Committee reforms – a good start or not enough?

From Jane Suiter

The new Dáil committees made their first appearance today as reported here and here. The government is flagging its reform and ministers have been keen to stress that this will be a new era for committee powers. If this were true it would be excellent. We know through the work of Niamh Hardiman and others that Ireland has the most dominant executive in Europe, greater even than in the UK from whence it came. The problems with this dominance for policymaking are manifold and are arguably at the centre of many of our problems as has been rehearsed many times on this blog.

Of course all parliamentary systems have varying degrees of overlap or fusion between the legislature and the executive and few argue we should go the whole hog down the US separation of powers route. But even within Europe there are many parliaments where legislators can do just that – legislate. What is needed is that legislation goes to committees at a very preliminary stage, that way they can influence the thrust of the Bill as well as the micro detail. In some legislature legislation  even regularly  emanates from the committees.

Irish committees are among the weakest (along with Greek) in the EU. The new reforms which dramatically reduce the number of committees from 27  to 15  are designed to allow greater focus. Of course simply reducing the number is no guarantee of this as some will now up to three Departments which are they are meant to oversee. Committees have also been given others powers the power to “send for persons, papers and records .

The Government chief Whip argues that  “the new Committees will be stronger and will bring real focus to the areas they cover. They will be properly resourced to carry out their function.” But there is an argument that this is not yet enough. The parties still nominate and divvy up the chairmanships. A secret ballot by members would be far preferable and would mean committees would owe loyalty to the Oireachtas rather than the executive. In addition, there is no real sign yet that legislation will be delivered to the committees at an early enough stage that they can have much impact, although this was mentioned pre-election. Policy making in Ireland in general would arguably benefit greatly from more evidence based decisions making. Surely TDs themselves would like to be able to call relevant witnesses and experts and then de on what sort debate legislation their committee will recommend at a stage that it can make a real difference? Simply pushing through pre drafted legislation from colleagues in the executive and holding the odd inquiry means most will be far less involved than they could otherwise be. This is particularly important now that the coalition parties will hold 70% of all committee positions.

 

 

 

 

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18 thoughts on “Committee reforms – a good start or not enough?

  1. I am on record questioning the reduction of the number of committee to the extend they have been reduced. I think the work of committees is worthwhile and if there was an issue re cost they could have just scrapped the allowance of the chairs (cynics might say I would say that considering I am not one1). Select committees have a very important role for TDs as it is here the most important stage of legislative scrutiny by the Dail is dealt with – the Committee stage. At committee stage, apart from when there is a guilotine, there is no limit on a TD coming in again and again on a section or amendment, tenacioulsy making their point. Section by section the implications of a bill are scrutinised, with the Minister having to respond each time. Amendments have been made to legislation thanks to this scrutiny and at least one bill has been stopped (a bill to stop publication by the media of opinion polls in the lead up to an election which was finally put a halt to in the Seanad) thanks to this kind of relentless scrutingy and raising of a point by particular TDs and Senators.

    Joint Committees have Ministers and officials appear before them for questions to be asked by TDs and Senators, similarly experts, government and non government agencies, representative bodies appear before committees, and all of this helps inform TDs and Senators in the work as legislators.

    Committees are responsible for bringing important facts in the public domain, the best example probably the public accounts committee which is responsible for the DIRT enquiry, and FAS expenses.

    Committees do up reports which have resulted in changes in law and Government policy.

    Reform is good, but some changes labeled as reform, are steps backward, a reduction in democracy and a lessoning of accountability.

    We need to be careful in how the work of committees is viewed and reformed that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  2. The reduction in the number of committees is a practical move that I think will help. Otherwise you spent too much time rushing from one committee to another and never achieved anything. Test of new structure will be 1) whether they have the ability to initiate legislation 2) the quality of those chairing them and their determination to follow a proactive agenda and not have their plans set by interest/lobby groups + 3)whether the large numbers of members on some of them leads to confusion or coherence.

  3. @Joanna @Paschal Thank both for engaging and for your thoughts. I agree that committees have done valuable work, but I suppose the point is how much more they could do and how much more power backbench TDs could have. As Paschal noted the test will be whether they have the ability to initiate legislation and so on.

    Both of your parties made significant promises in this area in political reform proposals pre-election. The main points have not yet happened although of course they are perhaps due any day now?

