Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

The Seanad and local government reform – a proposal….

Recent events in the Seanad have shown that the abolition of this body might not be the forgone conclusion that many think.  One of the main questions people have, however, is how can the Seanad actually be reformed.  What can be done to make it relevant?

Sometime ago I made quite a radical proposal for what I believe would combine an enormous shake up of both Irish politics and the Seanad.  Abolishing it is the easy option, using it as a vehicle for real political change is a much greater challenge.  Given the dramatic effect this proposal would have in Irish politics I don’t expect it to be enacted but perhaps it might give some food for thought. The Seanad is made up of panels, with its main body being elected by County Councillors; it is through this that I believe reform should happen.  Local government reform is the key to a stronger political system I my view and the Seanad is tied into this.

The problems can be summarised as follows:

• One of the main problems within the Irish system is that we do not have a properly functioning local government system.
• There is a lack of trust on the part of national government when it comes to delegating responsibility to councils
• There is a lack of responsibility among local councils and a lack of accountability.
• The number of councils for such a small population is far too expensive.
• There is a lack of co-ordinated planning and economies of scale
• Regional Authorities have no function in the public mind
• TD’s are seen as more powerful than a Council and therefore approached.
Addressing this problem is not easy however it can be done in a number of steps.
Step 1 – Councillors elected to Regional Authorities
I propose that local government be organised on a regional basis instead of a County basis. This will mean that each county will have much fewer councillors. However the representatives will continue to meet on a committee basis. So for example if all of County Longford had only 8 Councillors, they would meet as a Longford Committee, however they would be elected members of the Regional assembly. This would encourage councillors to work across party lines at county level to ensure that their area was represented effectively. The Councillors would still have a county profile but would be part of something much bigger. The size of regions and their geographic make up can be discussed later.
Regional Assemblies and Authorities could then implement far more effective and standard plans across a region. Getting elected would be no small feat and this in itself can sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of quality representation.  This is necessary to convince central government that control of certain funds and policies can be devolved to the regions. The elected representatives in each region would in turn meet and elect a Chairperson. Similar to National level politics this Chairperson would need to select a cabinet from the other members ensuring that there is political accountability in each region for policies and decisions are not left in the hands of unelected officials only.  The people holding these posts would have a particularly onerous job, in fact a full time job and I will explain how this is funded in a moment.

The system also lays out a clear career path for councillors that is far more attractive for ambitious and able councillors apart from needing to run for TD. The Regional Assembly will also automatically include Members of the European Parliament. The focus will be to tie in the work and understanding of the Assembly and the directly elected representatives with that of Europe to address the so called democratic deficit that exists.
Most importantly, TDs now have separate career paths. A TD while obviously more important that a local councillor, has a different role. The TD is no longer a more important figure than the council itself. This removes the image in the public eye of the TD being able to influence council. Rather, it ensures that TD’s and the public alike will be more inclined to refer local issues to a councillor who has the contacts and network at Regional Assembly level to deal with the issue.  After all, the TD continues to represent a constituency that is smaller than the region, therefore it is the councillor who has the contacts at regional level to ensure roads, waters services etc are being delivered.  The TD’s would clearly be concerned with Dáil matters only.


Step 2 – Giving regions a national forum

The cabinet, or executive, of each of the regional assemblies will, as I have said, have an onerous job that requires full commitment.  Therefore, rather than them electing a Seanad, each of these mini-cabinets/executives members should form the majority of members of a new Senate. The rest of the Senate should be made up of members elected from experts in specific disciplines, Economics, Education, Agriculture, Private Enterprise etc.
This increases the importance of local elections and ensures that for parties there is a real need to get high quality candidates who can win and progress as otherwise the Senate could prove difficult to navigate for a government and this is the kind of teeth that a new Senate needs. Not unlike what occurs in theUnited States. By doing this we overcome the issue of the regional executives being full time positions as without any extra cost the members will indeed be paid as Senators.  Yes it involves more work but that is par for the course these days. One final problem then exists. The Dail selects the Taoiseach and Cabinet, if the Minister for local government is part of this then it may still cause problems to be referred to a TD in the hope that they can influence the Minister with Authority. It could also create conflict between a Minister and the Authorities themselves. Therefore the executives must elect one Member who will in turn have a seat at Cabinet as Minister for Local Government (getting down to small details, the person may need to have their role on their regional council filled by co-option and be automatically re-elected to the regional authority as a Ceann Comhairle is to the Dail, in recognition of the work they will need to undertake at Cabinet). This is a new departure in politics but could give an interesting injection of debate and views right to the heart of government. It also lays out a specific, real and powerful career path for local government that is separate to that of TDs.  It should be noted however, that the member elected does not have a vote in the Dail and can only be Minister for Local Government and cannot be moved from this post. It may also encourage more consensus should a member be linked to an opposition party yet sit at cabinet

This idea is an effort to combine the local, national and EU levels of politics into a system that is fully integrated.  Political Parties would need to change their approach to adapt to such a system, Local government and the Seanad would now be on a par in many ways with the Dail and both would need to be able to work together.  Therefore a balance is struck and the parties need to put a real effort into finding people capable of delivering because influence would be needed both at local and national level.  Control of both houses would be essential.  The work of the Seanad would change, becoming more concerned with EU matters and regional policy but that would be no bad thing in my opinion.

