Changing framework for a new civic Republic

The left wing think tank Tasc yesterday released a series of essays. One was written anonymously allegedly by a senior civil servant. The Irish Times reported on it here. Much of the language is similar to posters on here. It derides a culture of secrecy, and argues that our inherited political, institutional and legal framework is no longer ‘fit for purpose’ (if it ever was) to permit Irish Society to re-create itself. It poses interesting questions and attempts to provide some answers.

9 thoughts on “Changing framework for a new civic Republic

  1. As I’ve observed elsewhere, while the Right hankers after a Nirvana that never was, the Left dreams of, and hopes for, a Nirvana that never will be nor ever can.

    The real problem is the centralisation and high-level concentration of even the most minor public spending decisions. When there’s one big pot up in Dublin that’s available to allocate gravy to all and sundry most people seem to lose any grasp of the fact that it is their money, collectively, that’s being allocated. The common view is that if they don’t grab their share of it some other, less-deserving chancers will.

    Many people lament the clientelism embedded in the Irish political system, but, viewing one big pot and the centralisation of decisions on its allocation, it is perfectly rational, effective and efficient for voters to elect TDs who will ensure they secure what they believe is their rightful share of this pot – or, in these straitened times, will ensure they defend their share of the pot. And those in government quite like this this big pot and centralised decision-making as this equals power.

    The only solution is effective decentralisation of taxing and spending decisions – not this perverse acentralisation of some government functions practised by previous governments. When taxing and spending decisions are pushed down the system closer to voters the numbers become more manageable, the connections between what is provided and how much is taxed and spent become clearer and they will have an incentive to pay much more attention. They will see more clearly that it is thier money that is being spent and they will be far more keen to ensure that its is spent sensibly.

    Democracy is a wonderful system. If only it were allowed to work its magic 🙂

    • @Paul that all makes a lot of sense and is an area where I have done a good deal of research in terms of ministerial allocations of funds. Indeed the voters are not necessarily wholly rational as most TDs and indeed some ministers have far less power over resource allocation than they like to claim.
      Nonetheless, it would be really interesting to experiment with devolved spending decisions and even innovations such as participatory budgeting at local council level.
      However, even in a move to greater evidence based or even evidence informed decision making would help enormously. Fine Gael did a have a section on thsi in its manifesto but I have nto seen any change yet. At the moment a minister is free to influence many a decision on a whim. Tighter controls and mroe focus on the outcomes of decisions would whittle away at that freedom.

      btw your quote “we should have the ferocity of Achilles in combat to change the things we can, the Stoicism to accept the things we can’t and the ‘cynicism’ of Diogenes to know the difference” garnered a few admires among my students 🙂

      • @Jane, thank you. I agree that ministers will always exaggerate the discretion they exercise over the allocation of resources and that TDs will similarly exaggerate their ability to get something done for individual, or groups of, constituents. But, for most voters, this is the game that’s on offer and I suspect there is a widespread and healthy cynicism about the claims politicians make.

        I fully realise that you and your colleagues on this board are keen to advance experimentation in, and application of, ‘participatory democracy’. However, my preference is for democracy based on ‘delegation and scrutiny’. I accept the two are not mutually exclusive, but, in theory, the system we currently have is the latter. The problem is that, in practice, we have the ‘delegation’, but we don’t have the ‘scrutiny’.

        For a variety of reasons I think it is totally unrealistic to seek to shift from the current approach (based on ‘delegation’) to one based on ‘participation’. I just can’t see enough people buying into it to secure the necessary popular consent and democratic legitimacy. The more pragmatic course is to seek to strengthen and apply ‘scrutiny’ and then to explore areas where more ‘citizen participation’ might supplement and complement this.

        The obstacles to securing increased and effective scrutiny (and evidence-based policy as opposed to policy-based evidence) are immense. The entire politcial establishment and the government machine are resolutely opposed – regardless of the hypocritical, disingeneous lip-service continuously paid to it (in principle). But this can be overcome, because however much they might seek to evade, distort or manipulate the implications, they still are governed, utlimately, by popular consent.

        The biggest obstacle, ironically, is the collective perceptions and preferences of, perhaps, a majority of ordinary citizens. They want TDs who will secure what they view as their share of the spoils – and, ideally, a Minister in their patch. Too much scrutiny of policy or of the allocation of resources might diminish their share – or, even worse, increase the allocation to others whom they consider less-deserving. And if TDs get too involved in this scrutiny racket they will have less time to attend to their constituents’ concerns. All of this, also, and again ironically, discourages voters from demanding effective decentralisation of relevant taxing and spending decisions. It is easier to focus on TDs than to have to badger both TDs and a plethora of county councillors.

        I just don’t know what is needed to convince enough people that, rather than viewing those they elect as the people who will secure the spoils for them, they should view them both as providers of spoils and as people exercising some power and influence – and affected by the power and influence exercised by others outside of the political system – who must be kept in line. Many Irish voters seem to take the view that since the government is their own it won’t do them any harm. Recent events should have convinced them that this is more than a tad naive. Voters in other established democracies seem to take a considerably less benign – and, therefore, much more realistic – view of those whom they elect to govern.

        And I’ll have to ease up on the classical allusions 🙂

  2. I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to lay out the solutions to any of the problems we face. However, it seems we lack the emotional intelligence to see those changes through and again the reasons for that not too hard to identify.

