Micheál Martin: will he support real change in the system?

Knock, knock, the canvasser is at the door. Will you answer the politician or will you ignore him or her, as they have been ignoring you for the last 10 years? Will you give vent to your spleen and shower them with the invective once kept for the most vile lowlife? Or will you ask them to change the system to ensure better governance for the future?

We are all weary of the dead zone that politics has become. What is troubling is the gap between the magnitude and seriousness of the challenges facing us and the smallness and triviality of our politics; the ease with which our politicians are distracted by the petty parish pump trifles, their chronic avoidance of tough decisions and their total inability to build a working solution to tackle any big problem.

What we've seen from our government, for close on two decades, has been a tinkering around the edges and a tolerance for mediocrity. There is the constant danger that, in the cacophony of voices, and the overwhelming desire to be re-elected, our politicians lose their moral bearings and find themselves entirely steered by the winds of public opinion.

The new leader of Fianna Fáil, in his acceptance speech-cum-apology, admitted that the administration did make mistakes by not questioning the popular consensus. It was, of course, worse than that. During the boom, no one among the well-paid establishment shouted stop, including the top civil servants, auditors, Central Bank governor or government ministers. Not alone did they not shout stop, many of them became veritable cheerleaders for the greedy bankers and 'overdevelopers'.

What are our politicians going to do to ensure it never happens again? The big question is why is our national governance so ineffective? I don't think it is because members of the Oireachtas are lazy or corrupt. The reason is that our outmoded 1937 constitution allows popular, well-intentioned but unproven people to be entrusted with ministerial responsibilities for which they have neither the executive experience nor competence.

As long ago as 1996, the Constitution Review Group, which was chaired by Dr TK Whitaker, recommended a list system, which allocates parliamentary representation proportionately to parties but allows parties to choose the members of parliament.

A number of countries have changed their electoral systems in recent decades. Italy, Japan and New Zealand have switched to "mixed systems" of the German type, which combine national lists (where political parties offer lists of the most capable people willing to serve) alongside constituency representation. This would dilute the hold and influence of vested interests and localism.

We need to seriously look at introducing a political system similar to that which operates in other European countries, where ministers are created from the great talent pool because of their excellent achievements in both business and management. The fact that these individuals would be appointed and not elected would ensure that their primary responsibilities would be to get things done. Clientelism would be relegated to the relevant lower echelons allowing correct, rather than popular, decision making and government ministers need not have the distraction of local constituency matters. Too often in the past we have seen ministers who have focused on national issues and taken brave decisions lose elections.

At present, we could do this immediately, and without changes to our existing laws. Through the senate we can nominate 11 people and make two of them ministers right now. Currently only Ireland and Malta use the outdated system we use to elect our national representatives; all the 'new' European countries have shunned the system and chosen a different system to ours, which ensures that they do not lose out on the expertise of their national talent pool.

Is it not now time to scrap our outdated 1937 constitution, and replace it with a system where a portion of our national representatives are chosen, on a list system, for their real experience, management skills and vision? This would allow them to focus on national decisions instead of populism and on national governance instead of re-election.

Could a political system change be a goal of the new administration?

As part of the promised political overhaul, a good start would be to ensure that state appointments included individuals with the expertise and talent, not just those handcuffed to their parties through their political affiliations.

The unseemly rush by the outgoing government to appoint the 'friends of the party', 'hangers on' and 'lackeys' to positions on influential state boards is a disgrace, as it does the country a disservice and maintains bad decision making and inefficiencies.

These appointments should not be used as a reward for 'party loyalty' and should be based on meritocracy, open to those with suitable qualifications and appropriate experience in all areas, to include the business sector, including small business owners and owner managers, who are at the coalface of business.

It is high time that we reformed these state appointments by introducing an independent appointments commission. The commission should consist of a panel of independent experts appointed by an all-party Joint Oireachtas Committee for a fixed duration. This process will ensure the appointment of the right people for the right job and rid us of the tainted 'party lackey'.

So, will you answer the door and will you demand change? Will they listen?

Mark Fielding, Chief Executive, ISME, The Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association