We are paying the price for omission
By abstaining from politics we cannot influence the decisions that affect our lives, says Tim Pat Coogan
A SAYING of my mother's has resonated with me in recent times: "Don't leave it to them" By this she meant don't emigrate and leave oneself with no say in how the country was run.
Or if one did not emigrate, don't dumbly acquiesce in what those in high places decide.
I'm afraid many of us have been guilty of not taking my mother's advice and must admit to committing a sin of omission which led to the Government's sin of commission.
For how many of us can say that we participate fully in the political process?
How many of us join a party, attend its meetings, visit the Dail, or even attend an occasional local county council meeting? Who can say with certainty how people climb the party ladders, get selected as council and Dail candidates, become members of Cabinet and take the decisions which shape our lives?
In the words of my mother's phrase, we do leave it to them -- the apparatchiks who operate in what used to be smoke-filled back-rooms and are still. But dimly visible to most of us.
So dimly that few of us could see only the outline of the cosy relationships, the shared unlisted numbers, that linked the financial and political players in the hidden decision-taking world which presided over our scandalous economic mismanagement.
The vote is a powerful and a priceless weapon, but how often do we use it to rubber-stamp decisions which we have allowed others to make about who should represent us?
The ordinary voter has effectively been disenfranchised in many regards by two trends which have been allowed to grow unchecked in recent years:
1) The presidential system, particularly in Fianna Fail, where de Valera's legacy in this regard was built on by Charlie Haughey to an unhealthy degree to exclude not just the man and woman in the street but Dail members, including Cabinet members.
2) Geographical representation. An international rugby coach is expected to pick his team on the basis of the best players available, but in our political system no one raises an eyebrow if a dud gets a Cabinet post because they need a "car with a star" to shore up the vote in Gortnagosheengawna.
Take the Cabinet re-shuffle which preceded Nama. As Barack Obama demonstrated the sincerity of his ringing "yes we can" declaration by courageously fighting through the most radical piece of social legislation since the civil rights days, Brian Cowen in effect said "no, we can't".
He should not merely have re-arranged a few of the deck chairs on the Titanic --he should have thrown them overboard. Perhaps he was afraid of damaging the iceberg.
I have written in these columns before about the need for the laity to have a say in the appointment of bishops.
But, if it is important to have a say in the appointment of bishops how much more important is it for people to have a meaningful say in the selection of those who govern us?
There are three, overdue, by-elections approaching.
If, as seems very possible, the Government loses all three, a general election could be bearing down on us sooner than people think.
Is Fine Gael ready for one? Do they really want to tackle the problems of Government?
Behind their fighting talk they are not displaying any great urgency about getting by-election writs moved.
In fairness, the party is to be commended for tackling one vital component of the political reform process -- committing to getting rid of the Seanad, strengthening the Freedom of Information Act, cutting the number of Dail deputies, and strengthening the Committee system.
I sincerely hope that these reforms are translated into action.
You could not hope to run a shop, never mind a country, by only staying open for business on 96 days of the year as does the Dail. We should not leave power solely to political parties.
We are all responsible by default for putting the men and women now in the Dail into their well-paid positions. Don't leave it to them.