Norman Glass

Readers of this blog might recall my support for the establishment of something modelled on the UK Government Economic Service.   I was sad to hear of the passing last week of a great Irish economist though perhaps one of the least known – Norman Glass – who was in many ways one of the architects of the GES.

The Guardian obituary is at

Norman was a pioneer in economics within policy circles.   He was the first economist in the UK Department of Health for example in the early 1970s.   But it was his time at the Treasury where he really made his impact, becoming in effect the Chief Microeconomist and the driver of the microeconomic revival at the Treasury during the early days of Blair and Brown particularly in the aftermath of the Bank of England independence move.  The development of the working families tax credit, the innovations in linking labour supply policy and welfare strategies, major initiatives in education and health – Norman was central to all of these moves and to the early success of the ‘New Labour’ era.   Norman also developed an interest in the early skills formation agenda, designing SureStart (and later became a vocal critic of what the UK Government did with that programme in letting it become bloated and without direction).   On retirement from the Treasury he went on to lead NatCen, perhaps the largest and best social research company in Europe.

Norman was a complete gentleman, quietly interested in what went on in Irish economics, hugely supportive of students and researchers who made contact with him.   He is also perhaps amongst the most influential Irishmen of the late 20th century, albeit also one of the most modest and ‘backroom’, completely anonymous in his homeland.

I thought it might be interesting to readers to learn about Norman, but in passing I can’t help but think that as we face up to the consequences of terrible decisionmaking in economic policy over the past 15 years or so, and how little evidence there is of clever thinking in economics within the Irish civil service, one of the most important figures in policy decision making and in creating the infrastructure for economics in Government in the UK system, was an Irish economist.   Knowing Norman, I suspect he would have found that funny too!

26 replies on “Norman Glass”

Cultural cringe time again. Can you elaborate? In exactly what way has decisionmaking in economic policy in Britain been superior to that in Ireland? In what way has Britain’s supposedly superior decisionmaking manifested itself in terms of superior economic performance? In 1994, GNP per capita (PPS) in Ireland was about 60% of that in Britain. In 2009, GNP per capita (PPS) in Ireland is about 110% of that in Britain. If that’s what 15 years of terrible decisionmaking in economic policy brings, what would 15 years of good decisionmaking in economic policy have brought? Maybe what Norman found funny is that the former colonised are now richer than the former colonisers?

“In what way has Britain’s supposedly superior decisionmaking manifested itself in terms of superior economic performance?”

Current rates of unemployment would be an obvious suggestion, plus their fiscal record and situation seems much better than ours – don’t think Brown ever increased current spending 20%+ in a year like McCreevey. I do tend to agree that UK policymaking over the last 15 years is not exactly vindicated by the crisis.

No, they are not. The projected budget deficit in Britain in 2009 is higher than in Ireland (14% of GDP v 10.75%). Total government debt in Britain is higher than in Ireland. The projected balance-of-payments deficit in Britain in 2009 is higher than in Ireland. Britain has the highest inflation rate in the EU15, Ireland has the lowest, although the collapse in sterling since 2007 disguises this.

Over the past 50 years (since 1958), the Irish economy has grown faster than the British economy in 42 of those years, averaging 5% annual growth compared with an average 2% annual growth there. In Britain, manufacturing output in 2009 is lower than in 1973. In Ireland, its over 8 times its 1973 level. Even in 2009, Ireland’s GDP per capita (PPS) is 30% higher than in Britain, and GNP 10% higher.

I really think that the era, when we had to listen to people telling us how much better Britain was at decisionmaking than Ireland, ended when they handed over Dublin Castle to Michael Collins in 1922.


You ignored unemployment. Inflation and the “collapse” of sterling are neither here nor there – both are arguably welcome from a British point of view. 10.75% is looking optimistic for the Irish defecit. More importantly the British deficit is post-stimulus whereas the Irish deficit is post-retrenchment.

