertwined with the global economy. The former is clearly not fit for purpose… and I haven’t gone near culture.

    Were we to apply critical thought, we would quickly abandon the principle of ‘we are where we are’ with ‘well I wouldn’t start from here anyway’. The fear is that we can’t actually achieve that, without going back into the education system and inculcating a new capability in critical and independent thinking on the part of the next generation…

    … which I guess brings us back to Eoin Daly’s piece?

  5. @Jane Suitor,

    You raise some interesting questions at the end of your post, but, perhaps, Dan O’Brien in his IT column on Monday got closer to the mark:
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2011/0523/1224297546706.html

    I know I keep banging on about it, but it is ‘how’, and not ‘what’, public policy is formulated, scrutinised, amended, enacted, implemented and reviewed that should be the focus of attention. Policies are formulated behind closed doors and are presented in a close to final form to be whipped through the Oireachtas. Those with knowledge, competence or a private, a group or a simply public interest may apply whatever scrutiny they can muster, but, in general, it is to no avail. We are living through the legacy of flawed policy-making and implementation.

    Until this process is reversed and the necessary scrutiny is applied in a public and transparent manner during the policy formulation stage, all public policy actions will be deficient to some extent or other.

    And while I am in no position to criticise your use of ‘vested interests’, since I frequently use it myself, it, unfortunately, has become a lazy shorthand. We have to recognise that individuals and groups within society have legitimate interests and that the pursuit of these interests will conflict – and will conflict even more forcefully when there is a requirement to implement fiscal and structural adjustments that will damage the interests of all in various ways. That is why we consent to democratic, political governance. We elect public representatives to elect a government to seek to strike a balance between competing and conflicting interests and to advance the interests of some over those of others, but all in the broader public interest.

    We should not seek to suppress this inevitable competition between competing interests in post-hoc deliberative processes and ineffectual ‘debate’ or in ‘public consultations’ with ‘stakeholders’ that close down debate and exclude or ignore relevant contentions, evidence and analysis. It is far better for all that this be aired in a public and transparent manner. If not, those who exercise power and influence will advance their interests to the detriment of those of other behind closed doors. These are the real ‘vested interests’.

    But we can’t look to government to reform this process. It is pathologically incapable of doing so. It is the Dail which elects government and it is to the Dail that government should constantly be required to demonstrate its fitness to retain the consent of voters to be governed by it.

    The unfortunate conclusion is that no reform of any substance or benefit will be secured until backbench TDs (of all factions and none) decide collectively to perform their primary responsibility of holding government to account, publicly, in everything it does or plans to do. And the chances of this happening are vanishingly small.

    • Paul
      I agree with your basic point – that the Dáil must hold the government accountable.
      However, with the British tradition of government being in and of Parliament, this is not possible – in practice.

      For this reason, I favour a complete separation of the Dáil from the Government – as one among many checks and balances needed to ensure that the scope for excess by the powerful is limited, while ensuring that our power (as citizens) can be applied for the common good.

      I will not go over the arguments or even references again – unless somebody asks for them!!!

      On points of fact, I just wish to point out that the formalities of Government are as follows:
      1) We elect TDs from constituencies of not less than 3 members, using PR;
      2) TDs nominate the Taoiseach – by a majority vote;
      3) The President appoints the Taoiseach;
      4) The Taoiseach then nominates members of the government/Ministers – no less than 6 and no more than 14: no more than two of whom cannot be members of the Dáil and these two must be Senators, provided they are not the Tánaiste or Minister for Finance;
      5) The President appoints the Members of the Government.

      • @Donal,

        We’ve been round the block on this a few times. I fully agree that the executive and legislative powers should be separated to the greatest extent possible, but I don’t sense any great desire by citizens to demand this – or, indeed, any perceptible understanding of the benefits of doing this. In fact, we’re probably the only two people here who see this as the sine qua non of any meaningful political reform. And even we differ in terms of the pace, process and extent to which it should be implemented 🙂

  6. I have a lot of sympathy for some of Donal O’Brolchain’s more radical suggestions, e.g. fully separating executive and legislature. But even more modest and incremental Dáil reform would be a start. After independence we simply slavishly copied British institutions, and we have never even bothered with basic incremental reforms of these moribund structures since then.
    I’ve previously posted some broad ideas on this blog for weakening the Dáil whip system. My basic idea is to curb some of the usual levers of persuasion/threat that a Taoiseach wields over his TDs via his chief whip. These would include patronage (particularly state board and quango positions), parliamentary jobs, TD pay/expenses, pork, party candidate selection and dissolution.

