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

5:35 pm

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

I understand the Deputy's intention. He made the same point when discussing the heads of the Bill and on Second Stage. There is always a much more democratic perspective when one is on the other side of the House. That rush of blood normally does not migrate to this side when one is in the majority.

In constructing this Bill, I considered the point that is being made. We are not constructing a normal committee. Section 16 confers on a committee of the House or on the Houses the power to issue guidelines in respect of the procedures of Part 2 inquiries. Section 16(2) outlines the types of guideline that may be included for the purpose of the consideration to be taken into account in promoting the objectives of fair procedures. Section 16(2)(g) provides that they may include guidelines, to the extent practicable, relating to achieving a balance between committee members as regards their respective political affiliations.

The principle underlying the Bill is, in so far as possible, to confer on the House as opposed to the Executive the autonomy to regulate and manage the conduct of inquiries. This is one such instance in which the House has significant pointers to make to the Bill under the guidelines.

I do not consider that the Whip system should not apply to Part 2 inquiries. When we set up what was to have been the inquiry committee had the referendum been passed, it had an Opposition Chairman. I am referring to the petitions committee. Obviously, that committee has been overtaken by events and the decision of the people.

We should not be prescriptive in law as regards this matter. We must take account of the democratic structure of the Dáil. However, robust guidelines should be made to ensure that fair procedures, including the prevention of an overwhelming balance one way or another, should apply to these types of inquiry. As I have repeatedly stated regarding Part 2 inquiries, when one weighs evidence objectively and asks questions of witnesses without coming to conclusions, the Whip system should not apply.

I do not intend to accept the amendment, but I have gone a fair distance in trying to incorporate Deputy Fleming's intent in the content of the Bill.


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