G1000: Belgium’s Citizens’ Summit

Posted by David Farrell (November 12, 2011)

On November 11, 800 citizens from across Belgium were brought together to discuss the future of their country. G1000 was conceived a few months ago by a small group of Belgian citizens (the key player is a prominent author and columnist, David van Reybrouck; the others are a mix of academics, journalists, and civil society activists) who were concerned about the failure of their political system to get to grips with the economic crisis.

Exercised in particular by the inability of Belgium’s politicians to form a government and the resulting political limbo, the opening line of the group’s manifesto, states: ‘if the politicians can’t find a solution let the citizens’. G1000 seeks to show the country’s political leaders that they should engage with the citizens in seeking a way out of the mess. Their principal objectives are both to show that deliberative democracy can work, and to produce concrete proposals for the government to consider.

Making use of every means possible to mobilize interest (briefings around the country, media interviews and newspaper articles, website and social media) they put out a call to the wider Belgian public to propose policy issues for discussion. This resulted in over 5,000 proposals, which the organizers than aggregated into 25 key topic areas, ranging from detailed proposals for political reform through to key economic and social policies. Belgian citizens were then invited to vote on-line for the topic area that most concerned them, resulting in the three topic areas that were discussed at the Citizens’ Summit: social security; wealth inequality and the economy; and immigration policy (in a final session of the day the tables were each invited to select a topic from the remaining 25 key topic areas and discuss that).

Meeting in a beautifully restored converted warehouse that dwarfs the RDS, the citizens spent a full 10-hour day (from 9am-7pm) discussing a series of policy topics, producing concrete recommendations and then voting (electronically) on them. Despite the length and intensity of the schedule, the fact that it was a beautiful day and a public holiday to boot, and that people were working in three languages (Dutch, French and German; requiring simultaneous translation) they stuck to it: 800 people turned up and the vast bulk of them stayed to the end.

The method of operation bore many similarities to how we ran We The Citizens: the citizens were selected randomly (to fill key social-economic quotas) by a market research company; they sat at small round tables (maximum of 10 to a table) with a professional facilitator ensuring that the deliberations and discussions ran smoothly. Each session started with short presentations by experts and their materials were circulated to the citizens. After the expert presentations, the citizens were given about an hour to discuss the issues and make recommendations that were fed up to a top table where they were aggregated. At the end of the session, the key recommendations were put up on a screen and the citizens were asked to vote electronically for their top two. The results were presented to them instantaneously. (More details will be posted here in due course).

Running in parallel with the G1000 Summit, there were groups of citizens around the country (‘G-offs’) that met in their communities and replicated the same discussions remotely, feeding in their recommendations to the main hall electronically. In addition, there were ‘G-homes’, in which from the comfort of their homes individual citizens signed in to an innovative software system (‘synthetron’) where they could deliberate virtually with their peers and similarly make recommendations.

I was one of a small group of international experts (a mix of academics, and people working in civil society groups and international organizations from Denmark, Netherlands, Portugal, France, Ireland, the USA, and the EU) invited by the organizers to observe the process (UCC’s Clodagh Harris was one of the other members).

The work of G1000 is not complete. The next stage, G32, will involve a small core of citizens who self-nominated from the G1000, G-off and G-home groups, with their names selected randomly from a box. They will meet over three weekends to discuss in detail the proposals that emerged from the Citizens’ Summit, with a view to fine-tuning them into workable recommendations to be delivered to the Belgian government early next year.

The G1000 Citizen’s Summit was deliberation on an industrial scale. Highly moving to witness, the day was an inspiration to observe, and judged by the loud cheers and endless claps at the end an inspiration to the participants too.

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83 thoughts on “G1000: Belgium’s Citizens’ Summit

  1. Only 704 people showed up, not 800. Or put differently: 30% of society balanced choice stayed away. 32 civilians are going to work out proposals. What is the extra democratic value of these proposals?

    • @Stefan Schippers,

      Oh dear. You have questioned an ‘article of faith’ on this board, i.e., that participatory democracy is the answer and the future. Belgium has some particular governance challenges, primarily because of its regional administration arrangements and the apparent regional polarisation that has emerged over time. This sort of citizens’ initiative might be of some use.

      Ireland, on the other hand, needs the application of some hard graft to make the existing institutions work properly and to change some of their procedures and processes. But why expend any effort on this when advancing the concept of a Citizens’ Assembly is far more exciting, when it can generate articles for publication, when an Irish-American philanthopist is prepared to lavish funds on it and when its leading proponents might garner political rewards?

      • @Paul
        “Belgium has some particular governance challenges, primarily because of its regional administration arrangements and the apparent regional polarisation that has emerged over time. ”

        Swtizerland seems to have risen to the challenges that Belgium (and Europe) faces – over a period of time eg. different languages, disparities of income/wealth in different regions, managing a common currency etc.

  2. If citizens conventions gets theorists to practice their skills then go for it. But there is a need for a matching force if it wants to handle power.

    We say that power is ‘grasped’. To grasp anything one needs two opposite and cooperative movements. Grasping the power to change the use of our resources is also going to take a range of opposite but cooperating movements.
    The power of that grasp will be determined by the weakest of those movements. A powerful thumb is not much good if the fingers are feeble.
    Any development of our theory of government that emerges from the citizens conventions which is not tested on the field of practice will be like a bow without a fiddle.

    Greek democracy grew out of the need for the hoplite in the phalanx to have complete trust that the person beside him would hold firm. That trust was developed at the debates in the fora. The process of citizens debates strengthened the phalanx.
    We need to seriously look at how our communities get the power to manage their resources and match that with studies of how our Dail could get the power to manage the states resources.

  3. @Donal,

    Not intending to be dismissive, but I would simply mention history, geography and culture. An old saw has it that Britain promoted the formation of Belgium to get up the noses of the Dutch and the French.

    @Conor O’Brien,

    Your balanced focus on effective decentralisation (as opposed to the perverse acentralisation pursued by previous governments) and on enhancing the powers and resources of the Dail is very welcome. And I have frequently asserted that CAs can be very useful when TDs agree that some changes, in terms of powers, resources or procedures, are required, but they find they are unable to secure agreement themselves on what needs to be done – and might, in any event, require the consent of citizens.

    In these circumstances, and probably only in these circumstances, a CA could prove to be very useful. But it is totally inappropriate and, probably, counter-productive to employ a CA until TDs have had an opportunity to develop, debate and agree proposals to enhance the powers, resources and procedures of the Dail. It is not for government to propose or decide on these matters.

    If TDs find they are unwilling or unable to develop, debate and agree proposals of this nature then we have a far more serious problem than any of the many already identified by the various proponents of ‘political reform’. It would highlight a vacuum at the heart of the democratic process. And this I fear is the case and I despair at the willingly accepted impotence of TDs.

    In any event, it probably doesn’t matter in the context of more centralised governance of the Eurozone – assuming Ireland remains a member. In less that two weeks the two major powers in the EU have deposed constitutionally legitimate governments because they were threatening their Euro salvation strategy and replaced them technocrats. The need to secure democratic legitimacy is being suppressed and is only permitted when it generates the ‘right result’ – as in Ireland, Portugal and, probably shortly, Spain. The seeds are being planted that will lead to the reaping of a very bitter harvest.

    However, in contrast, in Ireland – and probably totally characteristically – a government with overwhelming democratic legitimacy is hell-bent on frustrating the implementation of the internal structural reforms required by the external technocratic powers that would boost economic activity and future economic performance. It is a quintessential Irish response and would be hilarious if this failure of intellect and will were not so damaging to the interests of the majority of citizens and the economy. Too many deeply entrenched vested interests to protect, you see.

    • @Paul,
      While not ignoring the effects of history, it is far too deterministic to hint (which is what I take from your appeal to history, culture and geography) that we human beings cannot find new and different ways to live in society, including how we govern ourselves and what forms of economic arrangements we make to foster a common prosperity.

      The European project is just such an effort, as was the founding of the US, the re-formation of Germany as a federal state after WW2, the various re-constitutions of France and the governing arrangements in Northern Ireland.

      It is simple, but it ain’t easy!

      • @Donal,

        I remain fundamentally optimistic about the ability of the EU – and of politicians and voters within the EU – to reform the institutions and process of governance in response to the current crisis. The current log-jam is the unwillingness of voters in better-governed countries to extend a helping hand to voters in badly governed countries until they begin to demonstrate some meaningful repentance and reform. Chancellor Merkel has slowly shifted her party to accept changes to the TFEU that will empower the Community’s institutions and reduce the dominance of the Council – and the Merkozy double-act.

        There is also some interesting debate on the future management of capitalism, e.g.,:
        http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/15/anti-capitalist-occupy-pigeonholing

        But I remain profoundly depressed about the prospects for meaningful reform of governance in Ireland. For all the well-rehearsed reasons we remain locked in a space defined by the US and the UK – and determinedly apply the worst aspects of governance of both while adding a layer of perverse, but quintessentially Irish, fixes, fudges and fiddles.

        Those who profitted during the bubble era – and they are legion, quite understandably, will seek to protect these gains. They are totally opposed to any changes to the status quo of governance and are perfectly prepared to allow the economy to go down the Swannee because, although they may lose somewhat in absolute terms, their relative positions in terms of power, profits and privilege will be unchanged – and may even be improved.

  4. Our actual governing structures, as distinct from our espoused structures like the Dail and Civil service, have been proved to have ‘too many deeply entrenched vested interests’ to be capable of managing our resources responsibly and for the common good.
    Our elected bodies are unwilling or unable to implement the internal structural reforms ‘that would boost economic activity and future economic performance.’

    We are in a complex situation where the actors adapt to each new action. Such a situation cannot be handled by a hierarchic structure. The best way of improving it is by a process of trial and observation with a capacity by the actors to modify the actions. There will be very few failures but many or most of the trials will not produce the expected results.

    It is wasteful to attempt large-scale experiments such as CA for two reasons.
    One is that we have to husband our resources, not just in money, but in professional skills and especially in peoples trust that coming together will be effective.
    The other is that we do not know what will work: many small trials that can mobilise voluntary resources are cheaper in money and have the extra benefit of hands-on training in how to organise.
    This crisis will not be solved in Leinster house, nor Merrion st nor Dame st, but in how people react to it on the ground. For that we need to control how our resources are used locally.

  5. I must admit I rather like the deliberative democracy concept; an idea that’s both new and very old (harking back to ancient Athens) at the same time. Widespread democracy is a fairly recent and evolving thing, e.g. citizens’ petitions in Switzerland only date back to 1891. No harm at all for new and experimental things to be tried. A largish group of randomly chosen citizens should statistically represent the general populace in a faction-free way that’s not really captured by other democratic mechanisms. And the whole increasingly connected internet age will only make such ideas more relevant.

    Some of the potential downsides of representative democracy are, I think, becoming more apparent to people. As far as I can see, one usually one ends up with a kind of duopoly, or what I’ve seen termed as “competitive elitism”. Citizens’ almost sole involvement is to get to choose from between a small number of elite factions every 4 or 5 years, factions that are too easily captured by the rich, the powerful, media owners and various vested interests. Plus, to further compound matters in this country, there isn’t even any real functioning local democracy that would at least distribute this power down to a more approachable level. And increasingly real power isn’t even being exercised by national governments anyway, but more often by distant bureaucrats and a handful of elite politicians at European level. While I wouldn’t like to live in a pure direct democracy, IMO representative democracy should be leavened to some degree by direct democracy mechanisms (citizens’ initiatives or perhaps even structures inspired by deliberative democracy concepts).

    However, I’d also be wary of how deliberative democracy concepts will be exploited. There’s a danger they’ll merely be used by politicians in a broken system to try to confer extra legitimacy upon themselves, to say they’ve somehow conferred with the populace. The configuration of our constitutional convention will be a likely example, with seemingly 1/3 politicians, 1/3 appointees from NGOs and other groups, and 1/3 randomly selected citizens. Our politicians seem to want the extra legitimacy of having ordinary citizens involved. But, as pointed out elsewhere in this blog, the other 2/3 will probably ensure anything too radical or politically inconvenient will be safely sifted out. I spotted that EuroNews had some coverage of the G1000 Belgium event. My cynical side says that this kind of event is precisely the thing Eurocrats would take an interest in! Democracy is going through a bit of a crisis in Europe at the moment. Anything that is seen to listen to and consult ordinary people will be latched onto and seized upon.

    Basically I like ideas of this type, e.g. I thought proposals several years ago to have a percentage of members of the House of Lords be randomly selected citizens, “people’s peers”, were rather interesting. I suppose if polsci academics can’t get enthused about such ideas then no one else will! 🙂 But am also a bit sceptical about how these ideas will end up getting applied. Hopefully not just to “restore people’s faith in democratic institutions”. I think to be meaningful such mechanisms would have to have real power and be properly integrated into the democratic system. Probably all pie in the sky though. We seem to have severe difficultly in the far more modest task of taking cronyism and excessive factionalism out of public appointments in this country, let alone having a snowball’s chance in hell of implementing some of the more radical and experimental stuff!

