Televising Dáil debates might have altered abortion poll text, says Barrett


The development of a dedicated parliamentary TV channel is a priority for the Oireachtas so that the Irish public can see how their parliament works, according to Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett.

Speaking at the launch of the Houses of the Oireachtas communications strategy, he said the traditional approach to parliamentary broadcasting was to supply content to the broadcast media rather than utilising it at source.

“Our aim now is to add value through the development of a parliamentary television channel, a user-friendly webcasting service and on-line syndication,” he said. If there had been live broadcasting of Dáil debates in the 1980s, a different wording on the abortion amendment to the Constitution might have been put to the public as there would have been a more informed debate, he said.

He said the government of the day, of which he was chief whip, received clear advice that the proposed wording would cause difficulties.

Mr Barrett said that if the full Dáil debate had been broadcast, “we might not have had the wording we have”.

As well as communicating through traditional media, the onus was on the Oireachtas to provide information through all available channels including new media such as the Oireachtas website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, he said.

Research had shown that about half of the electorate felt they did not have a basic understanding of how the Houses of the Oireachtas worked.

He said politicians were inclined to blame the media for people’s perception of politics or lack of knowledge about parliament, but this was a bit like farmers complaining about the weather.

The Oireachtas had introduced a range of initiatives and services, he said, including a redesigned website, a series of visitor guides, and an education programme.