Inquiry Amendment Defeated

The constitution is no place for trust.  The constitution, exists, among other reasons, to safeguard against misgovernment and while nobody seriously believes that anyone currently in government is any sort of fascist, it would be naive to assume that our country will never have an oppressive administration.

That sort of complacency has led greater countries than Ireland to disaster.  We must be careful.

Some people, with no basis for the assertion, claimed that the proposed amendment was about catching crooked bankers, and perhaps that was the motivation for bringing it forward, but long after the bankers had all been grilled, we would still have this provision in the constitution, giving governments carte blanche to judge people without benefit of a jury.

You might point out that it takes a resolution by one of the houses of the Oireachtas to set up an inquiry, but Ireland’s parliament, unlike, for instance, Germany’s, is controlled by the government and therefore by the prime minister.  A Taoiseach would not have to do the sort of pleading that Angela Merkel had to do in recent weeks in the Bundestag, and if that Taoiseach had control of his party, the constitutional requirement for an Oireachtas vote would be no more than a sham.

Accordingly, this amendment had the potential to place an oppressive power in the hands of a single individual even if that was not the intention behind it.  The people rejected it because quite rightly, they don’t trust politicians.  And while it’s true that the courts are clumsy and that tribunals are ridiculously expensive, the answer is not to confer powers of judge and jury on politicians, but to fix the existing problems.

The draft legislation accompanying the proposal was irrelevant because it did not form part of the amendment.  Any government would have been free to rewrite that law any way it chose once the amendment passed.

If Alan Shatter thinks the people made a mistake in voting this thing down, he had better think again, because next time he tries to run this one by us, there will be an even bigger backlash, now that everyone knows what he tried to enshrine in our fundamental law.  Next time around, he’ll need to get the wording right so that we can have effective parliamentary inquiries without the possibility of an unscrupulous party leader using them to silence critics.

I don’t want to hear any smug assurances about the real intentions of this amendment, from people who don’t have access to such information.  I won’t be accused of hysteria for holding a considered position on an important matter.  I’m saying what this proposal was capable of, when examined objectively and I’m saying that it was either misconceived or mischievous.  I don’t know which.

33 replies on “Inquiry Amendment Defeated”

I’m glad it was defeated. It reeked of Stasi policing at its worst. The potential for abuse was enormous. A re-think on the running and management of tribunals is whats needed. The money wasted on them, relative to the results they’ve given us(nothing) is unforgivable.

As for the judges pay, I can see why that was passed with relative ease, but the saving to be gained from the judicial salary drop is paltry. A populist response was inevitable. They’re rich, and getting richer still, so we need to put a stop to that. At least, that was the spin put upon it anyway, as far as I can see. I suppose it would do no harm to fire a warning shot accross their boughs, but I still can’t figure out for the life of me why this was even necessary to begin with.

I voted against both myself. I don’t see why these two amendments needed to be billed alongside the presidency. They were never going to get the same media coverage, especially with seven candidates running for the Aras. If they are so important, why not run them as their own separate entity? Without a proper forum to discuss them, I felt there was more to both than what met the eye, and grew wary. So on that basis, I voted no. If they try to sneak a bill past the gaze of the public, that would have been a perfect time to do so, and I don’t approve. Thank you , Fianna Fail for making us a little bit more suspicious about political agendas. Some good came from your disasterous time at the helm.

What are the odds that they’ll try to run this one by us again Lisbon style,with different wording? Is it possible that Shatters sententious deprecation of the former Attorneys General concerns(bearing in mind that some modicum of self interest may have existed)played a part in the amendments defeat? Or is that too simplistic?

No. All parliaments should have the power of inquiry. This one was more like a Star Chamber, but if they came up with a proper proposal, I’d support it.

I’ll wait and see. Last month the British parliament was able, effectively, to grill Rupert Murdoch, and when it finished its deliberations, parliament passed a bill setting up a special judicial inquiry. I think that might be a good model, instead of politicians acting as judge and jury.

It certainly would be a good model.The only thing that worries me is would the main parties here, who are after all but two sides of the same coin,have the backbone to progress any such deliberations since there is so much self interest and nod and wink culture still pertaining?

‘nobody seriously believes that anyone currently in government is any sort of fascist’. Really. I thought that almost everybody in Government anywhere can be accused of some sort of fascism by somebody. Surely one of the most insiduous aspects of 20th century fascism was its banal solutions to the mundane problems of the middle classes, such as law and order, fear of minorities, full employment etc. Blackshirts Brownshirts Blueshirts all appealed to ‘ordinary decent people’. Ordinary decent people of course can turn absolutely savage when they feel threatened. The courts in Ireland have been an agency for change in spite of politicians. We should be careful when we give additional levers of power to politicians. They are just like us. They need our votes and they will alway be tempted to pacify the majority rather than protect despised minorities.

