Revolution time: the Dail is dead, long live the Dail
Power no longer rests with our impotent national parliament, writes Eamon Keane, but that does not mean the end of democracy
Published 18/09/2011 | 05:00
AS the country suffers its worst economic crisis our national parliament has never been more impotent. The old Dail is a bad memory while the new one fills me with little hope.
Truth be told, it's been finished for a long time, made redundant by the actions of our politicians. The day Chopra and Rehn came in was the day power was lost. Right now Finance Minister Michael Noonan is working on a Budget to please our IMF-EU masters. Think about it. Every significant economic decision is being taken thousands of miles away from the Dail.
The second reason for our Dail being so irrelevant is that the size of the government majority renders debate meaningless. Enda & Co can pretty much do as they like. If Kenny wanted to introduce a bill banning bingo he could get it through without any problem. The one time that a government deputy did kick up he got booted out of the party. Anyone remember former Fine Gael TD Denis Naughten?
Because of the EU-IMF deal and the size of the government majority, the normal checks and balances on the administration of power are diminished.
And so we go through the charade of Dail debates. I mean we know what the voting result will be. And with the odd exception, political parties don't really want input into legislation they originate.
Even if you accept it has very little power, maybe it's worth having a Dail for the quality of its contributors? Er... no. The oratorical spectrum ranges from Neanderthal grunts to the chipmunk-like screeching.
There are a few decent speakers. Joe Higgins can do it, Pearse Doherty is sharp and Gilmore in full angry flight is a rousing orator. We even hear Enda talking differently now that he is the Boss of Bosses. From one who was mocked by comedians, Kenny is now our latter-day Martin Luther King, just short of urging the black people of Mayo to march onto the school buses.
The Dail should be a place for meaningful contributions.
We will have the latest review of the Troika 'Bailout' deal as well as preparations for the Austerity Budget. Health will rear its head when the winter beds crisis kicks in What sort of debate will we actually get? The same old pantomime, a groundhog day.
You will watch Sinn Fein attack Labour for doing exactly what they did in the Northern Assembly, namely cutting the bejasus out of the poor. Kenny will shout down Micheal Martin with the Original Sins of Sovereign Loss. In the background, a practically broke builder and other well-intentioned deputies will wait their turn.
Still at least those deputies will be present. Consider that you pay your TDs over a €100,000 a year plus generous pension and expenses, yet many still persist in ripping off the system. For all the talk of welfare fraud we hear little of TD fraud. Those who for years claimed for debates they never attended. The ones who register their attendance but then nip off to the opening of the local dog grooming parlour.
Our Dail is also doomed because it is based on a political system where getting re-elected takes precedence over the national interest. Being seen to be active on local issues is all important. Witness John Halligan, Independent TD from Waterford, however sincere, grandstanding this week. I was down in Waterford last week where I met Talk Talk workers. I didn't get the sense that seeing their local TD screaming in the Dail was what they really wanted or needed.
We are in the worst crisis in our history and our parliament is impotent.
Is there any hope for democracy? Yes. While the Dail may be dead a new parliament is emerging. It is to be found in ordinary people, community and support groups who come together to discuss a way forward. A second wave is already there though social networks.
Consider the Arab Spring and how digital media and people-power ousted regimes.
In the meantime, our TDs will limp on full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. That Dail is dead, long live the Dail.