Lessons from Anti-Poverty Action in Ireland: Flexibility, Failure and the Pitfalls of a ‘Fourth Branch’ Model

Published date01 September 2023
AuthorEoin Carolan
Date01 September 2023
Subject MatterSpecial Issue: Inequality and Public Law (Part I)
Special Issue: Inequality and Public Law (Part I)
Federal Law Review
2023, Vol. 51(3) 333346
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0067205X231187980
Lessons from Anti-Poverty Action in
Ireland: Flexibility, Failure and the
Pitfalls of a Fourth BranchModel
Eoin Carolan*
This article reviews the experience of Irelands Combat Poverty Agency and asks what lessons it
may have for fourth branch scholarship. The lesson of the Agency is, in part, one about the
pitfalls for novel institutions operating within a traditional tripartite model of constitutional
government. The article also suggests, however, that the Combat Poverty Agencyshistorymay
point to the positive potential for the design and operational strategies of non-traditional bodies
chargedwiththepromotionofspecif‌ic social or economic goals. In so doing some reservations
about both the specif‌ic implications and overall utility of framing these bodies in fourth branch
terms are also raised. These include concerns regarding the distinctiveness and (relatedly)
authority of some conceptions of a fourth branch. In particular, however, the article queries
whether the elevation of independent agencies to branchstatus is always benef‌icial; and
whether, in fact, the location of anti-poverty agencies at a sub-constitutional level may, under
certain conditions at least, offer advantages in terms of f‌lexibility and practical problem-solving
Accepted 1 June 2022
I Introduction
The recent revival of academic interest in fourth branchinstitutions points, once again, to the
limitations of classical liberal models of government. For decades, there has been a recurring
interest in constitutional theory in the identif‌ication or establishment of novel governmental
branches. Whether conceived as an alternative
or a supplement,
or conf‌igured as having
* Professor of Law, University College Dublin. This is submitted as part of a special symposiumon fourth branch institutions
and inequality. I am very grateful to all participants in the symposium for their helpful comments, and in particular to David
Kenny who kindly acted as discussant.
1. Daryl J Levinson and Richard H Pildes, Separation of Parties, not Powers(2006) 119(8) Harvard Law Review 2311;
Eoin Carolan, The New Separation of Powers (Oxford University Press, 2009).
2. See Peter Strauss, The Place of Agencies in Government: Separation of Powers and the Fourth Branch(1984)
84 Columbia Law Review 573; Frank Vibert, The Rise of the Unelected (Cambridge University Press, 2007).

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