Is the candidate knocking on your door able to have the pothole fixed outside Mrs Murphy’s door and also capable of negotiating international treaties? Two quite different abilities, and yet we expect it of him/her.
Why is national governance so ineffective? It’s not because members of the Oireachtas are totally lazy or corrupt. It is because our outmoded 1937 Constitution results in well-intentioned but unproven people being entrusted with Ministerial responsibilities for which they have neither the executive experience or competence.
Ireland’s electoral system abandoned by all except Malta and shunned by all of the new democracies.
As a result of the 1937 Constitution cabinet members are not drawn from Ireland’s most competent and experienced citizens. There is a talent deficit: few Cabinet members have proven records of distinguished achievement in the areas of their ministry. Clientelism is fostered and popular rather than correct decisions are taken. This leads to Government Ministers being greatly overworked and distracted by constituency matters unrelated to national governance. In fact the system penalises ministers who focus on national issues and take brave decisions: they are often not re-elected.
So what can be done?
We must recognise that the quality of National Governance cannot exceed the quality of those who govern. We must reform the electoral process to improve quality and attract proven talent and adopt an electoral system and national governance which is based on best international practice, such as a List System as used in all the Scandinavian countries and many of the recent EU accession states.
This will allow ministers to be drawn from best national talent pool. Ministers with real experience, records of national achievement and management skills. Ministers who are free to focus all their attention on national governance without constituency distractions.
Imagine having Ministers selected from those who have records of remarkable achievement and management skills from both at home and internationally.
This will allow for ministers’ primary responsibility to get things done not to get re-elected.
What’s preventing us from shaping that future isn’t the absence of good ideas. It’s the absence of a national commitment to take the tough steps necessary to make Ireland a better, more competitive country. In other words, are we are willing to do what needs to be done or will we continue to accept the primacy of the parish pump.