Very interesting article from Shane Ross on Sunday about his perspective on the ‘contest’ for the PAC chairmanship. If you didn’t get to read it, I’d suggest following the link for a look.
This is a story that went relatively unnoticed in the Irish weekend radio/newspaper coverage that I picked up from Amsterdam, but it seems to me to be quite telling. The story builds on Jane’s earlier post about the depth and impact of the reforms that the new government has undertaken to the Committee system. This insider account of the nomination process for the PAC chairmanship reinforces Jane’s conclusion that ‘ The parties still nominate and divvy up the chairmanships’.
Perhaps the reputation of McGuinness as an individual is important to bear in mind here – certainly he was somewhat outside of the favoured circle in the previous regime, and his co-authored book ‘The House Always Wins’ was one of the most cogent recent analyses of the failings of the Irish political/administrative systems that I’ve read, especially coming from an elected representative. So I don’t think that McGuinness is a bad appointment at all, and I think that he will bring plenty of energy and new ideas to the role.
Still though, it seems to me that it would have been better if there had been a free vote with open hustings on the PAC chair position. It’s hard to think of many TDs who have demonstrated a committment and capacity on policing public expenditure that would match Ross’s record. The sad thing is that there never really was a debate on who might actually be best for the job, you know, in terms of defending the interests of the people. Hard to imagine, I know, but maybe that should have been a key criterion for the position? In the event, the matter was sewn up before that conversation could even get started.
The seeming unwillingness of ‘back benchers’ to defy the executive on even marginal matters such a Committee chairmanship appointments in Ireland is difficult to explain, especially when our electoral system provides such strong incentives towards legislative individualsim. It is hard to say whether it stems from a finely developed sense of careerism, a natural culture of deference, a fear of the consequences of whip loss, the lack of attention that voters pay to such matters, or perhaps just unusually high ‘cohesion’ (i.e., maybe TDs just tend to agree with their party leadership in nearly all matters). There is little doubt, however, that this ‘go along to get along’ approach to casting one’s vote, more than the actual institutional rules of procedure, leads to an exceptionally anemic lower house.
It is telling that Ross reports that ‘ Fine Gael members were angry when they were forced to vote publicly for Fianna Fail’. The anger of FG members indicates that the extent to which the line is towed in Irish politics is not something that TDs are too keen to emphasize in public or in their constituencies.
Overall, I have to conclude that the chair selection procedure that we have just witnessed for the PAC chairmanship doesn’t augur well for promises of a more robust committee system, even though it managed to produce a reasonable appointment.