  6. All a bit downbeat and sombre, folks 🙂

    I suppose we might as well admit it. There’s a fair amount of unease, quite a lot of chatter, but no clear proposals or groundswell of popular support to drive them. And there is no question that, in the current crisis, there is a broad-based acceptance of, though, perhaps, not unquestioning support for, a government of this nature. So there’s no great desire to do anything that might rock the boat and those steering the boat – or who think they’re steering the boat – are determined to prevent any boat-rocking. And those in the first class cabins are keen to maintain the inertia and to return asap to ‘business-as-usual’.

    So all we’ll get is some fairly ephemeral ‘reforms’ to convey the appropriate optical illusion.

    And perhaps over-riding all this is the fact that Irish voters have no history, memory or experience of a parliament exercising restraint over national power elites. There is no evidence that they see a need for the Oireachtas to do this now. And if not now, it is unlikely this demand for reform will ever surface.

    So we might as will concede that’s in all ‘saothar in aisce’ and leave it to the pol sci heads. They seem to be having fun and I suspect they’re pretty harmless..

  7. There is a problem with deliberative democracy: too much deliberation and not enough doing.
    When quoting the Greeks deliberative fora, remember that they developed in order to get coherent action on the battlefield, not to talk nice things.
    I have been involved with community organisations all my life and properly run they are the most productive places one can find. Things get done.
    The successful ones have committees of less than 8; 5 works very well. That way there is no place to hide from accountability. You are either in it or not.
    The committee acts to keep the process of the particular community going but they always ensure that the the trust of a loose grouping of ‘one-off project’ people who are available on demand is maintained. They are always term limited and tend to have short term officers.
    Large committees are more often the result of pressure from social theorists to ‘include all stakeholders’, with the result that accountability for everyone degenerates to what the least committed accept.
    We are not talking about pleasant choices being made here. Choices have to be made about our resources.
    Our capital and revenue resources are being reduced daily; our human capital is either leaving or its skills are degenerating doing nothing and with that our organising capacity is being gathered in by the same old hands that destroyed us.
    We would find finance somewhere, but if we fail to organise our human capital for the benefit of our community it will be done in other states.

  8. @Conor O’Brien,

    I expect you (and anyone else who might be paying attention) divined that I was the previous ‘Anonymous’ commenter – I submitted my comment too hastily.

    Over the years I too have participated in and have observed the community-based organisations you describe. These are Edmund Burke’s ‘small battalions’ that comprise the bulwark of civil society – sometimes restraining and sometimes supplementing the activities of a monolithic, centralised state apparatus. But an increasingly centralised state apparatus that seeks – or, frequently, believes it is compelled in response to popular demand – to expand its participation in, and governance of, economic and social activities has, either deliberately ot unwittingly, crushed many of these ‘small battalions’. And there is an unholy alliance between much of the left and the right to advance and manipulate the apparatus of the state to protect and advance the interests of their constituents – fuelled by the utopian visions of the left and the ability of the right to suborn and subvert the state.

    Other factors are at play as well. In terms of the allocation of power and resources which concerns you – and should concern all of us – civil society has become dominated by bodies defined by the production or occupational activies of groups of citizens – farming organisations, trades unions, business and trade associations, professional bodies and organisations representing pensioners and the unemployed. In addition, as people have become more prosperous, the benefits of participating in local collective action are diminished and there is the eternal problem of dealing with the ‘free-riders’. Furthermore, the state and most large businesses, using modern informations and communications technology, are able, and prefer, to deal individually with citizens and consumers. It conveys the impression of empowering citizens and consumers – and this is the propaganda that’s spouted, but the effect – and in most cases the intent – is to atomise, isolate and disenfranchise citizens and consumers and to derpive them of the opportunity or ability to apply effective collective action to protect and advance their interests.

    What we need are hundreds of people like you in every parish, townland and urban electoral ward. But those days are gone. It’s every man (or woman) for him or herself and the Devil take the hindmost. It’s galling because, as a people, we are far better than that, but that I fear is the reality.

  9. Belgium has no government but they are still better than our self-serving parish pump politicians. Even without a Government and a higher debt Belgium can still borrow money on the international markets unlike Ireland.

    Over the next few years there will be little reform of the political system in Ireland. Fine Gael and Labour are too deeply ingrained into the current system to seek to change it.

    Switzerland is a fantastic model for Ireland and other European countries to follow and how citizens can positively contribute to Government policy.

  10. The principal institutions of democratic governance in Ireland are perfectly fit-for-purpose; it’s simply that, by turns, the necessary processes have not been applied, or they have been abused or suppressed. But there is absolutely no popular demand to restore and apply these processes. And those who fail to apply, abuse or suppress these processes have absolutely no incentive – and every incentive not – to restore and apply these processes. Looking at democratic governance in other better-governed countries is largely academic.

    The defining feature of democracy is that, should voters make the mistake of voting in to power the inept, corrupt or downright dangerous, they can vote, in a few years, to replace them with others who may have succeeded in conveying the impression of being less inept, corrupt or dangerous. But, from those elected to govern, voters should demand a little more to secure effective democratic legitimacy between elections. However, in most parliamentary democracies, once governments are elected and they can manage or minimise backbench revolts it is truly an ‘elected dictatorship’ until the next election and little restraint is exercised on their behaviour. And the potential to extend this elected dictatorship may be enhanced by employing the powers and patronage of, as is the case in Ireland and the UK, an excessively centralised and expansive state to pander to vested interests and to secure corporate donations to boost the election war chest – the ’survival of the fattest’ (cf Prof. Paul Collier on elections in the very poor developing economies.)

    However, it appears that the majority of Irish citizens are perfectly content with the effectiveness of their ability to kick the rascals out at a general election and see no need to have processes that will exercise restraint, apply effective scrutiny and enforce accountability on governments between elections. And while this remains the case, we will be stuck with elected dictatorships pandering to the whims of powerful and influential narrow sectional interests.

    • @Paul
      I can only presume that you are trying to provoke a debate with this posting.
      Most of the assumptions offer great comfort to the status quo, the incumbents and the powers-that-be. Among the examples are
      “The principal institutions of democratic governance in Ireland are perfectly fit-for-purpose;….
      “Looking at democratic governance in other better-governed countries is largely academic.”

      This whole train of thought is a recipe for a do-nothing nihilism about our way of governing ourselves.

      Compare and contrast this with the following confession of ineptitude from the governing elite “In the past decade, Ireland’s approach to fiscal policy, prices, costs and financial regulation were not sufficiently adapted to the disciplines of a single currency” NESC Press Release August 2010
      http://www.nesc.ie/dynamic/docs/The%20euro%20MEDIA%20RELEASE%20from%20NESC.pdf

      With this admission, who can be surprised that the markets and EU-ECB-IMF troika formed the view that our governing institutions are not fit for purpose?

      We clearly lack the checks and balances needed to limit the scope for excess by the powerful – whether they be elected or appointed, public or private. Maarten van Eden, who worked in Anglo-Irish was reported has having said
      ““Apart from the recklessness, overconfidence and the total lack of professionalism, one sees clearly a lack of checks and balances not only within Anglo but within the country/ system as a whole,”
      http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2011/0905/1224303500416.html

      Anyone who thinks that the status quo will continue should pay attention to recent reports that there is open talk within Germany on holding a referendum (for the first time since the Federal Republic was founded) as part of the steps that may be needed to continue the European Project.
      http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,797584,00.html#ref=nlint

    • @Paul
      “The principal institutions of democratic governance in Ireland are perfectly fit-for-purpose”

      You’re being provocative I think 🙂 but I actually agree with this to a point! I’d feel how well we’re governed depends primarily on two factors: our political culture and our political system. A good political culture would probably lead to good governance within any system, whereas a poor political culture would probably lead to disaster irrespective of how good a system is in place. However, in the the middle ground between these two extremes, I still think there’s plenty of scope for these two factors to interact and reinforce tendencies in the other. IMO in Ireland’s case some weaknesses in the system have combined over decades with a mediocre political culture to produce a self-reinforcing downward spiral. That said, there are plenty of countries with very similar political frameworks that manage to govern themselves far better than ourselves. So political culture has to have a huge bearing too on where we find ourselves. The recent Pat Leahy article here did a great job in diagnosing some of the symptoms.

      The famous “prisoner’s dilemma” thought experiment from sociology http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma comes to mind. This is a hypothetical game based around themes of cooperation and selfish behaviour. Wikipedia describes it as follows:

      “Two men are arrested, but the police do not possess enough information for a conviction. Following the separation of the two men, the police offer both a similar deal- if one testifies against his partner (defects / betrays), and the other remains silent (cooperates / assists), the betrayer goes free and the cooperator receives the full one-year sentence. If both remain silent, both are sentenced to only one month in jail for a minor charge. If each ‘rats out’ the other, each receives a three-month sentence. Each prisoner must choose either to betray or remain silent; the decision of each is kept quiet. What should they do?”

      Essentially, the dilemma for a prisoner is does he behave in a cooperative way that could lead to the best possible outcome for both prisoners (assuming of course that the other prisoner will behave likewise)? I think this is a very good metaphor for political reform. If there’s a good culture of “omerta” in the criminal underworld then obviously it makes a lot of sense for a prisoner to keep his mouth shut 🙂 But if he thinks it’s full of back-stabbing scumbags then of course he’ll rat his compatriot out every time (anything else would be insane!). But tinkering with the incentives and the balance of risk and reward in this game is also quite capable of producing changed behaviour. If the relative rewards/punishments for cooperation and selfish short-term behaviour are modified to bring them closer together, then more people may take a chance with more mutually-beneficial behaviour.

      Our political system faces a similar dilemma to the prisoners’ one. Unfortunately, it currently makes perfect rational sense for a voter to cast his ballot for a parish-pump politician who’ll bring in the goodies for the local constituency, even to the exclusion of all else. The argument is why vote for some “policy wonk” who’ll send five years sitting on committees, be probably ignored, or perhaps even punished, by the government anyway as an irritating backbench TD, whilst the neighbouring constituency gets the community centre or hospital built instead? And the depressing thing is that there’s a lot of validity to this view. As an nation, for all our sakes, we badly need to somehow break out of this vicious cycle. Are we capable of the kind of cooperative, strategic and long-term thinking that would be involved? The “alpha and omega” of reform has to be political culture. I also happen to think that the incentives created by a political system also are important. But I will also admit that, without a real change in political culture amongst both politicians and the electorate, hopes of any systemic reform will remain a pipe dream anyway.

      • Finbar
        some queries – in search of enlightenment or at a minimum, a hint of a glimmer of light that we could explore further

        “The “alpha and omega” of reform has to be political culture. I also happen to think that the incentives created by a political system also are important. ”
        If the key incentive in politics is obtaining and using power, how can we shape the incentive for a common prosperity, while allowing power to be wielded?

        “But I will also admit that, without a real change in political culture amongst both politicians and the electorate, hopes of any systemic reform will remain a pipe dream anyway.”

        Is our political culture more open to change now because of
        the failure of our existing way of doing things as indicated by
        1) the home induced construction boom, leading to the failure of the export led Celtic Tiger;
        2) the disastrous Sept 2008 decision to tie the state to the banks;
        3)the consequent loss of confidence by those who lend to the Irish government;
        4) the resultant EU-ECB-IMF programme, with it list of long-overdue reforms, most of which were identified in official reports/papers here over decades;
        5) the outcome of the last election;
        6) the defeat of the Government proposal on Oireachtas enquiries and its constitutional amendment;
        7) recent developments in Greece and Italy;
        8) current talk in FRGermany about having a national referendum on the “European Project”?

        If there is a new openess to change (or perhaps actually changing), what mechanisms (broad or specific) do we need to enable change?

        In short, there is an emerging discussion on change beyond merely changing the electoral system – which is about as far as the governing classes ever thought of up to this.

  11. “Two-speed Democracy” Nifty.

    Keep to the speed-limit (“listen to the voice of the people”, sort of guff) in the advent of the general election, but ignore the limit once the election is over (“do as we say” – by the vested).

    Very interesting Frames (of social and political reference). PO this. That’s Eduardo de Bono by the way (= supPOse). Klatu, steps out of his spaceship in Merrion Street and asks about our political parties.

    us: “FF, FG, Lab and we have a few extinct ones as well!

    K: “EXTINCT! What happened to them? ”

    us: “Eh!” … … “Well its like this, like … …”

    I’ll leave you to imagin the rest of this. Make a good Belgic-style comic.

    I was pondering a topic for my course-work dissertation. Now I think I know. I even know of a very talented, currently under-employed, cartoonist. Thanks! Hmmmm?

    I just realised I have a somewhat limited ‘freedom of expression’. Something about norms. Ah! well!

