Whatever the outcome of today’s budget, if there was ever a clear message that our political system needs reform, it is the amount of time spent by senior government ministers dealing with the wishes of two independent TDs ahead of the announcement, negotiating on local (as well as national issues – particularly those affecting their key voters).  Yes, the two TDs do and should represent their constituents and their interests, and this kind of deal making is always going to be a feature of coalition government, but that national policy and interests can be so cynically warped by vested interests for local issues is clear indication of how clientelism and localism perverts the Irish political system.  It is absolutely clear that we need local government reform, with power and funding devolved to the local level to deal with local issues.  The national stage should be deal primarily with national issues, with the local clientelism that TDs presently undertake passed to local councillors.  That so much of a TD’s time, and indeed the time of Minister’s, is spent dealing with local issues actively fosters localism to the detriment of national interests.  To let such a situation continue is to perpetuate the gombeen politics that has partially led us into the mess we find ourselves.  Politicians talk about the need for public sector reform – ‘reinventing government’ as Fine Gael puts it – but that needs to consist of more than reducing the numbers of TDs or abolishing the Seanad; it needs to consist of the reinvention of political structures and processes that redistributes political power and public finance across scales.  Until politicians are prepared to take the decisions needed to reorganise their own structures and practices, then the sorts of deal making undertaken over the past two weeks by two renegade, localist and clientelist politicians will continue to distort the national agenda.  Such reform is actually in the self-interests of TDs, freeing them from significant amounts of commitments and compromises, but whether they can see that is a different matter.  Hopefully whatever local deals have been done will be up for renegotiation once the forthcoming general election happens.

Rob Kitchin