Your last paragraph makes it sound as though it is on principle inadmissable that Britian could have been making better decisions.

I regret the need to comment on my original post, which was an attempt to pay tribute to an Irish economist of distinction on a forum about Irish economics.

Firstly, I would point out (again) that he was the Chief MICROeconomist, a pioneer in driving the agenda we now know as evidence based policy (see the New Deal experiments in welfare planning for example), and in promoting the interaction between academic research and policymakers in microeconomics (see the symposium in 2004/2005 at

Secondly, I never actually said (though do actually think it is the case) that the UK has ‘superior decision making’. I said that we have made terrible decisions and, repeating an earlier post, that they have a more superior mechanism for economics as a discipline within policymaking – something many countries have and something that Norman influenced greatly in the case of the UK. And something we could do with right now.

However, the point of the original post remains a tribute – I would encourage readers to see it as so.

I do think that somebody needs to moderate this excellent site a touch more forcefully. I am thinking of John’s utterly destructive postings. Debate is one thing, but it ain’t what he does. Perhaps we should start a competiion to out him. He is strident enough to be Mary Lou McDonald but perhaps a tad too numerate. He is so disgruntled he could be a low/middle-ranking official at the department of Finance. Anybody any other ideas?

a good example of someone lost to ireland due to unfortunate economic circumstances. how many of his ilk will have no choice but to leave in the next decade?

Not to debate with somebody called Simpleton but John’s comments are usually interesting to me. I dont know the man, he has obviously a defined viewpoint but he usually backs it up with numbers and has started some interesting discussions. I dont think in any way he should be bullied off a public forum for expressing his viewpoint, whether it is agreeable or not.

In this case, I side with Colm in saying that Norman Glass was a very impressive figure that deserves recognition in Ireland for his achievements. Both running NatCen and his influence on rigorous micro-policy and embedding economics into policy making are legacies that deserve mention.

@Simpleton. I occasionally am sent ‘inspirational quotes’. Today’s one is perhaps apt.
“There is one way to handle the ignorant and malicious critic. Ignore him.”
The author, alas, is unknown.

Handbags at dawn, gentlemen.

‘John’ makes their points forcefully, and that’s fine, although the rhetoric probably does discourage other potential comments, and, in fairness, @John, toning it down might help slightly here in encouraging discussion on this excellent site. Ideally comment threads should be a seminar rather than a discussion, but, @simpleton, you can’t in good conscience moderate someone’s comments unless they are belligerent. Some nice comment policies are here:

I guess it all comes down to what a blog like this is for. Does it, for example, serve a known void, the one that exists because of a lack of economic expertise in the Depatment of Fianance and across the political classes? A void that is leading to bad policies. Or is it just another virtual economic journal that exists to justify the existence of the contributors. Where the contributors happily score points off each other but are rendered absolutely pointless by the nature of their debating techniques and the total absence f any conclusions.

It is easy to pick holes in any point of view that is trying to grapple with optimum decision making under uncertainty. But you can choose to attack for the sake of destruction, or just to display your superior technique, or you can try to improve the quality of the conclusions reached. It is blindingly obvious where various contributors to this site sit.

I think the stage was set for an acrimonious set of exchanges when the tribute to Norman Glass opportunistically took another swipe at “terrible decisionmaking in economic policy over the past 15 years or so”.

Having been discouraged from posting on this site I hesitated before re-entering the fray, but, @simpleton, you have raised some important questions about the role of a blog of this nature.

Starting with the initial post by Colm (which I suspect was partly motivated by previous efforts to highlight the lack of economic competence in the political and policy arena in Ireland) it is possible to make some observations:

1. Norman Glass pioneered the design and delivery of policies to improve the life chances of those locked in a cycle of poverty and dependency by seeking to intervene at the earliest possible stage. The payback in terms of economic opportunities created and in the health, social and criminal justice costs avoided is enormous. (Although I did not know Norman personally, I was aware of his work. I also live and work in England and have to deal with the condescencion of “the public school boys and Oxbridgians”.)

