A new book on ‘the second Republic’

Posted by David Farrell (November 1, 2011)

Here’s the link for the new book by Peadar Kirby and Mary P. Murphy, entitled Towards a Second Republic: Irish Politics after the Celtic Tiger (Pluto, 2011). The blurb reads as follows:

Towards a Second Republic analyses Ireland’s economics, politics and society, drawing important lessons from its cycles of boom and bust. Peadar Kirby and Mary Murphy expose the winners and losers from the current Irish model of development and relates these distributional outcomes to the use of power by Irish elites. The authors examine the role of the EU and compare Ireland’s crisis and responses to those of other states.  More than just an analysis of the economic disaster in Ireland, the book is also a proposal to construct new and more effective institutions for the economy and society. It is a must read for students of Irish politics and political economy.

20 thoughts on “A new book on ‘the second Republic’

  1. I’ve had some exchanges on the ‘visions’ behind this tome in ‘another place’:

    There is a reluctance to move on from out-dated ideological positions and to engage constructively. Markets are demonised and the state is advanced as a paragon of virtue and effectiveness. Demonising markets that have been rigged, subverted and distorted is fine – and I’m all for it, but using this to dismiss the benefits of genuinely competitive markets subject to effective governance is entirely unjustified. And it is even worse when it is proposed to supplant them by the ‘state’ and by a legion of disinterested bureaucrats deciding who, what, how, how much and when.

    The post-war social democratic settlement started to hit the buffers during the ’70s having provoked the neo-conservative reaction that has dominated the last 30 years. This too has hit the buffers in the last few years and we are at the cusp of a new settlement. But hoping to replicate the post-war social democratic settlement is futile.

  2. I have much more confidence in the markets, broken and all as they might be, to shake out and expose the corruption, lack of leadership and failed institutions in Ireland as they have done indeed.

    This crisis is going to go the way of the French Revolution and our Robespierre ‘is’ the financial markets. They have already put the country into administration and are capable of inflicting the sort of wounds on us from which we cannot escape. Wounds that can only be answered by radical reform and overhaul of all our political institutions.

    The floundering around and “best boys in the class” is hard to bear but patience will be rewarded and just as Bertie, Cowen and the late Brian Lenihan were found out so too will Kenny, Noonan and Gilmore be found out. This thing is unstoppable yet the government waffle on as if they can change the course of history.

  3. When we have candidates who thought they were being radical by agreeing to think about accepting a lower Presidental salary of €275k rather than €325k things are far from right or even on the right track. The salary should be no more than €100k and the pension should be capped at €60k and for each € earned in the private sector by a politican, their public sector pension should be reduced by a €.

    Mrs McAleese creamed off €5m in salary during her term (what costs did she have when her accom is free, her travel is free, her food is free, her clothes were free) plus God knows how much in expenses and she agreed to sign legislation put in front of her by her FF friends, that mortgaged the future of the next two generations, without batting an eyelid and now she’s going to retire with a pension of €150k for life – and probably make further millions at the public’s expense in the private sector like her predecessor Mrs Robinson.

    Apparently Michael Twee is a socialists but that never stopped him claiming the maximum in expenses and he’s retired with a Dublin flat bought and paid for by expenses from the taxpapyer, plus his whopping pension which he ‘won’t claim’ while President, which means it will accrue nicely for him for when he leaves office in 7 years, on top of which will be the whopping Presidental pension plus the 7 years of salary he’ll have creamed off.

    If the President of Ireland can’t even led by example what hope is there for anyone else in the establishment and why should ‘ordinary’ people (as opposed to what sort of people I wonder) not use their vote to pick increasing radical candidates and why wouldn’t the cohesion of the state weaken as people stop giving it their loyalty as in ‘why give loyalty to a system that treats me this way’ …

    There is total silence in the media and academia about the still obscene levels of pay, expenses and pensions of those at the top but of course to address the issue would mean addressing their own obscene salaries too.

    I wonder how much the authors are paid by the taxpayer? What cuts have they taken given their job involves zero risk and minimal effort.

  4. They are leading by example but it is the wrong example and the social cohesion you speak of is crumbling much faster than people think.