    Brian

  12. The g1000 manifesto is worth reading in that it shows optimism in the face of adversity in sorting out a much more complicated country than the Republic of Ireland. Belgians are funding the whole process through voluntary donations. http://www.g1000.org/en/#manifesto

    Their goal is to present their findings to Belgian politicians unlike the Irish group Second Republic which support putting the proposals of a Citizens’ Assembly for Political Reform directly to the people in a referendum.
    http://www.2nd-republic.ie/files/citizens_assembly.pdf

    John Hughes (Second Republic)

    • The problem, or the challenge – if you prefer, is that, between elections, the Oireachtas – and more specifically the Dail, exercises the ultimate authority of the Irish people. So you either have to convince a plurality of citizens to mandate their elected representatives to devolve some authority to a CA to perform some tasks that they would normally be empowered to perform or to convince a majority of TDs that it would be in their voters’ interests if they were to consent to such a devolution.

      You and your associates are obviously perfectly free to seek to secure either form of consent, and more power to your elbows if you do, but any CA that might be established without securing either form of consent would have absolutely no democratic legitimacy – and might legitimately (and probably would) be viewed by many politicians and voters as an attempt to usurp, respectively, their delegated or direct authority.

      In addition, there is very little evidence that anything even remotely approaching a plurality of voters is prepared to consent to such a devolution. And you can be assured that hell will freeze over before a majority of TDs would do so – or be allowed by government to do so.

      The best you’ll get is some token representation of citizens directly in this optical illusion of a constitutional convention being proposed by the Government. As in all so-called ‘public consultations’ the views expressed by citizens will be warmly welcomed, those that coincide with the ‘line’ favoured by government will be wecomed even more warmly, but those that run in any way contrary to it or that might in any way inconvenience government will be studiously ignored.

      Time to wake up and smell the coffee, methinks 🙂

  13. It is not true that Belgium has ‘no government’ it has no federal government but it has many layers of local government, who all claim salaries, pensions and expenses and who are all lobbied with no transparency of how politics is funded.

    The country is run by local government not the federal government so really perhaps the federal government could be reduced to the bare minimum.

    So let’s not delude ourselves that the grass is greener over there.

    We’ll see how many ‘real’ people, rather than political nerds (no offence) will make the effort to get involved, or will be asked to be involved, in the proposed constitutional meetings next year and that will give a sign for whether the Irish mentality toward politics and accountabilitiy is changing – the antics over the Westmeath Barricks indicate it hasn’t, if anything nimbism has hardened but now it’s cuts for everyone else except my area – I see very little sign of people sacrificing for the national good … then again why woudl they when Harney, not only couldn’t just shut up, but used the word ‘entitlement’ to defend her disgusting pension – every cent that goes toward her pension is a cent denied to the most vulnerable in Irish society and so far the only time when there was a public reaction to cuts – it was from the most pampered generation of Irish people to have ever lived when there was a hint that some of them might lose their medical card.

    Well surely see the middle class on the streets if college fees are reintroduced or tax relief for private schools is tackled.

    It doesn’t seem credible an event, like that in Belgium, has any prospect of success in Ireland, I don’t think we are mature enough to do it properly yet.

  14. @Finbar (and Donal),

    Not being deliberately provocative. Other northern European countries, with similar, indeed almost identical, structures of parliamentary democracy appear to be much better governed. You may talk about ‘political culture’ and I may talk about the ‘process’ of scrutiny, modification, restraint and accountability, but we are both talking about the same thing – motivating a majority of voters to the benefits of, and to demand, a process of governance in the public interest.

    The previous government, once it had tied the state to the banks (as Donal puts it well) retained its constitutional legitimacy once it could muster the lobby fodder, but lost any vestige of democratic legitimacy. On 25 Feb a significant majority of voters exercised their inalienable right to eject the rascals – and to eject them forcefully and comprehensively. With this being the primary objective – and not being particularly keen to hand a victory to either right-of-centre or left-of-centre – by default they almost willed the establishment of the current government with such and overwhelming majority.

    So, in a time of existential crisis, they, in effect, willed the establishment of a strong and broad-based government and conferred on it a democratic legitimacy that is far superior ti that enjoyed by the governments of many other EU member-states.

    A majority may not be entirely content with their decisions, but it appears to be reluctantly accepted as necessary in these difficult times. And the rejection of the Abbeylara amendment should be a salutary reminder to the Government that it should not abuse the democratic legitimacy its secured on 25 Feb.

    Since the effective scrutiny, restraint on and accountability of government is being exercised by the Troika, the Government bristles at any hint of internal exercise of scrutiny, restraint of accountability – and it may be tapping in to a popular mood.

    So it appears voters are broadly content with the current governance arrangements, but applying a watchful and wary eye. Once TDs have done the business of electing a Taoiseach, they seem to be happy for them to focus on being constituency advocates and mini-ombudspersons. There is no tradition in Ireland of imposing effective democratic governance on native power elites. This Government is adept at presenting the optical illusion that it will do so and many people seem to be buying it. But all know that nothing will really change.

    For a take on the broader issues for western democracy with which I would broadly agree this is from the UK Observer:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/20/peter-beaumont-democracy-in-crisis

    Donal is right. There are rumblings in Europe. But just don’t expect Ireland to be in the vanguard. We’ll be the last to entertain reform – and probably for all the wrong reasons.

  15. @Finbar (and Donal),

    Not being deliberately provocative. Other northern European countries, with similar, indeed almost identical, structures of parliamentary democracy appear to be much better governed. You may talk about ‘political culture’ and I may talk about the ‘process’ of scrutiny, modification, restraint and accountability, but we are both talking about the same thing – motivating a majority of voters to the benefits of, and to demand, a process of governance in the public interest.

    The previous government, once it had tied the state to the banks (as Donal puts it well) retained its constitutional legitimacy once it could muster the lobby fodder, but lost any vestige of democratic legitimacy. On 25 Feb a significant majority of voters exercised their inalienable right to eject the rascals – and to eject them forcefully and comprehensively. With this being the primary objective – and not being particularly keen to hand a victory to either right-of-centre or left-of-centre – by default they almost willed the establishment of the current government with such and overwhelming majority.

    So, in a time of existential crisis, they, in effect, willed the establishment of a strong and broad-based government and conferred on it a democratic legitimacy that is far superior ti that enjoyed by the governments of many other EU member-states.

    A majority may not be entirely content with their decisions, but it appears to be reluctantly accepted as necessary in these difficult times. And the rejection of the Abbeylara amendment should be a salutary reminder to the Government that it should not abuse the democratic legitimacy its secured on 25 Feb.

    Since the effective scrutiny, restraint on and accountability of government is being exercised by the Troika, the Government bristles at any hint of internal exercise of scrutiny, restraint of accountability – and it may be tapping in to a popular mood.

    So it appears voters are broadly content with the current governance arrangements, but applying a watchful and wary eye. Once TDs have done the business of electing a Taoiseach, they seem to be happy for them to focus on being constituency advocates and mini-ombudspersons. There is no tradition in Ireland of imposing effective democratic governance on native power elites. This Government is adept at presenting the optical illusion that it will do so and many people seem to be buying it. But all know that nothing will really change.

    For a take on the broader issues for western democracy with which I would broadly agree this is from the UK Observer:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/20/peter-beaumont-democracy-in-crisis

    Donal is right. There are rumblings in Europe. But just don’t expect Ireland to be in the vanguard. We’ll be the last to entertain reform – and probably for all the wrong reasons.

    • “So it appears voters are broadly content with the current governance arrangements”

      That certainly has been true for several decades here. But perhaps this is changing or will change (too early yet to tell) for many of the reasons Donal lists. Failures in governance have become painfully obvious. Plus there really wasn’t a great deal of choice in terms of political reform at the last GE. Only Fine Gael actually had a number of worked out policies that were formulated in advance (though Seanad abolition seemed to arise out of nowhere as solo-run by Enda Kenny to try to regain his political virility after being humiliatingly upstaged by Eamon Gilmore on forcing the Ceann Comhairle’s resignation, and the rest as a whole formed a rather uninspiring total package). Labour latched onto the idea of an all-singing-all-dancing constitutional convention probably for want of many actual worked-out policies. The Fianna Fáil reform manifesto looked like it had been written entirely from scratch on the back of a beer mat over the course of a weekend! 🙂 What Donal said: “In short, there is an emerging discussion on change beyond merely changing the electoral system – which is about as far as the governing classes ever thought of up to this.” is very true. Our political and governance system seem never to have been the subject of much thought and scrutiny by either politicians or the media. At the very least the various referendums and constitutional convention should spark debate and consideration on this topic over the next few years. We might perhaps seen then if there’s any evidence of a change in “political culture” in the electorate before the next election. There was certainly an unfocused inarticulate desire for reform leading up to the last election. But the whole debate was too rushed. If the abortive “Democracy Now” had gotten off the ground to any extent it would have been interesting to have seen how well they would have done.

      Whatever about the public, I see zero evidence amongst politicians of a change in “political culture”. Whatever the rhetoric, it’s obviously business as usual in the Dáil. My feeling though is that the public will eventually see through this. It’s still early in the government’s term and the electorate may still be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. My feeling when I first saw the Oireachtas inquiries referendum wording was that this was not going to be the formality the government thought it would be. My feeling on what I’ve seen of the constitutional convention so far is that they may be making a similar mistake. It’s not wise to take the public for fools. Topics like changing the voting age to 17, blasphemy, extending voting to emigrants for the almost purely ceremonial post of the Presidency and changing the term of the Presidency are all things which would only be footnotes or afterthoughts in a genuine convention, certainly not main ticket items. And social policy proposals like same-sex marriage are worthy in their own right, but they’re not political reform (more like padding to fill out the terms of reference). Do they really need a grand-sounding constitutional convention. Electoral reform is to be considered; as someone else said here it’ll be posed as some kind of false choice between list PR, MMP and our current PR-STV, and of course PR-STV will be kept (with definitely no consideration to increasing the minimum allowed constituency size). The Seanad was brought back by De Valera only as a figleaf to Catholic vocationalists and to create the false impression we had some kind of real separation of powers. There’s a case for reform. But abolition will make little difference either way to accountability and how we’re governed. Abolition is a populist sop. I’m convinced though that sooner or later the people will see this “constitutional convention” for the sham it seems destined to become.

      I’d like to see radical reform. I wouldn’t be quite as pessimistic in thinking that the electorate are not too dissatisfied with current arrangements, but I do still suspect most people could be “bought off” with mid-level moderate political reforms. I’d predict though that the government, perhaps being excessively overconfident (even arrogant) buoyed up by their huge recent electoral mandate, will aim even lower. The proposed constitutional convention so far sounds almost laughably unambitious. I can picture it being talked about with derision in the run up to the next GE (plus it’s not entirely inconceivable that the referendum on Seanad abolition mightn’t go as well as planned).

      Overall, I’ve very little confidence in the current political incumbents to deliver anything meaningful. But I still do have some hope that the “political culture” amongst the electorate might be changing. If so, that may eventually lead to change somewhere down the road.

    • The Observer article contains some good analysis about the state of Western representative democracies. Switzerland land comes to mind as something of an outlier to the general trend however. The example of the Swiss “debt brake” mechanism comes to mind (introduced at the federal level in 2001 and earlier in the Cantons). This is something no doubt you’re already well familiar with. The Swiss national debt, whilst not huge, increased significantly in the 90s. This was unpopular amongst the general population. Partly because of this “debt brake” mechanism, the Swiss have managed to avoid much of the financial meltdown that’s currently engulfing the Western World. It’s a good example of the combination of a good “political culture” and “political system”. This “debt brake” mechanism was introduced directly by the people via a citizens’ initiative. IMO it’s a nice example where the political system, political culture and direct/deliberative democracy (appropriate given the thread we’re in) worked well together to ensure effective governance.

      • @Finbar,
        “The example of the Swiss “debt brake” mechanism comes to mind (introduced at the federal level in 2001 and earlier in the Cantons). This is something no doubt you’re already well familiar with. ”

        While I have read a little about Swiss direct democracy (and continue to do so), I am not familiar with the “debt brake”.
        Perhaps you could suggest some references (as I do not read German, references in English or French if you do not mind) that give an authoritative account of that particular change in the Swiss way of governing themselves?

      • @Donal
        Can’t say I know a great deal about either Switzerland or economics! 🙂 But the discussion on the German debt brake in the media interested me early this year. Some reading on that led me back to the Swiss mechanism. This seems to have been the principal inspiration for more recent German law in this regard. Can’t really remember the exact articles I read on this at the time I’m afraid, but http://www.sjes.ch/papers/2006-III-1.pdf seems to give a reasonable summary of the mechanism. Plus looking at this again I think I’ve gotten one aspect wrong. This mechanism was indeed passed in a referendum (an 84% majority too) in 2001. I think I assumed an initiative triggered the referendum. But it may well have been the government that proposed the referendum in the first place in response to popular demand. The online info on its origins is a little sparse though. One thing that did stick out in my mind was the fact that the Swiss seem to apply a very strict “no bailout” policy to Cantons and other areas below Federal level. If a local area gets into finanical trouble they’re literally on their own. If it comes to it they’ll be left go bust. That perhaps explains why virtually all Cantons/local regions have had their own versions of some fiscal control/debt brake mechanism (often for quite a long time). The Swiss seem to be a pretty frugal bunch! 🙂 Of course there have to be questions about the hardwiring any such rule (no matter how flexible and the Swiss one is quite flexible) into the constitution. Seems to have worked out ok so far (despite some issues with an overly strong Swiss Franc lately). Another issue, I supopse, is the danger the government might start bending/twisting the rules to its advantage. But I guess that would be less of an issue with Swiss direct democracy. I presume if the voters felt the spirit of law was being deviated from too much the option is always open to them to alter the law.

