Sunday, February 13, 2011

Campaign Diary Day 12 - Constitution Day

As regular readers will know I am all in favour of changing our current political structures. They have been shown to be not fit for purpose. However, you will also know that I'm not a fan of tinkering around the edges of the constitution. The primary document of the state is forever, not just for Christmas, and so modifications should be well thought out before being put to the people.

So Fine Gael's plan to put a series of amendments to the people within a year of taking power (possibly on the same day as the Presidential election in November) has set off some alarm bells. I'm going to look at each of the proposals in turn.
Cutting the number of politicians by 35%. This includes abolishing the Seanad and reducing the number of TDs by 20
I have already outlined my objections to getting rid of the Seanad. Similarly I don't think getting rid of 20 TDs is really going to solve any of the problems in the Oireachtas. There needs to be a major overhaul of the operation of the houses of the Oireachtas but cutting the numbers is just a stunt that has to be followed through on, following Enda Kenny's solo run about 18 months ago.
Giving Dáil Committees full powers of investigation
Where does the line between the judiciary and the legislature lie? What sort of investigations will the committees undertake? Would need to see a lot of detail on this before being happy. However, there have been times when compelling witnesses to attend committee meetings would be helpful and enabling this would be a good move.
Reducing the President’s term from seven to five years
The only reason I can think of this is to run the Presidential election at the same time as the local and European elections. No reason to do this at all except to allow more people have a go at being President.
Providing the Oireachtas with the power to cut judges’ pay
Like item two this is a very slippery slope. The entire point of this provision in the Constitution is to stop the Dáil from threatening Judges with pay cuts in order to keep their decisions in line with the Dáil's point of view. Again it impinges strongly on the separation of powers. With the legislature already completely dominated by the executive removing the current provision would just strengthen further the government's powers. Even if the power was never exercised it would always be left hanging over the judiciary. Not good.
Putting the Ombudsman on a constitutional footing
This is the most sensible of the suggestions. The Ombudsman's Office is a key part of open and accountable democracy and so I have no problem in formalizing its existence in the constitution.

Of course the proposals don't address any of the fundamental problems in our state. Nothing on equality, nothing on separation of church and state, nothing on freedom of information, nothing on term limits for politicians, nothing on making the executive more accountable to the legislature. This is pretty much a pointless exercise with one exception. I certainly know which way I'll be voting on these proposals if they are put before the people.

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