Why are Irish government parties so resistant to change?

If you’re interested in seeing a world class display of ballet, you could do worse than watch Fine Gael and Labour carefully tiptoeing and pirouetting through the political reform agenda. It’s a masterful performance, full of energy and grace, leaving nothing changed on the political stage after the show.

Consider the facts: Seanad abolition, whilst worthwhile in its own right, will have no effect on the political system in a structural way. Nor will reducing the voting age nor the age of candidacy for the presidency. There is the slightest hint, with the property tax and the possibility of an elected Dublin mayor, that something might change, but you can’t help thinking that in the final laying out of the cards they’ll avoid anything genuinely radical.

Why are the parties so cautious? Some will say they just want to hold into power, but I’m not sure that’s true. After all, so many Irish ministers are happy to just be in office, as opposed to arriving with a clear agenda. I wonder is it more to do with an incredible lack of imagination? Do ministers not see that political reform, especially if done radically at local level, would have the potential to transfer a whole raft of political problems to their political opponents?

Imagine dozens of directly elected Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein mayors across the country suddenly tasked with 100% control of the property tax and county budgets. Barred from contesting Dail elections whilst in office, it would deprive the opposition of their strongest general election candidates, whilst giving Govt TDs local targets to blame for failure in local services.

It’s a no-brainer. Yet the government parties, so paralysed by inertia and fear of change, seem happy to leave the local government system as a free, funded platform for the people determined to take their seats of them in the next general election. Labour in particular seem quite content to sleepwalk into political oblivion, their fear of change even more powerful than the fear of humiliation at election counts. Remarkable.

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