Sunday, 29 November 2009

Paper by Niamh Hardiman - Impact of the Crisis on the Irish Political System

Slí Eile: The paper by Niamh Hardiman last Thursday has been widely acclaimed as a signficant contribution to the debate on political economy. You can download it here.


Sean Faughnan said...

@Slí. A very fine paper.

Ireland’s political system is largely based on the British Westminster model of government, a form of government which was enshrined in de Valera’s 1937 Constitution. It is characterised by three principal features: 1) A Bicameral Parliament with two Chambers; 2) A strong Executive and a relatively weak Legislature; and 3) A highly centralised State.

While this system of government helped establish a modern democracy in Ireland, it is now outdated and needs radical change. Modern Ireland cannot be governed effectively by a system designed to meet the needs of 19th Century Britain.

Since WW2, almost all the countries of Europe have radically reformed their political institutions by introducing new constitutions, updating their electoral systems and changing their government structures. Even in the UK, there have been some important political reforms, especially the move towards devolved Parliaments in Wales, Scotland and the UK.

In Ireland, by contrast, there has been little or no reform of our political institutions. I think that Niamh’s report shows clearly that we cannot stick with the status quo.

Paul Hunt said...

It is, indeed, a fine paper. But the Government has absolutely no interest in engaging, or incentive to engage, in this debate. The main opposition parties may make appropriate noises, but, in reality, they can't wait to get their grubby hands on the unreformed levers of power. Any meaningful debate that will lead to proposals for reform on which the people can decide will have to be initiated and sustained by the government of the day. And we know what the chances are of that happening.

James Conran said...

Funnily enough my main take away point from the paper is not "reform is urgent" but "let's think about reform - what we want to achieve and how to achieve it - before we leap".

Also - while there are clearly continities between the 19th century British systm of government and the Irish (and British) one today, the idea that our institutions have not been substantially (indeed radically) changed since then is obviously a bit of an exaggeration.

Sean said...

@ James. Most political scientists and historians accept that the system established in 1922 was very heavily influenced by the UK system - the biggest difference being the adoption of a written constitution (which I acknowledge is a major difference).

It seems to me that the biggest change since 1922 was the replacement of the Governor General by a President - but this was largely driven by changes in Ireland's external relationship with the UK, rather than a desire for institutional innovation. However, the largely ceremonial role of the President has much more in common with the role played by the Queen in the UK, rather than the Presidential models on the Continent or the US.

Apart from that, I believe that most other elements of our system are modeled closely on the UK system - not totally but mostly, and with adaptations for Ireland, of course. I'm not saying there has not been change - I would argue that compared to other countries (including the UK), the change has been incremental at best and glacial at worst.

It can be argued that social partnership is the biggest innovation in the Irish system - but this process stands outside the formal structures of the Irish political system.

Would be very interested to know where you see the radical changes in our political system.