Thursday, 28 January 2016
Standing Orders: Motion
Paul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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That, in accordance with the recommendation of the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform under Standing Order 99(3)(a), the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business be amended as follows:(a) by the adoption of the following Standing Order and the Schedule thereto in substitution for Standing Order 6:‘6. (1) The Dáil shall then proceed to the election of a Ceann Comhairle. The Clerk shall act as Chairman until the Ceann Comhairle is elected and takes the Chair.(b) by the adoption of the following additional Standing Orders:
(2) The election of the Ceann Comhairle shall be conducted by means of a secret ballot, subject to the provisions of this Standing Order. Preparatory arrangements for the ballot shall be made under the supervision and direction of the Clerk.
(3) Any nomination of a candidate for Ceann Comhairle shall be in writing and shall be received by the Clerk not later than 6 p.m. on the day before the first day the Dáil meets subsequent to a General Election, not counting a Saturday, Sunday or a public holiday.
(4) A candidate for Ceann Comhairle is validly nominated where‒
(a) the candidate has already signed the Roll of Members in accordance with Standing Order 1 and has declared in writing to the Clerk his or her willingness to stand for election as Ceann Comhairle; and
(b) the nomination form bears the supporting signatures of not fewer than seven other members, each of whom has also already signed the Roll of Members in accordance with Standing Order 1.
A member may add his or her supporting signature to one nomination form only. Where a member adds his or her supporting signature to more than one such form, it shall be invalid on all such forms.
(5) Where a candidate’s nomination does not comply with the provisions of paragraph (4), such candidate is not validly nominated, and the Clerk shall return the candidate’s nomination form as soon as is practicable.
(6) A candidate may, in writing, withdraw his or her nomination at any time up to the close of nominations.
(7) As soon as is practicable following the close of nominations, the Clerk shall publish, in alphabetical order, a list of the validly nominated candidates on the Houses of the Oireachtas website: Provided that if no candidate is validly nominated, the Clerk shall publish a notice to that effect in lieu of the list. Where no candidate is validly nominated, immediately after the Clerk’s Election Report under Standing Order 3, a motion proposing a member for Ceann Comhairle may be made by any member, and the provisions of Standing Order 6B shall apply.
(8) If only one candidate is validly nominated, there shall be no secret ballot for the election of the Ceann Comhairle. Immediately after the Clerk’s Election Report under Standing Order 3, the Clerk shall announce the name of the candidate validly nominated. Following contributions, which shall not exceed five minutes each, the Clerk shall proceed to put the question under Standing Order 6A(2).
(9) If more than one candidate is validly nominated, immediately after the Clerk’s Election Report under Standing Order 3, the Clerk shall announce, in alphabetical order, the names of the candidates validly nominated. Following contributions from each candidate, or another member nominated instead of a candidate, which shall not exceed five minutes each, the Clerk shall announce that the House is proceeding to a secret ballot and direct that the bells be rung for six minutes.
(10) (a) The secret ballot shall take place in the division lobbies. Members shall enter and leave the division lobbies under the direction of the Clerk.
(b) Each member intending to vote shall be provided with a ballot paper bearing the names of the validly nominated candidates listed in alphabetical order.
(c) Each member may vote for as many or as few candidates on the ballot paper as he or she wishes, marking them in order of preference.
(d) The ballot shall be declared closed when, in the opinion of the Clerk, all members intending to vote have cast their votes, or, otherwise, after the expiration of 90 minutes, whichever is the earlier: Provided that the Clerk may, where he or she has determined that exceptional circumstances apply, extend the time for voting by up to 30 minutes. The Clerk may also determine that exceptional circumstances have arisen which require a further ballot, and such further ballot shall be held under the provisions of this Standing Order.
(e) Where a ballot has been declared closed, the sitting shall stand suspended, and counting shall take place under arrangements determined by the Clerk.
(f) The ballot shall be counted under the Proportional Representation Single Transferable Vote (PRSTV) system.
(g) The provisions of Schedule 2 to these Standing Orders shall apply in relation to the ballot, the counting of votes and matters relating thereto.
(h) The Clerk shall have the power to make a determination on any matter of doubt arising from the conduct of the ballot or the count.
