Democracy and making the people happy
Edmond Grace’s book, Democracy and Happiness, the fruit of a lengthy consultation process with many leading Irish public servants, was launched last week at the Rotunda in City Hall, Dublin, by Minister Eamon Ryan.
Edmond Grace SJ worked in the Dublin inner-city parish of Gardiner St. and was a founder member of the Dublin Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign. His work there brought him into contact with politicians and public servants and his book has its roots in this experience where he began to see the value and power of good public service.
Subsequently he set up a network of 20 people, comprised of politicians, senior public servants and voluntary community workers to whom he submitted a series of papers on different aspects of democracy: citizenship and the notion of ‘the people’; the role of the opposition; the elected representative; the public servant; and the global perspective. They discussed and critiqued the papers, which became the core of the book.
According to Edmond Grace this process worked so well that it was rolled out around the country in ten local authorities, from Donegal to Waterford, from Kerry to Louth. “We asked a simple question, ‘What makes people mad with public administration in Ireland today?’ Among the top answers were a lack of information, lack of accountability and electronic answering machines!”
In the preface to the book the five political party leaders state that “The elaborate bureaucracy of the modern state has become a barrier between elected leaders and ordinary citizens, yet within the perceived barrier lies the means of restoring popular trust in public life.” The author says that throughout the western world there’s growing cynicism about public life, and political leaders know this. He believes they want do something about it. “This process – both the writing of the book and the workshop – is very much in tune with the concerns of many political leaders and public servants.”
The book is published by the IPA (Institute of Public Administration), and according to the author it is “for everyone in Ireland who wants to ensure their voice is heard, their views respected and their opinions considered by those who govern”. The book demonstrates that there can be no democratic government without political leadership and “only when political leaders are able to command the free attention of ordinary people and convince them that they are seen, heard and respected by those in power, can we speak of government by the people”.
Dermot McCarthy, Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach also spoke at the launch.
Democracy and Public Happiness is published by the Institute of Public Administration. The book is available in paperback at €20. Copies available in major bookshops or from the Institute’s Sales Division, Tel: 2403768 and [email protected] It is also available on click pay at www.ipa.ie.