Government’s fine words about reform of governance have faded away to nothing
Kenny’s proposal to abolish the Seanad is just a populist stunt
Noonan and Howlin, together with Kenny and Gilmore, operate as a Cabinet within the Cabinet. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
It takes an extraordinary political talent to convince most people that they should vote against the abolition of a body as bizarre and as offensive to democracy as the Seanad. Yet Enda Kenny, for whom this is a personal project, is making a very fine job of it.
If he wanted to demonstrate why any kind of check on the arrogance of government, even one as abysmal as the Seanad, is better than none, he has gone the right way about it. Everything about this manoeuvre reeks of a crass opportunism that must repel anyone with the slightest interest in democratic reform.
Consider the context. It is one in which it has become painfully obvious that the Government has absolutely no intention of allowing any radical change to the system of governance that has been such a catastrophic failure.
It is not that this failure is unrecognised: Enda Kenny wrote before the general election that “we have a governance structure that causes systems to fail and fail and fail again”. It is, rather, that the Coalition parties have clearly decided that changing that failed system in ways that create real openness and accountability is too risky. A functioning democracy would get in the way of the Home Rule project that we must learn to accept.
Thus, on practically every level, the most basic reforms have been stymied by a Government that came to office promising a “democratic revolution”. There is in fact a strong case to be made that things are actually worse than they were under Fianna Fáil – a statement even the most cynical among us could hardly have imagined.
The notorious guillotine system, under which legislation is rushed through the Oireachtas, was to be effectively abolished. Instead, it has become the norm – as Harry McGee showed last week, 52 of the 90 Bills passed in this Dáil have been guillotined, meaning that in most cases they received no significant parliamentary scrutiny.
The promise to “open up the budget process to the full glare of public scrutiny” has not only not been honoured, it has been actively travestied. The budgetary process is arguably more secretive than it has ever been – at least if you’re Irish. (If you’re a member of the finance committee of the Bundestag, on the other hand, you’ll get a sneak preview of what’s been decided, even before the ordinary members of the Irish Cabinet know what’s going on.)
Governance is probably more centralised than at any time in the history of the State – the gang of four (Kenny, Gilmore, Howlin and Noonan) operates as a cabinet within the Cabinet, taking all the important economic and fiscal decisions.