The mood of late has focused on how we as a country can claw its way from recession.  There is a palpable anger with the political class today.  Anger derived from broken promises and lumping austerity on all of us.  During the last two General Election campaigns candidates waxed lyrical about reform of the institutions they served in.  However they stuck to what political reform would be in their specific interest.  Yes some mentioned reducing the amount of politicians, some even went as far to suggest that ministerial cars would be abolished.  This is not reform, this is a piecemeal approach to quell the annoyance felt by ordinary voters.  While all this was easily achievable with a stroke of a pen, the substantive issue were left to be pondered.

a)     How do we make politics relevant to the people?

b)     How does the body politic instil a sense of “politics is needed” or TRUST?

c)     How can politicians act to reform their own jobs in a unambiguous way?

No party really explained how they were going to do this.  Each placed some lip service in their respective manifestos, all of which I have read.  The apathy people have for politics isn’t necessarily poor, it’s the POLITICIANS we have issue with.  We almost pay homage to politicians that they and they alone can do more for us than ‘us’ ourselves.  One economist mentioned during a road show that “…people must stop bowing to politicians and get on with their lives to get things done…”  Are we as society to blame for our reliance on the Td or local councillor?  Have we put far too much emphasis and given too much credence to the ability of a Td or councillor to help us?  These questions are not for answering here.

 

Below is a draft or basis for changing the institution of politics as we know it. Some suggest getting rid of the Senate as a means of reform and capital saving will be huge.  But frankly this will do little if anything to save us real money when you look at the bigger picture of the financial mire we are in.

I would implement a more radical plan for the Senate and it doesn’t involve abolishing it.  The Senate in my eyes serves no discernable purpose.  We as a nation don’t elect them and they don’t have much say in what happens.  This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t good people in there, or to say that they couldn’t do more, but merely abolishing it doesn’t serve anything only to save pittance.

The Senate should or could be where we elect individual monitors from the public pool of excellence.  There are fantastic people in Ireland and many have never had the opportunity to stand for public office, this would be their chance.  The primary remit would be to keep a watching brief on Government matters in a few key areas.

(1) watch how the budget spend or cuts are proposed prior to full budget implementation.  This will, put simply, stop the debacle over cuts to people with disabilities being rolled back on after the fact.  My point is it would have been discussed and though through before being announced.

(2) The monitors can keep an eye on how the government is performing overall.  If the monitors, who have no vested interest and importantly political allegiance, can recall the Dail for to debate on matters of importance. E.g. during holidays or at times such as last winter when the country ground to a halt, they could be reconvened at very short notice.

(3)  The monitors would provide impartial guidance to the government on most matters thus doing away with special advisors.  Given these would be elected people in what is the UPPER house, they would advise on matters of importance now and matters into the future.  Each elected person would have their own portfolio of sorts and could relay information of relevance to the appropriate minister and work closely with colleagues across the Dail & Senate.

(4) Probably the most important of all.  We heard, prior to the last election, how stable government would provide stability to the markets.  There was a time when this was critical, but only in the context of a country experiencing a dictatorship, army control etc.  So this in the Irish context was utter Bunkam, as far as the current system is concerned.  It provided nothing of the sort.  This is were the important element would be.  The monitors would in good conscience submit as to weather a government should step aside or continue in power.  They could suggest a mid term election or even go as far to impeach someone and force an election.

This would move us away from the majority a party holds in government to, at times strangle and maintain power. It would also keep a watching brief to stop whatever government wants to implement legislation or basically whatever they want that would be deemed to significantly be in the governments benefit.

They could also, if the scope was widened, become the authority on should we need referenda on topics of national importance.  Give guidance and make appropriate the legislation to reality, sorry real lives.

 

The senate would be truly a worth while venture.  Non political and impartial.

 

The Dail itself would also need radical overhaul.  Party politics played out in Orichetas Report is sometimes very hard to watch.  We have ministers sitting on their own, replying to comments / questions from other singular T.d’s across an empty chamber.  Simply being in Leinster house does not mean that you can feck off to your office and ring a few people, why bother having secretaries then.  No, if elected then you should be in the chamber listening to the debates that have implications for many.  The format of debates I will get to shortly.  If you were elected by the people to represent the people in Dail Eireann then you’d better sit in the chamber and represent them.

