Nat O'Connor: I cannot allow two recent stories in the papers to go by without comment.
Today's Irish Independent reports (in a story about Enda Kenny) that "Brian Cowen's handlers are issuing instructions to the media about what questions the Taoiseach can be asked."
The report goes on to say:
"Mr Cowen is objecting to being questioned about national issues when he travels around the country.
"In an unprecedented move, the Fianna Fail press office yesterday issued a schedule for Mr Cowen's trip to Cork this afternoon with the instruction 'the Taoiseach will only take questions related to his visit to Cork'.
"Mr Cowen's spokesman said the Taoiseach would rather focus on the topics he is dealing with on the trip."
In a democracy, and not only during an unprecedented national crisis, it is the right of citizens and journalists to ask the Taoiseach any question that they believe to be of public interest.
Meanwhile, a controversy rages between the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the ESRI. In particular, the Minister is quoted as saying:
"I do regret that they have been drawn into what is clearly a public relations campaign on behalf of Dublin City Council and Covanta and it is no coincidence that the report was released today and it is simply to undermine Government waste policy,”, and
“Certainly in my time in public life, I’ve never come across anything like this where ESRI is used in that way and I think they departed from their normal standards in that regard,”
It is welcome that the Minister's consultants (Eunomia) should argue with the ESRI about the method used, the data included, etc. That's healthy. Many people on this blog also argue with the ESRI about methods and data.
But for the Minister to accuse the ESRI of public relations campaigning for Dublin City Council and "departure from professional standards" undermines the role of evidence in informing policy-making. That doesn't just undermine the ESRI, it undermines any organisation that presents evidence and reasoned arguments for or against policy, particularly when the issues are complex, and different theories and models can be used.
If the Taoiseach is not to be questionned and the Minister for the Environment is not to be disagreed with, what next? Uno duce, una voce?
Nat O’Connor is a member of the Institute for Research in Social Sciences (IRiSS) and a Lecturer of Public Policy and Public Management in the School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy at Ulster University.
Previously Director of TASC, Nat also led the research team in Dublin’s Homeless Agency.
Nat holds a PhD in Political Science from Trinity College Dublin (2008) and an MA in Political Science and Social Policy form the University of Dundee (1998). Nat’s primary research interest is in how research-informed public policy can achieve social justice and human wellbeing. Nat’s work has focused on economic inequality, housing and homelessness, democratic accountability and public policy analysis. His PhD focused on public access to information as part of democratic policy making.