Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ireland - A One Party State Propped up by "Dependents"?

Ireland has a modern economy run by the icons of American business from high tech, big pharma and finance. In parallel, is a political system that was developed in the era of the donkey and cart and has not undergone any significant change in the interval.

Ireland has 35 ministers and 23 parliamentary committees but the buck stops nowhere in the system.

In recent decades, as the dominant political party Fianna Fáil has been unable to get a working majority in the Dáil, it has relied on so-called "Independents" and small parties such as the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party.

The one-issue or no-issue Independents sell their touted independence for the security of a hoped for long parliamentary term coupled with pork-barrel patronage for their constituents.

As the American comedian said: Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…. well, I have others.

It's simply a joke that the likes of Finian McGrath who represents a constituency in North Dublin, calls himself an "independent" when his deal with Fianna Fáil is principally to ensure that he will not have to face another election before 2012.

The Labour Party had significant influence in coalition governments but today, the small parties operate in the manner of the "dependents."

The small Green Party has its environment agenda and any significant moves on climate change will not be led by Ireland. The EU will mandate required change and even on the issue of a carbon tax, a commission is to report on the issue. Beyond, its narrow agenda, in the compartmentalized system of government, they have simply no influence.

The unravelling of the Progressive Democrats began in 1997 when it entangled itself in soundbites on reform of the public service.

It proposed cutting public service jobs by 25,000 and presided over a growth of 90,000 but as it lost half its seats in the 1997 general election, it also lost the appetite for reform.

It simply became a cheerleader for tax cuts provided by the funds reaped from a raging housing boom.

The Progressive Democrats await the respirator to be unplugged and it is evident that the party had much more impact in Opposition than in government.

After 11 years in office without power, where are the footprints?

So all Fianna Fáil has to do, is to copperfasten its hold on power by buying off "dependents" and small one issue parties like the Greens.

The result is bad for democracy and as the incoming Taoiseach Brian Cowen contemplates his choices for 35 ministerial positions, largely from a group of second-raters, it says a lot that former schoolteacher Micheál Martin, T.D., currently Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, is being touted as a choice for the Department of Finance.

In Martin's current job, his main task is to make job announcements for American firms. In these dangerous times for the Irish economy, the Corkman's repertoire of superlatives for the most mundane, is hardly what is needed.