One of the more frustrating features of Irish politics is the fact that the great majority of elected officials in Ireland have little actual power. They have the power to ask questions, and the power to lobby, which in Ireland can be quite effective, but unlike officials in other countries they have little statutory power to actually make decisions in their own right. It’s different in other countries. In The US, for example, individual congressmen can earmark spending for projects. The late Charlie Wilson is famous for basically organising a private war (with tacit support from the Reagan administration) against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Now, let’s be honest: it does lead to a lot of pork barrelling as congressmen throw money at dubious projects in their districts in a bid to curry favour with their constituents. I can think of two Irish deputies, just off the top of my head, both in the headlines in the last six months, who would think nothing of throwing millions around their constituencies. We don’t need that carry-on.
But supposing there was another way. Take John Perry, TD for Sligo-North Leitrim. He made a big promise about funding cancer services in his constituency. Supposing he had the power to deliver. Supposing he could earmark the funds needed for the services in his constituency. But here’s the quid pro quo: the funds have to be raised in his constituency before they are spent. In other words, it can’t add an extra cent of extra spending to the exchequer. If the people in his constituency really want the service, they cough up with a levy. If they don’t want to pay the levy, then they can’t really want the service. Yes, they’ll be outraged, and say that they pay enough tax (or that taxpayers elsewhere should pay), but then the onus is on him to find money from somewhere else in the budget to fund the service, with other deputies watching him like a hawk to make sure he doesn’t just cut something in their constituencies. We can add in the safeguard of letting other deputies from the same constituency veto the proposal if they wish, but it would give individual deputies power with responsibility. They’d either raise the money locally, or scrutinise the budget looking for waste to fund their local projects. Either way, the taxpayer benefits.
One of the side-effects, I suspect, is that when Irish voters see a direct link between more spending and their wallets, they’ll vote for leaving their wallets alone.