37 thoughts on “In Whose Interest?”

  1. @Paul Hunt

    Well done.

    ‘The interests of the vast majority of citizens who ultimately pay for the outcomes of these policy decisions and of the vast majority of consumers who pay for the outcomes of regulatory decisions rarely enter into these deliberations. Once the various conflicting sectional economic interests are squared – preferably behind the scenes and without involving any public conflict – the impact on citizens as taxpayers or consumers is of little import.’ +1 on this one.

    I won’t mention ‘the left’ or ‘Keynes’ … for another day.

  2. Crotty will eventually be regarded as the greatest of post war Irishmen – I am just sorry the populace did not have a more Swiss like skepticism of all power centres back in 87.
    We needed hard as flint hearts back then but we became soft and open to the Bono heal the world crap of the time.

    We were simply bought.
    We have now little internal redundencey remaining to fight this banking darkness………… but that was the plan after all.

  3. Congratulations Paul.

    Delighted that your voice is being heard. Hopefully, we will be hearing from you in the IT shortly, you deserve it.

  4. Tip of the hat to Paul!
    Would it be fair to say that the politial factions see such as their perogative to abuse, regardless of the public interest?

  5. What a great article. Best I’ve read in a long time. Thanks.

    When can we expect to see ideas like these enacted.

  6. Great piece,and we’re goosed because nothing like the reforms proposed will happen.
    Vested interests will always win.
    The phrase ‘behind closed doors’ being the telling and apt phrase used in the piece.
    Anyway,we,the electorate,do not deserve any better.We are ‘happy’ to be ruled by political poltroons and the unaccountable ‘permanents’.

  7. In Ireland when there is a conflict between the public interest and vested interests, the vested interests always win. The power elites and their “useful idiots” which very often are our elected TDs, always win.

  8. A tour de force Paul! Great article! You made excellent use of the bigger venue (and lack of space constraints) to fully develop and set out your ideas. I also found your economist’s perspective on the post-war developments and trends in the various democracies fascinating. But I really do agree that many of our current problems originate in poor governance over many decades. And an emasculated legislature (and the consequent “cabinet tyranny” and lack of any meaningful counterbalance to the executive) lie at the heart of this. But, unfortunately, despite some fairly cosmetic reform proposals from government, none of this looks likely to change any time soon.

  9. The Dork’s mentioning of Crotty as a defender of Ireland against Europe implies that its Europe that is the problem for Ireland – so why did Iceland (not a member of the EU or EZ) fail? Why did Finland (a member of the EU and EZ) succeed?

    In my opinion our financial institutions would have accessed cheap credit whether we were in the EU and/or the EZ or not, and the regulators and governement would still have looked the other way – because it’s just “part of what we are”. It’s in our culture.

  10. @paul hunt

    First an applause, that you brought your thinking into some coherent larger statement.

    This helps people like me coming from somewhere else, better understanding your other comments in previous discussions.

    Formulating your own position, interest, and checking it for consistency is important.

    But what I do not see enough, for my taste, is that this EU is something of about 500 mio people,
    and that the folks from the other 300 mio, without the GIPSI, also have legitimate interests, and politicians, who have to answer to those.
    And not only 300k Icelanders or 5 mio Irish.

    What means, that the patience of the northern / central core has worn pretty thin.

    Out of 27 EU nations, 2 didnt sign up to the latest “fiscal compact”.
    UK for saving Camerons face, and defending what they perceive as their “national” interest of their financial sector.

    And Czech.

    Anybody of you, with any thought about that ?

    Final question:

    has any of you thought about trade volumes / weights, relative to nations ?

    The dublin books piece is very remarkably short of real numbers, beyond mentioning years.

    Just a hint !

  11. @Phaaz
    Well I have also mentioned that the Post Basle / EMU world objective was to access oil / energy resourses using higher leverage mechanisms.

    “Our culture” simply does not understand money – but this culture meme thing can be taken too far , sure we have Urban Jackeens & Country Gombeens but….
    You introduce credit opium to any culture with no generational memory of depression and you get well a depression – just stirr ,heat and wait.

    Finland is no bed of roses either – I have mentioned their totemic EPR nuclear plant project is in big trouble because of Neo-liberal financing & therefore inappropriate cost cutting mechanisms that don’t really cut costs & increase project time.

