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He wasn’t expecting that

Read more about: Bertie Ahern Resigns, Bertiegate, Corruption, Fianna Fail, Scandal, Tribunals     Print This Post

Clearly picking up from the political ether that the Mahon Tribunal report is coming out next week, Micheál Martin wants it to be known (via the Irish Times) that at least after the fact, there’s a new sheriff in town:

There is a view within Fianna Fáil that if the leader is not seen to respond decisively and take robust action against those named negatively, including Mr Ahern if he is among them, his efforts to rebuild the party could be undermined. Several party TDs and Senators have said privately that the measures to be considered must be tough and unambiguous, including up to expulsion from the party.

In August 2007, then Minister for Finance Brian Cowen gave an address to the Humbert Summer School.  It’s worth reading it all (scroll down to comments) to see the hubris that characterised this vintage of Fianna Fail – at a time when the banking system was already fatally compromised.

Note this part:

They [the public] did so in spite of the unprecedented pressure which he [Bertie] had come through in the first weeks of the campaign. The public showed that they have an innate sense of fair play and perspective which is willing to hear all of the information before reaching a conclusion. It remains a fact that confidential material was selectively leaked by a person or persons unknown with the sole intent of causing Bertie Ahern significant electoral damage. Only material which might cause damage was leaked, while other material was withheld.

No person should have to go through what Bertie Ahern endured in those weeks and we can learn a lot from the public’s balanced and reflective response. After ten years, the public were not going to be rushed into making a judgement on the Taoiseach. They know him pretty well by now and they understand that he is not motivated by personal gain. They have seen the progress made under his leadership. He has never been a specialist in the soundbite approach to politics, but he has more than made up for this in the substance of his achievements.

Thus Cowen presents not just a judgement on the Mahon leaks around this time — with sources that only the Irish Times could reveal — but also a claim that he and the electorate at large had come to the conclusion that there were no flawed pedigree issues with Bertie. Indeed, Cowen’s reputation was enhanced at the time by the perception that he had taken the FF election campaign by the scruff of the neck from a Mahon-distracted Bertie and led the party to a historic victory. Which part of that legacy will Micheál Martin be disowning?

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50 Responses to “He wasn’t expecting that”

  1. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Jan 7th, 2012 10:01

    We have been here before ie. Fianna Fáil leaders seeking to distance themselves from a Tribunal’s adverse findings on their predecessors eg.

    August 1997 Bertie Ahern’s comments on the McCracken Tribunal report on the late Charlie Haughey

    “Our duty is to guard our country and our democratic system from any taint or suspicion of corruption, and to remove any obvious or possible source of danger. While in the terms of the Tribunal’s Report ‘no political impropriety’ has been shown to have occurred, the acceptance of large gifts or payments or personal benefits in a surreptitious manner or the large scale evasion of tax and exchange control regulations by even one or two senior serving politicians or members of Government is deeply damaging to trust in politics, and a serious breach of it, and every effort must be made that is humanly possible to ensure that it cannot happen again.

    Honesty and truthfulness and integrity are fundamental requirements of those who serve in public life and who hold positions of great trust. All of us are deeply dismayed at the way in which in certain instances investigated by the Tribunal there has been a falling so far short of these ideals in an indefensible and disgraceful manner. ”

    http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/eng/Government_Press_Office/Taoiseach%27s_Speeches_Archive_2006/Taoiseach%27s_Speeches_Archive_1997/Statement_on_the_McCracken_Tribunal_report.html

    When Bertie Ahern admitted taking money (= “dig-out” = “the acceptance of large gifts or payments or personal benefits in a surreptitious manner “) in his interview with RTE’s Brian Dobson in 2006, I do not remember any of the then Cabinet calling for his immediate and prompt resignation from his position.

    Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose!

  2. # Comment by EddieL Jan 7th, 2012 19:01

    “Honesty and truthfulness and integrity are fundamental requirements of those who serve in public life and who hold positions of great trust.”
    You must be joking. Western “democracy” is by its very nature based on the lowest common denominator in the electorate which is greed and selfishness. That is why all democracies quickly abandon even the most absolute of individual human rights – the right to the truth, the right to life, the right to a natural family and the right to ownership of property.

  3. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Jan 8th, 2012 11:01

    @EddieL
    “That is why all democracies quickly abandon even the most absolute of individual human rights – the right to the truth, the right to life, the right to a natural family and the right to ownership of property.”

    An exaggeration surely?
    Another drive in Western Democracy is the development, implementation and updating of checks and balances that limit the scope for excess by the powerful, be they elected or appointed, public or private eg. written constitutions, bills of rights, separation of powers, legislation being adopted by directly elected groups representing citizens, justice being administered in public, the option to change governments peacefully at predetermined intervals etc.

    As an Arab proverb has it “Trust in God, but tie your camel”

  4. # Comment by Mystery Man Jan 8th, 2012 12:01

    Good on Michael Martin making a break from the past if the Mahon tribunal shows up anything dodge.

    By the way did anyone ever find out who that M.Martin was who was mentioned in the Mahon tribunal as facilitating a meeting between the Bert and developer o’ Callaghan.

    It maybe we will never know that facilitator was. Well anyway back to the topic of Michael Martin tacking a stand on corruption. It sounds like a positive thing. M. Martin (the FF leader, not the unknown person in Bertie’s diary) is a solid man.

  5. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 8th, 2012 13:01

    At the risk of being contrary, and before Flood/Mahon mania is reawakened to astonish us with the revelation that the last century past was sometimes a time of cutting corners, let me thank Bertie, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair again for bringing peace to this island.

  6. # Comment by Veronica Jan 9th, 2012 00:01

    P,

    I reckon the media will be very interested in the Mahon report, especially any aspect relating to Bertie Ahern. I suspect the public interest, though, in this aspect will be short-lived.

    FF don’t need to do very much. Witness Helmut Kohl and Jacques Chirac – their respective parties don’t seem too bothered about their subsequent trials for some class of corruption, or malfeasance, or impropriety, or whatever. Yet again we may, as a society, be at risk of missing the wood for the trees.

    I reckon though, just like the French and Germans, people will have moved on from this. After all, the biggest kick in the teeth to a political party in the political history of this state was delivered to FF last February. The people have already spoken. Time to move on.

  7. # Comment by Donal O\'Brolchain Jan 9th, 2012 12:01

    @Veronica
    What wood? What trees?
    Yes, I do expect most people will be more pre-occupied with current living conditions than in excavating the past.
    However, our current crisis is a direct result of a political culture, as Peter Mair pointed out at the MacGill Summer School in July 2010.
    The result of that culture had been bad government, which resulted in a bigger collapse in the economy than any other country in Western Europe experienced in peacetime. FF-led Governments were in power and took decisions (sometimes decisions not to do anything) that led to this social and economic crisis.

    For all their faults, neither Kohl nor Chirac managed that unique feat.
    Unlike the French and the Germans, our capacity to move on is severely hampered by the effects of bad government since 1997.
    Yes, FF, PDs and Greens have paid the price electorally. So are we, individually and collectively.

    But I suggest the the current Government’s behaviour (eg. on the Oireachtas Inquiries referendum, the failure to simply repeal the 2003 Freedom of Information Act as promised in the Programme for Government) indicates that the political and governing class has learnt very little about rebuilding trust.

    Watch the yapping when the Mahon Tribunal report is finally published – regardless of what its findings are.

    For an outsider’s view of how things are done here, consider Maarten van Eden’ s comments after less than a year in Anglo-Irish
    ““Apart from the recklessness, overconfidence and the total lack of professionalism, one sees clearly a lack of checks and balances not only within Anglo but within the country/ system as a whole,” he wrote in the letter that was read out in part to Anglo staff when he announced his resignation in February 2011.

    “Parties were not dealing with one another at arm’s length, transactions were circular in nature, back to back and off market pricing. There was misrepresentation, market manipulation and market abuse.

    “There was a green jersey agenda that, as so often is the case when nationalism is invoked, covered a multitude of sins. The rationale was made to fit the objective at the expense of guiding principles and truth.”
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2011/0905/1224303500416.html

    @AHRC,

    “Peace on this island”.
    I agree entirely with you.
    But having set the final stage of the peace process in motion in 1998, the government then proceeded to blow the real Celtic Tiger (based on cost-competitive export growth) which was set in train by early 1990s governments to pieces.
    Historians will form views of the extent to which the Good Friday Agreement was possible because of the then growing confidence of our government in our capacity to sustain ourselves, economically, by successful trading.