  16. All these citizens initiatives are fine and well but they must take into account the mentality of the people in the country they are being held in and the Swiss are used to being consulted on a range of issues but the Irish are not and I suspect don’t really care to be.

    In Ireland, first off there is absolutely zero desire in the political establishment for refrom. If there were, then it would have been put in place now so that the politicans could then use it to prove they meant business when asking others to accept the depth and scale of reform Ireland needs.

    I don’t know why anyone thinks it would be different given the type of people now in government, most of whom had their political thinking hardwired in the 70s and 80s, the worst decades of cronyism.

    The grim reality is that there isn’t one single elected representative who offers any real reform, not even the so called left wing types. Not one TD or Senator has provided audited accounts for their election funding, not one publishes receipts for their expenses yet every single one of them claim the maximum in expenses – every single one. It’s astounding. Except it isn’t.

    So how on earth could these sort of people develop a citizens convention type event in Ireland that would have the scope to deal with real issues or to have real reform come from it that will be implemented or put to a national vote?

    It is simply intellectually impossible for it to happen in Ireland without a monumental sea change in our attitudes to accountability and transparency and I don’t see any sign of that. Not even a hint I’m afraid.

    The real question is what will it take for the mentality to change. If tough love doesn’t work, how low does the countr? Will it take social unrest before the penny drops with those at the top and will FG/L reap a worse reward than FF for claiming to be more honest and then being just as bad in terms of ethics and cronyism – the fall out from which affects every policy decision made.

  17. Could a break-up of the Euro ultimately led to the break-up of Belgium itself. The country has not had a Government for months now and it will not be long before the financial markets turn their attention to Belgium.

    Will the Flemish use an economic crisis to force separation from the Walloons in the south. It is ironic that the centre of governance in Europe doesn’t even have a Government. Perhaps Belgium represents the political disarray that exists in Europe today.

    • While not disagreeing with the notion that Belgium’s political disarray, another way of looking at this is that keeping the €uro could enable Belgium to break up – perhaps into a federal state (like Austria) – as the currency would be “maintained” elsewhere. Already other major areas are also maintained elsewhere eg external trade, some diplomatic functions.

      In this way, the European project could re-start on the basis of “regions”. Among the other existing states that could also federalise formally are the UK GB NI(which now has 3 different governments operating under the London-based nation state) and Spain (which has autonomias).

      Europe re-starting? Last week reports from the FRGerman CDU party’s conference suggested the idea of a directly elected President of the EU Commission – in order to start remedying the democratic deficit.

      Perhaps we are living through the beginning of a new paradigm for the European Project – just as we are in world trade, as the Pacific replaces the Atlantic as the locus of much activity.

      What effect has the Belgian political disarray have on what most Flamands/Walloons do every day? Are public services (eg. education, health, transport, environmental services) still operating? Has the tax collection system broken down? Is local government adopting budgets and acting on them?

  18. @Donal & Finbar,

    I fear this focus on the Swiss ‘debt brake’ may be taking us off on a slightly tangential track. The concept of the people collectively imposing a public spending constraint on themselves and on their governments is sound. Its absence is one of the reasons the post-war Keynesian settlement broke down, but, for example, it would have had no impact on the Celtic Tiger bubble from the late 1990s. I’m pretty sure Ireland was the only EZ member which operated comfortably within the Growth and Stability Pact during that period – fiscal deficits less than 3% and Debt/GDP less than 60%. Germany and France breached these limits with impunity. (A ‘debt brake’ might, however, have prevented the state adopting the losses of the banks and ‘Europeanised’ the problem on 30 Sep. 2008.) While the Swiss might provide some useful insights, it might be better to look at the smaller Scandinavian democracies operating in a reasonably well-governed manner within the EU.

    Though I expect I’ll be chastised for exploring the EU dimension, what we are seeing in the EU now is a conflict between the Community method – where the EU’s institutions collectively engage to make law and establish new institutions – and the Inter-governmental method – where the powerful member-states seek to impose their will on all. It has been forced by the increasing lack of democratic legitimacy in the application of the Community method where the Commission has largely driven the agenda, with some support from the Parliament, and where national governments, following some ‘horse-trading’ in the Council, have reached agreement and used their executive dominance over their national parliaments to transpose primary EU legislation and regulations into national law.

    National parliaments in the northern EU states have become increasingly assertive in establishing thier primacy over governments and this is becoming the case particularly in Germany. There seems to be little understanding in Ireland of the background to the leaking of Irish budget proposals to members of the German Bundestag. Deriving from the Basic Law (drafted in the main by US and British constitutional lawyers after the war), the German Constitutional Court has confirmed the basis for the primacy of the Bundestag over the Federal Government when it comes to giving concrete expression to German solidarity with other EU member-states. And it runs with the grain of popular sentiment. Excessive use of the Community method delivered the Euro and German voters were assured that all the necessary safeguards were in place to allow them to abandon their beloved Deutschmark. They now see they were sold a pup. We are used to politicians lieing routinely to us, but many Germans, for some reason, consider this offensive – and they are very angry. By seeking to re-assert the primacy of the Bundestag over the Federal Government – and by exercising oversight of the fiscal behvaiour of other countries receiving their support – politicians there are seeking to re-assure their voters and to persuade them of the benefits of increased solidarity with worse-off and less well-governed member-states. A similar exercise is being conducted in the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and the newer and smaller central and eastern European members.

    Hopefully this spasm of national parliaments asserting their primacy, though a very necessary corrective, will pass and a more effective application of the Community method will be secured. Ireland is so far off the pace in relation to this need for parliament to assert its primacy over government that it is almost surreal. We really are On Another Planet.

    And it’s not that we don’t have the tools. In 1922 we adopted a well-structured and effective system of parliamentary democracy that had been 800 years in the making and which Irish politicians from Grattan through O’Connell to Butt and Parnell led Irish people to use effectively in their interests. Despite an ability to use this system to exercise restraint very effectively on a foreign power elite – and to break with it eventaully – we never developed the ability to apply this system to impose effective democratic governance on native power elites. And the 1937 Constitution entrenched the power of goverment and terminally weakened the Oireachtas. And since then the increasing impotence of the Oireachtas has become the custom and practice.

    That’s why I’m despondent and pessimistic.

  19. @Finbar Lehane says: on November 20, 2011 at 11:43 pm
    Thanks for the link.
    “One thing that did stick out in my mind was the fact that the Swiss seem to apply a very strict “no bailout” policy to Cantons and other areas below Federal level. If a local area gets into finanical trouble they’re literally on their own. If it comes to it they’ll be left go bust.”

    The same practice happens in the USA. Recently California issued IoUs and Harrisburg (the capital of the United States Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – the state that is the birth place of the US Federal Constitution) filed for bankruptcy. A few years back the city of New York was refused a bail-out by the then powers-that-were in Washington and turned to Wall St financiers to help sort out the dire financial situation.

    I gather that at present, some German local authorities are being forced to restrict services, because of a funding shortage! No wonder there is some resistance to a transfer union.

    TASC recently had a report summarising current thinking within German think tanks here
    http://www.progressive-economy.ie/2011/11/german-think-tanks-ireland-and-european.html

    @Paul
    I do not agree that the Swiss debt- brake is a tangent -given that it was approved in a referendum – a mechanism that is being discussed in FRGrrmany for whatever new EU Treaty that might be agreed on.

    Glad to see you point out the “conflict” between the Community Method and the Intergovernmental method in EU development.
    When I worked in the EU Commission (for a short time during the 1970s) that conflict was discernible and present even at the lowly level that I worked at.

    But I suggest that it was always there – right from the beginning with Monnet, Schumann, Adenauer, de Gaulle, Hallstein, de Gaspari, Spaak et al.
    As you no doubt recall, the EU institutions (EEC, ECSC, Euratom – as they then were) were paralyzed when the French adopted an empty chair approach during the 1960s.

    One thing strikes me is that nearly every EU Treaty has made some attempt to deal with the democratic deficit – setting up a Parliament, more powers to the Parliament, etc.
    So the assertion of democratic control through national parliaments is not an entirely new feature of the development of the European Project.

    re. your despondency and pessimism.
    It strikes me that we now have in this Republic a ferment of discussion groups, researchers, experience and outreach that surpasses similar efforts during the 1950s depression in this state. Take your pick from places like TASC, IIEA, TCD’s Policy Institute, fora like this etc.
    Among the things that both fomented and resulted from the major change change in economic policy then were new organisations eg. CTT (the Irish export board – set up to earn dollars), Economic Research Institute (subsequently ESRI), IPA (which the Dept of Finance did not fully endorse), Tuairim, IDA, AFT(Agricultural Institute – funded by Marshall Aid).

    Now we have easier travel/communications, much successful experience of developing organisations that can trade (eg. Ryanair, Paddy Power, Kerry Foods, Kingspan, Riverdance, boy bands, new technology based ventures et al), a population that is almost twice what it was during the 1950s and much-better educated to boot – with much wider participation by women in life outside the home and the success of the 1990s – admittedly aided by devaluation and a then rising world economy.

    Yes all that and also, we have the challenges arising from the same old governmental institutions much influenced by attitudes and perspectives that emerge from incumbents in non-traded sectors.

  20. @Donal,

    I agree there are many positive aspects that we didn’t enjoy previously and that’s why I veer endlessly between hope and despondency. The challenge is to secure a balance in a number of areas and to have the ability to maintain this balance, because the current crisis at its core is the result of huge imbalances in political and economic power. A key one is the balance between the ability of a government to govern on the basis of its democratic mandate and the restraint on it required to ensure democratic legitimacy. A second, is securing a sustainable balance between markets and the state. A third that is often ignored, but to which you allude in your final sentence, is the balance between final consumers and the producers of goods and services – and those who profit from this production and supply.

    I have addressed this last in another forum and you may have some interest:
    http://www.irisheconomy.ie/index.php/2011/11/21/stark-prognosis/#comment-196732

  21. @Donal
    “that we now have in this Republic a ferment of discussion groups, researchers, experience and outreach that surpasses similar efforts during the 1950s depression in this state.”

    I would add to that a capacity for effective and long-lasting self-organisation in many communities to manage the improvement of their own environments.
    However there are also many communities which cannot do this: it would be useful if the results of any comparative outreach and research were available.

    @ Paul
    “the balance between the ability of a government to govern on the basis of its democratic mandate and the restraint on it required to ensure democratic legitimacy. A second, is securing a sustainable balance between markets and the state. …. the balance between final consumers and the producers of goods and services .”

    We cannot ignore the experience of those countries that escaped the worst of the economic turmoil. All of them have effective local control of the final “producers of goods and services”, effective social security systems, and resilient institutions for studying social, economic and political aspects of their societies.

    Placing responsibility and accountability at the level of the individual community is a more important change in our governance than altering how the Dail functions for two reasons.
    A system of local scale democracies is inherently more resilient than centralised managerial led organisations. The raison d’etre of those is efficiencies of scale which may have existed once, but are reduced significantly due to their structural rigidities.

    A more important reason is that we are expecting TD s to perform in the Dail, without ever having had an opportunity to be tested in a smaller scale organisation. Nor do our citizens have the opportunities to learn the hard way of the consequences of bad governance, but at a scale that is fixable.

    • @Conor O’Brien,

      Agree completely. The restoration of adequately funded and resourced local democracy is vital. But what are the chances of that? Locally elected office-holders would be acocuntable for and to their communities. TDs would have to become legislators. The tight centralised grip of government and the government machine would have to be released. The various vested interests currently focusing their lobbying on central government would have to re-think their strategies.

      It would be chaos for the subsidy-grabbers, rent-seekers, regulator-capturers and consumer-gougers.

      You can be sure that the Forces of Darkness and Resistance would fight anything like this tooth and nail.

  22. @Paul “But what are the chances of that?”

    You may be right. They would fight anything like this tooth and nail.

    During 2010 I attended the ‘We the Citizens’ in Cork, as well as ‘Second Republic’ and CPPC in Cork and Dublin. WTC in Cork seemed to have had 200 or so; Second Republic had several meetings of over 100 in Dublin. It all petered out.

    Why did it peter out is a stronger question. Because a top-down approach was adopted which mirrored the approach of any bureaucrat when asked to consult the people. Remember that Michael Collins and Tom Barry did not mirror the British Army.

