Ireland is not the only country considering a smaller parliament

Post by David Farrell (July 14 2011)

Ireland is not alone in considering a reduction in the number of parliamentarians. In the UK the size of the House of Commons is to reduce from 650 to 600. In the Netherlands there is debate over possibly reducing their parliament by a third from 150 members to just 100. Similar debates are ongoing in Austria, Denmark, Hungary and Iceland. There may well be other cases.

Whether this is due to a backlash against the politicians in a moment of economic crisis or simply a realisation that parliaments needn’t be so large given modern communications is hard to tell. But it does show a very new pattern to the inexorable growth of parliaments that has characterised the trends for all postwar democracies. And in this at least Ireland is part of the new trend.

41 thoughts on “Ireland is not the only country considering a smaller parliament

  1. But is it either David? There are many parliaments in Europe with a ratio of parliamentarian to population that is smaller than ours including Cyprus (10,000), Estonia (12,871), Luxembourg (8,333) and Malta (6,154).

    Many have comparable ratio’s to ours -Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania,Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden have a Member representing between 15,000 and 35,000.

    And according to the cube root law of assembly sizes Ireland has exactly the cube root of its population at present at 166 and it is the UK and France that are over represented according to this formula.

    Rather than a trend or any rational argument I believe it is knee jerk response to calls for political reform and the perceived need to be doing something in that regard.

    Far better initiatives and genuine political reform are the initiative by Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence this week to seek submissions from stakeholders on what they would like to see in promised mental capacity legislation, and the decision to bring heads of bill to that committee pre drafting stage so TDs and Senators can have a say in the preparation of bills.

  2. Just to add, the political scientist community has played a big role in bringing to the fore the need for political reform, in the media. Are those that did so going to sit back and say nothing if decisions are taken in response to calls for political reform that reduce accountability and increase centralisation of power in the hands of government, such as the reduction in TDs and the abolition of the Seanad?

    • You raise a very interesting point, Joanna. I think, though, that it is up to the members of the current Dáil and Seanad to take back some power and responsibility from the legislature, if they want to maintain their current numbers of members.
      I’m very open to arguments about the need for a reasonably large parliament to deal with the demands of governanace, but it’s hard to support that stance when those who are in power have allowed their institutions to be soo abjectly subordinated in the making of important political decisions.
      The instituion of the Oireachtas is not doing what it’s supposed to. Or it least it’s not doing it very effectively. The institution’s theoretical role is vital to the country’s well being. It’s charged with srutinising, amending and intiating legislature, as well as nominating and overseeing the executive, both governmental and judicial, in the country’s best interests. It has to claim its powers and rights, and start making good, fair decisions in order to be something that people can believe in again. Sadly though, with the farce surrounding the Roscommon hospital, people are starting to become disillusioned with the new system. Maybe the issue could be one where the parliament could claw some power back from the executive?

      • Matthew I don’t disagree with you there. But the solution definitely is not to reduce (our relatively medium sized parliament) to a much smaller one and in the process give even more power to the executive than they had before, have less access to TDs than before, have less accountabilty, take away the safety net of an upper house, have less internal democracy within parties, etc. Bad decisions have been made in Ireland, the human capacity to have such decisions is a universal phenomen and there is no perfect Government, nor utopia out there yet. But we have a lot about our political system to be proud of too and many attrocities that have happened in other countries and many injustices (genocide, draconian curbing of human rights, ethnic cleansing, and I could go on) have not so far happened under our almost 100 year old political system.

    • Centralisation of power? When Brian Lehihan RIP and Brian Cowen decided to gamble the future of this country and ring his cabinet colleagues to inform them that, “this was necessary” fir the stability of the Irish banking system, what kind of centralisation of power was that?

      The main player is now deceased, his colleague retired ignominiously from politics, leaving the people and their children to suffer the consequences of their brash gambling and recklessness. Labour and FG deliberately allowed the budget of 2010 to go through in return for a guaranteed election date. It also, brought the added advantage that every time a debate hots up we can be assured of being treated to a finger wagging exercise from Pat Rabbitte or Ruairi Quinn to the effect, “it was your party (FF) that brought us to where we are”. It they did not like the MOU why did they facilitate its passage by passing the finance act without which the MOU surrender document would have fallen!

      We should have stood back and left the ECB get on with their job of lender of last resort to the Irish banks to avoid contagion (we have it now, in any event). We should have postponed the bailout until the democratic election of 25th of february was over. At that point Labour and FG were going to be in power and Mr. Gilmore could have really shown us what Labour’s way is as opposed to Frankfurts way or the MOU way.

      This ‘argument’ about centralisation of power rings as hollow as the bell that tolls for the cannon fodder TD’s that must troop into the lobby and vote whichever way they are being whipped and when they are not being whipped they are standing around talking about what attire other TD’s are wearing. A 100 seat Dail is more than big enough but then that would make it so much harder to get elected and it is my belief that’s the real issue.

      Centralisation of power give us a break.

  3. It appears that the ending of our editorial board’s indentured labour with the ‘wethecitizens’ initiative has suddently released a pent-up supply of postings. It’s like a blunderbuss has been left off – and it’s difficult to decide whether to duck or respond.

    And surely, Deputy Tuffy, you don’t expect politicial scientists in academia to lead the charge on reform of governance? Who signs the cheques that finance our glorious academic institutions? For goodness sake let’s keep all this safe, polite and academically interesting.

    On another thread I highlighted the sudden discovery by the UK HoC of its powers and observed:
    “Oh that the Dail could rise as one and purge the cosy cartels, the cabals of collusion and the soft corruption that have brought this country to its knees and continue to oppress the vast majority of citizens. But now I have gone from hope into a dream that will not and cannot become reality on this benighted island.”

    Over to you, Deputy Tuffy – and your colleagues – to prove me wrong.

      • @Deputy Tuffy,

        Sorry to let you down, but I am an economist. And I am an economist who considers governance as important as, if not more important than, markets.

        And your (sarky) response is unintentionally revealing. There seems to be an assumption that anyone who comments here is a pol sci head; while any one who comments on, say, the Irish Economy blog is an economist. This reflects the siloisation of economics and political science and political economy withers on the waste ground between the silos.

        It seems that everyone in Ireland now is a macroeconomist capable of spouting all the jargon about fiscal and monetary policy, sovereign bond markets, the role of central banks and the minutiae of currency unions. However, very few people seem to deal with microeconomic issues – the world where most people live and work. And those that do have barely moved on from the model of perfect competition they learned in Economics 101. It is almost surreal that major policy and regulatory decisions are based on economic analysis that would make a first year economics undergraduate blush – and it is even more surreal that the assumptions and analysis are so blatantly at variance with the forms of economic organisation to which these policies and regulations are applied.

