Citizens' assembly to have say in constitutional reform

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REFORMS:A CITIZENS’ assembly drawn from the electoral register will be a part of the constitutional convention which will be announced in the coming weeks, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has said.

The assembly will provide a voice from the public in considering changes to the Constitution – the details of which will be revealed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the next two to three weeks.

The convention will look at the abolition of the Seanad, the reduction of the presidential term from seven years to five, the issue of single-sex marriage and the role of women in the home, among other issues.

Speaking at a round table discussion on political reform organised by the Political Studies Association of Ireland in Dublin yesterday evening, Mr Hogan said the Coalition had already moved on political reform and the referendum which gave the power to Oireachtas committees to make findings of fact were “essential”.

He maintained politicians were entitled to get back to legitimate examination of issues of public interest such as the Dirt inquiry.

He said it was a “bit rich” of the Bar Council to suggest that passing the referendum would trample on people’s rights.

“I know they’d like the tribunals to continue down in Dublin Castle because they are doing quite well out of it,” he said.

Mr Hogan said the judiciary had only themselves to blame for the necessity for the referendum on judges’ pay.

In relation to that referendum, he said of Dr Bryan McMahon who is the chairman of the Referendum Commission: “I’m always interested to see how the learned retired High Court judge will deal with this one, for or against.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Thomas Byrne said any questioning of Dr McMahon’s impartiality in relation to the referenda was “inappropriate”. Mr Hogan responded by saying that he had appointed Dr McMahon in the first place and was “not at all” uncomfortable with his chairmanship.

Mr Hogan also revealed that he will announce a major reform of local government in January which will address the fundamental issue of the local authorities being able to raise and spend money locally.

Mr Byrne also accused the Government of reneging on promises to curtail the guillotining of bills. He said the problem was now worse under the new Government than it was under the Fianna Fáil-led administration.

He understood that the Government was looking at an extension of time for the Smithwick tribunal having previously rushed through provisions to curtail the time it needed to reach its conclusions.

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