Everyone is asking will Reform Alliance be a new political party. That may happen in time but that decision has not yet been made.
It is my view and the view of other members of Reform Alliance that what is needed right now is not a new political party but a new political system. Should we become a new political party overnight it would be politics as normal. And politics as normal failed our country.
We know that the last government didn't keep its eye on the ball. It failed to regulate and led us on a path to destruction. Recent accounts of top-ups to senior management in charities and health providers, breaking salary caps, shows us that this government doesn't appear to know the full story either. Fifty million euro of taxpayers' money given to consultants by Irish Water and not revealed in the Dail or Seanad by the Minister raises doubts about cronyism and lack of adequate oversight and accountability.
I'm not saying governing is easy but these few recent examples for large amounts of money clearly reveal that neither openness nor basic checks are in place. The Irish Water debacle has revealed the contempt with which both the Department and the super quango hold members of the Dail and Seanad, refusing as it had to answer successive parliamentary questions over time from Oireachtas members. We can blame all we want but the buck must stop with the line minister. Worryingly, cabinet accountability, it appears, is largely non-existent. At an even more fundamental level, any government that rushes through a Water Services Bill in the week before Christmas, that doesn't or can’t answer basic questions like what the free quota of water would be per household size and how much water will cost the householder clearly hasn't their homework done. Or indeed if families will be forced to pay for water that is not fit to drink. This is no way to treat the public. Reasons why I and others didn't support the bill, not because of the principle of having to pay, but because of the lack of specific information on the cost and quality of water that will affect every home in Ireland. Think back, did we not see similar mishaps with rushed property tax legislation in recent months too. Plus ca change ...
So politics as normal is not good enough. The same old unaccountable 'Punch and Judy' show in Irish parliamentary politics is inadequate. Any government that oversees a parliamentary democracy that doesn't provide answers to TDs and Senators, elected by the public, hardly earns respect. After all it is the job of TDs and senators to hold the government, the civil service, government departments and any super quangos such as Irish Water or the HSE to account. Members merely articulate the public's questions and concerns.
Reform Alliance is a group of seven elected members of the Oireachtas (five TDs and two senators ), a new political grouping keen to create a system where the mistakes of the past aren't repeated. Essential, because politics - decisions made by government, local and national - affect everyones' lives. By agitating for sound changes, informed by and with public support, we believe we can make the political system change more effectively at this juncture as a political grouping than as a political party. Since we formed we have achieved speaking rights in the Dail for all non-aligned TDs and we contributed to the campaign that was successful in retaining the Seanad with a view to its reform. In the latter case the Irish people very wisely knew that too much power vested in government could be dangerous and that our tendency for complacency requires checks and debate, something that there would have been little time for if all power had been vested in the Dail only. A Dail, already hamstrung by the Executive due to the large Government majority.
So Reform Alliance wants to make a meaningful contribution to Irish politics. We start the listening, the conversation, the teasing out of your ideas on Saturday Jan 25 in the RDS. Already more than 500 people have registered and you are welcome. To register go to reformalliance.ie You will also see a place there where you can submit your reform idea and it will be live streamed on the day. Different. Significantly, more than 160 reform ideas have been received. All will be studied. Proof positive that the public is engaging.
The bottom line as far as we're concerned is this is our Ireland, this is your Ireland, and why shouldn't you have a say in making it a better Ireland. We have an exciting and interactive programme planned for the day. Built around the three themes of political, economic and health reform with a range of expertise and commentators from the three respective fields, where our role is to listen, record and take on board what you have to say. Our commitment after the conference is to reflect on what has been said and to shape policies in the three key areas to create a more responsive political system.
And this is absolutely needed. Fears that when the economy begins to take off, cracks may be covered over and the same old problems could rear their heads again are well founded. We can't let this happen again. Too many of us have lost out. More than 1500 Irish people emigrated every week last year. That is a lot of investment by Irish families and the State in our young people, talent that is needed and should be given an outlet in our own country. This year the ESRI have said emigration is likely to fall into the 70k range. Good to see improvements but still far too high. Of course to keep our young talent in Ireland we need economic reform too. New policies that will grow, maintain and support our small and medium businesses so our entrepreneurs will create new jobs. We are asking you for your ideas to achieve this. The approach by Irish Water, the awarding of contracts behind closed doors, the secrecy, only serves to disillusion and to deceive and to show nothing really has changed.
So someday we may be a new political party but for now join us in our movement for new ideas. This is the first step in the process.
Reform Alliance is intent on creating a better Ireland for all our people. And all the signs show there is an appetite for a new approach. Be part of it. www.reformalliance.ie