Contextual Review The World

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In order to conduct a comprehensive study into the role and function of the Government Press Secretary it is paramount to explain the realm in which they work on a daily basis. I will give the reader a brief overview of the Irish political system. Ireland is a parliamentary democracy. Sovereignty resides with the people and it is exercised through those that we elect to our houses of parliament, the Oireachtas. The Irish Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann drafted in 1937 provides for this parliamentary democracy. Our parliament consists of two houses; the Lower House and the Upper House. The Lower House is known as the Dáil and is directly elected. The Dáil consists of 166 members. The Upper House is known as the Seanad and is indirectly elected. It consists of 60 members. However despite its status as the Upper House the powers of the Seanad are quite limited. The power lies with the Dáil and as the people elect this parliament Ireland's status as a democracy is vested in this electoral process. With regards to the form of government that Ireland can be typified by one would accept that Ireland's governmental system can be classified within the classical Westminster model of cabinet Government. (Coakley and Gallagher; 1996 : 167) The Dáil chooses the majority party leader as Taoiseach and in turn he selects his cabinet of ministers. Article 28 of the Constitution allows for a minimum of seven ministers and a maximum of 15. All must be parliamentarians, specifically the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance must be Dáil Deputies. The Constitution governs the formal framework of the Irish political spectrum however according to Peter Mair it is through the study of party politics that some of the most fundamental processes in modern political life are encountered. (Coakley and Gallagher; 1996: 86) Ireland's parliamentary democracy is strongly dictated by the relationships between political parties and elections. (Coakley and Gallagher; 1996: 104) Parties are growing ever more personalised by those who occupy the positions of power within the part structure. According to Marsh and Laver this is a direct result of, The recent patterns of high profile and personalised campaign coverage by Dublin based broadcast media that increasingly dominate the channels of political communication. (Coakley and Gallagher; 1996: 104) The Government Press Secretary is not only the spokesman for the Government. In addition one of the principal roles of the Government Press Secretary is in his position as the de facto spokesperson for the Taoiseach. In this position he has unparalleled access to the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach is considered to be one of the strongest of all heads of government. Anthony King places the Taoiseach alongside the British, German, Greek, Portuguese and Spanish Prime Ministers in the categories of heads of government who have the highest degree of influence within their own systems of government (King, 1994, p152) 'Within his own political system the Irish Prime Minister is potentially more powerful than any other European Prime Minister with the exception of his British counterpart.' (O'Leary, 1991, p159) The power of the Taoiseach is shaped by party political factors and these go a long way towards accounting for the strength of an individual Taoiseach. The constitution officially designates the Taoiseach as head of government (Article 13.1.1 and Article 28.5.1). In this capacity the Taoiseach meets and negotiates with heads of state and heads of government throughout the world, attends meetings of the European Council on behalf of the state, pays particular attention to the situation in Northern Ireland and is the government's main spokesperson at home. In all, the Taoiseach is the person upon whom the responsibility for leadership is most incumbent. The Constitution also provides the Taoiseach with a considerable power of appointment. Article 13.1.2 gives the Taoiseach right to appoint other members of the government subject to Dáil approval. Although the appointment of ministers of state is vested by law in the government, in practice the Taoiseach plays no less significant role here. Article 30.2 provides the Taoiseach with the right to appoint the Attorney General who has a seat at the cabinet table. All these powers do have a limit however and it should be noted that the Taoiseach is limited to 15 cabinet ministers, choice of minister is limited to members of the Oireachtas and only two may be members of the Seanad (Article 28.7.2). A Taoiseach may at any time for reasons which to him seem sufficient, request a member of the Government to resign (Article 28.9.4). The Taoiseach has the opportunity to determine the composition of the cabinet not just at the beginning but any stage throughout the duration of the administration. As well as having the power to select the government, the Taoiseach nominates 11 members of Seanad Éireann this is to ensure the government of the day has a majority in the upper house. Article 13.2.1 provides the Taoiseach with the power to dissolve the Dáil and call a general election. Use of this power depends primarily on the likelihood that the government will win the ensuing election, but it was successfully used by DeValera in the 1930s to maintain and reinforce his position in office. In addition to the power of appointment the Taoiseach has the capacity to shape the day to day process of policy making. 