    However, it is clear the “cast of mind” that dominated Government economic policy making post-1998 is that the only form of “real” wealth-creation is buying land for building development. see my opinion here – printed within the week of the 2008 bank guarantee
    http://www.irishexaminer.com/archives/2008/1004/opinion/end-malign-influence-of-property-speculation-on-the-way-we-are-governed-73915.html

    In August 2010, NESC summarised the lack of insight into sustainable prosperity by the political, administrative and other elites very well
    “In the past decade, Ireland’s approach to fiscal policy, prices, costs and financial regulation were not sufficiently adapted to the disciplines of a single currency.”
    http://www.nesc.ie/dynamic/docs/The%20euro%20MEDIA%20RELEASE%20from%20NESC.pdf

    It remains to be seen how this pans out – either inside the €urozone or linked to another currency (eg. £ST) as some have simplistically suggested.

  8. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 9th, 2012 19:01

    Donal,

    I believe our government, regulators and banks took calculated risks, as did those in the US, UK, and several other EU states. Some of it backfired, and we now have a very high live register. However, as Marc Coleman was pointing out yesterday in the Sindo, our accumulated housing wealth, and indeed our capacity to spend our way clear of deflation, show that we have retained the vast majority of the Celtic Tiger era real growth.

    As for Bertie and Mahon, if the expected report does state that corners were cut, I’m sure that Bertie will be second to no-one in wanting to find out exactly what happened.

  9. # Comment by Veronica Jan 10th, 2012 09:01

    Donal,

    We have just had ‘bad governments’ since 1997. With rare exceptions, we’ve had ‘bad governments’ since the foundation of this state. But as the late Peter Mair also pointed out in that MacGill lecture, we the citizens allowed that to happen because as a society, as he put it, somewhat controversially, we’ve never really bought into the concept of our own state.

    We have a moribund political system because of its failure to reform, and thereby renew itself, at regular intervals. Reforms being advanced by the current government amount to little more than tinkering around the edges; but the political will to go further than this is not there. Nor is the public pressure there for the complete overhaul of local government, parliamentary process and electoral system, in effect a transformation of Irish political culture, that is urgently required.

    As well as the Bertie factor, much of the commentary about Mahon, when it is published, is likely to be related to its cost to the taxpayer. Part of the reason for this is the perfectly legitimate public outrage that a process that has cost so much to the taxpaper will deliver no discernible result in terms of prosecutions, punishment of wrongdoers beyongd a temproary, and soon forgotten, public humiliation. But part of it also is outrageously hypocritical – the terms of reference for Mahon were cast so broad by the Dail that set it up it was inevitably going to continue for years and cost a fortune. Thus, there is no justification for complaining about its ultimate cost.

    That’s what I mean by woods and trees.

  10. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 10th, 2012 19:01

    The talk of the need for reform and all that other stuff really turns on this – we have a constitution in whivh the people are sovereign. Most theorists regard that as pretty near the pinnacle of democracy. We have an achingly proportional electoral system. We don’t have a monarch or higher power whose role it is to check that the sovereign people are not making a mistake. The people are sovereign, period.

    How do you improve on that?

  11. # Comment by Donal O\\\'Brolchain Jan 10th, 2012 22:01

    @Veronica,
    Yes it is a thicket.
    IMO,much of the complaints about the costs of the Tribunals has the sound of vested interests (particularly, McCracken, Mahon, Moriarty) trying to damage their credibility.
    As you rightly point out, the Dáil established these Tribunals and left it to government to do the rest.

    @AHCR
    Can I suggest two options for improving on what your describe

    The first being Brecht’s option
    “After the uprising of the 17th of June
    The Secretary of the Writers Union
    Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
    Stating that the people
    Had forfeited the confidence of the government
    And could win it back only
    By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
    In that case for the government
    To dissolve the people
    And elect another?”

    The second is to assume that our Constitution is not the last word on how to govern ourselves. We can do better. Yes it is simply said, but not easily done.

    Even within the constitution, there are options to change many aspects of how govern ourselves without referenda.
    See my contribution (done on pro-bono basis!) to the Dublin City Business Association 10-point manifesto Towards a Second Republic (published on 8 February 2011) see p. 56 here http://www.dcba.ie/static/doclib/Towards_a_Second_Republic.pdf

    Trouble is that all initiative on change on how we govern ourselves lies with the Government.

    That is why I believe that we need Swiss-style direct democracy and Swedish-style Freedom of Information to be embedded in our constitution.
    Both could be done without upsetting the seemingly critically importance common law notion of precedent, as I suggest in my 1996 submission to the then All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution see
    http://www.2nd-republic.ie/files/1.pdf

  12. # Comment by EddieL Jan 11th, 2012 19:01

    AHCR: How do you improve on that?
    You could have a benevolent dictatorship like they had in Libya. But look what happened to them when those who claim to represent the “pinnacle of democracy” wanted their resources without paying for them.

  13. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 11th, 2012 19:01

    Donal,

    I haven’t had a chance to visit the various links you included, but at this point I feel we’re in a circular argument.

    I don’t agree with your assertion that ‘all initiative on change on how we govern ourselves lies with the Government’. The fact is our elected parliaments have been pretty consistent in choosing to follow the Westminster model of government/opposition. They could choose a more collaborative way of operating – no consitutional issue whatsoever. Indeed, the committee system seems to demonstrate that they ae progressing in this direction.

    However, governments are put in place to govern, and come back in five years time for their marks. I think the fact that no single party has developed the critical mass to challenge FF as a single-party opposition is a real weakness in our polity though. but it’s not a constitutional issue – indeed, I don’t think there’s any mention of political parties in Bunreacht. My point – how our democracy has developed is what we have voted to have. You, like anyone else, can argue as a citizen for a different sort of reprentation and government, but you have to accept that we have been quite content as a people with the broad thrust of what we have here. Or you could get yourself elected.

    And government does not hold the initiaive for constitutional change – it requires a Bill, not a government Bill.

  14. # Comment by Veronica Jan 12th, 2012 12:01

    HCR,

    “…you have to accept that we have been quite content as a people with the broad thrust of what we have here.”

    Indeed, yes. The late Peter Mair addressed this point in his MacGill 2011 speech in terms of a political culture of ‘amoral localism’.

    “As citizens we never hold our governments responsible for their policies; we’re too busy holding our TDs accountable for their local activities,” he said.

    In consequence, he argued, there is no pressure from citizens, or backbench TDs, or even from the media, to oblige governments to act responsibly. (Arguably, the opposite is more often the case!) A further consequence is the creation of a vacuum at the centre of politics which is filled by the ranks of ‘vested interests’. Then when things go wrong, well we can all blame the ‘vested interests’ for the ensuing debacle.

    Mair described the February 2011 election as the third most volatile election in European history. The trouble is what whilst the election dealt Fianna Fail a hammer blow, nothing else new came out of it.

    Well, so far anyway. I think the likelihood of a referendum on the new EU intergovernmental agreement, if such transpires, will concentrate a few minds. Citizens will have a choice between delivering a kicking to the EU AND the government’s austerity policies in the one go and the prospect will be tempting. However, if as the Taoiseach was hinting in the Dail yesterday in his remarks about intense discussions taking place behind closed doors with the EU institutions about those vexed ‘promissory notes’, that suggests there may ultimately be a ‘deal’ on same on offer at EU level in return for a positive Irish vote on the so-called ‘compact’ agreement. What does the ‘reasonable voter’ do then? Interesting times ahead, I think.

  15. # Comment by Donal O\'Brolchain Jan 12th, 2012 17:01

    @AHCR
    “You, like anyone else, can argue as a citizen for a different sort of reprentation and government, but you have to accept that we have been quite content as a people with the broad thrust of what we have here.”

    Of course, I do argue (and have done since the 1980s crisis) for a different way of governing ourselves. Some of our forebears struggled very hard for this capacity, as people in other places are doing as we discuss these matters without fear of being thrown into jail, intimidated or simply killed.
    Part of that freedom is that my arguments fail to convince or do not gather support – in short, lack traction. But that is not enough reason for me to stop making my case – even without standing for election.

