Political reform proposals suggested by former members of the Oireachtas

NOTES ON PROPOSALS FOR POLITICAL REFORM MADE AT SEMINAR OF THE IRISH PARLIAMENTARY (FORMER MEMBERS) SOCIETY HELD IN THE DAIL CHAMBER ON FRIDAY JANUARY 21ST 2011.

Posted on behalf of Gemma Hussey by David Farrell (March 2, 2011)

1. A draft of expenditure proposals in the Budget should be published six weeks in advance with a view to an open debate on the Government’s proposals.

2. The powers of the Public Accounts Committee should be extended to enable it to check for effectiveness, viz performance versus promise. The Committee should be empowered to require the attendance of Ministers.

3. In relation to Committees, there should be a general power for these to compel the attendance of Ministers and others. There should be ten or perhaps slightly more Committees, and no Whip should be applied at Committee meetings. The power of alternates and accountants to attend and vote at Committees should be dropped.

4. The practice of Ministers being responsible for the actions of their civil servants should be dropped, and civil servants should be responsible for decisions in their area of administration, with appropriate discipline where failures occur.

5. An independent Fiscal Control Council should be established to advise on budgetary policy, including credit policy, and to set targets for the main elements of the budget and to identify possible future risks.

6. There was general agreement on the need to review the electoral system. No specific revision was recommended.

7. In relation to the low female membership of the Dail, it was proposed that no more than one-third of candidates nominated by a Party prior to an election should be of either sex. In practice, this would involve a requirement that one-third of candidates should be women, leaving it to the electorate to decide whether they wanted to elect them or not.

8. The hours of the Dail should be reviewed so as to make participation with its work more compatible with family responsibilities.

9. With respect to the EU, there should be quarterly meetings in advance of EU Ecofin meetings, at which discussion would take place on the position proposed to be adopted by the Minister at that meeting.

10. Abuse of the guillotine should be ended by bringing legislation forward in good time so as to enable its enactment after adequate debate.

11. The practice of Green and White Papers presenting Government proposals should be restored.

12. The civil service should be adequately endowed with the necessary expertise to make possible the preparation of legislation with the system, rather than employing outside consultants or legal firms for this purpose.

13. The Ombudsman’s responsibilities should be extended to areas from which at present she is excluded. Limitations imposed on Freedom of Information should be removed and civil servants should be required to record the advice they give which, at present, is often suppressed by the destruction of notes prepared for Ministers.

14. There should be much greater willingness to consider and accept amendments to legislation from members of the Dail.

15. The Dail’s power to undertake public enquiries should be restored.

16. To the extent that Social Partnership may be restored in some form, the Dail should have a role in assessing proposals from that source.

17. There should not be more than six or seven Ministers of State

18. Committees should be empowered to choose their own Chairman.

19. The Senate should be retained in view of its valuable legislative role.

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8 thoughts on “Political reform proposals suggested by former members of the Oireachtas

  1. I know it may sound churlish, but it never ceases to amaze me how enthusiatic people are for deep-seated reforms once they have ceased to exercise the power and authority to effect them.

    That said, there is much to be commended here – expect that it lacks a provision for adversarial hearings before Cttees and a requirement for all members of government (inclding the Taoiseach and not just Finance) should get their riding instructions before all EU ministerial and Council meetings.

  2. Typical politicians – the horse has well bolted and now they come up with this drivel.

    The number of ministers or ministers of state isn’t the problem – the mind boggling salaries, pensions and expenses they give themselves is the problem – I don’t see why anyone appointed to government should get a payrise at all – or more expenses – they don’t incur any extra personal costs as a result of being in the government and if we want people in politics who are motivated by serving their country, not financial gain, then the political class need to start showing signs they got the message that was sent last Friday.

    There are enough councillors for FG and L in constituencies were there are ministers and they should help out a bit more and not do so to gain at the expenses of the minister – a bit more team spirit wouldn’t go amiss.

    There are also more than enough issues that need to be sorted out that every single government TD won’t have time to be bored or causing trouble – Kenny should give each TD a policy area and get them to solve it and allow that TD interact directly with the relevant minister ie give mental health to Dan Neville, as he has been working on that issue for years, and let him come up with the solutions and feed into the minister for health – he should be able to do that without needing a payrise or merc and ditto for all other government TDs and other ones too.

  3. The most usefull of these proposals relate to Freedom of Information and a Fiscal Council. The revelations in the Wright Report into the Dept. of Finance, which
    show that advice on budgetary policy was consistently ignored by Government politicians,demonstrate the urgent need for these reforms. The release of this advice under enhanced Freedom of Information legislation and/or it’s consideration by an independent Fiscal Council would have helped avoid this type of disastrous decision making.

  4. Some interesting ideas here, although some of the proposals raise more questions than they answer. Incidentally, while I understand how some people are cynical about former members telling serving politicians to do what they weren’t prepared themselves (and I share some of that cynicism), I do think that we can learn much from the experience of former members.

    In relation to point 4, I can see the value of this. However for this to work in practice, and to avoid ministers hiding behind their subordinates, there is also a need to ministers to be responsible for the decisions they themselves take and a far more open approach to the publication of government documentation would be needed to facilitate that. I am skeptical as to whether that would find favour with either ministers or their officials!

    Point 7: I am curious as to how this would be implemented in practice? Is it intended that funding to parties would be contingent on them complying with this?

    Point 10: This is an important issue however it is unclear as to how the principle of ending inappropriate use of the guillotine would be implemented in practice.

    Point 14: Agreed. However, I wonder how many of the former ministers who were involved in drawing up these proposals showed such willingness when they were in office? I wonder do any of the former members have ideas as to how attitudes in government could be changed to make this willingness for acceptance of good ideas from the other side to come about.

  5. It’ll be interesting to see who gets the Taoiseach nominees to the Seanad … the first test if FG really is different to Fianna Fáil when it comes to cronyism.

  6. A good list of proposed reforms.

    I would add:

    – Committee confirmation hearings of key Public Bodies, and Senior Civil servant posts

    (akin to the US Senate hearings).

  7. Now that the election is over ,would it be possible to make sure that all the serving politions at least have BANK ACCOUNTS.

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