Take it steady for political reform – why not adapt from the Brits?

Following up my comments on the supposed “ gridlock ” on political reform in the Republic, three elements from  recent UK political and constitutional reforms should be considered before throwing the whole system up in the air and creating a potentially dangerous state of flux. This is quite dry stuff and not as much fun as “panic don’t panic, ” melodramatic despair and the usual battles over history, but they could be a lot more effective. No doubt this is a topic that will run and run but will probably generate more heat than light in the atmosphere of an end of era  election and Gotterdamerung

They are:

(1) The UK cabinet manual (still in draft and out to consultation) will be a new limited guide to the operation of the uncodified British Constitution. Ireland of course has a written constitution but an Irish manual would provide a closer guide to how to operate it for all the benefit of public officials including ministers

(2) the ministerial codes and civil service codes:  The NI Executive ministerial code follows the recently established British norms.

Ministers must at all times:

(i) observe the highest standards of propriety and regularity involving impartiality,

integrity and objectivity in relationship to the stewardship of public funds;

(viii) ensure they comply with any rules on the acceptance of gifts and hospitality that might

be offered; and

(ix) declare any personal or business interests which may conflict with their responsibilities.

(ii) be accountable to users of services, the community and, through the Assembly, for the activities within their responsibilities, their stewardship of public funds and the extent

to which key performance targets and objectives have been met;

(iii) ensure that all reasonable requests for information from the Assembly, users of services

and individual citizens are complied with; and that departments and their staff conduct their dealings with the public in an open and responsible way;

(iv) follow the seven principles of public life set out by the Committee on Standards in

Public Life;(v) comply with this Code and with rules relating to the use of public funds;

(vi) operate in a way conducive to promoting good community relations and equality of

treatment;(vii) not use information gained in the course of their service for personal gain; nor seek to use the opportunity of public service to promote their private interests;

The Assembly will retain a Register of Interests. Individuals must ensure that any direct or indirect pecuniary interests which members of the public might reasonably

think could influence their judgement are listed in the Register of Interests.

and (3)  the Nolan principles of public life which if violated are followed by censure.

 

1.6The seven principles of public life referred to at 1.5(iv) are as follows:-
  
 

Selflessness

  
 Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
  
 

Integrity

  
 Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
  
 

Objectivity

  
 In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits,holders of public office should make choices on merit.
  
 

Accountability

  
 Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
  
 

Openness

  
 Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
  
 

Honesty

  
 Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
  
 

Leadership

  
 Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

.

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