    The WTC budget was used to hire expensive halls in hotels, when there were community halls all over the country that could have provided an equivalent service. With the added benefit that the organisers might have got the viewpoints of those people who are keeping their local community facilities going.
    A movement for change does not come from commissioning on-line surveys but from face-to-face exchanges where bluffers are more easily identified.
    If you are going to change something, then change the way you go about it. If you don’t do that, its only bluff.

    That bit of advice is lacking in references to any studies of the subject of change.

    • @Conor,

      You make perceptive and compelling observations on the reasons why this ‘we the citizens’ initiative apparently has petered out – and why the ‘second republic’ exercise is finding it difficult to secure traction (and probably why this Belgian initiative will also struggle). Your preferred approach is grounded solidly in Hume’s ‘A Treatise of Human Nature’ and in Smith’s ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments’. Our concerns for others radiate out from our immediate and pressing concerns for ourselves and family to extend to other kith and kin and diminishes rapidly over time and space. Education, communication, enhancing civilisation and the expansion of governance extend the sphere of moral sentiment, but the appliance of science and technology to advance prosperity and well-being, if it is to be effective, must be grounded in a recognition of the extent to which human sentiments circumscribe reason and rationality. This leads to a gradualist and evolutionary approach based on trial and error, experimentation, learning and refinement.

      (As a Corkman, I appreciate your reference to Michael Collins and Tom Barry, But they were the exceptions that prove the rule. Revolution is not a normal part of human nature, but Collins, more than most, recognised that, even if some form of ‘home rule’ were granted, the British would never relinquish voluntarily the deep and hidden hold on Irish governance they would be able to exert. This hold had to be broken and broken forcefully. But I remain convinced that, had he lived, he would have sought to re-established bonds between the Irish and British people based on mutual interests and mutual respect.)

      In Ireland, as in most advanced economies, the plane of ever-expanding moral sentiment has been fractured by the emergence of dominant forces in civil society that seek to shape and influence public policy and are defined, primarily, by the occupations or sources of income of different groupings. And so we have a plethora of bodies representing farmers, large businesses, small businesses, firms in various sectors, workers in various occupations (trades unions), the professions, pensioners, the unemployed, etc. And all seek to bend the ear of government in pursuit of their own narrow sectional interests with little regard for the impact on the prosperity or well-being of others.

      There is no going back to the De Valerian vision of wisdom by the fireside, dancing at the cross-roads and the laughter of comely maidens, but local common bonds, though stressed, remain strong. Reconfiguring local authority structures to reflect the way people live and work has to be a priority. But, in reality it would simply be a restoration of what local authorities were originally empowered, resourced and were intended to do.

      And a further requirement is to empower, statutorily, collective action to advocate and represent the interests of citizens as consumers to counteract and restrain the excessive influence exercised by the civil society bodies defined by occupation or source of income.

      What I am arguing for is not revolutionary. It is an argument for restoration and restraint – for the restoration of the Oireachtas as an effective legislature, for the restoration of effective local governance and for restraint on the exercise of influence by sectional interests.

  23. This thread has produced 39 posts over a period of 11 days on a broad theme of changing how we govern, which have been civil and reasonably well thought out.
    The posts have all shown dissatisfaction with our present system. They have been interesting. But its like being invited to visit and arriving to find there is no one home.
    The place here is empty. We are talking to ourselves but there is no sign of the owners.

    “The purpose of the forum is to provide up-to-date analysis of contemporary political events and to encourage moderated comment on all issues relating to political reform broadly conceived.”

    How would they like it if they went to a seminar where the speakers did their piece and then left the room without any indication that a contribution from the audience was worth attending to.
    If there is going to be any change in our governance the alternative ideas and concepts need to be challenged. Either that or it is no longer the function of scholars to encourage comment.

    • @Conor,

      Once again, some perceptive observations. However, I expect you are aware that the editors on this board served as academic advisers on WTC. ‘Participatory democracy’ of this nature is the flavour of the month and our witterings don’t fit with the programme. In addition, all the editors have pressured day jobs and there is a significant opportunity cost involved in running, and responding on, a blog of this nature. Furthermore, there is a recognition that blogs like this allow people to let off steam and, partly for this reason, they receive some implicit approval form the ‘powers-that-be’ because while we’re on wittering here we’re not creating a nuisance for them somewhere else. And remember that the editors here are a part of the ‘establishment’ and can’t be seen to be encouraging (by responding to) even the polite disaffection expressed here.

      However, I find these echanges useful and who knows who might be reading and be encouraged to think and act. We really don’t need ‘teacher’s’ approval; but some engagement would be welcome.

      • @Conor and Paul
        another feature of blogs like this is that it allows people to tease out ideas – people who might never have come across one another but for this medium.

        Better that action on governance follows widespread discussion and debate – even if such exchanges of ideas start in very small fora.

  24. @Donal
    “Better that action on governance follows widespread discussion and debate – even if such exchanges of ideas start in very small fora.”

    We are in a complex adaptive system where change is best done by small trials which contain comprehensive feedback. Relative to the resources which are available to those seeking change in this country the ‘We the Citizen’ constitutional assembly was a very large trial.

    It redirected the attention of the growing number of people who were examining our situation, away from their individual groupings into a large scale trial in which nascent networks were ignored. For any social trial which seeks change internal feedback is important. Networks are key for this.

    Subsequent to WTC all the change groups struggled. None of them had reached a critical mass but several were growing. They might not have developed anyway, but WTC sucked up a lot of the attention from interested persons at a critical time.

    Seagull experimenters: they came in, hired a hotel, filled their database, and flew out again.

    This blog was started by people drawn from the same networks as those who started WTC and is in danger of receiving the same treatment. That is why I ask that they turn their attention to it.

  25. @Conor and Donal,

    The small scale exchanges are certainly useful, but we seem to be voices crying in the wilderness. I take the points about the necessity and value of local collective action, but this needs to be related to the existing institutions of governance and to the ‘real political economy’.

    The exchanges here and elsewhere have allwed me to develop some ideas on these linkages. I have described the dominance in these straitened times of the civil society bodies and associations advancing narrow sectional interests. But there is more.

    Many are able to deploy considerable political and economic power and all have developed an effective lobbying capability. There is an entire industry of consultants, researchers, PR operatives, lawyers, advisers and tame academics employed to support and advance the different causes. The objective is rent-seeking and the output is BS.

    Successive governments risked being inundated by this avalanche of BS and, in order to distance themselves from the politcial fall-out of having to make decisions on all these conflicting sectional interests, they established a plethora of statutory and quasi-statutory quangos. It was all too easy for the sectional interests to capture the quangos operating in their territory.

    And so we are where we are. This is the ‘real’ political economy where the majority of consumers are gouged and productive economic activity is debilitated. It could not be further removed from the ‘economy’ that the academics and researchers analyse and on which they comment and publish. It is far too easy, comfortable and rewarding to operate in this parallel universe of convenient fictions. And it is also far to easy to deflect attention from the reality by ranting about malign external forces.

    Is there any wonder that there is widespread cynicism, mistrust and despondency? But nobody will call it out. They are either enmeshed in this process or they know somebody – a family member, relative or friend – who is enmeshed and who would lose out if some genuine reform were implemented.

    And so I have talekd myself back into despondency. I see no incentive for any participant (or group of participants) in this process to take a stand and try to break the logjam. And I suspect our critical comments about the WTC process have annoyed our hosts and discouraged meaningful engagement.

  26. “our hosts”

    We posted here because that is what the site was set up for but very few of the site-sponsors have been active.
    There are various reasons why the initial sponsors might not be available, but the Political Studies Association of Ireland has got at least 200 members, there are also post-grad students, and practitioners of similar professions who have studied state governance to some degree: to suggest that the original sponsors might not be able to generate any interest from among their networks in reforming politics in Ireland is not credible.

    As a professional body it is a careless attitude. Compare how professional economists such as Karl Whelan, John McHale, Stephan Kinsella and others have enriched our knowledge of economics and produced a respect for economists at ‘Irish Economy’ after the melt-down in our economy.

    There are some professions which are not respected.
    Political scientist should take more care of their profession less they be classed with them.
    As a country we need their input more than that of economists.

    • @Conor,

      The economists at Irish Economy certainly deserve our respect and gratitude, but even they – or at least some of them – would concede that there is an imbalance in their coverage in that it focuses on their principal areas of specialisation in macroeconomics, fiscal policy and monetary economics. Little attention is paid to pertinent microeconomic policy issues in other sectors of the economy. Nor is much attention paid to the economics of public choice. It seems that the economists working in these areas are either conflicted or compromised – or are reluctant to raise their heads over the parapet.

      There is also the ‘siloisation’ of economics and politcial science which leaves many relevant political economy issues unaddressed. And, probably because I’m an economist, I wouldn’t agree that we need the input of the political scientists more than that of the economists. We need the input of both in collaboration and in a much more focused and assertive manner than we have seen up to now.

      But, yes, the apparent lack of interest of the political science professionals in engaging here is passing strange.

      Perhaps some are suffering from the despondency under which I labour and see no point in exerting effort as the probability of securing any traction is vanishingly small. Or they may be keeping their powder dry in the hope of securing prestigious positions or lucrative commissions when Minister Howlin swings into action with a serious programme of reform. The WTC process already has produced a Senator. There may be more goodies on offer.

      “Is iad na muca ciúine a itheann an mhin.”

  27. @Conor
    @Paul
    re. We the Citizens
    Frankly, I welcomed this intiatiive, particularly as it started after the election and thus provided some mechanism for the political/institutional reform drive to continue.
    Yes, the academic advisers are strong supporters of Citizens’ Assemblies. It is a legitimate option in any democracy.
    Some months ago, I did seek clarification on how useful Citizens’ Assemblies are here
    https://politicalreform.ie/2011/05/09/political-reform-poll-results/comment-page-1/#comment-4945

    Having attended two public WTC meetings (Kilkenny and Blanchardstown), it was clear that there was an agenda for which marketing techniques and skills were hired.
    We have yet to see the final report of the survey which WTC commissioned.

    We, citizens in a republic with a written constitution, do have to wait for our political science community to focus explicitly on power, which we own and delegate (through elections) to successively smaller groups.

    WTC has no power or authority to redirect or halt any of the many groups who emerged over the last year. Some of them are clearly still active.

    We too have the same freedoms as those who set up and maintain this forum, those who set up WTC and many other groups that still exist,

    Other groups may be refocusing, now that the new Government has shown that it is on a do-minimum in respect of key reform items in the post-election programme for Government. eg. restoring the 1997 Freedom of Information(FoI) Act by a simple repeal of the 2003 FoI.

    https://politicalreform.ie/2011/09/09/open-letter-to-tds-and-senators/

    https://politicalreform.ie/2011/09/30/seanad-public-consultation-committee/comment-page-1/#comment-6037

    We have seen this government blatantly ignore the recommendations of an Oireachtas Committee on Dail enquiries, mislead people on what mechanisms exist in other democracies and try to blackmail us about powers they need to hold such enquiries. The long grass still exists, as the outcome of the referenda and the Presidential election showed.

    Better to keep lighting a candle or two than get involved in endless parsing of the motives/effectiveness of people who are doing something.

    In this context, I like St. Euxpery’s observation
    “Dans la vie, il n’y a pas des solutions.
    Il n’y a que des forces en marche.
    Il s’agit de les creer
    Et les solutions suivent”

    Let us keep going until we are stopped.

    • @Donal,

      I take your point about ‘parsing’ the intentions and activities of various groupings, but we have an ‘industry’ full of ‘useful idiots’ in all professions and disciplines that support the ‘status quo’ and my desire is to see this industry reduced and its resources re-deployed in the public interest – rather than have it increased deliberately or unwittingly.

      The Dail has to be the focus of any effort, since, between general elections, TDs exercise the ultimate authority the people have delegated to them.

      As a simple suggestion, and to build and maintain some momentum, I would suggest that these four questions should be put to all current TDs aand Senators and to all candidates for the Dail prior to the next general election:

      1. Do you support, and will you vote to enact, an enhancement of the powers, resources and precedures of the Oireachtas to increase the scrutiny of government and its statutory agencies, to exercise restraint over government and its agencies and to hold them fully to account?
      2. Do you support, and will you vote to enact, a reconfiguration of local government, an appropriate increase in its governance competence, a devolution of necessary powers to it and an allocation of the necessary resources?
      3. If you are a member of a political party – or aligned to a political grouping, will you place your allegiance to this party or grouping ahead of your own personal judgement on what is in the national or public interest when these conflict?
      4. Do you support, and will you vote to enact, the repeal of the legislation merging the National Consumers’ Agency with the Competition Commission and, in its place, the establishment of a statutory consumer protection body, resourced by and reporting directly to the Oireachtas, to advocate and represent the collective interests of consumers so as to counteract and restrain the power and influence of civil society bodies advancing producer, occupational and professional interests?

      This would be an effective way of finding out where TDs, Senators and prospective candidates stand and voters could make an informed choice – and then hold their TDs to account.

      Thoughts, anyone?

      • Paul,
        Have you sent you questions to all TDs and Senators?
        Why wait for the next General Election?

