Recommendation that multi-seat system should stay will stymie political reform
Opinion: Constituency work will continue to take precedence over scrutiny of legislation
One of the reasons why the Irish economy has crashed twice in recent decades is the pressure on the system, fuelled by the media, to give in to every group demanding money and resources from the State without regard to the consequences that will inevitably follow in higher tax or borrowing.
The core problem is that our political system is not equipped to make a rational choice between competing demands for spending, with resources allocated to where they are most needed.
Despite everything that has happened there is still an assumption in many quarters that the State is a bottomless pit, there to be plundered by the strongest or most persuasive of lobby groups.
It’s more than 100 years since James Joyce described Ireland as “the old sow that eats her farrow”. Fine Gael TD John Kelly turned the phrase on its head to describe Ireland in the 1980s, saying the country was like the old sow being devoured by her piglets.
When he was minister for finance the late Brian Lenihan came to the conclusion that at least part of the problem was the way that the major political parties had developed.
He argued that the value system of Fianna Fáil centred on a deep sense of loyalty to the nation and to the party, but a much weaker sense of loyalty to the State, whose legitimacy it had initially denied.
Despite the fact that Fianna Fáil actually dominated the politics of the State for 80 years, at some fundamental level it always regarded itself as “a slightly constitutional” party.
This partly explains the fatal attraction of the party membership for Charles Haughey, who played on their visceral loyalty to the nation. It also explains the loyalty to the party which seemed to override all other considerations during his tenure. The buccaneering attitude of Bertie Ahern and Charlie McCreevy to the State’s finances in the early years of this century may also have had something to do with this attitude.
By contrast, Fine Gael, the party that traces its roots back to the founders of the State, has always expressed a strong loyalty to its institutions but has never managed to excite the same level of enthusiasm from its own members as Fianna Fáil did, and until 2011 was never able to muster the same level of support.
The hard lesson of the crash is that the country requires political leaders who have the ability and the resolve to resist narrow vested interests and promote policies that foster the long-term common good. That is never going to be easy as the temptation facing politicians is always to give in to small but powerful pressure groups who can often harness media support for their sectoral interests.
Only when the troika departs will we find out for sure if lessons truly have been learned.