Poverty in life and poverty of spirit

I find that this article (The Upsetting Reality Of Modern Day Poverty.uploaded in an earlier Facebook  piece)) gives a clear , even bleak, introduction to what poverty means to many people. It set me thinking about poverty in Ireland and about the other problems we face and prompted me to push my ideas a bit further and try to clarify them.

I am speaking here of a poverty of thinking as well as a poverty of circumstances. I wish that those who pontificate about their respect for electoral mandates and their dedication to working for the people who elected them, will read this and then recalibrate the urgency required in forming a new government. You asked for a mandate to govern and implement your policies. No party has reached the line to implement their mandate so it is doubtful that your mandate now extends that far because a coalition, an inter-party, a partnership, or any other arrangement will of necessity limit your mandate. Perhaps it would be wise to temporarily interpret your mandate from your share of the electorate as instructing you to negotiate a part for yourselves and them in whatever arrangement is eventually adopted. Any expectations greater than that is pushing it and would appear somewhat arrogant or chancing your arm.

Don’t keep telling us that “the numbers” dictate that it has to be EITHER a Fine Gael OR a Fianna Fáil minority government supported by a few tame independents whom the winner hopes that they can buy off. That is wishful thinking. The “numbers” you speak of are just like squiggles and blobs on a page, like a Rorschach test, and of themselves they have little or no meaning, other than that the electorate is as confused as you are. We are all in new territory. And that requires working with a new map. Any psychologist using the Rorschach (or Inkblot) Test will tell you that a candidate, asked to describe what they see in the random shape of blobs in the picture, will project the contents of their unconscious mind onto the chaos they see and organise it into a picture that they recognise and feel comfortable with based upon the information in their unconscious mind (See note #1 below). Like seeing meaningful shapes in the random pattern of clouds in the sky or of tea leaves on a bottom of a cup. Other observers may decipher different shapes but of you are right – from your own viewpoint.

Our devoted public representatives, suckled for generations on the spiteful milk of unkindness curdled by begrudgery, fraternal strife, clientalism, and political inbreeding, and at the same time remembering with satisfaction the successes that were gained on different occasions in the past, are now looking hopefully into the chaos of the new parliamentary galaxy of stars, and are scanning hopefully the fortunes and recipes of yesterday. They are seeing only the patterns that worked for them in the past and that once helped them to hold on to power and achieve their goals. The Independents, the Alliances, and the embrionic Parties in today’s Dáil are behaving no differently.

four-of-cupsHas none of them the vision, the imagination, and the character to seize the moment? Is there no one with the courage to break new ground, to show us a new vision of society? A revolutionary vision that will respond to what the electorate is yearning for, a better Ireland, a fairer and more egalitarian Ireland that will treat all the children of Caitlín Ní Uallacháin, both young and old, equally. An Ireland which, though small and struggling, has the heart, the creativity, and the spirit to do better, even to taking its place among the Nations of the Earth?

We have done it before and we can do it again. Digging deep and remembering the richness that lies at the roots of our history, we know that the people of this island once played a crucial role when, together with the Greeks and Romans, they rescued Europe from the Dark Ages. As was pointed out in a recent documentary on RTÉ 1 which was presented by former President Mary McAleese, that period in our history is more appreciated and remembered by continental Europeans today than it is recognised by Irish people. At various stages over the centuries since then, our country has contributed in many and varied ways to the development of a unique culture and community that has not baulked at taking and holding a world view, and is now ranked as number one for our peace-keeping efforts under the United Nations. We have gained recognition from those who valued what our ancestors both recent and ancient have contributed on the world stage. In the past week, a documentary on RTÉ, described eloquently how the 1916 Rising had provided the inspiration for the people of India and Pakistan to fight for and assert their countries’ independence from the British Empire. A respect shown by the people of India and Pakistan which is considerably more real and appreciated by them than is our awareness of their gratitude.