        The travails of Murdoch’s News International in the UK may have opened some people’s eyes to the fact that large multi-national conglomerates of this nature can drive a coach and four through any systems of economic governance developed from these naive assumptions and analysis. At least the HoC decided finally that enough was enough and rose as one to put an end to it in this case.

        And, as always, we have adopted these systems of economic governance in Ireland – and are now tasting the bitter fruits of thier failure. But is there any real interest in tackling economic governance? Fat chance. Apart from appointing two competent and reputable persons as governor of the Central Bank and as financial regulator – plus a bit of cosmetic tinkering – almost nothing has changed. Though under pressure, via the terms of the EU/IMF MOU, to reform the semi-states, in particular, the big energy semi-states, to empower the Competition Authority appropriately and to amend the framework of economic regulation, the Government, not surprisingly, is dragging its feet.

        We can be pretty confident that, without this external pressure, absilutely nothing would be done. There are simply far too many deeply entrenched and influential vested interests embedded in the system. Nobody is advocating or representing the collective interests of consumers who are being soaked in every way imaginable. I’ve spent the last 8 years as a part-time, unofficial, unpaid advocate of consumers’ interests in the energy policy and regulatory process. All I’ve got is grief and hassle and lost income. I can no longer afford to do it.

        I am dispirited and frustrated, but, sure, it’s Ireland after all.

    • Oops. Apologies. Forgot that the skin of a politcial scientist is a lot thinner than that of a politician.

      No interest in running a blog as I would probably end up talking to myself. In fact there are far too many blogs. We need far fewer that attract a ‘community’ that engages and debates. And I do appreciate what you and your colleagues are doing here.

      If, occasionally, I am perceived as being sharp, it is unintentional. It comes from a desire to focus on those things that can and must be changed – rather than diffused discussion about the myriad of things it is possible to change.

      • Thanks Paul. I think sometimes that words on the screen can come accross as more harsh than they would if we were all talking in person (amazingly, it looks like internet technology is going that way!)

        I appreciate all of the comments we get on the site. I’m happy for people to criticise posts that we publish, but I do think we should all respect each other’s right to a point of view, and try to engage openly and intellectually, rather than trying to ‘win’ arguments.

        I also understand the frustration and near despair so many people feel with trying to reform politics in Ireland. While Deputy Tuffy has been kind and brave enough to participate in the discussion here, it is generally very difficult to persuade elected politicians to express their thoughts on these issues. Like everything else, it is against their career interests to say anything that may be perceived as a departure from the party line (in part because of the tight control excercised by the party leaders over patronage positions in the parliament).

        More generally, it’s just plain hard to get people interested, which is furstrating, as politics influences all of our lives.

        There’s a great quote from Ghandi that I try to take as inspiration when, like you, I feel that all i get for working on political reform is a loss of income, time, and (in some quarters) professional prestige:

        “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

  4. @ Joanna Tuffy,

    I’m perplexed. Do your views as stated above imply that when the time comes in the Dail you will vote AGAINST the government referendum proposal to abolish the Seanad? Yes/No?

    As a backbench TD you are in a far better position to influence the evolution of government policy on such proposals as abolition of the Seanad or reduction in the number of TDs than anyone outside the political fold, as you may combine with your backbench colleagues in Labour, and liaise with similarly minded backbenchers in Fine Gael, to leave your party leaders in no doubt about your views and that, when push comes to shove, you will oppose their proposals. There are, as we all know, many examples over the history of this state where government backbenchers have ensured that established government policy was stymied. Presumably, you’re already lobbying hard amongst your own colleagues to build momentum to stop these proposals in their tracks before they ever make it to the floor of the Dail chamber?

  5. I don’t understand your argument here, Robert. Surely you agree that it was excessive centralisation of power (whether due to constituional rules, whip loyalty, or both) that allowed such a stupid and costly decision to be made in the first place.

    To be fair, the complete lack of economic or basic business competence of the key decision makers didn’t help. But, with a less centralised power structure, they could have more openly sought expert advice and counsel.

    The absence of any transparency around that decision is another symptom of excessive power centralisation.

    • Well my view is, with the current system, no matter how much talent you have you will be ignored, unless you are one of the chosen few. This pertains whether you are in a 166 TD chamber or a 100 chamber. Power is centralised within the executive, because power is exercised in a corrupt crony led fashion. Look no further than Peter Mathews TD. There is a party pecking order and no blow in will be tolerated in cabinet no matter what extraordinary contribution he or she can make. There is no shortage of advice available to the government but the government having malformed itself usually completes that process by appointing economists and advisors who’s advice and views are in know to be in agreement with the views of the government. Therefore there is no room in government for the economist who has been most prescient or the economist who out forecasted the whole of the DoF and ESRI combined. These people are swiftly labeled maverick, renegade and dangerous. Two names come to mind here Kelly and Gurdgiev. Nyberg in his report into the collapse of the banks said, there was “group think” in the banks and regulatory authorities. Well there is still horrendous group think in government because you are not appointed unless you are part of the group think and that is the current reality.

      This coterie of powerful people lined themselves up for cabinet positions based on pecking order not talent (all too scarce) the only thing that changed that order was if you were unlucky enough to get caught off-side in a leadership heave.

      I view ministers of state jobs as being nothing more than fluff and compensation for those that did not make it to cabinet. I would like to see ministers of state completely abolished.

      Now ask yourself how is this system going to change itself? Who is going to change this system? Surely, you would agree that there is no prospect of change being initiated by a coterie of people who benefit immensely from the current system.

      In my view, the only people that can initiate change are the electorate. FG promised change and if they do not deliver change they will also go the way of FF whose policies they are displaying an embarrassing eagerness to implement.

      Yes, too much power is concentrated in the hands of the executive which in addition to what I have already said is totally distorted by the cult of leadership. The leader vows to serve the country as best he can but then immediately sets about cementing his position in power by choosing carefully the acolytes that have been most loyal to him bar a few peripheral appointments to show he wants to ‘unite the party’. The whip system must go, the cult of leader must be broken too and parties must be made to put the country first and party second or else the parties must be made redundant by the electorate until the get the message.

      The electorate have proved they can swiftly get rid of parties that have disgraced themselves and in whom they no longer have any confidence. FG have already reneged on their promise of electoral reform, in particular their promise to reduce the number of TD’s. They are playing games and hiding behind ratio’s, statistics and time lines. They know full well that the constitution can be changed quite easily to facilitate a 100 seat Dail and no seanad. I believe the bicameral system, if democratically elected, (not the current elitist system) is a better system. However, the seanad has proved itself so impervious to reform that it has become its own best argument for abolition. What contribution did the last seanad make to the running of the country? What material difference? None whatsoever. What difference will the current seanad make? None whatsoever. Therefore keeping it only brings politics into further disregard.

