Former taoiseach John Bruton has called for Dáil reform at a meeting of the constitutional convention.
He said that the ceann comhairle of the day should be allowed extend a debate on a particular piece of legislation not adequately debated for up to and no more than 20 additional hours.
“I think he or she should also have the power to select particular amendments to legislation where the subject matter has not been adequately discussed,’’ he added. “Many of the amendments put down are politically adversarial and already raised at the second stage debate on the legislation.’’
Mr Bruton also called for an extension of the time allowed for a debate on the Finance Bill because, in his experience, a raft of very complex amendments were introduced and never discussed at all. “And that is very bad,’’ he added. “Every substantive change should be discussed at least for 10 minutes.’’
Mr Bruton said that the government of the day should set out a national balance sheet outlining all future contingent liabilities and assets over the next 20 years.
“No business would operate on simply an income-expenditure account,’’ he added. “We do not have a balance sheet for the State.’’
Mr Bruton, who was a speaker at the two-day seminar in Dublin, chaired by Tom Arnold, said that ministers and Opposition spokespersons should be allowed to yield in Dáil debates and TDs sitting in the chamber should be encouraged to participate rather than “people who came in the door’’.
Mr Bruton said that as leader of the Opposition he would sometimes want to ask a supplementary question of the taoiseach of the day and was unable to do so. “The idea of being able to cross-examine the taoiseach or minister was gone when it went to others and then came back to me,’’ he added. “I think something needs to be done about that, to allow one person to pursue a line of questioning to its conclusion.’’
“If you are a national representative, you should not be trying to solve everybody’s individual’s problems,’’ he added.