    Academics are always going to be the last people to highlight any societal injustices. Unless of course, they are very, very well paid to lecture in poverty, inequality, injustice etc. and all mere conceptual hypotheses to them. Would you not agree that what I would call ‘the silent revolution’ is going rather splendidly?

  5. I think it would be more productive and constructive if we were to focus on the ‘vision’ being advanced in this book – which was set out in a little more detail on the site to which I linked. There is a regrettable, but perhaps understandable, tendency on many blogs and in commentary to ‘play the man and not the ball’.

    As I understand it, the basic contention is that capitalism, once again has failed and wrought enormous havoc. And if capitalism cannot be supplanted, then at least, in the words of Eric Hobsbawm, the doyen of the English (ex-)communist left, it should be ‘superceded’. The post-war social democratic settlement tamed the forces of capitalism for a time, generated sgnificant and widespread social and economic benefits and, for a time, secured broad-based popular support. But it contained within it the seeds of its future eclipse and ensured that an eventually overwhelming reaction would be provoked.

    The dominant, ostensibly ‘progressive’ politicians of the last twenty years, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, (who clearly influenced other left-of-centre politcians in the developed economies) sought to restrain and re-direct the predominantly Neo-conservative reaction that had taken hold in many developed economies during the 1980s. But they ended up being captured – Bill Clinton was persuaded to sign-off on the bonfire of financial regulation that has contributed hugely to the current financial crisis and Tony Blair, amog other failings on the domestic front, succumbed to the US Neo-cons’ hubris in the Middle East.

    The so-called ‘progressive-left’ – in Ireland and in other developed economies – has benefitted from the credit-fuelled boom of the decade from the late 1990s in the same way that all others able to deploy some economic and political power did. These gains are being eroded and under further threat. It is perfectly understandable that they should seek to defend them. And, for them, the most effective means is to seek to replicate key features of the post-war social democratic settlement in the modern era coupled with elements of an environmental/climate change programme.

    But the cycle of history is turning and they run the risk of being beached. Despite this, they do, however, provide intellectual comfort for a significant tranche of public opinion. They fail to recognise that the Neo-con reaction of the last 30 years secured considerable popular support because it brought some innovations of which many voters approved and from which they benefitted. The challenge is to identify, reclaim and modify these innovations so as to tame capitalism in the interests of society and the economy.

    But this they refuse, adamantly, to recognise and, equally adamantly, refuse to engage in open and constructive debate. They are so comfortable with the ideological baggage they’ve carried for years that they ignore and dismiss anyone who has the gall to point out that it mighn’t be the most useful in this age. The tragedy is that the support of the progressive-left is required to ensure that the reforms required in the economy and society – both here and in other developed economies – are pursued and secure the depth and breadth of popular legitimacy. But while they are secure in their comfort zone, it will be difficult to promote change.

    • I fundamentally disagree that you can separate the personal from the political, regardless of whether you are talking about left or right, capitalism or neoliberalism.

      Why are we in the mess we are in?

      Because various policy decisions were taken? Why those decisions and not others? Because of the type of people in power at those times.

      If Garret FitzGerald had been re-elected Taoiseach in 1989 the decisions that were taken in his new government would have been vastly different to those taken in the Haughey minority government and the consequences would have been different.

      Similarly if John Bruton had won the 1997 election the consequences of his decisions would have been very different to the consequences of the 3 Ahern governments that followed.

      The difference in consequences lies among the different personalities of FitzGerald, Haughey, Ahern and Bruton.

      So the man is as important as the ball. It also applies in a wider sense as to why there are so many Irish people who actually like the cute hoor me fein way of living and would sell their mother without batting an eyelid to get a quick buck – we all know them but the problem is the consequences of their actions affect us all so it’s wrong to pretend we should ignore that side of understanding why we are in the mess we are in.

      As well as understanding the type of people like Ahern, Cowen etc who created such a mess, we must also understand why we supported them in the first place and only withdrew that support when the consequences on us could no longer be ignored – we didn’t care how the consequences affected others – just ourselves.

      • @Desmond FitzGerald,

        The reason that the ‘personality’ of a Taoiseach is important is that the powers secured by a Taoiseach (and by the Government subsequently appointed by a Taoiseach) are exercised without any effective, on-going restraint. This has been the thrust of so many posts and comments on this board. There is, of course, some restraint, but it fails to meet some or all of the criteria of effectiveness, efficiency and transparency.

        The threat of a backbench government party revolt, widespread media and public opposition (or ridicule or both) to some policy or proposed action, the results of by-elections, referenda, local or Euro elections and the desire to secure re-election all impose some restraint, but they are insufficient. Traditionally, voters had some assurance that the ‘permanent government’ would also exercise some restraint behind the scenes, but this no longer seems to be the case as it appears that ‘nest-feathering’, ’empire-building’ and a subservience to the whims of Ministers (and the vested interests influencing them) has infected the entire government machine and quangocracy during the last decade or more. And we should not forget that an increasing proportion of policy is determined by the European Council and.or by Commission initiative – all agreed by successive taoisigh and ministers. The lack of democratic legitimacy is at the core of this Euro crisis.

        We should have more than enough evidence that no government will, voluntarily, establish procedures that will impose effective restarint on its behvaiour – or procedures to allow effeective scrutiny of proposed policies or actions. (And by ‘effective’ I mean scrutiny that could result in significant amendment, modification or even withrawal of these proposals at the behest of the Dail based on its assessment of what is in the public interest.)

        It is only TDs, collectively, who can establish these procedures. But they seem to have as many incentives as government not to.

        What is interesting though, in the context of the tome under consideration from the ‘progressive-left’, is that they, too, are broadly content with these arrangements. The primary objective is to advance their cause to secure the support of a plurality of voters. They will then be able to use the executive dominance of the government subsequently elected to implement their desired policies without any effective let or hindrance.

        The acquisition, retention and exercise of political power is the name of the game and any ideology (or its purported absence) is simply a means to secure some cohesive popular support.

  6. Mary Murphy was on the VB show last night discussing her book, “The Second Republic”. Basically, she said that our current republic was built on values of language and nationalism. ( I would have added religious fundementalism). Mary’s ‘Second Republic’ would be characterised by a shift toward equality and participation it would look, like a more even society, with less highs and lows in terms of haves and have nots. She spoke of her new republic having an ethos of responsibility, accountability and transparency. All very fine concepts and worth aspiring to but one we are unlikely to see a transition to without massive social upheaval.

    I notice the slippage towards discussing “personality”. Personality is important because, at the end of the day, people submit to democracy only to discover what they have actually submitted to is the cult of personality.

    A lot of what has passed for leadership over the last 30 years has been nothing more than the cult of leadership and personal vanity dressed up in the glad rags of party political power with a whiff of incoherent ideology thrown in. The needs, the real needs, of the country are left in the wake of these personalized vanity trips, just look around.

  7. @ Paul, I’m not sure if you were agreeing with me or not …

    However, I find it incredibly depressing that people can’t conceive of a political leader coming along and providing some of the moral example we need or that the Taoiseach doesn’t have a role to play in changing our attitudes to a raft of issues.

    It also defies belief that Mr Kenny doesn’t understand how wrong the level of pay at senior level across all areas of the public sector and the fact he won’t do anything to reform and reduce it, even though the amounts saved are but a drop in the ocean, is as much a reflection of Mr Kenny’s weak moral compass (why would he be any different given his politics were hardwired during the worse years of cronyism in the 70s/80s) as any failure of the public to coherently make their anger felt but then again their anger is only about the ‘other’s who are cronies, the public are remarkably tolerant of their ‘own’ local crony.

    So the issue of personality is very important in understanding why there has been no reform led from the top or directed to those at the top. The personality of the current Taoiseach is such that he doesn’t want to lead reform.

    The depressing thing of course is that there’s no politican of any party or non with the guts to provide a moral example – not one of them publish receipts on their expenses or audited accounts of how they are funded. Not one of them and it would only take one to set the precedent and the public demand for others to follow would grow and grow.

    • @Desmond FitzGerald,

      I suppose I’m arguing that, with this more ‘presidential’ style of politics, there is too much focus on ‘personality’. And, even in this context, I would focus on character, judgement and vision. But, most of all, I am arguing for effective democratic restraint on governance and on those who govern. Even those who govern with the purest heart and most noble ambitions require restraint as much as those who might be inept, corrupt or downright dangerous. Democratic legitimacy is not like a sacrament that is secured for the life of a parliament once the votes are counted and a government is elected. Governments should be compelled to renew it with every policy initiative or executive action.