      The only way this system will change is when FG go the same way as FF at the polls in a general election. Morgan Kelly’s prediction strayed into the area of politics when he predicted that FF and FG would both be decimated within a five year time frame. That may even happen in the next two years then we will begin to see real changes in politics and representative democracy.

      • Hard to disagree with that, Robert. I guess my hope is that people can take some direct power and pressure the government to change before the next election. Looking at things though, the people in charge are (in general) the older, more conservative ‘careerist’ politicians. There are new voices in the Dáil, but they may as well not exist due to the whip system and large govt. majority.

        I wonder whether some new party will emerge from all of this, as winning seats is, in the long run, the only way to effect dramatic change in a democracy. Certainly there were several efforts to launch new movements this time around, but the existing parties monopolise all of the country’s political resources because all public financing for politial organisation goes to them. Any new movement will have to find an innovative way to raise funds, just as the Obama campaign did in the USA.

  6. @Joanna – yes I think we agree on the uselessness of treating a reduction of numbers as a meanginful ‘reform’. My intuition is that it will negatively influence the decision-making capacity of the Dáil.
    My point is that the Dáil as currently operating is so politically impotent that its decision making is not as consequential as it should be.

  7. @Matthew,

    Thank you. I think most people here understand where I am coming from. I’ve probably bored many to distraction and it’s time for me to depart. In any event there is little more to be achieved here. This is up to the politicians. If they are too ignorant to understand their duty to citizens in the face of an overmighty executive or too cowardly to perform this duty, then there is very little we can do about it.

  8. Guys, calm down! Have been in some real bear pits of internet discussion groups over the years. This blog is the height of gentility and civility in comparison, even when tempers flare! 🙂 I learned a long time ago to be very slow to take internet discussions too personally! Not sure what it is about the medium! 🙂

    I find this blog very interesting (has been a real education). And it’s one of the very few places on web where Irish political reform is discussed in any real depth.

    Paul, your contributions are not boring! Indeed your two recent replies in the “According to Minister Howlin political reform is still high on the agenda” thread about the UK parliament fightback against executive dominance were some of the best I’ve read on this blog so far. Hope you stick around and continue contributing!

    I also admire the willingness of Deputy Tuffy to get involved here. A brave woman to do so I think! It’s alway nice to have a politician around to take a pot-shot at! 🙂 But at least she’s interested and willing to engage, which is more than can be said for much of Dáil Éireann. It has taken decades of drifting along untended for our political system to end up where it has. Hopefully Deputy Tuffy can be part of the solution. But it’s probably harsh to lump all our political ills onto her shoulders.

    And am aware of the constraints the political science academics here may be working under. It’s a fine line to walk wanting to reform the system yet also having to maintain a certain academic impartiality. The revolution is most certainly not going to start on this blog! At least one really can’t expect the polsci academics to be the ones at the front of the mob wielding the torches and pitchforks! 😉

    Am not an academic. Am merely an interested Joe Soap, who somehow happened to latch onto political reform as something of an interest, and am hopefully gradually becoming a bit less ignorant on it. But what has struck me about the topic is how little discussed or considered it has been in Irish public life for the past several decades. Even amongst politicians there doesn’t seem to be a great depth of knowledge on the subject. There are indeed in most political parties one or two people who’d be the resident “experts” in the area (sometimes not even TDs or politicians themselves) who are wheeled out when needed. But my impression is that there isn’t great knowledge or perhaps interest in the subject in the body politic as a whole. Indeed in the run up to the last election some (even if not all) of the party political reform policy documents had the appearance of having been thrown together in some haste (with various elements patched together at the last moment with seemingly not a great deal of forethought or consideration). The situation is probably not much better amongst journalists. There are a few wily old-handers who can have some shrewd and insightful things to say, but in the main there’s a lot of ignorance on the topic. And I must also admit to being disappointed at previous Oireachtas considerations of political reform. As mentioned in a recent thread here, the Constitution Review Group publications are a great resource. They contain some interesting ideas and proposals, and are a good beginner’s tour through the constitution and the various institutions of our state. But I must admit I had expected more from such reports. There’s little there really deep or insightful, or even moderately innovative. The general tenor of these publications is that everything is ticking along more or less nicely, with perhaps a minor tweak needed here or there to get the system purring along a little more smoothly.

    As far as I can see we’ve never previously had a serious discussion on political reform as a nation (excepting polsci circles of course). The recent economic crisis has triggered this to some degree. We just allowed things drift along since Dev’s constitution. IMO that was a reasonable attempt by Dev (even if quite unadventurous and conservative). Over the past few parliamentary terms, even our close neighbour the UK, with its very similar political system, has gradually performed something of an overhaul on most of its various institutions. We have had stagnation and stasis here (things have probably gone backwards in some ways). Only now in a crisis has this country perhaps finally started for the very first time to consider such matters with any urgency.

    This blog is one of the very few places on the web which focus on this topic. This blog is not the place to change the world. Any actual “revolution” will need new political parties and groups or popular serious pressure being brought to bear on existing parties. But IMO there’s definitely a need for a place like this where ideas and concepts can be floated and debated and challenged.

    Anyway, time to step down off the soapbox! 🙂

  9. @Finbar,

    Many thanks for that magnificant tour de horizon. You should get up on that soapbox more often 🙂

    But I think you might agree with me that relying on government to instigate the reforms of governance required won’t get us anywhere. (And btw I have great respect for Deputy Tuffy and her willingness to front up here so often. I also reckon she recognises that she is the unofficial ‘ambassador from the Dail’ on this board – as she provides the only means of communicating our ideas to the unleavened lump that the backbenches comprise.)

    And relying on vehicles like this ‘wethecitizens’ initiative won’t get us anywhere either. It is the TDs, and only the TDs – in particular the backbench TDs of all factions and none – who can instigate the changes required. And we don’t require anything revolutionary or dramatic. Just a clear objective to reform the Dail and its procedures and to perform this slowly, carefully and steadily over a period of time. The benefits of better formulation and implementation of policy – increased scrutiny and contesting of specific proposals, the winnowing out of special special pleading and woolly thinking, the rejection of imbecilic and dangerous proposals, proper justification of executive actions, review of policy implementation (and amendment as required), etc – will gradually build up over time. As I’ve said previously it’s simply restoring the Dail to what it should have been at the foundation of the state (when It could have immediately exercised the powers and applied the procedures that it took the English 800 years to establish in their House of Commons), but never was.