    Labour for example promised to “break the Government monopoly on legislation, and the stranglehold over the business of the Dáil”
    It also promised to “enhance the democratic process by involving public representatives at an earlier stage of the legislative process, particularly before Bills are published. Labour will amend cabinet procedure instructions so as to allow government to publish the general scheme of a Bill so that Oireachtas Committees can debate and hold hearings at an early stage”

    Fine Gael also made promises in this area. “A system of pre-legislative scrutiny will be introduced: As a rule major, nonemergency legislation will first be submitted to the Dáil in heads of Bill format. This will allow the appropriate Committee to scrutinise a Bill before it is drafted. Once the Committee reports on the draft legislation, the Government will be required to respond to the report before introducing the Bill.” As a result “the Report stage will become a true plenary stage: A new Legislative Committee will be established to allow outside parties to provide a broad ranging reassessment of the Bill and to make recommendations for amendments to the Dáil at Report Stage. The Report stage of a Bill should, in our view, allow for fundamental reconsideration by the Dáil of key elements of a Bill. Increasingly, however, it has become little more than an extension of the Committee Stage, with the emphasis on the consideration of detailed amendments.

    There is of course much more. These promises if implemented would obviously lead to a much richer and more rewarding legislative career for TDs as well as obvious benefits for our democracy. But it may be that it is TDs who need to demand that these promises are implemented? At the moment the government still largely retain its stranglehold and the executive is still overly dominant.

    • I agree with your point. Know I can be accused of begrudgery or self interest here, and I am fortunate and looking forward to my own role as vice chair of a committee, but I also fully agree with your point made previously that the elections of chairs and vice chairs of the committees should be more democratic and less predetermined in outcome.

  4. @ Joanna Tuffy
    “Committees are responsible for bringing important facts in the public domain, the best example probably the public accounts committee which is responsible for the DIRT enquiry, and FAS expenses.”

    It is a sad comment that every time people defend the existing Oireachtas Committees that they always refer to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) work on DIRT and more recently FAS. Do two swallows make a summer?

    Did the DIRT enquiry lead to the PAC taking the initiative to implement any more structured and systematic checks and balances on the banking sector?

    What was the response of the PAC or any Dail committee to the following IMF comments on Ireland made in 1999
    “In light of the rapid growth in credit and strong housing price increases, a number of Directors expressed concern about the risks of an asset price bubble and the potential vulnerability of the banking system. Directors stressed the need to enhance the forward-looking aspects of regulatory policy and, in this regard, welcomed the supervisory authorities’ recent initiative to assess the financial system’s vulnerability to specified macroeconomic shocks. They felt that a peer review, particularly by supervisors from a country that had undergone a real estate boom, might be helpful.”?
    IMF concludes Article IV Consultation with Ireland. Public Information Notice 99/79. August 20, 1999
    http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pn/1999/pn9979.htm

    We now know that the public authorities had sufficient powers to stop the property-fuelled construction bubble of the mid-2000s. What did PAC or any Oireachtas committee do to bring these important facts into the public domain?

    Given that DIRT was introduced by the government led by the late Dr. Garret FitzGerald during the mid- 1980s, it is informative to reflect that inertia, since then, by the governing classes (political, administrative and financial) has led us into a financial and economic crisis which is proving very costly to us all.

    I have argued here , Swedish-style Freedom of Information can do as much (and probably more) to bring “important facts into the public domain”. This is because government papers and records are available as a matter of routine. This is critical, as a basis for effective action to limit the scope for excess (including an excess of inertia) by the powerful – be they public or private, elected or appointed.

    Based on my analysis above, even if Committees can discover things, the DIRT example suggests that they do not see their role as going further to implement checks and balances. To what extent do Oireachtas Committees see themselves as some type of investigative journalists – happy enough to have exposed some nefarious practices?

    Is there even a baby in the bathwater that you think we might be throwing out?

    As Jane Suiter points out,”Irish committees are among the weakest (along with Greek) in the EU.” This reinforces the point made by Muiris MacCarthaigh in a recent IPA publication on “it is clear that the Irish parliament tends not to be one which stands out as a strong legislature in international comparisons, and it is difficult to escape its dominant characterisation as a parliament substantially subjected to the prerogative of the executive”
    (The Houses of the Oireachtas – Parliament in Ireland edited by Maurice Manning and Muiris MacCarthaigh. 2010)

    In an accompanying table (Table 3.1 p.38), Ireland ranked 29th in a comparison of OECD legislatures based on criteria including the number and size of committees, allocation of committee chairs, use of expert staff, ability to obtain documents and summon ministers and experts, use of audit and ombudsman offices and time spent on the annual Budget.

