Informed debate, not wild charges, required for proper approach to political reform
Sense of national self-loathing that permeated some summer school speeches is a little worrying
However, failure to really reform the Dáil so that all TDs can participate in decision-making will simply foster the dominance of the clientelist-type politics that has got the country into a mess in the first place.
A really hard look at the electoral system and an open debate about the pros and cons of multiseat proportional representation is also required. The public would be wary about changing the system, as discussion at the constitutional convention showed. But a robust debate on the issue could focus minds on what people really expect of their politicians.
Informed debate about the kind of reforms required in the public service and the legal system – to make them more responsive to a changing society – would be more helpful than the simplistic denigration of these institutions that feature in much of current commentary.
The bottom line is that since its foundation, the State, far from having failed, has actually proved enormously resilient. We are one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world and, while that has a lot to do with geography, the commitment of ordinary people to basic decent values should not be underestimated.
In recent decades the State has withstood two potential threats that could have overwhelmed it. The first was the terrorist campaign of the IRA which attempted to harness national pride for an evil purpose. The vast majority of the Irish people and their politicians showed great maturity in turning their backs on emotional appeals to instinctive nationalism.
More recently, the financial crisis that marked the end of the boom could have led to a destructive cycle of protest and economic collapse that would have set the State back decades. Many of the most prominent critics of Irish society urged precisely that kind of response.
Sovereign debt default
However, the electorate and the political system resisted the temptation to go down the road of sovereign debt default – and the negative consequences that would inevitably have ensued.
The result is that the State has gradually pulled itself out of the mire. When viewed on an international scale Ireland is not doing too badly. The most recent United Nations human development index, which measures a range of economic and social indicators, rates Ireland as seventh out of 186 countries in the world.
Far from being a failed State we are a highly successful modern country with a standard of living that would be envied by most people on the planet. That doesn’t mean there are grounds from complacency. The close shave with disaster exposed the need for serious self-analysis, but that is very different from the kind of destructive criticism that displays contempt for democracy itself.