    This government – or, indeed, any government – will reach for eye-catching reforms that will distract attention from this task – and will go out of its way to make sure no effort is devoted to it. These proposals on abolishing the Seanad and reducing the number of TDs fall in to this category and were announced out of the blue by Mr. Kenny as President of FG last year when his political fortunes were ebbing and it was a dramatic ploy to bolster his political virility. Having put them out there FG High Command has been forced to make up the justification for them as they go along – and somehow try to bring Labour on board. I’m sure FG’s High Command would love to be able to retreat from these commitments – as they have served the purpose for which they were intended at the time, but An Taoiseach’s political credibility is on the line. So we can be sure that these changes will be rammed through the Oireachtas in some shape of form. And rather than the concerted oppostion they deserve, it will give Labour and many backbench TDs plenty of scope for ‘log-rolling’.

    What a total and utter waste of time and effort. I’m sorry. I just can’t stomach it any more. Obviously I’ll retain an interest in observing these antics and seeking out potential for genuine reform, but that’ll be it.

    Many thanks to all here.

    • Thanks Paul for your contributions here. I do sympathize with your frustration! In terms of political reforms in the programme for government, IMO it’ll be very much WYSIWYG “What You See Is What You Get”. I’m sure that what’s in that programme will be implemented in full with much fanfare sooner or later during this Dáil term. Some of it could certainly be placed in the “nice to have” category, e.g. moving the clock back to the 1997 state-of-the-art in terms of freedom of information and committee compellability (back to the situation pre-Abbeylara). But in terms of your main argument (an over-dominant executive) I think there’s virtually nothing that will make much difference in the programme. Dáil committees are one of the main avenues backbench TDs could utilize to re-exert some control, but despite a proposed compellability referendum and a recent re-configuration of the committee deck-chairs, such committees unfortunately remain merely creatures of the government and party whips. A recent Irish Times articles illustrates this perfectly: . Deputy Denis Naughten, who defied his party whip on Roscommon Hospital, was forced by the government to give up his committee chair in a deal that permitted him to remain on the same committee.

      We’ve ended up where we effectively have presidential style government, except without the usual checks and balances that go with such a system. I suppose the two obvious ways to tackle this problem are either to explicitly bring in checks and balances (perhaps by separating out the executive as favoured by Donal O’Brolchain) or alternatively having our parliament clip the wings of the executive in the more Fabian manner you favour. I probably lean towards the former but also see that the later solution could work too (as well as being far more likely to happen). I see almost nothing that will tackle this executive-legislature imbalance in the programme for government (except for some curbing of allowances for some parliamentary jobs which could have some small effect). Even if the restored committee powers of compellability/inquiry are used, this may well be in a very party political way, perhaps to inquire, during the run-up the next election, into the actions of the last government ( rather than being utilized to hold the current government to account).

      There’s some wiggle room, I guess, in the proposed constitutional convention, even though most of its terms of reference so far would be concerned with what I’d call social (rather than political) reforms however worthy, and the actual political reforms mentioned are rather inconsequential. It seems it can consider other matters though. Given the rather rushed and slap-dash nature of some of the party political reform policy documents thrown together in the run up to the last election, I think there is a small possibility that something more substantial might be allowed to come out of a convention type process, rather than a few inconsequential but shiny baubles. I live in hope.

      But, if our TDs really wanted to wrest back some power, then much could be done that wouldn’t require constitutional conventions or changes to the constitution. It would be easy to modify Dáil standing orders to copy some of the recent committee reforms across the water. Backbenchers should themselves elect who goes onto the committees. Committee chairs could be elected by secret ballot of the entire Dáil (I fear even secret ballots within committees themselves would be too easily controlled by party whips, the UK has the right idea in that respect I think). Standing orders could be modified so that the Ceann and leas Ceann Comhairle are elected via secret ballot. Backbenchers should have a say in the scheduling of Dáil business (rather than government having a complete stranglehold of control and giving the occasional look-in to the whips of the major opposition parties). The UK Backbench Business Committee (composed entirely of backbenchers elected by secret ballot) controls a day’s worth of backbencher business each week in the House of Commons. The UK coalition proposes to give even greater input to backbenchers into House business in this parliament via the creation of a new House Business Committee, which will consist of government and opposition front benches plus members of this backbench business committee. Wouldn’t be difficult to copy such reforms here.

      Of course there are various other ways the Dáil could be strengthened relative to the executive. Ministerial appointments to quangos and similar bodies in the UK are vetted and screened via a Public Appointments Commission. Something along those lines could be easily replicated here via legislation. Quangos are indeed a means by which the executive farms out its power and makes it less accountable to the Dáil. The Dáil should exert greater supervisory control over such bodies. IMO strong truly independent Dáil committees should be given a veto over such appointments.

      Other more structural changes are possible to give power back to the Dáil that would require a referendum, for example curbing a Taoiseach’s power to dissolve the Dáil, e.g., require an absolute majority (or even super-majority) of TDs to vote in favour of dissolution before it is allowed. The UK coalition government is proposing to bring in something along these lines during this parliamentary term (quasi-fixed five year terms). But much is possible via merely altering standing orders or bringing in legislation.

      And as you’ve suggested already, we could carefully look at House of Commons standing orders. The House of Commons is a lively well-functioning chamber. Ours is very dysfunctional. There’s likely much we could learn from House of Commons standing orders. I’m at times embarrassed for our own Dáil when I watch “Oireachtas Report” on RTE to see the spectacle of a handful of deputies in a mostly empty chamber listening to a junior minister woodenly mumbling out some speech that was pre-prepared for him earlier by some civil servant, before he then rushes off to somewhere else. But we’re told that most deputies would be elsewhere in government buildings attending to important parliamentary business. So I guess that’s ok then! 🙂

      All that’s stopping most such changes is the TDs themselves! It’s in their own interest to have a properly functioning parliament. And such reforms would probably greatly reduce further calls to have the size of the Dáil drastically reduced. Moderate levels of reform now could perhaps forestall the demand for far more drastic and knee-jerk reforms later. There are likely to be some very choppy and unpredictable times ahead. I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess where this country will end up in five or ten years time!

      • I suppose the same kind of reasoning applies to Seanad abolition. I’m in favour of the Seanad only for what it could be rather than what it actually is. It’s so government dominated that I doubt much real accountability would actually be lost, as currently it is constituted, if it is abolished. It’s a real pity TDs didn’t assert themselves and bother to reform it sometime in the past few decades. Instead, now, there’s a good chance it’ll be lost simply because a seemingly unplanned spur-of-the-moment manoeuvre by Enda Kenny in late 2009 to regain the political upper-hand (after Eamon Gilmore pre-empted him on the matter of the Ceann Comhairle’s resignation at the time). I’d like it to be saved. But only if I’m told beforehand what kinds of deep reforms are going to be applied to the body if it’s kept. If it’s merely going to be business as usual in the Seanad, then I can’t say I’ll be terribly concerned whether it continues or not.