    The current government is dominated by grey, overweight, well past middle age men whose minds were hard wired in the 1970s & 80s and yet we expect these people to deliver a scale of reform that has never been seen in the entire history of government in Ireland.

    We all know how hard it is to change things we’ve done for years, too much TV, too little exercise, not enough studying to get that job we’d really like, not eating as well as we should so if we can’t change those things about ourselves, why do we think the likes of Enda Kenny etc, who is the personification of crony politics (a school teacher qualification fro mthe 70s is the limit of his education, he inheritied his seat with zero effort on his part, he was a member of one of the worst county council for crony planning and he has been a TD since the 70s so was hardwired during the worse excesses of Irish politics) and we seem surprised that despite all his fine words he has zero interest in implementing any type of reform that would see himk held to account or any of his actions made transparent now that he’s finally got his hands on power?

    Page 28 of New Politics from FG promised that its audited accounts would be published in 2010, here we are at the end of 2011 and not a sign yet but a FG minister rushed at the speed of light to reform the wage conditions of those on the lowest incomes at the behest of the employer’s organisation’s which now bankroll FG in the same way as they did FF?

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

  3. @Desmond,

    I’m sure I’ve made this point previously, but it may bear repetition in the context of your comments. One very important, and frequently neglected, strand of English history in the 700 years from the signing of the Magna Carta was the continuous struggle to bring native power elites to heel and to extend the extent of popular consent to be governed by extending the franchise until universal suffrage was secured.

    Over the same 700 year period the history of Ireland was dominated by various attempts to secure a variety of degrees of Irish automony of governance – sometimes by collaboration or accommodation with English rule, sometimes by passive popular or violent resistance – or a combination of both, but generally by conveying an impression of deference and compliance while doing precisely the opposite in reality.

    For more than the 80 years since Irish people secured their own governance it seems that a very benign view of those in government (and of those in the broader government machine) has been sustained. The possibility (and the almost inevitable reality) of a conflict between the interests of those in government (elected and appointed) – and of those outside who exercise power to influence government – and the interests of the broader populace does not seem to have secured any real traction in the public understanding or discourse.

    I suspect many voters, observing what has happened since Sep. 2008, are still in shock that an elected government could allow these things to happen to them. I also suspect that many are prepared, warily and with some resignation, to accept the bona fides of the current FG/Lab combo. But a bond of trust, that may have been pledged by citizens too willingly and uncritically, has been broken.

    The conflict between the interests of those who govern (and, more crucially, of those who influence whose who govern) and the broad public interest has been laid bare for all to see. The people used the only tool available to them – the general election on 25 Feb – to punish those who has been elected to govern in their interest but who had failed catastrophically. But exacting that punishment, while satisfying and cathartic, has led to an anti-climax. There is a sense of ‘business as usual’ emanating from those who govern, even as they confront the policy challenges of much straitened economic circumstances.

    The feeling of a trust, previously freely and uncomplainingly pledged, that has been abused and broken lingers. And people seem unable to give proper expression to this sense of anger, hurt – indeed bereavement. A collective determination to ensure that governments (and those who influence them) will, from now, be held fully to account so that there will never be a repetition of the behaviour of recent governments would be the best response.

    But I suspect, and fear, that many people will give vent to their anger and hurt by using the next tool available – the Presidential election. Again, like 25 Feb, it may make them feel better, but it won’t solve the problem.

  4. get real we are the most hidden and the most dishonest and from the top down they hide truth and have lied even while under oath wheather in the civil service the court the governments of the past or really bad the legal profession as a one party dictatorship controlled from blackhall place to which reform has been made a sanction by the lenders of the money that keeps this country afloat perjury means nothing to these people even as agants of the very courts our state is so currupt that we the people need to vote for change and say enough is enough and that those who lie against the state the courts and the people be held for what they are dishonest currupt and not worthy to have a place in any just society crime pays for these people and prison is a no go area at law after all our constitution was written by them for self

  5. the above is now about to be put in book form relating to the life of harry price his sanity his right to justice his good name and his honour and the failure of the entire system ireland /eire to hold him equal before the law proof is available in the written certificate by
    Dr Liam Daly after his sending to mountjoy and dundrum held mad and bad by the very said system and those who acted in this conspiricy

  6. Thanks. Were an interesting set of articles, particularly the one by “Slí Eile” (the alleged senior civil servant). Tasc have produced a number of papers touching on political reform over the past year or two. Was one produced during the summer considering various options for reform to quango appointments:

    With a kind of similar feel to the “Slí Eile” article, there was a very interesting article recently posted up on the blog (written by Michael O’Sullivan and published in the Dublin Review of Books), see

    It’s a very well-written tour d’horizon of where Ireland finds itself and some thoughts on where to go from here. It does touch on political reform but its themes are far broader: past deficiencies in our strategic thinking, institutional reform, our relationship to Europe, a “Second Republic”, economic challenges etc.. Long article but IMO well worth a read.

  7. Slí Eile contains the usual bromides. As for the Public Service nothing will change unless the functions are changed. We still have a Victorian system where the Public Service attempts to implement government decisions no matter how crooked, craven or insane.
    See planning, tax breaks and decentralisation.

    The Irish people must decide this issue by either accepting it and the its consequences or putting a new system in place. Speaking of the Public Service as a “vocation” is just feeble tosh.

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