“Reform Scorecard” Nua?

Elaine Byrne, University of New South Wales: 5 August 2013


Following from Dr Theresa Reidy’s excellent post on the need for a political reform “roadmap”, perhaps the political science community might once again engage in an updated version of the “reform scorecard” which was conducted prior to the 2011 general election.

The best roadmap right now is clarity.

On that occasion, Johnny Ryan and Joseph Curtin were responsible for providing the structure, formulation and presentation of the scorecard. The purpose of such an initiative in 2013 would be to highlight the reforms that have been introduced since the election, those which have yet to be implemented, suggestions for new reforms and shortcomings, if any, of existing reforms. This kind of peer reviewed process is regularly conducted by GRECO, IDEA, Global Integrity, TI and various EU bodies. Mark Carpenter (TCD) and I have contributed to the European Commission report on Irish governance which will be published in the Autumn.

A “reform scorecard” with singular emphasis on political reform would have the benefit of pointing to the (many) legislative reforms that are in the process of being implemented (It’s not all bad news – FOI, political funding, whistleblowing, lobbying and so forth). The process would also serve to focus attention on *what* reforms are deemed absent. The debate right now is very noisy. “What do we want?! POLITICAL REFORM! When do we want it? NOW!” Like apple pie, everyone wants political reform but there is no consensus as to *what* those reforms are, nor is there acknowledgement in public debate on the reforms which the government have already brought about.

If there is an appetite for a “Reform Scorecard” Nua, may I suggest three amendments to the process conducted in 2011.

1. Each “section” of the reform scorecard should primarily be adjudicated on by those with expertise in that particular area.

2. It would strengthen the process if the panel of “experts” was broadened to include not only Irish political science academics, but international scholars and practitioners. With regard to governance, for instance, GRECO, IDEA, TI, GI and the European Commission have all conducted a review process on Ireland over the last three years and these reviews involved the participation of political journalists, NGOs, civil servants and academics across various disciplines, particularly law. Here are some examples of recent peer-reviewed “score cards” – Global Integrity, Transparency International, IDEA’s Political Finance data for Ireland and GRECO.

3. If I might be so bold to suggest that there is an onus on those who contribute to such a process to propose suggestions for reform where weaknesses are identified. Simply stating that the Irish lobbying legislation (or whatever), for example, falls below the “standard” is not good enough. It must be accompanied by suggestions on what the proposed “standard” should be, with reference to legislation or practice in other jurisdictions.

Over to you, politicalreform.ie community.

12 thoughts on ““Reform Scorecard” Nua?

  1. Does anyone here seriously believe that those who have waited 14 years to be elected to govern and those whom they or their predecessors appointed to exercise governance – together with the vast panoply of vested interests exercising power and influence behind the scenes – are prepared voluntarily to expose themselves to effective parliamentary scrutiny, restraint or accountability? The opposition to the imposition of effective scrutiny, restraint and accountability would be fierce at the best of times, but, when the broad thrust of economic policy is being set by the Troika and the government is primarily intent on securing re-election, the opposition is even more intense. Is the possibility that this ferocious opposition will simply melt away being seriously entertained? If this is a ‘finding’ that secures broad support from political scientists then there is something seriously deficient with the discipline.

    Constitutionally the government is supposed to be responsible to the Dail whose members exercise the delegated absolute authority of all citizens between general elections. So it is for all backbenchers – or all parties and none – to assert the primacy of the directly elected house over the executive. They alone have the power and authority. Nobody else does.

    But these TDs have no incentive to assert the primacy of parliament – and every incentive not to.

    • Paul,
      Your comment is not very encouraging to what I think Elaine is trying to do -assess what has been done up to now, get a few more new ideas (with examples from wherever) – present them both in what might be termed a programme.

      Firstly, I am going to take issue with your continuous assertion of the the Government being responsible to the Dáil – true, but incomplete and thus not very helpful, as stated.

      Those who call on the Dáil to hold the Government to account overlook the critical imbalance of power between them, with the Government holding virtually all the levers. Our Constitution specifies that Government is firmly and completely tied to the Dáil. Although it is structured like a sub-committee of the Dáil, Government must control the Dáil or else it ceases to be the Government.
      Just look at the what the Constitution specifies
      • the Taoiseach is nominated by the Dáil (Art 13.1)
      • The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance must be TDs (Art 28.7.1)
      • There may be between 7 and 15 members of the government (Art 28.1), who must be TDs or Senators of whom no more than 2 may ministers (Art. 28.7.2)
      • The Government is responsible to Dáil Éireann (Art. 28.4.1)
      • If the Taoiseach must resign if (s)he ceases to hold a majority in the Dáil (Art. 28.10), in which case the Government is deemed to have resigned.

