As predicted a new Irish coalition dubbing itself “The Government of National Recovery” emerged smoothly from six days of talks to tackle a economic and political crisis far deeper than that which confronted their British counterparts last May. I’ve blogged on the main elements of the key policies here.
Now I turn to the sweeping political and constitutional reforms in the Porgramme for Government, most easily downloaded from this page of the Irish Times, and beginning on p18 of the Programme. These are substantially based on the work of the Joint Committee of the Oireachtas ( both Houses of Parliament) which has been beavering away since 2002.
This work had been undertaken in response to old corruptions and new social change. The context had been transformed by the speed of financial and political collapse of the last two or so years. Much of the material was cherry picked by the parties in the election campaign. Now the committee’s reports have been dusted down, reshaped and thrust into the wider public arena. Their weakness is that they appear as a list of measures for which an accessible public case has yet to be made. This will be the job of a year-long Constitutional Convention to be set up outside the control of the government. Its conclusions will have to be approved first by Parliament and then by the people in a referendum. This process is mandatory in Ireland. The Constitution requires a referendum for the substantial constitutional changes which political reform would entail. It also remains to seen what priority the State and the public will give to such reforms during a period of austerity. An Irish Times leader summarises:
Constitutional convention will report on possible changes to the PR electoral system, a reduction in the voting age and other issues within 12 months. A referendum will be held on the abolition of the Seanad; a reduction in the number of TDs and cuts in judges pay. The pay, pension and expenses system for TDs and ministers will be changed. The Dáil will sit more frequently. The supremacy of the Executive will be diluted and the power of committees to investigate issues of public importance will be augmented. Freedom of Information legislation, the role of the Ombudsman and local authority reform will move centre stage. These are transformational ambitions.
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