Yeah, I know, I’m actually blogging! Well, now that I can no longer describe myself as a student (a habit I’m going to find it quite difficult to get out of, I fear) and have to label myself as a “Sports Press Officer” – I’ll explain some other time – I’m going to probably have a little bit more time on my hands. I really can’t believe my five years of UCDness are over, but that’s for another day. Also contributing to my general time-having is the fact that we’ve moved house and now live on Upper Leeson St  meaning that travelling is a much less cumbersome exercise, particularly when you can walk to most places.
On that theme, last Wednesday new housemate Mulley  organised a bloggers’ tour of Leinster House with the Green Party. It had been ten years since I was inside that place (being classmates with ministerial offspring gets you fairly cool CSPE tours, folks) but since my political enlightenment of sorts, it was the first time to really take in the nature of the place. Ciaran Cuffe , our host, was an utter gent, extending the tour to the party’s offices inside Leinster House and to the Dáil Bar where he was more than happy to have proper chats with anyone who wanted them. Thus, myself and Brennan  got a few minutes to have a reasonably in-depth chat with him about life as a TD, the challenges of representing an area with disparate social circumstances, and generally about the function – and more pressingly, the functionability – of the legislature itself.
Here I’ll pause for a quick politics lesson for those who might not be so interested. In the classical breakdown of Government, there are three branches of power: the executive (the panel of Ministers/Secretaries – in Irish terms, the Cabinet), who are charged with overseeing operations and issuing orders; the judicial (the courts system) who rule on the validity of laws and punish those who breach them; and finally the legislature (the Oireachtas), whose job it is to actually make those laws.
Last week on The Late Late Show, Pat Kenny decided to warm up for his new Questions-and-Answers-replacing political debate show by hosting a discussion on parliamentary reform (you can watch it here  – skip to 1:16.45). Fintan O’Toole argued for the wholescale reconstruction of most of the bodies, and while people can always choose which parts to agree with and which to ignore, the one part that resonated with me was O’Toole’s assertion that in Ireland, we simply don’t have a functioning government as it’s described in the three-branches approach. The judiciary and executive both work – obviously their merit or competence is a matter of personal opinion) – but the legislative branch simply fails to function. In Ireland, the executive introduce a Bill, it is never debated with any substantive result, and the Government will always get what it wants and have the Bill passed. There is no debate; there is no constructive process leading to a concrete suggestion. The legislature don’t even, as a rule, introduce legislation: the executive comes up with something and the legislature rubberstamp it.
So what do you do about this? After the Late Late debate there is clearly a level of public appetite to examine the alternatives to the PR system or our multi-seat constituencies. So when I had the chance, I asked Ciaran how he felt it would start. Does it, I propositioned, start with his Green colleague, John Gormey, using his capacity as Minister for Local Government declaring he wants a reform and merely introducing a Bill? I remembered his predecessor Noel Dempsey doing something similar before the turn of the millennium and getting nowhere. What needs to happen before a Minister can make such moves and that they actually get somewhere? Why can every Fianna Fáil TD on the Late Late say they agree that reform is needed, but not be in a position to implement it?
The problem is that there is no set path. Are our politicians too scared to be the ones seen to destroy our nice cosy overrepresented system? Are TDs too lazy to introduce single-seat constituencies where they don’t have the option to pawn off any work to other reps for the same people? Ciaran, interested as he was, wasn’t really sure of a solution. If you do, I’d love to hear it.
Meanwhile, Scally has started his photobloggery over at cdscally.com . Check it.