    How content we have been is a matter of opinion.
    At present, people are voting with their feet as they emigrate in search of work, better lifestyles, less pessimism. This is a repeat of the 1950s and 1980s. Yes we now have a larger population than we did then.

    Another way of looking at the “broad thrust of what we have here” is to note that since 1969, we have only once (in 2002) re-elected an outgoing government. What odds would you give me on us the electorate reverting to that pattern in the next general election?
    Yes, Fianna Fáil has dominated most governments since then.
    As Veronica pointed out, we the electorate, exercised our power in judgement on that party’s practices in the last General Election – the only opportunity we have to do such things.

    Based on what he said at MacGill 2012, Michael Martin has taken this to heart as people in Opposition are wont to do
    “An engaged and informed electorate is the only guarantee of real political reform. The public appetite for changing the way we do politics in this country is very real. If the programme for reform continues as it has begun, the word reform will be reduced to the level of Orwellian newspeak. This is a moment of opportunity which cannot be lost. The agenda mustn’t be about hyping the significance of minor changes whilst leaving every fundamental division of power in place”

    re. your take on Marc Coleman’s piece in the Sunday Independent (8 Jan 2012)
    He refers to our property market as manifesting a “bipolar disorder”.
    I felt that his article had similar characteristics, when I read his comment that “property will never drive the economy again nor should it”.
    He did not specify any measure that can be taken to ensure that this policy actually happens. Nor in this article did he suggest what should drive the economy, apart from property – he finished by urging a “one-off injection…to alleviate negative equity”!

    This article has all the signs of a classic economist’s piece of “on the one hand, but on the other”

    I remain to be convinced that investing in property is a good use of public resources now, even to stabilise swings! I am not aware of any swing in the property market and suggest it will not do so until many other factors (some of which Marc Coleman refers to) reinforce one another, in an economically virtuous cycle.

  16. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 12th, 2012 19:01

    FF has definitely shown no inclination to do opposition politics differently.

    I feel that the perception that ‘the more thngs change, the more they remain the same’ follows from a few assumptions which are never challenged – for example, that nominal economic growth is good; that per capita output growth is less important than nominal growth; that price inflation and asset appreciation are good; that the purpose of all economic activity is not to satisfy human needs and desires but to grow the activities of the State. these are matters of high-level goals which we never discuss. Those are practical issues which we should be be discussing – the means to achieve our objectives should follow on.

    I’m not sure that the Swiss constitutional example would easily trasfer to our culture. Their bank failures since 2008 are noteworthy too.

  17. # Comment by Donal O\\\'Brolchain Jan 13th, 2012 09:01

    @AHRC
    I agree entirely with you on the topics we should be discussing.
    In addition, we should also be discussing how we organise our power, which we allocate to successively smaller groups (during elections to the Dáil, local authorities and the European Parliament.

    We should be exploring, developing and discussing options on how we govern ourselves – in order to do better for ourselves. I do not regard political/administrative culture as immutable – any more than economic practices and organisation. Why not try to learn from elsewhere? Otherwise, we are stuck in the authority of an eternal yesterday!

    Many Western countries have been having trouble with their banks over the past 20 years. This crisis is not yet over, for it is about values as you point out.
    It is also a matter of what interest groups set the agendas and how those with political power/policy-making-implementation positions are influenced.
    Simon Johnson a former IMF Chief Economist wrote, in 2009, about the US (it strikes me as applying to many other places too)
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/05/the-quiet-coup/7364/

    Karl Otto Pohl, former head of the German Bundesbank said, in 2010, the then “Bailout Plan Is All About ‘Rescuing Banks and Rich Greeks’
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,695245-2,00.html

  18. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 13th, 2012 20:01

    Perhaps we first need to address any subsisting mistakes from the 1916-1922 period, so that the people of the island as a whole are the base of our democracy and constitution- whether in isolation from Britain, in federation with Scotland, England etc, or some other set-up…

  19. # Comment by Veronica Jan 13th, 2012 20:01

    HCR,

    Maybe we’d be better off first sorting out some of our homegrown modern problems before looking around for federal arrangements with whomever might have us?

  20. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 13th, 2012 23:01

    Veronica,

    Surely reuniting our people is thr starting point for that? And east-west relations an integral component of our homegrown problems?

    Donal,

    Peter Mair, whom you’ve both referred to approvingly, didn’t seem inclined to the decentralisation of power and direct democracy – wasn’t he arguing for enhanced Europe-wide institutions?

  21. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 15th, 2012 11:01

    “Ireland is the European country whose national flag contains an orange reference to the Dutch Calvinist tradition. And yet Ireland is a country in which the positive aspect of those traditions (independent thinking and no-nonsense honest talking) is despised and rejected.

    This is the real tragedy of partition: that our Republic was sundered from half a million of our brothers and sisters who proclaim that tradition.” Marc Coleman

    http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/ill-understand-if-you-dont-want-to-hear-it-but-the-unpleasant-truth-must-be-told-2989207.html

  22. # Comment by Veronica Jan 15th, 2012 17:01

    HCR,

    Partition was made inevitable by the 1916 Rebellion. It migth have happened in any case; but the 1916 Rising put the kibbosh on any possibility of political resolution without partition.

    As for reunification – inthe fullness of time, I expect. We can’t predict our future with any accuracy and if Scotland votes for Independence, thereby breaking up the UK, and the EU fails to put itself back together again after its Humpty Dumpty year, who knows what will happen?

    We can only deal with the present with any confidence.

    As for the late Peter Mair, although I have little knowledge of anything he wrote or said about forms of direct or deliberative democracy, I feel that some of those – like ‘We the Citizens’ – who champion moving towards this form of decracy as an alternative to our representative system tend to overstate the benefits and generally don’t admit to any downsides either. There are plenty of deficits to be considered, such as the implications for freedom of speech and expression for one thing; and the historical reality that where such forms have existed in the dim historical past they have been confined to elite sections of society and didn’t last long for another.

  23. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 16th, 2012 19:01

    ParAHtition was not a resolution either, whatever the problem appeared to be.

  24. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Jan 17th, 2012 13:01

    @HCR
    “Donal, Peter Mair, whom you’ve both referred to approvingly,”

    Yes, I mentioned Peter Mair’s comment on our political culture.
    You are going way beyond what I said when you imply that I agree with his ideas for working our way out of this current social, economic and fiscal crisis – at either local, national and European levels.

    For the record, I believe that our joining the European project through membership of the EU has enhanced life here in this Republic in all kinds of ways.

    That does not mean that there is no need for political and institutional reform to enhance the European project – something that I have not changed my mind on since the mid-1980s.

  25. # Comment by Veronica Jan 17th, 2012 14:01

    @ DOnal

    +1

    And as for me, sure I’d never speak approvingly of anyone, including myself!

  26. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 17th, 2012 20:01

    Name-droppers, the both of you :-)

  27. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 18th, 2012 19:01

    @ Donal,

    I wish to add a further point about the late Mr Peter Mair. In his 2011 McGill Summer School address, summarised in the Irish Times last August 20, having denigrated the Irish people for our sovereign electoral choices down the years, he actually advocated that we Irish should emulate the subjects of the Kingdom of Denmark as model politically moral citizens. The progeny of a British subject himself, he really didn’t seem to get the whole idea of popular sovereignty i.e. accepting the electorate’s decisions.

  28. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Jan 18th, 2012 20:01

    @AHCR
    I note your comment on Peter Mair.

  29. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 21st, 2012 12:01

    So to finish up, Donal, I believe the frequent calls for ‘reform’ are a bit of meaningless waffle.

    This country does not have a democratic deficit. And it certainly doesn’t need more power given to parish pump councillors. The outworking of our constitution reflects our culture, and is dynamic.

    It is truly representative, but having elected our representatives we want them to get on with the job. They in turn stay very close to their electors in the community.

    We seem to want clear demarcations – politicians participating in the community, rather than mass community participation in party politics.

