Real and meaningful political reform would provide the ideal start to the New Year

‘Since my election in 2011, the Parliamentary Party has never voted to my knowledge on any issue other than to elect a colleague to some position within the party. This is hardly democracy at work’

‘It is time for the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and by extension the Government to take back the news agenda and ensure 2015 is a year of political action and not reaction. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

‘It is time for the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and by extension the Government to take back the news agenda and ensure 2015 is a year of political action and not reaction. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

Political reform is the oft-spoken phrase that represents the solution to the increasing array of frustrations of the electorate with the political system. The polls continue to grow in favour of Independent candidates, with more and more people becoming disillusioned with mainstream political parties.

The democratic process demands that the politicians of the day move to keep up with the wishes of the people they are elected to serve. One of the constant criticisms directed towards this Government is the failure to use the very significant mandate to radically reform politics in Ireland.

It is time for the Taoiseach – and by extension the Government – to take back the news agenda and ensure 2015 is a year of political action and not reaction.

Real and meaningful political reform would provide the ideal start to the new year. The first three years of this Government did not provide occasion for political reform of the scale necessary, because a vicious cycle of fiscal crises and issues such as banking stability, job creation and renegotiation of our debt repayments – quite correctly in my view – took precedence.

In short, this Government did not have the luxury of reforming politics under the constant demands of the troika. I acknowledge the modest reforms to date but, clearly , these reforms go no way towards satisfying the electorate’s appetite for real reform.

Since my election in 2011, the parliamentary party has never voted to my knowledge on any issue other than to elect a colleague to some position within the party. This is hardly democracy at work.

Democracy in motion

Votes on policy and issues should be commonplace within every political party.

The reality is policy decisions are being taken by unelected people and the elected representatives are merely voting them through.

Some parties such as Sinn Féin take this model to a whole new height where all contributions are scripted by backroom hacks at local and national level – but that is a debate for another day.

Backbencher unease

I am not sure that Enda Kenny took any particular pleasure in the entire episode and, after 39 years in Dáil Éireann, understood all too well the invidiousness of having to make such decisions.

An obvious solution here is the selection of junior ministers by vote within the parliamentary party. The taoiseach of the day would still select senior ministers but junior ministers would be appointed by their colleagues within the party.

This would eliminate the accusations of favouritism that currently pervade such appointments, and would give members of the parliamentary party a more meaningful avenue to exercise their mandate.

The success or otherwise of such a departure from the norm would dictate whether a similar system should be introduced for the selection of senior ministers.

The whip system is also a feature of annoyance to many people who discuss politics. I appreciate the necessity of a whip system to ensure progressive governance. I believe that voting on all matters should be facilitated at parliamentary party level with ample opportunity for debate but, ultimately, the majority view is accepted and agreed on a party basis.

The application of such a continuous voting system for members of the party could be facilitated through the existing internal committees that are a feature of the Fine Gael party.

Backbench TDs would have to take a position on a wide range of issues and vote accordingly.

This would result in an increased workload for TDs and Senators, who would have to take individual positions on policy and budgetary matters as well as enhanced accountability to their electorate.

As always, enhanced rights will bring about increased responsibilities for every elected member. This would greatly enhance the current standing of the backbench members of parties and provide solace to those who despair of the present system. We owe it to society, politics and ourselves. Jim Daly is a Fine Gael TD from Cork Southwest and was first elected in 2011

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