We are at a strengthpoint now where we need to form a government. We need a period of stability but not the static equilibrium of a ladder leaning against a wall. We need the dynamic stability and balance of a body moving swiftly and adapting with awareness, intelligence, and co-ordination to meet our changing circumstances, like a thoroughbred horse under a skilful jockey, like a skier on an icy downhill run, or perhaps more aptly, like a bare-footed person picking their terrified way over red-hot coals!

To achieve that, both we and our representatives must move out of our respective comfort zones; we must inhabit the visions of our youthfulness and not linger with the consoling dreams of old age. Poverty of vision and lack of courage are not the coinage for the journey we must undertake. And undertake it, we must.



 

References

#1: If you are not familiar with the Rorschach Test, you might like to try a fun version available online at Rorschach (or Inkblot) Test (click here).  I hasten to add that the clinical version is for serious use, but don’t worry about this one. Nevertheless, if you understand how the test operates then you will have a clear understanding of what I mean above. These were my test results:

Test Results:

Congratulations! At a 49% “Sickness Quotient”, you’re almost well-adjusted.

Detailed Diagnosis

  • Interpersonal Insights
    You have trouble being friendly to others, especially people who hate your guts and want to hurt you. You complain about everything regardless of what it is. You wouldn’t be happy even if you were hit by a new car.
  • Job Performance & Attitude
    Your attitude towards work is that you could watch others do it all day long. Although your work can upon occasion be very good, remember that even monkeys can be trained to do what you do. And they don’t call in sick.
  • Personality Insight
    Your personal motto is “If you can’t make them think, make them wonder.” Trust us – you’ve succeeded beyond your wildest dreams.

 

 

 

Creating a new Government

A creative approach to bypass stereotyped thinking!

I don’t know if our political leaders are up for creative thinking as a way out of the present mucky mess of logical, linear thinking which is spiralling inwards and downwards in a meaningless rhetoric of negativities. Ireland deserves better. So, what would creative thinking contribute to the present stand-off?

Creative thinking is an approach to problem solving that stimulates a fresh approach, or “out of the box” thinking. It is used when people want to make sure that they don’t miss a trick, that they have explored all possible solutions and then some! Just what we need now, you might say. It would stir, maybe even agitate, the primordial soup of the political collective of little grey cells that at the present moment appears to be bubbling lazily and sticking closely together. The only rule that applies in this approach is “no critical comments, no negatatives, build on the previous suggestions”. You can critically examine the result as much as you like when you have completed this little exercise. Got the idea?

 Right! Let’s set the scene. First of all, what is the greatest problem or threat we now face in Ireland?  Without doubt, if we don’t resolve the problems of global climate change then all other problems are irrelevant. Then, be optimistic. But bear climate change in mind. So, let’s start the creative thinking process. Remember the rules! No critical comments until the task is completed! The process is designed to bypass your Ego’s judgmental and intimidating presence. That part of you that jumps in every time you think in order to protect you from making a mistake. It’s the Mrs. Doyle function, asking you “Are you sure? Are you sure you’re sure?”.

Step #01

Put your own name in the box below, nominating yourself for the role of Taoiseach. You will also need to appoint a Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister). Insert here the name of a Dáil Deputy whom you would trust as competent and suitable for this position.

Taoiseach ( Your Name)
Tánaiste

Step #02

Now please nominate a member of the 32nd Dáil for each of the following positions. Note that if you cannot find a suitable candidate who is currently a member of the Dáil, you may, as Taoiseach, nominate someone to the Seanad/Senate, and then appoint them as Minister. There is a precedant for doing this, but it is recommended that you limit the number on this occasion to not more than three nominations.

Now for the remaining members of the team.

The following are the main areas of government in recent times. You may alter them, add to them, or group them as you wish. Then list your government departments in sequence and nominate as Minister the person you would choose for each.