  30. # Comment by Veronica Jan 23rd, 2012 08:01

    HCR,

    We’re all the progeny of ‘British subjects’ or merely one remove from them. And a significant proportion of the current British population, and many other countries around the world, are the progeny of former Irish citzens of the 1950′s and ’60s who were forced to emigrate for economic reasons from a state whose policies and political culture regularly brought it to the brink of failure. So let’s not get too hung up on nationalism; our problems are of our own making and political culture is a significant contributing factor to that. As for Mair, God rest him, he was a breath of fresh air to the general conservatism of Irish political analysis and contributed many valuable insights about our system that were non-dogmatic and provocative.

    We’ve had far too little political reform in this state. The powerful elites of politicians, media and business have either refused to recognise that reform of institutions and politicial culture should be a continuous process or have acted, in their own interests, to constrain reform. All Mair and other such commentators were pointing out is that citizens shouldn’t be going along for that particular ride with the vested interests of Irish society.

  31. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 24th, 2012 09:01

    Veronica, Donal

    I think the national character,our culture, has changed beyond recognition over the past thirty years. We have reforming referendums every few years, we pass scores of Bills and hundreds of pieces of secondary legislation every year.

    Tell me in a few paragraphs what your post-reform Ireland would be like – and the key changes you see necessary to attain your aspirations.

  32. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Jan 24th, 2012 15:01

    @AHCR

    What exactly are you fishing for?

    How about this effort of mine from the 1980s – part of a response to then social, economic and fiscal crisis also brought on by poor goverance – long before the global financial/€uro crisis

    http://193.120.95.144/politics/Donal%20O%27Brolchain/Ireland%27s%20Second%20Republic%20Seirbh%C3%ADs%20Phoibl%C3%AD%201987%20Vol%208%202.pdf

    Please note that to this day, I resent that the then Editor of Seibhís Phoiblí removed sentences in the article I submitted without either telling me beforehand or even letting me know that it had been done. These referred to Swiss-style citizens’ initiative/direct democracy.

    If you want/need more detail, I point you to the references I gave in my posting of 10th January last above.

    In return, perhaps you will set out (or refer Veronica and I) to some source which gives the answer to your own question ie. some view of the future, based on “do-minimum” changes if I have understood you correctly.

  33. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 26th, 2012 00:01

    Donal,

    it seems that you and Veronica don’t mean the ame thing by ‘refom’. Your article linked above seems to advocate an unelected government of technocrats. Veronica has been railing against the loss of democracy in Italy and Greece to such governments.

    I like our Constitution and will be enthusiastically celebrationg its 7th anniversary this year. I haven’t been advocating ‘reform’.

    As we have discussed earlier, what matters to me is values and policies.

    The Donal de Buitlear with whom you worked on your new constitution ideas back in the 1980s – is he the same Donal who was on the AIB team at the DIRT Tribunal?

  34. # Comment by Veronica Jan 26th, 2012 08:01

    HCR,

    Donal and I wouldn’t agree about lots of things on the reform agenda. What we are, I think, agreed upon is the principle of reform to our political culture, processes and the electoral system. We’ll argue the toss on the detail, as I hope you would too. A good thing, I would have thought? The more robust the debate about the options, the better the outcome is likely to be.

  35. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jan 26th, 2012 09:01

    Veronica,

    I entirely agree on the neeed for reform of the political culture. I don’t believe that need entail remaking the constitution or the broad structure of how we govern our affairs, or becoming less democratic.

  36. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Feb 1st, 2012 00:02

    @AHRC
    I only know of Veronica through the views she expresses on this and other web fora.

    I too am concerned about values and the organisations we have to serve them. IMO, some of these leave something to be desired. As the late Prof John Kelly (an expert on our 1937 constitution) observed
    “Ireland’s political and official rulers have largely behaved like a crew of maintenance engineers, just keeping a lot of old British structures and plant ticking over”

    The rest of this posting contains lengthy extracts from material I have written

    It is a misreading of my article to say that I favour an unelected government by technocrats.
    IMO, the 1987 article is clear that I favour
    1) keeping PR-STV for multi-seat constituencies for the Dáil;
    2) separating the Government completely from the Dáil;
    3) strengthening the Dáil by giving it more power and resources to hold the Government to account in various ways;
    4) directly electing the Taoiseach (using PR-STV in a single-seat constituency, as we do for Presidential and by-elections), who would have to work with the Dáil;
    5) Ministers being chosen from a much wider range of people than those who manage to be elected to the Dáil, in order to provide our Government with a range of skills and experience needed.

    In another 1987 article Need Government Fail?, I offered the following view
    “Our basis of government
    In our system we, the people, elect a group (Dáil deputies) which in turn, elects a Taoiseach who then picks a smaller group (Cabinet) to govern for a period not greater than five years. We, who as citizens own the authority to govern, pass this authority to successively smaller groups.

    There is only one path to government power in our system. This path must act as a route for the transfer of our democratic power which authorises the government to act. At the same time, this path must also serve to gather the actual know-how needed to carry out the tasks of government. These two aspects may be equated with the distinction between the words “may” and “can”, ie the ability to do something and permission to do it.

    Dual aspects of power — politics and governing
    Any democratic political system must be able to marshal and control both elements. Our current system cannot handle the complexity of the modern world because it cannot acquire sufficient authority and know-how at the same time.
    A hypothetical example shows why this “single pathway” causes trouble. Suppose that Denis Brosnan wanted to become a Minister in the normal way. He would join a political party, attend a convention, be selected as a candidate, get well-known in his future constituency, begin a round of canvassing and clinics and then, perhaps, be elected to the Dáil. If his party forms the government (in whole or in part), if he has the right relationship with his party and its leader, if he represents part of the country that “requires ministerial representation” and several others ifs, he will become a Minister!

    This series of steps does not quite fit our idea of a man like Denis Brosnan or any other high achiever. Why? Is it because, deep down, we regard the process of getting into the Dáil as mismatched to the skills we now require in Ministers?

    A recent Irish Times/MRBI poll (The Irish Times, February 5 1987) shed some light on this aspect of our political culture. This found that, of the key factors which voters said would “influence them a lot” in deciding how to vote
    • 75% opted for “Choosing a TD who will look after the local needs of the constituency”;
    • 53% said choosing a candidate who will perform effectively on national issues in the Dáil:
    • 45% said that party policies were important;
    • 27% identified choice of Taoiseach as a key factor.

    We use our system to select people who are good representatives — in other words, we select people to carry out the delegated authorising function. Our system is not properly shaped to select individuals who will provide the know-how which is the basis for effective and efficient government.

    As Jim Hacker said, “Here I am attempting to function as a sort of managing director of a very large and important business and I have no experience of the Department’s work or in fact of management of any kind. A career in politics is no preparation for government.” (Yes Minister, Vol- I. BBC Publications. London. 1981. p28.)

    A different approach
    Think about the way in which a large group would organise itself to solve some problem facing it, eg club members building new premises. The usual way, and probably the only way, is to listen to proposals by individuals or very small groups. The group, as a whole, accepts or rejects the proposals. In a more sophisticated organisation, the proposal may be debated and modified. But even then, the group achieves its purpose by listening to individuals who put forward different options.
    The well-being of the whole group is crucially dependent on the special skills of these “option-makers”. It is obvious that a group which is good at finding and using such individuals will meet the challenges of change more successfully than one which is poor at doing so.

    Ministers as “option-makers”
    If we look at our system in this light, it is clear that there is a serious deficiency in the role of Minister as a producer of solutions. Ministers are always members of the majority grouping in the Dáil. This means that the examining role of the Dáil (as the Representative Branch) is very closely tied to the executive role of the Minister as option-maker. It seems inevitable that one or both roles will suffer from this link as appears to be the case in our present system. For example, Ministers often comment that their reduced poll (even loss of Dáil seat) at general elections results from being too taken up with government affairs to look after their constituencies.”
    http://193.120.95.144/politics/Donal%20O%27Brolchain/Need%20Government%20Fail%20Business&Finance%2021May1987.pdf

    This is a shorter presentation of ideas presented in A Design for Democracy http://193.120.95.144/politics/design-for-democracy.pdf.

    Among the three authors of this 1986 paper was the Donal de Buitléír you mention – who was at that time a public servant.

