Wednesday 26 October 2016

Gene Kerrigan: How many effs in 'ineffectual', boss?

Enda and Eamon's planned 'convention' will ensure no citizen manages to push through genuine reform, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 15/07/2012 | 05:00

Politics is about people. Whenever we hear a politician utter this meaningless sentence we know we're in the presence of horse manure. It's the kind of content-free drivel politicians deliver when, a) they have nothing to say; but b) they need to convince us that they have something meaningful to say.

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Take Selina Meyer, for instance. She's the vice president in Veep, the satirical HBO series about American politics. Meyer is as vacuous as she is ambitious. When the writers want to sum up her character they have her lean towards a microphone and say, in tones of impeccably fake sincerity: "Politics is about people."

And so, last week when Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore joined forces to write an article for the Irish Times, their opening sentence was inevitable.

"Politics is about people."

Now, it's nice to see Enda and Eamon engaged in a joint project. Some might imagine that their article was cobbled together by one of their overpaid "advisers", but I'm sure the two lads did it all themselves. Perhaps they met in a private room in Leinster House, where Eamon sat at a table, fingers curled around his Biro, while Enda paced up and down, dictating.

"Politics is about people," declaimed Enda.

"Nice one, boss," Eamon said, his tongue playing with the corner of his mouth as he slowly wrote down Enda's words.

The two lads had a problem. How do you deliver the news that something you've solemnly promised is now a gutted shell of something that wasn't worth much in the first place?

Answer: you brazen it out.

Most of us agree that the current political system is a useless, inefficient crock, designed to meet the needs of the political parties, not the citizens. And lack of democratic accountability is part of the reason the country is broken. The 2011 election manifestos of both Fine Gael and Labour promised reform of the democratic structures, such as they are.

Fine Gael pledged a Citizens' Assembly of up to 100 members, "chosen from the public to reflect the demographic make-up of the country". It would recommend electoral reforms.

Labour promised a Constitutional Convention, with 60 members drawn from political parties and "civil society organisations", and the names of 30 citizens picked from a hat. Its mandate would be to draw up a new constitution within a year.

Neither of these token efforts was likely to fix the dysfunctional, anti-democratic elements of the current system. After thinking about it for over a year, the political parties have come up with something even more thoroughly drained of usefulness.

Enda paused in his pacing and punched the air. "This is a terrific opportunity," he said.

Eamon nodded, and applied pen to paper. "This ... is ... a ...," then he paused. "How many effs in terrific, boss?"

Enda and Eamon's article explained how this terrific opportunity, this "important innovation", dealing with "issues of profound importance", will work. The Constitutional Convention will have a chairperson chosen by Enda and Eamon. And 33 politicians. Then, the names of 66 citizens will be drawn from a hat.

Enda and Eamon have decided that the first, and apparently most profoundly important issue for the Con-Con to consider will be whether we should reduce the presidential period of office from seven years to five. It would take a lot of searching to find an issue so pointless. (What odds they'll split the difference and agree on six years?)

Enda and Eamon have a list of issues on which the Con-Con delegates may express opinions (should the voting age drop to 17?). The Con-Con can be useful in other ways. Tricky issues such as same-sex marriage can be parked there for a few months.

But, you may ask, what if the 66 civilians on the Con-Con insist on real reforms?

"Training will be provided for all members," Enda intoned. Eamon shook his head.

"Needs more than that, boss. Someone riding shotgun on the Con-Con, to put manners on anyone who gets too uppity."

"I like it," said Enda. "Take this down."

And Eamon wrote as directed: "An expert advisory group will be established to assist the convention in its endeavours." Enda smiled.

"Leading academics, political scientists and constitutional lawyers," he added.

Eamon giggled. "And then, we'll implement their recommendations."

"No, we'll consider them. And respond. As we think fit."

So, the Con-Con will be stuffed with politicians, and chaired by someone selected by politicians. And the independent citizens will first be "trained", and then held by the hand -- or throat -- by reliable "experts". And the Con-Con recommendations will be implemented -- if the politicians like them. You can see how this is going to make up for all the broken, cynical, corrupt, self-serving rackets in which the political set-up is entangled.

People, that's what politics is about.

Sunday Independent

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