Written answers

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Department of An Taoiseach

Oireachtas Reform Agenda

Photo of Lucinda CreightonLucinda Creighton (Dublin South East, Independent)
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175. To ask the Taoiseach if a new structure for the Oireachtas committee system will be established as envisaged for a Dáil under a unicameral system notwithstanding the decision by the Irish people to retain a bicameral system; if legislation is required or if changes to standing orders are expected to be published to give effect to these changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2264/14]

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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The Programme for Government sets out an ambitious Oireachtas Reform agenda, which will be implemented over the lifetime of the Government on a phased basis.

Enhancing the role and powers of the Oireachtas Committees is at the heart of the Reform agenda.

In the summer of 2011 the first phase of reform included establishing a new Oireachtas Committee system which included a number of Programme for Government reforms designed to enhance the Committee system:

- The number of Oireachtas Committees was reduced from 25 to 16.

- A system of pre-legislative review was established under which Oireachtas Committees are involved at an early stage in the development of legislation before a Bill is published.

- A Public Service Oversight and Petitions Committee chaired by a member of the Opposition was established.

In June 2012 the Oireachtas Committee system was further re-structured:

- Dissolving and reorganising of a number of administrative Oireachtas Committees to allow the reallocation of resources towards Oireachtas Committees dealing with Government Departments.

- The establishment of an Oireachtas Committee on Jobs to focus solely on this area of Government priority.

- The establishment of an Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine to deal with the increased workload in this area in light of the proposed changes to the CAP.

- The merger of the role of Chairperson on the Oireachtas Committee on the Good Friday Agreement with that of the Irish Co-Chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.

In September 2013 the Taoiseach, Tanáiste and Government Chief Whip announced a second phase of Oireachtas Reforms which included a number of changes to enhance the powers of Oireachtas Committees.

The changes currently being introduced to Oireachtas Committees under this second phase of Oireachtas Reforms include:

More Public Involvement in law making .

- A Pre-Legislative stage before the relevant Oireachtas Committee will be required for all non-emergency legislation.

- Where a Minister does not bring a Bill to Committee for Pre-Legislative Stage, they will be required to outline to both the Cabinet and the Dáil the reasons for this decision.

- This will allow for an unprecedented and extensive engagement by the public in law making. The Committee can consult with citizens with expertise in the area, civic society groups and other interested groups – crucially, this will take place before the Legislation is drafted.

- Where there has been Pre-Legislative Stage the Chair or Vice Chair of the Committee will have an equal right to speak as the Minister and the Opposition spokespersons before the Dáil to outline the Committee's work.

Post Legislative Review

- A Minister will report to the relevant Oireachtas Select Committee within 12 months of enactment to review the functioning of the Act. This will allow for the Committee to consult with civil society groups and individuals with expertise in the relevant area.

Enhancing the role of Oireachtas Committees in the Budget Process

April to September

- In April each year the Stability Programme Update is presented by the Government to the EU. Committees can review this information and report before the Budget in October.

October to December

- The Budget and Spending Estimates will be published earlier than in the past.

- The Dáil and Committees will now scrutinise the Budget proposals and the Estimates earlier than in the past.

In September 2013 the Government also outlined a new Committee structure to operate under a unicameral parliamentary system if the referendum to abolish the Seanad was passed. This Committee structure would consist of 14 Dáil Committees including four strategic committees, seven sectoral committees and three thematic committees with Committee Chairs appointed under the d’Hondt system.

The referendum result maintains the bicameral system and the proposed changes to the Committee structure are now under review to identify those reforms that can operate under a bicameral system.

Work is already underway on the next, and third, phase of Oireachtas Reform which will include further reform of the Oireachtas Committee structure.

Changes to the Oireachtas Committee structure have already required amendments to the Dáil Standing Orders and further reforms of these structures will also require amendments to the Standing Orders.

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