    Last year, in a pro-bono contribution to the Dublin City Business Association web-publication “Towards a Second Republic – a 10 point manifesto” I wrote (and quoted one of Veronica’s postings on another web-forum!)
    ““We can no longer rely on the political, public service and financial elites, as the Financial Times suggested in a recent editorial….
    In high-income countries, recent failures of elites have been too obvious to ignore. The advantage of democracy is that it discards failure more quickly and less violently than other systems. True, electorates may well make serious mistakes, by discarding what works for what turns out not to do so. Yet democracy imposes an invaluable discipline on elites: the latter must convince the public that they know what they are doing. Recent performance is making this quite a challenge. The people are complaining loudly. Elites must both listen and respond.30

    The five measures that we can implement immediately will get us on our way.

    But we need to go beyond that to design, implement and use a series of checks and balances to limit the scope for excess by the powerful, whether they be public or private, elected or appointed in order to ;
    •ensure competence and moderation in government
    and
    •overcome inertia at government level, both national and local;
    so that our constitution is a framework for a free government that limits, restrains and allows for the exercise of political power, which we as citizens of a Republic own.31

    We need to ensure that our way of governing ourselves has both
    •the means to be successful for the common good with increased democratic accountability
    and
    •the capacity and of adapting to the changes that constantly descend upon it.

    29 (MacSharry 1986)
    30 The strange death of the technocracy Wednesday 5th January 2011
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/777441d0-183a-11e0-88c9-00144feab49a.html#axzz1A9jBxUoV
    31 In a comment posted on the website politicalreform.ie on 28th September 2010, Veronica put it as follows
    “At the risk of being overly simplistic, when times are good most ordinary folk are not all that interested in politics. It’s a spectator sport more than anything else. The vanity and pecadillos of the principal movers and shakers among our political class are at best a source of bemusement or entertainment, or at worst, indifference. In times of crisis, people look to our political institutions for very different things, like qualities of leadership, guidance or solutions to
    the problems that afflict our lives. In a crisis, politics suddenly becomes important again.”
    (emphasis added)
    http://politicalreform.ie/2010/09/28/what%E2%80%99s-the-point-of-political-reform/comment-page-1/#comment-1785

    We citizens need to ensure that the state’s decision making-processes are structured and disciplined32. We need to copper fasten new ways of governing ourselves to avoid the kind of muddling through,33 inertia34 lack of foresight35, and reversal36 that marks previous efforts at reform.

    To ensure this, I am firmly convinced that we need to embed both
    •Swedish style Freedom of Information
    and
    •Swiss style direct democracy
    into our constitution.

    However, these steps will take longer to research, consider and implement. For expediency we must take those steps which we can, just to get us started on political and institutional reform. Only
    thus can our skills and energies open the paths to sustainable standards of living and greater justice for all who wish to live and work here.”

    32 See Text Box 1 “A smart economy is hollow without smart government” p.65
    33 See Text Box 2 Muddling through – two bank crises in 25 years? p.66
    34 Eddie Molloy on “implementation deficit disorder” in Seven things the public service needs to do Irish Times 9 April
    2010 and see also Text Box 3 p.67
    35 Dan O’Brien “Looking back on a unique absence of foresight” Irish Times 28 June 2010
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0628/1224273464255_pf.html and Text Box 6 p.90
    36 Freedom of Information (FoI) See par 5.2.7 p .93 below ”

    See p.56 and following here
    http://www.dcba.ie/static/doclib/Towards_a_Second_Republic.pdf

    In summary, I feel that our way of governing ourselves could be much better and more democratic.
    I also believe that those parts of our 1937 constitution which specify how we govern ourselves should be changed. In my 1996 sumbission to the all-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, I proposed wordings for articles that could be changed to implement the changes I outlined above and to which I referred in my posting of 10th January last.
    http://www.2nd-republic.ie/files/1.pdf

  37. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Feb 2nd, 2012 10:02

    Edit by Cian:This was snagged yesterday so Donal we-wrote the above, I have since published both for readers

    @AHRC
    Do you have any proposals for making our way of governing ourselves more democratic, even if that means additions/changes to some parts of our 1937 Constitution?

    Do you really believe that our values are now being served by the current organisational forms which serve those values, given the current social, economic and fiscal crisis – which follows the 1980s and 1950s crises?

    In this context, it is interesting to note the late John Kelly’s 1986 observation “Ireland’s political and official rulers have largely behaved like a crew of maintenance engineers, just keeping a lot of old British structures and plant ticking over”
    As you may recall, John Kelly was the author of a standard reference book on our 1937 constitution (still in print with additional editors). He was Professor of Constitutional law, Roman law and Jurisprudence in UCD and also a FG TD, Attorney General and Minister.

    What follows is a long response to your posting of 26th January, in particular “Your article linked above seems to advocate an unelected government of technocrats.”

    In the article referred to (Ireland’s Second Republic – from 1987), I outlined a government based on
    1) A complete separation of the Dáil from the Rialtas/Government;
    2) Using the current PR-STV to directly elect
    a. TDs from multiseat constituencies
    b. the Taoiseach as we do the President and TDs in by-elections;
    3) Giving far more power and resources to the Dáil based on
    a. Strong committees
    b. The chairs of which would be allocated based on the strength of parties in the Dáil (just as Ministers are appointed in the Northern Ireland Assembly);
    4) The Taoiseach selecting Ministers from the whole population – not just those elected to the Dáil.

    IMO, this is another way of mobilising all our talents and skills in order to improve our way of governing ourselves – democratically.

    I ask you to note again my deep annoyance that references to Swiss-style direct democracy were removed by the Editor, without either asking me or letting me know. In my 1996 submission to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution (link provided in my posting of 10th January above), I proposed wording changes to some articles of our 1937 Constitution to implement these changes, including the introduction of Swiss-style direct democracy and Swedish-style Freedom of Information.

    This set of proposals does need constitutional change to those articles which specify our way of governing ourselves.

    In another 1987 article, I set out my view of how we pick Ministers
    “Our basis of government
    In our system we, the people, elect a group (Dáil deputies) which in turn, elects a Taoiseach who then picks a smaller group (Cabinet) to govern for a period not greater than five years. We, who as citizens own the authority to govern, pass this authority to successively smaller groups.
    There is only one path to government power in our system. This path must act as a route for the transfer of our democratic power which authorises the government to act. At the same time, this path must also serve to gather the actual know-how needed to carry out the tasks of government.

    These two aspects may be equated with the distinction between the words “may” and “can”, ie the ability to do something and permission to do it.

    Dual aspects of power — politics and governing
    Any democratic political system must be able to marshal and control both elements. Our current system cannot handle the complexity of the modern world because it cannot acquire sufficient authority and know-how at the same time.
    A hypothetical example shows why this “single pathway” causes trouble. Suppose that Denis Brosnan wanted to become a Minister in the normal way. He would join a political party, attend a convention, be selected as a candidate, get well-known in his future constituency, begin a round of canvassing and clinics and then, perhaps, be elected to the Dáil. If his party forms the government (in whole or in part), if he has the right relationship with his party and its leader, if he represents part of the country that “requires ministerial representation” and several others ifs, he will become a Minister!
    This series of steps does not quite fit our idea of a man like Denis Brosnan or any other high achiever. Why? Is it because, deep down, we regard the process of getting into the Dáil as mismatched to the skills we now require in Ministers?
    A recent Irish Times/MRBI poll (The Irish Times, February 5 1987) shed some light on this aspect of our political culture. This found that, of the key factors which voters said would “influence them a lot” in deciding how to vote
    • 75% opted for “Choosing a TD who will look after the local needs of the constituency”;
    • 53% said choosing a candidate who will perform effectively on national issues in the Dáil:
    • 45% said that party policies were important;
    • 27% identified choice of Taoiseach as a key factor.

    We use our system to select people who are good repre¬sentatives — in other words, we select people to carry out the delegated authorising function. Our system is not properly shaped to select individuals who will provide the know-how which is the basis for effective and efficient government.
    As Jim Hacker said, “Here I am attempting to function as a sort of managing director of a very large and important business and I have no experience of the Department’s work or in fact of management of any kind. A career in politics is no preparation for government.” (Yes Minister, Vol- I. BBC Publications. London. 1981. p28.)