(11) The procedure outlined in this Standing Order for the election of the Ceann Comhairle shall be used on any occasion when the office becomes vacant and it accordingly becomes necessary for members to elect a new Ceann Comhairle.’;‘6A. (1) A candidate for Ceann Comhairle shall only take the Chair where the House has agreed the question put thereon by the Clerk under this Standing Order. No amendment may be tabled in respect of such a question, and if a division is claimed thereon, and in the event of there being an equality of votes, the question shall be decided in the negative.(c) in Standing Order 90‒
(2) Pursuant to Standing Order 6(8), where there is only one validly nominated candidate for Ceann Comhairle, the Clerk shall, following the contributions, then put the question, “That................ (naming the candidate), who is the sole validly nominated candidate, be elected and do now take the Chair of the Dáil as Ceann Comhairle”.
(3) Pursuant to Standing Order 6, where a secret ballot has taken place for Ceann Comhairle, as soon as is practicable after the votes have been counted and the name of the successful candidate has been announced in the count centre, the sitting shall resume, and the Clerk shall announce to the House the name of the successful candidate selected by secret ballot. The Clerk shall then put the question, “That................ (naming the successful candidate), who is the successful candidate duly selected by secret ballot by the members of Dáil Éireann, be elected and do now take the Chair of the Dáil as Ceann Comhairle”.
(4) If a division is claimed on a question put under paragraphs (2) or (3), the Clerk shall call on the members claiming the division to rise in their places, and if fewer than 30 members so rise, the Clerk shall forthwith declare the determination of the Dáil in favour of the successful candidate, and the names of the members who have risen shall be recorded as dissenting in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.
(5) If, when the question is put under paragraphs (2) or (3), a division is claimed thereon, and more than 30 members rise in their places, and, in the resulting division, the question is decided in the negative, the provisions of Standing Order 6B shall apply.
6B. (1) Where, under Standing Order 6(7), no candidate is validly nominated for Ceann Comhairle, or where, under Standing Order 6A(5), the question that a candidate be elected and take the Chair as Ceann Comhairle is decided in the negative, the provisions of this Standing Order shall apply.
(2) Where this Standing Order applies, a motion proposing a member as Ceann Comhairle may be made by any member who has taken his or her seat according to law. Following contributions, which shall not exceed five minutes each, the Clerk shall put the question that the member proposed be elected and take the Chair as Ceann Comhairle: Provided that if there is more than one member proposed as Ceann Comhairle, the Clerk shall put each question thereon in the order in which the members were proposed.’;(i) by the substitution for paragraph (1) of the following paragraph:(d) in Standing Order 100‒
‘(1) In every Committee, the Chairman shall have only one vote. In Joint Committees, the Chairman may be a member of either House.’;
(ii) by the insertion of the following new paragraph after paragraph (1):
‘(2A) A proportion of Chairman posts shall be allocated to each group in the Dáil (as defined in Standing Order 120). Such proportion shall be calculated according to the d’Hondt system, and under such system, each group shall choose a particular Chairman post as the posts are allocated, excluding posts already allocated by Standing Orders or by Order of the Dáil: Provided that a Government group may not choose the Chairmanship of the Committee of Public Accounts. The House shall appoint all Chairmen, in accordance with the provisions of this Standing Order and of Standing Orders generally.’;
(iii) in paragraph (2), by the deletion of ‘As soon as may be following the election of Chairman,’;(i) in paragraph (1), by the insertion of the following after ‘Standing Order’:and
‘The Chair of the Working Group of Committee Chairmen shall be chosen from the group (as defined in Standing Order 120) which has been allocated the most Chairman posts under the d’Hondt system, pursuant to Standing Order 90(2).’;
(ii) by the insertion of the following new paragraph after paragraph (3):
‘(4) The Taoiseach shall appear before the Working Group in both the Spring and the Autumn Dáil sessions to discuss matters of public policy, and the Working Group shall agree an agenda for such meeting with the Taoiseach in advance.’;
(e) in the Schedule to these Standing Orders designating categories of documents for the purposes of Standing Order 114B(2) a) and (b), by the insertion of the following paragraph:‘(r) Documents relating to the election of the Ceann Comhairle.’.‘SCHEDULE 2Provision of ballot papers
Rules for the selection of a candidate for Ceann Comhairle for the purposes of Standing Orders 6 and 6A:
(1) Ballot papers shall be provided to Members in the following manner–
(a) The ballot paper shall be marked with the official mark;
(b) Members present in the Chamber shall be provided with ballot papers by the Clerk;
(c) A mark shall be placed on the Members’ division list opposite the Member’s name to indicate that a ballot paper has been issued to such Member;
(d) A Member who has inadvertently spoiled his or her ballot paper shall, on returning it to the Clerk and satisfying the Clerk as to inadvertence, be given another ballot paper. The Clerk shall immediately mark “spoilt” on the spoilt ballot paper. The Clerk shall retain the spoilt ballot paper and deal with it in accordance with paragraph 19 of this Schedule.