'The Taoiseach determines the order in which items on the cabinet agenda are taken, the time given to consideration of each item, who is to speak, and when a decision should be reached- or postponed…. In practice ministers do not challenge the Taoiseach's control of the agenda.' (Farrell, 1993, p.176) In this context, Farrell quotes an anonymous cabinet minister as saying: 'Really you can't get an item discussed for five seconds at a cabinet meeting if the Taoiseach isn't with you'. (Farrell, B., 1994, p.80) The Taoiseach is in a similar position with regard to the legislative aspect of the policy making process. Article 25 of the Dáil's Standing Orders allows the Taoiseach to determine the order in which government business will be taken each day. In this sense, the Taoiseach controls not just the cabinet's business but the Dáil's agenda as well. Since the office of the chief whip is formally part of the Department of the Taoiseach the head of the government has a strong, direct relationship with the parliamentary party. The Dáil is one of the least influential legislatures in Western Europe (Norton, 1990) and the Taoiseach is the main beneficiary of this situation. The Taoiseach's position is further bolstered by the administrative support the office commands. The Dept of the Taoiseach comprises 300 people in a number of different sections or divisions. Their role is to coordinate government policy and contribute to its formulation. The Dept includes the Taoiseach's private office, the office of the chief whip, the government secretariat and the Government Information Service. Collectively, these institutions carry out many of the essential tasks of government on the Taoiseach's behalf. 'The Government Information Service is a close interlocutor of the Taoiseach. The GIS is headed by the Government Press Secretary and this person is a political appointee chosen for his or her loyalty and knowledge of the media. There is no doubt that the Government Press Secretary is privy to the most sensitive of all government discussions. There is also no doubt that the presence of an experienced and skilled individual at this post can be of enormous public and political benefit to the Taoiseach personally.' (Coakley and Gallagher; 1996: 237) The Taoiseach may also draw upon electoral and party political. Party politics is the main reason why the power of the Taoiseach varies. However, when the party situation allows, the Taoiseach can draw upon three electoral and party based resources. Firstly, the electoral process, 'General elections generally take the form of gladiatorial contests between two designated party leaders' (Chubb, 1992, p 185). Secondly, the Taoiseach can benefit from the fact that the formation of the government is approved by a vote in the Dáil. As Coakley notes, this forces, 'parliament to define at the outset its attitude to any new prime minister and compels would be dissidents within his party to choose between open rebellion and conformity' (Coakley, 1984, pp. 413-4). The Secretariat is a small number of senior civil servants, serving as cabinet secretaries. These personal advisors to An Taoiseach also operate within the system, and this group caters for the Taoiseach both as Head of Government and as a Minister. The Secretariat serves the Government in an almost corporate capacity. They are responsible for the recording decisions, circulating memoranda, preparing the agenda of cabinet meetings and in general, assisting the Taoiseach in his fulfilment of his duties. Apart from the Secretariat the GIS and Government Press Secretary operate in the Department of the Taoiseach. In discussing this arrangement Brian Farrell surmises that invariably the Government Press Secretary is a political appointee close to the Taoiseach. (Coakley and Gallagher; 1996: 172) In analysing the realm that the Government Press Secretary operates within, it is also important to assess the role and importance of special advisors, a category that the Government Press Secretary undoubtedly falls into. In his discussion on Policy Making, O'Halpin highlights that while all governments have sought out the advice from the civil service they have also sought advice from outside the civil service. Oftentimes this advice can come from informal dialogue with friends or colleagues. The position of the Government Press Secretary is difficult to pigeon hole. I will go into this in greater detail later on however it is important to raise awareness of how the Government Press Secretary is perceived by others. Some see him as a civil servant others see him as being an outsider drafted into the civil service to impart specialist knowledge. Regardless of how he is perceived he invariably becomes part of an elite group that serves the needs of An Taoiseach and the Government and thus by proxy of the fact that our parliamentary democracy has granted these people power, the Government Press Secretary is intended to serve the Irish people.
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