Higgins raises concerns over volume of legislation received

Two Oireachtas committees convening at short notice due to ‘unprecedented’ situation

President Michael D Higgins. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/ The Irish Times

President Michael D Higgins. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/ The Irish Times

 

Two Oireachtas committees are being convened at short notice to consider concerns raised by President Michael D. Higgins at the volume of legislation sent to his office in recent weeks.

In a letter to the Ceann Comhairle, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and the Department of the Taoiseach, Mr Higgins said an “overwhelming number of Bills” were presented for his consideration in the final two weeks before the Christmas and summer recesses.

“For example, in the three weeks since the beginning of July I have been asked to consider 19 separate Bills. Nine were presented on the one day, sharing a requirement to be considered and signed in the same seven-day period,” he wrote, pointing out that in the entire preceding six months, he was presented with 13 Bills for consideration.

Last year, 21 of the total of 32 Bills presented to him were sent in the weeks approaching summer and Christmas recesses.

“It would strike me, as President and from my years as a parliamentarian, that there must be a more orderly approach to arranging the legislative timetable that allows all legislators the time to consider and contribute to proposals before the Oireachtas without unnecessary time constraints and an unseemly end-of-term haste to have Bills concluded,” the President wrote.

“Having this vital work concentrated into four weeks of the year strikes me as being less than ideal and, I believe, unnecessary.”

Mr Higgins noted that little time was being given over in the Oireachtas to debate often “very important and far-reaching legislative proposals”.

He said the process has “been curtailed through the imposition of restrictions on time in one or both Houses”.

He said amendments put down by Oireachtas members were often not discussed, and those proposed by the Government were at times “carried without an opportunity for scrutiny or debate”.

The President noted an “unseemly end-of-term haste”to pass legislation and said a “real prospect” of having to convene the Council of State in the days after Christmas day to consider Bills had arisen more than once.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl, the Ceann Comhairle, told The Irish Times that the Dáil’s Business Committee and the Seanad’s Committee on Procedures would meet on Friday to consider the letter, and actions open to the Oireachtas to consider.

There have been renewed concerns during the lifetime of this Dáil about the use of the guillotine to force Government legislation through without extensive oversight, with several heavyweight pieces of legislation passed in a matter of days before the Oireachtas rose for its summer break earlier this month.