List of possible Departments:

Finance; Public Expenditure and Reform; Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation; Agriculture, Food & Marine; Defence; Justice and Equality; Children and Youth Affairs; Health; Foreign Affairs; Trade; Commerce; Education; Environment; Community; Local Government; Communications; Energy; Natural Resources; Transport; Tourism; Sport; Arts; Heritage; Gaeltacht (or Language(s))

Government Departments

My choice for Minister

a
 b
 c
 d
 e
 f
 g
 h
 j
 k
 l
 m
 n
 p
 q

Add more if required.

dreamstime_m_28250959And that’s it! The job is done, well, nearly done. I hate to disappoint you but as you are not a member of the Dáil you cannot be nominated as Taoiseach. But you have done your job so take a bow and step gracefully to one side. (Thunderous applause).

You must now select a member of the present Dáil to be Taoiseach. Select one of those on your list above, promoting them and fill the vacancy left.

The job is now done! The purpose of the little ruse was to facilitate you in breaking away from the status quo and taking a fresh look at the problem. You have come up with a viable list of names that you believe would be suitable as a Government. In doing so, you have redefined the intractable problem.

The new problem to be solved is “how to get this list of people approved as the new government”.

Ask yourself the question: “What would need to happen now, to enable these people to be appointed as the next  Government”?

If this suggests any new idea that would help us to break out of the present impasse, then please share it with us.

Thanks!

 

Into the Wilderness: A Story for our Times.

hs-2005-37-a-1280_wallpaper
Crab Nebula

When societies developed their own Creation myths they went to enormous lengths to perpetuate them and build their lives around then, giving them and their leaders a stable reality rather than question the Myth and thereby undermine their Dreamworld. We in Ireland have been living in a Dreamworld that is largely a sustaining stew of old fashioned capitalist theories, disabling colonial memories, with a tad of jaded Celtic Twilight to spice it up. It is a Story that was fed to us with our mother’s milk. It is difficult to break from that story when one has been reared on it. It is a landscape littered with signs, such as “Here be dragons” and “Thou shalt not” because for so long our ancestors lived in a society where Authority, the right to exercise Power, resided in either London or Rome. It provokes great anxiety in society when the basis for that Dream is challenged. It is on a par with the mythic fear of the ancient Celtic warrior king who, when asked by Alexander the Great, was there nothing that the Celts feared, admitted after a pause, that he sometimes feared that the sky would fall on him. For each of us to question ourselves about our existence and about our way of behaving is a challenge and for most it appears to be too threatening to even imagine. “Better to brave the ills we have, than fly to other that we know not of”.

Many people who are disadvantaged by their role in prevailing Dream of Reality feel a strong need to rebel. They have two main options. The first option is to act out their rebellion while maintaining a role in the Dream World. This satisfies their need for psychic security but enables them to vent their anger. It is a futile approach but has its compensations. In the words of MacBeth:

        “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.”
Many will dismiss this description as a poetic boreen, a literary device, but strangely it is an explanation that is being confirmed by modern science that is telling us that there are such things as parallel realities, that we unknowingly construct our own reality. To update that analysis, merely read the ranting and raving, the aggression, the braggadocio and the mock-heroics of the contributions on social media and imagine “Just hold me back or I will…” preceding the statements.
The alternative option they have is to create a new Story, a new Dreamworld, a new way of looking at our world and at our roles in that alternative story. The creation of that new Story is a collective work, It must start with each of us taking responsibility for our own thoughts as well as our own actions. We must then develop a new Story that describes the kind of story in which we wish to live our lives, how we should relate to one another, how we should organise our society. It will not be developed by shouting invective and obscenities at those who oppose us, by vilifying those who try to offer a thread to the new fabric of our Dreamworld. It will require us to produce a story that integrates all (and I deliberatelyRodin - The Thinker emphasise ALL) our citizens into the one shared world of the story. It will be an act of real revolution. To bring this home, just read again the Story that the leaders of the 1916 Rising spoke about and upon which they based their insurrection. The Proclamaton of 1916 is a good summary. They were often ridiculed by those whose lives were embedded in a different Story. Their Story has been twisted and turned since the Civil War. Over recent years, the central characters and settings in the Story have been changed from “Society”, “Commmunity” and their relationship to the “Citizen”  to “the Economy” and the role of the “Consumer/Customer”. Each story line built a different interpretation of what one should do, what one should think, how one should behave, and fundamentally of Who one is. In recent weeks, candidates in the general election produced manisfestoes, ostensibly promoting their versions of the Story, or of selected parts of it, in which we should live and the roles availbable to us.
The results of the election have, as it were, drawn back a part of the veil that hid the mechanics of the system, the Ghost in the Machine. The electorate is beginning to show signs that they are worried and do not like what they see. The political actors in the lead roles are dashing about, trying to repair the rift in the curtain, and pretending that nothing has really changed. But things are changed, changed utterly, and what is being laid bare is far from beautiful. The threat of the ugliness we see is such that it may terrify some, but hopefully it will give courage to others to ask “if not, why not”. As Rudyard Kipling once wrote:
“I keep six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who”
Before it is too late, perhaps our political leaders would introduce us to their honest, serving people and share with us their views. What’s the Story, lads? Why do you want to be our leaders? When are you going to let us share in the work of building our counrty? How will we do that together? Where will that lead us? Who am I going to be in the new Story?
220px-Homo_erectus_pekinensis_-_archeaeological
Enlightened voter (Homo selectus)

