Constituency service by TDs is good — but it must be in proportion

In an op ed in today’s Irish Times, Dr Anthony O’Halloran reminds us of the important constituency service role played by our TDs (see here). He argues that Irish political commentators are universally negative about this role, painting it in negative tones and tending to suggest that such behaviour is atypical. While the article makes for an interesting read, I fear he may be exaggerating somewhat to make his point. Many of us would actually agree with him that constituency service does have an important role to play in our system of representative democracy. Politicians in all countries do partake in this sort of activity – to varying degrees. But the point at issue is that our politicians tend to be off the scale in the degree to which they focus on this dimension over and above their other roles (legislating, or holding government to account). Constituency service is a good thing, but it needs to be in proper proportion.

Some years ago I posted on this blog a tongue-in-cheek piece about TDs kissing chickens. The point I wanted to get across then (as now) is that while some features of constituency service are worthwhile and to be lauded, this must not be the be-all-and-end-all of the role of a TD.

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One thought on “Constituency service by TDs is good — but it must be in proportion

  1. Your post is a useful and necessary intervention. But more may be needed. Dr. O’Halloran’s op-ed piece seems to be part of a kick-back by the ‘comfortable establishment’ which feels a tad threatened and is now labelling those who are demanding a relatively modest re-balancing of the powers of the legislature and the executive as being excessively radical and unjustifiably critical of aspects of the current process of governance.

    Stephen Collins was also at it in the same IT edition:
    http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/oireachtas/informed-debate-not-wild-charges-required-for-proper-approach-to-political-reform-1.1489792

    The Government set out its stall on 5 June and this sets the limit on what ‘reform’ it will contemplate:
    http://www.merrionstreet.ie/index.php/2013/06/government-announces-its-proposals-for-the-thirty-second-amendment-of-the-constitution-abolition-of-seanad-eireann-bill-2013-2/

    It may not even go this far if a majority of the voters decides to retain the Seanad.

    Brendan Howlin is reported as being open to strengthening Dáil committees:
    http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/john-drennan-howlin-sets-sights-on-finishing-the-revolution-29489519.html

    The fact that the Government is totally in control of any minimal, cosmetic increases in the powers of the Dáil it will, or may, permit should be enough to convince any rational person that this is an optical illusion. No government anywhere will relinquish voluntarily any of the powers it has accumulated (and enjoys exercising) or allow itself to be subjected to effective scrutiny, restraint or accountability. This will happen only when a sufficient number of citizens demands that the TDs they have elected wrest some of these powers from the executive.

    There is no evidence of this. It appears that a majority of voters are content to give an elected government the ‘full run of the shop’, with minimal scrutiny or restraint, for the life of a Dáil while they retain the power to kick this government out at the next election.

    It may also be the case that the apparent reluctance of a majority of voters to demand a rebalancing of the powers of the legislature and the executive is related to a fear that any increase in the powers of the legislature might be exploited by the ‘national socialist’ and so-called ‘progressive-left’ factions.

    But, perhaps, most important of all, there is a general abhorrence of the struggle that would be required to wrest some powers from government and transfer them to the Dáil. Irish people prefer that adversarial conflicts between interest groups are smothered and suppressed rather than being thrashed out in the democratic process. The preference is for set-piece, theatrical, but ineffectual, confrontations with pre-ordained outcomes in the Oireachtas – and something broadly similar in the industrial relations area. The courts remain as the ultimate arbiter of any adversarial conflict.

    It may be that the damage, grief and suffering that ensued when determined factions rejected the existing, often flawed, process of democratic governance and opted for the use of physical force (in 1916, 1923 and for 30 years in Northern Ireland) have left an enduring mark and many citizens recoil at the prospect of adversarial conflicts being thrashed out and resolved in the Dáil, lest a determined faction, unable to get its way, withdraw and opt for the use of physical force.

    This smothering and suppression of adversarial conflict between various interests groups suits the comfortable establishment – that is largely populated with rent-seekers – perfectly. And a gloss of ‘politeness’ is used to smooth out any wrinkles. ‘Politeness’ is the most effective weapon the comfortable establishment is able to deploy to disarm and to deflect those seeking political and economic reform.

    And so the ‘game’ continues.

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