Reformed Dáil may not be fully functioning until autumn

Delay in forming government means new legislation unlikely to be enacted before July

Eoghan Murphy, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, David Stanton and   Regina Doherty launching Fine Gael’s  Oireachtas Reform Programme in March. Photograph: Alan Betson

Eoghan Murphy, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, David Stanton and Regina Doherty launching Fine Gael’s Oireachtas Reform Programme in March. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Dáil will not begin to function fully under sweeping parliamentary reforms until weeks before the parliamentary recess in July.

The prolonged negotiations over government formation – which lasted for over two months – have resulted in delays in setting up the institutions and new procedures for the Dáil.

The programme for legislation – a key document which sets out the Bills to be published during each Dáil term – is not likely to be available until next month, with little prospect that any new legislation will be enacted before the Oireachtas rises in July.

Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty has written to each of the 15 Government departments asking to see what outstanding legislation from the last Dáil they wish to recommence.

Doherty has also asked each department to identify its priority legislation.

For the moment, there are three pieces of Government legislation which will be debated in the Oireachtas over the next week.

They are the Adoption (Amendment) Bill which is being sponsored by Minster for Children Katherine Zappone, plus Bills on energy, and on minerals, which will be brought forward by Minister for Climate Change Denis Naughten.

Committee system

The number of committees is being increased to 20, one for each Government department, as well as the Public Accounts Committee, the Good Friday Agreement Committee, the Joint Administration Committee, the EU Scrutiny Committee, as well as the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

The committees cannot begin to function until the Dáil standing orders are changed to give speaking and other rights to groups with less than seven TDs.

The chairs of the committees will be chosen under the D’Hondt system, which allocates chairs according to the comparative size of the committees. Under the system, Fine Gael will get two of the top five committees, as will Fianna Fáil, with Sinn Féin getting the last slot. It is likely Fine Gael will end up with five or six chairs, with four or five for Fianna Fáil and four for Sinn Féin.

The remaining committees will be shared by the Labour Party, the Independent Alliance, the AAA-PBP alliance, and other technical groups with more than five seats.

Pre-legislative scrutiny

A number of committees, namely justice, budget, health and public expenditure, will be involved in pre-legislative scrutiny.

The report of the Committee on Parliamentary Reform, chaired by Ceann Comhairle Seán O Fearghaíl, is expected to be published later this week.

It envisages a business committee, comprised of whips, which will decide the order of business for the Dáil. Until now the government has controlled what will be debated by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The increased role for the Opposition in drafting legislation will require the Government to set up a system where legal drafting expertise will be made available.

Similarly, with the all-party budget committee expected to play a major role in forming each October’s budget, the Department of Finance will also be expected to make its resources and expertise available to committee members of all parties.