Richard Bruton has returned to the limelight this afternoon with a news at one appearance to slam Tom Parlon over the handling of the decentralisation programme (apparantly only a max of 10% of projects will be done on time). The announcement of the impending failure and subsequent opportunity to raise a divisive issue will suit FG no end. Their benevolent leader has made a number of Human appearances recently and looks every bit a man who believes power within his grasp. Otherwise that Restaurant appearance last night was a total waste of time.
However the raising of this issue allows us to reflect on the broader issue (pdf) which was alluded to in the briefing papers from the democracy commission on 29 June. The fact is that, while the whole scheme of decentralisation smacks of jobs for the constituents and is in fact understandable in light of who was making the decisions, decentralisation is going to be of zero benefit to our democracy not our political system. It merely introduces greater land distance between departments of state which will still be doing the same job only in "local" areas. The Kerry CoCo will not be running the Dept of Tourism just because it will be in Kilarney.
What was missed in the whole idea of decentralisation was the opportunity to turn local administration into real and effective local government, as is the ideal of a republic. There is little excuse for the carve up that went on at cabinet when the scheme was introduced and a serious government would have charged an independent body with the programme. That is neither here nor there however when Charlie could have been sending the Mandarins to Local authorities to instigate new and sweeping powers which would have decentralised the whole political system and process.
People often dont understand why it is so important to increase local government, the issue here is that by doing this we are sharing out a power which now lies almost exclusively in the hands of our executive. An increase in the relevance and power of local authority would make government more accountable to local people and more collective in its decision making. The free reign to look after constituencies would dissipate rapidly and a new dynamic of cooperation with regional groups replace it.
The big loser in the process of decentralisation is our Democracy and one doesnt read anywhere in Bruton's lament that the scheme itself is flawed in concept.
If we accept Subsidiarity at EU level then we should accept it at national level. Public services will not improve because of a change of scenery, they will improve when the actors closest to the issues at hand utilise power and funding to quickly implement solutions. Also the nature of local govenrment authority in this country tends to be more coalition led in chambers around the state. This promotes consensus politics and makes it difficult to centralise power in one organ or party.
The reenforcement of local government is and must be the corner stone of 21st century irish republicanism. Our current model is stale and missing the issues for nearly 40% of our electorate who dont vote. WE need to wake up and change.
In my view decentralisation is not the answer to our democratic defecit only to satisfy constituencies for the ministers.