      Our present structure is like a see-saw, with the Dáil/representative function at one end and the Government/executive role at the other. Any rise in the effectiveness of one implies a drop in the other. A new structure is needed which would cut the tie so that each can be improved without weakening the other equally necessary organ of state.

      Once appointed, Government dominates Dáil and Senate

      In our present system, any improvement in the Dáil’s capacity to control the Government actually weakens the Government.

      We need to separate the Dáil as the legislative assembly of representatives from the Rialtas as the executive side of Government. Otherwise, the Dáil cannot act independently as part of the checks and balances on Government. Until that link is cut, the Dáil cannot begin to grow, use its authority and power to become an independent but complementary force to Government and another source of options on policies and implementation for us to consider.

      Separating the Dáil from the Government would give space for both to enhance their adaptive capability.

      • I’m simply pointing out, in effect, that the focus of this ‘scorecard nua’ is on what the Government is doing or proposes to do and that Government is the last source of meaningful changes. If the political scientists believe that any government will voluntarily relinquish any meaningful measure of the power it and his predecessors have accumulated over many years, then their discipline is seriously deficient.

        The Government is focused on Ireland exiting the Troika support package, minimising the subsequent oversight exercised by the Troika and, most likely, seeking to secure an emergency official line of credit should things go pear-shaped. Simultaneously, it is focused, perhaps, even more, on re-election. Despite the odd defection here and there, it has almost total control of its troops in the Dáil – and, therefore, total control of the Dáil.

        The Government is well aware of the failures in the system of democratic governance, but even the slightest attempt to tackle any one of these failures in a meaningful way could scupper the entire programme and objectives of its current governance. The consideration of nice-looking, but cosmetic, reforms is all that wll be permitted (and the political scientists can score these ‘reforms’ to their hearts’ content,). But the focus is on fostering some measure of economic recovery that maximises the Government’s chances of re-election. It is very likely that a majority of the citizens who vote are broadly content with this.

  2. Why do we have to reinvent the wheel and fail? Why can’t we copy best practice from around the world – for example well over half way into its term there is still no FOI reform and by the time the timid reform mentioned comes in we’ll be into the final stages of this government. Instead best practice would have been to just grasp the nettle and copy Iceland or Sweden. There are plenty of other examples of party funding, policy decision processes, gender issues, childcare heath even economic etc etc

  3. @Elaine,
    Power, Power, Power – that is the first thing and the last thing that needs to be considered in any serious discussion on political reform.
    To start with, i propose a complete separation of powers between the elected representative assembly and the executive.
    1). The introduction of the City and County Management system here in Ireland – as response to corruption – first in Cork City during the 1920s, then elsewhere and finally, in 1943, this US inspired practice was extended to the whole 26 counties and 4 boroughs;
    2). EU level – there is complete separation between the Council and directly elected Parliament – with powers of co-decision in various formulations and the Commission, as the initiator of proposals for legislation;
    3) The US at both federal and state levels.

  4. With regard to “What do we want?! POLITICAL REFORM! When do we want it? NOW!” – but there being no consensus as to *what* those reforms are:

    Second Republic (www.2nd-republic.ie) will shortly be announcing an event for this September with a mind to teasing out some of the very high-level ideas around this.

    We are planning a day-long facilitated workshop with a mix of invitees and the general public asking what is the *culture* of the “Second Republic”. What we would like, ultimately, is for participants to feed into a discourse that will steer public debate around republicanism over the next 10 years in a more constructive direction.

    The event will happen on the 21st of September in Dublin. We’re just tidying up some final loose ends at the moment and should be ready to provide full details very shortly.

    • Oliver,
      What I think Elaine looking for are options – ideas worked out to some extent, preferably with examples from other jurisdictions which might serve – if not as models, to be followed slavishly – to at least get our imaginations working on specific aspects of how we govern ourselves.
      I am not sure which come first – the vision of a new culture or some specific features of ways of doing things that might help the new culture to develop and sustain itself.

      • A discussion on culture could inform the agenda of a “Scorecard Nua” – before we go and look for options or practical examples. Indeed, if there’s support for a “Scorecard Nua”, I think it would make a good discussion topic or output of the September event.

