Political reform at a snail’s pace

Posted by David Farrell (January 14, 2012)

Two areas greatly in need for reform are funding of politics and the operation of the Dáil – both in the news today (see here and here).  In fairness to the government, some move has been made on both agendas (more generally, see here): legislation has been brought in relating to donations to political parties; and there have been changes to how the Dáil operates including the introduction of Friday sittings.

But there is a lot more to do, a lot of which has been promised the Programme for Government but not yet dealt with.

  • The government promised to end the scandal of unvouched expenses. There is much more to this than the issue currently in the news relating to unvouched ‘leaders’ expenses’ to independent TDs and Senators. Each and every TD and Senator has the right to take their parliamentary expenses as unvouched (meaning that they don’t have to provide receipts or prove that the monies were spent on the purposes for which they should), and many take this option.
  • The government has yet to ban corporate donations.

And there are changes not referred to in the Programme for Government that actually would be well worth considering, notably:

  • Why can’t the Dáil meet on a regular 9-5, Monday-Friday (or Monday-Thursday) basis? As reported in the public accounts committee, this could save the public exchequer a lot of money (on over time payments to staff). It would also be more family friendly (one of the factors in our low numbers of women TDs). And it would help to reduce the parish-pump focus of our politicians, because they would have less time in their constituencies.

The reform agenda of this government is undoubtedly moving forward, but at snail’s pace. As we approach the end of its first year in government, now is as good a time as any for it to step up a gear.

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24 thoughts on “Political reform at a snail’s pace

  1. The majority of citizens in this state appear to have little concern about so-called ‘political reform’. Most know full well, if you asked them, that the probability of ‘statistically significant political reform’, is zero, zip and zilch. The remainder (reform advocates) may be motivated by genuine ideals; I suppose they have some personal outcomes in mind. In fact, those few unwise souls who do make a public nuisance of themselves are likely to be ‘slimed’. Mug the messenger, not their message. Our current courageous leaders are very good at sliming.

    There are different sorts of human addictions: nicotine; alcohol; ‘drugs’; gambling, and the worst addiction of all – spending other people’s money. Most particularly if its the future income of those unfortunate folk. That would be our chappies and lassies in Leinster House. They are generally incompetent – except when it gets to spending other people’s (taxpayers) money. This is why no reform (meaningful structural sort) will ever happen. They’re addicts. Without those annual fiscal ‘fixes’, we citizens would rapidly recognise our legislators for the useless social parasites they are. And do you honestly, genuinely, truely, believe that the current IMF/EU/ECB programme will cure their addiction? Not a snowball’s chance in hell! Those critters are still dealing fiscal ‘crack’ – and demanding our addicts hand over more – of other peoples money!

    I expect that there may be ‘an event horizon’ with respect to Oireactheas re-structurings. Before 2020? But it will only be possible when there have been three, possibly fou,r general elctions (within say, a 24 month time span) where the major parties between them, get 45% (or less) of votes each time, and are ‘forced’ to form minority administrations. They will be become so ‘strung out’ that they will do anything, even if that means a Constitutional prohibition on deficit budgets for current spending.

    There is a long, hard slog ahead for reformers. The prognosis is dim. The outcomes very uncertain. So, why bother? Exactly! Most folk have less trivial things to be doing with their time.

    Brian

  2. I am pleased to see my fears about the demise of this blog were exaggerated. But it’s difficult not to be pessimistic and negative. That’s why I strive to maintain an informed despondency.

    Any meaningful ‘political reform’ will require a re-balancing of powers between an overmighty executive and a supine legislature, between a highly centralised government apparatus and a totally emasculated local governance structure and between an excessively powerful and pervasive government machine (and associated quangocracy) and disenfranchised, atomised and individualised citizens.

    It will also need to address the conflict between citizens as citizens and consumers and their primary economic activities or status. In economic terms, most citizens are defined by their profession, occupation or economic activity. This is true also for those who are unemployed, retired or in further education. And there is a plethora of professional, occupational and civil society associations across all sectors advancing the narrow, sectional economic interests of all these different groups, businesses and activities – all jostling to advance their interests ahead of those of others or seeking to defend their interests against depradation by others.

