Key change on drafting laws to be put before Cabinet
Members of the public to be involved in debate preceding drafting of legislation
An increase in the standard Dáil working hours for TDs forms part of the plan
A fundamental change in how laws are drafted is one of the principal proposals in a Dáil reform package due to come before Government Ministers at Cabinet today.
The plan is a central part of the Government’s campaign to abolish the Seanad and will come into effect if the electorate votes Yes in the referendum on October 4th.
The ground-breaking aspect of the package is that outside experts and members of the public will be involved in discussions preceding detailed drafting of legislation.
It is understood that this pre-legislative phase will bring the lawmaking process into the public domain at the earliest possible stage and will take place before Oireachtas committee hearings begin.
Members of the public will be able to apply to a selection board to be involved in this first phase of framing legislation.
It is understood that individuals selected to contribute to the formation of legislation will have to demonstrate expertise in the relevant area.
If accepted by the Cabinet the proposed system will mark a fundamental shift in power from the Civil Service to outside experts.
The scale of the proposed change has provoked resistance from some Ministers who are concerned that it could undermine the role of the service in drafting legislation.
These concerns have resulted in Government approval for the reform package being delayed until less than four weeks
before the referendum.
At present Bills are drafted by civil servants in the relevant department in conjunction with the Attorney General’s office after approval in principle by the Cabinet.
The Bills are then debated in the Dáil and, after passing all stages, go to the Seanad for approval.
Under the proposed system, the pre-legislative phase involving public hearings will be followed by the publication of the heads of a Bill, which will go to the relevant Oireachtas committee
The other innovative aspect of the plan is that after its passage through the Dáil a Bill will go back to the committee for further public hearings. Then, 12 months after a law has come into force, the relevant Minister will take it back to the Oireachtas committee to discuss how it is operating.
Changes in how the Dáil conducts its business will be required to ensure that the new process does not involve long delays in the passage of legislation through the House.
Effective use of time
An increase in the standard Dá
il working hours for TDs forms part of the plan but Ministers say that a more essential ingredient will be the efficient use of time so that legislation is processed in an efficient and transparent manner.
The long-standing tradition of the Dáil week beginning after lunchtime on Tuesday will change, with an earlier start time in late morning.
Up to recently the normal Dáil week ended on Thursday afternoon, but Friday sittings now take place once a month and are likely to become a standard feature of politics.
The reform plan will also include a commitment to reduce usage of the “guillotine” under which the Government can use its majority to cut short debate on legislation.
All Bills apart from emergency legislation and the budget will be processed in this manner if the package is agreed by the Cabinet and if the electorate votes to abolish the Seanad.
The referendum campaign got into full swing yesterday with parties making the argument for a Yes and a No vote.