Do not expect them to answer these questions now because it is clear that they are very busy doing “grown-up things” and we should wait to be told. We don’t need to wait. We have told them what we want. Let us examine, and even more importantly, let the media, acting on our behalf, help us to interpret the answers implied by their posturing,  positioning, and pretence. Would that be too much to ask? Or do the media prefer the perilous security of their roles in the present Story to navigating the wilderness where we might together constuct a New Story for a Risen People? Aye, there’s the Rub!

We will go on and on, if “they” decide so!

I wish that the Dáil and the media would stop using the mantra “the people have spoken” as if the electorate had sent a clear message with one voice and all that needed to be done now was for the Dáil to read the runes, consult the Oracle at Delphi and then to hammer out a deal, as so often before to pacify the people and all would return to normal. Do they not understand? They are still acting as if they believe in the Story they have concocted and now think it is true. Unfortunately many people in this country got caught up in that Story and began to believe that it was their Story also! Quite clearly it is not true and the electorate has begun to wake up to that fact.

The time has come for us to create a new Story, a new narrative that recognises the hopes and aspirations of a people who have given so much in the past to build a national home  not only for themselves and their families, but for those of Irish descent around the globe. They, and we, all deserve so much more in the future.

Starting from next Thursday, we need to see the Dáil elect a Cathaoirleach (Chairperson) who does not see the role as that of compere or commere of some kind of Music Hall Spectacular, but instead a person with the experience and presence who will control the unruly members with their puerile backchat and disruptive behaviour when they treat to Chamber as an extension of the Dáil bar.

The next task of the Dáil is to nominate a Taoiseach with the integrity, the understanding, the intelligence, the openness and honesty to unite the country. At the moment the leaked gossip and snippets about who is meeting whom, indicate that the focus is totally fixed on power games and has nothing to do with the good of the Nation.Note, by the way, that the agenda item is labelled, “election of Taoiseach”, not “coronation of one party or a cosy coalition”. It is an importtant role. It is a pity that political parties have turned it into an election for the largest party in the Dáil to lay claim to government and power. It does not necessarily need to be so.

From our experience of previous Governments, it is time for a Grand Coalition, preferably not a National Government, because I do not believe that we could trust every party and independent to put the Nation first, if there were no Opposition.

