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

Irish politics isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 27, 2012 in Irish Politics |

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.  

2 Comments

Miriam Cotton
Dec 27, 2012 at 3:03 pm

The last politcian who attempted to tackle issues in the manner you describe was Roisin Shortall. She tried to tackle the alcohol problem in Ireland the the provision of primary health care provision. Look what happened to her. The party whip system saw her off.


 
Michael Joseph Duffy
Dec 27, 2012 at 4:49 pm

People easily agree that political reform is needed but do not so easily agree on the detail of that reform. This is the same everywhere and always has been the case. What is ‘reform’ but a euphemism for ‘change for the better’. Yes, we all want change for the better.

In this article, Jason asks why we haven’t seen advances in Irish politics to the extent that we have seen in other areas. Yet how would we measure such progress to know whether or not it had taken place? Without data, Jason goes on his hunch and assumes 1) that the Irish political system is very bad and 2) that nothing has improved.

But by the same method, could we not make a case that politics in Ireland has improved? We could point out that previous politicians such as CJH were allowed to continue in office when they were clearly corrupt scoundrels, that the judicial system was perverted by subservience to the wishes of the Minister for Justice, that there was a war in Ireland with murder substituting for political compromise, that some political parties were censored for broadcast?

Jason wants a minister to solve a grand problem like prostitution. What does solving prostitution even mean? The disbenefits of prostitution are measured differently by people in society according to our diverse values. Should there be a draconian crackdown or a regulated industry or is the current situation a fair compromise? This is a democratic choice. If the issue is of so little importance to the general public that it does not affect their votes, then where is the valid mandate to take the risk of effecting radical change?

Apple or Airbus would not hire James Reilly to oversee a €14bn/year budget. This is true. But neither would they pay their candidate 200k a year nor would that person would be subject to continual, gross personal abuse by the national media.

A company is not the same as a country. A company has a narrower and simpler definition of success in its operations. A politician is foremost a public representative. He must represent the views of his many constituents while selling them back his greater vision. He must constantly strive to reach an agreed compromise between citizens rather than take unilateral actions that please a single-minded, money driven boss.

Politicians are badly paid for the responsibilities they bear. They are widely disrespected regardless of their job performance. They have little job security and must sacrifice family life. In short this is a terrible job that I wouldn’t do, so I don’t feel the need to give out about those who do or to be surprised that so many school teachers and solicitors opt for this job. There are alternatives to democracy which are not pretty.


 

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