There’s a big lie knocking around Irish politics that our political system would be so much better if we didn’t have a whip system, and TDs could vote their own way without fear nor favour. It’s a load of nonsense, and here’s why: Irish politicians like being able to blame their party for things. There’s nothing unusual about an Irish politician, from a government party, going back to his constituents are saying “Well, obviously I was agin’ closing the local hospital/school/puppy farm, but I was outvoted!” Ah, says you, but hold on a minute. If there was no whip, they wouldn’t be able to say that, would they? Well, let me take you back to the golden days of Dublin County Council and the old section 4 rezoning motions. What would happen would be that councillor A would want to rezone a bit of ward A for his good pal Stroky McDodgy. But the good councillor would know that it was very unpopular in ward A. So he’d get councillor Z from ward Z on the other side of the county to propose the rezoning. Councillor A would huff and puff and then be “outvoted”, the poor creature. Everyone’s happy, save for the people who live in ward A.
Here’s a better idea: Let our TDs introduce costed delayed earmarks into the budget. What would that be, on a wet Tuesday, you ask? It would be where a TD, shocked at budget cuts to close the local primary school, could go through the budget, find alternative cuts from existing spending, and propose those cuts as an alternative to the full house, or maybe to a committee of the house empowered to approve the change. Now that would be real power. Sure that’ll never happen, you say. The big boys in the Department of Finance would never stand for the Deputy for Rockall South Central getting his sticky fingers all over their lovely budget (Assuming they noticed, of course. They did mislay €3.6 billion, after all) but they would not be the biggest opponents. The biggest opponents to TDs having that power would be TDs themselves. It’s all well and good giving out yards about why X is not being funded, but asking them to point out what other group of constituents should have their funds cut instead, that’s a step too far. Sure, that’s the sort of thing an elected representative legislative body should be doing, surely? What that’s got to do with us mere TDs?