Rules for the counting of votes
(2) The Clerk, his or her assistants and the candidates may be present at the opening of the ballot boxes and counting of the votes extracted therefrom and no other person shall be present without the permission of the Clerk.
(3) The Clerk shall reject any ballot paper that is invalid, endorsing “rejected” on its face and any such ballot paper shall not be included in the count.
(4) The Clerk shall then ascertain the number of first preferences recorded on the ballot papers for each candidate, and shall then arrange the candidates on a list (hereinafter called “ the order of preferences”) in the order of the number of first preferences recorded for each candidate, beginning with the candidate for whom the greatest number of first preferences is recorded. If the number of first preferences recorded for any two or more candidates (hereinafter called “equal candidates”) is equal, the Clerk shall ascertain the number of second preferences recorded on all the ballot papers for each of the equal candidates, and shall arrange the equal candidates as amongst themselves on the order of preferences in the order of the second preferences recorded for each such candidate, beginning with the candidate for whom the greatest number of second preferences is recorded. If the number of first and second preferences recorded for any two or more equal candidates is equal, the Clerk shall, in like manner, ascertain the number of third preferences recorded on all the ballot papers for each of such last-mentioned equal candidates, and arrange such candidates on the order of preferences accordingly, and so on until all the candidates are arranged in order on the order of preferences. If the number of first, second, third, and all other preferences recorded for any two or more equal candidates is equal, the Clerk shall determine by lot the order in which such candidates are to be arranged on the order of preferences.
(5) The Clerk shall then arrange the valid ballot papers in parcels according to the first preferences recorded for each candidate.
(6) The Clerk shall then count the number of papers in each parcel and credit each candidate with a number of votes equal to the number of valid papers on which a first preference has been recorded for such candidate.
(7) The Clerk shall then add together the number of votes credited to each candidate and divide that number by two; the result increased by one, any fractional remainder being disregarded, shall be the number of votes sufficient to secure the selection of a candidate and this number is referred to in these Rules as the “quota”.
(8) If at the end of any count or at the end of the transfer of any parcel or sub-parcel of an excluded candidate, the number of votes credited to a candidate is equal to or greater than the quota, that candidate shall be deemed to be the “successful candidate” and the count shall thereupon be concluded.
(9) If at the end of any count, the quota has not been reached or exceeded by any candidate, the following provisions shall apply–
(a) the Clerk shall exclude the candidate (in this Rule referred to as the “excluded candidate”) then credited with the lowest number of votes and all the papers of that candidate shall be examined;
(b) the transferable papers of the excluded candidate shall be arranged in sub-parcels according to the next available preferences recorded thereon for continuing candidates and each sub-parcel shall be transferred to the continuing candidate for whom the preference was recorded;
(c) a parcel containing original votes shall be first transferred;
(d) sub-parcels containing transferred votes shall be transferred in the order in which the excluded candidate obtained them;
(e) a separate sub-parcel shall be made of the non-transferable papers and they shall be set aside as finally dealt with;
(f) if, when a candidate has to be excluded under this Rule, the total of the votes of the two or more lowest candidates is less than the number of votes credited to the next highest candidate, the Clerk shall in one operation exclude such two or more lowest candidates;
(g) if, when a candidate has to be excluded under this Rule, and two or more candidates have each the same number of votes and are lowest (the total of which is more than the next highest candidate), regard shall be had to the number of original votes credited to each of those candidates, and the candidate with the lowest number of original votes shall be excluded. Where the numbers of the original votes are equal, regard shall be had to the total number of votes credited to those candidates at the first count at which they had an unequal number of votes and the candidate with the lowest number of votes at that count shall be excluded and, where the numbers of votes credited to those candidates were equal at all counts, the candidate lower in the order of preferences at the first count shall be excluded.
