I’ve never been to a summer school. I’ve heard they’re great fun and all, but I just couldn’t hack yet more worthies discussing the need for political reform, because it ain’t gonna happen, and so I’d rather catch up on that mocking behemoth in the corner of my sitting room called the Books I Have Not Read Yet pile.
See, when discussing political reform in Ireland, it is always important to define what we mean by the phrase. It doesn’t mean ministerial pensions or cars. It means executive decision making power, and fear. If the Taoiseach is actually afraid of something, then it has power, and that is what is meant by reform: giving the sort of power to one entity that another entity fears.
So, in that context, here are 5 reasons why we will not see meaningful political reform:
1. The great majority of voters believe that whilst other constituencies should elect TDs who care about the national interest, their particular area/parish is unique and needs a local grafter to help them defraud other taxpayers of money they’re not entitled to.
2. The skills needed to get elected are often little to do with the skills needed to run a country well. As a result, we tend to elect a certain personality type. The sort of people who use phrases like “working with the local community” as if it is a normal thing said by normal people. Or calling buying a pound of sausages “engaging with local business”. You know, weirdos.
3. Most Irish politicians see politics as a job, and see that having power and responsibility for decisions is a sure way of losing their job. As a result, most are happy to have no power, and to always be able to side with the popular side of every issue. Ireland is almost unique in the world in having politicians who lobby to have powers taken off them. Why do you think the County Manager system has lasted so long?
4. The Irish suffer, possibly through Catholicism, Celtic government, or British colonialism, from a Big Man syndrome, constantly believing that the source of both their problems and solutions to them are never within their own power, but within the power of some higher authority, be it God, Dublin Castle, or the Department of Finance. Across the world, from Scotland to Catalunya to Quebec, there is a constant political battle for self determination And local choice making. Ireland is jammed full of regions and areas who believe they are getting a raw deal from the centre. Yet there is no countervailing political movement for devolution and local control. We derive far too much masochistic pleasure from being the helpless victim. After all, we celebrate 1798, 1916 and the Famine, all failures, yet have no Independence Day.
5. The Irish have a fear of change. Where else in Europe would the people replace one political party knowingly with an almost identical carbon copy? Almost every proposed change, from the Luas to postcodes has been opposed for often spurious reasons. The national motto should be “Yeah, this is bad, but it could be worse!”
Am I being too cynical? I always remind people of both Noel Dempsey and John Gormley, two genuine political reformers who got all the way to cabinet with their integrity intact. Then their political colleagues worked them over, blocking change every step of the way.
Political reform? We’ll see a female Dr Who first.