Politicians’ expenses controversy
Members of the public are rightly angry about abuses of taxpayers’ money by politicians who have claimed expenses wrongfully and in circumstances that may or may not be against the law.
The worst offence is against the taxpayer, and the fact that these revelations emerge against the background of rising unemployment and public spending cutbacks makes matters worse.
But also, politics itself, and many honest politicians, are being unfairly tarnished. This too will impact on our society, because we need public confidence in the political process for it to function effectively on our behalf. Otherwise the country will not get the leadership it needs.
Without prejudging any legal issues involved, two lessons are obvious from the Senator Ivor Callely affair. One is that the law must be clarified and tightened so that there is no question but that any future abuse of public money by politicians will be a criminal offence.
Secondly, the make-up and operation of the Seanad needs to change. There is now a question mark over the system of Seanad appointments by newly-elected Taoisigh, and to some extent over the election of senators by local and national politicians as currently happens. I have argued that the privilege of appointing senators could be removed from newly-elected Taoisigh and entrusted to Uachtarán na hÉireann. But it is just as arguable that every member of the Oireachtas should be answerable to a substantial electorate, whether under the current PR STV system or under some list system mechanism where, at the time of voting, it is apparent to the electorate which individuals exactly are on offer.
Any political party worth voting for should present its proposals for reform of the current system to the public before the next General Election.
Rónán on Morning Ireland (Wednesday 4th August) re: Senator Callely invoices – click here
Rónán on Morning Ireland (Thursday 15th July) re: Seanad Committee on Members’ Interests findings on Senator Callely travel claims – click here