Time for Change in Ireland
Since Ireland became a republic in 1948, there has not been any major overhaul of the way the country is ran. We inherited a system from the British that was intended for a 19th century world. From our independence in 1921, politicians were more concerned with keeping their own positions than running the country for the wider Irish people. Score settling, one-upmanship, jobs for their cronies and the lining of their own pockets played a role in the political malaise that set in.
As Enda Kenny and his Government are fond of continually telling us since he came to power, “we are all in this together”. Unfortunately, some of us are “in this” more than others. They are continually telling us that they are public servants who can, and do, lose their jobs at each general election. Their golden handshakes, gold plated pensions, jobs for the boys, un-vouched for expenses and their complete disregard for the people who elected them make them appear to be living on a different planet. They are completely out of touch.
In Ireland today, we have 166 TD’s and 60 Senators for a population of 4.61 million people. In a recent report carried out by RTE, the cost for all of these politicians to the Irish taxpayer is €100 million.
As well as these full time politicians, you can also add the 949 Councillors. These part-time politicians were each paid an average of almost €30,000 each in 2014. This included salary, allowances, fees and expenses. Eleven of them were paid over €100k each. Although these figures quoted were for 114 local authorities with 1,627 Councillors compared to 31 councils with 949 Councillors that have recently been introduced, the average figures won’t be too different when the 2015 figures are released.
Although the number of Councillors have been cut recently, the number of councils and Councillors should be cut a lot more to be more in line with the country’s size and population. Ireland is split into four provinces that have no administrative or political power. These provinces could, and should, form the basis for the overhaul of the Irish political system.
The first change would be to make every cent of expenses dependable on having receipts. The country should be split into four regions: Connaught, Munster, Leinster and Dublin. Dublin would incorporate Dublin county and small parts of Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. The three Ulster counties would be split between Connaught and Leinster, with Donegal going into Connaught and Cavan and Monaghan going into Leinster.
I propose that there should be one Councillor for every 35,200 people. With this figure, Connaught and Donegal, with a population of 703,684 would have 20 Councillors. Munster, with 1,246,088 people, would have 35 Councillors. Greater Dublin with 1.8 million people would have 52 and the rest of Leinster with Cavan and Monaghan would have a population of 838,450 and 24 Councillors. This gives us 131 Councillors compared to 949 at present. The cost to the country would be reduced from €28,470,000 salary, allowances, etc. to €3,930,000.
Add to these savings, the new “super councils” would have a lot of ex-council buildings that could be sold off to give the new councils a substantial shot in arm to cover any set-up costs. They would also benefit from economies of scale, with wage bills and supplier cost being slashed.
Today, we have 166 T.D.’s for a population of 4.6 million people. That’s roughly one T.D. for every 27,711 people, very low by international standards. In Germany, the equivalent is one seat per 130,903 people. If that ratio was applied in Ireland, we would have 35 politicians in the Dáil. These 35 seats could be split between the four constituencies outlined above, with eight being elected in each province and the Dublin region getting an extra three seats.
Our over-inflated government today has sixteen Departments. These would be rolled up into 5 Departments as outlined here:
1) The Department of Social Welfare: The Departments of Social Protection, Education and Skills, Health, Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Department of Justice and Equality.
2) Department of Foreign Affairs
3) Department of Finance: Department of Finance, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Department of Trade.
4) Department of Taoiseach: The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Marine, Department of Transport.
5) Department of Tánaiste: The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Department of Tourism and Sport, Department of Agriculture and Food.
There are currently fifteen Junior Ministers costing approximately €139,000 per year. Completely scrapping these would save over €2 million
The Seanad, which today has sixty senators, would be reduced to twenty, with five being elected to each province. Their powers will have to be revamped to make it a proper counterweight to the Dáil. This would save approximately €75 million in wages, expenses, etc. based on the figures quoted at the start of this article.
With these reductions in numbers, the responsibilities of the politicians would have to be revamped. Local Councillors would have more say and responsibility for local matters. T.D.’s would move away from local matters and concentrate more on national and international matters.
There would be four year fixed term governments. The power of the government to dissolve the Dáil would be done away with. If the Taoiseach loses the ability to lead the government, the opposition would be given the opportunity to form the government for the rest of the four year term.
All these changes taken together could save the country well over €100 million; money that could be better spent on the under-funded police service or to help provide remedial teachers for schools around the country.
Lastly, the Presidency should be given more power. Most of the powers he has today are exercised on the advice of the government. These changes could include:
1) The president should have powers such as the ability to remove members of the Oireachtas and local government without having to go through the government.
2) He could dismiss the Taoiseach and any minister.
3) When presented with a law to sign into law, he can refer it back to the house that passed it with recommendations for any changes.
4) The term of office would be reduced to four years, with elections in the half way term of the Dáil.
5) It would only be possible to overturn a Presidential ruling by a majority sitting of both houses of the Oireachtas.
6) A sitting of both houses plus the heads of each “provincial council” would be needed to remove a President from office.