    Most citizens are conflicted. As taxpayers and final consumers, who pay for everything bar exports, they have an interest in low taxes, low costs and low prices for the widest possible range of high quality goods and services. But as producers or suppliers, or in terms of their economic status, they wish to maximise the rewards or returns on these activities irrespective of the impact on others and the bodies advancing their narrow sectional economic interests allow them to do this.

    So each narrow sectional economic interest will pursue its case and, thereby, in aggregate will raise costs for all, but each narrow sectional interest will not be concerned once it can exercise enough pressure where it counts to ’stay one step ahead of the game’. Those able to exercise sufficient economic and political power will win – and often handsomely; those unable to exercise sufficient economic and political power will lose out; but all will lose out in aggregate because the cost base of the economy will be far higher than it need be and deadweight costs and inefficiencies will abound.

    In the absence of a functioning parliament – to debate, to argue and to secure trade-offs, compromises or some degree of balance among all these narrow sectional economic interests and, then, to direct government to implement appropriate policies, government is compelled to stike some balance anong these competing narrow sectional economic interests behind closed doors in a manner that will not prejudice its over-riding objective – securing re-election.

    When one considers (1) this reality, (2) the fact that government will dominate and determine any proposals for reform, (3) the optical illusion it is seeking to project internationally of broad popular acceptance of severe fiscal adjustment, of a resolved banking sector and of an open and flexible economy – and the fact that it will not relinquish any of its executive dominance for fear of failing to sustain this optical illusion, (4) the general lack of interest in meaningful reform of existing institutions and procedures and (5) the fact that those with competence and resources to promote refrom focused on the creation of a new institution outside and beyond existing structures, it is difficult to avoid informed despondency.

  3. Why is anyone surprised at the lack of reform? Where is it meant to come from? The public? No. Those at the top? Certainly not. From the new government? Please!

    So where is the driving force of reform in Ireland going to come from? It’s depressingly hard to see to be honest.

    However, there is some hope because there is always a breaking point and given the government is deciity tht €3billion each year up to 2016, we then have to start repaying debts at a rate of €4billion a year, that breaking point will sooon be reached I would imagine as all those who grit their teeth and pay more because they have a bit of Celtic Tiger guilt at how well they did but that guilt is wearing off.

    But of course the answer is easy – the reforms have to start from the top down and now we have a ‘socialist’ President I’m sure it is only a matter of time before he provides that lead but given his track record, I won’t be holding my breath …

  4. The government will delay reform in the not unreasonable expectation that it will fall out of fashion with the public (already has to a degree) but lets not be pessimistic.

    I have no doubt that there is now more awareness about the issues and plenty of latent support for cause among the general public.

    It’s also something the new editor of the Irish Times has been focussing on. Whats going on with Report Card.ie? There should definitely be a critical report published on the 1 year anniversary of Labour/FG entering power, make it an regular event. I think Labour would be more susceptible to pressure on this issue, those of us that care need to stick at it, even if it feels like a thankless job.

  5. There can be little doubt that, unfortunately for many and tragically for quite a few, Ireland has entered in to what will possibly be a long period of economic stagnation. And Ireland has been here before – in the ’50s and the ’80s.

    But what many people seem to forget – and of what, I suspect, most people are unaware – is that the shifts in economic policy that lifted the economy, slowly, but inexorably, out of stagnation were initiated by relatively few senior officials, mainly in the Department of Finance, but within the existing power structures. No significant political reform occasioned this, or was required or was applied. Towards the end of the ’50s, TK Whitaker and the team of able officials he assembled convinced the second Inter-Party government of the need for a major shift in economic policy and this was accepted by the FF government which replaced it and which was eventually led by Sean Lemass.

    During the ’80s, Colm McCarthy, although he is not in to blowing his own trumpet, was consistent and forceful in highlighting the unsustainability of the increasing national debt and increasing unemployment and emigration. He was not alone, but he was perhaps the most forceful, pithy, convincing and tenacious. Senior officials in government departments, again mainly Finance, were eventually convinced that major fiscal consolidation was required. The penny dropped during the twilight days of the FG-Labour coalition government, but it was unable to agree on the nature or extent of fiscal consolidation required, and so it was left to the incoming FF government to implement it.

