What does this crisis mean for the future of Irish democracy?

Irishelection.com is asking all the right questions of this crisis… As Cian notes (and it is worth following a few of their internal backlinks just to see the depth and quality of some of the debate over there during the last few days and weeks)…

Yes, JOD needs to go, yes he is sacrificial and yes he is an egregious example of wasteful expense. Yet the whole system is screwed up. Take a look at thestory.ie – they have documents as long as your arm detailing lavish outlays on behalf of our office holders. A good play by the Greens over and above Ciaran Cuffe’s concerns raised on Morning Ireland would be to pitch for the CC role as part of the Programme for Govt and get guarantees of freedom to reform the expense system. Might be good for all sides.

To be fair though, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Parliamentarians and other democratically elected officials have grown up with the assumption of what happens inside those institutions is matter of privilege and secrecy… The way governments treat Oppositions and even junior partners in government demonstrates that many of them still ‘just don’t get it’… The genus of this story was Ken Foxe’s work for the Sunday Tribune with a series of FOI requests on John O’Donoghue’s expenses when he was the Arts and Sports Minister… What gave it legs through the summer recess however was the public sharing of that information (including sight of the original receipts Foxe got) by Gavin Sheridan and Mark Coughlan at thestory.ie (even if it started on Gavin’s own blog).

In effect the CC was gotcha-ed by an Internet-borne project that both he and his party have severely underestimated at some considerable cost to themselves and their reputations.

No one is going turn that tap off… Now if you want to see what TD or Senator got from what donor or which party gained most from which business sector or profession, you can get it all at from thestory.ie. Hell you can even join in and help join the dots in the vast data dumps and help make all manner of correlations in the data that were only fleetingly thought about before…

The era of Open Government is upon us whether we like it or not. The Houses of the Oireachtas or Stormont, Holyrood or Wesminster for that matter are no longer scenic icons. They are living breathing institutions whose almost every move now has a life on the internet too its denizens still seem think is some kind of petty add on the real business they do on behalf of the nation.

In truth all democracies are in danger of being outrun by the exponential pace of technology and although fall of the walls can be exhilarating to watch, something is being lost in the process…

As I noted in yesterday’s Slugger Awards post, ‘consultation’ is likely to become more important, and not just as a last minute means of resolving log jams in the decision making process, but as a way of making government smarter and more responsive to fast changing societal demands.

As this presentation from a couple of years back highlights, we are living in ‘exponential times’, and government cannot afford to get left behind:

As it does get left behind, then it’s own authority and legitimacy will suffer. Pinning hopes on the Greens reform programme (you can get some indication of the wider Green agenda from this earlier submission) is not likely to be enough.

But this is as much about the culture of politics, as its law or practice. The Irish way has always been to get the hand-shakers and the backslappers in at the expense of people who might have a clue about how to run the country. And there has been an extraordinary level of ‘control freakery’ around the business of policy formulation and public debate thereof…

And yet in the recent crisis, the first instinct is to reach out and pull in expertise almost from whomever or wherever it can be found (empty suits syndrome)… That’s one of the penalties of ‘closed government’… But the real penality in the longer term is the way information loops and informalising and speeding up… Citizen journalism projects like thestory.ie have the capacity to wage asymmetric warfare on comparatively ‘stupid’ institutions.

As Churchill once said, democracy is the worst of all systems, except for all the rest. The bottom line here is that politicians need to think now about how they communicate authoritatively an outside world that will only exponentially smarter than it is today… As Olivia O’Leary noted in her podcast yesterday: “We should know from Northern Ireland what happens when the citizens withdraw their consent to be governed”…

Those who don’t may find themselves without that arse in their political pants they once almost took for granted… And the ‘smart mob’ does not always equate with a wise crowd…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty