Guest post by Sarah O’Neill, founder Dailwatch.ie
For many, last week’s AngloTapes have reinforced a sense of cynicism in the political system and confirmed their rationale for disengaging from the political process. The conversation between two Anglo’s senior managers suggests that the banks had the upper hand in negotiations with government leaders and reveals an arrogance among the bank’s officials in considering the repercussions of their actions. However, outrage and blame are temporary and without independent, transparent mechanisms for ensuring accountability within our political system, we are at danger of sleep-walking into yet another crisis.
According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, 9 in 10 Irish people feel that the government is not listening to citizens’ needs and feedback. This figure indicates a massive breakdown in communication between the average citizen and their elected representatives. The channels for communication currently available – constituency hours, letter-writing, social media and an Oireachtas telephone number – are inadequate to facilitate the kind of substantial engagement that is clearly lacking.
On the other hand, politicians who want to communicate their accomplishments and intentions have no neutral platform that allows them to reach their constituents directly. Media attention can leave them vulnerable to misrepresentation and the vast majority of feedback comes from an active minority who can be unrepresentative of the community at large.
To increase public engagement in the political process we need to clarify and distill government information and put in place mechanisms which make the political system more understandable and accessible to citizens, allowing them to easily monitor their leaders.
Furthermore, trust can only be rebuilt through open and honest communication. Ireland is currently recovering from one of the most challenging times in our national history, it is imperative that there is open, public discourse around the direction of our country.
Dailwatch.ie is a non-profit, politically neutral website which facilitates direct, public Q&A between citizens and TDs. We also provide access to voting records and have recently received a grant from The Ireland Funds and are conducting a crowd-funding campaign, to build a new tool which will clarify and distill government information further. The website is intended to be mutually beneficial, by streamlining TDs correspondence with their constituents and lowering the barriers to political participation among citizens.
The website is in partnership with a German charity called ParliamentWatch, which has proven the success of the model, facilitating over 120,000 questions with an over 95% response rate from politicians since its launch in 2004.
Haranguing, bar stool politics, clientelism, are all negative behaviors associated with the political culture which caused the crisis. Public discourse and a more informed citizen population are the most powerful deterrents to an inefficient political system. To bring about substantial political reform, we must all contribute towards creating a new political narrative. To engage with your representative now – visit www.dailwatch.ie