Ministers don’t focus on their core executive duties

19 April, 2011

Quote of the Day  is courtesy of Jason O’Mahony.  I don’t know Jason, but his blog (mainly, but not exclusively, on Irish politics)  is always worth following. 

…….. we have a bizarre means of measuring successful leaders in Ireland. It’s like saying “How do we pick good brain surgeons? Well, first of all we see if they can get us a good parking spot near the hospital.” 

His comment is prompted by a very good piece by Dan O’Brien in the Irish Times here.  It deals with “the lack of focus of ministers on their core executive duties” and attributes this to our daft system where government ministers spend too much time on constituency issues for fear of losing their seat.

In Ireland, the Constitution demands that all ministers are members of the Oireachtas. In other words, there is a constitutional obligation to double-job. Doing one big job is hard enough even for talented people. In a world that is increasingly complex and fast- moving, doing two enormous jobs well is nigh on impossible.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, ministers are further distracted from their executive duties by having to operate in the most competitive electoral system in the world. Their incentives are stacked towards keeping voters in one of 43 constituencies happy, by fair means or foul.

Being an effective minister for all 43 constituencies counts little at election time. Is it any wonder that the phenomenon of the two-day-a-week minister exists?

The manner in which the 1937 Constitution collapsed the executive and legislative branches of government into each other has led to a weak parliament and ministers who are usually under-qualified and almost always overworked.

Prohibiting TDs from holding ministerial office would force professional politicians to focus on being parliamentarians or wielders of executive office. Reforming the executive branch of government should be high on the constitutional convention’s agenda.

Dan O’Brien has dealt with this problem before (see here) and it’s not going away.  I have had my tuppence worth also, for instance here and here.

The bottom line: either we change our electoral system to allow TDs be elected from national panels, or we select all or most of our ministers from outside the Oireachtas.

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