    I agree with Paul Hunt that a strong, independent, and well-resourced committee system is a bare minimum for Dáil reform.

    Merely giving extra powers to such committees (e.g. witness compellability) is not enough. My prescription for Dáil reform would start by giving real control of the committees to government and opposition backbenchers. In the UK, committee chairs are elected by secret ballot and committee composition is controlled by ordinary TDs. What’s the point in giving extra powers to committees if they are going to remain tightly government-controlled? The government is then merely only giving extra powers to itself. This is indeed perfect for a government investigating misdeeds of a previous administration, but surely not a realistic way of holding the very same government to account? Using a secret PR-STV election to allocate chairs might be a satisfactory procedure. If 15 committee chairs were on offer, then the top 15 ranked candidates after such an election would be allocated these. Perhaps the winner would have his choice of committee, the runner up the choice from the 14 remaining, and so on. This would also likely result in the various parties receiving committees chairs roughly in proportion to their numerical Dáil strengths.

    And in the same vein, like the House of Commons, the Ceann Comhairle should be elected by secret ballot. Wasn’t this a pre-election proposal of FG? What happened to that?

    In the UK, a public appointments commission greatly constrains the government’s ability to buy off backbench TDs using the lure of quango or state board positions for relatives or friends. There are no such restrictions on or vetting of appointments here. FG were moving in the right direction with a pre-election proposal to give committees a veto over a limited number of senior positions (CEOs and chairs). But even that promise seems to have vanished in the light of government. IMO genuinely independent committees should have a veto over all state board/quango appointments (perhaps one committee per cabinet minister/department to keep an eye on his/her appointments).

    Parliamentary jobs are another means to buy off backbench TDs. IMO the up to 14 cabinet positions a Taoiseach can dole out is leverage enough. I’d amend the constitution to require that the pay/expense schedules of all TDs be identical with no other remuneration received from the state, except for a limited number of positions: Taoiseach, Tánaiste, 13 other cabinet ministers, Ceann Comhairle, and a limited number (perhaps 15) of committee chairs. There’d still be nothing stopping other jobs such as junior ministers being legislatively created, except that such jobs could no longer be remunerated any more than an ordinary TD. The prestige and potential career advancement of being a junior minister should be reward enough. But such an amendment would prevent a repeat of the situation, reaching its peak under Bertie Aherne, where practically every government TD had some kind of job with extra pay/expenses (22 committees each with its own chair, vice-chair and convenors, plus Ceann Comhairle and 20 junior ministers also in the gift of government). A government TD would really have had to have been out of favour not get some kind of sweetener back then!

    It has crossed my mind that perhaps committee chairs should also get no additional remuneration. But, on balance, if such chairs were elected by secret ballot, then I’d feel extra remuneration should be given (perhaps linked to ministerial pay?). This would provide a career path for ordinary TDs independent of government and party leaderships.

    Party candidate selection is about the only factor that’s relatively weak in this country due to our PR-STV electoral system. Party headquarters can indeed exert some control via this route. But the ability of TDs to run as “gene pool” independents does constrain this lever.

    Dissolution is a powerful threat with which to whip TDs: “vote with the government or you’ll be facing the electorate in a month!” Some European countries require that an absolute majority of MPs vote in favour of dissolution before it is permitted. Even in the UK there has been a certain amount of consideration by parliament of some kind of quasi-fixed term setup. IMO fixed terms are too inflexible. But, as I’ve previously described here, I’d be in favour of the adoption of Swedish-style semi-fixed terms. Sweden has *ordinary* parliamentary elections exactly every four years. Mid-cycle *extraordinary* elections are also allowed, but any parliament so formed can then only last up until the next scheduled date for ordinary elections. This setup disincentivizes dissolution but also recognizes that it is sometimes a necessary evil.

