Collins Institute and the future role of Fine Gael members in policy development

The recent launch or relaunch of the Collins Institute is a development in Irish politics that should be broadly welcomed. Indeed it would make sense that such efforts would receive public funding though I’d suggest more through a reallocation of the funds given to parties rather than any additional funding being provided.

The full structure in that the board is yet to be made clear, a number of people have been mentioned as being on the board but it not clear if they are the entirety of it or if there are others who haven’t been revealed as yet. One would have expected the full current board to be mentioned at some point at launch time. That may be something that is rectified in due course. While it is admirable that the board members won’t be taking any salaries or expenses this also means that only those of independent means or those in receipt of incomes such as pensions, whether public or private, who are no longer required to work can be considered for involvement. Joanne Schmoes who have to put in their daily grind won’t find too many employers who will be willing to give them time off during the work week to attend meetings or participate in other events associated with being a board member. That I believe is unnecessary restrictive in the longer term and I would hope that it would be addressed.

The longer term is definitely where the Collins Institute sees itself, and that’s a good approach. Indeed it’s one that other parties or political should look to mirror. Since the Collins Institute lies without Fine Gael, it begs the question of how lies the development of policy within the party? Not well, would be my view.

The existence of Institute presents us with the gaps glaring in the short and medium term of policy development. In the short term it makes sense that a minister or party frontbencher should own, both in the developmental and responsibility sense, the tactical aspects of day to day policy in a political organisation. Though one would imagine that the presence of tends of thousands of party members from many walks of life would be a fruitful means to test the specifics of policy initiatives. Yet that appears not to be the case. In the medium term it should be not alone more feasible but also more advisable that members would have greater say over what policy is to be, both the creation of policy but also deciding between policy options or the finessing or road testing of same.

Where are the ordinary party member of Fine Gael when it comes to the development of policy? At this point it very much appears that regular members are pretty much outside the door when it comes to have any input to, or oversight of party policy as it would appear in the party manifesto or indeed as might result in government action.

Party members are naturally free to say (at meetings or Ard Fheiseanna) or write (as I or other might online) what they like when it comes to policy but there is at present no mechanism by which this might result in any influence for change in the party’s stance on any issue. You may be fortunate to catch the ear of a party spokesperson or the minister of the day at an event, and in doing so convince them to adopt an idea you have. That’s all to your good but it’s also wholly undemocratic and utterly lacking in transparency. There is no system and in the absence of a system, there is no quality control. There is more chance that good ideas will be lost and bad ideas will be promoted than the other way around.

That the current situation is entirely arbitrary is no longer acceptable for a party in government; this isn’t a problem for the Collins Institute to solve. It is one that the existence of the Collins Institute highlights, that ordinary active members of an organisation have considerable less say over the direction it goes in than those who are avowedly not members. There’s something really odd about that, that so few people comment on it anymore suggests that it is a very deep rooted problem. So deep rooted that it may be impossible for those most embedded in it from resolving. So it may be time to mirror the approach of the Collins Institute and go outside the current party structures in seeking a solution. The time remaining to do that may be shorter than most imagine it to be.


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