  28. It appears this thread is petering out. I’ve enjoyed, and benefitted from, the engagement. We need to keep the dream alive, but it is hard-won.

    The reality, I believe, we have to recognise is that Ireland, as well as the rest of the EU, is going through an existential crisis. At its core are failures of democratic governance and a lack of democratic legitimacy, but the immediate crises are economic, fiscal and financial. It’s on these the forces of governance are focused.

    In Ireland, as in other states, it has resulted in a ‘lock-down’ of governance. The economic, fiscal and financial policy issues are in the tight control of a mini-Cabinet comprised of the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste, the Ministers of Finance and of Public Expenditure and Reform (:-)) and their advisers and senior officials. Minster Hogan seems to be operating as Lord High Everything Else.

    By default or intent, a majority of voters willed the formation of this coalition government with such an overwhelming Dail majority. The focus on these economic, fiscal and financial crises and the requirement to secure some measure of democratic legitimacy for the policy actions required – or mandated by the Troika – mean that no effective scrutiny of, or ability to enforce modification of, or to propose alternatives to, these actions will be tolerated. And, for the moment, a majority of voters may be content with this concentration of almost unchallengeable political power. On the international stage the Government is determined to convey the impression of good governance with the minimum of popular dissent or disaffection. Any enhancement of the powers, resources or procedures of the Oireachtas is explicitly ruled out. And Minister Hogan will ensure that there is no effective devolution of effective democratic governance to the local levels.

    The Government appears to be determined to maintain this approach for its full term of office. So, what we’ll get are some ‘optical illusions’ under the rubric of ‘political reform’ to convey the impression of a government delivering on its PfG commitments and to provide some distraction when some particularly difficult and unpopular economic policy decisions have to be implemented.

    Some of the pol sci heads and the groups interested in, and advancing, ‘political reform’ may fall for this – and they may indeed be co-opted under its umbrella by a Government boxing clever. But it won’t make a blind bit of difference to the process of democratic governance. The entire intent of Government is to make absolutely certain it won’t.

    The really interesting question is how voters will respond at the next general election. Until such time as we are in the run-up to that we might as well fold our tents and keep our powder dry.

    • We seem to be playing leapfrog. Indeed, dear boy, events, as McMillan highlighted. And he also deemed elections to be ‘beastly things’. But I would be interested in your thoughts on my 11:33am above.

  29. @ Paul, Donal and all of the other contributers.
    Thank you for pushing the discussion on. It has helped me to develop some ideas and has reminded me of others that I had stopped thinking about.
    In particular I appreciated Pauls analysis of our actual structure of power (24 Nov 11:20) and Donal’s analysis of WTC and (25 Nov 10:00). And especially his quote from St Exupery.
    “Il n’y a que des forces en marche.
    Il s’agit de les creer
    Et les solutions suivent”
    Setting the forces on the road takes more than writing.
    Tea, anyone? I am at cmobrien(at)eircom.net.

    • @Conor,

      Thank you for your kind words. It does indeed take more than writing, but, though not as good as action, it leaves a record. As for your kind invitation, unfortunately I am based In England, though actively seeking an opportunity to return to Ireland. However, my reputation and uncanny ability to upset the ‘powers-that-be’ mean that possible opportunities are as scarce as rocking-horses’ excrement 🙂

      Keep up the good work.

  30. So, at last, we seem to have come to the end of the road on this thread. Conor, I’m not surprised that you’re interested in moving off-site and exploring these issues further. If Donal is interested I would be pleased if you could keep me in the loop. Donal has my contact details.

    The folks here are obviously perfectly free and entitled to pursue their ‘participatory democracy’ tack; potentially this has an important role to play in the context of any institutional or procedural reform that might be considered. But it is a very narrow furrow in the context of the governance challanges and of the inability to secure democratic legitimacy on a sustained basis in Ireland and thoughout the EU. And it offers the prospect of delivering far more than it is capable of delivering, and of raising hopes and then dashing them. It is far, far too easy for the ‘powers-that-be’ to offer a warm embrace and then to squeeze the life out of it. We’ve seen a little bit of this already.

    It’s just such a shame that those with so much genuine good intention, sincere desire for reform and demonstrable professional competence in this area are determined to pursue this utlimately fruitless course.

    But I suppose it encourages the rest of us to build the motivation and drive to tackle the real issues.

  31. @Donal, (in reponse to your 9:35am of 29th above)

    I merely put these questions out there to prompt some debate and discussion – and to see if they could be modified or developed and might secure some traction. I claim no monopoly on wisdom. It is only via engagement and debate and, hopefully, civilised adversarial disputation that we can make some progress. One person sounding off isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference to the body politic. Only effective collective action will compel the ‘powers-that-be’ to pay some attention.

    I realise that you, Finbar and, perhaps, Conor take issue with my assertion that our basic institutions of governance are broadly sound – and that it is the misuse and abuse of process and procedure that has brought us to this pass. In addition to my contention that the institutions of governance, both central and local, that we had at the foundation of the state were never used subsequently in the manner that had taken more than 800 years to establish, I also believe that it is profoundly insulting to the majority of Irish people who quietly, but determindedly, on Feb 25, used the democratic process to express their intent and to validate the basic institutions of governance.

    Arguing for root and branch reform – or for new and additional institutions of governance (as our hosts do) – is basically saying to the majority of citizens that they were stupid to validate the existing process and institutions as they did in February and again at the end of October. What we need to focus on are the imbalances in the current processes – between the authority of the Oireachtas and that of the Oireachtas, between central and local government, between the powers of the whips and the free choices of elected representatives expressed in the public interest and between producers/suppliers and consumers.

    I sense that some people are becoming slowly aware of these imbalances. But equally they have no desire for major institutional reform. Quite rightly, they seem to be wary of unintended outcomes – or the risk of further abuse of power. (This last probably scuppered the Government’s Abbeylara amendment.)

    All we need are better balances across a number of areas that are perfectly capable of being achieved within the current institutions of governance. It’s not an agenda that is given to sloganising or that will charge the blood or energise the masses. But it’s all we need for a start. Let’s restore our existing institutions so that they work as originally designed in the broader public interest – and then we can see what bells or whistles might be required.

    I fear, however, that I am in a minority of one – even among you gentlemen who are more insightful than most. And I am certainly in a minority of one on this board.

    • “Arguing for root and branch reform – or for new and additional institutions of governance (as our hosts do) – is basically saying to the majority of citizens that they were stupid to validate the existing process and institutions as they did in February and again at the end of October.”

      I disagree entirely with the statement that it implies stupidity on the part of the majority of citizens, if one argues for new and additional institutions of government.

      Surely this does not apply to say
      1) Ombudmans’s offices;
      2) or introducing Freedom of Information;
      3) joining the EU;
      4) joining the €uro;
      5) setting up a Fiscal Council
      or many other new and different parts of government?

      This implies the authority of the eternal yesterday – a recipe to comfort the incumbents, assuage the comfortable and deny any
      possibility of enhancement to the rest of us.

      I hope that you are in a minority on this point – even I suspect that the the impetus for innovation is not a soft option, as Machiavelli pointed out.

      Studies in how innovations in many spheres suggest that there is a pretty well understood process of how they come to be adopted, This can be represented as a conventional bell-curve – starting from early adopters on the left ranging through the majority to the laggards or slow learners as some might mutter under their breaths!

      Life does not show that late adopters set the agenda, even if they can delay the timing of the adoption of “better practice” – as the history of the Irish economic policy post WW2 suggests.

      If it did imply th

      • @Donal,

        It appears you cut yourself off in mid-flow, but in any event…

        I’m not arguing against innovation per se. I’m just trying to make the case for making what we have work a bit better. Then we can see what instititional developments are required. Bolting innovations on to dysfunctional arrangements is rarely beneficial.

        I’ve made the case before,but we have to begin from where a majority of voters seem to be. For example they rightly cherish the fundamental right to decide who governs – and to replace them with others if they fail to pass muster. They also cherish the ability to use any vote between general elections to keep a government in line. And they seem to prefer to have TDs as constituency advocates and mini-ombudspersons. The only other restraint on government is sufficient public unease provoking a rebellion among government backbenchers.

        The challenge is to persuade a majority of voters that they need to have mechanisms to scrutinise and to exercise more effective restraint over government during its term in office. It appears than many voters are not entirely happy delegating this task to others over whom they have no direct control.

        For example I have no doubt that many voters are happy that there is an Ombudsman or that the IFAC exists, but, for the latter, it remains a creature of government. These bodies should be empowered and resourced by, and reporting directly to, the Oireachtas. I would prefer that FoI would be routine in the context of detailed scrutiny, using external expertise, by the Oireachtas and its Cttees of government policy proposals and proposed executive actions. I would like to see this ‘corporate sole’ nonsense covering Ministers and their Departments abolished to separate political and policy decisionmaking from civil service policy formulation advice and policy implementation.

        And that is only at the level of central government. But it is primarily a restoration of the primacy of the Oireachtas, the striking of a workable balance between its powers and those of government and the incorporation of innovations that enhance the functioning of this restored process and balance.

        I remain convinced that persuading a majority of voters to entrust their TDs with these additional responsibilities while reassuring them that it will not result in a dereliction of the primary duties for which they elect them is a daunting challenge. There are no magic bullets or institutional innovations that will solve existing problems rapidly. It involves hard graft, explaining and persuading.

        It needs concerted effort by political scientists, opinion formers in the media and, most of all, ordinary citizens genuinely embarrassed by the way the current process of government largely created the current mess and who are resolved to push for the changes that will avoid a repetition and ensure better governance in the future.

        But, unfortunately, what is being offered by government is minimal optical changes and what is being offered by other parties are ‘novelties’ such as ‘participatory democracy’, or a ‘new republic’ or a ‘second republic’. I am proud to be a citizen of this republic – and proud of its people and principal democratic institutions; I just want these institutions to work better for the public interest in this era.

    • @Paul
      I actually largely agree with this (but I do think you are going way too far in the implications you’re drawing from the recent GE and referendums, but otherwise IMO you’ve a strong argument). Other countries govern themselves quite well within similar constitutional frameworks, so the obvious question is why can’t we? My pet theory why we haven’t is emigration. That has been a pretty unique factor here. We’ve historically simply exported our problems and anyone who might have formed fringe or radical parties or otherwise caused trouble. I’ve no doubt we could take the institutions we have and make them actually work. Maybe that would be the easier and more achievable course. It wouldn’t be my preferred solution though if I’d the choice. I’d prefer to go a bit further. A common theme running through many of the ideas on this board is the dispersal of power, whether that is via other bodies (presidents or second chambers), more directly back to voters via citizens’ initiatives or even participative democracy, or down closer to the citizens via local government. But your focus is, I think, on the most basic form of distribution of power, between parliament and executive. I suppose there is much to be said for looking at what’s right in front of our noses, even if it isn’t as exciting as many of the other shiny things discussed here. 🙂 But I’d feel that the basic parliamentary model is perhaps a little fragile. It can certainly be made to work. Though there’s much to be desired regarding how it has (or hasn’t) worked here. My inclination would be to bolster it with other bodies or mechanisms. Or be even more radical than most mainstream European countries with things like direct democracy. But that’s probably all pie in the sky! I will concede your approach of righting existing imbalances within our current framework is probably more achievable, though it may be harder to get people all that excited about it.

      • @Finbar,

        Thank you for the kind words. Enoch Powell once remarked that, in politics, you have to play a tune that people can whistle along to. ‘Restoring parliamentary democracy’ isn’t much of a tune. But, for me, it’s a vital first step. All sorts of useful and wonderful things will flow form this. Where I’m baffled and frustrated is on how sufficient popular support might be mobilised to take this step.

        I hope they won’t mind me revealing it, but Donal, Conor and I are maintaining some exchanges off-blog. I’m sure you’d be welcome to join if you thought it might be of some use. My e-mail is paulthunt@btinternet.com.

        I expect the hosts here are busy writing up their WTC experience (or are busy on the ‘day job’) – we haven’t had a post for ages. We’ve probably pushed things as far as we can here, but there is a requirement for some ‘collective action’ on the part of those with public standing in the economics and politcial science spheres.

        You might find the exchange I’ve had on this thread in another place of some interest:
        http://www.irisheconomy.ie/index.php/2011/11/30/solving-the-fiscal-crisis-via-limiting-government-commitments/#comments

      • ‘We’ve historically simply exported our problems and anyone who might have formed fringe or radical parties or otherwise caused trouble’ …

        Haven’t you got that the wrong way around in that it is the people who would lead reform and change how things are done who emigrate leaving the ‘dullards’ behind.

        Isn’t it also a historical legacy that anyone fit enough to leave during the famine, did so. Leaving a class of people whose DNA was either diluted through the sheer hard work of suriving day to day – it is medically proven that being underweight and starving etc has a long term impact on not just you, but through the DNA you pass on, on your children and grandchildren too.

