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Column What would you ask Enda?

Voters should be allowed to question their political leaders in parliament, according to the UK’s Labour leader Ed Miliband. But is this a cheap gimmick or an idea that could re-invigorate people’s passion for politics?

POLITICS HAS FAILED the Irish people. Broken promises, corruption and cynicism has resulted in political apathy. People have lost faith in their politicians. They no longer believe they have their best interests at heart and also believe no matter who they vote for nothing will change. Indeed, many sadly believe all politicians are morally bankrupt.

The current government was elected not only on a wave of anger but also on a wave of hope for change. However, despite their laudable pre-election promises, once in power, it quickly became obvious that Fine Gael and Labour would do little to reform a political system that many feel is broken.

People still feel disenfranchised and believe they can make little difference to the status quo. Many have disengaged from politics and just grumble and heckle from the sideline as the game of politics rumbles on without them.

If Ireland is to sustain a thriving democracy it desperately needs ways to re-invigorate the public’s passion for politics. And across the Irish Sea, Labour leader Ed Miliband may just have stumbled upon the right cure for our growing apathy.

He believes the public should have its own version of Prime Minister’s Questions. And while his suggestion has been scoffed at in the UK as being little more than a gimmick, the political classes here would do well to seize upon Miliband’s moment of inspiration.

Question time in the Dail is highly politicised

Rather than genuine attempts at seeking information, it is used as part of the war of attrition against the government. Government ministers play their part and give away as little as possible during these bouts. These point-scoring rituals can provide engaging clashes of ego and even moments of inspired humour, but they rarely offer the public a better insight into a political world they feel has drifted out of their reach.

Miliband’s idea is intended to “let the public in to our politics”. The proposed ‘Public Question Time’ would be held once a fortnight and possibly weekly. Those asking questions “would be chosen by a method to ensure a wide representation of the country and political backgrounds”.

While it is no doubt a revolutionary idea, is it a good idea? Should we allow regular punters the position to directly quiz their political masters?

If politicians want to win back the hearts and minds of the electorate and make them feel part of the political system rather than excluded from it, of course it is a good idea.

This government promised transparency and yet the Taoiseach rarely opens himself up to interviews or public statements. Instead he has been groomed by his handlers to become the king of the sound bite and the darling of the photo opportunity.

But with Leo Varadkar’s sights set firmly on becoming Taoiseach, Enda Kenny needs to engage more directly with voters. And opening up the inner circle of political life to the Irish public could be the one revolutionary move that could turn Kenny into a true political king and secure his leadership of the country beyond his current tenure.

What do you think? Would public questioning of political leaders be a useful exercise?

Poll Results:

A - Yes, I think it should happen (1877)
B - No, I don't think it would be useful (334)
C - I think it should happen but I wouldn't be bothered with it (264)

Paul Allen is managing director of Paul Allen and Associates PR. Follow his blog here.

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