Promised inquiries body yet to begin work
A NEW investigation committee that the Government promised would be one of the most powerful in the Oireachtas has yet to formally start its work – a year after being formed.
Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín has contended the efforts of the Oireachtas Investigations, Oversight and Petitions Committee to begin its work have been frustrated by lengthy delays in giving it powers to do so. He said the Government was now planning a committee that was “greatly watered down” from the powerful body promised.
The Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP), chaired by Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett, has yet to make a decision on granting the standing orders. The investigation committee cannot function without such orders.
Mr Tóibín also alleged inaction on the part of Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin on the matter.
The CPP, on the instructions of Mr Kehoe, has refused to give the committee additional powers to compel “persons, papers and records” to be produced before it, something the committee argued was essential and would have put it on an equal standing with spending watchdog the public accounts committee.
Mr Tóibín said his committee had met informally three times this year but had been unable to begin work. He acknowledged the defeat of the referendum last October was a big setback – it would have given additional inquiry powers to committees.
He said it was unlikely the committee would be in a position to begin its work until the autumn.
A cornerstone of Government reform promises, the committee was given powers to deal with reports from the Ombudsman, the Children’s Ombudsman, the Defence Forces Ombudsman and An Coimisinéir Teanga in much the same way as the public accounts committee deals with Comptroller and Auditor General reports.
After the referendum defeat, the investigations committee published a report in January setting out revised orders of reference for the committee.
The CPP refused to endorse the powers and refused to meet a delegation from the committee. In the meantime, the CPP has not yet agreed the standing orders. On June 28th the Ceann Comhairle said the responsibility for deciding the matter lay with Mr Kehoe.
It is understood part of the delay has been a debate within the Government on whether the defeated referendum from last October should be revisited.
Mr Kehoe said this week it was an unfortunate situation, but he was confident the issue of the standing orders would be dealt with before the summer recess.