Ireland

   

Executive Accountability

#15
Key Findings
While the public’s political engagement is declining as the memory of crisis fades, Ireland falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 15) in terms of executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point since 2014.

Parliamentarians have relatively minimal resources, but adequate executive-oversight powers that have grown stronger in recent years. The audit and ombuds offices are influential.

Voter turnout has declined as economic recovery has gained strength. The quality of debate on policy issues remains high. The media produces substantial current-affairs programming. Newspapers are seeing steep circulation drops, but are investing in online distribution.

Party decisions are strongly influenced by elected officials, but candidates are chosen by member vote. Trade unions, employers’ associations and other civil-society groups, while often sophisticated, have lost influence following the economic crisis.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#9

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of government policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual government policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of government policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy Knowledge
8
In the 2016 general election, electoral turnout dropped to 65.2% from 70.1% in 2011. This fall in turnout reflects economic recovery and strong rates of economic growth.

The proportion of Irish respondents claiming to have heard of various European institutions is consistently higher than the EU average. The level of personal familiarity with elected politicians is very high – it has been claimed that a majority of the electorate have actually been canvassed by at least one person seeking election to the national parliament. In addition, the quality of debate on policy issues is high.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#21

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
5
The Oireachtas Library and Research Service manages the Irish parliamentary library. The service’s primary users are the individual members of the houses of the Oireachtas, committees and staff of the houses.

Whereas ministers recruit advisers and experts, there is no system of internships that allows members to recruit researchers and no tradition of members or groupings commissioning and publishing evaluations of government activity. The main resource available to members for monitoring government activity is the committee system. This allows members to call expert witnesses and explore the implications of proposed legislation. The resources available to these committees appear adequate for their purpose.

These resources are complemented through the mechanism of Parliamentary Questions. Dáil Éireann allocates time during which deputies may ask questions of members of the government relating to their departments or to matters of administration for which they are responsible. Considerable civil service resources are devoted to researching the answers to these questions, of which a total of 50,000 were processed during 2014. This works out at an impressive average of 300 per deputy.

Citations:
A statement of the services available from the Oireachtas Library and Research Services is provided here:

http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/media/housesoftheoireachtas/libraryresearch/others/LRSStatementofServicesapprovedbyCommission2012.pdf

Michael Gallagher, ‘The Oireachtas: President and Parliament,’ in John Coakley and Michael Gallagher (eds), Politics in the Republic of Ireland, 2010.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not ask for government documents.
Obtaining Documents
7
Parliamentary committees have the power to send for persons, papers and records; to require attendance by ministers in order discuss current policies and proposals for legislation; and to require the attendance of principal officeholders in bodies that are funded by the state. The issue of access to government documents by committees has not been contentious in recent years.

While parliamentary committees were once weak, they have been getting stronger since the 1980s. One comparative ranking of the strength of committee systems in 39 advanced industrial democracies placed Ireland mid-table (Martin 2010).

Citations:
The Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis Final Report January, 2016.
The scope and structure of the Banking Inquiry are set out here:
http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/media/Relevant-Proposal-to-the-Committees-on-Procedure-and-Privileges-of-Dail-Eireann-and-Seanad-Eireann.pdf

Shane Martin ‘The Committee System,’ in Muiris MacCarthaigh and Maurice Manning (eds, 2010) The Houses of the Oireachtas. Dublin: IPA.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
8
The powers and scope of Oireachtas committees of inquiry are set out in the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013, which was signed into law in July 2013. The act provides for Oireachtas inquiries, consistent with the Supreme Court’s judgment on the scope of such inquiries. The scope of legitimate parliamentary inquiries that can now be carried out is broad. The legislation expands the scope of evidence that civil servants may give, thus enabling committees to develop a full narrative of events for the purpose of establishing facts.

