Cultural mechanisms are all the influences in society that decides which demands are acceptable or unacceptable for political decisions. Such demands are directed at the political system and therefore can be viewed as the raw materials of political system which can be called inputs. Because the system will be faced with too many demands, they must reduce and control them. Some demands will not be met, and others will be turned into issues for political resolution. It is on these issues that decisions are made, and these decisions will then be directed back to society by the political system. Thus, they become outputs from that system and these outputs are simply referred to as policies. Therefore, the progress of demands for change through the political system can be characterized as the process of policy making (Earley, 1999).
To cope with the large amounts of demands for action on policy issues, all societies need to develop mechanisms to control the volume and flow of demands aimed towards the political system. This helps to support the political system, so they won’t face the possibility of collapsing. One important mechanism of this is called gatekeeping. It is the duty of gatekeepers to determine which demands will continue further and which will not. They have great power and responsibility in shaping the direction of the policy process. According to Catherine Earley (1999) gatekeepers do not function in a vacuum because cultural mechanism also regulates the flow of demands through the political system.
An example of a cultural mechanism that influence policy process is the role of interest groups. Interest groups are associations of individuals or organisations that on the basis of one or more shared concerns, attempts to influence public policy favour usually by lobbying members of the government (Barrett, 2010). They can also be called pressure groups or special interest groups which come in wide range of shapes, sizes and interests. Interest groups influence on policy making is not a corrupt or illegitimate activity per se, but a key element of the decision making process (Zinnbauer, 2009).
Interests and interest groups in all forms of political systems can be classified into five broad categories: economic interest, cause groups, public interests, private and public institutional interests, and non-associational groups and interests.
Interest groups in Ireland have a role to play in influencing the publics opinion. They engage in campaigns that aim to shape the publics opinion on topics as diverse as the Brexit negotiations, climate change, and migration. Many of these attempts to affect the public’s attitude towards policy making are quite successful. For example, they focused on specific social policy activity such as the ‘pro-life’ organization. The Pro-Life Campaign is a non-denominational human rights organisation, drawing its support from a cross-section of Irish society. The Campaign promotes pro-life education and defends human life at all stages, from conception to natural death (Pro Life Campaign, 1992). It is an organization that has been going on for the last thirty-five years or so which have campaigned to ensure that legal abortion would not be introduced in Ireland.
There are many ways in which interest groups impact on policy process. When drafting legislation, those who draft it must consider the likely impact it has on a group. They consider the possible impact on the population, which is usually positive, but they also consider any sub-groups that might be negatively impacted by this population (Pirie, 2015). In general, interest groups may improve policy making by providing valuable knowledge and insight data on specific issues. They also represent interests which may be negatively and involuntarily impacted by a poorly deliberated public policy. Moreover, as such groups keep track of legislative and regulatory processes, they also have an important role in holding government (OECD, 2009)
The pro-life and pro-choice campaign has affected the public’s opinion a lot, whether to make abortion legal in Ireland or not. Since both campaigns have changed the public’s mindset towards abortion, it can be said that these interest groups have influenced the policy process of this issue. Given that the public have voted for pro-choice instead of pro-life, abortion has been legal in Ireland since 2018. According to Catherine Earley (1999) cultural mechanisms are not static meaning they don’t stay the same – they change and evolve over time.
Early Childhood Ireland focuses on further developing the role in promoting for policy change, as well as the responsibility to ensure that the government policies takes full account of the realities of the sector. Early Childhood Ireland invites members to put themselves forward to be on a Policy and Implementation Panel for discussions and consultations on key policy issues concerning early childhood education and care, and how policy is being implemented (Early Childhood Ireland, 2016). The purpose of developing policies is to ensure that each child’s holistic development and learning is fully encouraged and supported through the implementation of a quality programme or curriculum. This interest group helps influence the policy making in ECCE as it takes the Early Childhood Ireland’s members opinion on issues relating to early childhood settings.
Several interest groups are working together to try and establish a professional body focused on Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). The Association of Childhood Professionals (ACP), SIPTU, and the Irish Association of Academics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Higher Education (PLÉ), have formed a working group to explore the establishment of the professional body. It will promote engagement in the development of policy, standards, and a code of ethics for professional practice (Keena, 2019). For example, it would enhance the Staff Training policy and the Recruitment policy as coming together to form a professional body would improve all those who work in ECCE to have a collective voice and a shared professional identity.
- Barrett, S., 2010. Defining Interest Groups. s.l.:s.n.
- Earley, C., 1999. The Policy Process. In: Irish Social Policy in Context. s.l.:Dublin University College, Dublin Press 1999, p. 140.
- Early Childhood Ireland, 2016. Policy and Implementation Panel. [Online] Available at: https://www.earlychildhoodireland.ie/policy-and-implementation-panel/ [Accessed 9 March 2020].
- Keena, C., 2019. Interest Groups work together to set up Early Childhood Care body. The Irish Times.
- OECD, 2009. Lobbyists, government and public trust: Promoting integrity by self-regulation, s.l.: s.n.
- Pirie, D. M., 2015. The impact of interest groups on public policy. [Online] Available at: https://www.adamsmith.org/blog/thinkpieces/the-impact-of-interest-groups-on-public-policy-2[Accessed 8 March 2020].
- Pro Life Campaign, 1992. Pro Life Campaign. [Online] Available at: https://prolifecampaign.ie [Accessed 8 March 2020].
- Zinnbauer, D., 2009. The role of investors in strengthening corporate integrity and responsibility in Global Corruption Report: Corruption and the Private Sector, New York: Transperency International.