    I find it very informative that of the countries ranked in the top 5, four are smaller democracies ie. Sweden, Finland, Norway and New Zealand.
    (Note to Editors. It would be a great service to the discussion on political reform to publish that table on this website)

    The US ranks first.

    I still continue to argue that we need a US-style separation of powers between the Dail and Rialtas in order that both can be improved. During the 1980s crisis here, I (along with some friends) responded by setting out a case for such a separation here in Ireland:
    Need Government Fail?” Business&Finance May 1987

    A Design for Democracy” Administration 34/2 1986

    Institutional Reform” in Social Policy in Ireland eds Sean Healy and Brigid Reynolds 1998

    Relationship of Dail to Government needs Constitutional Change” in Towards a Second Republic in the Dublin City Business Association 10-point Manifesto issued in February 2011. p.75-76

    We still have a lot of work to do to ensure that these changes to the Committee system are little more that the reaction of an ancient regime on the eve of a revolution ie. wasting time on intrigues, instituting meaningless reforms and complacently ignoring the exhaustion of traditional metaphors and ideas.

    • Donal,

      Some good laws have been passed (the picture is not all bad), that have involved scrutiny and improvements at commmittee stage of legislation in select committees that includes, for example the original Freedom of Information Act, introduced last time Labour was in Government. There are other acts that have been passed, having been improved by committee stage debates that in my view are progressive measures, including limits on political donations, ethics legislation, the requirement to disclose expenditure and donations. Other laws include laws against discrimination on grounds including family status, gender, sexual orientation and so on. The Civil Partnership Bill was scrutinised in Committees. The Oireachtas Committee on Children’s rights published important reports that I hope will inform upcoming legislation and a referendum on children’s rights. I could go on. Yes bad laws have been passed to as they have in Sweden or any democracy you care to mention.

      Yes, improvements are needed and genuine reforms as opposed to culls. But there is a huge tendency in the political reform debate to talk down our democracy. In other European countries there are people that get to positions soley by appointment, without having to face the electorate at the ballot box, and never having to be held accountable at the ballot box for their actions, and bad mistakes have been made in other so called democracies too. We take for granted what is good about our system at our peril. We have had a relatively stable democracy, an electoral system where the people can give their verdict on a parties performance in a pretty dramatic way at the ballot box, as has just happened in our most recent general election, and as happened to my own Party Labour in the election of 1997. We have never had a facist dictatorship, nor a genocide, we have had a sucessful peace process in which parties from accross the political spectrum have played important roles, in both parts of the Island. We have a very direct relationship between voters and constituents and the issues my constituents raise with me matter and are relevant to my role as legislator. We have a constitution that again and again in the courts and more often than not, has upheld rights of people.

      My saying all this is not some closing of my eyes and ears to critism. As a backbench TD and before that as an opposition TD and prior to that as a Senator, I have been frustrated by how our Oireachtas operates and the fact that too much power is in the hands of the Executive. If anything this has got worse in the last couple of decades and the political scientist may have been shouting stop during the celtic tiger years to this centralisation but if they were they didn’t get much publicity then as they are now when things have gone very wrong with our economy. My fear is that some proposals labelled as reforms including the dramatic cut in the number of committees, the proposed abolition of the Seanad, measures to restrict who can put themselves forward for selection by parties, and I could go on, are actually a further centralisation of power in the hands of the executive. That is not to say that there are not very good things planned as outlined by Jane above, and other measures which if they happen will help tilt the balance in the Dail towards the individual TD. And that is my objective, put very well recently, by former Taoiseach John Bruton, when he said that the reform needed is to tilt the balance of power in the Dail back to the backbench and opposition TD.

      • “the reform needed is to tilt the balance of power in the Dail back to the backbench and opposition TD.”

        I would welcome more details on how this can be done without a complete separation of powers.

        Your example of the fate of Freedom of Information in this republic says it all.
        On the initiative of the senior public service, the Government bought in the 2003 Act to restrict the 1997 Act.
        The nature of our government system meant that the Dáil was effectively powerless to refuse to pass that Act.

        I now challenge you – as a member of the majority in this Dáil – to simply introduce a one sentence Act repealing the 2003 Freedom of Information Act. Just do and let us see what emerges.

        If you do not do it, perhaps you would explain to us – in public – why not?

        This is one of the things that I expect a Government committed to political and institutional reform to do – just as the Swedes did nearly 250 years ago “when a new young radical government came to power convinced that only transparency could deal with the corruption that was looting the Swedish state and society Freedom of Information Act was passed”

        Why are we waiting?
        Palace intrigues?

