Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 

Enda: Bertie with a bank account and a Mayo accent.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 28, 2010 in Irish Politics |

If you believe that we might, at least, get some real political change out of the economic crisis, then you will find Enda Kenny’s remarks in the Irish Times today to be shockingly depressing. Regardless of your stance on abortion, the fact that the man who will most likely be our Taoiseach has expressed a view that despite having over 50 full-time taxpayer-funded researchers at his disposal, he has no policy other than to set up a committee with (seemingly) no deadline to actually produce a possible solution. Talk about gutless.

Then, on political reform, he advocates a bit of tinkering, marginally reducing the size of the Dail, abolishing the Seanad and setting up more committees for TDs. He opposes changing the voting system or appointing ministers. He actually claims, bizarrely, that TDs concentrate on constituency work “because they have no other role”. Our current batch of TDs are just itching to legislate and hold the government to account. If only we’d let them! In other words, Enda Kenny does not really believe that our current political system has any real responsibility for where the country is today. Instead, he seems to believe that same old Fine Gael adage: There is nothing wrong with the country except that we are not running it.

But what is really reach-for-the-revolver stuff is when you take all of the above together. A Taoiseach who wants to be in power, but avoids making decisions which might be right but unpopular with vested interests (Politicians and the anti-abortion crowd). This from a party leader who complains that his predecessors didn’t take “tough” decisions to dampen down the property market even though the decisions would have been unpopular. Didn’t we already have a fella from Drumcondra who kept his life savings in a sock under the bed and didn’t like making unpopular choices already?

It is becoming very clear that a vote for Fine Gael is not a vote for change.    

8 Comments

James Lawless
Dec 28, 2010 at 11:17 am

An odd position for me to be defending Enda (and I’m not in the main) but I can see his point about TDs having nothing else to do and if they could only be set free (hyporbole added:) they might do some good work. I do believe the system we have could be made to work a lot better without fundamental changes being required. One of the key changes (to operations, not structures) would be a relaxation of the party whip system so the executive (ie government) had to actually persuade a majority in the Dáil each time rather than just take the numbers for granted because of the colours of their shirts, we might have better debates, better legislation and better government. Of course it would also allow private members bills and other crazy ideas get off the ground and maybe we would actually have a three branch system again (judiciary, executive and LEGISLATURE) rather than the current two tier (judiciary and executive and legislature effectively redundant).


 
William
Dec 29, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Jason, while I enjoy and nod along to a lot of what you write on Irish politics, and I can appreciate your criticisms of Fine Gael, I think that in discussing political reform here, you are either being a little dishonest, or ever so mildly ignorant. You write, “In other words, Enda Kenny does not really believe that our current political system has any real responsibility for where the country is today.” A lot of Fine Gael rhetoric (or at least much more than we usually here from political parties) since the publication of the New Politics has indeed highlighted the institutional reasons for how we got into the position we’re in now. Take Enda’s conference speech last year, and I’d imagine the coming Ard Fheis one too.

Admittedly, I’ve heard Enda and others speak on this more than your average citizen, but this has included proposals that heads of semi-states would be subject to Oireachtas committee hearings, similar to what happens in the US. There are also proposals to have something similar to their Congressional Budget Office and a much lengthier budgetary process. These are the sorts of committees you mention off-handedly. And other considered ideas in both New Politics and Reinventing Government.

Yes, you can point to any number of ideas not included in these proposals. I would like to have seen an amendment to allow outside ministerial appointments. And maybe you disagree with agenda. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that these will be the biggest changes in the structure of the legislature since the 1930s.

And it’s not just from a partisan like me that you’d here this, David Farrell gives here Fine Gael the most credit for proposals on reforming the political system. Of course, maybe you think Fine Gael is being insincere, and that when we enter government these will be postponed indefinitely, but if so that is what you should say.


 
Jason O
Dec 29, 2010 at 6:49 pm

William, don’t get me wrong. Some of the New Politics stuff is worthwhile. What I ask you to imagine in your mind’s eye is the state of Irish politics and the Dail two and a half years from Enda’s election. How radically different will it be from the politics we have now? Will backbenchers be as powerful as US Congressmen? Will a large proportion of new legislation that is actually passed come from sources other than the government? Will there be a hugely greater focus on national issues by TDs than on local issues? Will I as an actual voter have powers to change things that I don’t have now, like a Citizen of California? Will the types of candidates in the 2016 general election, as a result of all the New Politics reforms, be radically different from the ones that will run in the 2011 race? If you can answer Yes to all those questions, then I agree, FG does deserve the benefit of the doubt.


 
William
Dec 30, 2010 at 10:38 pm

The most I can promise is a somewhat to some of those questions, and that would still be an improvement on where we are now. My contention is that of all parties, Fine Gael can’t be accused of ignoring the institutional problem in the country, that the party has found several things wrong with it as well as the fact that we’re not in power. It was something you could level at Fine Gael in 2007 (and as a Progressive Democrat then, I probably did), but not now.


 
Jason O
Dec 31, 2010 at 9:41 am

I agree, it would be an improvement. But FG’s bottling out of electoral reform (The PP blocked even a minor list system introduction) signalled to me that FG believes in tinkering as opposed to widescale reform. Most of the questions I posed earlier, as you said, could be answered with a “somewhat”, which nicely sums up the party position: Vote Fine Gael. We’re somewhat in favour of political reform.


 
Daniel Sullivan
Jan 2, 2011 at 6:46 pm

I think with respect to the PP position on the list system add on, it was as much that they were being presented with something into which they had no input (it’s a sore point in any sections of the party, that outside consultants and ‘experts’ with the access to the right people have more input into party policy formation than anyone else) on a take it or leave basis.

As regards a deadline, I’m pretty sure the talk in the New Politics document was that the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad and the citizen’s assembly (which would take a year) and that would look into the entirety of the political system would be underway within 12 months.


 
Jason O
Jan 3, 2011 at 12:00 am

Dan, if the Fine Gael PP can’t even manage themselves internally, you can imagine my lack of faith that they can stand up for real reform in government. As for the CA, forgive me if I’m wrong, but surely the NP document does not commit to actually doing anything with the outcome of the CA. I’ll bet you Inda will set up a joint Oireachtas committee to discuss the report from the CA, a body which was set up by a JOC itself. And so the circle continues.


 
Daniel Sullivan
Jan 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I seem to recall from the last national conference that some folks made play from the panel that the FG CA would be sort of binding unlike the Labour proposals but I could be wrong in that. I don’t recall seeing it written down though.


 

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