An Irish Citizens’ Assembly is promised by Phil Hogan

Post by David Farrell (October 22 2011)

Speaking at a roundtable on political reform last night that was organized by the Political Studies Association of Ireland, Minister Hogan said that details about the proposed constitutional convention will be confirmed within weeks of the presidential election. And, he made it clear that a citizens’ assembly would form part of that process. For Irish Times coverage, see here.

This is the first time since the election, that a government minister has confirmed that there will be a citizens’ assembly.

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6 thoughts on “An Irish Citizens’ Assembly is promised by Phil Hogan

  1. I realise that the Minister’s comments about a CA being part of this soon-to-be-announced constitutional convention gives CA advocates here and elsewhere a warm and fuzzy feeling, but the reported likely brief of the convention – “[t]he convention will look at the abolition of the Seanad, the reduction of the presidential term from seven years to five, the issue of single-sex marriage and the role of women in the home, among other issues” – should provoke a “wake up and smell the coffee” moment.

    The Government has absolutely no intention of introducing the kind of political reforms that might in any way restrain its exercise of excessive executive dominance. So far as it’s concerned the proposed amendment on Oireachtas Cttees’ investigative powers is as far as it intends to go in this area.

    And the intent here is nakedly political and very likely will be passed on that basis. Even though the people delivered a clinical and comprehensive drubbing to FF and the Greens on 25 Feb, the FG/Lab combo is determined to have this amendment passed to craft the proverbial stake in the heart that will destroy FF once and for all as a political force challenging for a place in government.

    Though one might argue about whether the end justifies the means, the possible emergence of two broad right-of-centre and left-of-centre factions – when the current FG/Lab combo splits and go their separate ways (as they inevitably will eventually) – might be very healthy for the Irish body politic. But restricting reform of Oireachtas procedures and powers to this single issue is totally wrong-headed and should be opposed forcefully.

    Governments that have secured a democratic mandate on the basis of a specific manifesto are perfectly entitled to seek to enure the enactment of legislation to implement the elements in such a manifesto. But what it is mandated to achieve and how these might be achieved are two very different things. It is for government to advance what it intends to achieve and to set out how it intends to achieve them; it is for the Oireachtas to decide how best these government intentions may be achieved in the public interest.

    Empowering the Oireachtas to scrutinise and modify government proposals and proposed actions in the public interest does not diminish or conflict with the democratic mandate government has to pursue these proposals or execute these actions; it simply ensures full consideration of the implications of these proposals and actions in the broader public interest.

    But that is the very last thing this Government – or any government – wants. And TDs, of all factions and none, sheep-like fall into line.

    People advocating and hoping for genuine political reform are at nothing.

  2. The contrast between: “The convention will look at the abolition of the Seanad, the reduction of the presidential term from seven years to five, the issue of single-sex marriage and the role of women in the home, among other issues.” and the breadth and depth and remit of the Icelandic process is glaring. Maybe we’ll indeed somehow ultimately end up with an all-singing all-dancing constitutional convention with all the bells and whistles. But IMO the Icelandic process will act as a very useful yardstick. TBH I’m pretty agnostic about the actual process used (whether CA or elected or whatever). It’s the results that will matter: will we get the radical constitutional overhaul we badly need or will we be sold a pup?

    The Irish Time article also mentions the Oireachtas inquiries amendment. I’m guessing this is what constitutes (probably in its entirety) the government’s strategy to “hold the government to account” or to curb executive dominance. I really wish this proposal had been more well thought-out and debated and not first publicized and then rushed through the Dáil in little over a week. Don’t wish to revisit the whole debate on subsection 4 (there’s a long enough discussion here already in the Abbeylara thread).

    But there has been some good debate on parliamentary inquiry mechanisms in other countries in the newspapers during the week. Investigative committee setups in Germany and Hungary seemed like particularly appealing examples. What they share in common is that a qualified minority in parliament can initiate an inquiry (in Germany it needs 1/4 of MPs and in Hungary 1/5). In both countries there are protections to help ensure a government doesn’t use its majority to railroad the investigation and impose its will. In Germany, the constitutional court has been more than willing to step in and protect the rights of the minority when the investigation is being conducted. In Hungary, half of the investigatory committee comes from the opposition and the other half from the government benches, and if the government or a government-related matter is being investigated, then the chair of the committee is automatically given to an opposition member. An investigation is carried out, a report is produced, which must then be debated in parliament. The government may ultimately use its majority not to endorse it. But, at least, opposition MPs still have the ability to launch an inquiry into government actions.

    I feel it’s a real pity a similar mechanism hasn’t been incorporated into the current amendment proposal. This would have allowed our very strong whip system to be side-stepped. And there might actually then have been a realistic expectation that an inquiry mechanism might genuinely have helped allow the government of the day to be held to account by the Dáil.

  3. An Irish citizen assembly promised by Phil Hogan. The words citizen assembly and Phil Hogan are inappropriate. This will be nothing more than a tinkering around the edges exercise to take charge of any possible alternative sources of pressure that might be brought to bear on the government.

    This assembly should be formed without government interference or sponsorship and once formed should gain its legitimacy from the support of “the citizens” otherwise it is just a citizens quango sponsored by Hogan.

  4. This statement from a Minister who has ditched John Gormelys inquiry into Local Government planning activities, comes with a pinch of salt. It simply will not happen in any form that makes sense.

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