2. As the Guardian obituary points out Norman’s carefully designed and targeted efforts were taken over by the spin doctors in No. 10 who tried to spread the policy roll-out too quickly and too thinly. It was ever thus. Successful microeconomic interventions almost always are trampled on by political imperatives.

3. It is probably not fair to single Ireland out. Macroeconomic decision-making throughout the OECD has been “terrible” for the last 20 years. The global imbalances (though somewhat modified) which fed the liquidity glut, the lack of effective competition policy in the banking sector, the inadequate regulation of the financial sector and the perverse and system-damaging incentives for traders that emerged over the last 20 years all remain in place. There is probably only a limited amount that Ireland can do unilaterally on these matters (Ireland, effectively, is a “price-taker” in these “markets”), but there are areas where significant reforms may be made.

3. On the institutional and political front there is an urgent need for reform. Karl Whelan’s post on the Swedish experience in the early 1990s
highlights the extent to which other EU member-states have been able to modify the government-in-parliament model (used in all member-states with the exception of France) to make difficult policy decisions. Ireland slavishly followed the British model which has left both countries now enduring elected dictatorships pursuing policies for which they have not received a democratic mandate.

4. It appears the penny is beginning to drop about the extent to which all forms of regulation emanating from government control our existence. Elaine Byrne was particularly good in this piece in the IT:

Colin Scott has been pursuing this topic on this site, but has evoked limited response. This is an area that is almost completely within domestic control, but attracts relatively little interest from economists. (My attempts to highlight the need for reform of economic regulation and for the design of competitive markets provoked a request to desist.)

5. It is probably too much to expect that this site will generate coherent policy positions and advice. (The time and effort would be considerable and we all have day jobs.) It serves a valuable purpose in bringing ideas and research to a wide range of interested parties who might, otherwise, not be exposed to them. It might be even more valuable if it were to pay more attention to some of the other “elephants in the sitting-room” that we have the power to shepherd safely back to their natural habitat.

In stating that he has been discouraged from posting and told to cease-and-desist, it is possible that Paul Hunt may be referring to the exchange here.

Perhaps Paul thinks my personal reluctance to debate the issue of what to do with the ESB constitutes a “request to desist” and that I have “discouraged him” from posting on the site. However, I honestly can’t see how this implication could have been drawn.

Possibly Paul is referring to some other case where people actually did say such a thing. In which case, I would observe that that the attitude to discussion on the site is very open (perhaps too much so, as has been observed above) and that Paul’s contributions — which have provoked much subsequent discussions — are clearly welcomed.

Thanks, Karl. I’m not being touchy; I’m just frustrated by the lack of engagement on a wide range of economic policy and political economy issues that need to be addressed. I’m not dismissing the importance of addressing the repair of the banking system and of the public finances in the context of the future economic viability of the state, but these are merely symptoms of a deeper institutional malaise in the body politic.

Despite being, obviously, well-informed and insightful and drawing from high quality and relevant research, much of the comment on this blog is reactive. This, perhaps, is inevitable, but, frequently, it is framed by a sense of resignation that policy decisions are being made, and will be made, without engagement with the available rich resources of knowledge and research.

Occasionally, governments select a leading economist to assist when difficult (and politically unpalatable) policy decisions have to be made – Colm McCarthy and Alan Ahearne are the current examples that spring to mind. But, in relation to their briefs, for many reasons (including commercial confidentiality and political and market sensitivity) they are isolated from effective engagement with the intellectual community whence they come.

The challenge (as has been highlighted previously in posts on this blog) is to generate the demand for high-quality economic policy analysis and advice – rather than the random and occasional secondment of individuals. This leads to consideration of the roles of parliament, the executive and government departments. Nothing will change until parliament seizes the power, which it has abdicated, to hold the executive properly to account. This will create a demand for detailed and objective analysis of the executive’s existing policies and policy proposals. And this, in turn, will increase the demand in government departments for a correspondingly high quality of policy analysis to develop these proposals.