      But we’ve moved a long way from this tome from the ‘progressive-left’. Their desire to secure the popular support to establish this ‘Second Republic’ will be unrequited because they fail to understand why they have not secured it by now. Honestly confronting the reasons for this failure might allow them some insights in to what might be required to secure it. But they remain entrenched in their smug self-righteousness.

      • Isn’t that failure of the left – and centre – down to the flawed personality of the people involved – that they lack the moral compass to know to take a risk and lead from the front.

        Is it that the political class reflect who elects them or that the electorate are fooled by the candidates, yet, why keep electing them …

        Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

  8. These parties in order to capture the electorate promise too much, borrow too much, spend too much and now owe too much! But it is our problem and we must take ownership of it otherwise the age of war will be upon us again. We need real leaders to emerge. I want to see Europe going back to the age of reason and the age of enlightenment not endorsing the age of fiat currency, derivatives and the multifarious financial products that are more often than not the road to ruin for both the individual and the countries that embrace them. I don’t want fiscal fascism and that is what is shaping up in Europe.

  9. @Gentlemen,

    I applaud your desires for the body politic and recognise your frustration, but we need to recognise the process used to develop and implement public policy in most developed economies. (I will leave the US out of the mix as its process is, temporarily, totally dysfunctional and it is not a parliamentary democracy.)

    Most citizens are segmented into different interest groups with a multiplicity of civil society associations and bodies to represent them – farmers, public service workers, small businesses, large businesses, the various professions, semi-states, pensioners, the unemployed, etc. All these interests compete and will often conflict. Parliament should be the forum where these interests are considered, where decisions are made on advancing some to the detriment of others and where trade-offs, compromises and balances are decided in the public interest. But all this activity, that should take place in parliament, takes place behind the scenes via hidden engagement between government (and the government machine) and the representatives of the various interest groups.

    Deals are struck and policy initiatives are fleshed out or policy initiatives driven by primary EU legislation are modified by the deals struck with affected interest groups. In either case, legislation is drafted in almost final form and whipped through the Oireachtas. This does not mean that the outcome would always differ if the Oireachtas were empowered to apply proper scrutiny and consideration and to decide in the public interest, but the Oireachtas is forced to rubber-stamp what already has been decided. And this is neither healthy nor wise.

    But most voters, despite a growing sense of unease, are so familiar with this system – and find that it often delivers the goods for them, that there is no popular groundswell to demand something better.

  10. @Paul Hunt: “But most voters, despite a growing sense of unease, are so familiar with this system – and find that it often delivers the goods for them, that there is no popular groundswell to demand something better.”
    I am trying to find a survey which said that 60% of the population expected their TD to attend primarily to local problems. A consensus such as that inevitably selects for TDs who prioritise the local demands over national. The evidence suggests that practically all of them do so.
    Politics is about the power to allocate resources. If the value system of the Dail is that attention to allocating resources at the local level comes before attention to national level questions those national questions will not go away. They will be decided: whether or not that is to the benefit of the nation is as Desmond Fitzgerald suggests down to the morality of individual in question.
    It seems to me that in the countries which have weathered the economic storm such as Germany, Switzerland, Canada or the Nordic countries, local decisions are pushed down to as low a level as possible. That gives the power to allocate resources that is necessary to provide a sense of local independance from a central hierarchy.
    It thus enables national level debate to receive the attention of legislators. Whether that attention is properly used is then a question for how Dail committees are structured.
    Real attention must be paid to our local governance in order to re-structure our national governance.

    • @Conor O’Brien,

      Couldn’t agree more, but TDs (and Senators) will fight to the bitter end to protect their existing powers, privileges and prerogatives. They know there has to be a better way – and many know there is a better way (just by looking, as you suggest, at other better-governed EU member democracies), but they have no incentives to change what is a ‘learned behaviour’ and governments (and the government machine) will do everything in their power to stymie any hint of reform that might curtail their executive dominance. And it appears that a majority of voters are reluctant to grant TDs – or to encourage TDs to secure – any more powers, mainly because they fear these powers will be abused by governments. This for me is the story of the failed Abbeylara amendment.