    A different approach
    Think about the way in which a large group would organise itself to solve some problem facing it, eg club members building new premises. The usual way, and probably the only way, is to listen to proposals by individuals or very small groups. The group, as a whole, accepts or rejects the proposals. In a more sophisticated organisation, the proposal may be debated and modified. But even then, the group achieves its purpose by listening to individuals who put forward different options.
    The well-being of the whole group is crucially dependent on the special skills of these “option-makers”. It is obvious that a group which is good at finding and using such indivduals will meet the challenges of change more successfully than one which is poor at doing so.

    Ministers as “option-makers”
    If we look at our system in this light, it is clear that there is a serious deficiency in the role of Minister as a producer of solutions. Ministers are always members of the majority grouping in the Dáil. This means that the examining role of the Dáil (as the Representative Branch) is very closely tied to the executive role of the Minister as option-maker. It seems inevitable that one or both roles will suffer from this link as appears to be the case in our present system. For example, Ministers often comment that their reduced poll (even loss of Dáil seat) at general elections results from being too taken up with government affairs to look after their constituencies. “
    http://193.120.95.144/politics/Donal%20O%27Brolchain/Need%20Government%20Fail%20Business&Finance%2021May1987.pdf

    The ideas outlined in this short article were set out in more detail in a 1986 article “A Design for Democracy”. Yes, the Donal de Buitléir who co-authored that article is the same person that you refer to. At that time, he worked in the Revenue Commissioners. The full text of that article is available here http://193.120.95.144/politics/design-for-democracy.pdf

    In my contribution (done a pro-bono basis) to the Dublin City Business Association 10-point manifesto “Towards a Second Republic” (published on the web in February 2011, just as the general election campaign started, I outlined five changes to our way of governing ourselves which do not call for any changes to our 1937 Constitution. I put these forward as a set of steps to start the process of institutional and political reform.

    I pointed out that
    “We can no longer rely on the political, public service and financial elites, as the Financial Times suggested in a recent editorial
    In high-income countries, recent failures of elites have been too obvious to ignore. The advantage of democracy is that it discards failure more quickly and less violently than other systems. True, electorates may well make serious mistakes, by discarding what works for what turns out not to do so. Yet democracy imposes an invaluable discipline on elites: the latter must convince the public that they know what they are doing. Recent
    performance is making this quite a challenge. The people are complaining loudly. Elites must both listen and respond.30

    The five measures that we can implement immediately will get us on our way.
    But we need to go beyond that to design, implement and use a series of checks and balances to limit the scope for excess by the powerful, whether they be public or private, elected or appointed in order to ;
    •ensure competence and moderation in government
    and
    •overcome inertia at government level, both national and local;
    so that our constitution is a framework for a free government that limits, restrains and allows for the exercise of political power, which we as citizens of a Republic own.31

    We need to ensure that our way of governing ourselves has both
    •the means to be successful for the common good with increased democratic accountability
    and
    •the capacity and of adapting to the changes that constantly descend upon it.

    29 (MacSharry 1986)
    30 The strange death of the technocracy Wednesday 5th January 2011
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/777441d0-183a-11e0-88c9-00144feab49a.html#axzz1A9jBxUoV
    31 In a comment posted on the website politicalreform.ie on 28th September 2010, Veronica put it as follows
    At the risk of being overly simplistic, when times are good most ordinary folk are not all that
    interested in politics. It’s a spectator sport more than anything else. The vanity and pecadillos of the principal movers and shakers among our political class are at best a source of bemusement or entertainment, or at worst, indifference. In times of crisis, people look to our political
    institutions for very different things, like qualities of leadership, guidance or solutions to the problems that afflict our lives. In a crisis, politics suddenly becomes important again. (emphasis added)
    http://politicalreform.ie/2010/09/28/what%E2%80%99s-the-point-of-political-reform/comment-page-1/#comment-1785

    We citizens need to ensure that the state’s decision making-processes are structured and disciplined32. We need to copper fasten new ways of governing ourselves to avoid the kind of
    muddling through,33 inertia34 lack of foresight35, and reversal36 that marks previous efforts at reform.

    To ensure this, I am firmly convinced that we need to embed both
    •Swedish style Freedom of Information
    and
    •Swiss style direct democracy
    into our constitution.

    However, these steps will take longer to research, consider and implement. For expediency we must take those steps which we can, just to get us started on political and institutional reform. Only thus can our skills and energies open the paths to sustainable standards of living and greater justice for all who wish to live and work here.

    32 See Text Box 1 “A smart economy is hollow without smart government” p.65
    33 See Text Box 2 Muddling through – two bank crises in 25 years? p.66
    34 Eddie Molloy on “implementation deficit disorder” in Seven things the public service needs to do Irish Times 9 April
    2010 and see also Text Box 3 p.67
    35 Dan O’Brien “Looking back on a unique absence of foresight” Irish Times 28 June 2010
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0628/1224273464255_pf.html and Text Box 6 p.90
    36 Freedom of Information (FoI) See par 5.2.7 p .93 below

    IMO, the current social, economic and social crisis is so serious as to represent a real threat to our democratic values. We need even more changes than those arising from the 2011 general election. As Edmund Burke pointed out “A State without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.”

    What is your response to the latest results of the Edelman 2012 Trust Barometer

    “Government
    • Overall trust in Government in Ireland increased 15 points to 35%
    • Seven in ten Irish people don’t trust Government leaders to tell them the truth
    • Countries downgraded by Standard & Poor’s are more likely to think that things are going in the wrong direction. In line with other European countries a high proportion of people in Ireland (65%) think that their country is on the wrong track
    • There is a significant gap between public expectations and perceived delivery by government in Ireland.
    • 12% believe that government is effectively managing the economy
    • 10% believe that government is listening to citizen’s needs and feedback
    • 14% believe Government is delivering national training programmes which will deliver jobs
    • Only 3% believe Government should provide money to business when it experiences a financial crisis
    ….
    Trust in Ireland is at a critical inflection point. Citizens seek leadership, clarity and solutions and don’t believe any institution is delivering on these expectations. The clear message for government is that it is perceived not to be getting its message through or listening. The big message for business is to generate trust by moving beyond a purely operational focus to engage with society and deliver solutions which benefit all stakeholders.
    The 2012 findings show that trust in authority figures continues to shift as citizenship rises. Academics or experts are still seen as the most credible spokespeople but ordinary individuals or “a person like yourself” has risen from fifth place last year to second place this year. This can be viewed as part of a more long-term movement from traditional institutions and ‘established hierarchies’ toward a democratisation of trust.”
    http://www.edelman.ie/index.php/2012/01/irish-results-of-2012-edelman-trust-barometer/

  38. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Feb 2nd, 2012 21:02

    Donal, have you changed your thoughts on any aspect of your theories since the 1980s?

  39. # Comment by Donal O\'Brolchain Feb 2nd, 2012 21:02

    Yes. I have.

  40. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Feb 2nd, 2012 23:02

    Donal,

    Then, as now, your core theme appears to be that ” Our current system cannot handle the complexity of the modern world because it cannot acquire sufficient authority and know-how at the same time” I don’t agree with that view. As a consequence, your prescriptions in response to that core belief of yours lose relevance in my eyes because I don’t acknowledge the validity of your starting position.

    I’d paraphrase your position like this: “we’re too dumb to govern ourselves – we need experts and business people to do it for us”.

    Let me list a few of our top business people who’ve lost a fortune through overconfidence in asset values this past five years – Michael O’Leary through Ryanair’s investment in Aer Lingus: Denis O’Brien through investing in INM; Tony O’Reilly; Sean Quinn; Derek Quinlan, former Revenue colleague of Donal de Buitleir; etc etc. Now, who are the better-qualified experts and business that you would like to see forming an unelected and electorally unaccountable French- or US-style government under a strong man Taoiseach (exclude Prof Martin O’Donoghue).

  41. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Feb 6th, 2012 00:02

    First, your paraphrase of my position leaves a lot to be desired, given that I
    1) Favour retaining voting by PR-STV for all elective offices . IMO, this is a constituency based open list voting system which gives voters total control over candidate ranking;
    2) Advocate embedding Swedish –style Freedom of Information(FoI) in our 1937 constitution, so that it cannot be whimsically modified as the 1997 FoI Act was in 2003 – after a general election in which FoI was not an issue.
    See here
    http://www.2nd-republic.ie/files/1.pdf p. 121-2
    http://politicalreform.ie/2010/06/21/freedom-of-information-and-corruption/
    http://politicalreform.ie/2011/09/09/open-letter-to-tds-and-senators/
    http://politicalreform.ie/2011/09/30/seanad-public-consultation-committee/comment-page-1/#comment-6037
    3) Have advocated Swiss-style direct democracy since the late 1980s see
    http://www.2nd-republic.ie/files/1.pdf p. 89 and ff, also p. 24

    IMO, proposals such as these do not spring from a cast of mind that thinks we are dumb!

