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 Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent) | Oireachtas source

We have that opinion, and I have the benefit of having come in here for two years with new eyes and seen what I have seen. For example, the Technical Group cannot speak on the Order of Business. We asked for a single word to be changed in Standing Orders but we cannot have this done and, as we saw, Deputy Catherine Murphy was ejected from the Chamber last week for trying to make a point. The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is meant to be completely independent but neither Sinn Féin nor the Technical Group has any representation on it, even though it has 11 members. I was refused permission even to address it on a particular issue. In addition, there are guillotines all the time, as in the fiasco of last week. In my view, there is considerable Cabinet control over both Government Deputies and the House.

The reason this is relevant is that the amendment seeks to reduce the number of votes to a quarter of Members of the House, although I do not really care if the figure is a quarter or a third.

We know from the Library and Research Service that in seven or eight EU member states the equivalent number is between one fifth and one third. The legislation implicitly provides for half of Members. It does not specify 50% but it states there must be a vote of the House, which implicitly means 50% plus. Germany specifies one quarter, so I went with one quarter in my amendment. I am not stuck on one quarter and I do not believe it matters because the amendment will not be accepted anyway, but based on what I have seen, I do not believe this legislation would be used to investigate a sitting member of Cabinet, because the Cabinet will apply the Whip, which it does to every vote and every proposed amendment if we press it to a vote. Therefore, I believe this is a reasonable amendment which is in line with good practice throughout Europe and which gets over the public perception, regardless of whether the Minister agrees with me, about Cabinet control of the Oireachtas.

Let us play this out. The Government has one Taoiseach - in no way do I attribute this to our current Taoiseach, but previous Taoisigh I have seen were capable of abusing it. The position relates back to the 50% figure for committees and it echoes Deputy Fleming's point. The Government applies a Whip. The sitting Cabinet members are essentially immune from this legislation because it requires a majority vote in the House. They can, however, use it against an Opposition leader, for example. They control the terms of reference, the inquiry, the committee and the report because they can vote through anything they want. The point of the amendment is to make it at least possible, or easier, for the House, even where the Government is trying to apply a Whip, to investigate a sitting Cabinet member.


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