Order of business: back to stalemate in the Dáil

When it comes to day-to-day proceedings, the record of this parliament is abysmal

 

The Dáil has resumed business after a long Easter recess with attention being increasingly focused on its failure to do the serious work of debating and passing legislation. A review of operations has been promised but unless there is a considerable improvement in performance between now and the summer break in July, the only conclusion will be that the “new politics” is not viable. It is not just the paucity of legislation, with just 23 bills enacted over the past year, but the general lack of direction evident in so much of the Dáil proceedings.

When it comes to the day-to-day proceedings of parliament the record has been abysmal 

The minority Government has managed to do some of the big things well. It got its first budget through last autumn, enacted important legislation on housing and pulled off a serious diplomatic coup in the Brexit negotiations. However, when it comes to the day-to-day proceedings of parliament the record has been abysmal with very little of substance being enacted. All of the parties and individuals in the Dáil must take a share of the responsibility for this state of affairs.

The Fine Gael element of the Government has for months been more preoccupied with the party leadership than running the State. At a more fundamental level it has struggled to adapt to a situation in which it no longer controls the business of the Dáil. That responsibility now falls to a business committee which has not been operating very effectively.

The shift from a system in which the Government controlled the legislative process with an iron fist into a free for all in which all parties can get their legislation debated has proved to be chaotic. The system is now jammed with more than 140 pieces of non-government legislation at various stages of development. Some of them are never going to get passed by the 32nd Dáil and some of them don’t deserve to be processed into law.

Government chief whip Regina Doherty has suggested that parties should be restricted to having a certain number of bills in the system at any time. One of the problems she pointed to was that the amount of time allocated to government legislation has decreased to just six hours a week in this Dáil. She also had a point when she said that the Opposition could not have it both ways by demanding reforms such as pre-legislative scrutiny and the abolition of the guillotine and then complaining when these measures resulted in stalemate.

Fianna Fáil has insisted the problem is that the Government has not provided leadership on the legislative front. But given that the main Opposition party is effectively underpinning the system it has to share some responsibility for the situation. The Government and Fianna Fáil need to get their act together if they want to prove that “new politics” can work. Otherwise Labour party leader Brendan Howlin’s taunt that this is a “do nothing Dáil” will prove all too true.

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