      • Donal It does not say it all and you ignore all the other stuff I refer to. Yes Fianna Fail and The PDs used the majority in 2003 to roll back the FOI legislation. It happens but it was wrong of them to do so. But let’s be clear the Freedom of Information Act was a radical reform and according to a speech given by the then Information Commissioner in 2002 it radically altered the nature of the relationship between the public service and the public and the environment the Government operates in. Look at the issues that have come into the public domain because of the FOI. Rolled back and all it still has made a difference. I hope it won’t be just a sentance when the Freedom of Information Bill is brought through the Oireachtas during this Government’s term thanks to a committment in the Programme for Government to reform the FOI legislation, sought and achieved by my Party, that introduced the original legislation.

  5. @Jane Suitor,

    Many thanks for this post. You have succinctly and eloquently highlighted the key issues. And I can’t endorse your final question sufficiently forcefully:
    “..it may be that it is TDs who need to demand that these promises are implemented?”

    @Deputies Tuffy and Donoghue,

    Many thanks for your comments and willingness to engage on this issue. You both make very valid points. But Dr. Suitor’s question is even more relevant. It is up to you and your colleagues to seize the power the people have delegated to you to reclaim the Dail and to restore it as an an effective legislative chamber. Nobody else can do it. The people may not be demanding it specifically – the Dail hasn’t operated consistently as an effective legislative body in living memory. So the people can be forgiven for not demanding something they require, but which has never been provided – even if it is available in other jurisdictions. You and your colleagues have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to earn the trust and respect of those who have delegated their ultimate authority to you. Please do not let them down – again.

    The Dail is yours; it does not belong to the Government – or the whips. It is for you to decide the procedures within the constraints established by the Consitution. And where the Constitution may set bounds that curtail your discretion, you also have the power to frame amendments and to seek the people’s consent to these.

    And finally, on procedures. Although you are delegated (deputised) to represent the interests of your constituents, I am sure you are well aware that the interests of individuals and groups will conflict and a balancing of these interests will be required and that, in the common good, the interests of certain individuals and groups may have to be advanced to the detriment of the interests of others. Somebody must make judgements about these conflicts and that is why we elect you and your colleagues. We don’t expect sages or highly specialised and technical expertise, but we expect our elected representatives to secure and assess the evidence supporting both sides of a proposal or position and to make a reasoned judgement in the public interest.

    That is why there is a requirement for adversarial disputation before Oireachtas Cttees. When Ministers and their officials and advisers advance policy proposals or propose an executive action, they should be required to present their case before the relevant Cttee, the Cttee should secure relevant expertise to present evidence-based testimony critiquing these proposals and there should be opportunities for rebuttal and counter-rebuttal.

    Cttee members would have opportunities to ask questions and to seek clarification and, when all the evidence – for and against – was presented the Cttee would be in a position to form a judgement.

    We are inundated with ‘public consultations’, totally ineffectual ‘debate’ in the Oireachtas and people talking past each other in the media and on blogs. The whole process closes down debate and there is no effective engagement that would lead to reasoned disputation and the generation of considered verdicts or judgements. And this suits Government perfectly.

    It would require a limited change in Dail and Cttee procedures to effect this change, but it would greatly enhance the process of democratic governance.

    It is time to restore the Dail and its procedures. Only you can do it. Please don’t let us down.

  6. Oops! I fear our intensity and focus here may have firghtened away the public representatives who had the interest and courage to engage. I also expect they are very busy with many other matters and this is really seen as a minority pursuit.

    There is also, perhaps, the problem that the pursuit of procedural reform in the Dail is very difficult to convert into electoral support. Many voters would see it is an irrelevant indulgence – despite the fact that it would be very much in their interests. And there is the inevitable certainty that any efforts in this area would not be viewed with approval by the High Commands of the governing parties who are intent maintaining the exercise of excessive executive dominance – while proposing or hinting at all sorts of ‘political reform’ to distract attention from their real intentions.

    Pushing reform of Dail procedures in the face of this over-arching strategy being pursued by the High Commands could be a career-damaging activity – even if it were completely in the public interest.

  7. Why is there still even a whip system? It’s a throw back to the 19th century that has no place in a modern democracy and a rule can be brought in that party reps have to support finance and confidence bills.

    Given the rather pathetic efforts at reform so far – every reform announced has been so watered down it is meaningless:

    Let’s ban corporate donation – oh no we can’t, so instead of lowering the threshold to zero, let’s just reduce it a bit.