(10) If at the end of any count, the quota has not been reached or exceeded by any candidate, and there is only one continuing candidate remaining, that candidate shall be deemed to be the successful candidate and the count shall thereupon be concluded.
(11) On every transfer under these Rules, each sub-parcel of papers transferred shall be placed on top of the parcel or sub-parcel (if any) of papers of the candidate to whom the transfer is made, and that candidate shall be credited with a number of votes equal to the number of papers transferred to him or her.
(12) At the end of every count the Clerk shall record on a result sheet the total number of votes credited to each candidate at the end of that count and also the number of the non-transferable papers not effective on that count.
(13) Any candidate may, at the conclusion of any count, request the Clerk to re-examine and recount all or any of the ballot papers dealt with during that count, and the Clerk may re-examine and recount accordingly the ballot papers indicated.
(14) The Clerk may at his or her discretion, or at the request of a candidate, recount ballot papers either once or more often in any case in which he or she is not satisfied as to the accuracy of any count.
(15) Nothing in these Rules shall make it obligatory on the Clerk to recount the same parcel of ballot papers more than once.
(16) In the re-examination and recount, the number or order of ballot papers in any parcel shall not be disturbed.
(17) The decision of the Clerk, whether expressed or implied by his or her acts, on any question which arises in relation to the count, including the exclusion of any candidate, or to any ballot paper or transfer of votes, shall be final.
(18) On the completion of the counting of the votes, the Clerk shall determine and declare the result in the count centre, and announce the name of the successful candidate whose name shall be put before the House in accordance with Standing Order 6A(3).
Destruction of ballot papers
(19) As soon as practicable subsequent to the election and taking of the Chair by the successful candidate, the Clerk shall destroy the ballot papers.
(20) In these Rules–
(a) “continuing candidate” means any candidate not deemed to be the successful candidate and not excluded;
(b) “count” means (as the context may require) either–
(i) all the operations involved in the counting of the first preferences recorded for candidates; or
(ii) all the operations involved in the transfer of the votes of an excluded candidate;
(iii) all the operations involved in the transfer of the votes of two or more candidates together.
(c) “determine by lot” means determine in accordance with the following directions, namely, the names of the candidates concerned having been written on similar slips of paper, and the slips having been folded so as to prevent identification and mixed and drawn at random, the candidates concerned shall as amongst themselves be arranged on the order of preferences in the order in which the slips containing their names are drawn, beginning with the candidate whose name is on the slip drawn first.
(d) “invalid” by reference to a ballot paper means any ballot paper–
(i) which does not bear the official mark; or
(ii) on which the figure “1” standing alone, or the word “one” or any other mark which, in the opinion of the Clerk, clearly indicates a first preference, is not placed at all or is not so placed as to indicate a first preference for some candidate; or
(iii) on which the figure “1” standing alone, or the word “one” or any other mark which, in the opinion of the Clerk, clearly indicates a first preference, is set opposite the name of more than one candidate; or
(iv) on which the figure “1” standing alone indicates a first preference and some other number is set opposite the name of the same candidate; or
(v) on which anything is written or marked which, in the opinion of the Clerk, is calculated to identify the Member voting.
(e) “non-transferable paper” means a ballot paper–
(i) on which no second or subsequent preference is recorded for a continuing candidate; or
(ii) on which the names of two or more candidates (whether continuing or not) are marked with the same number, and are next in order of preference; or
(iii) on which the name of the candidate next in order of preference (whether continuing or not) is marked by a number not following consecutively after some other number on the voting paper or by two or more numbers; or
(iv) which is void for uncertainty.