Why Roy Keane is right….

As you know I normally only discuss politics.  At the end of this a lot of you are bound to say I should stick to that.  However, I am a man who loves his football and therefore felt compelled to talk about the recent mini-controversy surrounding Irish soccer and Roy Keane’s comments.  I was incredibly proud of the Irish fans at the tournament.  I thought the way they sang and acted was a credit to them and their country.  However, I also saw nothing wrong in Roy Keane’s comment that we have to do more than show up for the sing song.  I did not read that as an attack on the fans in any way shape or form.

For me, Keane rightly pointed to the fact that the great performance by the fans was what everybody was talking about.  How convenient.  I am sure the Irish team, management and FAI could not wait to talk about the fans.  It is after all the perfect cover to hide behind.  Talking about the amazing support means nobody is talking about what was a disgraceful performance on the pitch.  I don’t say that lightly.

I didn’t hold out much hope for Ireland going into the tournament I felt there was a good chance we would lose all three games, but not like this.  The Irish fans who sang their heart out deserved much better than they got. Let me explain why.

The first thing that is stated at the moment is that this is the weakest Irish squad most can remember.  Now doesn’t that tell you something? Its 24 years since our first big break in Euro ’88.  Kids born that year should have grown up with a better funded and resourced FAI.  A soccer culture that invested in young players developed its own league as a nursery for emerging talent and presented more opportunities than any previous generation.  This crop should now be in their footballing prime.  Instead we are told we have the weakest squad in history.  Serious questions need to be asked about what the FAI has done in those 24 years if that is the case.  Maybe John Giles is right when he attacks the coaching of kids today, and talks about being reared on bread and beans, it seems when we had nothing we could produce better players.

The League of Ireland is still a poor relation.  It is almost an inconvenience to the FAI.  Even in International friendlies, these players are ignored and instead we pluck players from lower leagues and play out of position rather than even give 15 mins for a league  of Ireland player to aspire to in a friendly if nothing else.

Cultivation of the game seems to have failed in a rush to continually find a sticking plaster for the international team in the immediate future.  That is the problem with arguing that this squad is weak.

It doesn’t end there however.  In recent years League of Ireland teams have played vastly superior opposition.  Sometimes they did themselves proud, but where they to let in 7 goals in 2 legs of a tie they would be derided.  A tournament is like a cup.  More often than not we are used to watching big clubs, like Manchester United, City,chelsea or Liverpool, struggling to break down a lower league and weaker outfit. A 2-0 win is considered convincing when fans know that a team can get players behind a ball and frustrate you.  Given the Irish squad and their clubs I am not convinced the gulf was as enormous as is being portrayed, this was not a league of Ireland 11.

Ireland conceded weak goals, their organisation was poor and the scores in both matches so far could have been even greater.  Now let’s be clear Ireland have never been famous for scoring lots of goals or for free flowing attacking football.  Throughout many squads and teams they have, however, always been difficult to break down.  The odd bad result would be quickly rectified.  What hurts more was that these were not really wonder goals in euro 2012 they were often soft.  Let’s face it, if Eoin Hand, Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy, Brian Kerr, or Steve Staunton were manager at this juncture there would be calls for their head.

I like Trappatoni but I don’t think he is the man for this job.  The foot was taken off the pedal once qualification was attained.  We know that Trappatoni doesn’t really go to matches or watch players live.  We know that he had to be put under considerable pressure to includeIrelands’ only form player and emerging prospect James McClean.  His formations at the tournament and playing players out of position were highly questionable.  More than this is at the root of what I think is wrong however.  It is a cultural difference.  Unlike when Jack Charlton took over Trappatoni is not someone deeply familiar with the English and Irish game.  He is continental in style.  There was nothing of the old Ireland in this tournament.

In fact, while Spain were another class in possession it was not that, that impressed me.  It was what they did when they lost possession.  They were far more like Irish squads of the past, standing on players toes, harassing, harrying and in your face.  It was a shock to see Ireland being pushed about the pitch they we used to do to so many of the more ‘gifted’ teams in the past.  The old saying used to go that such teams didn’t like it when you put it up to them, and got stuck in.  They might still win, but it was always said that you knew you were in a game after you played Ireland.

That was not the case in this tournament.  This was not like any Irish or indeed English league team.  The backed off, compartmentalised, and waited hoping to cut out a pass.  That’s all very well if you have excellent and fast midfielders and defenders,Irelanddon’t. Ireland are not Italy.  That pass will cut you apart and goals will be scored.  Your only hope is that you stop the player ever making the pass, rush him, even if it takes a yellow card.  I wasn’t a big fan of Jack Charlton’s style of football, given the players at his disposal, but I have no doubt he would have given the hairdryer treatment to any team of his after those last two games.

For me, Roy Keane is right.  We can sing and we should be proud of the fans.  But we must demand more.  These two results are not good enough and should not be hidden beneath talk of excellent opposition or great fans.  They should be laid bare and lessons must be learned if we are to compete.  That is after all the real reason we are there and no matter how you look at it, we did not compete.

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