    Second, in advocating a separation of powers between the Dáil and the Rialtas/Government, my co-authors and I did point out (in 1986) that
    “There is a second, more subtle, reason for not combining the two roles in one body. The public should always be the ultimate judge of all the proposals for action. If the two roles are combined it will often cause much less inconvenience to the representatives if proposals which they dislike (although the public may not) are never aired in public. The public may be poorly served without being aware of the fact.”

    http://193.120.95.144/politics/design-for-democracy.pdf

    As Swift observed “Providence never intended to make the management of public affairs a mystery to be comprehended by a few persons of sublime genius.”

    While you may disagree with the validity my view that our present system of government cannot handle the complexity of the modern world, I refer you to my posting of 9th January last, in particular to the admission of the governing and administrative elite that they did not follow the disciplines appropriate to being in a single currency zone.

    This failure to manage our economic and social development in accordance with the responsibilities of being €urozone members is surprising, given that in 1999, the year we joined the €uro, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) raised this very issue
    “If the risks of overheating and a subsequent hard landing to a more sustainable rate of growth is a concern, what policy actions can be taken in the context of monetary union?”IMF Ireland Staff Country Report No. 99/87. August 1999 http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/1999/cr9987.pdf)

    As part of that same 1999 review, the IMF Directors commented
    “In light of the rapid growth in credit and strong housing price increases, a number of Directors expressed concern about the risks of an asset price bubble and the potential vulnerability of the banking system. Directors stressed the need to enhance the forward-looking aspects of regulatory policy and, in this regard,welcomed the supervisory authorities’ recent initiative to assess the financial system’s vulnerability to specified macroeconomic shocks. They felt that a peer review, particularly by supervisors from a country that had undergone a real estate boom, might be helpful.”
    IMF concludes Article IV Consultation with Ireland. Public Information Notice 99/79. August 20, 1999
    http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pn/1999/pn9979.htm

    For more in this vein, I refer you to the links in my posting here
    http://politicalreform.ie/2011/05/20/garret-fitzgerald-%E2%80%93-friend-of-the-psai/comment-page-1/#comment-5086

    and also to Michael McDowell’s 1987 comment
    “The experience of being elected to Dail Eireann for the first time is quite a shock to the system and, I suppose, every new TD is prepared to some extent for that shock…My judgement put succinctly is this: Dail Eireann which is the very heart of democracy is at heart in failure. Dail Eireann isn ‘t working; it is failing the people. As a legislature, it is
    hopelessly inadequate and slow; as a forum for debate it is irrelevant in many respects; as an organ of the popular will, it is atrophied and increasingly non-functioning.”

    Yes, I do favour calling on people with insight, skill and experience (ie. experts) when dealing with many matters that I regard as complex eg. electricians/plumbers to fix/enhance utilities, car/IT specialists to maintain motor vehicles/computers, the skills needed to manage queues in A&E departments (to say nothing of the know-how needed to keep large facilities running continuously), medics, lawyers, technicians, engineers etc.

    So too with the way we govern ourselves.

    I do not consider that the business community is the only source from which competent and honest people can be drawn.

  42. # Comment by Donal O\'Brolchain Feb 6th, 2012 22:02

    First, your paraphrase of my position leaves a lot to be desired, given that I
    1) Favour retaining voting by PR-STV for all elective offices . IMO, this is a constituency based open list voting system which gives voters total control over candidate ranking;
    2) Advocate embedding Swedish –style Freedom of Information(FoI) in our 1937 constitution, so that it cannot be whimsically modified as the 1997 FoI Act was in 2003 – after a general election in which FoI was not an issue.
    See here
    http://www.2nd-republic.ie/files/1.pdf p. 121-2
    http://politicalreform.ie/2010/06/21/freedom-of-information-and-corruption/
    http://politicalreform.ie/2011/09/09/open-letter-to-tds-and-senators/
    http://politicalreform.ie/2011/09/30/seanad-public-consultation-committee/comment-page-1/#comment-6037
    3) Have advocated Swiss-style direct democracy since the late 1980s see
    http://www.2nd-republic.ie/files/1.pdf p. 89 and ff, also p. 24

    IMO, proposals such as these do not spring from a cast of mind that thinks we are dumb!
    Second, in advocating a separation of powers between the Dáil and the Rialtas/Government, my co-authors and I did point out (in 1986) that
    “There is a second, more subtle, reason for not combining the two roles in one body. The public should always be the ultimate judge of all the proposals for action. If the two roles are combined it will often cause much less inconvenience to the representatives if proposals which they dislike (although the public may not) are never aired in public. The public may be poorly served without being aware of the fact.”

    http://193.120.95.144/politics/design-for-democracy.pdf

    As Swift observed “Providence never intended to make the management of public affairs a mystery to be comprehended by a few persons of sublime genius.”

    While you may disagree with the validity my view that our present system of government cannot handle the complexity of the modern world, I refer you to my posting of 9th January last, in particular to the admission of the governing and administrative elite that they did not follow the disciplines appropriate to being in a single currency zone. These people had the authority, but admitted incompetence. We are now all paying for this gross lack of fiduciary responsibility.
    This failure to manage our economic and social development in accordance with the responsibilities of being €urozone members is surprising, given that in 1999, the year we joined the €uro, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) raised this very issue
    “If the risks of overheating and a subsequent hard landing to a more sustainable rate of growth is a concern, what policy actions can be taken in the context of monetary union?”IMF Ireland Staff Country Report No. 99/87. August 1999 http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/1999/cr9987.pdf)
    As part of that same 1999 review, the IMF Directors commented
    “In light of the rapid growth in credit and strong housing price increases, a number of Directors expressed concern about the risks of an asset price bubble and the potential vulnerability of the banking system. Directors stressed the need to enhance the forward-looking aspects of regulatory policy and, in this regard, welcomed the supervisory authorities’ recent initiative to assess the financial system’s vulnerability to specified macroeconomic shocks. They felt that a peer review, particularly by supervisors from a country that had undergone a real estate boom, might be helpful.”
    IMF concludes Article IV Consultation with Ireland. Public Information Notice 99/79. August 20, 1999
    http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pn/1999/pn9979.htm

    For more in this vein, I refer you to the links in my posting here
    http://politicalreform.ie/2011/05/20/garret-fitzgerald-%E2%80%93-friend-of-the-psai/comment-page-1/#comment-5086
    and also to Michael McDowell’s 1987 comment
    “The experience of being elected to Dáil Éireann for the first time is quite a shock to the system and, I suppose, every new TD is prepared to some extent for that shock…My judgement put succinctly is this: Dáil Éireann which is the very heart of democracy is at heart in failure. Dáil Éireann isn’t working; it is failing the people. As a legislature, it is hopelessly inadequate and slow; as a forum for debate it is irrelevant in many respects; as an organ of the popular will, it is atrophied and increasingly non-functioning.”
    Arthur Morgan, who retired as a Sinn Féin TD before the 2011 general election made similar comments in an ITimes interview here (behind a paywall) http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/1230/1224286488278.html
    Yes, I do favour calling on people with insight, skill and experience (ie. experts) when dealing with many matters that I regard as complex eg. electricians/plumbers to fix/enhance utilities, car/IT specialists to maintain motor vehicles/computers, the skills needed to manage queues in A&E departments (to say nothing of the know-how needed to keep large facilities running continuously), medics with many difference skills, technicians, engineers, etc.
    So too with the way we govern ourselves. As Pericles of Athens put it “Although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it.” Hence my attempts to specify checks and balances to limit the scope for excess by the powerful, be they elected or appointed, public or private.

    I do not consider that the business community is the only source from which a directly elected Taoiseach could select competent and honest Irish citizens to serve in Cabinet – not limited to those TDs who voted his/her nomination in the Dáil.

    Just as we do for the much more limited role of President, I am happy to leave it to the electorate to choose whether we want a “strong man Taoiseach” or whether we want a man as Taoiseach at all!

