Politicians who call for change are obliged to face up to the responsibility thrust upon them by voters
Published 14/03/2016 | 02:30
The 32nd Dáil is more diverse that any other in the past 50 years and it signals that the public wants something different from this parliament.
The election outcome offers us the chance to look at things differently, to do things differently - and that is an opportunity that should be seized by anyone that has a conviction about their ideas and wants to see them implemented.
Thankfully, we have the foundation of a strongly growing economy as a legacy of the last five years, which gives us choices in the coming years that were not there for the last Government.
As a parliament, with each deputy having a mandate in their own right, we can credibly aspire to fulfilling the ambitions of voters - but only if we find new ways of working together.
Unfortunately, there are some who don't seem to have any ambition to be part of the change but simply want to talk about change. It is not without irony that those loudest in their clamour for change are also those who refuse to play any part in implementing change in the only way open under our Constitution - namely, through an executive government, openly accountable to the people.
It is hard to take seriously complaints from such quarters that partisan interests should be cast aside to form a government, when it is solely partisan ambitions that are keeping them outside. Tog out and take to the pitch or continue to play your best hurling from the ditch - just don't pretend that you are doing both.
But back to those who want to tog out and take part.
What was heartening last Thursday was that there were many across the Dáil who saw members as having a mutual responsibility to find a way to work together to achieve better outcomes for the people we serve.
In my view, any new Government, working collaboratively with the Dáil and its members, must together:
■ Appreciate the centrality of a strong economy and growing employment;
■ Recognise the long-term nature of many of the challenges that we face as a community;
■ Identify areas of reform which are shared;
■ Commit to agreed work programmes and a better system for implementing change quickly;
■ Judge progress openly against the evidence of outcomes for people and make sure that this proof of performance is the trigger for winning extra resources.
Our political system is too focused on the short term. There are a number of areas that spring to mind that suffer most readily from lurches in funding, in priorities or in institutional arrangements.
The areas in which I think a new Dáil, working with an open government, could develop some long-term, coherent strategies include issues like housing, taxation climate change, pensions, healthcare and budgetary policy.
One of the reasons I retain my optimism for such an approach is my own experience with the jobs challenge that we faced as a Government five years ago.
We recognised that the crisis was too broad and deep for one department or agency to tackle. So we involved the whole of government in coming up with actions to help improve the prospects of creating or protecting jobs and, crucially, we consulted widely with stakeholders and others who might have good ideas to put into the mix.
But the key ingredient in all of this was that after the trawl and evaluation of ideas, a list of actions was agreed, a timetable was imposed and, through the Taoiseach, his office and the Department of Jobs, those timetables were policed and quarterly reports were published on delivery.
It worked. Ideas became a reality. The cumulative effect of going through this exercise each year for five years is that we helped create an environment where unemployment fell from 15.1pc to 8.8pc and 140,000 people are back in work.
Another benefit of this approach is that it allows performance evaluation to take place because you are tracking implementation closely. Once you can evaluate the impact of your policies, you can award more funding to the programmes that work most effectively.
If this systematic, collaborative and consultative approach worked in helping tackle the jobs crisis, there is no reason why, in my opinion, it can't work for other major policy challenges. Like-minded parties who want to see their ideas implemented can, and should, be accommodated in any such environment. Good ideas will flourish and all participants can watch and track the implementation of agreed plans, so that the Dáil can approve and monitor their implementation.
We have a Taoiseach who has proven his ability to manage a coalition government and who has shown an openness to implementing and policing such a systematic approach to dealing with major policy challenges. I think most people in Fine Gael will recognise that there were important policy innovations and policy decisions that emerged from being in a coalition and being open to other points of view.
Fine Gael is confident of the policies that secured us the largest number of seats but we also recognise good ideas from elsewhere on the political spectrum.
It therefore makes eminent good sense to try to put the best ideas together - from like-spirited parties or individuals - and put a government programme together in the interests of the country. I believe we have the capacity to do just that.
Of course, sweetness and light will not readily break out in a new dawn for politics. But with reasonable intentions from reasonable people looking to serve the electorate that chose them, many things are possible.
In that environment, argument will focus on what matters and what can be done about it - not just about who you will or won't do a deal with.
Deputies on all sides will be better informed and, most importantly, the Dáil will be a driver of wider reform in institutions, both local and national, which shape and improve people's lives. In the centenary year of the 1916 Rising, such an outcome has the potential to honour all sides of a diverse Dáil.