Thank you for that correction, Hassan. Of course there’s always somebody out there ready to call a politician a fascist.

Anyway, I think we’re making the same point: they all have the potential to become fascists. It would be naive and dangerous to assume otherwise.

Your friends in the banks have had a lucky escape Bock. No inquiry questions for them; ever. All so that we Paddies can be free of the kind of fascist, kangaroo courts that exist in the UK, US and elsewhere.

My record on the banks speaks for itself. All you have to do is read what I’ve been saying about them for the last four years, so I’ll ask you to withdraw that sneaky little dig please.

I thought that the UK Parlimentary inquiry into Murdoch handed over the inquiry to the courts there when they found that they thought there was a case to answer; which isn’t a finding of fact. And the UK Parliment is apparently extremely reluctant to hold such inquiries in the first place.
The problem with our parliment having such powers isn’t just the potential for abuse the wording allowed; it’s the fact that the party system in Irish politics has so much power that the notion of the Dail using the inquiry system to investigate the Government (which is the real reason these inquiries exist in the first place, not to inquire into matters outside the oireachtas) is laughable.

Honestly, I’m not voting for a referendum granting this sort of powers to the oireachtas unless and until we get a referendum that bans the party whip system in the Dail, the way it’s banned in the German parliment.

All you have to do is read what I’ve been saying about them for the last four years, so I’ll ask you to withdraw that sneaky little dig please.

It’s not sneaky, and its not so little (It was a dig though).

This No vote was another bailout for the bankers; indeed the most important bailout. They’ve crossed the final hurdle, and are now off scot free. Whatever your record on the banks, this was the most important acid test of whether you felt they should be accountable to the public or not. You voted No.

You and many educated people allowed yourselves to taken in by vacuous appeals to fantasy “star chamber” scenarios, instead of considering the reality, which is that we current have an emasculated Dail, sterile Tribunals, and impotent inquiries, who are totally unable to bring bankers, or any other powerful interests in this country to account.

It is currently constitutional for banks to blackmail the state into covering €64 billion of their private gambling losses, but it is not currently constitutional for the people’s elected representatives to make those bankers explain why this was neccessary. It is not constitutional because you and 928,174 others decided that it shouldn’t be constitutional.

Make no mistake; This is more serious than “little digs”. This referendum result will do profound, long-term damage to the people of this country. They will be prey for every ruthless thug who can afford a legal team.

As somebody who was once an obsessive maths freak myself, I’m dismayed by the absence of logic in your position. You have decided that, because I’m against a badly-constructed amendment to our constitution, I’m somehow in favour of the banks. If the government bring forward an amendment that doesn’t include such dangerous potential for oppression, I’ll vote for it.

Now. I’ll invite you a second time to retract the insinuation that I’m some kind of stooge of the banks. Do that before you comment again on anything else, please.

I don’t believe the Oireachtas inquiries would have been used against bankers. I mean hello, it took the Gardai 18 months to go and seize some computers at Anglo. Then you had the execs at Anglo refusing to hand over the passwords.

In the U.S. you have Ernst and young being sued as they were the Lehman Brother auditors. They were also the auditors in this country of Anglo, when Seanie was getting loans from Irish Nationwide to prop up the books and paying them back a month after being borrowed.

What happens in this country? Ernst and young are appointed the auditors of Nama.

Banking inquiries, my arse. You have the Taoiseach of the day off playing golf with Sean Fitzpatrick soon before they issue the banking guarantee and him saying they only discussed the golf. Give me a break.

How in the name of god is anyone saying that if the politicians had some sort of inquiry capabilities, that they’d use it against their inner circle of cronies?

I have to say that this is one of the rare times when I am in complete agreement with you, Bock
I can understand OMF’s frustation, but surely if banks or individuals have broken the law, they can be prosecuted under existing legislation…as it is the proposed amendment was poorly worded and ill-considered, giving too much potential power to the government- what would be next – a Berlusconi-style immunity amendment slipped in with the next referendum on leprechauns or maybe Lisbon 3….
Doesn’t anyone remember Revenge of the Sith??

You have decided that, because I’m against a badly-constructed amendment to our constitution, I’m somehow in favour of the banks.

