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Dail Reform?

1.25.2006

Labour have gotten into a bit of a dilly of a pickle recently ned, what with all the quotas, 78% and work permits. So its time for a wonderfully distracting and mutually beneficial joint-proposal with Fine Gael. The proposal is the perennial opposition bug-bear of Dail reform.

For a cynic the game works like this, the Government always get the best of the Dail's workings. Its a side effect of running a westminster style system with fusion of powers. Government just happens to be further strengthened by the particular rules and traditions of the Dail. A quote which is well worth quoting at any juncture in Dail reform talk is Basil Chubb's "[the Dail is a] puny parliament peopled by members who have a modest view of their functions and a poor capacity to carry them out".

Thus the game is that the opposition is fated to complain about the structure of the Dail and how harmful it is to the proper conduct of Irish democracy. Any proposals which aim at bettering it, we are promised, will be enacted just as soon as they have a majority. It seems that apart from a brief foray into committee systems in 1992 these promises go unfulfiled. No surprise that once an opposition becomes a government they would prefer less questions.

With that in mind I cruised on down, in a cynical frame of mind, to Rabbitte's latest press release which looked purpose built to get Labour into more liberal territory and on a safer footing with a party uncomfortable with the work permit idea.

My first reaction was, 'what no CSPAN?'. My fundamental belief is that the Dail can become as technically proficient as it pleases. Irish democracy will be served well by a departure toward responsible parliamentary government which can satisfy the desires of the citizenry. All the proficiency in the world will make up for two fundamental flaws in the system.
1.) Our TDs are woeful performers. Ive seen them live and on TV and, yes, they are as bad as they look.
2.)The coverage of the Dail in the media is of such an exclusive and technical nature as to preclude meaningful engagement with it by the electorate. Until such time as broadcasting rules are relaxed and options considered for demonstrating the Dail daily through the media reforms will only be partly effective.

On the whole the rest look like some goos house keeping measures with some seriously original ideas (well this is the first time Ive heard them).
Some pointers (my points in italics):

1.Recesses should be significantly shorter.
This is the perennial gambit of an opposition and in a PR-STV system in such a small country dont count on anything of the sort being proposed in government. Its impossible to get it past backbenchers who count on the time to preen constituencies.

2.The sitting time of the Dail should be extended to four meaningful days a week.
Good call. It would also help to wean local constituencies off their addiction to local party presence in the form of the TD. Local issues need to be for local councils.

3.Leaders questions should be taken on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with compensation to the Taoiseach for the extra day being shorter questioning periods.
Sorry, if once is enough in the UK then twice would be fine here if someone worked it out properly. Perhaps a more open question time for 45 minutes on Tuesday and Wednesday. Fully televised and publicisied. It could become a center piece for democratic exchange. More quantity with less quality does no good to the people or the cause
.

4.The time allocated to oral questions should be increased and as a quid-pro-quo there might be a reduction in the number of oral questions being submitted.(More that 90% are not reached.)
A little bit of a pint of wha yer having yerself.

5. Private Members Time should be expanded. The additional time should be allocated on a lottery basis to individual members (including government backbenchers) on a lottery basis. This would be unnecessary in the broader sense if leaders questions was reformed. However the extension of private members time is a nice idea it is likely to become 'local constituent gripe time' unless properly regulated in the Standing Orders.

6. A reform of adjournment debate rules to include topical debates and cease current practices under SO 31.
Housekeeping which would give a nice impression that TDs could act out of the interests of a better parliament. As such Ill believe it when I see it.


So there you go, there are a few more proposals which I decided not to bother on really. The proposal is an attempt to engage with the dilemma which, to my mind, poses serious threat to well-functioning democracy. That is the issue of a solid parliament responsive to the electorates inclinations and general view of government and able to exercise some form of oversight on government.

There is a cyncial part of me which will not cease to mutter that this is another installment of the age-old game played by opposition parties when a vote comes near.
Still there are some seriously good ideas here which would give parliamentarians the chance to operate on a higher plane than that currently afforded by the jaded SOs of the Dail.

I will have to reiterate though that all this good thinking and possibly action comes to nought if there is not adequete provision made to being to stimulate the wider electorate in democratic activity through deregulation of broadcasting procedures and opening up of the Dail to our eyes. We deserve to see, to know and to judge.

RR
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  1. Blogger Simon | 12:34 a.m. |  

    A few points
    The sitting time of the Dail should be extended to four meaningful days a week.
    That is all well and good for the dublin TDs but what about the donegal and kerry. They are going to have to spend alot of times away from their families and constituents. It will either result in them having to buy flats in Dublin or not go into the dail.

    Leaders questions should be taken on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with compensation to the Taoiseach for the extra day being shorter questioning periods.
    Sorry, if once is enough in the UK then twice would be fine here if someone worked it out properly. Perhaps a more open question time for 45 minutes on Tuesday and Wednesday. Fully televised and publicisied. It could become a center piece for democratic exchange. More quantity with less quality does no good to the people or the cause.


    Still though do we want the taoiseach to govern or answer questions. We have to give him time to do his job.

    But more dail on telly. seemingly TG4 is going to be doing the dail channel when they go digital.

  2. Blogger Cian | 8:21 a.m. |  

    MMM, i mentioned that increasing the hours has an effect on local politics. However it may be a good thing in that it weans the local constituency off of excessive addictions to their TD local politics can be decentralised to local councils.

    Your right on Leaders Qs. I would prefer less days with more quality. Aiming for a format which allowed backbenchers as well as leaders to pose questions would be better for democracy, probably.
    RR

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