Cabinet ministers regularly attend committees and assist them with their work. Oireachtas (parliamentary) committees play an increasingly important role in parliamentary business. They can receive submissions and hear evidence from interested groups, discuss and draft legislative proposals, publish minutes of evidence and related documents, and demand the attendance of government ministers.

Citations:
For a discussion of how a constitutional provision for cabinet confidentiality might impinge on the work of the Banking Inquiry, see the July 2014 post by Dr. Conor O’Mahony on the
Constitution Project @ UCC website:
“Cabinet Confidentiality and the Banking Inquiry”
http://constitutionproject.ie/?p=342
However, the committee’s work was not unduly hampered by these considerations.
For the Supreme Court judgment on the powers of Oirechtas Inquiries see
https://www.google.ie/search?q=abbeylara+case&oq=abbeylara+case&aqs=chrome..69i57.8950j1j7&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=122&ie=UTF-8

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
There are no restrictions on summoning expert witnesses to their meetings.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
6
There is a considerable amount of variance in both the number and task congruence of committees across parliaments.

There are 22 regular committees serving the current dáil, which for the most part shadow the main line ministries. In addition, there are also other types of committees, such as special committees (i.e., temporary, subject-specific committees rather than standing committees). These include special committees on the future funding of water resources, the future of health care, and housing and homelessness. The latter committee delivered its final report in June 2016 and has ceased its work. In July 2016, as part of the process of reforming the dáil, a new standing committee was established, the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, to help parliament monitor the government’s economic and financial policy decisions. The committee has 15 members representing all parliamentary parties. No member of the committee can be a government minister.

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
9
The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (OCAG) reports to the lower house of parliament. The OCAG attends meetings of the lower house’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) as a permanent witness. The results of the OCAG’s independent examinations are used for PAC enquiries.

The PAC’s effectiveness is enhanced by having the OCAG’s reports as a starting point, and in turn the OCAG’s scrutiny gains significantly in impact and effectiveness because its reports are considered by and used as a basis for action by the PAC. The PAC examines and reports to the lower house as a whole on its review of accounts audited by the OCAG. This process ensures that the parliament can rely on its own auditing processes and capacities.

Does the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
8
The Office of the Ombudsman investigates complaints about the administrative actions of government departments, the health service executive and local authorities. Ireland largely follows the Scandinavian ombudsman model. The ombudsman acts in the public interest as part of an overall system of checks and balances, as representing and protecting the people from any excess or unfairness on the part of government. The ombudsman reports to parliament at least twice a year.

Only twice in the 25-year history of the Office of the Ombudsman have its recommendations been rejected by government. In 2009, the ombudsman was invited to appear before the relevant parliamentary committee to explain her views on the matter. The fact that this sort of conflict has arisen so rarely, and when it did it attracted so much publicity, is evidence that the office generally operates effectively and has its findings accepted by parliament.

In addition to the main Office of the Ombudsman, there are separate ombudsmen for the national police force (the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC), financial services, children, insurance, the army, the press and pension issues. These offices are effective in listening to the concerns of citizens in their dealings with government agencies.

Media

#11

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
9
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) aims to ensure that “the democratic values enshrined in the constitution, especially those relating to rightful liberty of expression, are upheld,” and that broadcasting services are “open and pluralistic.”

The largest TV and radio stations in Ireland are operated by RTÉ, a state-owned public-service broadcaster financed by revenue from the mandatory TV license, as well as by advertising. Since 1988, RTÉ has faced competition from privately owned radio and television stations. RTÉ devotes a significant proportion of TV and radio air time to news and commentary on current affairs and political issues. It also undertakes original investigative journalism. The privately owned TV and radio stations have to devote specified proportions of airtime to current affairs and public-service programs. However, in terms of listener hours, music and entertainment outweigh current affairs and analysis.

The main stations produce high-quality information programs and programs devoted to in-depth analysis of government policy and decisions. They provide forums for discussions of current affairs, as well as outlets for opinions and grievances. These programs elicit reactions and responses from politicians. The two largest-circulation daily newspapers provide ample information on and analysis of government decisions.

