The summer break provided an opportunity to catch up with local Fianna Fail Deputy John McGuinness, and hear his thoughts on a difficult last 18 months, and look ahead to the future.
A year and a half into a new Government, things in Leinster House have settled down somewhat.
Before the summer break, the Dail exchanges had become more robust, and both Government and opposition TDs have the lie of the land. Local Deputy John McGuinness says that, with another very tough budget just a few short months away, the Government are starting to feel the heat.
“I think in general, looking back on it – they promised more than they could deliver.
In fact, they have probably delivered very little,” he says.
“You might say I would say that as an opposition TD, but I would have liked to see them in Government doing the things they promised. They have the comfort of a huge majority and yet they seem to be at sea in relation to the implementation of the reforms that were promised, that the country desperately needs.”
Constituency clinics have always been an important part of local democracy, but as a barometer for measuring the public sentiment, they have become additionally significant. Lately, says Deputy McGuinness, the nature of these sittings and those attending them has become different.
“You have the normal clinics and they are anything but normal now,” he says.
“People are in dire straits and requiring immediate answers, but the answers in the immediate sense are simply not there. They are having to cope with a degree of poverty, some are coping with a huge degree of poverty and hardship, with very little assistance and understanding.”
Certainly, a whole section of society has to come to terms with its new situation.
“They are trying to access new services; they are new to the social welfare system,” he says.
“They are new to their own personal circumstances. There are a lot more people out there seeking that advice and help than previously.”
However, the Fianna Fail TD does feel that we are in a better position than on the final day of the last Government.
What is needed now, he says, is action. Of particular concern is our employment rate of nearly 15% - almost 17% when adjusted for the participants of various courses.
Deputy McGuinness feels that the present strategies of the Department of Trade, Enterprise and Employment are working to a degree, but are ill-focused. He lauds the successes of Enterprise Ireland, and efforts to win investment from major companies, but the SMEs need support.
He intends to bring forward a new bill to reassess the rate of valuation on properties, to reduce the burden on these businesses by cutting rates dramatically.
“The focus should really from now be on small to medium enterprises,” he says.
“The money the government is giving the banks is not getting to the SME sector in particular, and they are finding trading difficult. The businesses on High Street in serious difficulty – I mean the main shopping centres of urban Ireland. I have that bill completed now and I will bring it to the Dail in the new session.”
Reform, locally, may be the place to start. With his constituency colleague Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan expected to produce his vision for local government reform in the coming weeks, Deputy McGuinness has his own thoughts on the matter.
“I would be for reducing the bureaucracy of local government, but giving them greater powers,” he says.
“Just because you give power, for example, to a local village or town mayor, doesn’t necessarily mean they all have to get paid. Look at Kilkenny down through the years, it was mainly councillors who were by and large not paid very well, but they did the job for us. I think we have to get back to that, that sense of public service.”
What about the executive?
“I think there is far too much power in the hands of the county manager, and far too little in the hands of the public representatives,” he says.
“But they public representatives have to stand up to the plate also, because as soon as they get the power they will have to take the decisions.”
Reform, however, is needed the whole way up.
The Fianna Fail deputy feels that the opposition and Government backbenchers are currently unable to properly hold the executive and the Government to account.
“Really what we get at the end of every election is a parliamentary party democracy,” he says.
“It is the parliamentary parties of government that reach decisions about things, not the parliament itself. It has become a talking shop a lot of the time.”
He recalls the example of a bill brought forward to reform the office of the controller auditor general.
The bill was defeated.
“Members of the Government parties stated in their contributions that they would have liked to have voted for it, but they were governed by the whip system,” he says.
“It’s an outdated system. There should be occasions where we would have free votes.”