There’s nothing wrong with clientelism in Irish politics. It’s one of the few bits of Irish politics that actually works.

Michael Healy-Rae: The People's Tribune?

Michael Healy-Rae: The People’s Tribune?

I get Michael Healy-Rae, and I respect what he does. See, there’s nothing inherently wrong with an elected representative acting as the broker between the citizen and the state. In ancient Rome, tribunes performed a similar role, standing up for the little guy in the face of the all-powerful state, so it’s hardly a novel Irish concept.

It’s true, of course, that Irish people should be able to interact with the state directly, and it’s also probably true that politicians don’t really want that, but there you have it. Irish people like the local fixer.

The problem is not with clientelism, with fixing stuff locally for people. I’ve seen the relief on people’s faces when a minister or TD is able to cut through red tape and get something done. You know what else? It actually strengthens the democratic system, because people go away thinking that at least there is someone in the system that gives a damn about me.

Clientelism isn’t the problem. The problem is that the job of local fixer and national legislator are two totally different jobs, and whilst the first is being done with great efficiency (Irish pols would eat most other country’s MPs for breakfast when it comes to local service) the second job isn’t. That’s the problem right there. The two jobs should not occupy the same position. They’re not the same job. We should have elected ombudsmen and elected legislators, and neither should really have much to do with each other.

Yet as a country we can’t even begin that debate. One of the failures of the Constitutional Convention (which has done far better work than I ever thought it would do) is that we never try to devise something that reflects our reality. We’re great at “Irish solutions to Irish problems” on abortion, neutrality, contraception, nuclear power and the right to die, and by solutions we mean ways of avoiding actually confronting an issue.

But devise a political system that resembles the country and culture it operates it? No thanks.

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