    I’d also feel that introducing a German-style “constructive vote of no confidence” would complement such dissolution arrangements. The 1996 report of the Constitution Review Group, chaired by T.K. Whitaker, actually recommended such a mechanism (see pp. 86 of http://www.constitution.ie/reports/crg.pdf for details). This would mean that a vote of no confidence would only allowed if the name of an alternative Taoiseach was attached (who would become the new Taoiseach and could appointment his own cabinet if the motion succeeded). In some ways this would strengthen an incumbent Taoiseach’s hand: he/she could only be forced out if opposed by a majority against coherent enough to name an alternative. And there’d still be nothing stopping a Taoiseach from directly calling elections and dissolving the Dáil.

    The measures I’ve just suggested would, I feel, curb many of the factors contributing to excessive executive dominance of the Dáil. They would, by no means, the only means of achieving this. Plus one doesn’t want to weaken the whip too much in a parliamentary system. There’s also the danger of triggering the law of unintended consequences. By completely cutting off some of these levers one could result in some of the others simply becoming stronger. I guess therefore one should be moderate in any such measures. Therefore the suggestions I’ve made weaken but do not sever completely these factors.

    Under the above scheme, many parliamentary jobs (Ceann Comhairle and committee chairs) would no longer be doled out by the government. But parliamentary jobs would still exist to some degree as a route for government control. There would still be the 14 other full cabinet positions. And, even for the junior ministerial positions, what TD doesn’t want to be known as minister, even if extra pay is received? The title still looks good in election literature!

    Giving committee vetos over all state board/quango positions would curb the patronage lever. But the relevant minister would still remain in a strong position. The minister still suggest, the committee can only oppose. I’m sure a dynamic dialog would develop between minister and the relevant committee. But the minister is still in the driving seat. This lever of persuasion is curbed, but by no means abolished.

    And my dissolution scheme continues this theme: this factor is curbed but not eliminated. Fixed terms, as well as being too inflexible, would completely remove this as a lever. The threat of dissolution remains in a somewhat weaker form. Such a dissolution setup would probably lead to Dáil terms running their full length most of the time. This would make the life of a TD more predictable. An attractive proposition for an ordinary TD! Indeed, most of what I have proposed here would be attractive to rank-and-file TDs (except for the removal of the government’s ability to legislatively create and dole out extra parliamentary “jobs” with increased pay/expenses such as committee convenors).

    The main theme running through all of these suggestions is the giving over of some real and actual power by the Taoiseach/cabinet to ordinary TDs. The government can bring all kinds of other, and perhaps necessary and welcome reforms, but until this power imbalance is addressed, then, at least in terms of Dáil reform, we won’t have gotten to the real nub of the matter.

    • @Finbar,

      Many thanks for this considered and useful piece. It dovetails with – and considerably expands on and extends – a number of points I’ve been banging on about here for what seems like ages. Just two general observations.

      The first is on Oireachtas Cttees. I’m glad you agree on the need for adequately resourced and empowered Cttees, but, perhaps, you have not grasped why I consider this is so important in the area of policy formulation, scrutiny, amendment, enactment, implementation and review. My focus is to break the grip that the cabal comprised of a minister, special advisers and senior depratment officials (with their ears being bent by special interests) have on this process.

      So, when government announces its intention to propose a new policy – or to revise an existing policy – the relevant Cttee should be able to identify the relevant national and international expertise in this area and to go about retaining it. Once policy proposals were published, these experts would be commissioned to draft a critique. Other interested parties would have an opportunity to make submissions – which would also be assessed by the retained experts (mainly to sift out anything sensible from the usual woolly-thinking and special pleading). The minister, advisers and offcials would have an opportunity to consider the experts’ critique of the policy propsoals before presenting these before the Cttee in an open hearing attended by the retained experts. There would be opportunities for rebuttal and counter-rebuttal – and further hearings might be scheduled to allow for written rebuttal and counter-rebuttal. Cttee Members would have opportunities to asks questions of, and seek clarification from, all parties attending the hearings – but opportunities for the usual posturing and grand-standing would be limited.

      Once all the evidence was heard and debated, the Cttee would form a view on the policy proposals which the Chair would communicate to the Dail. This wouldn’t stop governments ramming through their original proposals, but it would encourage sensible amendments in the light of evidence and reasoned debate. It would certainly be far better than the current approach where policy is concocted behind the scenes, presented as a fait accompli and is rammed through with ineffectual ‘debate’ in the Oireachtas and any amount of noise in the media and blogospehere being totally ignored or diverted by the government spin-machine.