Such a Coalition could draw on the best talent available in the Dáil when appointing Ministers, drawing candidates from all parties or none as well as appointing independents to ministerial office. We even have the precedent of a previous Taoiseach who brought in a candidate from outside by nominating him to the Seanad first before appointing him as Minister for Foreign Affairs – Senator Professor James Dooge. A stately politician and an academic with an impish wit. I remember him lecturing us young first-year would-be engineers on the role of the engineer in sustainable development. We all had to hunt for our dictionaries when he told us with a straight face that the Plains Indians of North America were so good at sustainable living that they even made ceremonial rattles from the scrotum of the bison!

dreamstime_m_33348151The new Government will have a primary task and two main fronts for action. One front clearly is to reform the system and procedures of government, reforming both Dáil and Seanad. Such topics as participative democratic structures eventually reaching from the Dáil Chamber to the Village Community Council, use of online resources to sound the views of the electorate on difficult issues, making equality at work and in society a reality for women and men. It has been promised for a long time. It’s time that it was done now. The second front is to establish a number of task forces, each one actively led by one or more Ministers involved in that field to tackle the crises besetting us in health, homelessness, housing, infrastructure, and public utilities. There is such a mountain of work to be done that Teachtaí Dála who indulge in time-wasting manoeuvres and game playing will not be able to keep up, not to mind sneaking off early to meet their constituents, or even their pals, for a quiet one before the week-end proper starts!

These two fronts for action must be integrated and co-ordinated under the Primary Task, and make specific contributions to it. The Primary Task must dominate over all other priorities and influence their goals and their methods; but that has been almost totally ignored in the election campaign to date and most of the electorate has feared to even mention its name – Climate Change. This global challenge is the target we, and others, must meet if our human race is to survive on this planet. Generations of wilful ignorance, plain greed, and allowing the use and abuse of our global material resources, such as coal, oil, iron, precious metals, even water, to be handed over to private corporations for the enriching of their dreamstime_s_9425462owners have created the problem. Despite warnings from environmental organisations world wide and advice given by our own Green Party and their colleagues elsewhere, successive governments have used “creative accounting” and “quack scientists” to hide the facts from the electorate and lay false trails. Think of a Donald Trump clone as a member of Fianna Fáil and you will see what I mean. “Climate denier” is a polite title for what they do, including giving international guarantees that we obviously could not meet given our appoach to the problem.

We have experienced only the tiniest sample yet of what is to come. But like frightened children we, and our leaders, are hiding our heads under the blankets of feigned ignorance, hoping that the problems of climate change will just go away in the night and not trouble us again. We must prepare, starting now, and build a new way of doing, a new way of thinking, a new way of living our lives. If we do not do so, any temporary solutions we find for our current crises, will not survive long enough to see us through the final great crisis that faces Humankind.

We can go on, … we must go on, and we will go on!

unnamed

 

It’s the Vision, Stupid!

The citizen’s duties ended when they voted. The task of government formation and the reform of government systems began then.

… it is important that we start from where we are

If the traditional horse-trading is taking place, then that merely postpones the collapse and increases the collateral damage to the innocent.

If our political leaders and representatives face this challenge then we have some chance of developing a different political culture in Ireland. If not, then we need to think again.

Summary

At this stage in the creation and appointing of a new government, the old practices still hold sway, despite claims that reforms are necessary and will be introduced. This present situation, even though appearing chaotic, could be used to begin the work of reform. Starting with the process of appointing a Taoiseach, the various steps in the current process are examined and an alternative, hitherto unused approach is advocated. The citizen’s duties ended when they voted. The task of government formation and the reform of government systems began then.


 

“If they can stop you from asking the right questions, you’ll never come up with the right answers.” (Frank Zappa)

In the present inter-regnum period in Ireland, the political situation is close to chaotic, the migrant situation at the Gates of Europe, is barbaric, harrowing, and coarsening of the body politic, whilst the future of the Eurozone countries is perilous.

For those reasons, I suggest that it is important that we start from where we are. Let us doggedly resist the easier option of trying to start from where we would like to be, or, more accurately, where the dream narrative, the “Story”, tells us that we are. This Story is promoted by the power brokers and their sponsors, and broadcast by the national and local media, growled at and sucked over by pundits, experts, analysts and commentators. They assure us in carefully selected snippets, in sound bites that are impervious to logic, and in neatly trimmed statements, that we are in good hands, that they know how to steady the ship, and set the course again for the ship of state. Most importantly, that Story makes clear to us, the electorate, where we stand and what role is allocated to us. Needless to say, that narrative also reassures us, because we do not like to be exposed to such uncertainties. Our politicians assure us with measured words that they will get it all sorted, that we needn’t worry, because, presumably, they believe that they know how to sort these things out. It is marginally annoying for them that there is a glut of independents, and a few “head-the-ball” characters queering the pitch these days, but it is really only a matter of time before the wiser, and more experienced of our politicians get it all sorted and our citizens can again sleep soundly at night. Ahem! And so …? Is that all?

