Is there a future for democratic politics in a globalised economy?

It is widely accepted that we need political reform in Ireland and there has been a variety of contributions to the debate from political parties and academics. Most of proposals, however, focus on the formal properties of the political system (the seanad, the oireachtas and electoral system). Whilst reform of these state institutions are important they ignore two fundamental factors. Firstly, real political change can only come about through radical reform of our political parties. These are the collective actors who hold power through the formulation and implementation of public policy in government. Political parties are hierarchical conservative organisations. They rarely reward youth, innovation or policy entrepreneurs. Constituencies are often run on the basis of mini fiefdoms and candidate selection is generally based on the preference of incumbent TD’s. Thus, unless we radically reform or create new political parties we are unlikely to experience any real change in the quality of government. Secondly, we need to honestly asses the capacity of the parliamentary system to engage in real problem solving after two decades of economic globalisation, market liberalisation and Europeanisation. The capacity of national democratic politics to impose market correcting regulations in an increasingly complex capitalist economy is open to question. Public policy still matters but it is increasingly determined by powerful political and economic forces outside the direct control of government. Therefore, any debate on political reform must factor in a debate on the legitimacy of democratic politics in a global market economy.

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