New Irish political reform plans make British eyes water


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.

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  • The Word

    I don’t see how these proposed reforms make British eyes water. LIb Dem eyes may be watering at this minute but not for change in Ireland.

    May be you’re referring to the Irish Times editorial team, but surely not? Those same people who have been bigging up Sinn Fein in the south? Well, maybe.

  • Cahir O’Doherty

    One of the most important reforms that should be undertaken in Ireland to end the crippling levels of clientilism is unfortunately kinda boring.

    What is needed isn’t the abolition of the Seanad, voting reform, age reductions (which I disagree with fundamentally (if you can’t be trusted to choose to smoke, drink or drive you shouldn’t be trusted to elect the government)) or any of that other headline grabbing stuff but empowering local government which has historically been a bit of a joke in Ireland. By delegating major local responsibilities to councils, cutting back on double jobbing TDs and increasing the number of days on which the Dail sits you’ll get a much more national parliament.

    However, I won’t hold my breath for any of this..

  • Brian Walker

    The Word, I assure you the number and range of reforms will make British eyes water, if they are serious about it.. Gordon Brown dallied over a white Paper on Consitutional reform for three years and the coalition’s list is mainly Lib Dem- the Conservatives being suspicious of most of it. and opposed of course to AV in elections. It remains to be seen how much localism the UK government will promote.Elected mayors and police comissioners are at the core of it. The big ticket item may be moves towards an elected Upper House, but this may depend on the result of the AV referendum .