  43. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Feb 8th, 2012 21:02

    Donal,

    You quoted the TV sitcom character Jim Hacker – “Here I am attempting to function as a sort of managing director of a very large and important business and I have no experience of the Department’s work or in fact of management of any kind. A career in politics is no preparation for government.”

    The civil service is/are the experts servicing our system of democratic government.

  44. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Feb 11th, 2012 11:02

    @AHCR

    While I have no doubt that there are experts within the civil service and some parts of the civil service display high degrees of insight, skill and know-how, I think your simple assertion – without pointing to any evidence – lacks merit, given the state of the country.

    It would help my understanding if you would clarify what exactly you mean that the civil service is/are “the experts” in servicing our democratic system of government, considering
    1) the Wright report on the Dept of Finance;
    2) the Travers report on the decades long illegal taking of money from citizens by the inertia of the Department of Health;
    3) the comments by Tom Boland, (CEO of the Higher Education Authority) made in a personal capacity on the output of the secondary education system – a system which is completely controlled by the state in terms of curriculum, pay/conditions of teachers and final assessment
    “Increasingly, I am hearing alarm at the extent to which our second level system is producing students who learn to the test; who in ever greater numbers are not learning to think for themselves; who receive spoon-feeding at second level and expect the same at third. I have a concern that, in response, too many of our academic departments at third level are responding to this learned behaviour, not by challenging it but by collaborating in it, even to the extent of worrying grade inflation. ”
    4) Do you really consider that the civil service system that produced the following is serving the democratic government well
    “How do I prove that I have paid the household charge?
    You will receive a receipt acknowledging payment of the household charge. Furthermore, you can request the LGMA to provide you with a certificate of discharge. This will be evidence of payment and will confirm that the household charge in respect of the year concerned has been paid. The certificates are important documents and will be required on sale or transfer of the property concerned.”

    Note that I cannot find any definition of what the LGMA or contact details for the LGMA on the household charge website. There has been little or no sign of a systematic effort to inform the public of the ways of complying with this new statutory charge

    Nor can I find any explanation for the administrative practice that considers a receipt as being inadequate as evidence of payment. This abuse of the common usages of the English language repeats the recently revealed (at least to me) practice whereby a government programme was paying “back-to-school” allowances to children below the compulsory age for schooling.

    This is offhand public administration

    If one were cynical, one would assume that work was being created both for us citizens and for civil servants.
    Not being cynical, I just assume a lack of insight in how to deal with us – citizens in a Republic with a written constitution – in a professional and courteous manner.

    Note that when I have raised these kinds of issues with politician, they blame the civil servants and when I raise them with civil servants, they blame the politicians

    Finally, it is clear that you think we need to change very little, if anything, in our way of governing ourselves.
    We will just have to agree that we differ on that view of current state of this Republic’s governance – which failed its citizens in both the 1950s and the 1970s/80.

    As I said in my first posting in this thread – we have been here before.

    However, the late Patrick Lynch said “From the clash of ideas, minds ignite”

  45. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Feb 11th, 2012 12:02

    Donal,

    ‘Yes, Minister’ sums up your entire predicament, I think – the citizens, and their elected representatives, vs the machinery of the State.

    You, having been a public servant, have some insights into the reality of power. You’ll also be aware of sayings such as ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same’, ‘the king is dead, long live the king’, ‘to the victor, the spoils’ and ‘l’état, c’est moi’. We live in an age of nation states, and we continue to turn out and vote for their continuance. I believe we live in one of the better places. We may need to generate a bit more self-confidence to make some very different policy choices.

    The Oireachtas is about policies, values and choices. The job of the people is to give better policy and values direction to their representatives.

  46. # Comment by Veronica Feb 11th, 2012 22:02

    Donal,

    Your contributions to this thread have been hugely informative. In the best traditions of blogging, you have backed up your assertions with real data. I may not always agree with your views on how our problems as a state might be resolved, but you’ve definitely added to my own meagre store of knowledge on these matters.

  47. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Mar 25th, 2012 00:03

    The Flood/Mahon Tribunal couldn’t nail any offence on Bertie. That must have really pissed them off! So they chose to smear him, and others, to justify their prejudices, for show. And FF nua seems intent on following. i have resigned from FF tonight, along with Bertie Ahern.

  48. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Mar 25th, 2012 10:03

    @AHCR
    “The Flood/Mahon Tribunal couldn’t nail any offence on Bertie.”

    Tribunals of Inquiry are what it says on the tin – not courts in which people are charged with offences, which must be proven beyond reasonable doubt before anybody can be nailed with anything.

    What pisses me off is that the Dáil (which passed the resolutions setting up the Tribunals), successive Governments(which implemented the resolutions of the Dáil), the judiciary and the legal profession have overlooked this – both in the ways in which
    1) The Government allowed the tribunals to adopt “court-like” procedures/processes along with the associated costs;
    2) The Judiciary ditto.

    As the tribunal were set up by resolutions of the Dáil, TDs (individually and collectively) are not exempt from their part in any assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of tribunals, as a means of getting at the truth of whatever issue is being dealt with.

    While I would not disarm the Dáil (eg. by somehow or other barfring the Dail from adopting resolutions setting up a Tribunal of Inquiry), I do think that, in a republic with a written constitution, we citizens need a variety of means to investigate issues – particularly those invlving the powerful, whether they be elected or appointed, prublic or private.

    Without having looked at it in detail, it strike me that there are other means for making inquiries eg.
    1) through properly resourced Dáil groups, which respect human rights legislation – both in spirit and practice;
    2) Investigating magistrates;
    3) The “quick and dirty” approach adopted here in respect of the illegal taking of money from citizens staying in Health Board institutions nursing homes over nearly three decades see the
    “Interim Report on the Report on Certain Issues of Management and Administration in the Department of Health and Children associated with the Practice of Charges for Persons in Long-Stay Care in Health Board Institutions and Related Matters” which can be found here
    http://www.oireachtas.ie/documents/committees29thdail/committeereports2005/document3.pdf

    Whatever about the rights or wrongs of the Tribunal findings, I point out that the whole sorry and expensive mess of using the planning system for “wealth-creation” could have been considerably mitigated had successive Governments implemented the 1974 Kenny Report the official title of which is “COMMITTEE ON THE PRICE OF BUILDING LAND, REPORT TO THE MINISTER FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT ROBERT MOLLOY, CHAIRMAN MR. JUSTICE J. KENNY (DUBLIN,1974)” It began work in 1971 and and was published in 1974. Its findings have never been implemented.

    The terms of reference were
    “to consider, in the interests of the common good, possible measures for
    (a) Controlling the price of land required for housing and other forms of development, and
    (b) Ensuring that all or a substantial part of the increase in the value of land attributable to the decisions and the operations of public authorities… shall be secured for the benefit of the community. ”

    The fact that the report called for the effective end to land speculation is the main reason why it has been ignored by every political party in government.
    The report can be found here.
    http://www.irishlabour.com/dublinopinion/Kenny_Report_1974.pdf

    For those who do not know, the then Minister for Local Government (Bobby Molloy, then a FF TD) appointed Judge Kenny to do this work.
    Judge Kenny was quite an expert on the Irish Constitution. He may even have stood for election for FF at some stage of his life, although I am not certain of that!

  49. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Mar 28th, 2012 13:03

    With respect to tthe Kenny idea of capping land values, I feel his suggestion is naive.

    Land derives its value from location and characteristics, from the degree of restriction on its use… and from credit conditions.

    Development planning should, at best, be about phasing public infrastructure – not about picking winners and losers. Who to trust decisions to?

  50. # Comment by sweetserjan May 26th, 2012 06:05

    “Our duty is to guard our country and our democratic system from any taint or suspicion of corruption, and to remove any obvious or possible source of danger. While in the terms of the Tribunal’s Report ‘no political impropriety’ has been shown to have occurred,http://www.vendreshox.com/nike-shox-r2-c-7.html the acceptance of large gifts or payments or personal benefits in a surreptitious manner or the large scale evasion of tax and exchange control regulations by even one or two senior serving politicians or members of Government is deeply damaging to trust in politics, and a serious breach of it, and every effort must be made that is humanly possible to ensure that it cannot happen again.

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