State is now a 'debt-replacement agency'
GOVERNANCE STRUCTURES:THROUGH A lack of true republican vision and proper accountability, the Irish State had become “a debt-replacement agency for private banking”, Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín told the MacGill Summer School.
Pointing out that he was the first member of his party elected for Meath since Liam Mellows (1895-1922), he added that Mellows refused to sit in Westminster because he believed in government by the Irish people of the Irish people.
Governance structures did not exist in isolation. “The prevailing political culture creates and influences those structures.” It was often said that the anti-establishment political culture in Ireland was a legacy of colonialism.
“I also believe that decisions need to be made as close to the people they affect as possible,” he said.
Otherwise the individual was disempowered: “It is one of the reasons I see creeping EU federalism as a danger. It doesn’t nurture that culture of accountability.”
The interests of capital always needed to acknowledge that the citizens’ rights come first.
“On a micro level, when capital has a stronger influence than citizens it can create corruption, but on a macro level it can cause massive problems.” In that process, the State had become “a debt-replacement agency for private banking”.
In his notes smuggled out of jail, Mellows said Ireland did not want to replace foreign with domestic tyranny; if its industries and banks were controlled by foreign capital, it would be at the mercy of every breeze that blew.
Mr Tóibín also warned against “oligopoly” in the news media, with the main outlets controlled by “a small number of large players, wealthy business people”.
He said the constitutional convention offered a great opportunity but the Government had shown “a lack of confidence” and a lack of ambition with the topics chosen and the level of funding.
Prof John Coakley of UCD said that, since 1935, the setting of constituency boundaries had shown substantial disregard for county boundaries. He also questioned the limit of five seats in a constituency, which was of “questionable constitutionality”.
In most parliaments in Europe, natural boundaries such as the county limits in Ireland were applied automatically for electoral purposes. Outside a major urban area such as Dublin, there was no reason the same system could not generally be applied here.
Members of Seanad Éireann could at present become cabinet ministers but this had happened only twice. This was “quite bizarre” and Ireland was one of a “very small” number of states where Ministers had to be members of parliament, he said.
UCD lecturer Niamh Hardiman, editor of Irish Governance in Crisis, published by Manchester University Press, said a very strong political will was required to bring about political reform.
The first obstacle was institutional inertia. “The easiest course of action is to add a layer that looks like reform without really altering existing practices,” she added. She cited the Health Service Executive as an example of “piling on the appearance of change”.