Only one Private Members' Bill in 87 enacted - FG


ONLY ONE Private Members' Bill published by a member of the Oireachtas since January 2002 has been enacted into law, a survey carried out by Fine Gael has found.

Out of 87 Private Members' Bills published by TDs or Senators in the period January 2002 to June 2007, the only one that made it onto the statute book was the Coroner's (Amendment) Bill, published by Labour TD Pat Rabbitte.

All Private Members' Bills published since the general election last May which have been subject to debate have been voted down by the Government.

Defending the Government's position, chief whip Pat Carey told The Irish Times: "Governments have always incorporated the best of Private Members' legislation into Government legislation. Sometimes, while it is well-meaning in intent, it is too loosely-drafted and, when taken on board by Government, as it often is, it has to be tightened up to ensure constitutional and legal certainty."

However, Fine Gael's Alan Shatter said: "What the Government is doing is scandalously undermining the constitutional and democratic role of both Dáil deputies and Seanad members.

"They are curtailing the constructive contribution that not only Opposition TDs can make in the Dáil but that their own backbench TDs could make. The Oireachtas is the worse for it. It's doing a disservice to politics and the public perception of politicians."

In the course of researching the issue, Mr Shatter discovered that among the 87 Private Members' Bills between January 2002 and June 2007, a total of 18 were published by the Green Party, 23 by Labour and 29 by Fine Gael. Only one passed beyond second stage, the Coroner's (Amendment) Bill 2005, allowing coroners to subpoena witnesses to attend at court. It was enacted on December 21st, 2005.

Since he was first elected to the Dáil in 1981, Mr Shatter has drafted and published more than 20 Private Members' Bills, four of which have been directly enacted into law. But it was becoming very difficult if not impossible to have such Bills enacted in recent years.

"It seems to be the case now that it's the Government's objective to close down every legislative proposal," Mr Shatter said.

This was in contrast with the US and Britain. "They have an entirely different approach," he added. At Westminster, there was a standard arrangement where all MPs put their names in a lottery to publish pieces of legislation that would be debated and may be the subject of a cross-party free vote.

"There's a level of political maturity about the legislative process at Westminster that we sadly lack and, quite frankly, it's the Government's attitude that is entirely responsible for that. If Ministers adopted a more generous approach, their own personal stature would increase," he said.

Mr Shatter recalled that, in 1989, the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act was passed, "which I published as a Bill in 1987". Prior to that, there had been a gap of 35 years when "there was an automatic, knee-jerk opposition to Private Members' Bills".

But the situation improved with the passage of the judicial separation legislation. "Governments then became more receptive to recognising that when Opposition deputies published Bills they weren't always being published as a weapon of criticism, they were being published to constructively address areas of social life or law badly in need of reform," he said.