Departments to be asked to prevent legislation logjams after Higgins raises concerns

President this week raised concerns about volume of legislation landing on his desk

President Michael D Higgins. Photograph: Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

President Michael D Higgins. Photograph: Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Ministers and their top civil servants will be asked to come up with ways to stop parliamentary logjams after an intervention from President Michael D Higgins on the volume of legislation landing on his desk.

A meeting of two Oireachtas committees charged with organising parliamentary business, convened on Friday at short notice, resolved to write to all Ministers and departmental secretaries general asking them to look at the legislation due to come from their departments and spread it more evenly throughout the year.

In a letter sent last week, President Michael D Higgins told the Dáil Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad that there was an “unseemly end-term-haste” attached to the volume of work coming to his desk at the end of parliamentary sessions.

Sources present at the meeting said departments will be asked to streamline their systems so legislation is not “piled into the end of the term”. A meeting is also to be sought with the Taoiseach and Attorney General to discuss with them the concerns that have arisen, and also the resourcing of the parliamentary draftsman’s section of the Attorney General’s office.

Members of the two Oireachtas committees have been asked to submit proposals on how the situation may be improved within four weeks, and the committees will reconvene before the return of the Dáil and Seanad.

Covid era rules

It is understood members also discussed that Covid-era rules on the frequency and length of meetings had curtailed their ability to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny. Sources said there was a “willingness on all sides to accept the validity of [President Higgins’] arguments”, and that Government TDs had indicated a willingness to find a way forward.

Proposals heard by the committee included one from Donegal TD Thomas Pringle that no legislation be sent to the Oireachtas before it underwent pre-legislative scrutiny.

In the letter sent last Thursday, the President also raised concerns about the length of time given over to debating often “very important and far reaching legislative proposals” which “have been curtailed through the imposition of restrictions on time in one or both Houses”.

He said there was “unseemly end-term-haste”, adding that due to a lack of pre-legislative scrutiny, “considerable portions of some Bills that arrive on my desk have not been considered in detail”.

Mr Higgins wrote that there was an “overwhelming number of Bills” 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 nineteen 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 thirteen 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 time-table 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.

“A real prospect of not one but two Bills needing to be considered by the Council of State in the days immediately after Christmas day has emerged on more than one occasion,” the President warned. Many of the Bills are complex and require me to undertake a detailed analysis of their constitutional implications, legal advice, or consultation with the Council of State.

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