A programme of meaningless Dáil reform
Guillotine practices will undermine plans
Take, for example, the property tax, an issue that affects every household in Ireland. When the original legislation was passed last year, just three of 88 amendments were even discussed.
Not surprisingly, the legislation was flawed and the Government had to introduce a Local Property Tax Amendment Bill, with changes to 16 sections of the act, last March. There were 67 amendments.
How many were discussed, even cursorily? None at all. “Debate” began around 6pm. It ended around 6.15, resumed at 7.05, adjourned at 7.30, resumed at 9 and ended at 10.30 – not much more than two hours in total. Serious issues were raised – the situations, for example, of people with disabilities who had modified their homes, or of those living in homes built with pyrite. None was addressed with the slightest seriousness.
Is this an unfair example, an anomaly in a process of genuine scrutiny? No. The use of the guillotine is not an aberration – it is now the norm. Fifty two of the 90 Bills passed in this Dáil have been guillotined. So we can do the sums. A reduction of 20 per cent in the use of the guillotine would mean that, instead, just 40 of 90 Bills will be rammed through what is supposed to be the people’s assembly. And this is reform: parliament will abandon its basic responsibilities a little less often.
Even this monumental victory for democracy is, of course, to be taken on trust. It’s a “target”. And what reason is there to believe that the Government has the slightest intention of reaching that target? Its promises in this area are written on water.
The Programme for Government pledges to “restrict the use of guillotine motions . . . that prevent Bills from being fully debated, so that guillotining is not a matter of routine as it has become at present.” Instead, the use of the guillotine has actually increased significantly. There is simply no reason to believe that today’s promises of reform are any less cynical than those made two years ago.
This is why there is there is a case for going to the washing line, taking a peg, bringing it to the polling booth next month and putting it over your nose as you vote No in the Seanad referendum. The Seanad stinks – just not quite as highly as this parody of democratic reform.