Fintan O'Toole's proposals for a 'republican revolution'

borntorum

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I wouldn't class myself as Fintan O'Toole's biggest fan - while he writes some very perceptive articles, much of his work consists of dressing up pretty banal observations in flowery language and all-embracing meta-theories. However, he has a new book published, "Enough is Enough", and there was an excerpt from it in the Irish Times last Saturday (isn't it nice to have such accommodating employers?;))

He suggests some radical changes that could be made to help introduce a genuinely representative democracy, and focuses on the role of local government:

Change in the political system has to start with local democracy. But the creation of real local government opens the way to the creation of a real national parliament. It puts the parish pump back where it belongs: in the parish. That in turn forces the Oireachtas to clarify exactly what it is for.

For a start, with local issues handled at local level, the Dáil can be both smaller and more efficient. Exact numbers can be argued over, but it is hard to see why the Dáil needs more than 100 members.
And he wisely recommends the replacement of the current STV voting system, with a 50/50 split between FPTP and a list:

For the Dáil the most viable alternative is probably what’s called the additional member system (AMS). The basic idea is simple enough. About half the seats in parliament are elected in a straightforward first-past-the-post system in each constituency. But the citizen has a second vote for the other half. This is a national PR election for candidates on competing (usually party) lists.

Effectively, the national-list seats balance out the disproportional effect of the first-past-the-post vote. The one serious drawback of the system is that it works against independent candidates, who are effectively forced to form groups in order to complete under the list system. (On the other hand, small parties can do well under the system: in Scotland the Greens got 2 per cent of the vote in the 2010 Scottish parliament elections and the same proportion of seats: two.) But this is surely a price worth paying for the considerable benefits of greatly reducing clientelism and creating a new category of national politicians who are not dependent on constituency work.
He also recommends quotas for women, which I used to oppose but am coming around to the necessity for, given the pitiful representation of females in the Oireachtas. His suggestion on how to implement such a quote system is shrewd:

The best way to create quotas is not through complex legislation but through financial penalties. Most of the money on which political parties run comes directly from the State. Under a list system it is far easier for those parties to ensure that their lists (drawn up by the national organisations) are gender- balanced. Parties should get all their current state money if they have a list that is 50 per cent women. They should be docked proportionally as their number of women on the list falls below 50 per cent. Below 30 per cent and they get nothing.
This would prevent a situation where a party which, for whatever reason, did not believe in prioritising women candidates would be legally unable to express its freely held beliefs and and to campaign on that basis. However, it is reasonable for the state to introduce incentives to encourage behaviour that it believes is worthwhile.

He further suggests that Oireachtas committees be given real powers of investigation, and that civil servants be held publicly responsible for mistakes made by them, rather than hiding behind the Minister of their department.

The article finishes with 30 key steps to take which will improve our democracy. Some are humdrum or pie in the sky ("Replace GDP as the primary measure of progress with a well-being index":roll:), but others are vital.

1 Establish a genuine system of local democracy. Introduce a property tax to fund it.

2 Transfer the useful functions of quangos to local councils.

3 Bring in legally binding national standards for planning and development and give the National Spatial Strategy statutory status.


7 End the fiction that Ministers are responsible for everything that happens in their departments. Make them responsible for decisions they take and for information they ought to know. Make senior civil servants responsible for the decisions they take.

8 Restore the right of the Oireachtas to inquire into all activities involving the use of public money.

9 Make all appointments to state and public boards open to public competition and subject to Oireachtas scrutiny.

10 Reduce the size of the Dáil to 100 members.

11 Either make the Seanad representative of civil society, social partners and the new local councils within a short time frame or abolish it.

12 Change the Dáil electoral system to the additional-member system.

13 Introduce a gender quota of at least 30 per cent, to be enforced by reducing public payments to political parties by the degree to which they fail to introduce gender balance.


16 Radically curtail tax incentives for private pensions and stop putting money into the National Pension Reserve Fund. Use the money to increase the state pension for everyone to 40 per cent of pre-retirement income.

17 Switch spending from both social-welfare rent supplements and tax breaks for landlords to the provision of decent social housing.

18 Introduce a national system of social health insurance, abolishing the two-tier health system and radically reducing the size of the Health Service Executive.


20 Charge university fees to those who can afford them. Increase grants for those who are currently excluded.


22 Identify children at risk of failure from an early age and intervene immediately with personal and family supports.

23 Make the pay of those at the top a fixed percentage of that of those at the bottom.

24 Bring taxes up to average European levels. Reduce tax breaks to average EU levels, saving more than €5 billion.

26 Give coherent legislative protection to bona-fide whistleblowers.

27 Restore the Freedom of Information Act to its former status.

30 Ban all significant private donations to political parties and force all registered parties to publish full annual accounts.
Enough of the gombeen politics: it's time for a republican revolution - The Irish Times - Sat, Oct 30, 2010

It is bemusing and depressing that even though it is clear that much of our current trouble arises from our dysfunctional democratic system, there is no talk from the political class at all of fundamental reform (other than the window-dressing FG proposal to close the Seanad). FOT deserves credit for trying to open a wide-ranging discussion on what needs to be done to ensure that the sort of special interest pleasing and gombeenism of the Bertie years is never repeated.
 


jmcc

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So is this Tintin's run for the presidency?

