Pat Leahy, in his excellent speech to the Kenmare economics conference here, makes a telling point about how Irish politicians are incredibly short term focused in their decision making. I bring up the point because, in light of the defeat of the government over the 30th amendment, we’re now looking again at the upcoming constitutional convention. Having watched Fine Gael in government for the last eight months now, their transformation into a “we’re in power now, so change as little as possible” Fianna Fail style government took less time than even I imagined, and I have no doubt that they are trying to dream up gimmicks for the convention to avoid changing anything major. That’s the thing: After the convention, constitutional reform will be off the table for a generation, and yet these guys, in their own party political interest, will try and stymie the process. Think I’m being too harsh? Ok, here’s what I think will happen:
1. The convention will be dominated by government TDs and government appointed NGOs who will be able to outvote the citizen members.
2. Many of the NGOs will side with the government to oppose radical political reform such as an elected Taoiseach, citizen initiated referenda, and term limits, and will get, in return, the insertion into the constitution of their pet political declarations.
3. Political reform will be limited to tinkering with the Seanad (possibly implementing elements of the 2004 “minimum change” report) and, bizarrely, changing the length of the presidential term. Electoral reform will be passed over, with the convention, after claiming that the only alternatives are party lists and first past the post, plumping to remain with STV exactly as it is.
Of course, perhaps I’m wrong. If Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the United Left demand that the convention be permitted to submit minority proposals to the voters, as the price for those parties participation in the convention, then maybe there is hope. It would be very hard for the government to continue with the convention without all party support, and this will be our last serious attempt at political reform for a generation.