I’m not denying the possibility that there are thoughtful and insightful parliamentarians in the governing parties who recognise the importance and urgency of these institutional reforms, but these instincts are probably being suppressed by the over-riding political strategy to retain power for as long as possible. As a result, the focus has to be on the opposition parties, since, by any reckoning, there is a high probability that some combination will comprise the next government.

And it makes sense to apply this focus now while they are formulating policy proposals that are likely to be incorporated in a future programme of government. In general it is far too late to intervene when a programme of government has been agreed, endorsed by a democratic mandate and a programme of legislation is being prepared.

And this is where I sign off with a plea for some more pro-active posts and comment – rather than the reactive variety.

I agree with much of what Paul has written but I think he underestimates the importance of “reactive” commentary.

The nature of government involvement in modern economies is such that interest groups are constantly engaged in special interest pleading, usually taking the form of asking the government to do something that they represent as being in the national interest. For these and other reasons, there are a lot more bad ideas out there than good ones.

Civil servants in the Department of Finance and other economics-related ministeries spend a lot of their time analysing these submissions and, usually, arguing against them. But often it is very hard to convince a politician that the best course of action is “do nothing” particularly in the face of pressure from interest groups. Independent commentary from academics can be valuable in assisting the staff to make their case and that’s one of the reasons the commentary on the site perhaps skews somewhat in that direction.

None of this is to argue against pro-active suggestions but rather to put the re-active material in context.


Fair comment. But it’s not a case of either/or. Exposing woolly thinking and special pleading for what they are is a valuable service, but it’s very much a “hit and miss” approach. I’m just making a pitch for institutional reform of the Oireachtas as a means to achieve a more formal and intensive engagement of the economics profession in the scrutiny, formulation and implementation of public policy. It probably doesn’t strike many readers as being either important or achievable. I’m happy to leave it at that and pursue other avenues.

Please continue to contribute to this and other fora, as you see fit.

I am convinced that many posters and readers of this site are aware of the need for institutional change here in Ireland. In this context I draw your attention to
1. Philip Lane on the IMF and Institutional Reform in Ireland on 24th June last
2. Karl Whelan drawing attention to
a. Public Sector Reform on 1st July
b. Innovation on both 29th June and 6th July last.
3. Colin Scott on Political Science Fights Back on 29th June last – in addition to his postings on regulation

Colin drew attention to Elaine Byrne’s initiative (along with Matt Wall and Jane Suiter) in organising a conference “Are our institutions fit for purpose? Political Reform in the Republic of Ireland” on 22nd June last – see
and follow the links to the papers.

Two issues now arise. The first is change to What? The second is How?
On the first, there will be much debate, as is clear from the response to many postings on this website. I still think that this web-site generates far more light than heat. People shine that light on timely issues, in ways that the normal media (and refereed journals!) cannot do easily. It is done is a way that is has a wider audience that say pub talk and thus can have a greater effect. It is a new institution in Irish public life. Changing existing institutions (dealing with how power is obtained, exercised, controlled and lost) will not be easy. But we can do it.
On the second, there is much despair, as most think that all initiative for change will be blocked by the current powers-that-be – elected and appointed. No surprises in that! But how can anyone defend the inertia in governance during the last 25 years? The only example needed is the mere existence of An Bord Snip NUA – regardless of who chairs it or even what the Review Gropup recommends on Public Expenditure or Public Service numbers! This suggests that very little has been learnt from the 1980s experience.

Given your interest in the interaction of the legislature and the executive, you will surely have noticed the call for a separation of powers in the UK, by Lord Andrew Turnbull – a former Cabinet Secretary and head of the home civil service.
We have a tendency to take our lead from the English speaking world, how long will it be before a similar call is repeated here? After much intense discussion on the origins and ways of dealing with 1980s economic crisis here, two friends and I made such a call (A Design for Democracy Administration 34/2, June 1986) – which can be found here
I have not changed my view that the tie between the two branches of government must be cut in order to improve both.


Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. Don’t worry. I haven’t given up the fight. Your well-founded persistence is a source of encouragement, since you have being pursuing this case for far longer than I have.

We are focusing on issues related to political economy, politics and governance that do not always fit comfortably with the editorial direction of this blog, even if, as you suggest, it is, perhaps, the one blog that generates more light than heat in the present circumstances in Ireland.

I accept I may have been excessively focused on the energy sector in Ireland as this is the area where I have most knowledge, but, although I work across a wider range of physical network industries internationally, it is an area that presents the most egregious subversion of economic regulation I have come across in my 20 years of experience.

This has reinforced my conviction, which I share with you, that the fundamental problem is the overwhelming dominance of government-in-parliament. However, I would propose reversing your What? and How? questions. To make progress the need for institutional reform must be taken as a given and a focus on how it may be achieved will help to clarify what is both desirable and possible. This is “political” – both with a “p” and a “P”. The immediate target has to be the main opposition parties – but without deliberately excluding the more insightful members of the governing parties.

Although I believe all those who post on, and read, this blog should have an interest in helping to make the case for institutional reform that would facilitate the application of rigorous economic analysis in the formulation, scrutiny and implementation of public policy, I retain my doubts as to whether or not it is the most suitable loaction to progress this debate. And I certainly have no wish to hijack, or be seen to attempt to hijack, this blog for that purpose.

With that in mind, and to avoid upsetting more sensitive souls, I suggest, and hope you agree, we take our exchange “off-line”. My e-mail is:

Will follow up as you suggest.
Unlike you, I am not even hopeful that any (I mean, all!) of the political parties here think beyond getting into power, within the frameworks which now exist.


Thank you. The acquisition and retention of power will always be the primary motivating factor, but there are rustlings in the undergrowth. This is the second time in 30 years that the country has been brought close to its knees economically. For a short period from the late 1980s “performance” when in possession of power outweighed the usual emphasis on “possession”. The “social partnership” process has subverted whatever limited authority the Oireachtas was able to exercise. The relationship between disastrous economic performance and failures in the current system of democratic governance is being noticed more widely.

All of these are straws in the wind, and the issues involved will never energise mass participation, but a coherent gathering of the threads could generate a sustained public debate that would compel an appropriate political response.

These opportunities come but once in a generation.

@Donal O’Brolchain

Reading the proposals you published in 1986 was very interesting.

In retrospect, don’t you think you were a tad pessimistic about the future outlook for the economy back then? If you’d known in 1986 that, in the next 20 years, Ireland’s real GDP would quadruple, that the number in employment would double, that net emigration would be replaced by net immigration to the tune of half a million immigrants living in Ireland, and that Ireland would eventually become the second richest country in the EU, all this without the political revolution you proposed, would you have spent so much time formulating such detailed proposals for changing how the country is governed? Or might you just have gone down the pub instead?

I suspect I’ll be writing something similar in 2030, if I’m still around.


I’m sure Donal, if he so chooses, will be well able to defend his position far more persuasively than I might, but, since we have not moved very far beyond the first drafts of the economic history for the period between 1987 to 1997, you might wish to consider some observations.

Yes. many of the building blocks were in place in the late 1980s that provided the foundation for the huge, subsequent advances in Ireland’s economic prosperity, but it required a national political consensus to repair the public finances and to establish the macroeconomic conditions that allowed the take-off.

Alan Dukes in 1987 made the decision to put the national interest before party interest to support the thrust of FF’s policies which, to a large extent, he and FG would have implemented during the 1982-87 government if he had not had the Labour monkey on his back and destructive opposition from FF.

