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Referendum open thread

Read more about: Europe, Referenda, Sinn Féin     Print This Post

Obviously there are quite a few places where the result is being discussed but for the sake of completeness we’ll open a thread here. I was struck just now to see on RTE Norah Casey (being interviewed by Miriam along with Mary Lou) to say that we need a convene a new style of think tank with “business leaders, farmers, retail, and professions … and maybe a few economists.” Apparently that’s a representative sample of Ireland.

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20 Responses to “Referendum open thread”

  1. # Comment by Veronica Jun 1st, 2012 16:06

    Oh dear! Even more scary was Ms. Casey’s assertion that she was ‘apolitical’ and, by implication, that decisions about the distribution of wealth and public goods in society is not a matter of political choice in which there are, inevitably, winners and losers… Government by business ‘technocrats’ the next bright idea? Democracy may be a messy business, but ‘no thanks, missus’ just the same.

    She wishes to set in place a ‘think tank’ for those who are habituated to being ‘winners’in Irish society. We’ve had enough of that in the past, methinks, between FF’s Galway Tent days and FG’s big shot donor golf outings. Am I the only one in the country who finds those ex-pat and know-all ‘Farmleigh Conventions’ toe-curlingly embarrassing? Attendees appear to mainly comprise individuals who think extraordinarily well of themselves for no reason that is immediately apparent, unapologetic tax exiles, and the odd deluded soul who really does want to do something for the good of the country. And their list of achievements to date?

    As for the referendum result, it was decisive. Given the balance of the vote in particular areas, it appears that there is a sharp divide emerging between middle class communities and those further down the economic scale or completely marginalised.

    The standard of the referendum debate was atrocious with both ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ advocates distinguishing themselves as non-entities and intellectually vacuous. The broader EU crisis – which is really what all of this is about in the end – never featured in the petty point-scoring about, as one pundit put it, the relative size of the Irish begging bowl. In the end, I could not watch or listen to it anymore and decided to make up my own mind, on the facts and on what broader interpretation was available outside mainstream Irish media commentary. If others did likewise, then the final decision is clearly the right one. I remain concerned, though, that the Government may feel reinforced in their complacency towards the EU as well as their national policy choices.

  2. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jun 1st, 2012 19:06

    The more that politicians involve themselves in distributional matters, the more we all become losers on the road to serfdom.

  3. # Comment by Betty Jun 1st, 2012 21:06

    Why not throw in a few ex attorney generals to have it really complete.

  4. # Comment by EddieL Jun 2nd, 2012 20:06

    I agree with Veronica “The standard of the referendum debate was atrocious with both ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ advocates distinguishing themselves as non-entities and intellectually vacuous.”
    The fun is going to start when those who voted YES are told what exactly they have written into the Constitution. Irish politicians in the past have made a virtue out ignoring the Constitution but I doubt if the bankers or Angele Markel will let them forget it this time.
    I see commentators saying that Germany wants a more integrated Europe.
    But how could Germany be interested in the French, British, Italians etc who insulted Germany by insisting on the destruction of Libya?
    How could Germany be interested in closer integration with the profligate and economically and spritually bankrupt countries of Western Europe and go through the same hardship they went through with German reunification? I’m afraid German interests lie to their East where there is a rich market for their goods and where they have a secure supply of energy. They obviously have nothing to gain from petty colonial powers going around the world still believing in empire.
    Where does that leave Ireland? Ireland at the “heat of Europe” may sound good but we are obviously not at the heart of Europe and as Mary Harney said we are obviously closer to Boston than Berlin even down to their housing bubble fiasco.
    Germany therefore has no interest in an integrated Europe other than getting their money back as quickly as possible. Then I’m afraid Western Europe will be dumped onto the IMF to pick the bones.
    That is my view!

  5. # Comment by Donal O\'Brolchain Jun 5th, 2012 10:06

    For a completely different take on how we might enhance our own way of governing ourselves and also that of the European project, see this article by Bruno Kaufmann, President of the Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe at the University of Marburg in Germany and Chairman of the Election Commission in the city government of Falun/Sweden.

    Bruno was in Dublin on Friday and Saturday last

  6. # Comment by Donal O\\\'Brolchain Jun 5th, 2012 11:06

    “Am I the only one in the country who finds those ex-pat and know-all ‘Farmleigh Conventions’ toe-curlingly embarrassing? ”

    No, you are not alone!

