Lobbyists don’t go to constituency clinics

Posted on March 14, 2010 at 03:56 PM

I found the article published in the Irish Times yesterday by Professor Declan Kiberd to be part of a worrying trend in commentary about politics in our media recently.  The Irish Times Article is part of a series of articles the Irish Times has said it will publish in over the next few weeks as part of a series ‘Renewing the Republic’. Readers of the article on line can make comments and I did yesterday and made some points that I will also make here.  Professor Kiberd to a large degree blames the political system for our problems. He even blames the political system for the decision by the Government not to adopt ICTU’s 10 point plan.  But it was not the political system that rejected the option of ICTU’s 10 point plan. The Government rejected it. It was a choice made by the Government that Labour might not have made, for example.  It is very convenient for the Government and the IBECs and the CIF etc. to blame the political system for what are in fact choices of the parties in Government. Blaming the political system for particular political choices is to buy into some idea that there is no political differences. Contrary to the gist of Professor Kiberd’s article there are alternatives being put forward by the opposition to the Government's approach and thanks to our political system, the voters will have a chance to vote for or against those alternatives at the next election.  

Professor Kiberd then goes on to attack what our TDs do. He doesn’t elaborate too much, apart from derogatory comments about “high-maintenance ward-heelers who open their main shop for business on just 96 days a year”. It would be interesting to turn that spotlight on to his own working year and compare the two jobs and I imagine he would argue quite correctly that being a professor involves more than the times spent lecturing!  

That the political system and political class is a problem is a major theme that runs through his article.  He suggests we should bring in a superior calibre of politician than the one the voter currently elects. He even suggests they should be paid more!  He proposes the number of TDs should be reduced “to about 75; to bring in new kinds of leaders with experience in various walks of professional life; and to pay such people a competitive salary (but with no frills or extras) for running a country rather than a local clinic”.    Does he not remember that it is the voter that votes for our current TDs?  And that they can vote to re elect them or elect different TDs and different political parties at the next election?  His notion of “bringing in” a superior calibre of people to those the people elect smacks of something very elitist and undemocratic to me.  I find it incredible that he could even write such stuff and not question it himself before it went to print.

On the criticism he makes of the TDs' work on local, constituency and clinic matters, “instead of running the country”, he forgets that our country is populated by people that live in local towns and villages and streets and lanes. Government is for those people, not some abstract idea of country.  He is yet another commentator to single out, although he does not name it such, “clientelism” as the problem with our political system. He doesn’t seem to know that the people who approach TDs locally or at clinics etc. include the poorest of the poor. Those are the so called "clients", under our so called "clientelist" system, who are being blamed for the state of our economy. But it was not the local man approaching the TD at a constituency clinic that gave rise to the tax breaks for developers. The Bankers did not go to a TDs’ clinic when they sought and gained the Bank Guarantee back in September 2008.  IBEC, the CIF and the other lobby groups for the wealthy and powerful don't go to constituency clinics. Yet it’s those that go to TDs’ clinics that are the problem? So called "clients" are constituents and more importantly voters who all have the same power at the ballot box under our present system to vote for change. Would it really be reform to take the "clients" (in other words the constituents and the voters) out of our political system because of their alleged crime of making TDs focus on the local and their daily lives at a time when it is the voters living in local constituencies that will face the fall out most of the bank bail outs and the cuts in public expenditure? And that, according to Professor Kiberd, is supposed to be radical and for the better?  

'Returning to the spirit of Tiger Ireland is pointless. Only a completely new political movement can tackle the challenges' by Professor Declan Kiberd. Irish Times 13 March 2010. 

www.irishtimes.com

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Comments

1. On 15 Mar, 2010 at 03:22 am Robert Browne said:

Joanna, first off you say that you made some on-line points to Mr. Kiberd's article on the Irish Times. I could not see any points that you made on-line and I don't know why you would say you did. You just had a link to this Labour Party site. Granted, on the article above, you have made some points and I would like to comment briefly on these. Mr. Kiberd does indeed blame the political system and he is 100% right. TD's are elected by the people, they form a government and that government elects a leader who in turn appoints Ministers and Junior ministers to oversee the various government departments. The people have paid their taxes only to see the economy led over a cliff by the people to whom they have given power to. We do not call the government the government, and reserve the title of political system for the opposition. The government and opposition are 'the political system'.

I can imagine Mr. Kiberd's remarks about 'shrinking' the Dail being unnerving for a professional politician like yourself but it is obvious that the system, as it stands has completely failed but no politician wants to admit that. We most certainly do need a better standard of politician as we cannot afford the luxury of failure any longer. Our debt this year including the off-balance-sheet NAMA will soar to 150bn and will reach 200bn by the end of 2013 when one euro out of every 5 raised will leave the state just to service this debt. Unemployment is almost 12% already. Look at Limerick and the chaos, then imagine that multiplied by 20 times up and down the county. Is that what we really want?

Regarding, your point about the "poorest of the poor" coming to clinics. How do people become the poorest of the poor? They do so when they are systematically neglected, marginalised and ignored. These people have been fed on the crumbs that have fallen from the table of the rich people as they helped themselves to the largesse of the public purse. This grabbing has been carried out, not just by the bankers and developers but also by the trade unions for their members by Union leaders earning from 130,000 to 175,000 plus perks. Worryingly, Labour is synonymous with the unions and is seen as being heavily indebted to them in the eyes of the public. These very unions have presided over the grossly inefficient Public Sector and semi state sectors. They now hold out the prospect of reform of the broken system if they can get more 'guarantees' from government. What does this mean?

