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Whip system can take the blame for Irish Water mess

Eoghan Murphy is a highly ambitious young man.

Even before his election as a Fine Gael TD for Dublin South East in 2011, he wrote a blog called 'If I Were Taoiseach'.

That day is still a long way off, but Murphy (below) has certainly shown some leadership this week - by publicly condemning his own Government for its miserable failure to reform our political system.

His chief complaint is that Enda Kenny cracks the Dail whip like a frantic jockey on Grand National day, forcing backbenchers such as Eoghan to vote like mindless zombies.

As a result, the Taoiseach treats our parliament as a mere rubber stamp and vital laws are passed without any proper scrutiny.

Exhibit A is not exactly difficult to spot. Last December Irish Water was officially created after a meaningless Dail debate that lasted barely three hours.

The Opposition walked out in protest, but that did not matter when every single Fine Gael and Labour TD could be whipped through the lobbies without so much as a whimper of protest.

In other words, the Irish Water fiasco is a kind of rough justice for Enda Kenny and his sheep-like deputies.

This is Ireland's most important public utility scheme since the ESB was founded in 1927, but every key decision about its operations was taken by a tiny number of people behind closed doors.


Of course, the whip system is nothing new in Irish politics. Under Enda Kenny's dictatorial leadership, however, it has got so bad that four TDs matter more than the other 162 put together.

The Economic Management Council - consisting of Enda, Joan Burton, Michael Noonan, Brendan Howlin and their advisers - effectively run the country and any Government deputy who votes against them is immediately thrown out into the cold.

Nobody knows this better than Lucinda Creighton. During last year's emotional Dail debate on the abortion bill, she and other pro-life Fine Gael TDs hoped that they could at least vote according to their consciences.

Instead, King Enda refused to tolerate any dissent - and lost a talented minister.

Why do grown men and women allow themselves to be treated like this?

Murphy admits that he and his colleagues have fallen prey to 'Stockholm Syndrome', the process whereby kidnap victims start to identify with their captors.

New TDs enter Leinster House planning to change the world, then realise they are simply required to "show up and shut up".

So it's no wonder many of them waste their time looking after the local parish pump.

The whip system is a classic example of why ordinary people find politics so alienating and dysfunctional.

In healthy workplaces, adults are encouraged to speak their minds and open debate is a way to reach better decisions.

Obviously any government has to perform as a team - but for most Dail votes there is no reason why TDs cannot do something really radical and actually think for themselves.

Eoghan Murphy's plea for reform faces one massive Catch 22.

Essentially, he is asking the Government to voluntarily give up power - and most politicians only allow that precious quality to be taken from their cold, dead hands.


This is why Opposition leaders constantly cry out for "political reform" before getting elected and discovering that the system suits them quite nicely after all.

Even so, Murphy deserves credit for pointing out his own boss's failings. He is already a leading member of the so-called five-a-side club, an informal group of backbenchers who meet to discuss how the party can up its game.

By now he should have enough members to form a rugby team - because the water charge scandal is forcing more and more Fine Gael TDs to start thinking about life after Enda.

Dail Eireann's dreaded whip system has created another monster in Irish Water.

When will our power-hungry leaders start trying a little tenderness instead?