The Government’s Reform Measures to Date: A Good Start but (Much) More to Do

Post by David Farrell (July 11 2011)

A re-reading of the Coalition Government’s Programme for Government is timely. It’s worth taking stock of the political reform proposals that have been implemented, those that are on going, and those that are (firmly) promised. There has been some undoubted progress, but a lot – a lot – still needs to be done.

Let’s start with the positives. Putting aside any judgment on which are good, bad or indifferent measures, and simply taking stock of the boxes ticked, by my reckoning good progress has been made on the following (many of the details of which have been discussed in previous posts on this site):

  • Referendums are promised this year on: reversing Abbeylara; protecting rights of citizens to communicate in confidence with their public representatives; cutting judges’ pay
  • Steps are being taken to reduce the size of the Dáil
  • By-elections will not longer be delayed beyond 6 months
  • The number of Oireachtas committees has been reduced
  • A new oversight and petitions committee has been established, which should open the way for citizens to petition the Dáil
  • Proposals to impose tighter limits on political donations and spending
  • The Fiscal Advisory Council is about to be established
  • A firm promise to introduce women quotas tied to public funding of parties
  • Some steps (notably by Leo Varadkar) to involve TDs at an earlier stage in the drafting of legislation

There could well be other initiatives I’ve forgotten (in which case I’d be happy to correct and update). Meanwhile, there are other reform proposals that are promised:

  • The referendum to abolish the Senate is still being mooted, though it may not happen for a while
  • A Constitutional Convention is still promised, though we’ve still to learn how it will be constituted. The issues that it will consider will include: the Dáil electoral system; reducing the Presidential term to 5 years; provision for same sex marriage; amending the clause on women in the home and steps to encourage greater participation of women in public life; removing blasphemy from the Constitution; possible reduction of the voting age
  • Children’s rights

But there is a lot more still to do. Among the promises in the Programme for Government that (so far as I can see) we’ve still to hear much of anything about are the following:

  • Ending unvouched expenses for TDs and Senators
  • Giving the Ceann Comhairle powers to intervene where he judges a minister to have failed to adequately answer a parliamentary question
  • Moves to call state body heads and civil servants before committees
  • Series of measures to increase the role of committees
  • Reinstatement of Freedom of Information
  • Whistleblower legislation
  • Register of lobbyists
  • Relaxing rules on cabinet confidentiality
  • Banning corporate donations to political parties
  • Establishing an electoral commission
  • Opening up all civil servant appointments at P.O. level and above to external competition
  • The appointment of an economist of ‘international reputation’ to head up the Department of Finance’s Budget and Economic Policy division
  • Various local government reform proposals, including the replacement of county managers with chief executives

… The list goes on…..

2 thoughts on “The Government’s Reform Measures to Date: A Good Start but (Much) More to Do

  1. If anyone thinks that this government will introduce the kind of substantive reforms that are required – and that go well beyond the ‘reforms’ listed in this post which range from window-dressing to the ‘nice to have’ – then I would worry about his or her grasp of reality.

    When it comes to identifying the nature and extent of political reform required it is necessary to start with the question: how did Ireland end up on the verge of sovereign default, with its domestic banks largely insolvent and under the effective economic, monetary and fiscal control of the EU, ECB and IMF? And the answer is unrestrained, unscrutinised and unaccountable governance and the devolution of a considerable amount of governance to an array of statutory agencies with a further diminuition in restraint, scrutiny and accountability.

    Therefore the solution requires measures that increase effective restraint, scrutiny and accountability of governance. What is on offer barely scratches the surface. But nobody should be surpised.

  2. I wasn’t sure whether to put this here or in the previous posting on committee reform. I know some contributors such as Paul and Veronica are dubious but I see that today another Minister decided to at least start the walk to devolving more power to TDs. Joanna Tuffy has a statement welcoming the initiative. Of course as noted in the previous posting it is to be hoped that the members of this committee where Deputy Tuffy is vice chair make the most of it. They should call the Minister, his senior advisers and of course produce some detailed proposals that can be included in the ensuing legislation.
    I must admit, however, the fact that the Minister reportedly merely said he will consider doing the same thing with insolvency legislation is not so good. This legislation given the desperate economic times will be of crucial importance to so many I would hope he owudl do mroe than listen to teh Tds on teh committee.
    Given that the committee is chaired by David Stanton who has shown an interest in political reform, posting here in the past, while its vice chair is Deputy Tuffy I would be optimistic. Other members include Deputies Dara Calleary, Michael Creed, Tom Hayes, Seán Kenny, Finian McGrath, Jonathan O’Brien, Billy Timmins and Senators Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Martin Conway, Rónán Mullen and Denis O’Donovan.

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