Yet the aggression and madness rumbles on, mentioned in brief communiqués in the gaps between breathless updates on political progress at home. Updates on events in the sporting world insulate us from alarm. But the aggression and madness barges on and is not confined to Europe. The global economy, the global body politic, and the world community of peoples is facing unprecedented threats on all sides. As the beleagured (and apocryphal) General in the Crimean War is reputed to have said when his battalion was being overrun: “The only logical action is to attack”.

I mean “attack”, however, not as it is used in the general response to date in any of the arenas of conflict alluded to above, namely to attack and abuse those who differ from us. I speak of the need to attack the real problem in each case; to confront each threat in turn and by opposing, end them. Most “discussions” both online and between parties during the Election campaign, focussed on exchange of abuse, of put-downs, of half-truths, of insults, and Truth hid her head in Shame.

When large systems run out of control, positive feedback re-inforces the destructive forces already at work and the system ultimately fails. Whether that system is a modern commercial computerised system in a modern institution or an empire such as the Soviet Union was, it collapses into chaos. But history shows us that out of that chaos can come challenges, and facing challenges provides opportunities to resume development and stabilisation.

For example, returning to the present situation in Ireland, if stand-offs and threats of non-cooperation with particular opponents in the political arena concerning the overarching issue of forming a new government are the initiative or response, then chaos, continued failure to cope with national problems and the infliction of further pain and suffering on those sectors of society least able to cope with them, will be the inevitable result, if not sooner, then later. If the traditional horse-trading is taking place, then that merely postpones the collapse and increases the collateral damage to the innocent. By this I imply also that the seeds of the disastrous events culminating in the collapse of the present Fine Gael/Labour Government and its predecessor, the Fianna Fáil/Green Party Government, were sown at the formation of each Government respectively. The only way to find an effective solution and thereby avoid such happenings again, is for the competing parties, groups, and independents to rise above the immediate arena of conflict and to seek for solutions at a higher and more sophisticated level of complexity and with a somewhat different focus.

That would also require the combatants to put the good of the country and all its people before the short-term tactical gains from the manoeuvring of political parties and social classes. If current leaders are too greedy, if they lack the requisite skills, or are too unaware of the dynamics in the situation, to be able to do that, then other leaders must be sought or they might possibly emerge during that period. But more important even than leadership is the creation of a climate in which participants are supported to develop confidence in the fair-mindedness of others, even of those who oppose them. Remember that when the other person’s opinion is different to mine, that does not necessarily make them evil people. My confidence in my own position or in my policies does not necessarily mean that I am the only one who is right. In the recent Election campaign those, sadly, were not the prevailing attitudes and beliefs. Even now the negativity is still dominating despite the protestations.

Unfortunately, we have very little, if any, experience in this country of opposing camps taking a different approach. Compromise on butchered solutions and mashed promises is not healthy food for a democracy but it has been the staple diet of many coalition negotiations. It requires different skills and mindsets to find a way to a real consensus agreement on a range of national policies that opponents can agree to, and hopefully, with their hands on their hearts. In Ireland and in many other English-speaking countries we rarely differentiate between “consensus (note 1)” and “compromise (note 2)”, or between”authority (note 3)” and “power (note 4)”. I use those different definitions in the context of this article. Consensus also requires different leadership skills other than the blunt instruments of cute hoors to lead without expecting to have 100% control over decisions and policies that affect the Nation. If our political leaders and representatives face this challenge then we have some chance of developing a different political culture in Ireland. If not, then we need to think again.

