Thursday 29 September 2016

Enda O’Coineen: Politics is for empowering people and we need to get fresh blood into the Seanad

Enda O’Coineen

Published 01/04/2016 | 02:30

Leinster House
Leinster House

The current political crisis is a time to let loose. It presents a unique opportunity to redefine our political system and how we do things. It is also a time for reinvention right across the board. The Seanad, too long regarded as a resting place for failed political ambitions, needs to be rejuvenated, revitalised and reborn.

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It needs to become a fountainhead for new thinking, capable of meeting the challenges of a millennium embracing innovation and entrepreneurship. The 19th-century parish pump around which our politicians danced needs to be decommissioned once and for all.

As talks about the possibility of talks drag on, many of our people are suffering. Yet those who sought and secured public office are too timid or too blinded by their own interests to step up, meet the challenges we face and put differences aside to form a government.

We have insanity in health, insanity in education and insanity in housing.

Yet there is no sign of the resolve or vision to come to terms with these problems. While the lack of commitment is all too evident, what about the skillsets of those who we continually return to office?

What in their backgrounds suggests that they have the experience and depth of knowledge to confront meaningfully the problems that have been with us for generations? Given the failures to date, it is entirely reasonable to ask is there even an appropriate management structure?

Albert Einstein pointed out that you can't solve problems with the same thinking that created them. Expecting different results from doing precisely the same things is the way of insanity, he told us.

Those who say that there is a magic bullet are equally deluded. However, the vacuum created by a deficit of strong leadership and independent long-term strategic thinking is exacting far too high a price from the public.

In other walks of life away from politics, you can clearly see where successful industry and business reward performance.

Money is only one part of the mix. But clarity of thought, planning, and action are also prized. In our public domain, in the worlds of politics and public service, the metrics for performance are barely discernible.

Mediocrity produces atrophy and stagnation. Change is seen as the enemy and any form of dynamism is regarded as a threat or challenge to be suppressed.

When it comes to government, one must be very careful what you wish for. Voting for the local guy or girl might make sense from a parochial standpoint, but what happens when they are then catapulted onto the national stage and forced to engage with the macro, as opposed to the micro, picture?

We have great schoolteachers and lawyers and they have their place. But the person who debates best might not be the best fit to put in the nation's cockpit or on the bridge of our ship of state.

We desperately require people with the requisite skills and training. Incredibly, we do not apply these yardsticks when it comes to selecting our political leaders.

We need to spread the net wider and deeper.

Currently, it's a lottery, many have had no training at all for the job. If democracy works properly, people with ideas, vision and good plans must be able to get elected.

They cannot be kept off the pitch by party whips or protocol.

If we do not invest in their skills to implement change and strategically lead the institutions of State, we are doomed to a vicious cycle of failure.

Our education system is still pumping out students and training them for 20th century jobs - that do not exist in the 21st century - and ways of doing things that are simply redundant in 2016.

There is never enough money or resources to do what we want to but lack of money is often wheeled out as an excuse to do nothing, While a factor, it is only part of the story.

From the primary-school level right through to third-level doctorates, we need to embrace change, technology and entrepreneurship.

Not just in a business sense but as a way of thinking, solving problems, running institutions, non-profit organisations and so forth.

This is a time to stop, reflect and - to employ the 1916 anniversary buzzword and - "re-imagine".

The Seanad's 60-strong ranks consist of failed Dáil candidates, aspiring politicians and, dare I say, hacks. Of these, 43 are elected by county councillors and TDs and 11 are nominated by the Taoiseach.

The one bright spot, in my view, is the six who are elected by NUI and Trinity graduates, giving a voice to true Independents, such as Feargal Quinn and David Norris.

The historic reform proposals, moulded after much deliberation, are now gathering dust. Now there is a need and an opportunity for revolutionary new thinking and for radical reform of the Seanad, to compliment Dáil reform.

As an example, some Seanad seats could be taken by the Diaspora. This would dramatically reshape Ireland, not by territory but as a people.

Quickly, the concept of a real virtual Ireland would come forward, facilitated by technology.

All of this can be mobilised by technology, the ability to have direct connectivity, direct voting and real discussion, idea generation and ultimately empower people to make better communities, a better world and for individual opportunity in the spirit of Irish excellence and adventure around the world.

Enda O'Coineen, entrepreneur, sportsman and author, has been endorsed and seconded by Senator Feargal Quinn as an independent candidate for the 2016 NUI Seanad elections.

Irish Independent

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