A chara, - In an otherwise stout, if not wholly convincing, effort to retrieve some credibility for his organisation, the Labour General Secretary, Ray Kavanagh, has offered his party's recent fund raising misdemeanors as justification for the introduction of a form of State funding for political parties.
Before we all rush off to endorse State funding as the panacea for all our ills, we should take a closer look at the implications of State funding for political parties and its potentially anti democratic ramifications.
As I understand the proposal it is intended to establish a total fund roughly equal to £1 per voter on the electoral register. This fund will be distributed annually to the parties based on the proportion of their existing Dail representation, allowing for a slight adjustment in favour of opposition parties.
This system would prove a barrier to entry into the political process for new political parties, or parties who failed to secure Dail representation. Effectively, the system would ensure the maintenance of a political status quo. Similarly, given that the level of each party's funding will be fixed for the duration of the Dail term, the public will be precluded from tangibly demonstrating falling levels of support for a particular party or parties between elections by decreasing the amount of that party's national collection.
Does the Labour Party envisage an opt out clause for taxpayers who strongly object to their monies being used to fund political parties they fundamentally oppose? One does not have to travel too far back to recall opposition to the political levy component of trade union dues.
Possibly, one of the most compelling arguments against State funding is that it will lead to greater centralisation within the individual political parties, as they become less reliant on branches, constituency groups and members to help raise funds. The decreased dependence of parties on their members for funding will lead to a decreasing level of influence by the membership and a resulting fall off in the level of activism. Surely, the greatest safeguard against the domination of political parties by vested interests is a high level of individual participation and activism.
The clamour for State funding for political parties, coupled with limits on electoral spending, serves no other purpose than to perpetuate the myth that all politicians and parties are in the pockets of the robber barons. The simple fact is that the bulk of party funding comes from golf classics, raffles, race nights and 100 other methods employed by every voluntary organisation.
We should not let the Labour Party's inability to keep its "funding raising flies buttoned" rush us into extreme measures. Is mise le mor mheas,
Eglinton Wood, Eglinton Road, Dublin 4.