    In both cases it required the executive dominance exercised by government to see off and overcome the narrow sectional economic interests opposed to the implementation of these shifts in economic policy that lifted the economy out of stagnation and set it, for a period, on a prosperous path.

    History, once again, seems to be repeating itself. We have the stagnation and it looks likely it will continue. The narrow sectional economic interests are exercising their power and influence behind the scenes to stymie the structural reforms that would help lift the economy out of stagnation. However, while the export enclave keeps churning out the exports, the resilient non-sheltered sectors keep fighting their uphill battle, the committed front-line public servants keep doing their jobs and, crucially, while the powerful narrow sectional economic interests remain quiescent, the economic stagnation will be manageable – and the Government will have a good chance of being re-elected.

    At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters. And so, we will probably have to wait, once again, until some concerned senior officials convince a government that a major shift in policy is required.

  6. The bottom line is that the pressure for reform must come from the bottom up and be responded to from the top down and when we see the reaction of well off pensioners at the hint they might have to pay some tax back you see how the chance of there ever being real reform is zero but in some ways is good as it must mean despite all the whinging and moaning people are actually far better off than we would think for a country in recession ofr 4 years with 20 years of budget cuts ahead of them.

    Like all things it will only be with hindsight that we’ll see the breaking point and the evidence indicates we are not even close to it yet so why would there be any political reform.

    I mean how many people see the expenses etc and go tut tut and then turn the page and don’t even send an e-mail because it’s too much effort to stop watching their flat screen HD TV and get angry.

  7. Pesssimestic and negative? Maybe, but not using my current Model-in-Use.

    I am judging the actual behaviour of our recently elected representatives. The ones that count, Government ministers, are demonstrating no traction whatsoever with what is actually required – in terms of political re-structuring. For them, it would appear that ‘business-as-usual’ is fine. Well, its not. And sooner or later we will discover this the hard way – as we are doing now in respect of the current the financial disaster. This could have been completely avoided if competent (read: courageous) regulators had actually done their jobs (no additional laws or regs were needed – just implement what was available). Now we have the same sort of behaviour from our legislators. Either pretend there is no problem (no need to act), or denigrate critics (eg: William Buiter a few day ago). The minister’s comments were quite disgraceful.

    If I accept the validity of what Carty, Chubb, Farrell, Garvin, Healy, Lee, Livingston and Mair have written about Irish politics and politicians, then my assessment of their behaviour (in respect of Oireachteas re-structurings) has to be that; there is no meaningful intellectual engagement taking place, and that its Parish Pump politics abu!. Hence my deep optimism that Irish legislators will ‘do nothing’.

    I was a member of a major Irish political party: that was a massive reality check!. I have ‘lobbied’ and written to my local deputies. Wast of time. So what do I do now? Warn reform-minded folk that they are wasting their efforts. A completely different strategy and set of tactics is needed. By all means propose the type and nature of reforms you believe are necessary if the ‘elected dictatorship’ in the Dáil is to be got rid of. Then let time and circumstance deliver. As I am optimistic, that it will.

    Brian

  8. I notice that there is a tendency to veer between the pessimism and negativity of which David Farrell accused Brian Woods and a desire to retain some hope for better brighter days. The unfolding reality is likely to be a drawn-out period of economic stagnation that won’t impose excessive hardship on the ‘comfortable majority’ of citizens. Once it can manage and balance the competing demands of the various narrow sectional economic interests to keep this ‘comfortable majority’ on side, manage the discontent of those outside of this ‘comfortable majority’ and secure the support of a majority of both camps, a government will retain power. And this Government looks to be assured of that. If at any time Labour decides to cut and run it will be toast – and it knows it. They will hang together because they know that, on their own, they will be hanged separately.

    In addition, no coherent governing alternative is likely to be provided by this combination of populist nationalism, of a slightly more respectable expression of populist nationalism, the slightly harder ‘left’ – harder than Labour that is – and independents. And a majority of people seems to realise this – though it is likely that most, if not all, of these factions will secure increased popular support.

    In this context, it may be that FF will decide that any prospect of securing a future role in governing – and to provide any prospect of re-acquiring its historic position as the natural party of government – resides in making itself acceptable to its Auld Enemy, FG, as a junior coalition partner should FG decide to discard Labour. FF can be assured of re-building its support base outside of the major urban areas, but it may find that it difficult in the major urban areas, in particular Dublin – even if Labour’s support could prove soft with some of it returning to FF.