There was nothing wrong with that amendment. Absolutely nothing. Yes it took away citizen’s rights; their rights to run off to the courts every time the Dail asked them a question they had difficulty with, making a mockery of any attempts at timely, comprehensive public inquiries.

The Irish people apparently decided that taking away Sean Fitzpatrick’s right to refuse absolutely to explain his actions was “dangerous”, because at some point in the future, any citizen might find themselves suddenly called up to explain how they bankrupted the nation, abused small children, poisoned beef exports, etc, etc. Whither democracy in such a state?

You may have convinced yourself otherwise Bock, but you’ve come down firmly on the side of the Dermot Gleesons, Sean Fitzpatricks, and Lary Goodmans in Ireland. You felt their rights to remain powerful and unaccountable

If the government bring forward an amendment that doesn’t include such dangerous potential for oppression, I’ll vote for it.

Any amendment which purports to allow even half effective inquiries must have teeth. It must reduce the ability of witnesses to appeal to the courts so readily as they can now. Apparently, that’s too much for the majority of the population.

Now. I’ll invite you a second time to retract the insinuation that I’m some kind of stooge of the banks. Do that before you comment again on anything else, please.

“Catspaw” is probably the correct term for people who allowed the blinkers to be put on them by the banks et al. And I do refuse to allow anyone who voted “NO” to be let off the hook for the de facto principal result of their decision: There will be no inquiry into the banks. Don’t you dare try to duck out of that.

Last month the British parliament was able etc. Because you have to appear when summoned to a British Parliamentary enquiry. You don’t have to appear when summoned in front of an Irish government enquiry. Neither before nor after the referendum.

I too voted no on both referenda, and i see the result of both being a good example of democracy at work. If, as OMF says, passing the inquiry amendment would have been for the good of society, them i would consider those who presented the proposal to be at fault, and not those who voted. Having said all that, i would still vote no again unless the wording is changed.

I would have no objection to powers like that.

So what powers do you have objections to? The power to make people appear before the inquiry is OK; what about the power to compel witnesses to answer questions; and the power to make findings of fact? Which of these did you object to?

I never said you were a stooge. It’s pretty obvious to me that almost everyone voting NO was totally and utterly oblivious to the real implications of what they were doing vis a vis the banks. But that doesn’t meant I’m not going to tell you exactly what they really were.

I don’t like the way they put forward many referenda as ‘add-ons’ to local government elections, general elections, presidential elections and EU Parliament elections. When they do this, probably to save money by having two things voted on the same day, the focus on issues at stake get blurred. Sometimes in the past I have thought that this blurring was cynically intended by government politicians of the day. Even when amendments have been proposed to the Irish constitution to ratify EU treaties Irish politicians in general have been lazy about getting around to explain and sell the alleged good intentions of proposed amendments.

Referenda are important checks on the powers of the legislature, and are intended to allow the electorate to focus sharply on single issues without letting petty party political point-scoring to muddy the waters. If this method of ratifying important legislation is to remain meaningful it behoves mainstream politicians to prepare the presentation of referenda more carefully and to participate more pointedly in public debates occasioned by referenda. The ‘add-on’ electoral tactic belittles the importance of referenda.

If you’ve no objection to those powers, why the opposition to the referenum ? The only way in which the referendum differed was that in a country with a constitution the actual powers have to be spelled out in the referendum, as opposed to a parliament like the UK where a simple law can be passed without referral to a written constitution. If you see what I mean !

I didn’t raise the comparison with the UK, but even there, the parliament is unable to make findings of fact, despite having no constitution to protect people’s rights.

The wording was too ambivalent for my liking, and also, it seems for other hysterical people, including more than half the voters and the chairman of the referendum commission.

If you read subsection 4 of the amendment:

” It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with due regard to the principles of fair procedures, the appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest for the purposes of ensuring an effective inquiry into any matter to which subsection 2 apples.”

So you need to ask yourself, what are the “principles of fair procedures” to which Houses were to give “due regard”? Were they listed anywhere? The Houses also determine the “appropriate balance” between the “rights” of the persons and the public interest. How long is a piece of string? Do the Houses have the competency to determine such a balance? The government believe they do. The people disagreed. You could vote against the amendment based on this subsection alone.

As you report, there’s 700 million squid of our money going out to foreign investors. No referendum there. Point is, Govt use their powers against the ordinary Joe, the easy target, in the end. People have wised up. They’re not trusted, and at a time when the peoples trust in Govt is at an all time low, there’s no suprise at the result.

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