  7. # Comment by Veronica Jun 5th, 2012 12:06

    @ Donal,

    Thanks for link to interesting piece by Bruno Kaufmann. I fear he may be reposing too much confidence in the proposed Constitutional Convention here – as I understand it, the questions that will be considered by the Convention are lightweight and the composition of the body is open to question as well. In other words, it will offer little by way of genuine reform of our political system and culture. Same goes for such gestures as reducing the number of Dail deputies and abolishing the Seanad, which are all about optics and reducing ‘costs’ of politics but will effect no improvement in governance.

    It is, sadly, becoming ever more apparent that this government has no interest in fundamental political reform. If they had, they could (at no expense to the taxpayer in terms of referendums to abolish the seanad, or idiot conventions in homage to harebrained ideas of direct democracy) make a few changes to Dail procedures to eliminate whipped votes except in rare circumstances; beef up the expert resources available to Committees; require Ministers to resign their Dail seats on appointments and about half a dozen other inexpensive ideas that would make a huge difference to the quality of politicial representation and the functioning of parliament. I’m not holding my breath!

  8. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Jun 5th, 2012 12:06

    “It is, sadly, becoming ever more apparent that this government has no interest in fundamental political reform. ”

    Agree entirely!
    See my latest effort on Freedom of Information–-one-quick-change-would-help-fight-them

  9. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Jun 5th, 2012 21:06

    “make a few changes to Dail procedures to eliminate whipped votes except in rare circumstances; beef up the expert resources available to Committees; require Ministers to resign their Dail seats on appointments and about half a dozen other inexpensive ideas ”

    In practice, eliminating whipped votes would require a complete separation of powers which in turn would require a change in the Constitution which in turn would require a referendum.
    See our Constitution
    Article 28
    “10. The Taoiseach shall resign from office upon his ceasing to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann unless on his advice the President dissolves Dáil Éireann and on the reassembly of Dáil Éireann after the dissolution the Taoiseach secures the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann.”

    As I read this, it means that being Taoiseach is only possible with the support of a majority in the Dáil (only the Dáil, not the Seanad). Hence the need for whipped votes/pairing arrangements on almost every matter which is put to a vote of the Dáil.

    Similarly, requiring Ministers to resign their Dáil seat on appointments…” (I presume to the Cabinet) would also need a referendum, because Ministers must be members of either the Dáil or Seanad.

    See our Constitution
    Art 28.7
    “1° The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the member of the Government who is in charge of the Department of Finance must be members of Dáil Éireann.
    2° The other members of the Government must be members of Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann, but not more than two may be members of Seanad Éireann.”

    If you are looking for inexpensive ideas, I suggest you might look at the Dublin City Business Association 10-point manifesto Towards a Second Republic, publish in February 2011, just as the General Election campaigning started (available on the DCBA website here

    As you well know, I am strongly in favour of making radical changes to those parts of the Constitution that specify how our power, from which the state derives its legitimacy and which we delegate in elections, is acquired/used/monitored/controlled/changed.

    In my contribution(done a pro-bono basis) to the DCBA manifesto I deliberately set out 5 things that we can do without the need for a referendum on the basis that

    “Transforming our government and public service cannot succeed without starting at the top. We must look at the size and composition of the Cabinet and Dáil. Neither the National Recovery Plan nor the EU-ECB/IMF agreement addresses this key area of decision making. As we set about reengineering our institutions, we need to separate those things that we can do immediately and those that need constitutional change.

    This paper suggests the following five changes to our way of governing ourselves which could be implemented immediately without any changes to the constitution:

    1. Improve the skills of the Cabinet [New Blood for Cabinet – 2 non-TD Ministers p.68]
    The Constitution allows two members of the Senate to be appointed as “outsider” ministers. Since the Taoiseach can appoint anyone to the Senate he could use this route to make up for the obvious skill deficiencies of the Cabinet. Most Irish people seem to regard this as quite abnormal. In fact, many European countries appoint Ministers from outside Parliament/the national assembly.

    2. Improve the effectiveness of the Cabinet [Better with less – cutting the number of Cabinet Ministers p.73]
    The Cabinet could be reduced to just 7 members which would improve effectiveness and reduce costs. Fewer Ministers would ensure also that the influence of the “outsiders” is not overwhelmed by “traditional” politicians. Ministers of State are not required to be TDs and the skills available to departments of state could be improved by appointing outsiders with experience to complement that of the ordinary politician. This would be a clear sign that Ministerial rank is not seen as a reward
    but rather as a public service which requires the best talents available to the country.

