Bill to provide for Oireachtas inquiries published

Legislation may lead to banking inquiry and gives powers to remove president, judges

A new framework providing Oireachtas members powers to carry out inquiries into a host of issues of public concern has been announced by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin. Photograph: Eric Luke.

A new framework providing Oireachtas members powers to carry out inquiries into a host of issues of public concern has been announced by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin. Photograph: Eric Luke.

 

A new framework providing Oireachtas members powers to carry out inquiries into a host of issues of public concern has been announced by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin.

The Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013 includes procedures to remove officeholders such as the president, judges or the comptroller and auditor general from their positions, and would also pave the way for an inquiry into the collapse of the State’s banking sector.

“This legislation is essential to conducting a parliamentary banking inquiry,” Mr Howlin said in a statement. “Parliamentary inquiries under this legislation can be cost-effective, efficient and resilient to any legal challenge providing they have focused terms of reference and comply strictly with fair procedures.”

The Bill allows for inquiries into the conduct of members of the Oireachtas in their capacity as officeholders, and also provides powers to hold to account the government of the day or any person who has consented to Dáil scrutiny in their contract or through a statutory appointment.

“[This Bill] marks an important step in the process of strengthening the constitutional oversight role of the Houses of the Oireachtas by facilitating the holding of inquiries into matters of significant public importance,” Mr Howlin said.

He added that the Bill had been carefully drafted in consultation with the Attorney General and external counsel in order to ensure the proposed inquiry system “fully respects the constitutional parameters on parliamentary inquiries set down by the Supreme Court in the Abbeylara case”.

The legislation follows on from the October 2011 referendum defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment to give Oireachtas committees greater powers of inquiry. The change was designed to address the Abbeylara ruling that parliamentary inquiries could not make findings of culpability against an individual who was not a TD or Senator.

Mr Howlin won Government approval to draft the Bill last October.

The new measures include an “inquire, record and report” inquiry, which allows a committee to record and report evidence but only make findings of fact that are uncontested.

The other, described as a “forward-looking” inquiry, will be empowered to make findings of fact in the context of investigations relating to the legislative functions of the Oireachtas.