 

The Dail would sit 5 if not more days a wee, depending on the importance of certain issues.  5 days & late nights if need be.  Currently they sit Tuesday through Thursday and infrequently on Fridays.  No more in my reformed Dail.  You turn up Monday morning 8.30/9am and you are there to Friday evening when you then can go home to the family like many in Ireland have to do today to survive..  We call this a working week in normal society therefore our representatives will also perform the working week in the Dail, where they were elected to.

Td’s clinics and other public gathering for constituents can be organised around this and during other holiday breaks.  Holidays would also mirror ordinary working peoples schedules and this closing for months would stop immediately.

Debates and ministers questions currently happen in a very protracted manner.  Each speaker has minutes to question and comment and not everyone has untimed speaking rights in the Dail.  How seriously wrong is this?  Debates would now take the form of each minister being in chamber at an allotted time where all members of the house can question, comment and debate the matters in hand, overseen by the chairperson ‘Ceann Comhairle’. Open and free debate would then really take place.  E.g. Leaders questions would afford everyone the opportunity to question the Taoiseach, something that today is almost non existent unless you have agreed or nominated speaking rights or are a leader of an opposition party etc.

Motions for specific Debates would be handled by the Senate & Ceann Comhairle so important matters that arise can be discussed without delay.  It would not be the gift of the sitting government to adjudicate which topics are debated and when.

 

The actual make up of the Dail is purely for the public to decide.  Imagine this if you will.  A Dail made up of more independents than parties would make it something completely unusual.  The formation of a government would be bringing together independents based on, not who topped the poles, but on your field of expertise or talent.  This radical step would afford us decisions not based on what is best for our party or how it will make our party look, but on what is best for the people.  There individual performance can then be tracked better by the Senate / monitors and performance levels would possibly be higher.  Debates would be focused on the issues on not as we currently see, which party was to blame FF, FG labour etc and also the minister would not be fearful of backbenchers as they would all be individual members without the baggage of a parliamentary party to keep onside.  Given that no parties were to be bowed to, the individual, whilst monitored by the Senate, would be almost an employee of the state and we would get enhanced performance and none of the party political blame gaming that often overshadows debates.

 

The Ceann Comhairle would be elected by the Senate, giving the chair real impartiality.  The office would be filled by an elected representative separate from existing Td’s which would do away with the fact that the Ceann Comhairle doesn’t have to be elected in an General Election, thus nothing would be Guaranteed.  Simply, put another section on the ballot paper for Leader of the house and list the candidates.  Let us all have a say, thus no democratic deficit.

 

To ensure this enhanced democracy additional implementation methods for transparency, openness and fairness would be passed.  An individual citizens assembly would be proposed and enacted as soon as possible in each region of the country.  Regional assemblies would feed into a nationally convened assembly.  From this, recommendations for government and specific proposals to be acted upon by the Dail.  This mechanism provides local and national democracy in effect.  It has the capacity to look at regional variations and propose some initiatives to tackle specific problems.  The days of blanket policies to address the needs of a nations people doesn’t work.  This mechanism can afford variations to plans and seek political accountability through the Senate.

Dail select committees would be made up of half Dail members and half private / community individuals from various sectors.  E.g. Finance committee would have someone with expertise on the committee and be recompensed for expenses only, or a small appropriate fee given.  The appointment would be drawn from an open competition of applicants.  Vetting of each applicant could involve if they had political affiliation, serious convictions, publicised books or articles that were inappropriate.  In short anything that may bring them or the committee into disrepute would be a no no.

So I have covered some aspects of the Dail and Senate, more suggestions and ideas can be forthcoming from people, but this would go some way to creating real political accountability and possibly something we can have confidence and trust in.

 

This may all look like trying to dilute the political beliefs of the public at large.  It may be viewed as watering down someone’s party political passion, but the contrary applies.  I am not adverse to people being members of a political party or participating in the hustings for their political candidate.  What I am interested in is creating a balanced approach to governance of a nation.  If we as a society believe that politics can be of the people, for the people, then it should reflect this in its make up.  Otherwise we simply continue to fall into the existing system that many feel aggrieved about.