(f) “original vote” in regard to any candidate means a vote derived from a ballot paper on which a first preference is recorded for that candidate;
(g) “preference” shall be interpreted as follows–
(i) “first preference” means the figure “1” standing alone, or the word “one” or any other mark which, in the opinion of the Clerk, clearly indicates a first preference;
(ii) “second preference” means the figure “2” standing alone, or the word “two” or any other mark which, in the opinion of the Clerk, clearly indicates a second preference standing in succession to a first preference;
(iii) “third preference” means the figure “3” standing alone, or the word “three” or any other mark which, in the opinion of the Clerk, clearly indicates a third preference standing in succession to a second preference and so on;
(iv) “next available preference” means a preference which, in the opinion of the Clerk, is a second or subsequent preference recorded in consecutive order for a continuing candidate, the preferences next in order on the ballot paper for candidates already excluded being disregarded.
(h) “transferable paper” means a ballot paper on which, following a first preference, a second or subsequent preference is recorded in numerical order for a continuing candidate;
(i) “transferred vote” in regard to any candidate means a vote derived from a ballot paper on which a second or subsequent preference is recorded for that candidate.’.”
I welcome the opportunity to ask the Dáil to support this motion. The amendments to Standing Orders for which we are seeking Dáil approval today will have a major impact on the future operation of the Dáil and of Oireachtas committees. The new Standing Orders provide for the election of the Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot, the selection of Oireachtas committee Chairs using the d'Hondt system and the requirement for the Taoiseach to appear before the Working Group of Committee Chairmen twice a year to discuss matters of public policy. These reforms complement the Dáil and Oireachtas reform packages that were introduced by this Government in July 2011 and September 2013. I believe their combined impact will strengthen the Oireachtas in holding the Government to account and in its role as a Legislature.
The office of the Ceann Comhairle is vitally important to the effective working of the Dáil. Over the years, a number of exceptional Deputies have taken on this thankless task. While being a good and fair Ceann Comhairle is of immense benefit to the Dáil, it can be a lonely post. It is not easy to be the speaker of any parliament. Our Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Seán Barrett, has many thanks and much respect for the work he has done over the last five years. Under the new Standing Orders, for the first time Deputies will elect one of their colleagues to the Office of Ceann Comhairle - the Chairperson of the Dáil - by secret ballot. The office will be more independent than ever. The holder of the office will be directly linked to his or her fellow Members of the Dáil like never before. The authority of the Ceann Comhairle will come directly from Government and Opposition Deputies, who will have an opportunity to elect someone to that office by secret ballot.
When the Dáil returns after the forthcoming general election, one of the first items of business will be the election of a Ceann Comhairle. The House must have a Speaker before it can proceed to nominate a Taoiseach. Under the new system, anyone wishing to be a candidate will have to be nominated by seven other Deputies by 6 p.m. the day before the Dáil meets. The Clerk will publish a list of candidates as soon as possible following the close of nominations. If no candidate is nominated, the current system for the election of the Ceann Comhairle will remain in place. If more than one candidate is nominated then, after the Clerk has presented the election report to the Members, the names of the candidates will be announced and each candidate will be given five minutes to address his or her fellow Deputies. The election will then proceed by secret ballot in the division lobbies. Each Deputy will be given a ballot paper with the names of the validly nominated candidates for which he or she can vote in order of preference. When the ballot has been closed, the Dáil will be suspended and the ballots will be counted using the proportional representation, single transferable vote system. When a candidate is deemed to be successful, the Dáil sitting will resume. The Clerk will announce to the Dáil the name of the successful candidate and put the question to the House.
Provision will also be made in Standing Orders for the proportionate allocation of committee Chairs using the d’Hondt system. The Government of the day will no longer hold a monopoly of Oireachtas committee Chairs. This Government has taken a number of steps to increase the power of Oireachtas committees over the lifetime of this Dáil. The selection of Oireachtas committee Chairs using the d’Hondt system will enhance this. This reform will distribute Chairs on the basis of Dáil support. Such a change will give Opposition Deputies more powerful roles in the next Dáil. Under the d’Hondt system, each party or group will choose a Chair post from the available posts. The only restriction is that no Government group may choose the Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts.
