Oireachtas group on inquiries in doubt after defeat

 

THE VICE-CHAIRMAN of a powerful new Oireachtas committee on investigations has said a question mark now hangs over its future following the loss of the referendum last week.

Labour TD Michael McCarthy said last night that the defeat of the referendum to reverse the Abbeylara judgment and give new investigatory powers to parliamentary committees would have a very serious impact.

Mr McCarthy, a TD for Cork South West, is vice-chairman of the Committee for Investigations, Oversight and Petitions, a new committee established by the incoming Coalition last spring.

Its role and powers were contingent on the constitutional amendment on committees being passed, paving the way for new legislation that would give it robust powers of investigation and oversight.

“I don’t know to be quite honest what the future for the committee is. We were at a very embryonic stage and waiting for the referendum to be passed,” said Mr McCarthy. “What this means is that the committee we have is just as weak as it was after the Abbeylara judgment. The Tánaiste has not ruled out revisiting the issue but that is going to take a very long time. The reality is the future of the committee is in question.”

Another member of the committee, Dara Calleary of Fianna Fáil, said a strong reappraisal would be required in light of the adverse referendum result.

Mr Calleary said that committee chairman Peadar Tóibín (Sinn Féin) had led a delegation to the Scottish parliament in September to examine its systems of handling petitions from the public.

“It’s working successfully over there and could also work very well over here,” he said.

He did agree, however, that the committee would need to have a much broader remit than petitions alone.

Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe said yesterday there was no possibility of the committee being disbanded. He said the committee would stay intact and would play a real role.

“Obviously we have to examine the referendum result and see where we go from here,” he said.

Separately, the Government said it still intended to proceed with plans to hold at least 10 referendums during its term of office, despite the defeat. However, the spokesman would not be drawn yesterday on whether the Oireachtas committees referendum would be rerun.

The rejection of the Government’s proposal by 53.3 per cent to 46.7 per cent was discussed at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting.

“There was a post-match analysis, briefly. Lessons to be learned will be learnt. Government will continue with a reform agenda that is clearly outlined in the programme for government,” the spokesman said.

“The proposed number of referendums that are outstanding will be proceeded with. You take on board what the public are telling you in these situations and you make sure that informs the process going forward.”

With reference to giving additional powers to Oireachtas committees, he said: “There is an appetite for this; just not a big enough one at the moment. We lost the argument.” The spokesman added: “I’m not going to anticipate what the timeline is in regard to another referendum in this area . . . or whether there will be another referendum in this area.”