    The apparent determination of the current government to remain in power and to secure re-election combined with possible moves to re-align the factions in advance of – or after – the next general election make it unlikely that there will be any serious political interest in the reforms required. Such a re-alignment would be beneficial in any event as it would create two political power blocs broadly defined by different position on where the boundaries between the state and markets/private sector should lie – similar to most other long-established democracies.

    So, in the context of this jostling between and among the politcial factions, any prospect of ‘political reform’ lies in crafting credible and deliverable incentives for backbench TDs to pursue and support it – and to convince voters of its benefits.

    The prize of securing and retaining the power to govern is simply too large. And this is true, to varying extents in all EU democracies. But it is especially true in Ireland due to the excessive executive dominance which exceeds that in most other democracies. It really is a winner takes all game. Power needs to be dispersed with more and lower-value prizes. This single minded obsession with securing and retaining one single prize has caused, and continues to cause, major economic damage. Governments implement what are perceived as vote-winning policies irrespective of the economic consequences and, generally, without any objective consideration of the consequences. And they are vulnerable to capture by powerful, narrow, sectional economic interests.

    Does this sound familiar? It certainly captures the behaviour of governments since 1997. The current government is really no different – even if it is seeking to minimise the leakage of the huge number of votes it secured mostly by default follwing the brutal judgement delivered by the people on the previous government. The game never really changes beacuse there is just one huge prize.

    Dispersing power from central government to the Oireachtas and local government would create more prizes. Something for the politcial scientists to develop as a proposition for backbench TDs, perhaps?

  9. One of the best reforms to date from the point of view of backbenchers is the new facility to raise “topical issues” in the Dail. This replaces the adjournment matters that used to take place in the graveyard shift of a day’s Dáil proceedings. It was used very effectively by 5 TDs, including myself, to raise the plight of the La Senza workers in the Dáil the first day back in the Dáil. An unscripted offer was made in response by Minister of State Sean Sherlock to meet with representatives of the workers and he also gave updated information about what documentation had not been received from the employers/administrators of the company by the Government and this information was very relevant to the case of the workers. Transcript of the debate is here:
    http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2012/01/11/00012.asp

    • Joanna,

      Its the way things are set up and carried out. The government is an unvarnished, elected dictatorship. The Ombudsman has no parlimentary immunity. Freedom of Information is a bad, sick joke. Local gov is so dreadful, normal polite adjectives fail.

      What you describe as a ‘reform’ is simply some crumbs tossed out. It fails the ‘accountability’ smell test. When our parliament has the power, and can, and will, demand government accountability. Then it passes.

      Politicians and some political commentators witter on about the apparent apathetic behaviour of voters. Well, I respectfully suggest that you look in a mirror and ask yourself, “Is the behaviour of TD’s in the Dáil and in their constituencies, conducive to the development of a well informed, engaged citizenry – or is it simply pandering? In the Dáil the backbenchers pander to their whips: then reprise that with their constituents.

      Please do not appempt to suggest that the right to vote, and the exercise of the vote, is the mechanism by which citizens engage with politics. It is indeed necessary, but completely insufficient. Irish parlimentary democracy has a very long road to travel if it wants to really engage its citizens, in a meaningful instrumental manner, in the political life of this state.

      Brian

      • Brian,

        Saw your comment after I posted below so don’t want to duplicate you might read my comment below as well. I think you are dismissive of local government. Its not all good, and some is bad (that human thing of being a mixed bag is in every country and all walks of life) but there are some very good initiatives at local government level and some very good people involved both elected and working for local authorities.

        Re pandering to constituents, I often, and so do many others, take decisions that are not popular locally. But I am not legal draftsperson, I am a representative that brings to bear what I learn from my contact with my constituents, to my legislative work. I definitely don’t pander to my whip. See reply to below.

