Phil Hogan is wrong. Ireland needs more elected reps, not less.

Great rant from Noel Whelan on the Late Debate last night, regarding Fine Gael Environment Minster Phil Hogan’s claim that because of the latest census figures, he could not cut the current total of TDs by the twenty promised in his party’s manifesto:

If Fine Gael wanted to reduced the number of TDs by twenty they could prepare a very short referendum bill that could be voted on on the same day as the Presidential election. They don’t need a referendum on judges pay because the pay has been cut anyway. They’re going ahead with it any way because its populist.

In advance of the election they tried to dress up the absence of any real political reform proposals in their manifesto with this populist suggestion that you reduce the number of TDs by twenty. I don’t think we should be reducing the number of our TDs, our talent pool is limited enough.

We have in fact reduced the number of our TDs over the last 15 or twenty years because our population has gone up, and gone up dramatically so that the ratio is touching the top end of the scale as it currently stands.

What Phil Hogan had to say today was utter, absolute and complete rubbish. If he wanted a referendum today he could have it. It was never contingent on the census figures. And it doesn’t amount to political reform in any case.

Whilst I don’t want to get into slagging a new government that has been left a great deal of mess on its plate this early into its new term, Whelan makes a crucial point here. The matter of political reform may not be as urgent as negotiations with Europe and the IMF, but it is critical.

Reducing democratic oversight by 30% (if the Seanad is abolished) is absolutely nuts in a country where a whole class of civil servants (the county manager) already treat locally elected councillors as though they were the management committee of a Youth Club or community centre (see Peter Geoghegan and I’s analysis on the RTE Elections blog here).

It’s further complicated by what’s about to come down the line from Europe (if the Eurozone is to be saved) which is likely to even further erode the country’s hard won sovereignty. Leaving aside the small scale of the country’s political gene pool, European legislation does not get the scrutiny it needs now, never mind when the next been ructions take place.

Even Labour’s TDs are up in arms. At risk of sounding a tad hippyish, Ireland’s political reform needs a serious and holistic approach. This kind of piecemeal populism only further undermines the opportunity for real and functional reform.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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