Irish Examiner View: Term limits may be key to renewal

They and many of their Oireachtas contemporaries epitomise that long-accepted truth: Once a public representative gains a certain experience and understands how resources might be distributed, they can cling like a limpet to a seat.
Irish Examiner View: Term limits may be key to renewal
Would the Dáil benefit from term limits for its members?
Would the Dáil benefit from term limits for its members?

Re-energising politics.

Paul Biya may not feature prominently in discussions about how our politics might be made more representative, more engaging, and less unattractive to myriad intelligent, socially aware, and committed citizens discouraged by the unchanging, numbing predictability of it all.

The personal and family costs risked by participation can be dissuading too.

So are the increasingly toxic, anti-democratic, character assassinations on consequence-free social media. Biya, at 88, is the world’s longest-serving state leader. He has been president of Cameroon since 1982, and served as prime minister from 1975 to 1982. He consolidated his power in 1984 during an attempted coup when he eliminated most of his rivals.

Biya has achieved what Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes to achieve — authority for life. Just last week, Putin saw 77.9% of voters endorse ending presidential term limits allowing him the possibility of power until 2036.

China’s president, Xi Jinping, did not feel the need to even ask when, two years ago, the term limits of the Chinese presidency were abolished. When conversations about what might happen if US president Donald Trump loses in November but refuses to quit office began, they seemed liberals’ paranoia but maybe no longer.

Should he be re-elected, it seems at least possible he may try to imitate Putin and Xi .

To even suggest that may seem bizarre but then most of what he does is bizarre.

We may not, hopefully, have a Biya, Putin, Xi, or Trump hiding in the long grass but we do have a cohort all too comfortable with life-long careers as politicians.

In recent days, some of those venerables have expressed unhappiness that they were not offered cabinet positions.

This was revealing in many ways, none of them attractive.

One of those was Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea. Fine Gael’s Michael Ring was another. Both have had long Dáil careers — O’Dea was first elected in 1982 when Biya became president of Cameroon — and even if both have been splendid local representatives, not even their most loyal supporters would argue that they have had a lasting national impact.

They and many of their Oireachtas contemporaries epitomise that long-accepted truth: Once a public representative gains a certain experience and understands how resources might be distributed, they can cling like a limpet to a seat.

There is nothing illegal about this but there is hardly anything encouraging about it either. Politicians should legislate and lead, not act as super-grade welfare officers.

Is it time to open a conversation about term limits for Oireachtas members? The first response to that suggestion might be dismissive, arguing that it is ageist and squanders hard-earned political experience.

That is true, partially at least, but it is also true that it would renew the dynamics of our faded, uninspiring, politics and, hopefully, re-energise the idealism needed to achieve great things. It might even encourage more people to participate.

Don’t hold your breath though. Those with most to lose if term limits are imposed are the very people in a position to block the idea — which, in a roundabout way, strengthens the argument for introducing them.

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