Political reform: Brief case for a constitutional convention 2.0

There are some batty ideas doing the rounds at the moment, not least with regard to political reform in the Republic. The best I’ve heard so far was from James on Twitter the other night, which suggested emigrants could get the vote, if they lived in a number of extra territorial uber-constituencies (ahem, Northern Ireland wasn’t one of them). For reference you can find my own thoughts on that matter here.

Everyone’s now talking about reform, so much that the academic reform lobby have convened an report card to give a qualitative analysis of the ideas arising.

The debate certainly needs it. Enda was first to make a splash in this area, over a year ago. His ‘big idea’ is to save money (millions, not billions) by reducing the number of elected representatives by getting rid of the Seanad in its entirety, and reducing the number of TDs in the Dail.

His reasons for getting rid of the Seanad? Ireland’s political class cannot be trusted to carry forward the necessary recommendations to make it work. That’s as near perfect statement of no confidence in even his own party’s capacity to follow through on effective political reforms as you’ll hear from any party leader, anywhere.

Fianna Fail’s latest idea (who’ve come incredibly late to the reform feast) is that TDs can be co-opted into the government executive and out of the Dail with new members then being co-opted into the empty seats.

Fine idea. Except it doesn’t include a proposal to co-opt that other great engine of democracy in the US, the separation of powers between the house and the executive. And arguably, whilst the current reliance on generalists within the executives if they are exclusively drawn from the political class, it’s the poor quality of scrutiny in the legislature that most agree is Ireland’s most pressing difficulty.

Deaglan turns this last idea over and wonders:

“…will the Irish electorate wear it? Becoming a minister is a Big Job and the culture of this country militates against choosing those who have not taken the hard road of nomination through canvassing to election.”

That’s the thing. Ireland is not France. Much to the frustration of many radicals this small c conservative state does not routinely have the same thirst for big politics as larger states in the rest of the world tend to have.

Judging by the haphazard nature of the debate so far, the capacity for the political (and the media) class to get their heads around what it means will have to be curated into existence.

Ironically, with their hands tied on the economic measures promised the IMF and ECB and the EU by the last government, political reform may be one of the few big ideas the new government might just get to pull off well.

They mght do worse than setting up a Constitutional Convention 2.0. Whilst it needs to be timely, but the new deal needs to embed itself in an emergent public consensus (albeit amongst a public with more pressing existential matters to deal with), not just another convenient (or in the longer term, inconvenient) insider job.