      The second point is on incentives. There is no way a government will willingly concede some power to the Oireachtas. History shows that any advances in freedom, liberty, democracy or the restraint of executive power have only been achieved through a struggle. The challenge is to convince all backbench TDs that their interests (and the public interest they represent) will often conflict with those of government. Governments go out of their way to suppress the emergence of this conflict using every instrument at their disposal. But this conflict within the democratic structures is vital, necessary and healthy. The fundamental problem is that, once a government is elected, the Dail factions are lined up, they are expected to stay lined up and no effective restraint is imposed on the exercise of executive power. TDs should require government to provide – and government should be prepared to provide – continuing justificiation before the Oireachtas and its Cttees of its entitlement to retain the consent of citizens to be governend by it.

      Identifying and promoting the need for this continuous constructive conflict between the interests of backbench TDs and the interests of government is the key challenge.

      • @Paul

        On the first part of your reply, I must admit that I’m looking at Dáil reform through one particular and probably quite narrow lens, i.e. purely in terms of a whip system criterion. But, of course, there’s more to the picture than that. And you do paint an appealing picture of what a living, breathing and properly-functioning committee system *should* look like. I can find nothing to disagree with there. And we certainly need to get away from the image of the back bench TD mindlessly parroting off some speech to an almost empty chamber that a civil servant has written for him. Some genuine adversarial scrutiny and debate in the Dáil chambers and its committees please!!!

        You said: “There is no way a government will willingly concede some power to the Oireachtas. History shows that any advances in freedom, liberty, democracy or the restraint of executive power have only been achieved through a struggle. ”

        I may not be as pessimistic on this. Radical reform indeed would require something of a political earthquake, perhaps a new reform party riding high in the polls, or at least the Irish electorate getting to the stage where political reform considerations equate to real and solid votes for parties. But would consider my suggestions in the post above to be merely incremental rather than in any way radical. We’re very good at aping trends and fashions from our nearest neighbour, including political institutions! The House of Commons has already brought in reforms along the lines of much of what I suggested: a public appointments commission greatly constraining ministerial patronage, a robust and effective committee system that’s mostly controlled by ordinary MPs, and the election of many parliamentary jobs (speaker and committee chairs) by secret ballot, and it even looks like the UK PM’s ability to dissolve parliament will be curbed sometime during this parliamentary term. The current coalition deal includes plans (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixed-term_Parliaments_Bill_2011 ) to bring in quasi-fixed five year terms (where a majority 2/3 of MPs will be required to allow dissolution).

        I ask myself that if the very similar UK political system was able to bring in such reforming measures, then why can’t do the same? Even if we can’t come up with anything hugely imaginative and radical ourselves, then why can’t we at least follow our usual pattern of imitating UK innovations? There has been all kinds of spin put about regarding the current governmental political reform plans, such as they are going to be the most far-reaching since the foundation of the state. But looked at in the hard light of day, they still don’t amount to anything even close to what has been incrementally and gradually introduced in the UK, without a great deal of fanfare, over the past 20 years.

  7. @Finbar,

    I don’t think we’re uncovering any areas of disagreement – just some differences in focus, extent and approach. I agree with your take on the incremental reforms pursued in the UK, even if what was originally proposed by Tony Wright’s HoC Reform Cttee was watered down by Jack Straw and Harriet Harman. (I seem to recall dicsussing these curtailed reforms on this board some time back.) A lot of the oomph has gone out of the reform drive as Tony and a few of his Cttee colleagues didn’t stand for re-election in 2010. The Tories and the LibDems have a different tack and empowering the HoC or its Cttees is not high on the list. The feeling is that Tony Wright’s Cttee took it as far as there is appetite to puruse it for the moment. But looking to replicate what they have achieved would be progress.

    But it only happened because some backbench MPs got their backteeth and started to make demands. And that’s why I’m back to encouraging, prodding, cajoling, exhorting, whatever, backbench TDs to get their backteeth here.

    But there’s no forum to permit the necessary engagement and those that might have the ‘standing’ to command their attention seem to be happy running around the country whipping up apathy.

    • Yes, the drive towards reform seems to wax and wane in the UK. Some of the impetus behind Tony Wright’s proposals ran out of steam. But, fortunately, some were implemented and saw the light of day before that happened, e.g. secret ballots for chairs of select committees, and greater control of committee composition by ordinary MPs. And historically even before these recent reforms, since probably the early 80s, Commons committees have had a greater measure of independence from government than here. The UK setup is far from perfect, but it’s still a damn sight better than here! And incremental reform seems to be continuing even under the current government, just in different directions, e.g. quasi-fixed terms as I already mentioned and a coalition plan to bring in substantial PR elections for the House of Lords. I’d have reasonable confidence that further committee system/Commons procedural reforms will come back on the agenda again in the UK some time in the future. Can’t say I’m anywhere as optimistic for even more modest progress here.

      Yes, backbench TDs will have to demand it. But I’d genuinely wonder if many of them even know what useful reform of the Dáil and its committees might even look like.

      • @Finbar,

        “But I’d genuinely wonder if many of them even know what useful reform of the Dáil and its committees might even look like.”

        You’ve put your finger on it. They all, collectively, know how to secure power, to retain power and to exercise power (even if, at any time, less than half will be excluded from the main trough). And, apart from the lucky (ruthless, capable (?)) few who make the top table, all know how to secure a share of the spoils of power when it’s their turn at the trough. For those enjoying having their snouts in the trough there is absolutely no incentive – and every incentive not – to impose constraints that might curtail the gorging. And those temporarily excluded from full access to the trough, confront similar incentives and disincentives. They don’t want their gorging curtailed if or when they get full access.

        I see where you’re going by seeking to curtial access to the spoils of power in that it might encourage TDs to seek out other ways to enhance their status, profile and re-election potential. It’s also an interesting question as to whether it is more or less difficult to pursue reform of the parliamentary process when the trough is overflowing (pre-crisis) or running dry (as it is now).

        But we’re still back to the basic question: what does it take to encourage, at least, some TDs to express some curiousity in what a properly functioning parliamentary process might look like?

  8. @Paul

    “I see where you’re going by seeking to curtial access to the spoils of power in that it might encourage TDs to seek out other ways to enhance their status, profile and re-election potential. It’s also an interesting question as to whether it is more or less difficult to pursue reform of the parliamentary process when the trough is overflowing (pre-crisis) or running dry (as it is now).”

    I guess I’m mostly thinking about who should control access to the Dáil trough! Currently it seems as if it’s the Taoiseach who has almost total control of the sluice gate leading to the trough! 🙂 He can open or close it purely at his own whim, backed up by his cabinet ministers who help screen who gets to dip their snouts in it.

    I think my basic strategy is that there should be instead two sluice gates leading into the trough. The Taoiseach/cabinet still gets to control one, but that ordinary TDs get to control the other end of the trough. I suppose one of my earlier ideas would imply cutting back on the trough supply (in terms of parliamentary jobs). But an alternative strategy could be to have a similar number of parliamentary jobs to what currently exists, just simply that at least half would be doled out by ordinary TDs via secret ballot or other procedures (such as outlined in the Tony Wright proposals), e.g. perhaps not only committee chairs and the Ceann Comhairle could receive extra pay and expenses, but that also the leas Ceann Comhairle and vice chairs and perhaps even the infamous committee convenor positions, but only, I’d stipulate, if these jobs were doled out by ordinary TDs. So, the sticking point for me isn’t necessarily how overflowing or underflowing the Dáil trough is (even though there should definitely be some limits) but that ordinary TDs have control of at least 50% of the trough.

    Of course, the whip isn’t all about government bounty and what the trough can provide; as well as the carrot there’s also the stick, with threats such as dissolution or expulsion from the parliamentary party. I guess I’m also thinking about how to wrap some cushioning around the stick wielding by the Taoiseach or other party leaders! 😉

    Perhaps I hope that by taking away some of the control of the farm from the farmer and giving it back to the farm animals to some extent, they might be a little less timid, and bleat a bit louder at times! 🙂

    But of course as you say in
    “But we’re still back to the basic question: what does it take to encourage, at least, some TDs to express some curiousity in what a properly functioning parliamentary process might look like?”
    that still leaves the basic question of how to corral our Dáil sheep into speaking up for such reforms in the first place!

    (Sincere apologies for all the appalling metaphors! 😉 )

    • Thank you, Finbar. We’ve traversed much ground and returned to the same location – in effect, an impasse.

      Oh, what I would give to have the opportunity to present an outline of the ideas we have discussed to a cross-section of backbench TDs 🙂

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