Thursday, 4 July 2019
Citizens' Assemblies Bill 2019: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:“Annual implementation report of recommendations of citizens’ assemblies
2.Within twelve months of the coming into operation of this Act and every twelve months thereafter, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government shall produce an implementation report on the recommendations of the following:(a) Citizens’ Assemblies established—(i) pursuant to a decision of the Government made on 11 June 2019 (each such body having been described by that decision as a citizens’ assembly), andand
(ii) in accordance with resolutions of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann passed before, on or after the commencement of this Act;
(b) Conventions on the Constitution established—(i) pursuant to a decision of Dáil Éireann made on 10 July 2012 and Seanad Éireann made on 12 July 2012 (each such body having been described by that decision as a Convention on the Constitution), and
(ii) in accordance with resolutions of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann passed before, on or after the commencement of this Act.”.
As I noted on Second Stage, a number of recommendations of the Citizens Assembly have not been implemented. The recommendation that the voting age in presidential elections be reduced to 16 years is a perfect example. This is due to a lack of political priority. I will side-track briefly on the question of presidential voting rights. We needed to see that legislation yesterday. It must be introduced as quickly as possible to give us the best chance of winning the referendum on the issue.
The amendment requires the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to publish an annual report that would list all recommendations of both conventions on the Constitution and citizens' assemblies. We should not allow a scenario to arise where we create assemblies and then allow only certain recommendations to debated by the Government or the people. We can disagree with recommendations but we should not stop the public from having a full hearing either in the Oireachtas or by referendum, depending on the recommendation.
The eighth report of the Convention on the Constitution dealt with economic, social and cultural rights. Following the report, the Government and Oireachtas made a mockery of one of its crucial recommendations, namely, the recommendation to introduce a constitutional right to a home. The members of the Constitutional Convention recommended that the report be referred to an Oireachtas joint committee for analysis and the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach was delegated as the correct forum for this purpose. Despite this, there have been no hearings on the report for more than four years. This is simply not good enough and the amendment would ensure that a light is shone when such delays arise. Delays undermine the true objectives the assemblies are created to achieve. The Government and Oireachtas should hold themselves to account in this regard.
Reference was made to legislation to extend the presidential franchise to citizens outside of Ireland. I know the Senator wanted to have it yesterday but the Cabinet will have the Bill next Tuesday. We will then be able to publish it and begin work on it as quickly as possible. We want to provide for the option of a referendum in October or November, depending on the time it takes for the legislation to get through both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Reference was made to the question of a right to a home. That recommendation came from the last assembly or convention but it was not unqualified. That is why it needed consideration by the Oireachtas joint committee. Consideration was required in line with other socio-economic rights that might be provided for at the same time. That committee is not chaired by a member of Fine Gael. Sinn Féin has representation on the committee and if the Senator wishes to try to progress the matter, that is the appropriate forum with which to take it up.
I do not propose to accept the amendment - I offer my apologies for that - given the wording. It will not fall to only one Minister to implement these recommendations. Certainly, I will have a role in the first tranche of work that the citizens' assembly will do around gender but other Ministers will have more of a role given their briefs. Adequate reporting mechanisms will need to be put in place, separate from my function of returning here at different intervals. The best place to provide for reporting requirements would be through the various motions setting up the conventions, which will come before the Houses next week. This is simply a technical Bill to allow us to use the electoral register when establishing the assemblies. A motion would be more appropriate.
There were reporting requirements for the convention when it was established but it had to report to both Houses of the Oireachtas within a four-month period. The convention met those reporting obligations. There were separate obligations or requirements depending on whether the Government sought to accept, approve or follow through on the recommendations. That would be the more appropriate place for Senator Warfield's amendment and he might consider withdrawing it on that basis.
My understanding is that it will be brought forward by the Department of the Taoiseach as the lead Department in the establishment of the Citizens' Assembly. If the amendment were withdrawn today, the Senator would need, through the whips, to seek an amendment to the motion if possible in advance of the motion being tabled.