I don’t think I’m misinterpreting the thrust of Donal’s analysis when he argues for a process of democratic governance that will generate sound economic policies on a continuing basis rather than hoping for the fortuitous emergence of politicians and/or officials (e.g., Lemass and Whittaker, Dukes and MacSharry) who have the nous and drive to halt a drift to disaster and to “make the weather”.

Those in power for the last 10 years seem to have no memory or understanding of what was required to get Ireland’s economic engine firing. We had a good rally car that was capable of going very fast, but they seemed to think that, because it was going so fast so effortlessly, they could go straight into Formula 1. Hopefully some sense of reality has dawned.

And yes. I’m sure we’ll muddle through and I hope you will be alive in 2030 to write something similar, but why run the risk of another national economic disaster (this is the second in 30 years) when some fairly straight forward institutional reforms might help to keep the car on the road and travelling at a manageable speed.

I don’t think anyone in 1986 could have foreseen what would happen in the last decade. I suspect also no one really knows what is going to happen in the next decade. The reality is we were forced to improve our public finances to be allowed to be a part of the Euro project. That was a good thing. We then had very low interest rates when really they should have been higher. That was a bad thing. Then we opened our doors to the new EU states when most countries didn’t. Not saying that was a bad thing but it fuelled the boom.

One thing is for certain, the economy could have been better managed in the boom period so we didn’t get this abrupt halt to our economy that has occured in the last 18 months. It’s not just the credit crunch worldwide. Anglo was going to implode at some stage regardless of what happened on the world stage. It might have taken a little longer. Let’s all hope we get back to growth again but also let’s learn from the tiger years to take it steady rather than slam down the accelerator.

As for being the second richest country in the EU it sure doesn’t feel that way. I’m sure you have stats to prove your point but when our primary schools lack investment, when the health service is a mess, when public transport is well second rate, when you still take 3 hours to get to Limerick you wonder where all the money went.

As for better governance democracy doesn’t seem to work that way. Politicians (in all countries) will always pander to the population and that means short term versus medium/long term goals. It will be interesting to follow the fallout of all the government stimulus that has been pumped in elsewhere. We may be grateful we were unable to do it.

Frankly, I do not think I was at all pessimistic in 1986. Look at what has happened since
Why has the Government reverted to the same mechanism that it used in 1987 – An Bord Snip NUA? This alone suggests incompetence in either drawing up procedures and processes to control expenditure or in their application in a consistent and systematic way or both. Just as in the 1980s, our Government system yet again displays a chronic tendency to levels of public expenditure, not matched by revenues raised by taxation. This is again leading to borrowing for current cost purposes that is unsustainable. This suggests that our government system lacks the capacity to control itself.

