Most Oireachtas committees will not be set up before October, under new plan

Video links and social distancing to be part and parcel of new committees

Photograph: Eric Luke

Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The vast majority of Oireachtas committees will not be set up until the end of the year under new proposals to be considered by TDs on Wednesday.

The Dáil’s business group is to meet on Wednesday to discuss plans for a three-phased approach to setting up powerful committees.

After the Minister of State jobs are appointed, those who lost out are likely to turn their attentions to securing positions on various committees.

A new document drawn up for TDs says that Oireachtas authorities are planning for only four or five committees to be established this summer.

This will rise to 20 or 21 by October and then 25 by December.

The first committees to return in the coming weeks will include the powerful Public Accounts Committee and Budgetary Oversight Committee.

Sources say TDs will question witnesses via video link from their respective offices with legal advice stating this poses no difficulty in terms of legal privilege.

The vast majority of committees will be established in September and October at which point the members will be appointed to them.

Special committee such as climate action may be established by November or December.

“The establishment of the next committee system must take account of the continuing Covid-19 social distancing measures and the constraints imposed,” the document prepared for TDs says.

“In particular, the requirement to maintain a distance of two metres means there is reduced capacity in committee rooms.

“If the two metre distance is eased, then capacity in each committee room improves accordingly.

“Similarly, entry to the committee rooms themselves is subject to a specialist assessment on numbers of people circulating and circulation plans.”

Committee chair positions will be allocated according to the D’Hondt system, a formula that results in the committee chairs proportionately reflecting each party’s representation in the Dáil Chamber.

Those who are appointed to chair Oireachtas committees receive an additional salaried allowance of €9,500. This applies to both TDs and Senators.

After the junior ministry positions are allocated on Wednesday parties will then turn their attention to appointing the committee chairs and members.

Parties are likely to encourage TDs without frontbench responsibilities to put themselves forward.

The document prepared for members of the Dáil’s business group also states, the “Programme for Government and the number and functions of government departments will impact on the design of the committee system e.g. Special Committees to be established and, in the case of sectoral committees, the titles and configuration of government departments to be ‘shadowed’.”