The Democratic Deficit – offering Solutions

June 14, 2007 at 11:21 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

As I indicated last week, I would address four key issues facing our country and seek to propose practical solutions rather than simply outline further grievances. I will start with the democratic deficit.

There can be no doubt that there is a serious democratic deficit in the country. Just walk around and talk to people in our expanding new housing estates or in the small communities of rural Ireland. People everywhere feel that they personally cannot participate meaningfully in the decisions which directly affect their lives. Whether that be regarding playgrounds, schools, healthcare, anti-social behaviour or farming practices, very many people feel alienated from the democratic process which is meant to serve them. Vested interests and those with influence and money seem to decide everything. Politics is experienced as a mildly amusing spectator sport populated by politicians who operate on the basis of personal favours and strokes rather than rights and accountability.

This needs to change. We need a radical democratic renewal. Elsewhere on this blog I have analysed some of our deeper, structural democratic defects. Here, let me outline some immediate practical proposals.

Local Government

  • Directly elected County and Town Mayors, serving fixed four-year terms and exercising most of the powers of the County and Town Managers.
  • Annual local budgets under the control of the elected Mayor.
  • Establishment of community and neighbourhood councils with diect liaison to Mayor regarding budgets and local development plans.
  • Compulsory pre-planning requirements for developers of large projects to consult with local communities directly affected by their projects.

National Government

  • A standing Corruption Investigation Body with the power to investigate any allegation of corruption against an elected representative or public office holder.
  • A standing Oireachtas Petitions’ Committee to receive petitions from citizens on any possible breach of the law.
  • Dail reform to ensure that power is re-balanced towards the legislature rather than the executive. There needs to be more questions, more accountability and more capacity for legislation to be initiated by individual deputies. The Westminster model needs to be reformed so that, for example, the executive can be defeated on proposed legislation without having to resign.
  • Major Seanad reform. A second house of the legislature is of value but its electorate needs radical expansion. Thus the number of nominating bodies should be expanded and updated, members of those bodies should be permitted to vote and all third-level graduates should be able to vote in the ‘third-level’ constituency.

Finally, a word on myself. I am deeply conscious of the irony of running in a constituency that is archaic and elitist. However, all I can do is take the constitutional situation as I find it and use the opportunity presented to make an argument as best as I can. That after all is at the core of my idea of politics – making arguments and seeking support.

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