    Iceland however has some internal redundancy because of its still remaining organic to the host country fishery industry which they would lose under EU governance & control and also perhaps that national vision thing which is hard to capture into numbers sometimes but which has built their Geothermal industry from scratch many moons ago.
    Their new big Hydro / aluminium project (its one of the biggest in Europe) looks like a more corrupt multinational effort however (I would like to know how much tax income Icelanders are getting from those enterprises)
    Anyway these countries can still draw on remaining internal resourses which is vital for national currencies to work both for Iceland if it wants to remain out and Finland if it wants to leave.
    This gives them bargaining power – but they are slowly being drawn into the web of connections making any degree of national self determination impossible.

    We however have left ourselfs much more open to capital flows both for our exports and our imports.
    We sadly really don’t have the skills remaining to farm all of our resourses with any degree of Independence or competence now.
    We are now a little Cork floating / sinking on a neo liberal sea.

    Spain & Ireland were the Foie Gras economies of the EU – the city of Londons little pet projects with Bank Santander and various Scottish / Irish banks brewing a witches cauldron of consumption debt.

    1987 was the year – with Greenspan , EMU & Basle coming down the tracks – its quite something this web of debt.

    Despite what Micheal may tell you I vividly remember Fishermen working in Valentia , Dingle , Castletownbere in the late 70s /early 80s and the old men with the tweed caps that were put out to pasture by EU funds.

    There is something very dark withen the EU project – the planning involved in this has been demonic.

  12. addendum:

    The crisis is not over.

    In the next years, we will have, repeatedly, situations, with crisises, but more important,
    how do we organize things long term stable,

    situations of hard bargaining. Dont have any illusions.

    But the worst counterpart in such bargainings, are people, who do not know their real hard legitimate interests,
    and what they bargain in one area for what somewhere else.

    wish lists, “and a pony”, will not be fulfilled.

    And with Greece now it has become very clear, that formerly “unthinkable” options are not off the table anymore.

    Core Europe worked without the periphery, but not the other way.addendum:

    The crisis is not over.

    In the next years, we will have, repeatedly, situations, with crisises, but more important,
    how do we organize things long term stable,

    situations of hard bargaining. Dont have any illusions.

    But the worst counterpart in such bargainings, are people, who do not know their real hard legitimate interests,
    and what they bargain in one area for what somewhere else.

    wish lists, “and a pony”, will not be fulfilled.

    And with Greece now it has become very clear, that formerly “unthinkable” options are not off the table anymore.

    Core Europe worked without the periphery, but not the other way.

  13. “curtailing freedom and liberty.”

    Sums up the article, really. Propertarianism springs eternal, it seems. Rand would be proud.

  14. @Paul
    I missed this…..
    http://www.rail.co/2012/…/14/irish-government-wont-extend-eu-rail-derog...

    Any thoughts ? SNCF was the best railway company in Europe…
    British Rail…………
    Its the EU dummy.
    Ireland has no control over national policey , it has no levers of state to pull , it is not a state , it is merely in a state.

    There is no balance of power between State & corporate forces withen the EU as all natural monopolies will become private property.
    If Ireland somehow wanted to subsidise rail in the future in the interests of national energy policey for example it could not accomplish this feat.

    The EU does not understand the meaning of the word Dirigisme or more likely it wishes to ignore it.
    Which is one of the reasons Europe is becoming a 2nd world continent – a rentiers paradise.

  15. Many thanks for the (mostly) kind words and many thanks to our hosts and all those who have engaged with me from time to time. The output was very much influenced by your input. The intent is to provoke debate and, with a fair wind, some action. We’ll see…

    As for the sour note, the ferocity with which those who proclaim that much of the wealth and property of the state should be held in common seek to enforce ‘property rights’ when it comes to public sector jobs or the allocation of public resources never ceases to amaze me.

    And as for the shorter version, I’m sure Karl Whelan will be along soon.

    @Áine Uí Ghiollagáin,

    I like your ‘shark tank’. My ‘sausage-machine’ was a lazy tip of the hat to Bismarck since scrutinising the words and actions of German Chancellors seems to be all the rage nowadays. Indeed, we seem to speak of little else.

    @DoC,

    Re government consent to expiry of rail derogation, this seems to have passed most people by, but it was brought to my attention at the time. The Neocon agenda rolls on. It has become so deeply embedded in the apparatus of governance at both the EU and national levels, that, like a huge tanker at sea, it will take a long, long time to turn things around.

    I haven’t given up attacking this sort of nonsense and seeking to advance some sensible structural reform that would be genuinely in the public interest, but I generally find I am on my own. Those on the right will defend and advance it because their paymasters see very profitable opportunities; those on the left will attack it for all the wrong reasons.

