The Irish Times view: A modest advance on political reform

Proposals fall short of the kind of root-and-branch transformation promised by Government in 2011

 

Political and administrative reform, like peace, comes ‘dropping slow’ in this State. As a last gasp measure and – perhaps – to distract from a more fundamental political commitment, the Government has accepted three recommendations for Dáil reform advocated by the Constitutional Convention. The measures will be debated in the coming Dáil term and are expected to take effect after the election.

A need to reduce the level of Executive control over the Oireachtas, so as to provide for greater administrative transparency and accountability, has been recognised and advocated for decades. Actions suggested by the Constitutional Convention will go some way in that regard through the election of a Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot; a more equitable distribution of the chairs of Oireachtas committees and the ability of these chairs to regularly summon and question a taoiseach on government matters.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has promoted these measures on the basis that they will enhance the power of parliament. But concern has been expressed that the introduction of a secret ballot by simply amending Dáil standing orders, rather than through a Constitutional referendum, could create a dangerous precedent. Rather than delay the measure, however, a formal Dáil declaration should specifically restrict the use of a secret ballot to such elections.

The proposed reforms are welcome. But they fall short of the kind of root-and-branch transformation that was promised when the Government gained power in 2011. Back then, Mr Kenny undertook to publish legislation that would clearly separate the responsibilities of ministers from those of their officials and provide for a range of sanctions in cases of obvious mismanagement. Effective administration requires both transparency and accountability. Ministers can be sacked or voted out of office. But what is to be done about incompetent public servants? The legislative change proposed five years ago may be unpopular with senior officials but it would create a basis for improved governance and accountability.

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