Standing Orders will also be amended to introduce a system whereby the Taoiseach will appear before the Working Group of Committee Chairmen twice a year, in the spring and autumn Dáil sessions. This will allow the members of the working group, which under the d’Hondt system will be reflective of the Dáil, to raise matters of public policy with the Taoiseach. This will further enhance the accountability of the Taoiseach's office to the Oireachtas, thereby reinforcing this Parliament’s power to hold the Government to account.
This is the third package of Dáil reform to be introduced since 2011. The Government can be proud of its record in this area. For decades under previous Governments, the reform of the Dáil and of Oireachtas committees was ignored. Since taking office, this Government has supported Dáil and committee reform by implementing a range of important measures. It increased the number of Dáil sitting days from 93 days a year under the previous Government to 123 days a year under this Government. It introduced additional Leaders’ Questions on Thursdays. It opened up the law-making process by introducing a pre-legislative stage for Bills, conducted by the relevant Oireachtas committee. This provides for an unprecedented and extensive engagement by the public, experts and civil society groups in the law-making process. Of key importance is the fact that this takes place before the Bill is published.
The Government reformed ministerial Question Time by extending each slot to 75 minutes, requiring the Member asking the question to be present in the Chamber and enabling a Member who is dissatisfied with an answer to a parliamentary question to submit an appeal to the Ceann Comhairle. It replaced the outdated Adjournment debates with Topical Issue debates taken by a Minister from the relevant Department. Deputies are allowed to postpone the debate if a Minister from that Department is not available. Each year, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste address the Dáil setting out the Government’s annual priorities. The proposer of a Private Members' Bill now has five minutes on First Stage to outline the purpose of the Bill to the Dáil. He or she can then seek to have the Bill debated during a Friday sitting. The number of Private Members' Bills introduced by Deputies increased from 14 in 2010 to 53 in 2014.
The process of parliamentary reform is and must always be an ongoing one. The steps we are taking today, and have taken over the last five years, are positive but they are by no means the end of the process. The next Dáil and the next Government should follow the example we have set over the last five years by continuing to introduce reforms that improve the way our Parliament works. I want to take this opportunity to highlight the positive engagement on the issue of Dáil reform over the last five years on the part of the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Seán Barrett, and members of the Dáil reform committee. Genuine and workable reforms will be embraced by the Members of this House. I ask them to support these proposals as genuine and workable reforms. I commend the motion to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this motion. It was funny to hear the Chief Whip finishing his contribution by encouraging "the next Dáil and the next Government [to] follow the example we have set over the last five years by continuing to introduce reforms that improve the way our Parliament works". I certainly hope the next Government, regardless of its composition, does not follow the example this Government has set. When the Government parties took office, they said they had been the benefactors of a "democratic revolution". Nothing could be further from the truth. There has been no substantial political reform over the past five years. We have seen a box-ticking exercise that has resulted in some cosmetic changes. I have to say that from a political reform perspective, this Government has wasted the substantial goodwill and the trust placed by the electorate in Fine Gael and the Labour Party five years ago.
I would like to remind the Government of some of the promises it made on political reform. It has systematically broken the promise or pledge included in the programme for Government not to guillotine legislation. Up to the end of 2014, it had guillotined 63% of legislation. We know that the guillotining of key legislation, such as the Bills introducing water charges and cutting social welfare payments, deprived all Members of the House - Government backbenchers and Opposition Members - of the opportunity to tease out and debate critical legislative issues that would have a direct effect on the citizens of this country. That is a clear broken promise of this Government. The Minister of State mentioned the reform of Adjournment debates, which are now known as Topical Issue debates. While I acknowledge the time difference, it is still the case that the relevant Minister turns up just 40% of the time. The change from the Adjournment debates to the Topical Issue debates was made to allow the relevant Minister to come in.
Last week I took part in a Topical Issue debate on the extension of the compensation scheme for flood victims in Athlone and the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Joe McHugh, came in. He is an honourable man but he did not have a clue what I was talking about. I do not blame him because it was not his area of responsibility. He came in with a pre-prepared script and he was not able to answer the questions I asked.
