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Cabinet signals green light for more powerful committees

Budgetary and health panels to have input into formulation of Governement policy

The first meeting of the budgetary committee is expected to take place in the coming days. Photograph: The Irish Times

The Government has approved the establishment of two new committees designed to implement fundamental reform in the way the Dáil does its business.

The Cabinet at its meeting on Tuesday agreed to establish a budgetary committee which will have an input into policy decisions and a Health committee which will be charged with devising a 10-year strategy for the sector.

Both committees will allow the Opposition a voice in the formulation of key policies in the years ahead.

The reform of the budgetary process formed a key element in the programme for government and the two Ministers involved, Michael Noonan and Pascal Donohoe, secured the approval of their Cabinet colleagues for fundamental changes in the system.

“The reforms the Government are now bringing forward to the budgetary process are a major innovation in empowering the Dáil to examine, debate and make recommendations to Government on budgetary priorities,” said Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Pascal Donohoe.

Mr Donohoe said the key elements of the proposed approach for budget 2017 will be to ensure that the budgetary process is underpinned by substantially enhanced Dáil input into, and feedback on, budget proposals.

The changes include the publication of the Government’s spring/summer economic statement in June, holding of a national economic dialogue at the end of that month, publication of a mid-year expenditure report in July – a first – and the circulation of the tax strategy papers to the relevant sectoral Oireachtas committees in late July.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said these measures represented new milestones in the budgetary cycle and were intended to mark a decisive shift away from what has been characterised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as a disconnected series of annual set-piece events.

Budget allocations

He said it would be replaced with ongoing and active engagement with the Houses of the Oireachtas and its committees throughout the course of the budget cycle. “The Government’s reforms will provide all members of the Oireachtas with the opportunity to influence and critique budget allocations and priorities, making budgetary debate and discussion in Ireland more realistic, informed and effective,” said Mr Noonan.

The first meeting of the budgetary committee is expected to take place in the coming days and the Government’s submissions on the arrangements for budgetary scrutiny are expected shortly.

Minister for Health Simon Harris announced that the Cabinet had agreed to support a Dáil motion establishing an all-party committee to devise an agreement on a single long-term vision for healthcare and the direction of health policy.

He noted that one of the key proposals in the programme for government was the establishment of an Oireachtas committee to develop cross-party consensus on the future of the health service.

“I believe the health service would benefit enormously from a single unifying vision that we can all get behind and that can help to drive reform and development of the system over the next 10 years,” said Mr Harris, who added that it would be up and running in the coming weeks.

“I have been in discussion with deputies from across the House, and I believe that we have now arrived at a motion that can attract broad support in the Dáil, and which the Government is backing. We will also allocate government time to debate the motion in the House,” said Mr Harris.