Proposals for Dáil reform just don’t cut it
No incentive to be aggressive in holding executive to account
We’d be concerned that the Government might not actually provide the heads. Ministers are meant to now, but most don’t; having to give the Dáil an excuse why they don’t is hardly going to change their behaviour.
There should also be greater research support for committees. Reallocating some of the savings made if the Seanad is abolished to committees should help. It might also be useful to give the Dáil a beefed-up inde- pendent policy research service.
Another area in which the Oireachtas has few resources to match government expertise is in legal advice. There needs to be a legal adviser to the Dáil with much greater resources than currently available and an ability to provide advice on parliamentary drafting.
One reform that was flagged but didn’t emerge is the way the ceann comhairle is elected. At the moment the taoiseach chooses who takes this position. Electing the ceann comhairle by secret ballot would remove the power of parties to insist on who gets the job and give some incentive for the ceann comhairle to be a defender of the Dáil rather than the government.
The ceann comhairle is constitutionally an important figure but his/her actual powers are quite limited. These should be extended. They should have a greater role in the allocation of time and speaking rights in the Dáil. They might also have the right to “name” ministers who evade answering questions. This would let them be more active chairs in a debate.
Many changes set out here can be achieved simply through the standing orders of the Dáil. It would be a good idea to make the standing orders more difficult to change. They should be amen- dable only with a two-thirds majority in the Dáil – this would make it more difficult for governments to change the ones that didn’t suit it.
The changes we’ve outlined here are not revolutionary by international standards, but they would do considerably more than the piecemeal offerings of the Government to bring Dáil Éireann up to the standards of parliaments in other countries.
The authors are political scientists in University College Dublin and Dublin City University and are co- editors of the blog politicalreform.ie