Economic Management Council and democratic accountability

Letter in yesterday’s Irish Times.

The Economic Management Council is just one of the indications of how our country is gradually losing any democratic accountability.

Economic Management Council


Eoghan Murphy TD (“Fine Gael promised political reform, but the Government hasn’t delivered”, Opinion & Analysis, November 5th) and Noel Whelan (“How the Economic Management Council undermines Cabinet and Government”, Opinion & Analysis, November 7th) make some excellent points about the pretentiously named Economic Management Council (EMC), in particular in respect of the gradual expansion of its remit.

In April 2011 shortly after the EMC was established, the Taoiseach told the Dáil that it would deal with “economic planning and budgetary matters, the economic recovery programme including the representation of Ireland internationally in negotiations with the troika, the integration of the work of departments and agencies and the co-ordination of banking policy”.

Can someone explain how water services, an environmental matter previously under the remit of local government, came within this remit? The EMC has apparently been considering this issue since last April, clearly not to much avail.

The primary concern which has been raised is that the EMC acts as a government within a government, coming to conclusions on issues which are then presented to the Cabinet as faits accomplis for rubber-stamping.

This raises the prospect that civil servants and political advisers who attend EMC meetings have more impact on important decisions than the democratically elected members of Cabinet who are excluded from meetings.

This is further compounded by the 50:50 division of the EMC between Fine Gael and Labour Ministers, compared to 2:1 majority in favour of Fine Gael at Cabinet level and a similar division in terms of their respective representation in the Dáil. In other words, the Labour Party has a disproportionate influence over the decisions of the EMC relative to what it ought to be entitled to and, as a result, over the decisions of Government as a whole.

If these impressions about the operations of the EMC are to be dispelled, then the Dáil ought surely be made aware of instances where the Cabinet as a whole has rejected or overturned a recommendation made by the EMC. To date, however, no such instance has been publicly acknowledged.

Yours, etc,

Thomas Ryan, BL
Dublin 6W