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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 7, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

    Micheál Upsets the Apple-Tart (stet)

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Not really sure about this Fianna Fail proposal that ministers should cease to be serving members of the Dail. They would be substituted from a list of alternates in the same way as Members of the European Parliament when they retire, etc.

    Micheál Martin’s basis for putting it forward was that it would free-up ministers to concentrate on their portfolios. For example, the Enterprise Minister could spend more time abroad searching out investment.

    It might have certain merits in that respect, but it will go down badly with ordinary voters, in my opinion. They will not be impressed at the prospect of unelected individuals getting Dail seats with, presumably, the same salaries and expenses as other TDs.

    This looks like lead balloon territory.

    At the moment, a Taoiseach can appoint members of the Seanad to the Cabinet but it hasn’t happened since Garret put in the late  Jim Dooge as Minister for Foreign Affairs back in the 1980s.

    Now Micheál Martin wants to extend this to other members of the public, similar to the US system. He believes this would create a healthy dynamic between the Dail and the Government.

    That  may be true but, again, will the Irish electorate wear it? Becoming a minister is a Big Job and the culture of this country militates against choosing those who have not taken the hard road of nomination through canvassing to election. Mind you, if you are a member of a political dynasty it might not be such a hard road.

    A college professor or an industrialist might, in fact, prove to be a very good minister and he or she would be less likely to steer State projects and finance towards the home constituency base. That would be a  plus.

    On the negative side, it would give the Taoiseach of the day even greater power in the choosing of a cabinet and the influence of parliament would be reduced.

    It is not apparently proposed that the Taoiseach would be substituted in the Dail – although that is not spelt out in the FF manifesto, published today.

    Having said all that, it was good to see a leader of the party which has been ensconced in office for more years than anyone cares to remember taking an interest in reform and putting forward fairly daring new ideas.

    Is there really such a hunger for political reform among the public? From what I can make out, they will settle for competence and hard work and are not that worried about the electoral system if it produces people who can supply those commodities.

    Bertie Ahern would have called this, “upsetting the apple-tart”.

    • Martin’s proposals are, as your colleague Michael O’Regan put it, daft. How does the Minister, no longer sitting in the Dáil, get reappointed after an election? Automatically like the Ceann Comhairle? Does he run in his constituency in place of his sub? Is he limited to one term? If so why if he’s competent and good at the job?And given FF’s localism what’s going to make me believe they won’t maintain links to their constituency through their cumanns or through the sub who owes them for their position?
      It’s a mess of a proposal; with no parallel in any other democratic system. If FF are making up this sort of reform stuff on the hoof I wouldn’t put too much faith in it. Daring ideas can be either courageous or foolhardy. With no health policy and this half cooked coddle it looks like after 14 years in power they’re really scraping around for ideas and are even more unprepared for this election There are other parts of their proposals that have merit but if they want to cut out the legislators involvement in local decision making the only way about it is to build a strong local power infrastructure: empowered councils with revenue raising and dispensing abilities and independence in decision making.

      The FG pronouncements on pensions and the Seanad are so singularly populist that they lack any bite in terms of reform and don’t have any prospect of changing decision making processes, transparency, the Dail’s powers etc. I’d love to know what political scientists abroad familiar with institutional reform make of this. It’s beyond time someone asked an expert on this stuff instead of just deciding to dismantle parts of the constitution willy nilly!

    • Séin Ó Muineacháin says:

      If anything, would the ability of a Taoiseach to look outside parliament for ministers not increase the influence of ministers. Essentially, the reform would change the career path of politicians as TDs see it – being a minister is seen as a promotion for a TD. TDs know they are among the pool of individuals from which the Taoiseach may appoint, and it also equips the Taoiseach with massive patronage powers. There is therefore massive incentive for TDs to toe the party line, because they know they will be promoted. At least if the Taoiseach has the choice to look outside the Dáil, TDs might see their role as TDs and not as potential ministers (who would have to surrender their seat if appointed). If anything, I believe it would increase the influence of parliament because it breaks the (practically unique) fusion of executive and legislature that exists in Ireland.

    • Having a substitute in the Dail as suggested in the political reform segment of the FF manifesto would hardly free up a minister’s time at all, it’s not like voting in the Dail is causing them that many headaches for them as it is. They are already allocated up to half a dozen civil servants to handle their constituency work at the taxpayers expense. This is done without letting on to the constituent who is lead to believe it’s the minister who is writing and signing all those letters until that letter turns out to be for a murderer or child molester in which case we’re then told it was their staff wrote it.