The complexity of the present situation and the variety of bodies involved is a benefit because it should force those involved to take more time in seeking a resolution. If we reflect on processes in the natural world around us, a natural world of which we are a part, there is one very simple and clear model that has led to progress and resolution of differences in other fields of endeavour and life. The general principles are easy to understand and can firstly be described in general terms. Starting with a kernal, a core, or a single cell, the first step is growth to the point where the cell splits into multiple similar basic cells, Growth continues, and at the next stage, the separate cells re-integrate in a more appropriate formation with an additional, higher-order managing or controlling and support function added. Additional types of cells may also be created at this stage. This is the simple process of natural growth and of life in general that we are familiar with but it also underlies other less obvious growth processes. This basic process can be continued, not necessarily ad infinitum, but towards some inherent final state, in a spiral process, repeating the cycle of differentiation-integration-differentiation, eventually leading to growth or decay. The entire life cycle of the process is usually related to the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the controlling-maintenance function generated and expanded at the start of each new cycle.

We saw some examples of this simple natural model during the life and death of the present government. Some Independents formed groups as embryonic parties, such as Social Democrats, with a simple, easily understood structure and basic operating procedures and rules. In other cases, some new or recently formed groups, came together with others to form a second degree integration with somewhat more complicated controlling and maintenance functions, as in the case of the AAA-PBP. The dissolution of the coalition is also an example of the life cycle at work. And this is where the model I have described above shows its usefulness for the identification of future directions, suggesting ways in which we can arrive at new processes including the identification of opportunities and threats. Both political parties and pundits, independents and smaller groupings, have regularly called for the revision of structures and procedures. This presents an opportunity to explore these changes in a meaningful way at a time of crisis.

At the moment, the existing parties, associations, embryonic parties, and independents are behaving like cells in a human body under attack by cancer cells, struggling to ward off the invaders and maintain the integrity of their particular position. The likely result is clearly obvious from the model, a slow, painful death, possibly mediated by external interventions to relieve the pain. On the other hand, our model above does offer hope.

Let’s begin by comparing the current narrative with the actual situation. The established parties, in particular, are dominating the debate, primarily in a negative way judging by their public utterances. Smaller and new parties, along with independent T.Ds. are circulating around the situation, like smaller fish around sharks, some to do menial cleaning up, others to serve as nourishment eventually! The clear message of the shared narrative is that political parties will nominate their leaders for the role of Taoiseach, presenting a programme for government for which they seek the support of others. This, of course, can only take place as the second item on the agenda for the upcoming meeting of the 32nd Dáil. Candidates for Cathaoirleach (Chairman) will first be nominated and the Cathaoirleach elected under Dáil procedures. That is the current narrative or Story! Is it the only one?

Subject to my understanding of the rules governing the nomination of a Taoiseach, I believe that there is another narrative, another Story, a Story that meets the requirements but that has not yet been explored. In brief, I suggest that the nomination of Taoiseach and the agreement of a Programme for Government, should not make one package. I suggest that the current discussions should focus initially on collectively developing and defining a new system with appropriate control and maintenance (or management) functions for the proposed government before policies are even discussed. Candidates seeking nomination as Taoiseach should then present their proposals to the Dáil and promulgate them in general including any reforms required in Dáil procedures. Success in making progress on these “cooler” issues of structure and working relationships would develop better levels of understanding and trust within the Dáil but also within the public at large. It would also pave the way for a more direct approach to preparing a joint platform for action.

In our National Elections, candidates are nominated by political parties but candidates may also be nominated without party affiliations as independent candidates. Why then are the political parties, some Independents, and the media in general promulgating the Story and perpetuating practice from previous Dáil elections of having nominations for Taoiseach put forward by parties complete with programmes for government? Not only this, but the Story has also developed the idea that the programmes for Government will also thereby be selected at the same time. Is this the constitutional position? Is it part of the procedures adopted previously? Or, is it a practice, that like “like Topsy, it just grow’d”?

I have read the Irish Constitution and searched for supporting evidence and here is what I have found.

