Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

An Bille um an Tríochadú Leasú ar an mBunreacht (Fiosruithe Thithe an Oireachtais) 2011: Céim an Choiste agus na Céimeanna a bheidh Fágtha / Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Houses of the Oireachtas Inquiries) Bill 2011: Committee and Remaining Stages


6:00 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)

We are entirely supportive of the Government's effort to ensure the Oireachtas can conduct investigations and inquiries in a timely and productive fashion. There is no question that the Abbeylara judgment had to be addressed and I believe the Government is doing the right thing in seeking to address it. None the less, I share many of Deputy Catherine Murphy's concerns that there would be any attempt to create something that could be described as a Star Chamber or that would trample on the rights of individuals to fair procedures and natural justice.

We are discussing the content of a constitutional amendment and, for the purposes of our discussion, it is important we stay on that terrain. Obviously, the legislation as proposed will have to be gone through with a fine-tooth comb to address the types of issues the Deputy has raised in terms of the internal process and the inclusion of Members of the Oireachtas and so on. I very much welcome the fact the Minister, in a very upfront way, indicates a balance will be struck and that there will be inclusion in that regard.

The Minister is aware that my concern from the get-go has been that in circumstances where the Oireachtas takes to itself a power to balance the public interest and the private interest, this must not just be stated implicitly. I accept the arguments around Articles 34 and 40, and I understand equally there was never an attempt to sideline the judicial process. None the less, it is essential it is stated explicitly in the Constitution that in carrying out this balancing exercise, the Oireachtas is constitutionally obliged to have to the foremost the provisions around fair procedure. It is welcome that the Minister has listened to Members' concerns and tabled this amendment. Were I to be egocentric about it, I might argue the point and state my wording is better than that of the Minister. However, I accept he has available to him the advice of the Attorney General and other expertise. The critical point is that the matter of fair procedure is addressed. This goes to the heart of many concerns the public will have in this regard. While Members wish to see the public interest well served and seek an Oireachtas that has teeth and powers, that can compel witnesses and make findings, equally the public needs an absolute reassurance the rights of individuals will be upheld and vindicated and that there will be a brake on the new Oireachtas power to engage in that balancing exercise. I am satisfied the Minister has achieved this aim in his proposed amendment.

I will conclude by noting a point raised both during the Order of Business and in previous debates on this issue on how careful one must be when amending the Constitution and how it should not be a rushed matter. Even as Members debate this issue on this Stage, I still consider it to have been rushed. I accept it has had a long history, but in this current phase and for new Members such as me, I consider the process to have been rushed. For as long as the rights of the individual are vindicated, implicitly understood and explicitly stated, I welcome and support the Government proposal to put this matter to the people who I hope will support it.


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