    • Welcome back, Deputy Tuffy. Some of us feared you had been ‘whipped’ in to submission 🙂

      Unfortunately, rather than presenting a reform that is unambiguously in the public interest, the example you advance highlights, in brutal clarity, precisely what is so wrong with the current system of democratic governance. It shows that some TDs are now being permitted to act. like the slightly more learned advocates of some serfs, to press their petitions on a medieval absolute monarch – even if this absolute monarch in the modern era is the multi-headed beast of government. And these TDs exult in their success in securing the kind attention of this absolute monarch to the concerns of these serfs – when he has so much else to attend to – and broadcast their success in doing so to improve their chances that the serfs will come to rely on their excellent services at intervention with the monarch.

      However, what the serfs know full what is that they, and they alone, decide who occupies the throne – and for how long. What they don’t seem to realise is that their advocates, the TDs, to whom they delegate their ultimate authority not only convey the will of the people to confirm who governs, but they have the power and the duty to direct government to design and advance policies in the public interest.

      Power flows from the people to the Dail to government. Currently, once a government is elected by the Dail it assumes, and, in effect, usurps from the Dail, all the powers and pomps of a medieval absolute monarch.

      Surely it is time for TDs to recognise that, between general elections, they and the Dail hold and exercise the ultimate authority of the people and not the government they have elected. It would also relieve the people of the responsibility between general elections to use every opportunity they get at the polling booths to exercise some restraint on an overmighty government. This is a potent weapon – and the people have an inalienable right to use it, but it is crude, often ineffective and inefficient – and may lead to outcomes not intended by a plurality of voters.

      All I can say to all TDs not on the government ‘payroll’ is: the Dail is yours; exercise the powers that voters have delegated and entrusted to you in their interests; and direct, scrutinise and restrain government in their interest.

      However, I expect that, for most TDs, the current system, with its built-in incentives, rewards, inducements, prospects of promotion, risk of punishment and constraints, is far too comfortable and rewarding. And the majority of voters, for very good reasons, seems to be reluctant and unwilling to permit them to exercise fully the powers they have delegated to them. Perhaps they are content for TDs in the governing factions to be fully enchained by government – and those in the opposing factions to be enchained by thier leaderships.

      The mess Ireland is in – and from which it is struggling to extract itself – was caused primarily by unrestrained and overmighty governments captured by narrow sectional economic interests. The declared intentions of the current government may be good, but its dominance exceeds even that of the previous government. Voters should work on the basis of ‘trust, but verify’. And TDs should engage with voters to persuade them that can do this – and should be empowered to do this.

      However, I suspect most TDs prefer to play the current well-known and comfortable game. Why risk damage to the operation of a weell-oiled gravy-train?

  10. Paul,

    Is the gist of what you are saying that TDs should not be bound by the whip?

    TDs often (not always) comply with whip for much nobler reasons than you give them credit for. For example, you believe in what your party stands for, so you are loyal to it. You weigh things up and on balance decide that its best to vote with your colleagues. After all collective action on policies you believe in is why you joined a party in the first place. You make a judgement about whether it’s best to fight for an issue from on the inside or the outside. On the opposite side of the coin TDs have, do and will take a stand on issues they feel strongly about only to be treated to as cynical commentary as they would have faced if they voted the other way.

    In a way I think relaxation of the whip system in the Oireachtas is the only reform that would be a genuine reform. At least it would be good to see a move to more independence of Tds on certain types of issues and in committees such as the Investigations and Petitions Committee.

    Have you attended any of the meetings of this committee as I know you have taken an interest in the idea of petitions?. I would also point out to you that in the Seanad my idea for the right to petition the Seanad which resulted in a change in Standing Orders to allow for a Seanad Petitions Commitee, was finally implemented as this: http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/oireachtasbusiness/committees-list/public-consultation-seanad/

    • @Deputy Tuffy,

      I trust that you do not view any frustration I might express here at the sheep-like behaviour of so many TDs as being directed at you personally. I very much appreciate your willingness to engage here – as I am sure do many others. It would be wonderful if more of your colleagues were prepared to do so.

      With regard to the whip, the answer is no. Without some form of whip system effective enactment of legislation and governance would be impossible. And I fully agree with your point about collective action to design, enact and implement policies. However, I would argue that for each TD who is a member of a party, the presumption should be loyalty to a position democratically agreed and collectively accepted, but that, when a TD has doubts about the extent to which a particular policy proposal, which has yet to be enacted, coincides with his or her judgement on what is in the public interest, he or she should be persuaded by open debate based on facts, evidence and analysis – and not whipped in to submission.

