Saturday, May 30, 2009

Is Politics Broken?

Politics is broken. I'm not talking about the tinkering around the edges, the numbers, the parties or even the corruption.

I'm talking about the seeming inability of elected politicians to be able to simply effect any change. That, after all is - or should be - why anyone goes into politics. I know there are some who go in for other reasons. Perhaps just because they can - maybe daddy passes them on a seat. Perhaps they like being in the spotlight. Perhaps they want to keep their party in power.

But most people I know go into politics because they believe they can make a difference. Make changes. And I don't think that's possible. Not where it matters anyway and thats in Dáil Éireann.

When TD's are running for election, they promise the world - and I guess maybe you have to on some level. But it must be the most frustrating thing to be a TD; to have promised the world; to believe in change; to want to deliver for your community.....only to be faced with a system that absolutely doesn't allow it. Not for the Opposition TDs. Not for back-benchers. Probably not even to any great extent for Ministers.

There is no way for TD's to individually make their mark, move their ideas or initiate any meaningful changes. Whether the party system has stifled it or it was ever there in the first place I don't know but it is broken and it needs fixing.

People need to have confidence that the TDs and the system that we are working under can reflect the changes that we as a society want. At the moment, the Dáil is an irrelevance - a circus sideshow not worth the time it takes to sit in the chamber (obvioused by the fact that so few bother to do so anyway).

It must be soul-destroying being so powerless in the most powerful - in theory - position in the land. No wonder TD's spend their time hoovering up local authority type requests - because they're the only thing they can actually deliver on - even though they've left the local authorities behind. It's why they run clinics. Because although they have a mandate to operate at national level - where are the mechanisms? Where can TD's initiate legislation or have it debated? Where can a single TD really engage with the public?

A real hard look needs to be taken at how the Dáil operates. It needs to become more relevant and flexible. It needs to give power to the people to whom the electorate have given power - the TD's and not just the 15 or so at the cabinet table. If TD's were actually able to make meaningful changes at national level I would hazard a guess that it wouldn't be long before they started getting their teeth into it (at least the ones who are in it to deliver change) and working on those national issues. I mean who would want to keep sorting out pot-holes when you can deliver on the big issues?

At local level, all elected Councillors - notwithstanding the odd inter-party clash - tend to work together on issues to deliver important things for their City or County or town. Why can not the Dáil or indeed the European Union operate like this? Why do Irish MEPs split up into different groupings in the EU and work against each other? Why are they not all on the same side? Why can TD's not initiate legislation on a cross party basis or even individually. Why can the Dáil not do 'what it says on the tin'? In extra-ordinary times, extra-ordinary measures are called for and choosing to go on in the same old way that we always have done is simply not good enough any more.

TD's need to work in a stimulating environment that is conducive to them being able to simply effect real change. Unless and until that happens, people will continue to be cynical and bored and disdainful of politics and politicians. And politicians will continue to be bored and un-inspired themselves.

Something needs to change and I would argue that it should be changed from within now, before its too late. TDs need to be allowed to work in the best interests of Ireland and the people who elect them and not merely serve as voting fodder in bewteen each election. They should all be required to deliver and the system should be changed to make sure that they do - and not the other way around as it seems to be at the moment.

Photo taken with Noel Dempsey, Minister for Transport - can national politicians really make a difference?

1 comment:

Richie said...

I can't argue with any of that at all. More and more you see younger TDs staring at the floor knowing full well they are tired of arguing the party line when realistically they believe the complete opposite. It will be interesting how those gathered at the parish pump treat their "returning heroes" from the Dáil over the summer recess. I expect a few government TDs will return to Dublin in the Autumn with some genuine fears for retaining their seats. A party badge is a heavy weight to carry this days, in some obvious cases.