    Let’s cut judges’ pay – oh no we are friends with the judges, so lets cut the pay for new judges and ditto across the entire public sector – only cut the newbies.

    The banks are paying bonuses, I’m only the Minister for XYZ, I can’t do anything, oh but I can dip into private pension funds.

    How much money are the chairperson’s of these committees being paid and why are they getting money?

  8. @Desmond,

    You, perhaps, realise you will be viewed as being excessively cynical. But I find it hard to disagree with the gist of your comment. The cliche ‘turkeys don’t vote for Xmas’ has become hackeyed, but it still resonates when used appropriately.

    Does anyone seriously believe that a government will willingly introduce political reforms that will reduce, in any meaningful way, its exercise of excessive executive dominance?

    What this requires is senior backbench TDs with no, or little, prospect of advancement – and, ideally, who accept that this Dail might be their last. They will be immune from the usual blandishments and threats, e.g., ‘keep the head down and a Minister of State job might come your way’, ‘we value your support and loyalty and we might be able to scratch a few bob for that road, school, hospital, community centre,etc. in your patch’, ‘you’d be wise not to make a fuss about this Dail reform stuff because there’s a couple of eager boys and girls who’d like to be on the party ticket the next time and we’re finding it hard to hold them back’, ‘you assured us you were ‘on-message; this reform stuff isn’t very helpful’, ‘we can’t figure out why you’re so bothered about this stuff; we have a game-plan to introduce radical reform. The party’s on board. It’ll be tough to get it through and your antics could queer the pitch.’

    It would be good to believe there are some.

    .

  9. The committees have been reduced in number but not reformed.

    In the case of departmental oversight – the committees will have to meet twice to three times as much as the last set in order to match their sitting times.

    The government has retained the sole right to decide who controls each committee and has given the opposition a below-proportional allocation of chairs.

    There’s nothing in this to inspire confidence of a serious commitment to reform.

    • @G Sullivan,

      Completely agree. And this situation will continue until a sufficient number of TDs find the guts and the gumption to say enough is enough.

  10. It’s good to see some TDs engaging on this blog! Congratulations to deputies Tuffy and Donohoe on their re-election.

    The government committee reforms exclusively focus on their powers and configuration. Various allowances for Dáil jobs seem to have been curbed, which is welcome. There was probably a need to prune back on the number of committees, but I wonder if this has been taken too far, especially for the departmental committees. It’s probably reasonable for some committees to shadow two departments. But I’d wonder about the very large size of some committees, and the fact that some are now covering three departments.

    I would like to see some strong role for committees in terms of state board and quango appointments. But no mention of this at all in the programme for government, even FG’s pre-election proposal of a veto just for senior positions. Perhaps some combination of a public appointments commission to vet all such ministerial appointments plus a relevant committee veto would be a good combination.

    There’s mention of an earlier role in legislation in the programme for government, so perhaps this will come in time.

    What’s entirely lacking in the government’s committee proposals is any greater backbencher control. Reversing Abbeylara is welcome, but these committee proposals won’t curb excessive executive dominance if the committees continue to remain so dominated by government. There’s no evidence this has changed. All TDs still have to wait until committee assignments are handed down from on high. TDs are still rewarded by government by being assigned to popular committees, or punished by assignment to unpopular ones. Committee chairs are still a gift from government or party whips. And even for the small number of chairs the government gifts to the opposition, government discretion still holds, e.g. FF and Shane Ross having to beg government for the PAC chair.

    Committees should be controlled by backbenchers. And control should be tilted as far as possible towards the opposition. Chairs weren’t even allocated in a proportionate way.

    The secret ballot is the friend of the backbencher. One way of eliminating the whip system entirely would be to have all Dáil votes be by secret ballot. But of course accountability would go out the window and chaos would likely ensue! But I think there’s still a good case for secret Dáil votes just on anything related to committees: their resources, configuration and membership/chairs. We could simply copy some House of Commons reforms, e.g. election of committee chairs by secret ballot, election of the chairman of the House by secret ballot. Committee membership should also be determined by secret ballot. There are some good ideas in the reform of the House of Commons committee report http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmrefhoc/1117/111702.htm. This report also proposes a Backbench business committee (again elected by secret ballot) that would have a large say in the choice and scheduling of House business. Noel Whelan described some similar ideas in his MacGill Summer School paper last year, p. 8-9, (which can be found on this website at https://politicalreform.ie/macgill-papers/ and at https://politicalreformireland.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/whelan1.doc ).

