Madam, - It was disappointing to see your usually incisive Political Correspondent, Mark Brennock, claim (December 19th) that social partnership has led to important policy decisions being made "behind closed doors".

Far from restricting participation in policy making the involvement of unions, employers, farmers and the community and voluntary sector has extended public participation beyond the opportunity to mark a ballot paper once every five years.

The policy of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on the relationship between the partnership process and the political process was expressed by the Congress's General Secretary, David Begg in your edition of December 16th: "The social partnership process is, always has been and always should be subordinate to the political process. The essential value of social partnership is that it engages civil society in the process of governance in a way that achieves a greater level of democratic participation and accountability in society."

There is nothing closed or secret about the partnership process, with the parties involved and their policies being quite rightly subjected to media scrutiny and public debate at every stage. Social partners are questioned on their way into negotiations about what they want and on their way out about what they got! When proposals for agreement are published, they are examined in the media and debated at hundreds of meetings around the country. After a lengthy process of information, clarification and debate the only "secret" element of the process then comes into play. Half-a-million workers have the opportunity to vote in a secret ballot on the proposals.

If the percentage turn-out for these ballots is often higher than for general elections this can hardly be blamed on the partnership process. If your correspondent wishes to identify some of the forces that could really marginalise politicians, he should have a look at the growing industry of political lobbying. Lobbyists slip quietly in and out of meetings with politicians and make the case for their clients far from the glare of the television lights. They know their way around the corridors of power and the code for opening doors.

We should be aiming to widen and deepen social partnership as a means of enhancing the political process, which is why the broader partnership process should continue, irrespective of the outcome of negotiations on pay. - Yours, etc.,

OLIVER DONOHOE, Research and Information Officer, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Parnell Square, Dublin 1.