The issue of Friday sittings is a farce. The Minister of State indicated that the Dáil was sitting more as a result of Friday sittings and there probably are more days when we are physically present but how much work is actually being done? On a Friday sitting there are no Leaders' Questions, no Topical Issue debate and no Order of Business. There is a requirement for a minimum number of Oireachtas Members to be present but they are not always present. The legislation which is debated gets ventilation but ends up on a shelf gathering dust. There is an opportunity for back bench and Opposition Deputies to put forward legislation, but the Government never adopts it. Only one back bench Deputy had his legislation enacted in five years out of many hundreds that were submitted. Where is the reform in that case?
We have spoken about cronyism in appointments to State boards and we saw the true will of the Government on this issue most recently when the Tánaiste appointed Mr. Begg without going through the process which Government established. There was the debacle of the McNulty affair when someone was appointed to a State board just so that it could manipulate the Seanad election to get the right person in to a position the Government wanted to abolish a few months earlier. On 31 May 2011, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, said the programme for Government contained the most ambitious and far-reaching agenda for political reform ever put before the House. How inaccurate is that statement today? It rings hollow.
I welcome the amendments to Standing Orders being put before the House, albeit belatedly, and our party will support them. I do not hope the next Government follows on the path of the current Government in the area of political reform, because if it does so, it will not do the citizens a service.
I find these reforms laughable. It is utterly absurd, at the end of this Government's tenure, to introduce gestures towards reform of the Dáil which it could have introduced at the beginning of its term. They are obviously easy to introduce and they can be introduced and passed in a few minutes, but they were not done before now because the heart of the Government was never in Dáil reform. It never had any interest in Dáil reform but it had an interest in gestures.
I am certainly not convinced of the merits of the first amendment, which is to elect the Ceann Comhairle in secret. Why do we need a secret ballot to elect the most important post in this House? What will happen will be that another insider will be elected, secret deals will be done behind closed doors and no member of the public will know for whom their Deputy voted in this important vote. They will be protected from that and the result will be that the post of Ceann Comhairle will be traded as part of the spoils of Government in the next Dáil. Do not tell me that people will break ranks with the instructions from their party. Let us look at some of the evidence for that. There is another election in which Deputies, and councillors, vote in secrecy, namely, the Seanad election. That is the most highly disciplined election of all, carried out under secret ballot where the seepage of votes from party loyalty is virtually zero. The instruction will go down from the parties to vote for whoever is the favoured person for Ceann Comhairle. It will be part of the usual trading that goes on for Cabinet Ministers and it will be a Government nominee, a Government favourite and member who is elected by secret ballot. There is no tradition in this House of the parties showing the sort of independence which is expected in this change.
The Government would have done far better to have opened up the very secretive Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which orders the business of the House and which is a complete and utter mystery to the public, in order that everybody could see what goes on in there.
I was part of the Constitutional Convention which discussed Dáil reform. It was all about making the Dáil more accountable, more democratic and more efficient, so I have to ask if this proposal will do that. Is it going to be positive and progressive in the spirit in which it was discussed? Is what is being proposed really any different from the system we have? If a party or parties have a significant majority, they will have the votes for their selected candidates and it does not matter whether that vote is secret or open. If it is a secret ballot and their choice is not elected, I can imagine the investigations that would ensue. There is an interesting part to the British system where they have 12 MEPs who have to propose but three of them cannot be from the same party as the candidate. That would allow somebody to be elected as Ceann Comhairle with wider support.
The work of the Ceann Comhairle involves presiding over proceedings as the sole judge of order in the Dáil and a major issue is a lack of respect for the role of Ceann Comhairle, which is most unfortunate. Some of the exchanges and the disregard for the role of the Chair have not enhanced the public perception of the Dáil and Dáil proceedings. It certainly does not improve public confidence in the Dáil. There is a bigger issue here to ensure status, stature and respect for office and I wonder if there is a space for a non-political person in an open competition to be Ceann Comhairle. The most important thing is to get the best person, regardless of gender, age or whether they are in a party or not, in order that the person in question will command respect and will, as Chair, challenge speakers, either the Taoiseach or Ministers, if they do not answer questions or members of the Opposition. Could there be a role as Leas-Cheann Comhairle for other people who are nominated? Could they automatically become Leas-Cheann Comhairle?
I support the principle of what is being proposed here this morning but I am not sure the practice will bring the positivity and progressiveness we would hope for. The election of Ceann Comhairle cannot just be an academic exercise.