      And what happens when the minister seeks to run for re-election or is dropped from the cabinet? Do they kick out the sub? and what do they campaign on? – People of Ballysomewhere “Vote for me, my sub did all the local work.” Or is it intended that you’d be a minister in a government and if you fall out of favour with the party leader that your political career over? Talk about giving a means to quell dissent against the leader.

      These set of proposals is even more half baked than I thought they might be, and FF are still persisting, and being allowed to do so by the press, with inventing terms that make no sense like single seat PR *(it’s called the Alternative Vote and as LibDems in the UK will tell you it’s not really all that proportionate) and unilateral renegotiation.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      How is less democracy and more cronyism reform?

    • Gerard Sullivan says:

      They do it in other countries – why not here?

    • Fergal says:

      We still have to talk about how we’re represented in respect, particularly, of how constituencies are drawn up and also the level of authority and power that local authorities have. There are too many members of County Councils and too many people representing us in parliament. We need local authorities to take care of local issues and TDs to formulate, evaluate and introduce policy. It just doesn’t work when there’s a moral and ethical question mark over our representatives. Competence and hard work would be reform!

    • I think that it’s a great proposal. Government departments should be run by the most capable people within the realm over which the department has political authority; this is unlikely to be a government frontbencher.

      It’s important to note that FF’s proposal to replace ministers with candidates from a list is part of the manifesto’s plan to implement German-style MMP to replace STV—thus, there would be many ‘unelected’ TDs, inasmuch as they would sit in the Dáil by virtue of being on a party list, rather than being returned from a constituency. This is a bad proposal; in spite of the country’s difficulty in putting distinctive parties in government (Civil War politics and all that), Ireland actually has the best electoral system. STV is proportional, entirely constituency-based, and blind to party affiliation; it would be a shame to have it replaced by the only OK MMP system.

      The best thing to do is to keep ministers separate from the Oireachtas, and to replace these ministers with runners-up from their constituency. So if, say, Seán Barrett were the #1 favoured candidate from Dún Laoghaire and was appointed to the new cabinet, the votes from Dún Laoghaire would be redistributed as if Mr. Barret had never run.

    • Patrick Hennessy says:

      clearly half baked like most tarts FF tried to bake while in power

    • @7 Replacing TDs appointed to Cabinet with runners up is strange as well. A person seeks election once and once only and the votes are as they fall on the day of the election. For them to suddenly come alive again as though the TD had never run would not reflect the voting intentions of the voters on the day and it would skew the proportionality of the votes translating to seats in terms of voting intention and outcome. All these proposals need to be modelled and anlaysed. There’s also the fact that If a TD were called to Cabinet in a reshuffle and the runner up from two years ago was appointed would he even be available for the position never mind be the legitmate inheritor of the position. We scrapped the dual mandate of being TD and Councillor, this looks like a half hearted measure at scrapping a sort of dual mandate of being a TD and a Minister. If Martin doesn’t want the executive to sit in the Dáil then that’s fine, I’m happy with it, but you cannot have your cake and eat it. A new relationship between Legislature and Executive requires a cultural change in the parties too. If rewarding party gamesmanship with ministry is to go, it should go completely, and we should avoid this halfway house of leaving it open to the Taoiseach to appoint favourite TDs and keep the seat in the Dáil. If any man or woman is the best for the job they should take on their ministerial role completely and cut their links with their previous employer or position, whether they are board members of Ryanair or TDs. The end of the hack or dynasty golden boy climbing the ladder of cumann, convention, election, Dáil, cabinet Taoiseach is the end of Fianna Fáilism as it currently stands and it terrifies them.

    • @Major Alfonso

      I don’t agree that replacing ministers with runners-up immediately after an election would skew proportionality or voter intent. After all, a five-member constituency returns four TDs who are, in effect, runners-up. My proposal would simply draw the line at the sixth most-preferred candidate, rather than the fifth (or the equivalent numbers for four/three TD constituencies). Assuming that everyone prefers some party’s candidates above all those of any other party, the proportions would be precisely the same. (Of course, this isn’t what happens, but voter intent would still be honoured.) Note that, if ministers can’t sit in, but are drawn entirely from, the Oireachtas, and if there is no replacement of ministers, then the party balance would be far more skewed than if the ministers are replaceable. Indeed, a party would have to get a landslide not to lose the Dáil’s confidence.

      I do agree that my idea is problematic in the event of a reshuffle significantly after an election. In that case, I don’t know, bye-election? Ministers change portfolios far too often anyway—imagine if any other job saw ‘expert’ workers as so interchangeable.

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