Thursday, 14 January 2016
Order of Business
I concur with Senator Barrett’s general welcome for the many proposals on Dáil reform being discussed and presumably decided on in the other House.The process of political reform, which is sought and accepted by the public, is undermined by decisions such as the one raised by Senator Ó Clochartaigh, namely, the appointment to a significant post of responsibility of a person without going through the proper channels. We cannot dispute the credentials of the person appointed to the Pensions Authority. He played a key role in the broader partnership process but a commitment was given to process State appointments and political appointments at all levels in a different fashion but, sadly, it has not happened. That undermines the concept of political reform and is a retrograde step in that regard.
On the proposals being debated elsewhere, I note that one of them suggests the election of the Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot. The question that will be asked in this House is whether the measure will spread to the election of the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad by secret ballot but that is a debate for this House on another occasion.
Political reform drips very slowly. I welcome the document produced yesterday and all documents produced to add to the political reform mix but I would point out that on 26 February 2002, not 2010 or 2008, the Oireachtas agreed a series of political reform measures relating to the work of the Oireachtas, the work of committees, the setting up of a separate committee week, membership of committees and much more. Ten or 12 measures, including the introduction of electronic voting in the Dáil Chamber, which went ahead, were not just agreed within the parties but were officially launched in a document and a press conference held under the chairmanship of the then Government Whip, Seamus Brennan, to announce that suite of political reform measures in 2002, which were agreed by all sides of the House. I recall it vividly because I was a member of the Whips committee at that time. All parties agreed to a significant degree of political reform within the House, which would have transformed the way the House did its business. That was 26 February 2002 and if the Leader wants to find the document, it is resting at peace in the Library. One of the problems we have is that great ideas are put forward by all sides of the House and are on occasions accepted but are then forgotten about. It is like the 1991 report on local government reform, the Barrington report, which was agreed by every member of all parties on all sides of the Dáil and the Seanad, which is also resting at peace in the Library.
When we come up with proposals and ideas, we must follow them through. As a former Member of the other House, I can say that if the 2002 proposals had been enacted, the work of that House - presumably, it would have drifted into this House also - would have been transformed in a progressive way. One of the suggestions was that there would be a Member's hour per week whereby a backbench Member of the House would be allowed a full hour to raise subjects of his or her choice. Its purpose was to engage Members of the Oireachtas in genuine parliamentary debate and reform and it is disappointing that an agreed document launched 14 years ago remains on the shelf.
In terms of what is happening in the other House on political reform, if we are to do something similar here, we should do more than debate it. We should initiate it because parties on all sides of the House but, more importantly, every citizen of the country, will benefit from political reform and from turning the two Houses of the Oireachtas into genuine debating Chambers where ideas are brought forward, are listened to with respect, regardless of who brings them forward, and, if appropriate, are acted on. We need to have grown up politics in the future.