A BENEVOLENT VIRUS IN PUBLIC LIFE

on .

3 April, 2014.

Two articles in two successive days in the Irish Times speak to the same reality in complimentary ways. On 1 April, Tom Arnold, Chairman of the Constitutional Convention wrote: 'The convention experience shows that when people feel they are having a meaningful input into decisions aboutn the future they will respond.' The following day President Higgens, writing about his Ethics Initiative, named values such as friendship, care, trust, justice and equality. He poses many questions about ethics and public life including: 'How can deliberative democracy work with the tools of participation?'

Values need to be nurtured by structures which enable people with diverse relationships to the state to encounter each other. Standing for election is a valuable public service as is being an elected representative; working within administrative structures is likewise a valuable public service, but neither these groups are seen to enter into public dialogue with the rest of the population. Elections are the back bone of democracy but they do not constitute dialogue; they are once off occasions. Both politicians and administrators are in constant contact with the wider population, but always from positions of power. That power has become a barrier between government and people and until this barrier is dealt with trust in public life will continue to erode.

The Constitutional Convention has shown the value of public formal encounter between politicians and odinary citizens, but to become part of public life this encounter must be ongoing. PeopleTalk is designed to provided this element of continuity - an ongoing reflection, from the bottom up, on the working of government. A PeopleTalk Jury of twelve conscientious citizens will carry weight; they have to be conscientious to undertake the two year commitment required of them and they will be under a healthy pressure to appeal to values held in common with their fellow citizens. Their proposals will be free from the pressures of electoral politics, bureaucratic convenience, and narrow group interest.

Modern government is like a slowed down computer. It is making us all frustrated, impatient and suspicious. PeopleTalk Juries will be like a belevolent virus; instead of causing breakdown and alarm they will pinpoint different possibilities of progress which will accumulate. They will do this by getting the differing perspectives on government to meet and talk and listen and cooperate.