What kind of government – no matter how populist – builds two new light rail lines in the capital city during the early years of the 21st century and refused to connect them, either then or since? This suggests a lack of coherence in how government takes decisions.
Take yet another example of a major area in which the government has complete control – the education system up to the end of compulsory schooling. The state sets the agenda through the compulsory curriculum, sets the standards through the state-run secondary school examinations, pays teachers salaries and pensions. Teachers did well during the boom years, judging by Senator Joe O’Toole’s reported description of the benchmarking process as an ATM – presumably one which drew on someone else’s account.
Why then is a very well-informed observer of our education system (Tom Boland, CEO of the Higher Education Authority) saying, within the last month “Increasingly, I am hearing alarm at the extent to which our second-level system is producing students who learn to the test; who in ever greater numbers are not learning to think for themselves; who receive spoon-feeding at second level and expect the same at third….I have a concern that, in response, too many of our academic departments at third level are responding to this learned behaviour, not by challenging it but by collaborating in it, even to the extent of worrying grade inflation. We need to seriously re-imagine key levels of our second-level system.”
These examples suggest that government has not invested in reviewing what it is doing or improving its own skills at managing the resources available to it. All the grand gestures of the partnership pay-rises/tax decreases have resulted in a weakening of our capacity to respond to external shocks by working our way out of the results of our own mismanagement of extra resources.
As Paul pointed out, what we were concerned with in the mid-1980s has not changed ie. the reliance in our system of governance on exceptional individuals emerging. In addition, the government system makes considerable efforts to ensure that mismanagement cannot be spotted until it is too late eg. the uncalled for restrictions on the Freedom of Information Act in 2003.
During the 1990s, economic conditions did improve, helped by the January 1993 devaluation within the EMS. To what extent was that decision forced by external events?
Economic policy making did improve, for a while! I suggest that was driven by constraints imposed by financial markets and EU obligations, as Stuart has pointed out.
We are now living through the aftermath of the constraint-free behaviour of our governing class – rising unemployment/taxes/fees/charges, new levies, reduction in services, some industrial unrest.
This is now exacerbated by external factors. Having joined the Euro, we do not have the same freedom of movement as we did during the 1990s, but we may have more support, with conditions! To what extent are government decisions being very heavily guided by external constraints, when we read that the Anglo-Irish deferral of payments on certain bonds conditions set down by the EU Commission? Debtors are not free!
My argument now is the same now as then – we need to bring in more checks and balances on how we govern ourselves and we also need to cast a wider net in order bring additional skills to the work of government.
Setting up tribunals is an indication of failure of the normal means of accountability. How many tribunals have been set up since the mid 1980s? The list covers, inter alia, the use of export credit guarantees by the beef industry (Hamilton), payments to politicians (Flood/Moriarty, McCracken), Garda behaviour in Donegal and at Abbeylara (Morris, Barr ), blood contamination leading to Hepatitis C (Finlay, Lindsay). In addition, there have been a number of non-statutory enquiries into various aspects of public administration. John Travers in reporting on the illegal taking of monies from elderly citizens in institutional care noted ‘long-term overall systemic corporate failure of public administration’.
In 30 years time, people will almost certainly have a record of at least one tribunal to look into how the Government handled the domestic banking crisis last September and the aftermath.
IMO, our way of governing ourselves needs considerable change if it is to maintain and enhance a capacity, in a consistent and self-reinforcing way, to provide an acceptable sustainable standard of living for all those who wish to live and work here.

I am off to the pub now!

@Donal and John,

I think we have moved a long way from the tribute to Norman Glass that kicked off this thread. We may not agree on what needs to be done in terms of reform of the system of democratic governance, but I don’t think it can be denied that the current system has exhibited major failings. (Stephen Collins, in Saturday’s IT, makes a good case:

The capability of the Government Economic Service in the UK that Norman Glass helped to develop and apply successfully at the micro level should have some resonance in Ireland. (He was also helped by the non-ideological, “what works best” approach of the first Blair government and the fact that Gordon Brown had accumulated a war chest of £5 bilion by imposing a levy on the cheaply privatised ultilites.) However, through no fault of Norman’s, there were major economic policy failings at the macro level. And these failings were replicated throughout the major developed economies irrespective of the significant differences in the system of democratic governance that, for example, the UK, the US, France and Germany exhibit.

In its characteristically remarkable and inimitable manner, the US has renewed itself as a democratic polity, without one iota of institutional change. President Sarkozy has recently pushed through some changes in the original institutional architecture of De Gaulle’s Fifth Republic and the resilience of the German system will be tested in September’s federal elections.

Despite an upsurge in popular demand for institutional reform (which has all but fizzled out), the UK maintains its unchecked and unbalanced system of an all-powerful “government-in-parliament” and Ireland, apparently unthinkingly, pursues an almost identical approach. In some respects, the Irish “green copy” is even worse as the Oireachtas Committees have less bite than their UK counterparts and the Senate fails to impose on the Dail the requirement for re-consideration of ill-thought through legislation that the unelected House of Lords frequently imposes on the Commons.

We may not be able to produce a generation of Norman Glass equivalents to populate the higher reaches of politics and the public service, but we need to create the institutional framework that will allow his like to perform.

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