  10. Thanks Finbar and Paul. The idea in setting up this site was very much along the lines that Finabar lays out in his comment – a place for an indpeth discussion, which goes into some of the practical and technical issues around reform. Without understanding these issues, it’s difficult to know where to start IMO.

    Great that you’re getting something from it Finbar, and both of you please keep the comments coming. My favourite part of this format is that you have to defend, explain or sometimes even retract parts of your argument in the light of comments made by those who read it. This makes posting a great learning experience for the author.

  11. @Matthew,

    Thank you. Keep up the good work. It’s just that most of my fire is spent. I’ve tried to push the case here and elsewhere that the boundaries between economics and political science need to be crossed and more joint effort put into the economics of public choice theory and how the outputs might be implemented – particularly when the economics discipline in the microeconomic area is being dominated by silly, simplistic neoclassical nostrums (with inevitable damaging implications for public policy). But it doesn’t seem there are any takers.

    And I’m also discouraged, but not in the least surprised, by the enduring ability of those exercising political power to duck, dive and dissemble – publicly announcing a willingness to embrace profound reform while doing everything in thier power to stymie or distort any effort at meaningful reform.

    • @paul politics/economics is an interesting nexus. I think that both fields (but particularly economics) have become dominated not just by overly simplistic models (built on demonstrably untrue axiomatic assumptions) but also by inpenetrable jargon.
      I recently read ‘The Big Short’ by Michael Lewis, who explained the meaning of the jargon, and how complex sounding ‘instruments’ hid completely insane lending and investment practices.
      Anyway, I’m certainly up for exploring where the two fields might meet with regard to political reform. If you’d like, we could co-author a post on the topic?

  12. Firstly, Deputy Tuffy is to be commended for consistently engaging on here. It is too easy to take pot shots at her and blame her for all the ills of politics, economics and society. Our elected representatives are at the heart of our imperfect democracy and always will be . I have written elsewhere about the role of other democratic forces of scrutiny and surveillance and how they should be incorporated into our democratic architecture.

    There are very profound issues in political science that require discussion, for example, the issues concerning political parties and governance explored by Peter Mair and the issues I have mentioned above pertaining to deliberation and judgement in a changing political environment. Many of these real issues are being ignored in favour of vanity projects like ‘wethecitizens’ which are doing a real disservice to political science in advancing the notion that politics/economics is not ideological but rather a few populist, cosmetic changes in how decisions are made will make everthing ok and undo the damage inflicted by a particular ideological view of the world.This notion is dangerous and falls into the category of ‘unpolitical counter-democracy’ as described by Rosanvallon.
    The discourse needs to be widened and deepened.

  13. @Matthew,

    I would see it less related to political refrom per se – which seems to mean lots of different things to different people – but more to the reform of governance in the areas of competition policy and economic regulation. What happens in these areas and how it is done impacts on every aspect of most people’s daily lives, but every effort is made to prevent people seeing – or gaining any understanding – of the machinations.

    Unders the terms of the EU/IMF MOU the government is being compelled, totally against its will, to address some of these machinations and to boost the enforcement of competition policy and to tackle economic regulation in the context of restructuring the semi-states and in a broader context. All this stuff is going on behind the scenes at the moment – only the odd echo of raised voices or the sound of some furniture being moved may be heard, but you can be sure that the struggle is intense because quite a few of the main domestic vested interests – that have influenced and indirectly determined public policy in these areas for a long time – have a lot at stake.

    Eventually, some sort of half-baked, half-arsed compromise will be reached and will be presented as a fait accompli. Any legislative changes required to implement this will be rammed through the Oireachtas in the usual manner. And, again, as usual, the party-line will be laid down and obedient government backbench TDS will line up to learn their ‘sound-bites’ that they will repeat mindlessly and ad nauseam at every opportunity they get The government spin-machine will go into over-drive and tame journalists will be fed their briefings to undermine any principled opposition or critique that might emerge. And yes, there will be roaring, shouting, posturing and shape-throwing from the usual suspects, but it won’t make a blind bit of dfference, because I can guarantee you that the interests of ordinary citizens and consumers will be the last thing considered in this mix.

    And this example characterises the formulation and implementation of public policy in every area. And, though they may be pushing these structural reforms, the EU and the IMF are equally complicit in the continuous impoverishment and disenfranchising of the majority of ordinary citizens. I agree with Vincent Byrne about this damaging ideological agenda where every attempt is made to present it as entirely objective, scientific and non-ideological. We hear much about the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’, but the reality is that there is a deficit of democratic legitimacy. Decisions are made and enforced by the EU elites, using the full panoply of existing democratic arrangements, over the heads of citizens. This is how we got the EU Consitution which was eventually re-presented and rammed trhough as the TFEU, how we got the Euro and the ECB (look how brilliantly that worked out) and how we are now getting the EU’s energy and climate change policy that will soak final consumers in every way imaginable.

    It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. And while I am grateful for your offer to co-write a post on some of these issues where political science and economics cross over, I’m not sure it would be worth the effort. The participation of the editors on this board in the ‘wethecitizens’ exercise has fatally compromised the integrity of this board and undermined its ability to promote the debate on these issues that is badly required. In any event, the debate on the issues of public choice needs to be taken into the citadel of economics – because it’s the economics discipline – in its mainstream formulation – that has been totally subverted.

    The battle needs to be joined not only here – lord knows we are in need of governance reform more than most, but in all of the developed economies. However, the economics discipline will resist forcefully. Battles in the academic sphere are more vicious than those elsewhere. It’s a comfortable and well-rewarded existence. There is a lot of prestige and many reputations at stake. And because the rewards and prestige may be much less than those secured in other areas, the internal battles are even more fierce.

    The political sphere will remain immune – mainly due to ignorance, but also, and probably more likely, due to the lust for power. The political classes will never willingly embrace reform until they are compelled to do so by pressure of events or by a major upsurge of popular discontent or both. It never ceases to amaze me that politicians will never contemplate making some moderate, limited, sensible reforms that would allow them to deal more effectively with unexpected events or to address the reasons for genuine discontent among citizens until they are forced by pressure of these events or overwhelming oublic discontent )or both) to do so. (The case of Murdoch’s News International in the UK is a perfect example. The Euro crisis is another on a much larger scale.)

