Tuesday 24 April 2018

John Crown: Enda's petty referendum is no match for real reform

Our Government now seems to value thoughtless loyalty over expertise and talent

John Crown

If it was not already blindingly obvious that our republic urgently needs fundamental reform of its system of political governance, then the events of the last few weeks constitute a book of evidence to which no credible defence could be constructed. We have seen the systematic undermining of the principle of accountability in government, the subjugation of conscience to value-less party expediency, and the relentless purging of relevant expertise and talent from the very parliamentary committees where it is needed most.

Some examples are blatant such as the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill. Much has been said about the lock-step application of the party whip (party revolver would be a more accurate term – the punishment for dissent is political execution, not chastisement), but there has been far less scrutiny of the farcically negligible impact that the double dose of Oireachtas Health Committee hearings had on the bill itself.

During the equivalent of eight working days, more than 60 medical, legal and constitutional experts presented to, and were interrogated by the parliamentarians who would be charged with the task of amending and approving the bill. While the hearings, ably chaired by TD Jerry Buttimer, provided a useful public debate on a fraught issue, it soon became obvious that they were all about optics. While they fostered the illusion of collegiality, they were, from a legislative point of view, irrelevant. The bill that was constructed by the Department of Health emerged through this process virtually unchanged.

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