Ah, the grand themes of life. Love. Death. And, during this election campaign, reform. Shame all the parties missed the boat on the latter yesterday.
As they launched their manifestos to an audience already suffering from guff fatigue, the parties outdid themselves in terms of how they would reform the political system. The Seanad is, according to all sides, the root of all evil and to be abolished, its inhabitants taken out, flogged and crucified for their part in creating the current catastrophic situation (the fact that they had little or nothing to do with it won’t be enough to save them).
Most will reduce the number of TDs, increase the number of days they sit and make them account for every last cent of taxpayers money, down to the last bus ticket- we can expect to see plenty more politicians on the busses now, as most of them will remove ministerial cars as well.
But all parties seemed to have missed the essence of why Irish politics fails, and why a dysfunctional band of shysters and gombeen men were allowed to bankrupt the country to protect their friends. In Ireland it doesn’t matter who you elect; as soon as they step into that chamber, their voice has no chance of being heard.
From the posters blowing around in the gale force winds, Irish people would be forgiven for thinking that when they give their vote to the poster boy or girl of one of the parties, that person would actually go to Dáil Eireann and represent them. What actually happens is that the elected representative turns up and gets told how to vote by the party whip- it doesn’t matter who they are, they either toe the line or the next gombeen in the queue will be occupying the poster space in the next election.
Your elected representatives are thus turned into talking heads- interchangeable, disposable, there to fill a quorum and nothing more.
Not only does this have the direct effect of neutering the voter and silencing them instantly, it forces the politicians to find another way of making it up to them; hence they fire medical cards around like drunken blackjack dealers before hiring a Bangalore call centre to make representations on behalf of every constituent plagued by a pothole. It’s wrong, and it doesn’t work.
Michael Martin laughably said yesterday that there were no sound bytes in the FF manifesto, before spending a good half-hour churning them out. Among them was “there is too much localisation in Irish politics”, but in fact the opposite is true; a politician is virtually helpless to assist his or her constituents with all but the most mundane issues.
And as far as expenses goes, it’s another red herring. What ministers earn is probably too much, and judging by the mess Cowen and Lenihan made of the economy, they should owe us something in the region of €86 billion rather than getting paid for their incompetence. Personally, I don’t care what car they are driven around in or what they get paid, as long as they do an excellent job in a clear, transparent and accountable manner. A job worthy of the people of this country, not Germany.
I don’t want to be paying a Finance minister to go over his expenses in minute detail, checking every €20 taxi receipt to see if it was business or personal- he has far more important things to be doing, and I’d rather he spend his time finding a way for us to thumb our noses at the IMF. But should it be the case that he is claiming a few to many taxi receipts, I want him to be able to account for them.
This goes for anyone paid from the public purse, such as Stephen Kearon, who was paid over €3000 for web hosting and IT services; even though a Twitter experiment has shown that registering a domain name, building, hosting and maintaining a web site shouldn’t cost more than about €50, he doesn’t see the need to explain where the money went. Maybe his former mentor, Dick Roche, can be held accountable for that by his party whip.
In a well-functioning representative democracy, there is no need to go around abolishing things and slashing budgets- simply allow the elected representatives to do what they are paid to do. And for the voter, that means voting with their conscience and behalf of their constituency instead of being a nodding donkey that toes the party line.