Tit for tat: Dáil reforms

As I mentioned in my post on Seanad reform the Dáil Éireann, pronounced dall air-un, is also getting its share of internal reform thanks to the new government.

The Dáil is the Irish lower house and currently has 166 deputies all elected by single transferable vote in constituencies of around four deputies which allows for decent, although not perfect, proportionality. It’s got ten specific policy committees which deal with legislation and conduct their own hearings and write reports. Perhaps as a descendent of Westminster, the Oireachtas is one of the most executive-controlled legislatures in Europe with party cohesion at 100% during the mid-nineties and I have seen little to suggest it has declined since.

The government chief whip who’s in charge of this, Paul Kehoe, has commenced a number of reforms:

  • Backbenchers can now ask questions every day a week and supplementary questions will be allowed
  • Leaders’ Questions (where party leaders question the prime minister or taoiseach) will be answered on a Thursday by his deputy or tánaiste
  • The Ceann Comhairle will have the power to rule on whether a minister has given  an inadequate answer
  • The sitting days are expanding by over fifty percent and Friday sittings on the first Friday of each month are being introduced for private members’ bills and the discussion of reports
  • A committee has been created, the committee on investigations, oversight and petitions, and all committees could be given by constitutional amendment the power to investigate matters of public importance if a referendum of the 27th of October passes
  • The number of committees has been reduced from 27 to 15 with some covering three departments and committees now have the power to “send for persons, papers and records”
  • Ministers are consulting committees on the drafting of certain bills, particularly the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport Leo Varadkar
  • Topical Issue Debates to, well, raise topical issues are being created to replace adjournment debates
  • By-elections will no longer be delayed past six months and the number of deputies will be reduced by between six and thirteen from 166

As with my post on Seanad reform, there’s way too much here to do a comprehensive post on the specific proposals. I hope to look at the topics in greater detail (in the style of my post on British proposals on committees and appointments) as I go along but now I can do a good overview of them.

Broadly speaking, committees are getting an increased workload and jurisdiction in exchange for an overdue increase in powers and access and backbenchers are getting more rights and power though the effects on the government may be minor at best especially as the position of Ceann Comhairle is essentially in the gift of the taoiseach. The government is however correcting some of the deficiencies exposed during the last Oireachtas when then taoiseach, Brian Cowen, avoided calling the by-elections for a long time. The precedent of consulting with committees on legislation could be the start of a new dialogue between the government and the oireachtas and this can’t be characterised as anything but a positive development even if its not employed in a systematic way and is entirely dependent on the executive to initiate it.

I was reading the article by Meg Russell in the latest issue of Parliamentary Affairs where she noted that political scientists now refer to two types of parliamentary reform: efficiency reforms to get through more business and effectiveness reforms to improve scrutiny. Governments understandably tend to be keener on the former and more reluctant on the latter. These reforms seem to be a decent mix of the two although the government has extracted a high price for these reforms in the cutting of committees.

I will have to do a piece on committees in Ireland and probably Question Time too.

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This entry was posted in Committees, Foreign legislatures, Ireland, Scrutiny. Bookmark the permalink.

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