  16. This is a fine piece of work by Paul Hunt, eloquent and thought-provoking, and a useful contribution to the general political and economic debate. Unfortunately, it is impaired by his tendency to overstate the excessive dominance by the executive of parliament, often a core argument in his blogs on this site and others.

    Irrespective of the strong imprint of the Westminster model of governance on our parliamentary system, it’s a stretch too far to infer that government control of parliament is ever absolute. There is plenty of evidence of various ways in which backbenchers can, and do, exercise power over policy direction and may stop government initiatives in their tracks.

    Further, parliamentary debates are not ‘debates’ in the sense we commonly understand that concept. For the most part, they are general statements of policy. However, away from the public gaze, more forensic political discussion and bargaining takes place at the committee stage of legislation, in which concessions may be made to opposition spokespersons – the Finance Bill is an obvious example. In short, Paul is assuming, or overemphasizing, one process, where in fact multilayered processes are in play.

    His apparent disdain for the PR-STV electoral system also may be misplaced. Certainly it has led within our political culture, as described by the late Peter Mair, to the emergence of a form of ‘amoral localism’ in that the electorate are more inclined to hold their local TD to account for failure to deliver ‘political pork’ locally or regionally, than to hold government to account for national policy failures. But PR-STV also confers on the individual voter the power of selection between an array of candidates locally. The transferable vote allows the individual citizen to determine the ultimate shape of the administration that will take power. Not unnaturally, the Irish electorate has been shown as reluctant to hand over that power to party apparatchiks and lists of party-approved candidate that would likely ensue. Until such time as someone comes up with a better alternative, – and the direct democracy advocates of citizens assemblies have hardly ignited the public imagination – it is arguable that the electorate should guard this power jealously for good reasons.

    Overall, though, I think Paul is absolutely right in drawing attention to the way in which imbalances in the parliamentary and electoral systems contribute to the powers of vested interests and other unaccountable actors in determining policy. Reform is necessary and the reluctance of this government to live up to its promises of reform and realistic and open public debate about the options has been particularly disappointing, if not altogether surprising. Nor would I be as inclined as Paul occasionally appears to be to airbrush the left out of the debate. I think the left perspective has a valuable contribution to make in its analysis of the imbalances and unfairness of our society and how a flawed consensus within orthodox economic and social thinking has contributed to the current debacle.

  17. @Paul
    You are a decent guy Paul – keep up the good work (although I don’t agree with all of our interpretations.)

    If France pulls the plug on Europe and goes back to its post war roots what will save it is its former dirigiste and planning.
    They have not destroyed their ancient rail routes & indeed have kept many open in anticipation of a fuel crisis.
    Their regional rail is very heavily subsidised.
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transport_express_régional
    I have travelled many times on their rural “Blue Whale” non electrified routes with very little people in the rail car.
    fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ligne_de_Saint-Agne_à_Auch
    Other routes such as their Agen to Auch have been kept open for occasional cargo.
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agen–Vic-en-Bigorre_railway

    This would simply not have happened under the Anglo model – but it gives the state some fat to burn when the situation (oil crisis?) requires it.
    It now looks like the nearby towns of Agen(pop33,863) & Auch(pop 21,744) will be joined again by rail or at least so are the rumours.

    fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auch fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agen

    It will maintain the ancient connections and rivalry between these two towns although things don’t always go smoothly.

  18. @Veronica,

    Thank you for your observations. I’m trying to locate this debate in the context of political economy – the neglected ground between the economics silo and the political science silo (and conscious that the denizens of both silos are likely to either ignore my effort or treat it as a dog treats a lamp-post).

    The points you raise on which I would take issue would probably be more appropriately addressed on politicalreform.ie or some such forum, but, since that opportunity is unlikely to arise I’ll try to deal with them here because they deserve a response.

    First, on executive dominance. Though the piece is long I had to leave as much again out – and I could have written as much in total in addition – brevity has forced an emphasis that may appear unjustified. However, I would still contend that those few occasions when government is genuinely thwarted, when it is forced to make major concessions, when effective restraint is exercised are noteworthy only in terms of their exceptionalism. They are the exceptions that prove the rule. And I certainly wouldn’t accept that all such episodes result in outcomes that are in the public interest. Opposition factions can be as much in hock to special interests as government.

