Eamon Gilmore told us more about the government’s attitude to political reform than he meant to recently. He suggested that the Constitutional Convention should consider extending the franchise to elect the president to part of the overseas Irish community. It’s an interesting idea, but consider it in a broader context of political reform as the government sees it. So far, the government has suggested that two political reform issues should be given priority.
1. Abolishing the Seanad. As an act of revenge against our incompetent political class, I’m all in favour. But will it make the country better run? Almost certainly not. Having said that, keeping it won’t either. Best case scenario, it saves us a small amount of money. And makes some politicians cry.
2. Reducing the presidential term. Who on Earth thought this was a vital issue? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Now Eamon has waded in with another one. Here’s my question. Supposing all three were adopted. In fact, supposing we had adopted all three ten years ago. Would it have helped the country be better run? Would the president having a shorter term have ensured better banking regulation?
There is a litmus test to prove whether a political reform is worth doing, and it is, quite simply, fear. If a reform makes a politician more afraid of a person or an institution, it is an effective (if not always correct) reform. Nearly every reform being championed by the government is an empty symbolic “we’d better do something” proposal, which does not change the fact that the Dail is answerable to the government, and that our national legislators are punished for doing too much national work (by their voters) and powerless to actually exercise action (as opposed to bitching at the parliamentary party meeting). If you want to see the government’s attitude to reform, just look at the hoo-ha over Peter Mathew’s disagreeing with his colleagues in an Oireachtas committee. Look at the outrage, with Mathew’s being summoned before the Taoiseach for having the audacity to act like a member of a proper parliament, the cheeky bastard. You’re not in Congress or an episode of “Borgen” here, mate!
In short, if Enda is not more afraid of the other parts of the political system at the end of the reform process, it will have been a waste of time. If the reforms ended up withn Peter Mathew’s style upsets in the Dail every week, we’d be a better country for it. We’d also, incidentally, pay more attention to the Dail.
Am I hopeful? Not in the slightest, because many of our political representatives want the money and position but do not want the responsibility of office. Think I’m being cynical? Look at our county manager system. All three main parties have been in power, and all three refused to change it. Fianna Fail bent over backwards to delay and water down John Gormley’s elected mayor proposals for many reasons, one being that their own councillors did not want to be held responsible for decisions. Only in Ireland do politicians chant “What do we want? Less power! When do we not want it? Now!”