Regards...jmcc
 

GDPR

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The "list" system.

Beloved by those (like Fintan) who crave to wield the political power, but couldn't face the possibility of rejection of the ballot box.
 

Future

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"Enough is Enough", ************************ OFF Fintan
 

borntorum

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The "list" system.

Beloved by those (like Fintan) who crave to wield the political power, but couldn't face the possibility of rejection of the ballot box.
That's true, actually. If it was set up badly it would be a handy number for unelectable back-room hacks.

But if every party had to publish its list in advance, it would give people an opportunity to vote for candidates who are perhaps more talented than the current parish pump primers, but who understandably don't want to spend their whole lives buying raffle tickets in the parish hall and going to funerals.

No system is perfect. But I think the 50/50 mix holds out the possibility of, if not the best of both worlds, at least a decent compromise
 

ellie08

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Some very good ideas from FOT. Unfortunately, Bertie paid them ALL so well in the Dail that there is no need for them to reform a system that is so lucrative for them.
 

tempest

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I'm no fan of O'Toole, but I'd vote for that manifesto in a heartbeat.

We have to give new ideas a fair chance and end this national pass time of talking about change while cynically dismissing any new ideas as unworkable at the same time!

If anyone who goes to the trouble of thinking out real solutions to our huge problems they deserve fair debate or we will never promote the change and leadership we desire.
 

Sync

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Seems alright until you get to point ... emmm ... 1.

A working system of local government with its own independent funding is a recipe for massive corruption given the current electorate.

We need some very far-reaching change in our political culture.
I agree on the failings of the electorate, but that doesn't mean what O'Toole's laid out here isn't something to aspire to. Which is quite a nice thing to have in a president.
 

Jack White

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Aaah, the spirit of Bloomsbury.

Is Tintin O'Foole just a condescending chattering-class know-all ? Or has he ever addressed in print the issue of the low calibre of electorate in this country ?

We are, on the whole, a low-grade electorate. This is a problem.

Therefore why not incentivise on a John Stuart Mill (I think) basis - extra voting rights for the politically competent ? We demand competence of our representatives, why not of ourselves and each other ?

I look at Hoctor, Sweary, the Class Act, Mata, or O'Rourke and I wonder what gender has had to do with anything ?

And is the disincentivisation of political dynasties any less desirable than gender quotas ? It's no less arbitrary.

A maximum number of teachers or solicitors in the Dail ? No less arbitrary.

How about quotas based on income levels, or socioeconomic strata ?

That would be representative.
 

Clanrickard

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The "list" system.

Beloved by those (like Fintan) who crave to wield the political power, but couldn't face the possibility of rejection of the ballot box.
Or don't think TDs should looking down potholes on boreens, filling passport forms and writing letters on behalf of constituents.

"Enough is Enough", ************************ OFF Fintan
No fan of TOT but at least he comes up with new ideas. What ideas have you?

I look at Hoctor, Sweary, the Class Act, Mata, or O'Rourke and I wonder what gender has had to do with anything ?

And is the disincentivisation of political dynasties any less desirable than gender quotas ? It's no less arbitrary.

A maximum number of teachers or solicitors in the Dail ? No less arbitrary.

How about quotas based on income levels, or socioeconomic strata ?

That would be representative.
Good point. If you bring in quotes for women there will be demands for quotas for disabled, non-whites, protestants etc. There is no evidence that more women means the country would be run any better.
 

sondagefaux

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Seems alright until you get to point ... emmm ... 1.

A working system of local government with its own independent funding is a recipe for massive corruption given the current electorate.
A system of local government which is funded through locally-set levels of taxation is a recipe for accountability.

At present, local councils are funded largely through funds provided by central government and charges (rates, development levies etc) on businesses.

The vast majority of people who live in a local council area see no connection between the taxes they pay and the services provided by their local council.

If there was an immediate and direct connection between the two, people would see how their local tax money is being spent.

This proposal, combined with similar restraints on the possibility of bad behaviour (and penalties, including fines and imprisonment, for such behaviour) by local councillors as those which exist in Britain, would bring real reform to Irish local government.

If planning is more or less taken out of the hand of councillors (point 3), then the scope for corruption is removed.

I'd go further than his point 3 and remove power over all planning and rezoning decisions from local councils, giving them to a much expanded An Bord Pleanala instead.

Local councillors have shown themselves unfit to participate in the planning process.

We need some very far-reaching change in our political culture.
And making local councillors accountable and responsible for their actions would be a great start. It's much harder to hide waste and mismanagement of taxpayers' money at local level if the money being spent locally is also raised locally.