    While I will never cease hoping that some sense and rationality will prevail, all the evidence suggests that those who exercise power and influence will ignore any pleas to reconsider and reform (how ever brilliantly reasoned and solidy based these might be) and will keep going until they run out of political road.

    • @Paul – well, I’m afraid that I can’t agree with everything that you say in your comment. However, I don’t want to get bogged down in another debate on the merits of We the Citizens. To be clear, my position is that I’m not a board member of that organisation, but I do strongly support its aims and have great personal and professional repsect for my colleagues who helped to establish it.

      My sense is that there is a huge appetite for deep political, economic and social reforms at the present moment, not just in Ireland, but around the world. I have the privelege of doing research on the upcoming ‘Arab Spring’ elections

    • Paul,
      Very interesting insights. Forgive me if I’m oversimplifying it, but essentially your argument is that the system is not fit for purpose since it fails the citizens at just about every level. They get ‘soaked’ by elites in society, political, business and media, who have a vested interest in maintaining their own status, power and relative wealth over all other considerations and bond symbiotically with one another to that end. Naturally, the elites are resistant to reform beyond a bit of tinkering here and there around the edges, just enough to keep the plebs happy and reasonably content that the system is responding to their needs, most of the time anyway.
      I agree with much of what you say, but feel you may be underestimating the underlying dynamics of how power is dispersed between and within elites and how that is constantly in flux. Reform of political institutions is one thing, but political culture is constantly changing. For example, political ‘spin culture’, as we know it today, is a relatively recent innovation. That its effects on political processes and on public policy formation has been detrimental (e.g. the creation of a new elite of apparatchiks, decline in political participation by citizens in political parties/organisations, progressive alienation of the mass of society from politics and erosion of their confidence in the political system etc.), is indisputable. So too is the fact that the globalisation of communications and patterns of media ownership and information dissemination are connected to its evolution asa primary force in political culture, and may even necessitate it, as does globalisation generally, including financial systems, the energy market, industrial conglomerates and so on. Maybe I’m a bit behind the curve, but I haven’t yet come across any studies, or theses, that suggest how the determinedly nation -state form of liberal democracy can be accommodated within such a globalised environment.

      Like you, I’m concerned that the opportunity for political reform in our own neck of the woods is about to be squandered. I was initially attracted to the ‘we the citizens’ idea, but as time goes on I have increasingly lost faith in it. The notion of a reform movement whose appointed leader takes a Taoiseach’s nomination to the Seanad before the initiative has even got off the ground causes considerable unease.

      Historically, systems tend to be at their weakest when they attempt reform; but failure to reform tends to result in more cataclysmic consequences down the line. There’s nothing unusual either about groups circling the wagons to repel any challenges, but that doesn’t mean that those who have ideas for reform and a valuable critique to offer on how policy is formed should give up in despair. In the present context, I would hope you would agree, it’s far too early for that.

      • @Veronica,

        Many thanks for your considered response. I don’t view what you have written as over-simplifying the case I am making; nor do I disagree with your observations about the jockeying for position within the elites or the major changes that are taking place in political culture – which I may have under-played.

        I just happen to believe that the institutions of democratic governance in place are actually ‘fit-for-purpose’; it’s simply that their procedures need some reform to rein in, scrutinise and restrain the massive expansion of centralised governance – and the devolution of regulatory responsibility to a plethora of largely unaccountable statutory agencies and quangos that, under a veneer of ‘independence’ implicitly implement central government policy. And this is true for most developed, mature democracies. This excessive executive dominance and cenetralisation of governance make it far to easy for those seeking to exercise economic power to nobble governments and their acolytes. The UK HoC has just shown how easy it is for a parliament to break these bonds – but only if members of parliement shed their fears and inhibitions, break free from their self-imprisonment and exercise the powers that citizens have delegated to them.

        And I’m pleading to TDs to simply restore the procedures and to exercise the powers to restrain government that were available to the first Dail after independence. These should have been secured and should have been used, but they never were.

        Every generation seems fated to ignore the lessons on political governance learned the hard way by previous generations. In some respects, the US Founding Fathers were naive, but they took a gamble on governance of, by and for the people based on reasoned argument and disputation; and crucially they skewed the odds in favour of this gamble by establishing institutions and procedures to minimise the ‘tyranny of faction’.

        Like all the major religions that have survived into the modern era, they set an ideal beyond the grasp of most citizens and politcians much of the time, but it is an ideal worth striving for – and every generation has an obligation, in the midst of profound cutural, technological and social change, to keep striving.

        And yes, the concept of the sovereign nation-state is no longer viable. That’s why the EU, its preservation, deepening and expansion is so important and why the UN needs major reform. Only increased pooling of sovereignty will be able to restrain and police the forces of global capitalism and somehow shackle it to generate economically and socailly useful outcomes. But an increase in sovereignty will have to be accompanies by ensuring and expanding democratic legitimacy.

        And no, I’m not going away. Just looking for more effective vehicles to advance the case for refrom of governance.

  14. (sorry got cut off there) and talking to the people there, they seem to be struggling with similar issues to what we face in Ireland.
    A group you may be interested in (I’m working with this group, but do not have any leadership position there or receive any money for my work with them) is Second Republic, which is working to pressure the government to allow its citizens a say in re-writing the constitution, with all of the political and economic repercussions that document entails. Check out their site: I’d be interested to see what people think of their aims and work so far.

    • Matt,

      You’re perfectly free to disagree with what I have advanced, but please don’t dismiss the case I’m making because I’ve been less than enamoured with the ‘wethecitizens’ effort – a lack of amour that has been echoed by other commenters. If the institutions of democratic governance were damaged beyond repair – or if, after some precedural reforms to make the current institutions work as they were originally intended (well, at least, as they were intended in the jurisdiction where they were orginally developed), a requirement emerged to reform these institutions – I could see the benefit of a Citizens’ Assembly. But not now – and not yet.

      The people elected 166 TDs on 25 Feb to provide democratic governance. In doing so they severely diminished the representation of the previously dominant faction in government, wiped out the very junior partner, increased the representation of a nationaistic faction and of a motley crew of independents, but increased significantly the representation of two factions and, effectively, willed them to elect and provide a government. The primary popular requirement was to punish those who delivered woeful misgovernance and to advance two factions that, traditionally, have provided a governing alternative with the expectation that they would provide better governance.

      That’s all, as democrats, we have to work with. Yes, admittedly, the various factions, prior to the election, sniffed the wind and came up with a smorgasboard of ‘political reform’, but there is no evidence that people voted primarily on what was offered in this area by the various factions. It was all very patchy as one faction obviously had done some serious work, while the others cobbled what they could together at short notice before the starting gun was fired. But none focused, perhaps not surprisingly, on reforming Dail procedures or on re-aligning the huge imbalance of power between the executive and the legislature.