What is the cost of such ventures?  Firstly, there would be a benchmark set, reviewed regularly, that each Senate and Dail member would get approx €65,000 per year.  Their expenses such as lodgings whilst attending work would be subsidised in part only.  Mobile phone etc would be free as this is the least we should provide.  Attire such as suits would not receive subsidised cleaning bill.  Ministerial appointments would have additional benefits, as yet to be decided.  However the overriding theme for ministerial personnel would be the Honour of serving the people, not the monetary value it brings.  Pensions would be reduced to a significantly smaller amount and only payable when she / he / they retire at the age of 65.  Ministerial pensions would also be inline with these.  Why, well some of the best political minds may never get into a ministerial position so they should not benefit from a party system of the larger you are the better you will be paid.

The overall savings to the state wouldn’t be enormous, but it would be a significant start.  Over the term of a Dail sitting the monies saved would soon mount up.  All reform, bar complete downsizing, cost money.  There would be no actual cost to implement this, as the initial saving in the very short term would cover the implementation and consultation.

 

We can go further in terms of the office of the Presidency.  The president has relatively few powers, bar calling the council of state together and referring pieces of legislation back.  For approximately €300,000 in wages I think we can utilise this office somewhat better.  Firstly the wages are obviously too high and should be brought down by a minimum 40%.  This would still be higher than most world leaders.  The approx €300,000 in expenses would also be looked at, especially for foreign dignitaries coming here.  We can put on a show, but not to the millions it cost for Obama and the Queen.  The dividend has yet to be realised on these visits, so maybe it could break even remains to be seen.  The Aras would be utilised more formally for visits and for the government to utilise as well.  It’s a big house for one family unless you have 30 children.  Council of state would be regularly convened to trawl over the state of the nation and be in a position to come up with real recommendation for the Dail & Senate to action.  They would also work with the Citizens Assembly closely to ensure that thinking and actions are inline with the common good and provide a firm bases that if any proposal is made that it is indeed what the largest majority of the country wants.

 

All of this would take legislative change, but I believe the mood is right to at least consider these as proposals.  The finer detail regarding wages, performance indicators and other specifics can be determined later.  The basis of this document is to seek radical change, not for the sake of it, but because we deserve it.  If the body politic is serious about reform then they must implement serious proposals and not just pay lip service to it.  Parties have mentioned that they are serious about reform.  Abolishing or getting rid of something does not get rid of the substantive problem.  We don’t trust the body politic, we have little respect for political institutions and reform is always paltry in real terms.

What I have written above can not only reform the political system and institutions, but also give the people a real sense of inclusiveness in the making of this country again, at least from a political stand-point.  Politics is important in all our lives.  Political decisions are made daily and effect nearly everything in our lives from the tax we pay to the laws that are implemented.

Therefore we should contribute to this system more proactively.  Currently for much of the wider public their only involvement is a tick in a box during an election.  With between 40 to 50% of people not voting this creates an imbalance.  If this approx 40% were to vote maybe things in the political make up of the Dail might be different.

Nevertheless it should be imperative that we as a nation have a greater say in how we are governed.  Not for power sake, but to have a positive influence.  Democracy is often used as a stick to blame the political class.  Make democracy the instrument to enact real change.  This would give us the general public a sense of ownership and a feeling that politics is relevant in our lives.  Political reform is more than just the institutions, its about the mindset we have, good or bad, about politics in general.  From the stay at home unaged parent to the CEO of a multi national, their respective beliefs would be considered in equal manner, not dependent on what donation you give.

 

I have spoken about common sense before in other posts on this site and again I bang on again about this.  Common sense can prevail when current flawed thinking is laid to rest.  Political reform must be meaningful in all its remits and will take some time to implement.  If there is the political will amongst our current politicians then this will happen.  I wont say, it cant happen, nor will I say the will is not there.  The will of the people must be the overriding concern and for me anyway the time is right to do this now, not later, now.  My vote demands it….

Please feel free to discuss this, agree with it, condemn it, add to it, amend it, send it to friends.  Whatever you do consider what it could achieve for us all and the nation.

Alan Mc Menamin.

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