The Press Council of Ireland provides an independent forum for resolving complaints about the press. In 2012, the United Kingdom’s Leveson inquiry mentioned the Irish Press Council as a model.

Irish newspaper circulation (print and electronic versions combined) continued to fall over the review period, but the main newspapers are devoting additional resources to improved electronic dissemination of news and analysis.

Parties and Interest Associations

#20

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
5
The prime minister is elected by the lower house of the parliament and is usually the leader of the biggest party in parliament. The position of party leader is therefore of great significance.

In the 2016 general election, the vote shares received by the four largest parties were: Fine Gael 25.5%, Fianna Fáil 24.3%, Sinn Féin 13.8% and the Labour Party 6.6%. Smaller parties and independent candidates won around 30% of the votes.
Specific party procedures for selecting party leaders and presidential candidates are detailed below. However, all the main parties now use a one member one voting system, meaning that each party member can vote once for the party candidate in their constituency. As such, party members are important gatekeepers to the selection of parliamentary candidates.

Fine Gael:
The party leader is selected by an electoral college comprising: (1) the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party – weighting 65%, (2) ordinary Fine Gael members – 25% weighting, and (3) Fine Gael local representatives comprising city and county councilors and members of Udaras na Gaeltachta – weighting 10%. On 2 June 2017, Leo Varadkar beat Simon Coveney to become the new leader of Fine Gael. He was appointed taoiseach by President Higgins following a vote in Dail Eireann on 14 June 2017.

Fianna Fáil:
The party has a pyramidal structure based on the local branches (cumainn). There are approximately 3,000 of these across the country. The party leader is elected by an electoral college comprising: (1) ordinary members – weighting 45%, Dail deputies – 40% weighting, and (3) other elected representatives – weighting 15%. Before the establishment of this electoral college, Micheal Martin was elected as leader of Fianna Fail on 26 January 2011, in an election in which only TDs (MPs) who were members of the Fianna Fail party were eligible to vote.

The Labour Party:
After a heavy electoral defeat in the 2016 General Election, Brendan Howlin was elected unopposed as leader of the Labour Party. No one within the parliamentary party was prepared to second the nomination of the alternative candidate, Alan Kelly.

Sinn Féin:
The president of Sinn Féin has held office since 1983 but will resign in 2018. The party will elect his replacement in the first half of 2018. Since the party entered politics in 1986, no vote of confidence in the party leader has been tabled. The Ard Fheis (National Delegate Conference) is Sinn Féin’s ultimate policymaking body, where delegates – directly elected by members of local branches (cumainn) – vote on and adopt policies.

To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Business)
7
During the economic crisis the capacity of the trade unions and the employers’ and farmers’ associations to influence policy was seriously diminished. However, these associations are staffed by economists and other experts who conduct detailed background research and make detailed – if selective – cases to support their favored policies. They make detailed submissions to the Finance Ministry during the annual budget process. The government takes some account of these arguments when preparing the budget and in formulating other policies.

Citations:
The number of independent commentaries and online policy forums has grown in recent years, see
http://www.publicpolicy.ie/
http://www.irisheconomy.ie/
http://www.nerinstitute.net/
http://politicalreform.ie/
http://www.politics.ie/

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
6
There is a strong tradition of interest associations and advocacy groups in Ireland, especially in the areas of health and social policy. While their influence was diminished by the financial constraints of the last six years, they continue to have an impact on policies relating to issues such as drug abuse, provision for people with disabilities, homelessness, asylum-seekers, and perceived inequalities and injustices in Irish society. While many of these associations prepare relevant policy proposals, their emphasis is on advocacy rather than analysis. The most influential of these associations, Social Justice Ireland, evolved from an association of members of Roman Catholic religious orders.

Citations:
For Social Justice Ireland, see
http://www.socialjustice.ie
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