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

5:45 pm

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

I heard Deputy Donnelly speak about this issue before and his own amendment is yet to come. There is almost a view that the Government side is, by definition, "partial" and the Opposition, by definition, is "impartial". I can assure the Deputies that this is not my experience of 30 years in the House. There can be very partial and partisan Opposition members with a political agenda, and that does not necessarily lead to objective inquiry. We can all identify with that.

If there is a large number of Deputies, they should be represented with proportionality as they would be enthusiastic in their involvement. The rules of the House already give a disproportionate platform to the Opposition although I know members of the Opposition might disagree with that. With any opening debate, all the Opposition spokespersons would contribute before the second Government speaker. Many backbenchers would be frozen out of debate and do not have a profile. As an Independent Deputy, Deputy Donnelly can demand a fair degree of time in the Dáil and much more than a Government backbencher.

I am a passionate supporter of Parliament and we want to empower it in the reform agenda we are bringing forward. It must be a proportionate response as Parliament is the Chamber of the elected representative of the people. If 69% of the benches are taken up with Government Members, it is what the people decided at the last time of asking, so the fact must be in some way manifest. I do not accept just the general principle that the public would have more comfort in the Opposition, as Deputy Donnelly mentioned, whether those members either chaired or had a majority on the committee.

Having said that, it is important that the House sets guidelines, perhaps along the lines suggested by the Chairman, so that there would be decent proportionality in any significant inquiry where all groupings may be required to be represented, for example. That is a matter for the House, and I would like to have a much more active Committee on Procedure and Privileges to set out rules and guidelines. We are putting a requirement in the legislation to formulate rules and guidelines. As part of a reform agenda and if people determine we must have a unicameral system, there should be a much more robust Dáil system and a better resourced committee system. We must have such issues on the agenda.


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