Home > irish Politics > List system would protect Guilty Ministers-Reply to Garret Fitzgerald

List system would protect Guilty Ministers-Reply to Garret Fitzgerald

A List System Would Protect Guilty Ministers
A reply to Garret FitzGerald by Paddy Healy
The disastrous performance of governments over the last decade has given rise to considerable public discussion on electoral reform. Many commentators favour the introduction of a national or regional list system to elect a significant proportion of Dail deputies. Garret Fitzgerald argues in Irish Times,Dec4:” the Dáil would benefit from having some TDs who would not be prisoners of local interests, but who could speak and act in the general national interest. Finally, and in national terms most important of all, the additional-member system would enable political parties to improve the quality of their Dáil representation by placing people with valuable expertise high on their supplementary lists.”
I believe that such a proposal would further damage our democracy. What are the assumptions behind such a proposal? It is assumed that undue attention to local matters and local constituents is a major factor in the failure of our political system. It is also assumed that “competent people” freed from local duties and accountability would be more likely to act in the national interest. Lurking behind the assumption is the incorrect view that the current crisis was caused by overspending on public services. The facts are that the proportion of GDP spent on public services in Ireland is low by west European standards. What is in fact low is the tax take which places a light burden on the rich and subsidises the investments of the rich with huge tax breaks in accordance with the precepts of neo-liberal economics.
This, together with trusting to competition and consequent failure to regulate the banks, caused the current crisis. In a word greed was deified. The main beneficiaries of FF/PD rule were the very rich who have very few votes.
The board of Directors of the Central Bank in the period 2003-2007 (which included a business and a trade union representative) were highly competent people with no local “parish pump” duties. Yet they failed miserably by allowing Irish Banks to borrow an additional 50% of GDP abroad in that period. Were the ministers who should have appropriately directed the Central Bank so overburdened with “parish pump” duties that they missed what was happening? In fact ministers have well staffed personal offices to deal with such matters as well as many local activists. They were in a position to concentrate on national affairs. Were these ministers incompetent? There is no reason to believe that the current cabinet is less competent than its predecessors. The fact that they led the country to destruction is not principally due to incompetence. Ministers had a civil service, the Economic and Social Research Institute and financial consultants reports available to them. Were the esteemed researchers of the ESRI so overburdened with constituency work that their warnings of danger were mild, muted, and full of caveats? I think not. Are they incompetent? Many professors and business PhDs staff the Institute. Would it have helped if many of them were in the Dail and in the cabinet via a list system? I think not. There is no reason to believe as Garret Fitzgerald argues that via a list system” the Dáil would benefit from having some TDs who would not be prisoners of local interests, but who could speak and act in the general national interest.” Many who were not prisoners of local interests acted in a more irresponsible way than those who were!
For a real explanation I believe we should return to the wise old saying : “Money is the root of all evil”. In a society where there is a vast disparity of wealth, it is inevitable that the majority of leading people (not just politicians) in society will be seduced into supporting the interests of the wealthy or at best remaining silent about the sins of the rich. It was ever thus. Leading people including journalists, professors, economic experts etc, tend to be sucked in to a cosy consensus of the rich in this form of society. “Dig-outs” by wealthy individuals or by banks and businesses may or may not be a factor in this. Absorption into the life-style of the rich and the adulation of their “betters” is sufficient for some. As they say in Tipperary: “With some people, a little goes a long way”. Great credit is due to academics such as Morgan Kelly and Tom O’Connor who stood out against the consensus (Long live tenure in our universities!)
Because the disparity of wealth is greater in Ireland than in most European Countries, the blandishments of the rich are more effective. When this tendency intersected with the flaws in the EU and in the Euro zone the outcome was disastrous. It is no accident that the main crisis flash-points are Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain-the less developed countries. Cheap money was available in the Eurozone. The rich of the less developed countries grabbed it, drove up asset values and enriched themselves. The Irish rich and their political allies acted with outrageous excess.
Short of fundamental social change to extirpate income disparity, there are some changes that could be introduced as a counterweight to the blandishments of the rich. A list system would worsen the situation by protecting ministers from the anger of the people. No matter what safeguards are put in place, it is inevitable that senior ministers would head the list and unless there was a complete voting collapse, the majority of the cabinet would be re-elected while the backbenchers suffered the consequences of bad government. Under the present system several ministers will rightly lose their seats or will be driven into retirement before the election.
Banning political donations and state funding of election candidates would help but only slightly. The reduction of the Dail term to three years would help greatly. The current government would have already been removed under such a system before they signed up to the disastrous EU/IMF deal. A means should be devised, a popular initiative, under which citizens through an official petition could call a general election. A situation in which a government with 13% support can conclude a deal which could impoverish generations is intolerable.
Finally there is a reform which is justified in its own right, though it is unlikely to protect us from bad governments. Currently Dail deputies are paid basic salary from the date they register until the Dail is dissolved even if they never attend. Recent changes affect expenses only. Dail deputies should have the same attendance regime as their civil service pay analogue in order to be paid salary. They should be required to register a vote, if only an abstention, on all stages of legislation. Pairing should only be allowed with the permission of the Ceann Comhairle in accordance with reasonable attendance criteria. This would end deprioritisation of the legislative function whether due to constituency pressures or the lure of the lecture circuit for former Taoisigh. Unfortunately, It is not surprising that politicians and former politicians never raise the matter of compulsory attendance of the Dail as a protection against undue competition at local level between deputies of the same party.
Never waste a good crisis! This is believed to be the motivation of the ruling elite in cutting the minimum wage. The dilution of popular democracy by the proposal of a list system of election could have the same motivation.

Categories: irish Politics
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