Thursday, 18 February 2010

Your Country Your Call

Nat O'Connor: In the spirit of Kennedy, asking us to think of what we can do for our country, President McAleese has launched a national competition: Your Country Your Call.

"Your Country, Your Call gives you the chance to share your creativity to give life to new industry, revitalise or revolutionise an existing market, or even change the way we do business entirely. It's not about creating new products. It's about creating something that will make a long term positive impact on the future of Ireland, its people, and its economy"

Rather aptly, the competition website has a 'ticking clock' with 72 days allowed for entries. The top 20 ideas will be listed and two final winners will receive €500,000 and other support to implement their ideas.

You can read more about it in the Examiner or Irish Times (which also summarised the competition rules).

This competition is an open door to give some progressive ideas a wider hearing...


Paul Hunt said...

Just what we need. Bread and circuses to distract from the fundamental problems in the design, scrutiny, amendment, implementation and review of public policy. We elect politicians to establish governance that will protect and enhance the well-being of all citizens. In performing this duty they have failed - and the First Citizen's response is to sponsor a competition they will help to distract attention from their failure and their attempt to return to their old games. Even the Government wouldn't have the brass neck and gall to kick-off a ruse like this.

The best way to respond to this ruse is to subvert it by proposing a comprehensive reform of the system of democratic governance that will generate economic and social policies in the interests of all citizens.

Anonymous said...

@Nat O'Connor
Ireland's current rulers are an aristocracy. Laws and standards are for the little people.

Suppose during an election campaign a newpaper journalist had slandered an FF minister in an interview to a local paper. Suppose the local paper had published a story on it. Suppose the minister had sought an injunction. Suppose the journalist had then sworn a mistaken affidavit a month later denying they had said the sort of comments it would be unbelievable to forget saying. Suppose the minister's injunction was refused. The election then took place.

Then suppose that some months after the election the journalist had been forced to concede that they had made the statement and had to apologise unreservedly, concede their sworn affidavit was incorrect and pay damages.
Would the journalist have kept their job? No way.

Irish politicians impose much higher standards on the media than they obey themselves, just like an aristocracy.

Proposition Joe said...

Would the journalist have kept their job?

More's the question, would that journalist have kept their liberty?

The likelihood is that the DPP would have considered it in the public interest that such an errant journalist should face trail for perjury. Once the tape was played in open court, surely the jury would be rail-roaded into a quick conviction. The learned judge would then no doubt consider the journalist's actions an affront to the very fabric of our system of justice, with a custodial sentence being the only reasonable outcome. And said journalist would soon learn first-hand all about the rigours of slopping out in the 'Joy.

Anonymous said...

@Proposition Joe
There is the precedent of the journalist who was the only one to face jail as a result of the Beef Tribunal. Then there was the relentless pursuit of The Irish Times to get them to reveal the sources for an article.

Changing the government will not be enough. We need to transform the governance because there is something very rotten in the state of Ireland.

Anonymous said...

@Paul Hunt
This doesn't inspire much confidence either:

“Names of top 10 borrowers in first wave of Nama transfers revealed”.
This is another list.
“The Anglo 10″.
3 names on both. Gerry Gannon, Gannon Homes and Co-owner of K Club, Joe O’Reilly, Dundrum Shopping Centre, Paddy McKillen, Jervis Shopping Centre.

Oliver Vandt said...

Ryanair have thrown down the gauntlet to the government.

There is a real sense that everyone in the country has reached their limit with this government.

Paul Hunt said...


I agree that all this seems to flesh out the charge sheet, but the President is looking for "something that will make a long term impact on the future of Ireland, its people, amd its economy." I'm suggesting we offer her a programme for comprehensive reform of democratic governance. That is the most effective and positive way of addressing the issues you raise.

Oliver Vandt said...

@Paul Hunt
The civil society rebellion gathers pace. From RTE:

"Meanwhile, a Green Party activist has now made a formal complaint to gardaí about the actions of Minister O'Dea.

Gary Fitzgerald told RTÉ he made the complaint in the Bridewell Garda Station in Dublin, claiming that the discrepancy between Mr O'Dea's sworn statement to the High Court and the transcript of his earlier remarks to a newspaper reporter indicated that perjury had been committed."