        Or if you were not starving you were from that class of people who benefitted most from the suffering all around them … the Roman Catholic small farmer. More people were evicted from land owned by Roman Catholics than were evicted by Protestants and most of the land vacated by the evicted was taken over by the RC neighbours before the evicted families ever stood a chance to get their land bacl. You can check all that out in the Land Commission archives – it’s quite amazing how the myth of the Protestant landlord has been accepted as fact.

        Given the current mess caused by the B Ahern/J Bruton generation (I wonder what role their ancesters had in the famine – I suspect the Ahern’s were diluted from hunger and the Bruton’s gained wealth at the expenses of the poor) we now have a situation whereby those who have skills and motivation emigrate because they recognise there is simply no point in wasting their talent trying to reform Ireland now as all political will is directed to protecting the public sector and hence the cycle of dysfunctionality continues unchallenged.

        We can have all the checks and balances we want and even an all singing all dancing parliamentry democracy but if the people within the system, who are placed there by the public, are inherently ‘crony ridden’ it won’t really matter?

        We are targeting the symptons not the cause.

        Or would it just take even one politican to stand up and provide an example that others would follow when they see the sky doesn’t fall in if you don’t claim expenses, or if you do, that you publish the receipt, you publish where you got the money for your campaign, what lobbyists you met and what they paid you, or telling a constituent to get theiro wn passport/medical card etc.

      • @Paul
        Thanks for the invite. Will be off travelling tomorrow and the weekend. But will be in contact sometime over the next few days.

  32. @Desmond
    You said: “Haven’t you got that the wrong way around in that it is the people who would lead reform and change how things are done who emigrate leaving the ‘dullards’ behind.

    Isn’t it also a historical legacy that anyone fit enough to leave during the famine, did so. Leaving a class of people whose DNA was either diluted through the sheer hard work of suriving day to day – it is medically proven that being underweight and starving etc has a long term impact on not just you, but through the DNA you pass on, on your children and grandchildren too.”

    Poor phrasing on my part I’m afraid. What I meant is they were “problems” and “troublemakers” from the perspective of those in power. IMO the country would have been a lot better off if they hadn’t left. Having the UK and its colonies (or former colonies) willing and able to take our migrants has historically been a great boon for our establishment. They never really had to deal with fringe or radical political movements that might otherwise might have formed. I’ve heard several times the stability and maturity of our democracy being praised. My guess though is that much of this stability (or alternatively and less positively: deep conservatism and inertia)can be laid at the door of forced emigration, which has bled out the youthful radicalism and idealism of generation after generation. Without emigration, politicians probably would have been forced to deal head on with the very problems that led to the emigration in the first place.

    Have sometimes thought that maybe the “can do” attitude of Americans may come from the migrants that made up the country. People who got off their behinds and had the drive to make a better life in a strange new country. Maybe there’s a genetic component to that too. Maybe it’s really the dregs that have been left behind here! I say that only half-humorously 🙂

    Can appreciate your anger too at B Ahern and co.. A lot of BS is spouted here (myself included) about shiny political systems and other such baubles. You could be right. Maybe what we really most need is a few decent political leaders with genuine integrity.

  33. @Paul November 29, 2011 at 4:45 pm
    “I’m just trying to make the case for making what we have work a bit better. ”
    @Finbar Lehane December 1, 2011 at 8:33 am
    “the basic parliamentary model is perhaps a little fragile. It can certainly be made to work. Though there’s much to be desired regarding how it has (or hasn’t) worked here. My inclination would be to bolster it with other bodies or mechanisms.”

    So you still have not grasped the implications of what recently has been called “implementation deficit disorder”?

    Nearly 90 years after independence and 74 years are the 1937 Constitution, it is time to just look at all the efforts that have been made to improve our way of governing ourselves before starting on yet another effort to make what we have function better.

    Simply put, each crisis since WW2 (eg. the 1950s, the 1980s, the post 2008) shows a mixture of lack of capacity, incompetence and muddling through compounded by outright resistance and inertia to many proposals.

    Take the reform of the public service. During the 1960s, Liam St. John Devlin led a group that produced a major report on public service reform. Was anything done as a result?

    Take the control of land for development – which is the root of our current fiscal weakness.

    In 1971, the then Fianna Fáil government appointed Judge John Kenny to consider, in the interests of the common good, possible measures for
    (a) Controlling the price of land required for housing and other forms of development, and
    (b) Ensuring that all or a substantial part of the increase in the value of land attributable to the decisions and the operations of public authorities… shall be secured for the benefit of the
    community.

    In 1974, Judge Kenny’s report recommended something akin to what was then Dutch practice – if I understood it correctly. It also had a minority report (written primarily by civil servants) against this proposal. Despite all the protests that the Kenny recommendations were unconstitutional, this overlooked the fact that Judge Kenny was an authority on the Irish constitution. The full text of Judge Kenny’s report is available here http://www.irishleftreview.org/2009/06/10/kenny-report-1974/

    Successive governments have done nothing about this since. The inertia, smugness and complacency that is beginning to infect this government (“We are complying with the Troika Programme. We do not have time to even consider anything else. ”) will lead to another fiscal crisis here within a generation, just as we had during the 1980s. It too was precipitated by a failure of another FG-Labour coalition govern to adjust to the externally-induced oil price rises of the 1970s.

    As evidence for this view, I point out that we now have the ultimate silliness of NAMA – a state-entity – pushing its policy of guaranteeing potential purchasers of apartments it controls against a fall in prices. See John McManus report in Irish Times Mon 28th November 2011 http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/finance/2011/1128/1224308218820.html

    This is nothing more than an unreformed mindset continuing the habits which has brought this Republic to its knees ie. a belief that we can prosper by selling ever more expensive properties to one another. It is not the kind of policy that enables our resources to build up our own internationally competitive trading enterprises.

    It does not show an intent to try to get what we have here working better.***

    The current government is being as slow to reform the property market as it has other topics that are not immediately listed in the EU-ECB-IMF programme eg. its’ explicit Government Programme promise to restore the 1997 Freedom of Information(FoI) Act by simply repealing the 2003 FoI Act.

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

    ***IMO, The institutions for the exercise of power do lot to burnish themselves as shiny and an equal amount to ensure the unpolished parts are kept out of view. That is why we – who are subject to the powerful – need to find ways of bringing in checks and balances to limt the scope for excess by the powerful, whether they be public or private, elected or appointed.

    • @Donal
      Really need to weigh my words more carefully! The thought behind the words was on parliamentary systems in general. As your excellent set of examples demonstrate this hasn’t worked out too well here, to say the least. Didn’t intend to endorse what has gone on here. But parliamentary systems haven’t turned out to be disasters everywhere.

  34. Tracing reasons back to the famine is a non-starter. The question now is “What is to be done”
    There probably are factors that developed at that time, but we are in a complex system whose path twisted in many ways. Many times the path could have changed if the sequence of stimuli had been different. Trying to allocate cause and effect from things that happened 160 years ago has value but not a high value.

    Actions generate information that can be used in the next action: action must be taken.

    Debate is the life-blood of change but over the past 8 threads I have not identified any contributions from a member of the site team despite the requests of its users to engage in debate.
    Since this thread has had a sub-theme of noticing the indifference of the site hosts, I suggest that we announce OccupyPoliticalReform.
    It is probably safe to say that they are behaving like the 1%: they control the site but are refusing to act in maintaining it.
    All together now: 99% NOT FED: 1% ON TWITTER.
    The next step? Use your imagination. Twitter anyone?

    • In that case does it matter what ‘system’ we have and isn’t it instead the sort of people placed into the system make the real difference.

      So how do we change the type of people who elect – the omens are not good given the grandstanding already starting over the budget – TDs on €92k plus over €32,500 in tax free unverified expenses will be wringing their hands over cuts to child benefit.

      How do we begin to deal with such stomach turning double standards.

  35. This seems to be the thread that refuses to fizzle out. Conor, I think announcing OccupyPoliticalReform would be a mere formality; we’ve already done it!

    Donal, I can’t disagree and won’t. It’s simply a question of how.

    In another place I pushed a little bit harder:
    http://www.irisheconomy.ie/index.php/2011/12/01/the-irish-debate-on-the-single-currency/

    Ir rehashes much of the case I have made here, but it provoked the ire of Prof Whelan.

    It seems to be the case that far too many who exercise power and influence are far too comfortable with the status quo — and have every incentive to defend it (or, if pushed, to concede to only cosmetic reforms). I’m not denying a public interest motive among the academics and others with competence and a public standing, but it seems that the freedom to comment and opine is valued above all – even if it has a negligible impact on the formulation of public policy (and almost invariably is after the event). There seems to be a view that more competent civil servants (well-trained by the academics) will be able to exercise restraint behind the scenes – and that these dignitaries will be able to whisper words of advice into the ears of Ministers or advise their civil servant graduates – again behind the scenes. This may be beneficial, but falls far short of what is required.

    It is possible that much good will come out of the resolution of this Euro crisis – there will be a resolution. It is the determination of parliaments in the better governed northern EU states to ensure effective democratic legitimacy that is delaying progress. They also want to ensure a commitment to better governance in the southern and peripheral states. And France and Belgium are being forced into line. France now realises that it cannot sustain fiscal deficits indefintely and Belgium has a government after the passage of almost 600 days.

    My only concern is that all this is being driven by mainly centre-right governments – with a keen eye on ensuring re-election. But, in any event, the requirement for democratic legitimacy and for more restraint over governments and the EU elite is a defining feature.

    Will it have any demonstration effect on Ireland?

  36. @Desmond FitzGerald
    “does it matter what ‘system’ we have and isn’t it instead the sort of people”
    The ‘system’ is people, it is not a physical construct; it is an attempt at putting an image of a physical thing in place in order to understand it better. It is the way in which the methods, customs and values of those organising our resources act that produces the ‘system’.
    So, yes the sort of people matter, but so does the way in which they are organised.
    I believe that proper devolved local government will deliver the key change; Donal might say that transparency is the critical component; Paul might say that Dail procedures are key.
    I say that local government is key because for most politicians it is the entrance pathway to a career in politics: what they learn there is what they bring with them as they progress.
    At the moment county councillors self-select on the basis that they will never be held accountable for a specific action because the county engineer decides everything. In practice they are responsible, not to their constituents but to the local cumann of their party. It is those who will decide their nomination.
    We have a system which draws our legislators from a pool which has never had a tradition of being accountable for their actions, nor responsible to their constituents. We cannot expect change from the people moulded by such a system. No amount of new tools will change their approach.
    The other reason for making devolved local government a key issue is that the electorate need a system where they can get fast reliable feedback on the calibre of their representatives before they advance on to the national stage. Local mistakes will be picked up fairly quickly if it affects the local rates. A supposed theoretical inefficiency in such a system would be an acceptable cost for improving the calibre of our representatives.
    Given the manner in which our resources are wasted in the present system I would actually expect an improvement.
    “ How do we begin to deal with such stomach turning double standards.” Shame them: find ways of giving them the Cardiff treatment.
    Starting with the guardians of this site. If they have had time to go on to Twitter, could they not have spent some of that knowledge here. Do they really want us to check how often they have been on Twitter?

  37. But how do you shame people when the people who’d be doing the shamed actually approve of the actions they are not meant to?

    It’s a bit of a chicken and egg issue as we all know the mess the country is in and we all know the amount saved if the elites all across the public sector actually made the sort of sacrifices they ought to be making but doing that would at least give the political class the moral credit to impose change and reform on mere ‘ordinary’ people.

    But those ordinary people will never buy into the scale of reform we need until they see if take place from the top down and how do the public make that happen? I don’t think reforming the system will make any difference to the fact that those in positions of authority and influence in Ireland choose not to share the same fate they impose on others.

    We’ve seen how the ‘revolutions’ of 2011 don’t really change much and certainly our ‘democratic revolution’ didn’t change anything in Ireland, so will we end up going over the cliff – the French Revolution, the 1848 revolutions, WW1 then WW2 were of the scale required to actually change societies – are we due another change on that scale as it’s been 65 years – so one must be due and like all of them before no one will ever see it coming.

  38. @Conor
    “We have a system which draws our legislators from a pool which has never had a tradition of being accountable for their actions, nor responsible to their constituents.”

    Are you overlooking the pre-1970s local government here in the Republic?
    I refer to the period prior to the abolition of rates on domestic residences – by political promises and later from agricultural land, arising from a court decision?

    For years, local authorities provided many now-centralised public services – based on locally raised funds of which rates (ie. property taxes) was the main component.
    For all its weaknesses, at that time local politicians were responsible for setting the rates and thus the level of resources available to local authorities for many public services.

  39. Donal’s latest observations have provoked a few more thoughts on my part. In any democracy it is possible to secure broad and sustained popular agreement only on a very few matters. But these tend to be the most important – and we should count our blessings that, whatever the Fates may expose us to, that agreement appears secure – and is continuously re-affirmed by the people. These matters include the ultimate right of the people to elect who governs, to have some say on how they are governed, to eject from office those whom they deem not to have passed muster and to replace them with others, to be able to vote in referenda on the constitutional rules of governance (and on changes to these rules) and to have a judiciary that is separate and independent from government.