        But culture also takes in more than just institutional reform. Do we have to change? Where would we (the citizens) figure on a “Scorecard Nua”?

      • @Oliver
        “But culture also takes in more than just institutional reform. Do we have to change? Where would we (the citizens) figure on a “Scorecard Nua”?”
        Yes,. of course, culture is more than institutions?

        re. change – I suggest that we have changed since 1937, when the current Constitution was adopted; since the late 1950s, when we opted against a “Sinn Fein” protectionist economic policy; since 1973, when we joined what is now the EU; since 1979, when we broke the link with £Sterling and joined the European Exchange Rate mechanism and followed by joining the €uro. This republic now has a population of 4.5m (still growing depsite emigration) and aabout 1.8m in the workforce.

        Now couple that with the self-inflicted social, economic and fiscal crisis in which we find ourselves to lead on to the need to rebuild the state – which is what I thought 2nd Republic was about. But perhaps I misunderstood something.

        As I have suggested already, I choose to believe that Elaine is open to suggestions on where we (the citizens) would figure on a “Scorecard Nua”.
        As you can imagine, I have a few ideas on that.

  5. @Paul
    “’m simply pointing out, in effect, that the focus of this ‘scorecard nua’ is on what the Government is doing or proposes to do and that Government is the last source of meaningful changes. If the political scientists believe that any government will voluntarily relinquish any meaningful measure of the power it and his predecessors have accumulated over many years, then their discipline is seriously deficient.”

    As you can see, I choose not to interpret the “Scorecard Nua” as a means of putting forward ideas in addition to looking back at what the Government had done/not done/half done/promised.

    I have not seen any evidence to suggest that Irish political scientists believe – any more than anyone else – will voluntarily relinquish power. I do see lots of evidence that Irish political scientist feel that our way of governing ourselves could be enhanced – to put it mildly.
    Otherwise, this forum would not exist.
    Nor IMO, would the Constitutional Convention have existed.
    I do not think that Irish political scientists have forgotten Machiavelli’s observation about those who would introduce a new order.
    Why not take up Elaine’s challenge by suggesting a few ideas?

    • First sentence should read
      “As you can see, I choose to interpret the “Scorecard Nua” as a means of putting forward ideas in addition to looking back at what the Government had done/not done/half done/promised.”

    • @Donal,

      If you don’t mind me saying so, I think we’re both hedgehogs each with one big idea – and not much to differentiate them. You argue for a complete separation of the legislature and the executive; I argue for a re-assertion of the supremacy of parliament over government. Constitutional change would be required to achieve your desired outcome. I would prefer to apply the existing constitutional provisions as effectively as possible and my focus is on the ‘agents of change’ and on how the incentives and constraints they encounter may be changed.

      And these ‘agents of change’ are backbench TDs of all parties and none. They alone, between general elections, exercise the delegated ultimate authority of all citizens. By definition, a government will never act as an ‘agent of change’. But backbench TDs will never seek to break the constraints that bind them unless they sense a popular demand that they do so to ensure the delivery of sound and sustainable democratic governance.

      But there is no sustained and coherent expression of popular demand that would encourage them to break the constraints and to be ‘agents of change’. Even if there is a lot of noise from the usual suspects on the so-called ‘progressive left, there seems to be a widespread sullen and resentful acceptance that the current government is probably doing its best in very difficult circumstances. There appears to be little interest in potentially making its life more difficult by exposing its proposed legislation and executive actions to increased parliamentary scrutiny and restraint. And there would probably be considerable public resistance to such an approach – primarily because the opposition factions would likely exploit any enhanced scrutiny or restraint opportunistically.

      A majority of citizens appear to be content with exercising their inalienable right to decide who governs at general elections, but have little interest in demanding that the TDs they elect subject those who govern – and those these, in turn, appoint to exercise governance – to effective scrutiny, restraint and accountability between elections. They also appear to rely on governing party TDs to exercise some restraint on government in closed parliamentary party meetings.

      And that, I fear, is where we’re at. The quality of governance is likely to be sufficient to prevent any near-term repeat of the greed and stupidity that fuelled the booms and bubbles and led to economic collapse. But it is entirely insufficient to secure a rapid and sustained economic recovery. The path to recovery will be a lot longer and harder than it need be. But the ‘comfortable majority’ will survive and thrive eventually. Those that can’t or choose not to will have to mend and make do or move out.

      It was ever thus.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s