Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Reform, What could we do tomorrow?

I'm stealing the title of this post from Johnny Fallon's blog, which everyone should read. In his post today, he put together a list of 17 items that could change in the morning that would improve politics in this country without requiring legislation. I'm going to comment on a few of them and hopefully add some more.

From Johnny's list
  1. Return the Dáil to centre of debate and News.
    The relentless press conferences by government ministers announcing (or re-announcing for the 3rd time) various projects without questioning from opposition spokespersons is bad for politics. Bringing these events back to the Dáil is good for democracy. Sure, have a press conference afterwards, but make the initial announcement in the chamber.
  2. Full review of Dáil Standing Orders
    This is one of my pet projects. Standing Orders currently make a mockery of parliament by restricting the number and type of questions that can be put to the executive. The rules about technical groupings for speaking rights is also a farce that silences legitimately elected TDs from participating fully.
  3. Oireachtas Committees to meet in public
    I was at the meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution that met in Trinity College earlier in the year. Even though it was a somewhat staged event with prepared presentations from students and pro-forma responses from the members it was a step in the right direction. The Committees are now where most of the review of legislation and policy happens and they should be more open to the public.
  4. Monthly Town Hall style meetings for Ministers
    YAWN It would just turn into a stage managed event only watched by political anoraks. We just got rid of Questions and Answers from RTE, don't bring it back in an online version.
  5. Tie voting into the PPS system
    Fully agree as I posted last October.
  6. State of the nation address
    I still shudder when I see re-runs of the "living away beyond our means" speech that Charlie Haughey made. So I don't want to see this. We already have the budget which is a proxy state of the nation address anyway.

Some other changes I would throw out there include
  1. Default to yes in FOI requests
    While FOI has been butchered by legislation there is still a lot of information that should be in the public domain but is hidden away behind layers of bureaucracy. FOI requests are often rejected for spurious reasons or the key information is redacted to protect the innocent. By default any information asked for should be given. In fact it should go one step further and all Govt departmental memos should be published unless containing commercially sensitive, security/defence information or the like.
  2. Full accounting for political accounts
    This ties into Johnny's point on donations, but I would go further and say every politician's political account should be open to full scrutiny. This should also be extended to central parties, constituency organisations and even branches. Most people won't care, but scrutiny by opposing forces will keep each side honest.
  3. Engage with young people
    That almost sounds patronizing, but if you consider the massive influence that the grey vote has compared to the under 25s contrasted to the massive impact that current policies are having on young people while leaving pensioners relatively unscathed, there is a massive disconnect between politics and young people. And by this I don't mean create a Facebook page and post some cool links on Twitter. Find out what they want and come up with better ways for them to contribute to society.

I'm sure there are loads more but that will do for starters. Any other ideas?


  1. I like the idea of a default yes to FOI requests but I wonder will it work in practice? If people know their views in memo form are open to public scrutiny they may do more verbally and informally which defeats the purpose of the idea in the 1st place.

  2. Yeah, you're right. It is a tough balance to make but at the present the spirit of FOI is being destroyed by the constant negativity of Departments and other public bodies. See for plenty of examples.