A fairly busy week then. Between the ETA ceasfire, Ghaddaffi’s death, Obama’s announcement that the full withdrawal from Iraq will take place this year (home by christmas, eh?) and the apparent implosion of all civilisation in Greece you’d think I’d have a lot to say. And maybe I will at some later date. For now, as promised, lets have a look at these tricksy creatures called referendums.
Often found in pairs or even trios, the referendum is the democratic segment of our democratic republic. While most of the little decisions can safely be made by our illustrious TDs, sometimes the questions are more important than, say, how much tax we pay. Sometimes they require an alteration to the constitution itself. Previous instances have been a combination of European treaties (Maastricht, Nice, Lisbon) and ways for us to evolve past the Catholic church (divorce, abortion etc). This time it’s not one but two straight yes/no votes on the same day as the presidential election. The first is about the rules for altering judges’ pay. The second involves granting additional investigative powers to our Oireachtas. Sadly, due to a dose of hysterical drinking this week I’ve not had a chance to read much about the latter. Here’s the endless two cents on the former.
As it stands now, The Rules say that judges pay cannot be altered by the Dail. The reasoning behind this makes a fair amount of sense, all things considered. The founding fathers who wrote the sacred constitution (that’s De Valera and his friend the Archbishop of Dublin, John McQuaid) were a little worried that allowing the Dail to determine pay for the judicial branch of government might open judges to political influence. This was, of course, a risk of interference across governmental branches that couldn’t be taken. Why, if TDs could interfere with judges then we’d see all kinds of dodgy dealings, influence exertion in trials…hang on, doesn’t this already sound a bit like the Ireland we all know? Yes, yes that’s right. All of the evils that this article pretends to prevent are already commonplace and largely ignored in Ireland.
The whole idea of separation of powers in this country is almost as laughable as the concept of civic responsibility on our fair isle. For starters, in case anyone missed it, the executive branch is made up of members of the legislature. Unlike certain electioneers earlier this year, i’m not proposing that change (although i’d be curious to see the outcome of the inner circles being removed from the voting floor of the upper house). However the hypocrisy of pretending that the branches of government don’t already meddle with each other is ridiculous.
Taking aside the lofty assertion that this would leave us “suddenly” open to governmental abuse, there’s a bigger question here about the very stature that we grant our judiciary. For a branch of government, they remain completely unelected, under no oversight or scrutiny, and at their most basic level are simply well-payed civil servants. So why is it ok for the Dail to determine the wages of every other part of the public sector? Could they not also exert political influence over the Gardai if so inclined? Is it ok for the Dail to have influence over the army? If the answer to all of these is no then fair enough. If not, why not the judges? In a year where the public sector have been fucked over and over again without even being left the twenty euro for a cab home, why do the elder statesmen of the legal trade get special treatment? The country’s broke. Skint. Completely without two financial shits to rub together. Maybe we’d be better off taking our constitutional pulse at a time when Kathleen isn’t twitching through a flat line. I’ll be voting yes.