Ryanair backs up here:
And here:

What they say here:

Slí Eile said...

@All A change of Government? Lets be careful about the alternative.

concerning the initiative Your Country Your Call - a good initiative. However, there is also a much, much bigger issue - the need for a fundamental change in the direction of social and economic policy allied to a fundamental reform to create a living democracy. It will take a long, long time and lots of setbacks to move in this direction - gradually. The role of political economy is to understand the interactions and provide a basis for change.

Paul Hunt said...

@Sli Eile,

You seem to share the common "left/progressive" fear of an early general election. The people, almost certainly, will give, what for your and your comrades is, the "wrong answer" - an FG/Labour combination. The preference is to continue the Long March to achieve a left/progressive majority among the voters.

This is profoundly anti-democratic. It expresses a desire to punish the people for being unpersuaded by the left/progressive case. Does it never strike you that a majority may never be peruaded? And that they have an inalienable right to choose not to be persuaded? Or that a majority may even be in the right to choose not to be persuaded?

And the anti-democratic implications of this stance are even more damaging. The perfectly legiimate long-term aspiration to establish a left/progressive majority is accompanied by a desire to replace the current tyranny with an alternative - without a commitment to reform of the system of democratic governance.

Those who are in a position to do so and fail to take action to remove this utterly discredited Government are even more culpable than those who support it reflexively. And, eventually, the people will pass judgement accordingly.

Slí Eile said...

@ Paul Hunt The concern is not about a general election but the range of choices on offer. For many the choice is essentially the same as it has been through many decades. Prediction. FF will sweep to power with an overall majority in 2017.

Paul Hunt said...

@Sli Ele,

If you - and other principal contributors on this site - genuinely believe that history will repeat itself (1957, 1977, 1987, 1997, 2017?), then we might as well all fold our tents and disappear into the night. We are not at a "game-changing" point in Irish history; this is a "game-shifting" point. The implosion of the false, government-fuelled boom and the collapse of the banking system has had an effect on the body politic similar to the 1916 Rising. (And this implosion and collapse have been accompanied by a crisis in the Catholic Church.) The difference between then and now is that we had partiots then to provide leadership both to allow the people, democratically, to break the psychological and political stranglehold of the British Empire and to act to break its military stranglehold.

FG and Labour are locked into a failed system of democratic governance. They believe they cannot pursue extra-parliamentary activities in the interests of the people. They can only seek to effect reform from within. There is some evidence that FG is moving in this direction. Labour (and others on the left) needs to engage with FG and, jointly, forge a programme of comprehensive reform of the system of democratic governance.

In parallel to this, the union movement and progressives (as the largest and most cohesive force in civil society) needs to mobilise popular support to force the removal of this Government. The longer it continues in power the more damage that will be done and the more difficult it will prove to repair.

Demonising FG as a party of the right, of free, unregulated markets, of worker exploitation may be emotionally satisfying, but it is a caricature and does not reflect a much more complex reality. Engagement will lead, inevitably, to compromise, but this is the price to secure power to make the changes that are in the interests of the Irish people and that will secure their consent and approval.

This is the challenge: by 2016 the Irish people will have governance and a system of democratic governance to secure a brighter, more prosperous and socially just future.

Do we have the courage to rise to this challenge?

Oliver Vandt said...

@Sli Eile
It is very hard to see an issue that will force the GP to leave office. There is NO issue that will cause FF to leave office. Therefore we need civil society to stand against them.

I hope that the Left can then drive reform and that FG will assist them. There will be huge resistance - much of it from FG and conservative insiders of all political beliefs. But with relentless determination we can become Sweden, or Canada, or something in between. If we transform governance the structures for ever better performance will exist. If we transform services demonstrable performance will drive ever higher expectations for improvement.

The Left need to give us more, to teach us to expect more, and above all, to give us the structures to ensure we never have to settle for less again.

An Saoi said...

@ Paul H - The replacement of the current Government with a Fine Gael dominated one would not lead to any major changes in policy. The Labour Party would very quickly find themselves in much the same position as the Greens.