      So, therefore, the focus of those of us keen to advance governance reform must be on TDs – in particular, backbench TDs. They have been elected to provide better governance – and a significant majority support the governance that is being offered. The ability of many of these TDs to retain their seats – or if any plan to retire, to keep the seat within the faction – depends on the governance those whom they have elected will provide.

      The principal contention of those of us advancing governance reform is that the current procedures will not provide good governance – irrespective of the good intentions of those seeking to provide it. The message to backbench TDs – in particular to those in the governing factions – is that they may not retain their seats if they do not reform the procedures of the Dail to ensure a better quality of governance. They may not retain their seats in any event, but they stand a much better chance if they are seen to be ensuring effective scrutiny of government policy proposals, to be holding the government to account and standing up for the public interest. And this means breaking the bonds that currently prevent them from doing so.

      They may not take note of this warning and modify their behaviour as required, but the warning will have to be issued. If they don’t, it is almost certain that a majority of voters, having acquired a taste for the delivery of summary justice via the ballot box, will deliver the appropriate verdict at the next time of asking.

      It would be good if sufficient voices were raised and enough people were prepared to act in unison to engage with TDs collectively and to deliver this massage. But this board is obviously not the place to begin – despite its title, its apparent ambitions and, perhaps, because of the activities of its editors.

      Time to look elsewhere – or just wait for the people’s verdict at the next time of asking.

      An alternative means is required

    • Matthew,
      Thanks for the link. Yes, 2nd Republic is an interesting site, and the aims and objectives of the organisers are admirable if not particularly thought through. It doesn’t convincingly set out any case for a ‘new constitution’, or at least not one that is likely to gather much by way of public momentum behind any such campaign.
      Such groups, I fear, are not going anywhere because their approach to challenging the politicians does not extend beyond bland congratulatory statements directed at the various parties for their ‘commitments’ to reform. All of which simply confirms to the leadership of said parties that such groups as WTC and 2ndR constitute no threat to the status quo and can easily be sidelined as the political class pursue – or don’t – whatever plans they may have dreamed up themselves in the course of a general election campaign but can abandon at will using a myriad of excuses about priorities and costs and so on.
      The challenge needs to be much more forthright and it needs the backing of the mainstream media if it is to stand any real chance of impressing either the political class or the general public.

  15. @Paul Hunt

    “And yes, the concept of the sovereign nation-state is no longer viable. That’s why the EU, its preservation, deepening and expansion is so important and why the UN needs major reform. Only increased pooling of sovereignty will be able to restrain and police the forces of global capitalism and somehow shackle it to generate economically and socailly useful outcomes. But an increase in sovereignty will have to be accompanies by ensuring and expanding democratic legitimacy.”

    This last sentence is the difficult bit and the part that is receiving little attention. Someone on another thread posted a recording of a Peter Mair lecture in which he concluded that the discourse needs to move to this point.

    • @Vincent,

      I agree, but, at a time of crisis in the EU, you’ll find few takers. The only development of institutions and procedures that might be contemplated will be the minumum required to address the current crisis. There will be no reflection on the causes of the crisis and on what might be needed to make the system of governance more resilient and responsive to external impacts and internal demands. It was the same when the first Dail after independence was elected. We were in the midst of civil war and the requirement was for strong government to secure public safety, security and stability. The dominance of the executive over the Dail was established and sanctioned – and its dominance has been strengthened immeasurably since then.

      And, despite seeing how this dominance was employed by previous governments to provide the woeful governance that has brought us to this pass, the current government, selling itself as being chockful of good intentions with the genuine interests of the nation at heart, is determined to continue applying this excessive executive dominance. No meaningful reform will be contemplated because it would interfere with its exercise of this dominance. Don’t we all know that they’re doing the best they can to clean up the mess left behind by the last shower – and we just have to trust them. Sure, aren’t they as pure as the driven snow – well, at least, compared to the last lot.

      No. No. And again, no. Two wrongs don’t make a right – irrespective of the major challenges confronting government. In fact, with so much sovereignty being exercised by the Troika, Ireland has a wonderful opportunity to reform the system of governance – like a child learning to cycle with stabilisers on.

      And this reform of governance, as you suggest, needs to be taken in to the heart of the EU. But again, we are back to our TDs and – lord help us all – our MEPs.

  16. Just as a final point to illustrate the key difference between those who advance and support citizen initiatives to address an often inchoate agenda of ‘political reform’ and those of us who view the grossly unequal allocation of political power between the executive and the legislature as the key issue that needs to be addressed before any genuine reform of democratic governance may be contemplated, Mr. Gilmore, as reported in today’s Indo, has helpfully clarified where the real fault-lines exist – and the real conflict arises:

    This is the kind of democratic centralism (harking back to good old Stickie days) – ‘I’ve been elected leader and I and those around me will decide and the rest of ye will fall in line – or else’ – which should have no place in a modern democracy. But the FG High Command is no different and adopts the same line – though it might be a tad less forthcoming publicly in expressing it.

    Now it may be that a majority of citizens are happy with this. They elect TDs who then elect a government and they may then expect this elected government to just get on with it – and for those TDs who elected it to continue to vote in favour of its policy decisions and executive actions. Perhaps a majority of voters don’t want individual TDs – or groups of TDs – making a nuisance of themselves and contesting proposals and actions advanced by government. Maybe they are happy to give an elected government a clear run and, once the course is run, they will then decide on whether to allow it to continue or to elect the support for an alternative. There might, indeed, be a widespread desire not to allow some TDs to ‘get ideas above their station’ as this might diminish the absolute right of ordinary citizens to decide who governs and how they govern.

    My personal preference is for a more active Dail – and more active TDs – to counter-balance the excessive power of government (and this is backed by overwhelming evidence from democracies in many countries over many years), but I am perfectly happy to accept that a majority of citizens might not want this. It won’t stop me trying to persuade them that they should look for more from their TDs and the Dail, but, at he end of the day, it’s their call. But what I won’t do is seek to persuade them that they should pursue initiatives that are not based, first and foremost, on full and open engagement with their elected representatives. When a TD is elected the delegation of power is absolute. This doesn’t mean that citizens should not exercise constant vigilance on how this delegation of power is exercised, but they should not apply alternative means of exercising political power that would usurp this delegation. The only valid approach is to seek to elect those who will best discharge this delegation of power.

    • ‘When a TD is elected the delegation of power is absolute. … The only valid approach is to seek to elect those who will best discharge this delegation of power.’

      This state is excessively centralised when local pot-hole fixing is part of the power that is delegated to a national TD. No amount of rhetoric on legislative duties will change the reality that constituents seek to elect those who will best discharge their delegation of power to fix the pot-hole outside their door.

