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Time to dim the lights on Dail dynasties

One of the most debilitating aspects of Irish politics is the way that political dynasties are established. Once one member of a family gets a foot inside the Dail or Seanad doors, spouses, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and grandchildren invariably follow.

This does not arise from a genetic predisposition towards success, but as a result of capitalising on the network of influential contacts with the party machines already established and nurtured by particular families. This persistently militates against good governance.

Though we presume to live in a democracy, there are various elements that are more indicative of autocracy. In the modern autocratic state, continuity is closely protected by ensuring that power passes within the family. Syria and North Korea, for example, are disturbing cases of this practice. Ireland is more subtly and, perhaps, unwittingly engaged in similar political practices. As in all kinds of in-breeding, the progeny become progressively ineffective.

Ireland has developed its own distinctive brand of dynastic politics. One's chance of being elected still depends significantly on the extent to which one's family was connected with "the fight for Ireland's freedom". Direct involvement is not an essential requirement for political credibility; the capacity to exaggerate that involvement is the key to success.

Our politicians tend to surround themselves with a flattering myth of origin. To acquire the requisite kudos it would suffice, for example, that your great uncle observed an ambush of the Black and Tans from a distance.

Long before Dolly the sheep came on the scene, Irish politicians had developed the science of cloning. They created their own distinctive form of life. Having a shared set of norms, values, beliefs, expectations, language, attitudes and systems of rewards they became steadily impervious to all voices but their own, losing the capacity for self-criticism.

A revised scripture text might suggest that it is easier to drive a camel through the eye of a needle than to get an original creative mind through the doors of the Dail.

The Seanad, intended as a critical counterpoint to the deliberations of the Dail, is a very expensive talking shop, providing an extension to the dynastic drift in Irish politics. It has little if any influence on legislation, constituting a gross waste of public money, costing around €5.5m in salaries alone; it beggars belief that we have allowed it to continue its fatuous role.

Irish politics will remain adrift from any sense of human moral purpose, remaining crudely pragmatic and self-serving until Irish schools begin to provide a robust political education that eventually transforms a very gullible and blinkered electorate into a more effective critical force.

Sadly, the voting pattern of families rarely changes, leading to complacency among politicians and the inevitable cronyism that has characterised Irish politics for far too long.

Philip O'Neill
Edith Road, Oxford

Irish Independent