When it came to the bank guarantee Fine Gael trooped in with Fianna Fáil. The dominant elements inside FG, in particular that element which has been hand fed by the US Republican party, Dr Leo, Ms. Creighton, Deasy etc. represent a very clear swing back to the right.

Fianna Fáil needs just to retain enough seats after the next election to rebuild, about 50 seats should be enough. They will be aided in the clear out by changes in Dáil pension rules that kick in after the next election. Many current office holders will opt for early retirement rather than scrape along on €92,000 pa and expenses. This will give the party a chance to break the link with the current regime.

Sharing power with Fine Gael, with a weak leader and lots of young very right wing backbenchers with little chance of preferment will not be easy. Tensions will be awful from day one and as lots of last seats in constituencies next time will be between FG & Labour, trouble will never be far from the surface.

In fact given a choice, governing with a much weakened Fianna Fáil would make much more sense for the Labour Party. Fine Gael with around 70 seats, which is quite possible if the PR breaks go their way, would strike me as being impossible. For example, no coherent change in taxation would be possible because of the entrenched interests of FG's core supporters, even with Joan Burton as Minister for Finance.

Paul Hunt said...

@An Saoi,

Many thanks for your forthright response. I agree that your diagnosis has considerable merit, both strathegically and tactically, from the perspective of the Labour Party, the Union movement and the broader left. It is clear that Mr. Gilmore has, not unrealistic, ambitions to be Taoiseach of a government formed from a resurgent Labour Party and a suitably chastened and cleansed Fianna Fail party. It is also a fact that many union members are FF voters.

Since I have no dog in this fight, I have no comment on your views about the problems with an FG/Labour combination. However, where I do have a problem with your diagnosis is the fact that there is no focus on what, for me, is the key challenge. And this is the reform of the system of democratic governance to ensure an effective separation of the legislature and the executive and that policy is designed, scrtinised, amended, implemented and reviewed in an effective manner. However well-intentioned, replacing the current FF-Green coalition with a Lab-FF coalition will simply replace one tyranny with another.

Nat O`Connor said...

— Paul Hunt,
"the key challenge... is the reform of the system of democratic governance to ensure an effective separation of the legislature and the executive and that policy is designed, scrtinised, amended, implemented and reviewed in an effective manner."

I agree.

Separation of the legislature and executive is always difficult in parliamentary systems - but one step we could take (which almost every other EU country takes) is to use external ministers. Indeed, it is illegal for MPs in the Netherlands to be ministers.

The advantage is a clear separation of powers. Plus the legislature (especially committees) get much better at holding external ministers to account. Even though they're Government appointees, they are more removed than party colleagues (and hence 'fair game').

In our case, the Taoiseach could appoint up to two individuals to the Seanad, and then make them ministers. No referendum needed, but quite a bit of PR required - not least to end the nonsensical idea that a TD from every city or region has to 'get a ministry'.

Further possible reform would include more systematic and timely publication of various Government documents, including the cabinet agenda and minutes.

Also, Oireachtas committees could be given more power, including research staff and a secretariat.

Some legislation required maybe, but the Constitution does not have to be changed. The parties in power simply have to decide to be more open and more democratic.

Paul Hunt said...

@Nat O'Connor,

Thank you for your positive response. You have set out a very sensible - but challenging - programme of reform. Indeed, I would go further and assert that how policy is designed, scrutinised, etc., is as important as, if not more important than, what policies are designed, etc. But you put your finger on the fatal flaw - "parties in power have to be more open and more democratic". If they get into power, it's the nature of the beast that they won't. They need to campaign on that basis in a general election - and then be held to account.

It's the only way we can avoid a repetition of the GUBU decade from 1977 (and the pain that followed) and of the current economic and financial debacle. Once a government can marshall the lobby fodder in the Dail it becomes an elective dictatorship with the full machinery of government at its command. This is nothing other than tyranny. Ireland and the UK are unique among parliamentary democracies in this respect - and even some minimal reform of parliament is being considered in Britain at the moment.

A properly functioning system of democratic governance is messy and often inefficient, but there is no better way. The Irish system is broken and the Irish people deserve better. It is incumbent on all of us who care about the future of the Irish people to push the political classes to initiate the required programme of refrom.

Anonymous said...

You have tested it and writing form your personal experience or you find some information online?