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Expediency and the will of the leader are being elevated above individual conscience
Opinion: The political dynamic is arcing inexorably towards autocracy
The whip is a brutal instrument, designed to draw forced obedience from slaves. It has no place in a democracy as an instrument of terror. It is an obscenity that a TD should be intimidated, bullied and silenced for refusing the whip. The party masters will argue discipline is necessary if a programme of government is to be achieved and carried through but is the use of force, the threat of censure and banishment from privilege their only option?
Yes, of course, a dissenting member may be expelled from the party – that, after all, is the party’s prerogative; but it is not acceptable that they be silenced in the Dáil chamber, that they be prevented, as TDs, from serving on committees or be removed from committees.
To permit this is to consolidate the absolute power of Cabinet and party managers on the one hand, and on the other hand to elevate expediency, the will of the leaders, above the conscience of the individual elected representative and above the interests of those people who, however notionally, have chosen that person to speak for them in parliament.
The political dynamic at work here is one that arcs inexorably towards autocracy. Consider the point we have reached in Dáil Éireann: the Government TDs have been silenced and are no more than voting fodder for the diktats of Cabinet; the Cabinet is subordinated to the will of the Economic Management Council (EMC), the Gang of Four; and it is inconceivable that the council will seriously challenge the will of the Taoiseach – certainly not at the risk of precipitating an election.
Meanwhile, to the extent that legislation is debated in the Dáil, no opposition amendment, no matter how intelligent, thoughtful or nonpartisan, will be for even a moment entertained. Those TDs who are not in Government and those Government TDs who have been cast into exterior darkness have been silenced – and all those who voted for these TDs have also been silenced, deprived of any and all influence they might try to exercise through their elected representatives.
Over the years, power in this State has been quietly, inexorably consolidated into fewer and fewer hands. If four people, bent to the will of a single dominant individual, had seized power in the land, would they be in any way less omnipotent than the EMC and the Taoiseach? Would the Dáil, as it operates at present, be any less impotent?
Seductive concentration of power
A thinking citizen might well pose the following question: what if, after the next election, the Gang of Four was composed of the four individuals we would least trust with unfettered, unanswerable power? The present administration is merely the latest in a long line of governments that have inherited this creeping, infinitely seductive concentration of power. At what point can we realistically expect this power to be ceded?
The party managers will tell us that government has to answer to the people at elections – but who do we get to vote for? Those whom the party has decided to offer us, inevitably men and women who can be trusted in large part to bow to the whip.