Getting rid of TDs who act as glorified councillors would also be a far-reaching change. The present electoral system encourages TDs to act as glorified councillors much of the time. If they don't, the electorate punishes them. Give local councillors power and people will turn to them for help with local issues.

A national list system for the election of 50% of TDs would mean that at least half of all TDs were elected in the national interest and would gain electoral advantage from operating in the national interest, instead of operating mainly at a parish pump level of politics. Open-list systems, where voters can rank the candidates put forward on a party list according to the voters' preference instead of the parties' preferences, would ensure that voters would have much more influence over who gets elected rather than parties.
 

blacbloc

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Fintan O' Toole on blistering form about the rank hypocrisy of politicians

A gem of an article in today's IT - fat ministers on fatter salaries calling for 'hard choices' to be made by them on behalf of everyone else. Well says O' Toole, we are prepared to make sacrifices but not to BE the sacrifice. He thinks, along with a huge number of people nationwide that the time has come for minor civil disobedience to put manners on this group of overfed, overpaid and massively incompetent people.

Let the elite endure economic pain too - The Irish Times - Tue, Nov 02, 2010

So, if our leaders want to be seen as tough, let’s see how much pain they can endure. Let’s start with the obvious: high salaries are supposed to be a reward for competence and success. Our political and administrative culture has been, collectively, abysmally incompetent. It was given (partly through its own efforts, partly through sheer luck), a literally unique opportunity to create a sustainably decent society. It managed, not simply to blow that opportunity, but to engineer the deepest economic crisis in the history of the State. If salaries of € 200,000-plus are a reflection of these achievements, is there enough money in the world to pay these people if they had actually done a good job?
 

Tea Party Patriot

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A gem of an article in today's IT - fat ministers on fatter salaries calling for 'hard choices' to be made by them on behalf of everyone else. Well says O' Toole, we are prepared to make sacrifices but not to BE the sacrifice. He thinks, along with a huge number of people nationwide that the time has come for minor civil disobedience to put manners on this group of overfed, overpaid and massively incompetent people.

Let the elite endure economic pain too - The Irish Times - Tue, Nov 02, 2010
I wish someone who be in blistering form about the rank hypocrisy of Fintan O'Tool. He was spouting the same neo-marxist drivel when the economy was going well.
 

Sancho

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I wish someone who be in blistering form about the rank hypocrisy of Fintan O'Tool. He was spouting the same neo-marxist drivel when the economy was going well.
Do you disagree then, you think the likes of Mary Coughlan is entitled to 200K a year ?
 

zuiderzee

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What he proposes is broadly similar to Amhran Nua, except for term limits on TD's being a major difference.
Also, local authorities would be restructured from the county based system that is there now.
No double jobbing - The Seanad, Dail and the Councils count as separate offices

The practice in Councils where a seat becomes vacated and co-opting occurs and it goes to the next of kin or a Party Member must be replaced with a by-election.

Where corruption has been proven, pension entitlements will be revoked.
 

Future

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Do you disagree then, you think the likes of Mary Coughlan is entitled to 200K a year ?
I don't think she's worth a copper farthing but the electorate in Donegal keep voting her in!
 

blacbloc

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Some good ideas here by 'Paul Swann' in a comment under FOT's article:


Well said Fintan, except I would go a lot further. There must be serious cuts in the numbers of TDs, we have 26 counties, I reckon that one TD per county up to 100,000 of a population plus 1 for every extra 100,000 people. Counties could share a TD if their combined extra numbers made up 100K. That should bring the numbers up to a max of about 50 which is more than adequate for a small bankrupt country. Senate abolished along with the President - totally unnecessary for a small population of under 5 million.
No public servant shall receive a pension while in receipt of a salary of any kind from any source. No public servant shall receive more than one pension. All state cars abolished and all state drivers returned to the job they are employed to do i.e. be a Garda. No more TDs or Councillors opening supermarkets, roads, schools etc. they were not elected to do this so why are they doing it. No more conferences for any public servant. Those who make a business out of creating conferences for the sake of creating conferences should be put out of business for the good of us all.
All Town & County Councils abolished replaced with 3 Provincial Councils (Ulster can join with Connaught) plus one for Dublin City. All local councils services to be privatised, this would allow 90% of existing staff to be made redundant. Road Tax should be abolished and replaced with a levy on fuel, an instant saving of many millions on administration. Refuse collection is already almost fully privatised and Water & Sewerage could also be just as in the UK.
As every house in the country now has a computer, referenda could be held in an instant thereby giving the people a greater say in the decision making processes thereby giving greater democracy to the people. This would allow us to get rid of wasters and reward those who behave in a statesman like way.
There are many more ways to effect cost saving of many millions but those above are a good start and are easy to implement rather than targeting those less well off people such as the disabled, children & the lowest paid in society.
 


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