I compliment the previous speaker on her positive, well-researched and well-presented contribution. It was constructive, as always. I have been a Member for almost 19 years and was involved for quite a while in the Dáil reform committee. For 14 years under Fianna Fáil there was no Dáil reform, except for Leaders' Questions. When I came in, Michael Noonan was leader of Fine Gael and he brought forward a motion, which was accepted because it was happening anyway. There was nothing else in 14 years. We brought forward many packages and then decided we would do it incrementally, with no engagement, and nothing happened. Fair play to the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Paul Kehoe. On the first day in here he brought in major changes. Once they are embedded, people do not realise what they mean and people who were not here previously have no experience of how shambolic the situation was before that.
I could spend the day talking about this but the biggest change was pre-legislative scrutiny. In the past five years, 7,386 people have come before committees of the Houses, given evidence and engaged with their Parliament. That is a huge change. They have impacted on legislation before it was drafted and published and we have the evidence to show that. In the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality which I chair, more than 500 citizens of this State have been given the opportunity to engage with their Parliament and to impact on legislation before it is published.
Once the legislation is drafted and published, one cannot make any major changes. It is a massive change, but nobody is talking about it. It is the biggest change I have seen in my 19 years in the House but because it does not involve fireworks in the Chamber, grandstanding, sitting-in and that type of nonsense it does not get headlines. Massive amounts of time, work, effort and energy go into this and that is making a major change, but nobody is writing about in the newspapers or talking about it on television or in the media. We have spent hours, days and weeks at committee meetings listening to ordinary citizens, representatives of non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and academics who have come to the meetings to have their say. It is the biggest change I have ever seen.
The election of the Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot is important. I note the Deputy who was so critical during his two minutes and could not say anything constructive has now left the Chamber. He could not even bother to hear the contribution of anybody else. It is appalling. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan spoke about respect for the Ceann Comhairle. That is crucial. There should be no occasion when a Member questions the Ceann Comhairle in the Chamber. If one has an issue one should meet the Ceann Comhairle outside, not have a row in the Chamber. That is unseemly and should not be done. The next time the Ceann Comhairle is elected I hope everybody will respect that and speak through the Chair, not at each other across the Chamber.
Members should also stop using scripts and reading speeches which somebody else has written for them. Get rid of the scripts. They should be outlawed. Members should come to the Chamber and make the contributions their own by speaking to headlines and notes.
Regarding the D'Hondt system, chairing a committee is a huge responsibility. This has been the Dáil of committees; the committees of the Oireachtas have come into their own. Unfortunately, the referendum to allow committees to have a proper investigative role was not passed by the people. That hampers the work of committees, and I believe people are understanding that now. Another big change is the Taoiseach appearing before the working group of chairpersons. We must continue making changes. The new Members after the election must continue pushing the limits, exploring and looking for ways to do things.
Attendance in the Chamber and in committees is a big problem. Members do not attend committee meetings because many of them are tied up doing constituency work. The time somebody spends in a committee room should be logged and noted, from the time they arrive to the time they leave, by the minute. Somebody who arrives to a meeting, makes one contribution and leaves gets the same credit as somebody who spends hours debating at the meeting. People should be members of only one committee, and there should be only 15 members of each committee. It should be a privilege to be a member of a committee, not a right. Perhaps not everybody should be a member of a committee. That would avoid situations where people are expected to attend two meetings at the same time. It would also give members a chance to give more detailed attention to the business of a committee. There should also be convenors at committees. Many committees have had problems getting a quorum. As there is no coverage of committee work, for the most part, members do not feel compelled to turn up. That is not good enough.
We should be doing a great deal more in the House. Second Stage speeches are a disaster. One Member comes into the House and reads a speech, quite often to himself or herself. Often Members of the Opposition do not even bother to show up. When we were in opposition we had a rule there there always had to be at least one person on the benches. I agree with Deputy Troy that even today the attendance is dire. Why is that the case?
This is more of it. If the Deputy wants me to give way I will do so, but we must examine ways of getting more attendance in the Chamber. Why do Members not come to the House? I believe it requires shorter speeches and more positive interaction between Members.