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Councillor Matt Carthy – Keynote address on Political reform

25 May, 2012

The political system has failed the people of this State. Corruption and self-interest has deepened the divide between politics and the people. Decisions have not been made in the public interest. Citizens do not have a sense of ownership of their own State. Trust has broken down.

Despite plenty of promises in the run up to last year’s General Election it appears that the only political reform that the Fine Gael/ Labour government are interested in is reducing the number of elected representatives and the numbers of democratically elected bodies.

Breaking Fianna Fáil’s dominance in Irish politics was a good thing but Fine Gael and Labour in Government have failed to commit themselves to a real reform agenda. Salaries remain excessive. Jobs for the boys are still part of the course. Transparency is shied away from. The Executive is not properly accountable to the legislature. Committees need to get tougher. State bodies and local authorities are sheltered from scrutiny. Good governance is a catch phrase and not an objective.

It is time now for fundamental political reform. Trust must be rebuilt. Politics must be rehabilitated. We need to see public confidence in the political system restored. We need this Government to start walking the walk. Perhaps as a first step Enda Kenny could take a lead from Francoise Hollande and the disgracefully high salaries he and his cabinet pals continue to enjoy. There is no place in public life for excessive pay. It is quite simply impossible for a public representative to make decisions in the best interests of ordinary people if they cannot comprehend how difficult it is for those people to get by financially. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour should follow Sinn Féin’s lead. Let them live on the average industrial wage. Then we will see things change.

We need electoral reform that increases the participation of citizens in the political process at all levels. Elections need to be held at weekends. Simplify voter registration by automatically registering voters as soon as they become eligible to vote using PPS numbers to avoid fraud. Reduce the voting age to 16. Voting rights in Presidential elections must be extended to citizens in the Six Counties. Partition has had a corrosive and deeply damaging impact on our politics, economy and society. We need to increase women’s participation in politics at every level.

We need an effective Dáil that holds the government to account. Amend the law to allow for the impeachment or removal from the Dáil any TD found guilty of corruption, deliberate misuse of public money or fraud. Make the Dáil more accessible to the public. Give all TDs the power to bring forward draft legislation for consideration by the committee of which they are a member.

Our Constitution needs reform. Truth be told it needs to be turned inside out. Fine Gael and Labour have promised us a Constitutional Convention. We are still waiting. This Convention must be fully inclusive in it composition which must be determined on an all-Ireland basis. It needs to guarantee economic and social rights. Politics must work towards an entirely new Constitution – a Constitution that serves as a cornerstone of a New Republic.

Most fundamentally of all – we need real local government reform. We actually need Local Government, not local administration which is basically what we currently have. Powers must be devolved to local, democratically elected councils. Decisions must be made as close to the communities who will be affected by them as possible.

Politics is about people. Our people deserve a decent, honest and fair political system.

Motions 1-8 are part of Sinn Féin’s debate to help achieve this.

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