Poor attendance retarding work of Oireachtas committees

Numbers so low chairman or woman must ‘grab TD or Senator’ to formally start session

The chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said   most committees were finding it very difficult to achieve a quorum. File photograph: The Irish Times

The chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said most committees were finding it very difficult to achieve a quorum. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Poor attendance at Oireachtas committee meetings is forcing chairmen or women to “grab a TD or Senator” from another committee so as to start a meeting or sign off on a report, a chairman has said.

Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Aengus Ó Snodaigh said most committees were finding it very difficult to achieve a quorum.

Mr Ó Snodaigh said recently his committee was to formally publish a report on the arts – Arts Matter – completed after hearings involving more than 30 people from various arts-related organisations.

But it could not be formally published because he was the only member in attendance. He had to wait until another TD wandered in to start the meeting and formally publish the report.

Often committee chairwomen and men “end up trying to grab any TDs or Senators at other meetings just to get a committee meeting started”.

A number of the best-known committees however, such as the Public Accounts Committee and the justice committee, will generally have a full or near to full attendance.

The Dublin South-Central TD said poor attendance is “not a fault of anybody” but a reflection of the “new politics” and of the two biggest parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, not having enough TDs for all committees.

“People in Fine Gael are on three committees,” he said. If you have 50 members in your party and 12 are Ministers, 38 are sharing out all the other committees.”

Government backbenchers are members of all committees of which there are 21 main ones along with several specifically Dáil- or Seanad-based committees and working groups.

Are committees worth keeping?

Attendance is also an issue for Opposition TDs and Senators and very few will stay for the entire meeting.

Fianna Fáil whip Michael Moynihan said many TDs who are on a number of committees make the decision to focus on one, where they can “make a meaningful contribution and effect change”.

The Cork North-West TD believes there were too many committees and the number should be cut to about 10.

But acting chairman of the committee of chairpersons Colm Brophy said he was not in favour of a reduction. He cited the budget oversight committee, which he chairs, as an example of the need to retain committees.

The Dublin South-West TD said it was established to follow modern best international practice in politics to scrutinise the budget before it is delivered. Under the old system the finance committee reviewed the budget after it had been delivered, he said.

Mr Brophy said that instead there should be a complete review of the committee system before the next Dáil commences. He believed it would not be a good idea to review the system at this stage of the current Dáil.