This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 8 °C Saturday 20 April, 2019
Advertisement

Column: Leinster House can seem impenetrable to the average citizen

There is a breakdown in communication between the citizen and their elected representatives when, ironically, our representatives are arguably more contactable now than they have ever been before, writes Sarah O’Neill.

Sarah O'Neill

FOR MANY, the stream of Anglo Tapes revelations have reinforced a sense of cynicism in the political system and confirmed their rationale for disengaging from the political process.

The conversation between the two senior managers, reveals the official’s intent to tactfully concede information, suggesting that they had the upper hand in a decision which ultimately affected each and every Irish taxpayer and has fundamentally determined Ireland’s economic direction for generations to come. However, outrage and blame are temporary and without independent, transparent mechanisms for ensuring accountability from our leaders and open channels of communication between citizens and the political system, we are at danger of sleep-walking into yet another crisis.

Many platforms for communication

According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, 9 in 10 Irish people feel that the government is not listening to citizens’ needs and feedback. This figure indicates a massive breakdown in communication between the average citizen and their elected representatives. Ironically, our representatives are arguably more contactable now than they have ever been before.

However, clearly the channels of communication currently available – constituency hours, letter writing, social media and an Oireachtas telephone number – are inadequate to facilitate the kind of substantial engagement that is clearly lacking. Many people feel voiceless and powerless within their decision-making process.

Leinster House seems impenetrable to the average citizen and for most, this encourages apathy and disinterest towards their political system. On the other hand, politicians who want to communicate their accomplishments and intentions have no neutral platform that allows them to reach their constituents directly. Media attention can leave them vulnerable to misrepresentation and social media is open to abuse.

Open and public discourse

The vast majority of feedback comes from an active minority who can be unrepresentative of the community at large. To prevent choices which ultimately determine the nation’s fate remaining exclusively in the hands of the few in the future, it is vital that there is more open, public discourse around the direction of our country.

Only through collaborative deliberation, can citizens feel heard and become stakeholders once again in the political process. Furthermore, we need to clarify and distill government information and make the political system more understandable and accessible to citizens, allowing them to easily monitor and engage with their leaders. Public engagement in the political process is fundamental to the health of our democracy and it must be engendered by making the process more approachable.

Dailwatch.ie is a non-profit, politically neutral online platform which works towards these objectives by harnessing the accessibility of the internet in facilitating engagement between citizens and their leaders.

The website allows any individual to pose a public question to any TD and receive a public response. We also provide access to voting records and are building a new online tool to distill government information further.The website is intended to be mutually beneficial, by providing a neutral channel for TDs to communicate their position while allowing them to streamline their correspondence with constituents.

A banking inquiry

The Anglo Tapes have prompted fresh calls for a banking inquiry which is planned for Autumn and would investigate the lead up to nationalisation and attempt to appropriate blame among the relevant actors. A Bill currently is making its way through the Houses legislates for Oireachtas committees  to undertake such a public inquiry and both the Finance Committee and the Public Accounts Committee have expressed interest in initiating the investigation.

However, the details of a banking inquiry should not be the sole focus of the conversation to  prevent a crisis of this scale from recurring. Haranguing, bar stool politics, clientelism, are all negative behaviors associated with the political culture which caused the crisis, and it is only by addressing these behaviors can we prevent a reoccurrence.

Citizens have a responsibility to inform themselves on their political system and politicians have a duty to carry out their role publicly and openly. Public discourse and a more informed citizen population are the most powerful deterrents to an inefficient political system.

Minister Brendan Howlin recently signed a letter of intent to ensure Ireland’s participation in the Open Government Partnership; an international initiative which aims to secure commitments from governments to increase citizen participation in politics and conduct their affairs more openly and transparently.

This a positive development which should be praised and encouraged. However to bring about substantial political reform, we must all contribute towards creating a new political narrative.

Sarah O’Neill is a TCD student and founder of Dailwatch.ie, a non-profit, politically neutral platform for direct, public Q&A between citizens and TDs. To engage with your representative now, visit www.dailwatch.ie

Column: Lucinda Creighton and Tom Barry – the story of two political Irelands>

Column: How badly does one have to behave to be knocked out of politics?>

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Sarah O'Neill

Read next:

COMMENTS (11)