    Secondly, I can’t see how you detected ‘apparent disdain’ for PR-STV. I absolutely love it – and wish we had more and bigger multi-seat constituencies. Surely, given your reference to the late Peter Mair’s apt coinage of ‘amoral localism’, I can comment on this without it automatically being assumed I view PR-STV as the cause and an object of disdain? I could have written as much again on local governance and collective action by consumers and citizens. There is, and should be, a distinction between TDs as representatives and as delegates. It’s a debate that’s older than Edmund Burke.

    Finally, on my apparent airbrushing out of the left, this is from a comment I made earlier:
    “The fundamental problem is that, while the vast majority of citizens and residents in most EU economies eke out an existence below the median wage most of these seem to be divided electorally between the left and the right (with the latter currently securing a plurality) and with a relatively small number as median voters in the centre.

    Those among this large mass of the electorates who lean to the right are repelled by the left’s protection of the ‘aristocrats of labour’ in their camp – many of whom have now have become more capitalist than the capitalists themselves. And those among this large mass that lean to the left appear to remain in thrall to out-dated ideological baggage and utopian, but unrealisable, visions.

    Until this plurality of all electorates realise that they have a common enemy and common interests no progress will be achieved. And as for Ireland, the disposition of the various political factions means that this challenge will never be even recognised – not to mind addressed.”

    Lack of space, again, prevented me exploring this angle in the DRB piece, but it should be clear that, in the post-war years, life-enhancing progress and the removal of life-damaging contraints were achieved when the liberal-centre combined with the progressive/social democratic left. Ted Kennedy split US progressives from the LaFollett liberals when he contested the Democratic Party presidential candidacy in 1980. Around the same time the ‘Gang of Four’ deserted the UK Labour Party and, eventually, in Germany the FDP deserted the SDP. This shift may be observed in most established democracies and the liberal-centre and progressives/social democrats now indulge in mutual loathing, mistrust and animosity with the liberal-centre being repelled by the left and attracted by the lures and wiles of the Neocons.

    Ireland, of course, ploughs its own lonely furrow, but the need to secure a re-alignment of the liberal-centre and the progressive-left becomes more pressing with every passing day. This is a recent attempt at making the case:
    http://www.policy-network.net/publications/4140/The-next-British-centre-left

  19. Paul,

    Good work!

    The shift of more power from the executive to the Oireachtas, will possibly be worthwhile longterm. However, I would not expect that it would have much impact on the contemporary system.

    What is striking about the Dáil, is that during the bubble, nobody sailed against the strong winds of collective madness. As for the Seanad talking shop or deliberative body, the same could be said.

    One university senator was a cheerleader of the two most reckless bank chiefs and then after the bust, Ireland being Ireland was able to ‘credibly’ change tack.

    Post the bubble bust, most members of the Oireachtas were out of their depth in the fast evolving situation.

    Enhanced research facilities were provided over the past decade and TDs each got a parliamentary assistant — the system was abused with family members given jobs to add to the scrounging on the public purse.

    Committee transcripts of hearings with enterprise agency chiefs show little interest or understanding of the issues involved and despite the large sums spent in the science area, they are simply afraid to tackle the well heeled vested interests involved.

    Bruton earlier today via a statement said Enterprise Ireland and the National Pensions Reserve Fund will invest $37.5m in Sofinnova Ventures , a US venture capital firm.

    Sofinnova is to open an office in Dublin but what Bruton didn’t say is that the cost will be effectively funded from the public investment.

    The underlying culture cannot be ignored and in the machine politics system there has for long been an imbalance between personal interest and the common interest.

    Resigning on principle hardly exists in Ireland and what is strange that a half century after Whitaker, nobody in the service or Central Bank saw anything that would merit a public stand while in office on behalf of their fellow citizens.

    It is a shameful record.

    You refer to the National Consumer Agency a small little quango that was set up in response to ‘Rip-off Ireland’ but became a symbol of it.

    With a 14 person board, a chief still earning as much as the Fed chairman, lots of money has been spent on PR but nothing has been available for a price comparison service that a startup could produce and run for a reasonable sum.

  20. @Michael,

    Thank you. I singled out the NCA, not to give you an opportunity to have a go, but because there is a huge underexplored and underdeveloped territory focusing on the effective advocacy and representation of the collective interests of consumers. However, it is proposed to emasculate the NCA even more, if that were possible, by folding it into this new Consumer and Competition Authority.

    And I’m wary of your advocacy of ‘resigning on principle’. I am convinced that is no shortage of competent, dedicated and professional people at all levels and in all parts of the broader government apparatus. I try to put myself in their shoes and to recognise the constraints under which they operate. I have always had a cavalier attitude towards income, wealth and status – there are no pockets in a shroud. But it would be unfair to expect others to have the same attitude.