  • In Section 13.1.1, we read: “The President shall, on the nomination of Dáil Éireann, appoint the Taoiseach” (my italics)
  • In Section 13.2.2, we read: “The President shall, on the nomination of the Taoiseach with the previous approval of Dáil Éireann, appoint the other members of the Government.”
  • In Section 13.7.1, we read that the President after consultation with the Council of State, may communicate with the Houses of the Oireachtas by message or address on any matter of national or public importance (my italics).
  • It is also stated elsewhere in the Constitution that such elections take place under the voting system for all State elections.

Nowhere have I found a defined process for the nomination and election of a Taoiseach. Accordingly I believe that it is reasonable to expect that the same democratic principles governing our other elections still apply.

Whatever its origins the current Story is part of the present situation and is being followed like Holy Writ! Is this then, the only Story, the official Story? In other words, when the Dáil nominates a Taoiseach for appointment, it also nominates the Programme for Government. Would it be possible to nominate a Taoiseach but allow time then for the nominated Taoiseach to prepare a Programme for election involving parties, groups and independents to participate. The nominated Taoiseach could also prepare a list of nominations for ministries and other roles at this time. In many respects, this would have similarities with a national government, but need not necessarily involve all members of the Dáil in the final arrangement. This approach would also allow for the nomination of an Independent as Taoiseach but with Ministers drawn from other parties and other Independents.

The electorate made its choice of Dáil representation based upon party manifestoes but in the current narrative the electorate is excluded from further discussions. These are the prerogative of party members only at special conferences. The main structure, however, of a working relationship between those considering coalition or other form of government described above may be sketched out at an early stage allowing, at a later stage, for further integration processes at a higher level than those currently in use. The structure and operating systems of a coalition should be mapped out describing how the structure would work, before the work of agreeing policies is discussed. It could also identify any reforms required in the Dáil. It could allow for both processes to proceed in parallel, but separately. It would be a sine qua non, an essential component of Cabinet that decisions be made by active consensus (note 1) if, in practice, this is not already the case.

I have had first-hand experience of consensus-seeking during my working life in such processes at work, not only in Ireland and in the West in general, but also in South-East Asia. In both regions it was remarkable to see the same rules applied but in different ways. In the West we tend to make decisions in control groups and then seek to win support for them in the larger community or organisation as well as in the subgroup tasked with implementing those decisions. In consensus seeking, all those involved in the decision, either directly or through representatives, are involved from the beginning, in defining the problem, agreeing a decision, right through to planning implementation. In the West, decisions are made quickly but implementation is very often problematical and delayed, it engenders distrust and undermines confidence in the leadership. In the consensus-seeking approach, also being used now in some aspects of our organisations in the West, the decision-making process takes longer but the implementation is quicker and cleaner and builds confidence and trust in the leadership.

Returning then to the present interparty negotiations, I would predict that if the current negotiation processes focus only at the current level of negotiating and bargaining about policy items, then no real progress will be made. If, instead, the negotiations park the policy bargaining bits and concentrate initially on developing a structure within which they would agree to work, then, depending upon the openness, the trust levels and the sophistication of their thinking, these groups could possibly develop to a stage, in a relatively short period of time, where they would have created a new political system that could respond to the nation’s needs. The citizen’s duties ended when they voted. The task of government formation and the reform of government systems began then. We must now turn our attention to new ways and build a democracy that uses modern technologies and processes to integrate the electorate into the ongoing work of government.

Notes:

  1. consensus: an agreement to which all members of a group, after discussion, agree without reservation and also agree the understanding of the different components after discussion. The propositions is modified until that stage is reached.
  2. compromise: an agreement or decision, settled on by a group, after a discussion, in which agreement is reached on the wording but individuals may retain their own personal definitions in reserve.
  3. authority: the agreed or delegated right to exercise power on behalf of another (e.g., the electorate gives authority to the Dáil to elect a Taoiseach)
  4. power: the ability to do something (e.g., the Taoiseach appoints as Ministers those who have  demonstrated that they have the power to act)