As is evident from the promises (some half-crazy, some totally crazy) coming from all sides of the political divide, an election is in the offing, some say as soon as September or October of this year.
There is the constant danger that, in the desire to be re-elected, our politicians lose their moral bearings and find themselves entirely steered by the clamour from vested interests. Take for example the rush to deal with (appease) the public sector and their demands for a return to the gold-plated salaries and pensions of the pre-bust Ireland to garner the votes of 300,000 plus public servants – Re-election placed before economic stability.
Mediocracy or Meritocracy
What we’ve seen from our various Governments since the founding of our state has been a tolerance for mediocrity and the ease with which our politicians are distracted by the petty trivial, their chronic avoidance of tough decisions and their total inability to build a working solution to tackle any big problem.
The big question is why is our national governance so ineffective?
I don’t think it is because members of the Oireachtas are lazy or corrupt. It is purely because our governing politicians must rely on local parish pump politics to be re-elected. Our outmoded 1937 Constitution allows for popular, well-intentioned but unproven people, once elected at local level, to be entrusted with ministerial responsibilities for which they have neither the executive experience nor competence.
As long ago as 1996, the Constitution Review Group, which was chaired by Dr TK Whitaker, recommended a list system which allocates parliamentary representation proportionately to parties but allows parties to choose the members of parliament.
A number of countries have changed their electoral systems in recent decades. Italy, Japan and New Zealand have switched to “mixed systems” of the German type, which combine national lists (where political parties offer lists of the most capable people willing to serve) alongside constituency representation. This would dilute the hold of vested interests and localism.
We need to seriously look at introducing a political system similar to that which operates in other European Countries, where Ministers are created from the great talent pool because of their excellent achievements in both business and management. The fact that these individuals would be appointed and not elected would ensure that their primary responsibilities would be to get things done. Clientism would be relegated to the relevant lower echelons allowing correct rather than popular decision making and government ministers need not have the distraction of local constituency matters. Too often in the past we have seen ministers who have focused on national issues and taken brave decisions lose elections.
At present we could do this immediately, and without changes to our existing laws. Through the senate we can nominate 11 people and make 2 of them ministers right now! Currently only Ireland and Malta use the outdated system to elect our national representatives; all the ‘new’ European countries have shunned the system and chosen a different system to ours, which ensures that they do not lose out on the expertise of their national talent pool.
These ‘listed nominees’ would be seen by the electorate before the election. This would ensure that it is not used as a reward for ‘party loyalty’ and should be based on meritocracy, open to those with suitable qualifications and appropriate experience in all areas, including small business owners.
Is it not now time to change our outdated 1937 constitution? Replace it with a system where a portion of our national representatives are chosen, on a list system, for their real experience, management skills and vision, and which would allow them to focus on national decisions instead of populism, on national governance instead of re-election.
Could a political system change be a goal of any new administration? Careful now, you must get elected at parish level first!!