      Paul is correct that the delegation of power is absolute: it is the practice of delegating every power, from pot-hole fixing to international relations, to one structure which is the problem. Both types of power are essential for the proper functioning of a society but combining them into one structure interferes with the exercise of each.

      An approach to reform which improves the TD’s exercise of a more focused national power and attaches local power and responsibilites to local problems is a valid approach.

  17. “When a TD is elected the delegation of power is absolute”. For me, this only applies, if the TD and his party have not told a pack of lies to fool those that are casting their ballots. This is completely anti democratic. There is consensus ad idem between the parties but that consensus, given in good faith, cannot lead to delegation of absolute power. The delegation of such power is always contingent on the politician not welching on his side of the bargain. Personally, I will not keep my side of any bargain unless those I am dealing with keep their side and if the late Mr. Lenihan had applied that most basic of legal principles we would not be where we are now and would be in a much stronger position. Contracts are based on good faith and if that faith is broken then they are all fair game. We have seen the danger of ceding absolute power which corrupted absolutely in our battle with our our own church and the battle to wrestle back from them the principles of Christ that were usurped by those that felt they had absolute power that battle continues unabated until it is won.

    Mr. Gilmore is a particular case in point, I am sure most will agree that he seems to be a chameleon, a leopard that changes his spots as required to self serve, we know from the leaked documents he was telling the Americans not to worry that “there would be another vote on Lisbon” while at the same time he was pandering to the Irish electorate by telling us that the Irish had spoken and that our vote (on Lisbon) “would have to be respected”.

    This notion of absolute power is ridiculous, nobody even the executive have not got absolute power and if they think they have they are treading on very, very dangerous ground. Absolute power is what the ruler of North Korea and such have.

    As long as, the government are not pandering to their own vote, trying to protect their power base at the expense of the rest of the people, then they hold legitimate power ceded to them by the people. If they do not rule for the common good, then they are nothing more than imposters who need to be removed. The tests to be applied are objective tests. For instance, are they failing the educational needs of our children because it is easier to cut SNAs than it is to force cuts on senior public servants? Not one public servant should be earning more than 100,000 in the current crisis because that is what it is going to take to get this country back to normality in about 10 years time. The people are entitled to be led in in a legitimate way and not governed by principles of distortion, cowardliness, cronyism and self enhancement or nepotism. When Mr. Kenny said, there was nothing he could do about his colleagues nepotism he betrayed his office and his oath and in my opinion he should resign but we are so punch drunk we can no longer see the woods from the trees.

    Not to ignore what is happening in the real world outside these threads, at the start of this crisis I said, we only needed one major bank I suggested the merger of AIB and BoI I made this suggestion after consulting with someone who had worked for the NTMA and who had vast experience in writing software for banks. I predicted that all six banks would require to be ‘nationalised’ which was anathema to what was really required regarding a functioning banking system. On a thread that was discussing ways of helping struggling mortgages holders in negative equity I was the only person to even broach the subject of “debt forgiveness” amongst a gaggle of so called “experts” including those that were mandated to look at the matter and make recommendations on the matter. You know it is a fudge when you hear that kind of terminology.

    The logic for this was inescapable and manifold. From day one, we should have been actively enticing banks into the country that had money to lend, on a business by business, case by case approach. In January 2010 I said the IMF would be running the country before the end of the year with massive support for the banks coming from the ECB if they wanted to avoid Euro contagion. In January, this year I stated the obvious again, and said, “we would require a second bailout.”
    NAMA is a monstrosity that forbids, distorts and stops dead in its tracks any recovery whatsoever of the property market in Ireland. It is a gigantic, egotistical monolith which was and remains a major mistake.

    However, all this will be academic if this thursday, the EU fails to federalise the debt, fails to quantitative ease the debt with Euro bonds and if they are not prepared to write off debt in Greece, Portugal, Ireland as well as recapitalise the banks in Spain who are facing losses on the scale Ireland faced and still faces. The people in this country, in my opinion, have very little to loose in letting the EU decide our fiscal policies, as we approach 200bn + in debt as a result of letting our own DoF, CBI, Regulatory authorities, unions and political parties “run the country” for their own short term and imaginary gains.

  18. @Conor and Robert,

    I fear I may have been too cryptic with this ‘absolute delegation of power’ and sent you off on the wrong track. That is not to say that the assertions you make do not have validity.

    Every society requires laws to govern the behaviour of its citizens. In parliamentary democracies citizens elect members of parliament to enact these laws. So, for the duration of a parliament, voters delegate their ultimate authority to those they elect. The adjective ‘absolute’ is probably too strong a word. TDs, for example, are restrained legally and constitutionally – and they have to be mindful of the views of their constituents and of public opinion in general, but, when push comes to shove, what they vote to enact becomes the law of the land.

    With excessive executive dominance the power to formulate policy for enactment and to perform executive actions is held by very few and these are vulnerable to being suborned by various vested interests. Combine this with the ability to impose discipline on the governing factions in parliament to enact what the executive proposes and you get the tyranny of faction. An outcome, such as the current economic and financial debacle, is not only predictable, but almost entirely inevitable.

    The obvious conclusion is that we need fundamental reform of governance, but all we get is waffle about ‘political reform’.

  19. It’s a pity the debate focuses so much on the number of TDs, Senators and Councillors rather than on their quality and what motivates them to get involved in politics – at the moment it seems to be money.

    I think real reform would tackle that issue and restore a political career back to having a modest income and be all about public service.

    I accept politcians needs support staff to carry out their jobs but it is a major problem that they are also involved in determining how that money is spent. If a TD is allocated 2 or 3 assistants than the cost of those roles should be provided for by the State in the same way it provides other roles and a TD should have no involvement in ordering computers or paying phone bills etc – give them a mobile and publish the cost each month etc.

    I think so far there has been a lot of optics but little actual reform – similar to all the ‘jobs’ announced and when you check back or read the small print the jobs don’t ever come on stream or of such poor quality ie basic minimum wage with no benefits and no permanency you wonder if th effort that went into getting the overseas firm to claim the tax relief and make u pthe job was worth it and shouldn’t instead have gone to creating a proper job based on a strong indiginous local econmy and still our Ministers don’t seem to know the difference between GNP and GDP.

    Our TDs are paid too much and spend too much – as do Senators and Councillors – whatever happened to people being Councillors in their spare time in the evening after working a full day – I can’t see any evidence the quality of local governance has improved in line with the incrases in pay councillors have awarded themselves?

    It’s a catch 22 that the people who will vote for real reform are the very people who benefit most by blocking real reform.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s