    My anger is focused on TDs because they have the power – and can secure the power – to change circumstances in a way that would allow these public-spirited public servants to do the job they want to do in the public interest.

  21. just to get into the mood for an ICB bulletin …. after Dear Lorenzon in the FT and his note on a 2nd Irish ‘loan’ …. and Flann O’Brien ‘hape o debt’

    Tune of the Month – released on the Ides of March

    THE VAMPIRE SQUID BLUES

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fhvku1GkfEo

    matrixsQuidesque

    Blue Ridge clouds – roight over the IFSC!

  22. A valuable contribution.

    In the tradition of Mountifort Longfield of Desert Magee, County Cork (nod to the Dork of Cork), first appointed professor of political economy at Trinity College. I firmly believe and your article strengthens my belief that the political aspect of political economy dominates in Ireland.

  23. @ Paul Hunt
    Good stuff. Even better when the comments above are added in. I wouldn’t want to have to choose between centre right and centre left.

    ‘While Ireland’s economy even during its more inward-looking decades has always existed in and been affected by the international context, it has also always had, if to varying degrees, considerable power of its own to affect its condition’

    Ireland’s nvolvement with FDI and EC has opened up opportunities, but also added powerful new constraints. The activities of the US MNCs have helped to conceal the many failings in the domestic economy, and led to a false, but temporarily gratifying, perception of our economic development. Their lobbying power is second to none, and they probably have a defacto veto on many government decisions at this stage.

    EC supports have served to paper over a lot of poor practice, and probably provided the wherewithal to ‘weapon up’ some of our most entrenched vested interests. Much of the passivity of our elected representatives can be explained by simple reference to the prevailing realpolitik. As our prestigious professions and institutional heads have provided no leadership, it’s hard to blame the average Teachta Dala for keeping the head down.

  24. @ Paul Hunt

    As for the sour note, the ferocity with which those who proclaim that much of the wealth and property of the state should be held in common seek to enforce ‘property rights’ when it comes to public sector jobs or the allocation of public resources never ceases to amaze me.

    It may never cease to amaze you, but you seem to be in a minority of one in understanding what the hell you’re talking about. I’m going to be charitable and assume for the moment that you’re not calling clerical workers “aristocracy” like the banksters etc., as you appear to be doing.

  25. @ Paul Hunt

    I would argue that it is the legislative that pollutes the executive rather than the otherway around!
    We have the situation where we have a Minister of/from Limerick, or Galway or Cork as opposed to a situation where a Minister seperated from a legislative can represent that national interest rather than subvert it engaging it in political or geographical factionalism.

  26. @ Paul Hunt

    Maith thú. Onwards and upwards.

    Now who is next into the DRB following yourself and Mr Hennigan ?

    Come on, Dork. Give it bhfaca tú.

  27. Paul,
    I remain to be convinced that there is either administrative or political talent of a high calibre operating on behalf of citizens in any branch of government.

  28. @seafoid

    It seems to consist of everyone specifically derided as a “troll” by Karl Whelan. Jto next presumably?

  29. Bit late to this, but excellent article. Very informative and has really condensed a book worth of Irish economy.ie posts into a coherent yet substantial contribution.
    Now why in the name of God in a country that has citizens with such knowledge, good faith and ability to articulate themselves so well are we stuck with the press that we are. Anyone?
    Because Tont O Reillys a c$$k….

  30. Coming as I am to this late, I admire Paul’s analysis.
    Paul (and some others) will not be surprised when I say that I am underwhelmed by the vagueness of any means of improving our way of governing ourselves.

    I am disappointed that he does not follow through on his analysis by even raising the possibility of a complete separation between the executive(government, Rialtas) and the representative assembly (parliament, Dáil). This is not part of the UK tradition. But as a famous Italian mountaineer Achille Ratti said “I am all in favour of tradition. That is why I like starting new ones”

    Here in Ireland, a separation of powers exists in local government, since 1943 and brought in to lessen the scope for corruption.

