Parties to discuss change to inquiries

Wed, Aug 31, 2011, 01:00

THE GOVERNMENT will consult the Opposition parties this week on the wording of the referendum to give Oireachtas committees the power to make findings of fact in any inquiry they might carry out.

Both Fine Gael and the Labour Party pledged during the general election campaign to hold a referendum to overturn the effect of the Abbeylara judgment in 2001 which prevents Oireachtas committees making findings of fact.

The referendum will be held on October 27th, the same day as the presidential election and the referendum on judges’ pay. A Government spokeswoman said after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting that the final wording would be presented to the Cabinet next week.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin, who has responsibility for framing the wording, will consult the Opposition parties.

In the Abbeylara case, the High Court decided in favour of 36 gardaí who challenged an Oireachtas committee inquiry into the shooting dead of John Carthy in Abbeylara, Co Longford. The court found Oireachtas inquiries do not have the power to make findings of fact or expressions of opinion adverse to the good name or reputation of citizens.

The holding of a referendum to reverse the impact of the court decision is a long-standing commitment of both Government parties.

However, the referendum is potentially more controversial than the one on judges’ pay. The issue of how much power politicians should have to make findings that could impact adversely on the good name or reputation of citizens is one on which there could be very different views.

At its meeting yesterday, the Cabinet also approved the establishment of a commission to oversee the two referendums on October 27th. The chairman of the commission will be selected by Chief Justice Susan Denham. The person will have to be either a serving Supreme or High Court judge. The Government spokeswoman said the fact one of the referendums involves judges’ pay does have any implications for the membership of the commission.