Although no fan of Fintan O’Toole’s spasm of direct action, his headline political reforms are admirable. Once he’s won some support, he surely needs to transform the petition into a collective enterprise. Political reform is no solo run or quick fix. He will also realise he needs support from among those he has been slagging off or he’ll not get very far.
For Irish reform, old ghosts should not inhibit a comparative analysis with the British experience. Ireland like Britain has also much to learn from other examples of the Westminster system like Canadian provinces and New Zealand. (browse the websites of the Constitution Unit and the Institute for Government).
A powerful Electoral Commission with greater powers than the UK’s is highly desirable, as is a wider FoI. These accord with similar reform processes in the UK, either achieved or debated. Parliamentary watchdogs have to be able to overrule TDs’ sense of entitlement and any lingering sense of unearned privilege and prerogative. Tribunal fatigue should not be allowed to blight progress.
The AM electoral system is no panacea – a lot depends on whether the parties are to be trusted or not. You can argue about women only shortlists but they undoubtedly give a jolt to the system. Political funding is a nightmare. Nothing should inhibit full transparency but distrust of all politicians snuffs out smaller donations. In my ignorance, I don’t know whether the new combined responsibilities of the Central Bank are strong enough for the inevitably radically restructured banking sector. But the Governor should be more than Frankfurt’s pointman and as the head of Ireland’s Financial Services Authority should also be accountable directly to the Irish people and parliament .
1. SHARE THE PAIN
No one paid from the public purse should earn more than €100,000 during the period of the emergency.
2. PUT THE PARISH PUMP BACK IN THE PARISH
Real local democracy, paid for by local taxes, and using direct democracy at every level, must be established.
3. END CLIENTILISM
Change the electoral system that turns TDs into constituency fixers. Replace it with a mix of direct election and a list system similar to that used for the Scottish parliament.
4. CUT THE FAT
Reduce the Dail to 100 members. Either transform the Senate within 12 months into a genuine forum for civic society or abolish it.
5. MAKE PARLIAMENT WORK.
Stop the use of the guillotine system to pass laws that have not been scrutinised. Give Dail committees the powers to examine proposals for spending before it happens and to hold those who spend public money accountable. Make senior public servants responsible for their decisions and actions.
6. BRING WOMEN INTO POLITICS
Cut public subsidies to political parties unless at least 30 per cent of their candidates are female.
7. END IMPUNITY
Conduct an urgent review of company law to ensure that white collar criminals are brought to justice.
8. GET MONEY OUT OF POLITICS
Ban all significant private donations to political parties. Make parties publish annual accounts. Register and control lobbyists. Protect whistleblowers.
9. RESTORE THE RIGHT TO KNOW
Bring back the original Freedom of Information Act.
10. NO MORE CRONYISM
Make all appointments to State and public bodies open to public competition and Dail scrutiny. Ban any individual from being a director of more than three companies or public bodies.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London