    So, whilst there has been some rearrangement of the committee deckchairs and the promise of a modest increase in some of their powers, there’s still no sign of the government giving up their stranglehold of control over these.

    • One or two more thoughts on committees.

      I think there are plans to link the new “Committee on Investigations, Oversights and Petitions” to the Ombudsman in the same way as the Public Accounts Committee is linked to the Comptroller and Auditor General. It would be very easy to give a proper constitutional basis to the office of Ombudsman (as Emily O’Reilly was arguing herself recently). One could simply do a broad cut-and-paste of article 33. But I don’t particularly like how offices such as the C&AG, ombudsman and DPP (that are supposed to be politically independent) are still all basically gifts of government. Perhaps an alternative appointment method might be to require a 2/3 Dáil majority for such positions (usually ensuring the agreement of a major opposition party is also needed, rather like German constitutional court appointments).

      For Dáil committees, I think one should try to bias their compositions in the direction of the opposition to some degree. Excluding cabinet members from voting in any committee secret ballots would be one possible strategy. This would also further emphasize a separation between committees and government.

      Parliamentary committees probably only come fully into their own in an opposition-controlled second chamber, e.g. the robust committee scrutiny of budget estimates that occurs in the Australian Senate. But the Taoiseach’s 11 nominees (perhaps the most unattractive feature of the current Seanad setup) have ensured an almost automatic government majority (hence government control of its committees also). If Dáil committees are really such a great idea, then opposition-controlled Seanad committees should be an better means for holding the government to account. But, if the Seanad actually survives and is reformed, the 11 Taoseach’s nominees should definitely be the first thing to go, powers of legislative delay should be increased, and the body should be directly elected in such a way as to be usually opposition controlled (perhaps with staggered terms). Maybe then we might get some genuinely adversarial Seanad committees in a body actually able to make life awkward for the government. I think there are limits to what can be expected of even an ideal committee system that’s confined to the main chamber.

      And I’d wonder if even these types of reforms really go far enough given our current crisis. We saw with the fateful bank guarantee that this momentous decision was essentially only made by 2 or 3 people. There’s doesn’t even appear to have been a proper cabinet meeting (an “incorporeal” one over the phone instead it seems). There was virtually no opposition to this at the time. Same with the EU/IMF agreement. I suppose we won’t know the true facts behind these decisions for many years. The Dáil merely rubber-stamped these actions. Indeed we were lucky to even get a Dáil vote on the EU/IMF agreement. It was largely nodded through. Where was the scrutiny? Where were the rigorous objections and alternatives? I’d really wonder whether even enhanced Dáil committees have made much of a difference in these circumstances. Our politics seems to lack any genuinely adversarial quality. I wonder whether, in such circumstances, structurally building adversarialism into our political system might not be such a bad idea. A full US-style executive-legislature separation of powers would be one option. A powerful second chamber would be another. A third alternative might be not to go far as the US but still give our president some real powers, e.g. the ability to delay legislation or veto and refer legislation to a referendum (such as in Iceland). Basically, some other democratically elected institution would have a real measure of power and thus have the potential to clash with the Dáil. The usual argument against this type of idea is that there would be the possibility of gridlock. This might indeed be a danger for some countries. But I think this is far overstated in our own case. We must have one of the most monolithic and centralized political power systems in the world. IMO building in some degree of adversarialism or institutional conflict would be no bad thing. We’re such a small country, whose circles of power seem so tiny and incestuous, and who seems to shy away from genuine conflict in our politics (aside from the minor factional differences between our two and a half major parties) that perhaps a full-blown division of political power into more than one institution could be an excellent way of counteracting this.

  11. @Finbar Lehane,

    Some very interesting reflections in both your comments. Obviously I applaud your desire to see some genuine adversarial and institutional conflict. I’m not averse to a formal separation of the legislative and executive powers – but I just think it’s too big to start with. I’m a Fabian when it comes to this. (Though I reckon Donal O’Brolchain will be pleased with what you’ve expressed!) And I would like to see adversarial disputation not only before Oireachtas Cttees, but in all Competition Authority and economic regulatory proceedings.

    But the key point is that, despite their manifesto and PfG promises and honeyed words, the Government will not introduce reforms that will curtail their exercise of excessive executive dominance in any meaningful way. This requires a modern and peaceful, but equally vigorous, replication of the struggle between the English Parliament and Charles I. The is ultimately about power; and power will only be relinquished following a struggle.

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