    As some will no doubt realise, two friends and I put forward a case for a separation of powers at national level in our consideration of the 1980s crisis here in this state.
    “Our present structure is like a see-saw, with the elected representative function at one end and the Minister/executive role at the other. Any rise in the effectiveness of one implies a drop in the other. A new structure is needed which would cut the tie so that each can be improved without weakening the other equally necessary activity.”
    http://193.120.95.144/politics/Donal%20O%27Brolchain/Need%20Government%20Fail%20Business&Finance%2021May1987.pdf

    Our argument is set out in more detail here
    http://193.120.95.144/politics/design-for-democracy.pdf

    I am also disappointed that Paul has not proposed any means of getting some getting some visibility on interest groups and what they are up too

    As a Swedish journalist pointed out in BBC R4 talk in June 2010
    “In 1766, when a new young radical government came to power convinced that only transparency could deal with the corruption that was looting the Swedish state and society Freedom of Information Act was passed…”

    For more, see http://politicalreform.ie/2010/06/21/freedom-of-information-and-corruption/

    As regards interest groups, I draw attention to footnote 8 in a recent IIEA publication on Climate Change Policy
    “Olsen argues that small distributional coalitions tend to form over time in countries to influence policies in their favor. These policies will generally generate selective benefits concentrated amongst the few members of the coalition, while the costs are diffused throughout the whole population; the “Logic” therefore dictates that there will be little public resistance to them. Hence as time goes on, and these distributional coalitions accumulate in greater and greater numbers, the nation burdened by them will fall into economic decline. See: Olson. M. (1971) [1965]. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (Revised edition ed.). Harvard, Harvard University Press.”

    However, all is not lost, if an article in yesterday’s ITimes can be believed. The EU-ECB-IMF troika seems to have opened up at least one “distributional coalition”
    “A closed shop meant many young doctors could not treat medical card patients, New legislation that grants every qualified GP in Ireland the automatic right to treat medical card patients represents a watershed moment in the history of Irish medicine. It should be welcomed by patients across the State.

    The background to this reform is a shameful reflection on our health service. For almost 40 years, Irish GPs have worked in an unequal and blatantly discriminatory system.

    Under this regime, all colleagues were entitled to treat any private patient who wished to attend them. However, the right to see medical card holders was severely restricted, largely at the behest of those who already had access to these patients.

    Through a byzantine mechanism of “numbers”, “interviews” and “lists”, entry to the system was almost entirely dependent on either the indifference, patronage or physical demise of already established GPs.”
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2012/0319/1224313527895.html

  31. @Donal O’Brolchain,

    You’re coming late to the fray, but you’re very welcome. You have laboured in this vineyard longer than most. However, I expect this thread is probably ‘dead’.

    I recognise the intent and basis of your constructive criticisms. On the separation of legislative and executive powers, I sense that the concept is so alien in Ireland and so removed from long-established tradition that a full-blooded implementation would be seen as ‘revolutionary’ – and provoke concerted opposition. I favour small, incremental steps that may be modified or reversed as experience is gained and the inevitable unintended consequences rear their heads. The focus should be on defining an objective and establishing a process.

    On the special interest groups, my preferred solution is probably ‘radical’. Yes, there is provision at the moment for these interests to appear before Oireachtas Cttess, or to be invited to make presentations to these Cttees, where Members can assess and question the cases they are advancing. But the asymmetry in resources, specialist knowledge and professional skills fatally limits the scrutinising ability of the Oireachtas and boosts the ability of the special interests to advance special pleading, woolly-thinking and self-serving analysis. It also allows special interersts to conceal their real agenda which is only revealed when they get involved in the deal-making behind the closed doors of government or its agencies.

    What I would like to see is Oireachtas Cttees hiring the relevant expertise to critique the cases advanced by these special interests in open forum before Cttees, with Members being allowed to ask questions and seek clarifications and then making a judgement.

    However, what is probably required, first and foremost, in order to make any progress on these or other fronts, is to recognise the incentives and constraints under which most backbench TDs operate and to see how these might be changed. There is no doubt that the vast majority of TDs seek to do the best they can in the context of the incentives and constraints to which they are exposed. But equally, for the vast majority of backbenchers, with negligible or little prospect of advancement in to government office, there is little for them to do apart from attending to their constituents’ concerns, making carefully choreographed contributions in set-piece ‘debates’, doing a bit of ‘grandstanding’ on Cttees or providing ‘warm bodies’ in the division lobbies..

    In addition to their undoubted public-spiritedness, most TDs are motivated by some lust for power, status and prestige. This is not a bad thing. It is perfectly understandable, but, unchecked, it can lead to bad outcomes. If backbench TDs had alternative career-path as Ctttee chairs and vice-chairs with appropriate powers and resources the asymmetry of power between the executive and the legislature might, ever so slowly, be brought in to balance and the various interest groupings might be subject to a bit more transparent scrutiny.

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