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Analysis/Comment Last Updated: Feb 16, 2011 - 8:14 AM

Irish General Election 2011: A business manifesto that is not special pleading for favours
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Feb 16, 2011 - 8:10 AM

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Government Buildings, Dublin.

Irish General Election 2011: The default business manifesto is a list of narrow demands of politicians, but in this critical election, the Dublin City Centre Business Association (DCBA) has produced a document with a collection of essays which outline how a broken political system can be reformed.

DCBA director, Tom Coffey, has in the past spoken on issues of public policy, including an address to the MacGill Summer School in July 2004.

We at Finfacts made the point as recently as Tuesday how striking is the contrast with the issue of getting a debt restructuring deal with Brussels and the lack of significant enthusiasm for reform and changing the system that brought a generational calamity to our country. 

DCBA puts forward this 10 Point Manifesto Towards a Second Republic and to start effective reform.

It says we need to focus on changes to our way of governing ourselves. Our Government can take action on each of these immediately. These immediate changes will convince us, citizens, that the governing classes are serious about political and institutional reform. If we see changes like this being implemented, we will have the confidence to work our way through the recovery plan effectively and efficiently.

1. Bringing in 2 non-politicians to be full Cabinet Members (via Seanad). (No Referendum Required)

2. Reducing the Cabinet to 7 members ie the Taoiseach and 6 Ministers; appointing a large number of non-politicians to be Ministers for State. Ministers should be appointed with sufficient expertise to ensure power does not rest with the Public Service. (No Referendum Required)

3. Cutting the number of TDs by 25 (ie 15 per cent ) for the next general election (No Referendum Required)

4. Set up a Public Utilities commission by combining the functions of a number of regulatory bodies (No Referendum Required)

5. Start the process of bringing in a strong checks and balances by restoring the 1997 Freedom of Information Act by simply repealing in full, the 2003 Freedom of Information Act (No Referendum Required)

6. Introduce an Economic Crimes Act (No Referendum Required)

7. Reduce costs in Property, Utilities and Services (No Referendum Required)

8. Establish a Fiscal Council (No Referendum Required)

9. Reduce and or abolish Quangos (No Referendum Required)

10. Ireland needs to repair the broken political system by way of a Referendum to give all citizens the right to choose the political system that is used in Ireland. The 4 options open to us are: Single Seat Constituencies (UK model); List System (European model); Presidential System (US model); Proportional Representation System (Irish model). In this way the people rather than the politicians would choose the political system to be used in Ireland in the decades to come. (Referendum Required)

Donal Ó Brolcáin, who has a commentator on public issues over many years, in his reporrt proposes that transforming our government and public service cannot succeed without starting at the top. We must look at the size and composition of the Cabinet and Dáil. Neither the National Recovery Plan or the EU-ECB/IMF agreement addresses this key area of decision making. As we set about reengineering our institutions, we need to separate those things that we can do immediately and those that need constitutional change.

These straight-forward changes would quickly convince us, citizens, that the governing classes are serious about political and institutional reform. If we see changes like this being implemented, we will have the confidence to effectively face the enormous difficulties of the recovery plan. Some reforms, proposed by others, such as the abolition of the Senate or electoral reform, only distract our attention from what we can do immediately and are, in a sense, red herrings because it is not obvious how they will lead to better results. In addition, they need constitutional change which implies the time and cost of a referendum.

This paper suggests the following five changes to our way of governing ourselves which could be implemented immediately without any changes to the constitution:

1. Improve the skills of the Cabinet [New Blood for Cabinet – 2 non-TD Ministers p.68]
The Constitution allows two members of the Senate to be appointed as “outsider” ministers. Since the Taoiseach can appoint anyone to the Senate he could use this route to make up for the obvious skill deficiencies of the Cabinet. Most Irish people seem to regard this as quite abnormal. In fact, many European countries appoint Ministers from outside Parliament/the national assembly.

2. Improve the effectiveness of the Cabinet [Better with less – cutting the number of Cabinet Ministers p.73]
The Cabinet could be reduced to just 7 members which would improve effectiveness and reduce costs. Fewer Ministers would ensure also that the influence of the “outsiders” is not overwhelmed by “traditional” politicians. Ministers of State are not required to be TDs and the skills available to departments of state could be improved by appointing outsiders with experience to complement that of the ordinary politician. This would be a clear sign that Ministerial rank is not seen as a reward but rather as a public service which requires the best talents available to the country.

3. Reduce the Size of the Dáil [Less TDs – A Commitment to Political Reform? p.77]
The number of TDs could be cut by up to 25 (i.e. by 15 per cent) [for the next general election] without Constitutional change. This would have two useful effects. It would lead to a reduction in costs and it could marginally reduce clientalism by increasing the size of constituencies.

4. Establish a Public Utilities Commission [Improve the public service – a Public Utilities Commission as an example p.84]
The functions of a number of regulatory bodies could be combined into a single Public Utilities Commission which would report directly to the Dáil. Such a body would reduce the number of state bodies. A direct relationship to the Dáil would give it a role not unlike that of that of the Ombudsman or the Comptroller and Auditor General.

5. Restore full Freedom of Information [Freedom of Information (FoI) p. 88]

The 2003 Freedom of Information Act should be repealed to restore the full power of the original 1997 act. This change would restore a crucial element in the spectrum of checks and balances which are so necessary to assure the delivery of accountable and transparent government.

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