Fine Gael Brain cells discovered by Palaeontologist Vincent Browne

Deep from the pit of his ancestors’ minds, the seance revealed to Vincent Browne that Brain Cells were present and functioning in Fine Gael under Enda Kenny.

This came as a shuddering shock to the great skeptic. If you keep this up Vincent, you might need counselling for psychic shock. As I said earlier, I would love to see you as Minister for Social Inclusion and Poverty Elimination in the next government. You could do your TV3 gig live on Oireachtas Report every night direct from Seanad Eireann.

Vincent on the Fine Gael cerebrum. Mick Farrell – eat your heart out!

Kenny’s Fine Gael not brain dead after all In this section »

‘New Politics’, the party’s agenda for institutional reform, contains some surprisingly good ideas, writes VINCENT BROWNE in the Irish Times

A FEW days after the 2007 general election, in which Fine Gael made an impressive recovery from the debacle it suffered in 2002, I meet Enda Kenny on the street at Merrion Square. He quoted verbatim the opening lines of a column I had written after that 2002 debacle in which I had offered a prayer for Fine Gael: “May the Angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs greet you at your arrival and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem. May the choir of Angels greet you and like Lazarus, who once was a poor man; may you have eternal rest.”

I acknowledged to Enda my prayers for a dead Fine Gael were premature but I formed a mental reservation. While talking to him, I thought that, while Fine Gael technically might be alive, it was brain dead. Only a question of turning off the life-support apparatus. Now I think I might have been wrong about that too.

I am impelled into this distressing acknowledgment by the document the party published on Monday, New Politics, in which it sets out an agenda for institutional reform which, goddammit, isn’t all that bad. Actually some good things in it. Someone is thinking in Fine Gael. Inside that corpse-like carcases there are a few brain cells at work. A refreshing contrast with the Fianna Fáil-PD skeleton, lying there awaiting the arrival of Marie Cassidy. And the left, what left? Anything left of the left?

First the good bits. The proposed changes to the legislative process whereby heads of Bills would be presented to the Dáil in advance of Bills being drafted is a great idea. This would give TDs a significant input before Bills became faits accomplis. The revised budget process is another great idea, which, incidentally, has been around from about 1977 when John Bruton first proposed it. The idea here is to give the Dáil some meaningful role in determining the priorities for the allocation of public resources by establishing a Parliamentary Budget Office which would facilitate deputies in drafting budget proposals before the government’s budget gets to the Dáil and would facilitate the scrutiny of how governments use public funds. A measure not proposed, unfortunately, is how this procedure could evaluate the social consequences of any proposed measure.

There is much else that is good too: strengthening the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General; bringing the operation of State agencies within the ambit of accountability; more teeth to the Freedom of Information provisions; establishing a whistleblower charter; registering all lobbyists; an electoral commission; a citizens’ assembly.

There is a “but”: the main problem with our political system is that it is not democratic, or at least not democratic enough. Our form of representative democracy sucks any real meaning from the idea of citizens being self-governing, citizens being the sovereign power. The idea that citizens have any real authority over how they are governed through the mechanism in which they choose a representative every five years to represent them in parliament is itself a hopelessly inadequate expression of citizens’ sovereign authority. The outsourcing of authority is not the same as the exercising of authority. That this representative then has so little power in parliament, unless they happen to be in the cabinet, further diminishes the content of sovereignty.

Fine Gael does not address either of these two issues. In my view, the people should be consulted by way of referendums on all major issues, subject to agreement on fundamental rights. In many instances that would lead to outcomes which I and others would deplore; but that is democracy.

While Fine Gael does attempt to give TDs more involvement in legislation and in enforcing accountability, it avoids dealing with the central problem: how the operation of the whip system frustrates any proper exercise of accountability by the government to the elected parliament. The ruling parties of the day (ie the Dáil majority) will always frustrate accountability when it really matters, through the exercise of the party whips.

There are two measures which could deal with that. The first is the incorporation into the Constitution of a provision which would make it an offence for there to be any interference with the exercise by deputies of their conscientious, autonomous decision on any vote in parliament. There is a provision like this in the German Basic Law (their constitution, in effect). This would remove the party whip system and would be vigorously opposed by the government of the day or any would-be government of the day, who would claim this would be too great an inhibition on them to implement their policies. The answer to this is we live in a democracy, not an autocracy.

And the other idea is the introduction of a device known as a “decisive minority”, which, incidentally, is part of the Danish system. This would allow a minority in parliament (say a third or 40 per cent) to insist on an inquiry into any matter and a debate on any matter, without guillotine.

But, all in all, the Fine Gael document is impressive. Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael, not just alive, but thinking! Bizarre!