    3. Reduce the Size of the Dáil [Less TDs – A Commitment to Political Reform? p.77]
    The number of TDs could be cut by up to 25 (i.e. by 15 per cent) [for the next general election] without Constitutional change. This would have two useful effects. It would lead to a reduction in costs and it could marginally reduce clientalism by increasing the size of constituencies.

    4. Establish a Public Utilities Commission [Improve the public service – a Public Utilities Commission as an example p.84]
    The functions of a number of regulatory bodies could be combined into a single Public Utilities Commission which would report directly to the Dáil. Such a body would reduce the number of state bodies. A direct relationship to the Dáil would give it a role not unlike that of that of the Ombudsman or the Comptroller and Auditor General.

    5. Restore full Freedom of Information [Freedom of Information (FoI) p. 88]
    The 2003 Freedom of Information Act should be repealed to restore the full power of the original 1997 act. This change would restore a crucial element in the spectrum of checks and balances which are so necessary to assure the delivery of accountable and transparent government.

    These straight-forward changes would quickly convince us, citizens, that the governing classes are serious about political and institutional reform. If we see changes like this being implemented, we will have the confidence to effectively face the enormous difficulties of the recovery plan.

    Some reforms, proposed by others, such as the abolition of the Senate or electoral reform, only distract our attention from what we can do immediately and are, in a sense, red herrings because it is not obvious how they will lead to better results. In addition, they need constitutional change which implies the time and cost of a referendum…..

    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
    •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
    •the capacity and of adapting to the changes that constantly descend upon it.

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

    To ensure this, I am firmly convinced that we need to embed both
    •Swedish style Freedom of Information
    •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.”

    In the February 2011 General election, we certainly changed the Government. But it is quite clear that we have a long way to go before we get a change in the culture of the political and governing classes.

  10. # Comment by Veronica Jun 6th, 2012 07:06


    Many thanks for laying it all out so comprehensively. I was thinking off the ‘top of the head’style. But I think you’d agree that the Constitutional Convention, as proposed, is just another distraction from where the real debate on political reform should be at?

  11. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Jun 6th, 2012 10:06

    “Top of the head” style is fine in fora like this, where people can respond in whatever way they choose.
    What bothers me is that similar “top of the head” thinking prevails in the governing classes – without us, citizens, having much power to do anything about it except at elections.

    As an example, is there any other place in the world where a Government decided, in the last decade of the 20th century, to build two non-interconnected railway lines as part of a new urban transport system?
    What is worse is that these were planned to be linked and served by one depot (at Red Cow)? yet the depot was not “resized” in anyway whatsoever!!!

    Yes, that is what the FF/PD Government decided in 1998.
    Having demonstrated clearly just how arbitrary and whimsical Government decision making is, one would have expected that the “top of the head” response would be to link these two lines, as a priority, given that the environmental impact assessment/pre-planning work was already done?

    Fourteen years later, we are still waiting.

    Similarly with the Constitutional Convention as proposed,which has all the hall marks of another “top of the head” wheeze from the same paternalistic cast of mind that dominates the governing elites.

    Yet more delay instead of doing things that the Government promised eg.
    - repealing the 2003 Freedom of Information Act;
    - holding a referendum on abolishing the Senate.

    IMO, this latter would be passed by a majority. It would also be quite a shock to the political classes, as it would remove more than 25 percent of the members of the Oireachtas.

    That in itself would be significant for the political classes. But it would not enhance in any whatsoever the checks and balances on the powerful that we so badly need. But as always, delay is the deadliest form of denial.

    No wonder the pro-Fiscal Treaty groups streesed that that it was all and alomost “only” about stability. They very conveniently omitted that the treaty’s title was also about Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union.

    Now your turn to suggest where the real debate on political reform should be.

  12. # Comment by Veronica Jun 6th, 2012 11:06


    I would prioritise the suggestions outlined in previous post – reforming procedural rules of parliament etc. – but as part of a constitutional overhaul; a serious one, that is, not the ersatz agenda proposed for the Constitutional Convention. That way only one vote would be required on a brand new constitution as opposed to several votes on successive amendments.

