So, what’s next?

Post by David Farrell (August 13, 2011)

As reported in earlier posts on this blog, this government has made some quite impressive progress on implementing the political reform proposals proposed in its Programme for Government. They’ve made a good start. But, arguably most of this has been the low-hanging fruit, the relatively easy targets. We’ve still to see the real meat of reform.

A point that has been made by several of us on this blog and elsewhere on several occasions is that if true reform is to happen it will have to be radical, ambitious, large-scale, and – most crucially of all – involve the active engagement of the citizens. The last point is important for a number of reasons not least the fact that ultimately since any major changes (involving constitutional reform) will need the citizens’ vote in a referendum then it’s better to have something that citizens are more likely to buy into.

In their respective policy documents published before the election, Fine Gael and Labour promised that citizens would be involved in the political reform process they each advocated. The same promises found themselves into their party manifestos (with similar promises being made by all the other political parties too).

There were important differences: Fine Gael proposed the establishment of a citizens’ assembly to consider electoral reform, whereas Labour’s preference was for a constitutional convention – with ordinary citizens comprising a third of the membership (the other two thirds being lawyers and politicians) – that would look at a wider set of issues. When the time came to agree the Programme for Government, these differences were parked: the language was studiously vague about the make-up of the Convention; although we were given a fair bit of detail about its agenda:

to consider comprehensive constitutional reform, with a brief to consider, as a whole or in sub-groups, and report within 12 months on the following:

• Review of our Dáil electoral system.

• Reducing the presidential term to 5 years and aligning it with the local and European elections

• Provision for same-sex marriage.

• Amending the clause on women in the home and encourage greater participation of women in public life.

• Removing blasphemy from the Constitution

• Possible reduction of the voting age

• Other relevant constitutional amendments that may be recommended by the Convention.

No details were provided on when all of this will happen, or on how the Convention will be organized. Since then, there have been the odd nod and winks, most recently in a speech by Brendan Howlin giving some clues about the timescale:

the two parties in Government are discussing the modus operandai of the convention and will publish proposals after the series of referenda to which we are already committed…

But still no details about how this convention will be comprised.

The referendums that Minister Howlin refers to are expected to coincide with the presidential election in late October. It will take time to establish a constitutional convention, to select its members and agree its agenda. Let’s hope that all of this starts before too long.

The government parties made clear and unambiguous political reform proposals in the election a few months ago. Let’s hope they keep their promises, and start moving on them sooner rather than later.

5 thoughts on “So, what’s next?

  1. I remain to be convinced that this Government and the wider governing class are committed to bringing in a set of mutually-reinforcing checks and balances to limit the scope for excess by the powerful – be they public or private, elected or appointed.

    Do the powers-that-be view our constitution as a framework for a free government that limits, restrains and allows for the exercise of political power, which we as citizens of a Republic own?

    We need to ensure that our way of governing ourselves has
    1) the means to be successful for the common good with increased democratic accountability
    2) the capacity of adapting to the changes – some foreseeable, some not – that constantly descend upon it.

    Have I missed something in the the programme for Government and/or the manifestos and/or speeches since the election?

  2. All we need to know about the failure to reform anything is that not one single person, not one, has been held to account for all that has gone wrong in Ireland during the last 5+ years – not from the private sector and certainly not from the public sector – instead the line is trotted out that the top management in areas have all gone but the pertinent point is that every single one of them went with a larger pension than they would have received if they had remain in office and held to account for their actions so while the government picks off special needs teachers and the like on the basis there is no money to pay for them, it is using the taxes paid by the same people whose children need extra help to pay for the pensions of Brian Cowen and Brian Ahern (and soon to Mary McAleese who did nothing to test the constitutionality of NAMA or the bank guarantee) and for the pensions of the likes of Neary etc while those in the private have their pensions paid for by the current staff of AIB/BOI who themselves have lower salaries and pensions but the same cost of living.

    I see Richard Bruton isn’t as quick to take on the professions as he is to get rid of agreements that help those who do the cleaning and security roles.

    The size of the financial pie isn’t the problem, it’s how it’s spent and as long as taxpapyer money is going to give pension tax relief/credits and other services that the vulnerable depend on are being slashed there is something rotten at the heart of government and what’s even more remarkable is that despite Michael Noonan’s experience with Bridget McCole and the experience he has with a loved one dealing with Alzheimers, he still drawls out the cute hoor cliches as if he’s in some bad western and is incapable of making rational decisions on spending based on human impact as well as financial needs and until there has been root and branch reform of the Oireachtas remuneration and expenses system, there will never be real reform further down because if they are too scared/unable to reform from the top down, they certainly won’t have the intelligent to reform properly elsewhere.

    I wonder how many children of TDs/Senators or Councillors are on the dole are facing losing their home, how many of their grandchildren have emigrated and will never return – same argument as how few members of the US congress have their own children serving in the military – maybe if there were more they’d make better decisions in running the country.

    Maybe if our elected reps at all levels, lived with the same fears we all have, they too would make better decisions?

  3. I can see no evidence of “impressive” progress on political reform.
    The main problem in Irish politics is not low-level local clientelism however distasteful this may be. The main problem is that politicians and the entire state apparatus are controlled by the very rich. This led to the current crisis. Politicians, the board of the central bank, the National Economic and Social Council including employer and trade union leaders, the Economic and Social Research Institute etc were cheer leaders for the rich during the fake boom. This is still the case. The new government is determined to cut the pay of cleaners and shop assistants but refuses to put a penny in tax on the assets of the super-rich.
    The most important duty of a legislator is to legislate. But the new government while requiring deputies to “fob-in” to claim expenses stipulated no requirement on any oireachtas member to vote on any stage of a bill! There is, of course, no requirement to “fob-out”.
    A popular initiative under which a number of citizens could force a referendum on acts passed would give the people more control.
    Politicians pandering to the electorate is not the key problem. The key problem is politicians pandering to the very rich.The fact of the matter is that under current arrangements the government can do the exact opposite of what was promised in the last election and inflict untold damage on the population for five years. A reduction in the Dail term to three years would improve matters by limiting the damage a government could inflict.
    Paddy Healy

    • Oh if only Ireland had a Labour Party and it was in government with the Conservative Party, err I mean Fine Gael, then I’m sure that Labour Party would put a human cost to some of the more right wing policies of Fine Gael which only deal with protecting the profit levels of the corporate sector from whom Fine Gael now enjoys the patronage that once went to Fianna Fáil.

      The sheer lack of imagination among the Irish political class is a depressing sight to behold when you consider for example that a Labour government in the UK in 1945 was able to undertake a massive house building programme, expansion of the welfare state and the creation of a national health service as well as rebuilding a war destroyed economy – if only our current leaders had but a fraction of their vision and nobility – is the Irish public morality even capably of producing people like Clement Athlee, given the problems we face today are the type of problems his generation would could only have dreamed about and still out lot fail to rise to the occassion.

  4. Extract from above post
    “the two parties in Government are discussing the modus operandai of the convention and will publish proposals after the series of referenda to which we are already committed”

    Is this a post from Brendan Howlin? I could not find it in the article linked in this post.

    Phil Hogan is the only minister who has been making announcements in public and they are vague. Enda Kenny is just as vague on timing.

    Howlin’s article is on a Labour’s party journal.

    Why the delay on what was supposed to be set up within the first 100 days?

    Anybody able to clear up this?

    John Hughes

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