New reference book on the Irish system of government

A new book analysing the Irish system of government provides an important reference material for anyone interested in understanding how politics and democracy work in Ireland.

Published by the Institute of Public Administration, the book, Governing Ireland – from cabinet government to delegated governance, has as its editors Eoin O'Malley and Muiris MacCarthaigh.

Presenting a detailed analysis of the Irish system of cabinet government: its virtues, shortcomings, and opportunities for reform, the book opens by noting that Ireland 'tends to perform well on government effectiveness and stability', before adding, unsurprisingly: “However, the parlous state of the country's finances following over a decade of plenty and the abject failure of the regulatory system to constrain excessive bank lending indicate that the contemporary system of Irish government is not in good shape.”

Beginning with the history of Irish 'sovereign' governance as inherited from the UK system, the chapter: 'An overview of the Irish system of Government' by Frank Litton makes many interesting points and observations, including the following:

“The power to make policy is important and rests with the civil servants, despite the fact that civil servants have no constitutional status.

“The Dáil is a place where elections are fought – outside of election times.

“Our system of government is 'executive dominated'. The political party (or parties ) that commands a majority in the Dáil forms the government, which controls the Dáil. Consequently, the question, 'why this law?' can generally be answered without any reference to the Dáil or its deliberations.

“There is no doubt that democracy is well served, making clear that the Government holds power at the will of citizens to whom it is accountable. It expresses democracy's basic premise that all governments are untrustworthy. The electorate who once kept abreast of politics by following the fortunes of their 'team', now find their interest engaged by the excitement of the drama.

“Nonetheless there are difficulties – preoccupation with failure, incompetence, wrongdoing, denunciation and counter-denunciation fuels suspicion of politics overall. The media, an integral part, are impartial in their mistrust of all they interview. Their presumption of the bad faith of all politicians reinforces ours, and trust in politics declines.”

Not a recommended beach/bedside read that can be digested all in one go, the book is certainly heavy-going and all-encompassing, including explorations into the workings of cabinet, the Department of Finance, social partnership, and the European union.

Governing Ireland, published by the IPA, retails at €25.

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