The case of Ireland provides an example of a long-term critical reflection on the nature of democracy that is not linked to social movements. Instead it is the result of an interplay between social science research, mass media, and parliamentary debate, all of which employ the notion of clientelism. The structural feature on which the respective critique focuses is the peculiar relationship between public representatives and voters in Ireland. It is strongly based in constituency service and individual brokerage and thus contradicts universalistic expectations towards modern politics. The article starts with a justification of the choice of the case and the theoretical framework, i.e. the sociology of critical capacity proposed by Boltanski and Thévenot. It then introduces records of parliamentary debates and newspaper articles as the empirical material and qualitative content analysis as the main method of analysis. Subsequent sections reconstruct the dynamics of the critical reflection over a thirty-year period and highlight significant patterns of critique and justification.