      The media are much at fault in this area. When a TD raises some concern about a policy or aspect of a policy, the media invariably blow this up with stories about rifts, rows, splits, revolts and rebellions. There will always be jostlling among TDs to secure some advantage or other, but, in many cases, all a TD (or a group of TDs) might be saying is that we are unpersuaded that this policy – or an aspect of this policy – is in the public interest. Irrespective of this, the storm whipped up by the media will raise questions about the authority of the party leadership or government and the whip will be enforced unilaterally. So, either the TD submits or accepts its removal.

      Any reform of the whip system would obviously be fraught with difficulty, but I remain convinced that people would have much more trust in the judgements and decisions of their TDs if it were clear that these were made as a result of being persuaded following open adversarial disputation based on facts, evidence and analysis – rather than as a result of being whipped through the lobbies.

      On the Government side this would require a major change from the current approach where policies are crafted behind closed doors by ministers, their advisers and senior officials – and subject to the influence of who knows what narrow sectional economic interests – and promulgated as faits accompli whose enactment is whipped through the Oireachtas with minimal effective scrutiny or amendment.

      The rare occasions when government is thwarted or forced to reconsider are the exceptions that prove the rule.

      Governments should be compelled by the Oireachtas to rely much more on persuasion – by allowing full evaluation and contestation of the objectives, key elements, process of implementation and expected outcomes of proposed policies prior to the drafting of legislation – than on enforcement. Ireland is in this current mess because of the ability of succesive governments to enforce the enactment of legislation that was entirely wrong-headed. The ability of this Government to enforce the enactment of legislation is even more than that of the previous one. And, although its intentions may be good, it should be prepared to persuade on the basis of the effiicacy of the ensuing policies rather than spin and enforce their enactment that requires taking their good intentions on trust without any effective public verification.

      I know all of this isn’t easy, but it is the only way to secure genuine democratic legitimacy and to minimise the incidence and severity of wrong-headed policies.

      Over to you Deputy Tuffy – and your colleagues.

  11. Joanna,

    Thanks for the comment. We all have Reference Frames, Mindsets, Models-in-Use – whatever you want to call them. Psychologists use the term Espoused Beliefs. They dictate (mostly) our behaviours. Its when our behaviours (what others observe us doing) are incongruent with our espoused beliefs (what we have been saying); then someone has some explaining to do.

    Just what in God’s holy name is the ILP doing in government at this time? Seriously. Policy or Office? This is a genuine question.

    Please do not attempt to say that it would be preferable to be in office (less harm to our citizens), than being a formidable opposition – so formidable, that you would have been able to extract significant reforms from a twitchy administration. The Dáil reforms must come first. Then, and only then can policy be challenged.

    I believe that the ILP has put self before citizen.

    Brian.
    (my regards to Eamonn, by the way)

    • Brian,

      You mustn’t have heard that I voted against going into Government!

      Those that voted the other way did so because they thought it would be worse for the Irish People if Labour stayed in opposition and that was the way the debate in favour was framed at the Special Conference at which the vote was taken. I very much doubt any Labour TD is in Government for self considering the potential consequences for LB electorally. And many voters had expressed that wish, that we’d protect them from the worst excesses of Fine Gael that might occur in a single party Government of that Party. Very few get “office”, so I don’t think you can pin desire for “office” on the members that voted to go into Government, and its not all its cracked up to be in any case. What they do get is power and I am with you if you feel Labour is not weilding that power enough in the interest of equality etc., which is why I voted against going into Government on the basis of the Programme for Government that had been agreed between the two parties negotiation teams. But a democratic decision was taken by my party to go into Government nonetheless and I respect that decision and will do my best to ensure that Labour achieves as much as it can in Government for the people, in my role as Government backbencher
      (Will pass on regards)

