Irish political reform is in danger of getting off on the wrong foot. There may be a referendum next year for abolishing the Seanad and all party talks are proceeding to reduce the number of Dail committees, so that the surviving ones can assume a stronger scrutiny role. There may be much merit in both (although I have my doubts about the former). What’s wrong is that the process so far belongs exclusively to the political elite who incubated the problems in the first place. But surely political reform featured in the party manifestos? Yes but how many noticed when they were reeling from the consequences of the financial crisis? Political reform is a tricky project. It appears remote from real life but it can affect it powerfully.
The Dublin political parties should pause and learn from the mistakes of the British coalition counterparts who rushed too quickly into electoral reform and setting a bonfires of the quangos ( semi-state bodies), and who may be about to repeat the mistake over reform of the House of Lords. The lesson worth learning is that if you’ve been waiting generations for reform, you should take time to win consensus and get it right. An exchange of ideas between Britainand Ireland could prove fruitful.
What has happened to the People’s Convention? Initiatives such as We Citizens may be modest in themselves but they can stimulate the debate needed before the Irish public are confronted by deceptively simple choices.
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