    Wirhin this framework, which defines the essential features of a democracy, there is a huge variety in the structures and arrangements that may be employed – all of which enjoy constitutional legitimacy and, quite often by default, a broad measure of popular, democratic legitimacy. Over time, generally at the instigation of the executive, a situation has emerged where we have an ‘elected dictatorship’ – and it was never more evident than in these straitened times with the Economic War Cabinet, a highly centralised and expansive state apparatus relying on an enormous quangocracy, an impotent Oireachtas, a local governance structure lacking sufficient resources, revenue-raising powers or local popular accountability and well-organised civil society bodies representing various narrow, sectional economic interests that have the ability to bypass the Oireachtas and exercise influence directly on the ‘elected dictatorship’ behind the scenes.

    And all this, despite some persistent and nagging public unease – and reform proposals being advanced by various individuals and groups, seems to enjoy a broad measure of popular legitimacy. The idea of large numbers of actively engaged, interested and concerned citizens is a total fiction. Most people are content to delegate responsibility to elected representatives; they tend to have more pressing issues to contend with in their daily lives. And, in the Irish context, they appear content to have TDs as constituency advocates and mini-ombudspersons. This appears to be seen as an effective means of either extracting favours or securing redress from this highly centralised and expansive state apparatus.

    And, in the context that it is possible to ensure broad and sustained popular agreement only on a very few matters, where is the evidence of any widespread recognition of the extent to which successive governments – aided and abetted by the representatives of these narrow sectional interests – have gradually and insidiously engineered this outcome – or that this outcome favours native power elites and that this, despite the gains of the narrow sectional economic interests is, in aggregate, determimental to the interests of the vast majority of citizens?

    This is far too expansive a range and variety of deficiencies and dysfunction to be capable of being absorbed by a sufficiently large number of citizens in a way that would motivate some concerted action – in particular when most have far more pressing concerns and have only a passing interest in political matters. And those who participate in – and benefit from – the broad political process have every incentive to conceal the reality and to maintain the fiction that, in terms of institutions and procedures, everything is for the best of all possible worlds. And, in terms of any issues that might cause some public concern, relatively minor tweaks may be applied – and some tweaks will be applied whether they are required or not to give the impression of complying with the Government’s PfG.

    We might as well admit it, we’re at nothing unless some people with public standing – and a media platform – decide to reveal the reality.

  40. @ Donal,
    ““Conor:“We have a system which draws our legislators from a pool which has never had a tradition of being accountable for their actions, nor responsible to their constituents.””
    “Are you overlooking the pre-1970s local government here in the Republic?
    I refer to the period prior to the abolition of rates on domestic residences – by political promises and later from agricultural land, arising from a court decision?”

    I remember many comments of farmers and business people from the period after the abolition of rates, “At least when we had rates, they had to listen to us sometimes.”
    That was the last vestige of local government but it could not in any way be called local government as understood in most of Europe, Canada, and the USA.
    Local government is local, at parish level, and government, as in they are responsible for what happens within their area.
    Even local road repairs were in the gift of the county manager. As for appointing the manager, that was determined in Dublin. Schools were controlled by the Church and planning was and is a fiasco. In every other country planning without inspection would be a scandal and a sacking offence.

    To describe what we had then as local or governance would be like describing the taste of a potato by the nature of the bag in which it is sold.

    • “That was the last vestige of local government but it could not in any way be called local government as understood in most of Europe, Canada, and the USA.”

      Easily said, but is it true?

      You take a pot-shot at county managers. Are you aware that this American practice in local government (not everywhere in the US) was brought into Ireland as a response to corruption on the part of the then local government bodies?
      As far as I know, county management was first brought into Cork, then some other areas and finally the whole country under the 1943 Local Government Act.

      Similarly, both the Local Appointments Commission and the Civil Service Commissioners were set up in the early days of the state to overcome corruption in the appointments processes.

      I for one, am looking forward to Eilish Byrne’s book (one of the founders of this site) on corruption in Ireland in order to learn more about corruption since the state was founded and the responses to it.

  41. @Donal
    “both the Local Appointments Commission and the Civil Service Commissioners were set up in the early days of the state to overcome corruption in the appointments processes.”

    I can accept that there was corruption then, just as I can believe that there is corruption now. The solution to corruption then was deemed to be the transfer of responsibility from the councilors to a presumably incorruptible civil service. That presumption is now in tatters.
    It reflected a belief in managerialism and centralised decision making which disdained subsidiarity of power to community level structures.
    Genuine local government was never attempted in this country, but if you consider the growth of local organisations such as Credit Unions, Tidy towns or Community halls, one has to conclude that even though many of them managed significant operations there was minimal corruption. There were always problematic decisions but local control seemed to be able to deal with them.
    I do not know of any central government initiative which had any comparable impact on development of local facilities or of competencies in governance.
    I have been on organisations where volunteers had to take leave from work in order to meet local officials.
    I cannot recall any of these officials contributing their time voluntarily, though I assume it must have happened. I just never saw it.

    I note that a new thread has been opened on some polling data: as if that had any significance on a site called Political Reform.

    • “I do not know of any central government initiative which had any comparable impact on development of local facilities or of competencies in governance.”
      Fair enough.
      Do you know of any local initiative that provided other facilities/benefits now regarded as necessary (at least very useful) for living eg.
      – electricity;
      – clean water;
      – telecom services;
      – provision of steady work at decent wages;
      – fair prices for agricultural produce;
      – health/education/welfare services.

      Some of these call for more competencies that are normally mustered by local communities.
      Do you know of local initiatives that enhanced competencies in government?
      By this, I do not mean an exception to cover the kind of community/area that are normally involved in Credit Unions, Tidy Towns (in Dublin, there is a Tidy Districts drive) or community facilities.
      How many of these are supported directly or indirectly by eg. FAS schemes, Leader funding, Lotto funding, local government provision of equipment etc.

      “I have been on organisations where volunteers had to take leave from work in order to meet local officials.”
      So have many others, including myself.
      I have the same experience ie officialdom (local and and national) do not make it easy to meet people working in voluntary capacities (ie non-remunerated) on locally-based organisations. In my experience, elected representatives (local and national) have done nothing to change this – given that they have better access arising from their positions of having been elected.

      Does it ever occur to you that it is precisely such experiences that have led some people to explore other options on how we can govern ourselves?

      “I cannot recall any of these officials contributing their time voluntarily, though I assume it must have happened. I just never saw it”.
      I have seen local government officials work outside normal office hours – at meetings called by community-based groups.
      I cannot judge to what extent these officials were paid overtime. In some cases, I suspect not. In others, I suspect they did not claim it. They may have been given time-off in lieu – which I find acceptable.

      “I note that a new thread has been opened on some polling data: as if that had any significance on a site called Political Reform.”
      This site was set up by political scientists. It is supported by the Political Science Association of Ireland.
      Some political scientists specialise in the analysis of polling results. This is a legitimate activity.
      Better to keep focused on long overdue political and institutional reform than taking side swipes at those who provide this forum for discussion/exchange of views.
      When I think of it, I suspect that those who set up the site were almost certainly acting on the same basis as the local voluntary groups that you mention.

  42. @Donal,
    “Better to keep focused on long overdue political and institutional reform than taking side swipes at those who provide this forum for discussion/exchange of views.”

    My apologies. It is too easy to write hurtful things which I would be ashamed to be associated with in face to face meetings.

    I will reply to the rest of your posting later, but I needed to get this said immediately.

    • I too have taken issue with the work of political scientists here in Ireland – starting at the one day seminar on political reform which those who set up this site organised in TCD in June 2009.

      As the late Patrick Lynch said “From the clash of ideas, minds ignite”

  43. @Donal,
    “Do you know of any local initiative that provided other facilities/benefits now regarded as necessary (at least very useful) for living”

    To answer your question with examples that I know of around me: there are several group water schemes, here is one: BALLINGUIROE/TANKARDSTOWN GROUP WATER SCHEME
    https://docs.google.com/?tab=mo&authuser=0&pli=1#folders/0B_RR4FSYiM8WZjZkOWE3N2EtZWM2Ni00YmYwLWFkYmUtMmYzYmVhOWYyN2Yw
    The cooperative marts produced markets for cattle,
    http://www.corkmarts.com/
    Health, education, welfare,
    http://web.muintir.ie/default.asp?com=muintircc&org=mitchelstown&id=7&mnu=7

    This is where the abilities of a political science scholar are essential because my experiences are anecdotal.

    One study that I have come across is by the Canadian Robert L Bish which addresses some of the concepts of scale in small local governments in Canada.
    Page 2:
    “Metropolitan areas with numerous local
    governments and a variety of production arrangements can respond to local needs at less
    cost than monolithic amalgamations. The superior performance of such “polycentric”
    structures stems from competition among governments — and from their service
    arrangements with outside organizations of various scales, including cooperation in specific
    tasks with neighboring governments. Decentralization among local governments is no
    hindrance to economic growth, says Bish: some of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas
    are also among the most governmentally fragmented. Amalgamation, on the other hand,
    tends to eliminate the very characteristics of local government that are critical to successful
    low cost operations.

    You will get the pdf by Googling:
    Discredited ideas and Utopian ideals driving municipal amalgamations,
    says C.D. Howe Institute study

    My experience is that Fás and Leader schemes follow community initiatives rather than lead them.

  44. Conor,
    Thanks for the reference to that Canadian study which I will follow up.

    I too used to think of Group Water Schemes as an example of local communities providing one of the essentials of living.
    I then began to hear anecdotes that the water from such schemes in some places was not drinkable.
    It then emerged that the Government had to effectively nationalise them, as they (or many of them) had failed to maintain the operational efficacy by small and big reinvestment in order to maintain drinking water standards and also comply with changes to those standards.
    The fact that some may have done all that successfully does not appear to have dealt with the problem of “free riders” elsewhere.
    If I have misunderstood something, let me know.

    The fact that FAS and Leader programmes follow local initiative can also be looked at another way.
    If people had to raise the funding to implement the ideas/projects arising from such local initiative, would they happen?
    To what extent are such local initiatives “evoked” by the existence of FAS and Leader programmes?

    Assuming the merits of such local initiatives, could they they place without the complexities implied in FAS and Leader? By complexities, I refer to the
    1) gathering of resources by FAS/Leader – presumably as part of a process involving decisions by politicians at various local, regional, national and even international levels;
    2) disbursement of those resources, with minimal scope for waste and corruption which involves some form of organisation, administration and financial control;
    3) means for accounting (to the various publics) on the operation and outcomes of such programmes.

    The response to increasing complexification (eg. supply of electricity, IT, health care facilities) is to sub-divide (ie. have smaller units doing the essential work), another is to improve information processing ie. smarter brainpower.

    People get very emotional about poor water quality or electiricity supplies breaking down (eg. during storms) or unsteady work at poor wages or overcrowded class rooms or A&E facilities etc However, emotion may provide the spur to do something. Getting the something done so that issues remained fixed (despite changing needs and requirements) call for capabilities to complement the emotional drive.

  45. @Donal,
    “Getting the something done so that issues remained fixed (despite changing needs and requirements) call for capabilities to complement the emotional drive.”

    Agreed.
    Look at this article from the Bbc on why there are so many Irish people managing airlines:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15836677
    Because they have been at it for a long time.
    It takes time and thinking to build up competencies.

    Given the way in which our local organisations are deprived of accountability, responsibility, or statutary powers is it not remarkable that they are able to match the performance of the ‘suits’ any time that they are given the chance.
    We are heading for austerity, one way or another, in which cash resources will be at a minimum. If ever there were a time to unshackle our local organising competencies this is it.

    Whether our scholars should engage with us is no longer the question. The question is when and how.

  46. “It takes time and thinking to build up competencies.”
    Agree entirely.
    The airline industry example is not the only one.
    There are a lot of people with experience of “accountability, responsibility” and appropriate skills throughout Ireland.

    In addition to Irish-based and Irish-managed multinational airlines (eg. GPA, Ryanair), there are many Irish people who have the experience of success at all levels in other similar businesses that trade internationally. Take companies that have gone multinational eg. Kerry Foods, Glanbia, Riverdance, Paddy Power, FEXCO Take the many small cheese producers that export some of their produce. There are many IT companies eg. Iona. Irish multinationals (in many sectors) employ virtually the same amount of people in the US as do non-Irish multinationals in this Republic.

    The issue is why does our way of governing ourselves not draw on the skills and experience which are here to build a common prosperity based on accountability and responsibility.

    The documents you linked to on the BALLINGUIROE/TANKARDSTOWN GROUP WATER SCHEME indicates that that this is not easy. If it not easy for such an essential, it is not surprising that it equally difficult in the area of governance, at local, regional, national and international levels.

    We have many challenges here. The scholars are not stopping us from facing up to these.

    re heading for austerity,
    We should benchmark the degree of austerity against what we have experienced previously, how other people live in other parts of the EU and other parts of world.

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