      But you won’t find any interest on this board among the pol sci heads (despite its name) in presenting the research – or even doing the research – on what needs to be done – and on how incentives need to be crafted – to break the current logjam and to re-balance the powers of parliament and the executive (which would, most likely, involve a devolution of some decision-making to more local levels).

      The focus is on ‘participatory democracy’ – pace the latest post. Despite all the good intentions – and the obvious and laudable interest and commitment displayed by many concerend citizens – this kind of initiative is the one thing that is guaranteed to get up the noses of members of parliament and to encourage them to dig in their heels even more as it is viewed as an exercise that would diminish or usurp their current powers, privileges and prerogatives.

      Any exercise such as this which is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an attempt to bypass existing elected politicians is an insult to the people who have voted for these politicians. We have to make bricks out of th straw we have – regardless of how unpromising it might be.

  11. @Paulthunt:
    I agree with your statements individually: I would just alter the flow of their logic and add a comment by Donal O’Brolchain from Nov 9th, 2011 00:11 Irish Election.

    “I do believe that our current difficulties arise primarily from our own bad government over years compounded by disastrous decisions on the banks in 2008.
    What is worse, we made similar mistakes during the 1980s with AIB/ICI and PMPA.”
    That suggests that the structure that organises our resources is in need of as much change as the personnel within it.

    “an attempt to bypass existing elected politicians is an insult to the people who have voted for these politicians.”
    Presupposes that change can only come through the present electoral process
    “but TDs (and Senators) will fight to the bitter end to protect their existing powers, privileges and prerogatives.”

    Which is where we are now.
    If the structure is the problem, it may be better to concentrate on changing that rather than hoping for a Dail of altruistic debaters.
    Our resources are not being organised through the political process of the Dail, but seem to be more through a nexus of senior civil servants, lobbyists, golden circles, and finally the Executive.
    That grouping is not really concerned about the potholes, medical cards or planning of any area except to the degree that they can be used to maintain the acquiescence of the politicians.

    Churchill said of the rebuilding of Westminster after the war: “First we shape the building, then the building shapes us”
    The building that we need to reshape is bigger than the Dail. Changes that build the power of communities down at parish level to control their own locality are of more significance to this country than changes to Dail procedures for two reasons.
    One is that it removes the local problems from the attention of TDs. That gives them time to look at the problems of the state.
    The other is that we could be heading for very serious funding problems and we need to build resilience into how our resources are used at the local level.
    The suggested reform for ‘super-councils’ are a replication of the present centralised control system. The history of the Health Service re-organisation suggests that one should be very careful in such reforms.
    We should indeed look at ‘at other better-governed EU member democracies’.

  12. @Conor O’Brien,

    No problem with your re-ordering of my contentions or with what you identify as the key objectives, but my focus is on how these objectives may be achieved. That is the hard bit and the existing patterns of behaviour and expectations are deeply entrenched.

    Most voters seem content to elect TDs who will elect a Taoiseach who subsequently appoints Ministers to form a government. And they seem to expect those who support the government to remain loyal and those who oppose to focus on burnishing their ability and credibility to be a ‘government-in-waiting’ if enough of them wish to throw the current lot out at the next election. Voters will also use any opportunity to vote duirng the life of a Dail to warn a government not to get too up itself. A majority of voters seem to be intent on reminding governments that the enormous powers voters have granted to them may very easily be taken away, if they lose the run of themselves. And, once TDs attend to these not very onerous duties, it appears voters expect them to focus on acting as constituency advocates and as mini-ombudspersons.

    These contentions seem to be well-supported if one simply observes well-established behaviour, but it would very useful if some of our political scientists were prepared to quantfy the extent to which they capture current political behaviour somewhat more ‘scientifically’. It would then be possible to identify the strongest points of resistance to change and to begin to identify the mix of incentives and democratic coercion that might be required.

    • Sorry, Stephen we only do “theory” here. If you want to do “practical” you will have to man the barricades down outside the CB or help out with one of those student protests.

      • Is it possible that legal reform could be part of looking at changing our current Republic?

        We do have a Bill being discussed in government, clearly at the push of the troika, but i dont think it goes far enough and while it aims to create more competition, competition does exist in the legal profession.

        Id like to see what people think of how legal reform could tie in with the statements above!

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