If you were designing a democratic political system from scratch, specific for the political wants of the Irish people, would you honestly start with what we have now? We have a parliamentary system from the 1930s because that is what the Brits had. But supposing we designed our own unique system. What would you need?
1. A democratically elected government. Have every party propose a slate of 15 ministers, and elect one slate by AV to be the cabinet. I know, it sounds outrageous, but the Dail is effectively only really an electoral college for the cabinet anyway. Everything else it does, from debates to passing the budget and legislating, is all decided at cabinet, where the real debate, if at all, is had. At least this way would reflect the political reality. Incidentally, it would also end coalition government, and make change of government more likely, as every government would automatically be a de facto “majority” government.
2. Oversight of the government. We don’t have this now, because effectively, majority backbenchers are answerable to the cabinet, not the other way around, as the constitution envisages. So let’s appoint a panel of experts with powers to question ministers openly and report on the government’s performance. Save on the salaries of 150 TDs, 60 senators and the infrastructure of Leinster House. Would it work better than the present arrangement? Ask yourself this: Who has done a better job reporting the failings of government: The Comptroller and Auditor General, and the Ombudsman, or 104 opposition politicians costing us 100k each? Do we really need to keep 151 TDs on the public payroll because they quite fancy being ministers, as “spare” ministers, because they sure as hell aren’t legislators.
3. Directly elected mayors in each county, to run them and do the local grafting on social welfare and planning that TDs currently do. Most Irish voters are happy to have a local fixer, so let’s be up front with that.
Seriously, would we be worse off with no Dail and Seanad? What percentage of Oireachtas committee reports were ever acted on? The Dail and Seanad failed to stop the banking crisis, child sex abuse, and corruption. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a “Politicians, what are they good for?” thing. I know that most members of the Oireachtas put in very long hours. I’m just not convinced that most of what they do is very useful or the best use of our finite tax revenues. Is there any country in the western world who looks at their own political system and then say to themselves: “No, the Irish Dail and Seanad. That’s what we need!”