Cabinet approves drafting of Bill for Oireachtas inquiries

Thu, Nov 1, 2012, 00:00

THE GOVERNMENT yesterday announced five new forms of inquiry that can be carried out by Oireachtas committees without breaching the severe restrictions imposed on parliamentary investigations by the Abbeylara judgment.

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin got Government approval at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting to draft the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill, 2012.

In October 2011 a proposed constitutional amendment to give Oireachtas committees greater powers of inquiry was defeated in a referendum.

The change was designed to address a Supreme Court ruling that parliamentary inquiries could not make findings of culpability against an individual who was not a TD or Senator.

The legislation will include a number of new departures, including two new types of inquiry that will deal with the process to impeach judges and presidents, as well as dealing with the conduct of TDs and Senators.

These new forms of inquiry will address some of the ambiguities and flaws associated with the impeachment process related to former Circuit Court judge Brian Curtin and with hearings by an Oireachtas committee into the conduct of former senator Ivor Callely.

Two different types of inquiry have been included that will not run foul of the Abbeylara judgment.

The first is an “inquire, record and report” inquiry, which allows a committee to record and report evidence but only make findings of fact that are uncontested.

The other, described as a “forward-looking” inquiry, will be empowered to make findings of fact in the context of investigations relating to the legislative functions of the Oireachtas.

It will allow an Oireachtas committee to hold an inquiry into the conduct of a current government but this form of inquiry will not allow historical inquiries.

An investigation into the government’s handling of the banking crisis from 2008 could not be held under this heading.

There has been a tug-of-war between two committees, the Public Accounts Committee and the Finance Committee, over which should hold the banking inquiry.

Mr Howlin’s senior officials yesterday said that the decision would not be a decision for the Minister but for the Oireachtas. Indeed, Mr Howlin yesterday emphasised the Bill restoring fuller powers to parliament.

Reaction to the draft Bill was mixed. Fianna Fail’s Sean Fleming dismissed it as a “cobbled together Plan B after Plan A was defeated”.