Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Public Accounts Committee

Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Appropriation Account 2018

9:00 am

Ms Mellissa English:

They are only set of papers that I appear not to have brought with me for today but that is absolutely fine since we have done this briefing on a number of occasions. As the Deputy rightly points out, there have been messages out there about this chilling effect on parliamentary committees, which is absolutely incorrect. The court is at pains throughout the decisions in both the Supreme Court judgments in Kerins in this regard.

As the Secretary General said, the court is asking Parliament to set up a system that will rebalance the rights of non-Members when they appear in front of committees. It is stating that if we put procedures in place to provide an avenue of redress for people who believe they have been unfairly treated in front of committees and that if such a system includes remedies that will come into play when a Member or a committee acts unlawfully, the rights that need to be given to non-Members will have been rebalanced. It is stating that when such a system is in place, the Judiciary and the courts will give Parliament a very wide margin of appreciation in how it runs its business. It is far from a chilling effect. As the Deputy rightly pointed out, a number of errors occurred in that case in terms of remit, the letter of invitation and how the hearings were actually run. When the working group has finished its consultations and reported back to the Committee on Procedure, a system will be put in place. We hope Standing Orders will be amended to allow for a redress system. In such circumstances, things should operate much more smoothly in the future.