Ending political cronyism


TRADITIONAL FORMS of patronage can no longer be tolerated. They reflect unethical standards of behaviour that damage public confidence in the fairness of administration and the quality of our democracy. If the aspiration to create a new and inclusive society - articulated by President Michael D Higgins in his inaugural address - is to mean anything, then the old ways of doing business and rewarding political supporters must be consigned to the dustbin.

In opposition for 13 years, Fine Gael and the Labour Party were rightly critical of Fianna Fáil ministers for abusing their powers in appointing supporters to the judiciary, State agencies and commercial bodies. They promised reform by way of new nomination structures and oversight procedures if they were elected to office. Since the February election, some changes have been introduced. But worrying signs are emerging that pre-election commitments may not be honoured and some Ministers are reverting to a "jobs for the boys" approach.

Details of this unhealthy development have been outlined in this newspaper by Paul Cullen of our political staff. The articles should cause concern in Government. If Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore wish to retain the confidence of the electorate at a time of transition, when the economy is under great pressure and job prospects are poor, they should consider this issue a priority. Their pre-election promises to advertise posts in advance; to invite suitable applicants to apply for positions and to grant Oireachtas committees a role in approving nominations contributed to their eventual success. And while these undertakings disappeared in the programme for government, their effect has lingered on.

On becoming Taoiseach, Mr Kenny referred to an estimated 100 appointments made by Fianna Fáil ministers in advance of their departure from office and promised an end to political cronyism. He undertook to return a moral code to public life, to end corporate donations and to introduce greater transparency in government decision-making. Those commitments amounted to a substantial reform agenda and, because some aspects will require legislation, the measures may take some time to implement. Pending the passage of legislation, however, Ministers and their advisers should be instructed that the old criteria for making appointments are no longer appropriate.

One of the byproducts of excessive spending was a proliferation of State agencies. It had reached a stage where the precise number and remit of such bodies were unknown. The Government is expected to announce a decision this week to scrutinise more than 20 agencies or so-called quangos with a view to abolishing, merging or rationalising them under a new programme of public service reform. Such rationalisation and cost-saving measures may be necessary. But of equal importance is a need to re-establish public trust in the abilities and composition of their managements. A transparent, accountable appointments system is a basic requirement.