Constitutionally unable to bring political reform
POLITICS:Irish Governance in Crisis, Edited by Niamh Hardiman, Manchester University Press, 256pp, £15.99
The Government has made much of its recently established Convention on the Constitution, which holds its first working meeting today. Consisting of 33 elected representatives and 66 randomly selected members of the public, this body has been tasked with deliberating on a range of institutional, political and social issues.
The Government has rightly been criticised for the convention’s narrow remit, which consists of a carefully selected list of nine issues along with an opportunity “to make such other recommendations for constitutional reform as it sees fit”.
Nonetheless, the fact that it is being convened at all – a first in Irish politics – reflects a pervasive view that the Irish political system is not fit for purpose. The members of the constitutional convention would do well to read this volume on Irish governance and politics, edited by Dr Niamh Hardiman, senior lecturer in the school of politics and international relations at University College Dublin.
Of course, there has been no shortage in the past few years of books tracing the fall from grace of the Irish economy and polity. Indeed, the production of books on the collapse of the Celtic Tiger has become something of a cottage industry. In this context, we might legitimately ask why we need yet another book on the failures of Irish politics and policymaking. The answer lies in this volume’s systematic, comparative analysis of Irish politics and policymaking. Going beyond the immediate crisis of Irish governance to identify longer-term trends and underlying causes, it analyses the capacity of the State to achieve particular policy objectives and seeks to explain why State capacity has varied over time and between different policy areas.
Collectively the chapters argue that the structures through which public power is exercised, and the way in which competing societal interests are mediated through political processes, have a decisive impact on policy outcomes. Three prominent themes emerge: first, the dominance of political parties and the related weakness of legislative control over the executive; second, the limited capacity of the State to co-ordinate societal interests towards outcomes that are in the public interest; and, third, the (in)ability of political institutions to attain democratic legitimacy.
Given the Irish experience of recent years, the chapters on regulatory governance (by Jonathan Westrup) and the governance of the economy (by Sebastian Dellepiane and Hardiman) draw the reader’s immediate attention.
However, one of the particular strengths of the volume is that it casts the net much wider and looks at strengths and weaknesses of Irish governance across a range of sectors, including egovernance (Lee Komito), crime and security (Aogán Mulcahy), urban regeneration (Diane Payne and Peter Stafford), waste management (Brigid Laffan and Jane O’Mahony) and healthcare (Claire Finn and Hardiman). In doing so, the volume provides the reader with a broad and deep understanding of the current state of policymaking in Ireland, and its historical development.