Speed over citizens' convention key to reform process
AS THE dust settles on the fiscal treaty referendum, we can only hope that the Government is now finally going to bite the reform bullet after many months of prevarication. Elected on a wave of change in February 2011, both Government parties nailed their colours to the political reform mast, promising root-and-branch changes to our political institutions.
This was very much in the mood of the time. Uniquely for an Irish election, all the political parties – without exception – produced detailed and ambitious proposals for political reform. Change was in the air. Expectations were high. The mantra was one of “not wanting to waste a good crisis”.
In its first-year review published in March, the Government was quick to point to its achievements on the reform agenda. It can’t be denied that there have been a few, such as gender quotas or the new rules on party funding.
Some are more meaningful than others: arguably there’s been a bit too much “key jangling” – a tendency to hide behind populist, relatively piecemeal changes (ministerial pay and cars; a slight reduction in the number of TDs) as a means of distracting attention from the bigger picture.
The one measure that could once and for all demonstrate this Government’s seriousness of intent to grasp the political reform nettle would be the establishment of the long overdue constitutional convention. This was supposed to have been launched on the heels of the election victory. But as is so often the case in politics, events took their turn, and the convention languished on the back burner until earlier this year when the Government published details of how it would be constituted, and its agenda.
Party leaders were consulted, a budget line was agreed and all systems seemed to be go when once again events intervened – this time in the shape of the fiscal treaty referendum.
Now, there can be no more excuses for prevarication. A clear and unambiguous promise has been made to establish the convention involving a random selection of 66 ordinary citizens, working in conjunction with 33 elected politicians to consider eight specific themes:
* The Dáil electoral system;
* Reducing the presidential term to five years;
* Giving citizens the right to vote at Irish Embassies in presidential elections;
* Provision for same-sex marriage;
* Amending the clause on the role of women in the home and encouraging greater participation of women in public life;
* Increasing the participation of women in politics;