Taoiseach confirms citizens will have role in legislation

Dáil reform package to be announced today

The chamber at Leinster House. One of the key elements of the Dáil reform package will be the introduction of pre-legislation hearings involving members of the public who have a particular expertise or interest in particular pieces of legislation.

The chamber at Leinster House. One of the key elements of the Dáil reform package will be the introduction of pre-legislation hearings involving members of the public who have a particular expertise or interest in particular pieces of legislation.

Thu, Sep 12, 2013, 01:02


Taoiseach Enda Kenny has confirmed that the involvement of citizens in the legislative process will be a key element in the Dáil reform package to be announced today.

Speaking to reporters after an event at Google headquarters in Dublin yesterday, Mr Kenny said a radical new departure in Irish democracy was about to take place.

One of the key elements of the Dáil reform package will be the introduction of pre-legislation hearings involving members of the public who have a particular expertise or interest in particular pieces of legislation.


Innovation
This innovation will take place whether or not the electorate votes to abolish the Seanad but other elements of the reform package will only come into effect if the Upper House is abolished.

Most of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting was taken up with a discussion on the reform package. Under the plan the Dáil will sit for longer, beginning at 12.30pm on a Tuesday rather than 2pm and starting at 9.30am rather than 10.30am on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with Friday sittings every fortnight rather than once a month.

A Government spokesman said later that the core objective was to enhance the legislative process and to improve accountability.

He said the introduction of pre-legislation hearings would represent an innovative way of involving the citizen in the formulation of legislation.

The spokesman said that another important element of the package would be an improvement in the way legislation was progressed right through the process with more efficient use of Dáil time and greater scrutiny by committees.

He rejected claims that the new process would be cumbersome and involve long delays in the processing of legislation.

“Under the new system of public involvement there will be seven stages in the legislative process compared to nine stages that now take place as legislation is progressed through both Houses of the Oireachtas,” he said.

“The result will be that the legislative system will be more efficient as well as consultative,” he added.

The hearings that took place during the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill will be the template for the new system.

Michael McDowell, one of the leaders of Democracy Matters, the civil society campaign to retain the Seanad, yesterday dismissed the Dáil reform package.

“That is the greatest joke of all time, all committees in the Dáil are subject to a party whip and if the Minister doesn’t want Michael McDowell in there at that hearing, I won’t be called,” he told Pat Kenny on Newstalk.

In response, a Government spokesman said that Oireachtas committees had shown complete independence about who they called to give evidence in the past and they would undoubtedly do so in the future.


Scrutiny
Also yesterday former government minister Barry Desmond said there was a need for more parliamentary scrutiny of legislation but the proper venue for that was in a chamber democratically elected by the people, not an unelected elite in the Seanad.

He said that he had long experience of participating in Seanad elections having voted in every election since 1954.

“On many occasions I had the quite undemocratic entitlement to seven votes in a general election – one for the Dáil, the five Seanad panels and another one as an NUI graduate,” said Mr Desmond, who is campaigning for abolition with the One House group.