    Meanwhile, I think the Dail parties could go a lot further than you suggest in your initial response in reforming the way in which parliament works and loosening the stranglehold that political parties have over all parliamentary votes. For instance, over the period 1987-’89 the Fianna Fail minority government suffered a series of six defeats on Dail motions, but interpreted the resolutions as having ‘declaratory effect’ only.

  13. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jun 6th, 2012 18:06

    Before even getting down to the area of how the State should be governed, should we also be asking what is the role of the nation state – sandwiched as it is between local administration of services and ever closer European union. The state seems to be approaching entropy.

  14. # Comment by Donal O'Brolchain Jun 7th, 2012 10:06

    If you look into my contribution to the DCBA manifesto on the section that covers the Dáil, you will find some ideas for action that could be done without constitutional change.

    The fact that any Government ignores defeats on Dáil motions shows the rot in the political classes, given that they defend our type of parliamentary democracy. Nice example of cognitive dissonance or double think or ……

    Here you go again, coming up with valid questions.
    Perhaps, you might care to suggest some lines for thinking about
    1) the role of the state;
    2) how best common services are provided;
    3) the basis, forms and extent of “ever closer European Union”

    The state is not going to go away, any more than eg
    Swiss Cantons;
    Canadian provinces;
    US states;
    very strong regional movements in Belgium or Spain or Britain;
    have done

    Is this comment by Ivor Kenny to the 1980s crisis here a good starting point for the challenges we face
    “How do we construct a state that provides its people with the power of adapting to the changes that constantly descend upon it?”

    Or this by the late John Kelly (Constitutional expert, UCD Law Professor, FG TD, AG, Minister)
    “The proudly national and innovative spirit seems to have left all parties entirely. The freedom to let us do things for ourselves in our own way, has been used in recent decades to copy, timidly and belatedly, British patterns in nearly everything…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 challenge is to evolve structures -within which the people can be drawn to individual and community responsibility for their own development.”

    or simply taking Article 6.1 of our 1937 Constitution as a basis for rebuilding our state
    “All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people, whose right it is to designate the rulers of the State and, in final appeal, to decide all questions of national policy, according to the requirements of the common good.”

  15. # Comment by EddieL Jun 7th, 2012 17:06

    1) the role of the state;
    2) how best common services are provided;
    3) the basis, forms and extent of “ever closer European Union”

    If I may answer!
    Re: 1 above. Michael Noonan attended the Bilderberg coference recently.

    Re2: The best way to provide common services is through digouts and bailouts. Bertie got digouts. Thr tribunal went into that so no explanation is needed.
    No one seems to know what a bailouts ise. So here’s my explanation:
    Stating the obvious, lending institutions were allowed to lend money that they didn’t have (only on papaer) to other lending institutions, governments, property speculators, buying dodgy investment products from one another, or whatever. Taxpayers were then conned into thinking they had a hand in this and were therefore liable to compensate the lenders. This is like the person slipping on a wet floor after spilling water on the floor themselves and then claiming compensation. In this way the the lenders hoped that the Germans would compensate them for their “losses” but the Germans, knowing a scam whem they saw one, palmed it off on the taxpayers of each individual country. And that is where we are now.

    Re: 3. “the basis, forms and extent of ‘ever closer European Union’” will probably take the form of The Big Bang.

  16. # Comment by A Humble Chestnut Roaster Jun 7th, 2012 22:06

    Hi again, Donal, I appreciate your picking up on the angle I raised.

    The quotes from Ivor Kenny, John Kelly and Bunreacht are very well chosen.

    Clearly, the State is currently the component entity of the EU, and is committed through the treaties to ever closer union – political, fiscal, economic, monetary, regulatory, judicial, military, diplomatic and, incipiently, banking.

    While we could, like the Foula islanders in the Michael Powell film, decide to vote ourselves out of existence, I don’t for
    esee that.

    Our liberal democratic constitution talks of the common good, true social order, and the dignity and freedom of the individual. I feel that nanny state, and state machine, have crept up on us like an ever-enlarging shadow, and need to back off . Though still largely an nabler rather than direct provider, about three quarters of budget is transfers or funding to health and education providers. A smaller central administration seems desirable and doable, and could remove its boot from the throat of genuine old-fashioned voluntary organizations, enfeebled by state funding. I feel that the trend towards public representatives at all levels being full-time salaried ‘politicians’ is an inversion of democracy. Indeed, I’ve suggested on previous threads the idea of some place for jury-type selection from the general population to sit in representative bodies.

    Sorry if I’ve missed some typos above.

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