‘Citizen involvement can be a powerful force for change’

Social recovery needed to accompany economic recovery, says Burton

An Tanáiste Joan Burton with Glenties residents including Michael Glynn, chairman of the Glenties Amalgamated CE scheme, enjoying a local walk. Photograph: North West Newspix

An Tanáiste Joan Burton with Glenties residents including Michael Glynn, chairman of the Glenties Amalgamated CE scheme, enjoying a local walk. Photograph: North West Newspix

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 01:00

Tanáiste Joan Burton has called for politicians to work with the people to restore faith in the institutions of State.

Countering widespread cynicism is not simply a matter of leaders matching words with actions, she said. “There is a second problem, which is to do with the cynicism that now surrounds politics and public life – the notion that motives are always questionable, and that nothing is done simply in the public interest.”

Political leaders cannot “restore” trust in institutions, she said. They can only work to “regain” trust through credible reform and sustained commitment to best practice.

Participation in change

“Faith is also built through participation,” she said and she hailed the Government’s record on reform. She claimed the Constitutional Convention has shown that “more citizen involvement can be a powerful force for progressive change”.

She said a series of referendums would be put to the people next year to give effect to the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention. She concentrated on economic recovery, insisting “a return to economic growth of itself, though welcome, is not enough . . . Society must flourish too.”

Warning of the dangers of inequality, she said: “Therefore, we need a social recovery to accompany the economic recovery.” The Tanáiste denounced “trickle-down economics” which protected the huge incomes of a small number of entrepreneurs in the hope their wealth would work its way down through the economy.

Economist Prof John FitzGerald told the MacGill Summer School that reforms “need to build on the strengths of the existing system, while recognising the reasons for serious failures in the recent past”.

“Informed public debate, such as at this summer school, is how we develop a better way of doing business,” he said. “Enshrining that debate in the formal policymaking process may help guard against future policy disasters.”

Dr Eddie Molloy, managing director of the Advanced Organisation, denounced the culture within many State bodies.

Loyalty, he said, is in fact “ignoble collusion” or at worst illegality. “We need leaders within the political system and within the Civil Service who have the courage to challenge their own tribe.”

Public affairs consultant and former Bertie Ahern adviser Gerard Howlin said failures of public administration in Ireland were linked to a “hard-wiring” of politicians to the public will. When it came to failures of State bodies, he said: “We, the people, are responsible, because we are sovereign.”

Insult to intelligence

He said: “Industrial schools, Magdalene laundries, mother-and-baby homes, bigger mortgages based on ever-higher multiples of wages, a relentless demand for higher wages to fund them and ever-greater levels of public spending to sustain the lot, were all founded on popular demand. The problem with our politics and political institutions, is not that they are out of touch. It is that they are hard-wired to the prevailing popular will, to an extent that makes sustaining effective decision-making always difficult, and usually ultimately impossible,” he said. “We the people elect our politicians, who invariably insult our intelligence by gratifying our demands.”