What guarantees have the young people who have to leave the country got? What guarantees have all those in the private sector of the economy got? They have none, yet they are being asked to pay the salaries, pensions and service the borrowing to pay for all of this. This is neither equitable or sustainable. People are worried sick, that they are being asked to pay for those living high on the hog, recession or no recession. Yes, by all means go after the bankers and developers. Personally, my view is that NAMA is a crime and I know Labour voted against it. I also respect hugely what Joan Burton has done. People like myself, affiliated to no party have a sneaking suspicion that nothing much will change under a Labour FG coalition. It is up to the Labour Party to write their contract with the electorate before then. In our constituency, in the by election caused by the untimely death of Tony Gregory. Labour saw fit to impose a candidate that did not even live in the area who's views are inimical and unrepresentative of most of the people living in the area. Coincidentally, also a professor and one who has not been seen or heard of in the constituency since her defeat.

Finally, It is obvious to anyone that the country needs a vision for Ireland. Yes, the country consists of towns, villages, streets and the lanes but unfortunately, if you walk down many of the streets, villages and lanes around the country what you will find is heroin needles, head-shops, litter, graffiti, broken glass and more. Recently unemployed youths hanging around everywhere. We need leadership, vision and courage but what I hear from you is fear and a refusal to change the system which you are familiar with.

2. On 15 Mar, 2010 at 10:11 am Joanna Tuffy TD said:

Robert,

Thanks for your comment.

I made an earlier comment before I made the comment linking to my blog post which is on the 3rd page of comments. It was made on Saturday whereas the one you read was made on Sunday.

Labour has not been in Government since 1997 so are we responsible for Government policies that we opposed and offered alternatives to?

As you point out, we along with other opposition parties opposed NAMA in the Dail. But it was the Bank Guarantee that was in fact the fateful decision, landing us with the debts of Anglo Irish in their entirety. Labour is the only party that voted against the Bank Guarantee. So we did offer an alternative and if the voters think Labour took the right approach on NAMA and the Bank Guarantee they can do something about that under our political system at the ballot box.

Before the last election we offered alternatives to the Government housing policy. We opposed tax breaks for developers amongst many other things. Are we responsible for the housing bubble if that is the case?

I am not unnerved by Professor's proposal to reduce TDs, although I disagree that the number of TDs should be reduced. Michael McDowell makes a very good argument as to why it would be dangerous to reduce the number of TDs as proposed by Professor Kiberd. A much reduced number of TDs could mean more abuse of power, not less, by the Government of the day. What I am unnerved about is his suggestion that you bring in "superior" people. There are no superior people. We are all just human and politics is a mix just as all walks of life are. The notion of superior people is elitist and his suggestion that you bring them in otherwise than our current political system of PR STV in multi seat constituencies smacks of elitism and is anti democratic in my view. Why not just trust the electorate to make up their own mind? It is the voters pregrogative to vote for the "right" or "wrong" people, whether Professor Kiberd or you or I agree with the people the voters vote for or not. That is democracy.

Similarly it is the voters prerogative to contact their TDs at clinics. What is bad about that. I am a better informed legislator because I am in touch with my constituents, at clinics, by phone, by email and in the local community. Otherwise I would be legislating in an Ivory tower that the lobbyists of the wealthy and powerful would however have access to.

I fully agree with you that politicians should come from the local community. But that means, contrary to what Professor Kiberd seems to desire, that TDs need and should be on the ground including at local clinics, where everyone, whether they are rich or poor or in the middle, should be able to contact them.

3. On 16 Mar, 2010 at 02:16 am Robert Browne said:

Politicians should come from the local community but not be the ones who have arranged the most medical cards and ran the most errands.

After the unfolding of this crisis there is strong grounds for drafting ordinary people on to most state boards in the country including banks, to bring levity, common sense and a purposefulness to proceedings.

Like yourself, I have little confidence in the "professors" brigade, but the alternative which has been equally destructive is to fall for the blather and banter of the likes of Bertie Ahern. Charlie Haughey also used to start his campaigns in Moore Street with a bit of banter, "I am one of youse" kind of attitude when in fact he lived in a Gandon mansion and country estate.

Strategically, when Labour attacked Ahern at every opportunity they lost the election because the perception was, if that is all they can do, then they must have no policies of their own.

Yes, the guarantee was critical but Anglo's position was based on fraudulent misrepresentation and the guarantee should be removed from them immediately. Morgen Kelly warned the government not to include Anglo until he was blue in the face but for some strange reason they needed Anglo's debts to be put on the tax payers back even more than the banks that were systemic. I think we can guess the reason.

Let's leave Jack O'Connor for another day!

4. On 16 Mar, 2010 at 10:10 am Joanna Tuffy TD said:

Glad you left Jack O'Connor out of it because I agree with all the points you make.

Although, Labour did put forward a lot of policies, but we obviously did not capture the voters attention with them. One problem was that the voters thought we were going to stop the good times. I very much sensed this watching young voters out in force in my area at the last election. They were out in force to keep Fianna Fail in.

It will be a big challenge for Labour at the next election to persuade the voters that it has the policies that will make a difference for the better.

Voters do take into account medical card chasing ability, but they also take into account lots of other factors too including the perceived economic policies of a party a candidate runs for. But, the fact that the vote is more often or not, won by a candidate persuading a voter face to face, is good for democracy, even if people such as Bertie can use that feature of our political system to their advantage. Labour needs to do a Bertie on electioneering, as well as having policies that the voters will choose.

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