Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform: Select Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform

Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013: Committee Stage

6:15 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour) | Oireachtas source

To reiterate, every proposal we have is grounded in constitutional provision. Under the Constitution, Members of the House and officeholders are made accountable to the House, so there is a constitutional anchoring for that. The Deputy asked what will stop people from going to the High Court. Thankfully, nothing. Any citizen, in regard to any issue, can go and look for a judicial review, but we are very confident there is a constitutional safeguard for the rights of the Oireachtas to hold such inquiries.

If I may, I will respond to Deputy McDonald on two points. We need to be clear, when we say we have to avoid the perception of bias, that there is an expectation that although Members of the Oireachtas have strong and robust views on policy issues, they will not be debarred having expressed those strong policy views. What is being discussed here is a situation in which a person who is going to be a witness or whose good name is at stake - obviously, we will not make conclusions on this - would be cross-examined or made amenable to a committee member who is demonstrably biased towards that person, or who has drawn conclusions in advance of an inquiry into any matter. Who will make that determination? In much of the legislation's provisions the Oireachtas will make the first determination, but of course it will ultimately be for any individual who feels the conclusion made is not satisfactory to test it in the courts. The criterion we have set out in the Bill is the conclusion a fair-minded person would come to in regard to the bias or otherwise of an individual Member. That is the process we have set out.


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