Whilst you’re working your way through that selection box, cast your mind back to December 1982. Now picture the Ireland of the day, where condoms were almost banned, homosexuality was illegal, we had one television channel, commercial radio was banned, there was no internet, no iphones, divorce was illegal, and our infrastructure was awful. Air travel and international phonecalls pretty much required a mortgage to use, and many of the products we saw on UK channels (those of us who had “piped” TV) were simply not available in the shops.
Now look at Ireland today, and see how much has changed, and changed for the better. We live in a different country, with one exception. Whereas our country has modernised, we still have the same political system we had 30 years ago.
Ah, the status-quoers will argue, but much of that change happened because of our political system. Some did, but a lot of the change was forced on us by outside forces, certainly in terms of competition. In short, our political system is actually the last remnant of the old ways, occupied in many instances by the same people from 1982. Think about it: why is our political system so impervious to change when the rest of society moves on? And it’s not just political systems: In the same period of time, Canada got a new constitution, Britain devolved parliaments, elected mayors, voted on a new voting system, and upper house reforms, France and Spain devolved government, Italy and New Zealand new electoral systems.
We stopped TDs being county councillors.
Whilst other countries recognised that systems have to change to work better in a changing society, our guys battle to keep things the way they are. Even now, they work feverishly to ensure that the Constitutional Convention does not do anything that will actually transfer decision making power away from behind the closed cabinet doors, instead saying we should worry about the president’s term of office. Seriously?
Consider any number of social issues. Drugs. prostitution. Homelessness. Can anyone think of a single current minister who arrived in office 18 months ago thinking “I am going to try to fix this once and for all”. I can’t, because they don’t. They arrive, see what the last guy did, fiddle about, and move on collecting a pension on the way. Ah here, you say, you’re being a bit hard. Solve drugs? Sure no one has done that. Perhaps: but where is the minister who actually worked on a solution, even an ultra-radical controversial solution to drugs or homelessness and then said “right, let’s at least get the country talking about what we would need to do to fix this”. Where is he or she? Almost certainly not in the political system we have, because it does not really elect people like that. It elects placeholders to sit in office but not in power, and that’s our problem right there.
Our system is about being, not doing, and it prevents this being the greatest small nation on Earth, and that’s not hyperbole. We are a small moderate well-educated country in a good location, with the rule of law and freedom. We are just the right size to be able to tackle almost any problem our society faces. The greatest obstacle to that is that we elect leaders who don’t want to lead but just occupy the leadership space, preventing someone else from doing it.
It won’t kill us, after all Enda and Brian and Bertie are not bad people. But it denies us greatness, a greatness that is within our ability to reach. We produce businesspeople and musicians and writers and actors that are world class, but elect leaders that are local fixers at best. Would Microsoft or Airbus or Mercedes Benz or Apple look at any of our front benches and say “Yes: he/she is the one for us!” Yet we let them run a €150 billion economy?
As long as we march against paying to keep excrement out of our drinking water but not to make our political system work better we will not be a great people.