  12. I just want to make a general reply to David’s post here. I watched The Week in Politics and in a report on the Friday sittings it was more or less accepted that what Fianna Fail says must be true, i.e. that the sittings are a scam. I would the point that first of all, that David is wrong that the scourge of our politics is constituency work and thankfully Joe Higgins took him up on that. Our problems were caused at a very high level by Ministers, some of whom that didn’t bother to attend their clinics or hold clinics anymore but were happy to meet with the lobbyists for the financial sector. Constituents are those that are affected by the decisions of the Dail and despite some political scientists looking down on this aspect of our work, that has been shown in studies by other political scientists to be a universal phenomenon, and look instead at the unregulated lobbying of TDs that is on the rise, well funded and one way the rich and powerful get to influence political decisions. Secondly, the Friday sittings are an interim measure but it is significant the power it gives to individual TDs. On these days at present TDs are allowed to table private members bills that are selected by lottery. We all, backbencher and opposition TD alike, have been offered legal drafting services to enable us to prepare these bills. Now you can be cynical, like Fianna Fail and say this is a scam, or you can make something of this opportunity to bring in legislation from the back benches or opposition. Personally I choose to try the latter.

    • I fear I may have been mis-interpreted. I’m not against constituency work per se: indeed, in much of my work I’ve tried to make the point that ‘linkage’ between politicians and citizens is a good thing and much to be recommended. The issue that many commentators have made about Irish parish pump politics is the (large) extent of if and its nature. Of course, this is not THE cause of our current problems: it is part of a wider picture. If our political system is to be improved a number of issues should be addressed, notably: accountability of government; openness and transparency; reforming and strengthening local government. In the mix should also be attention to the role of our TDs.

    • Exactly what reforms in transparency have their been since the election?

      Were are the FOI reforms?
      Why can’t I walk in off the street to sit in the Dáil gallery like I can do in London and even in Washington DC without the need to grease the palm of a TD or Senator?
      Why don’t you publish receipts for the expenses you claim?
      Why are you claiming travel costs?
      How much money has been donated to you since the election?
      Where’d you get the money to fund your election campaign?
      How many lobbyists have you met since the election?
      How much money changed hands?
      How much money has Labour raked in via corporate donations since the election?
      How often does Gilmore meet with lobbyists and why are there no records of those meetings?
      Why has nothing been done to cap all publis ector pensions at the eqivalent of €60k (all that needs to be done is they are reclassed in new tax codes and taxed accordingly so the net effect is that someone ends up on the same income as a person on a €60k salary and even then that’s more than generous).
      Where is the transparency on appointments – what are the chances that every single person appointed to adviser roles have links to each party – so much for the best person and as for the salary breaches ….

      Instead we have hideousness of a Labour President claiming integrity is him taking a salary of €240k pa – I see McAleese carried out 14 engagements for the 2nd week in January last year while Higgins carried out 4 last week – hardly earning his keep is he!

      And on and on the list could go of things that would make a massive difference and could have been done in the first month – you’d think people who waited 15 years to get back into office would have done more and yet almost one year in – what a massive disappointment and where we the fools to expect at least more honesty and integrity even if we knew the bigger issues wouldn’t be solved overnight.

      To think a Labour government in the UK managed to set up the NHS within 3 years of coming to power after a war that left the economy in bits – the point being where there’s a will there’s a way and it seems there’s precious little will to reform anything in this new goverment?

  13. One small change that would make an enormous difference would be if FG kept their promise to have 2 weeks between a bill being published and debated in the house. This would give Members time to think about a bill before they had a second stage speech. The heads going to committee is great but to actually get a chance to see what the legislation ‘actually’ says rather than what it ‘intends’ to say must be a good idea.

  14. @ DFitz: They just do not give a damn Des. Not a single solitary damn. OK, there are some deputies who are dismayed. Well, then they should ‘walk’. They won’t have to take a P45, now would they? Just exactly what ‘sanction’ would they encounter? Zippo!

    The ILP was presented with a Golden Opportunity to re-fashion Irish politics – and guess what? They funked it! Money talks Des.

    Your’n and mine just keeps saying “goodbye”; that of the TD’s just keeps saying “Hello!”

    Brian.

  15. The RTE journalist on the 6’oclock news reporting about the Taoiseach’s evasive answers to questions in the Dáil today regarding further postponement of the Constitutional Review Convention said many people were “sceptical” about the likelihood of the Convention ever happening given that it is over a year since it was promised.
    @David Farrell
    The snail’s pace must now be classed an exaggeration of the progress on political reform.

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