Major parliamentary reform gives Dáil committees real input for first time – Minister Varadkar

Posted by Jane Suiter
I’ve just seen this press release from earlier today. It fits with a previous post but I thought as this may be the first time a Minister has put legislation to a committee before the floor of the House it merited its own thread. This looks to me to be a significant step and I hope the committee makes the most if it and hears a wide range of evidence.

I have simply cut and paste the release below:
Committee debates draft laws for alcohol testing at lower levels, ‘Restricted’ drivers, & higher penalty points for learners

Plans for wide-ranging road safety laws were published today (Tuesday) by the Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar including mandatory breath testing at lower alcohol levels, higher penalty points for novice drivers and a new class of Restricted driver.

The Minister is using the publication of the Road Traffic No.2 Bill today to initiate an entirely new approach to the legislative process. The proposals will be presented today to Members of the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and Gaeltacht. They will be asked to submit their views on the plans to the Minister within a month, before the Department starts work on formally drafting the new laws.

Minister Varadkar said: ‘This is the second piece of road traffic legislation that I have initiated this year, reflecting my intention to build on the momentum of recent years. We need to make travelling safer and we must not lose focus’.

“This draft Bill also represents an important step in improving parliamentary democracy. We are breaking new ground with this more consultative approach to developing legislation. I hope this marks the beginning of a positive and constructive relationship with the Oireachtas Committee.”
Key proposals in the draft Bill include:

Mandatory breath testing at new, lower alcohol limits;

· A new class of novice or Restricted driving licence which will apply for two years after qualifying;

· Higher penalty points for these ‘R’ plate drivers for certain offences;

· New plastic card driving licences to comply with EU requirements;

· Putting the RSA in charge of the driving licence system, and for testing commercial vehicles for roadworthiness;

· Allowing non-roadworthy vehicles to be detained or destroyed;

· Allowing local authorities to provide parking and charging bays for electric vehicles.

Minister Varadkar will ask Committee members to submit their views within a month, before the legislation is formally drafted. It will then be discussed in detail by the Dáil and the Seanad.

Edit. I have also just seen that it looks as if we may be getting a little movement on quangos too: In anotehr press release it looks as if Bruton is to axe the board of the National Consumer Agency. See here for press release

Are Fine Gael perhaps beginning to implement some of their political reform proposals?

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16 thoughts on “Major parliamentary reform gives Dáil committees real input for first time – Minister Varadkar

  1. Still like to draw a flow chart of every step needed to create a law, every input, every vote or stop point etc

    Why it was done the way before and whats changed.

    One may think you know it but I don’t think its clear to everyone.

  2. Eamon Ryan did it before so it’s not a first. In addition Bills on very controversial social matters, e.g. abortion, have always been discussed in draft form.

    The true measure of reform is not the discussion but whether anything is done as a result of contributions from persons other than government members and supporters.

    It would appear that a lot of legislation is being guillotined through the Oireachtas at the moment and that little effort is being made to give committees time to consider them properly.

    When:
    a-there is pre-publication consultation on measures high on the political agenda rather than, important as it might be, issues like road safety, and
    b-government shows a willingness to change proposals as a result of such discussions
    then we will have real parliamentary involvement in legislation.

  3. I think that one of the big issues is how to bring Regulatory/legislative Impact Analysis, currently carried out exclusively in the administrative sphere, into the political sphere.

  4. The minister will get rid of the board of the NCA or the minister will merge the board? These are very different realities.

    How many of the NCA board members have fixed term contracts which must be honored regardless? What is the cost of winding up this quango? The savings mentioned seem very meagre as the chief executive alone was earning the figure mentioned as savings for one year.

    How many of the old board members will end up in the new authority or being appointed to other boards? For instance, what is going to happen to the CEO of the NCA?

  5. Everything appears to change…and everything remains the same. Minister Varadkar’s proposed approach looks like, and to all intents and purposes is, a more high-powered version of the ‘public consultation’ exercises conducted by the various regulatory bodies and by Ministers and Departments when they issue Green and White Papers. Any interested parties can make submissions. These are then summarised and categorised to present the impression that there is broad support for what the minister/regulator intends to do. Any submissions that present a critique or suggest alternatives are simply ignored.

    Instead of this optical illusion, ministers should be required to submit their proposals to the relevant Oireachtas Cttees, the Cttees would commission expert reviews and critiques of these proposals, then ministers and their advisers, officials and consultants would be required to defend their proposals before open hearings of Cttees and there would be oppotunities for questions and the seeking of clarification by Cttee members – and opportunities for rebuttal and counter-rebuttal between the Cttees’ retained experts and the ministers’ teams.

    But no government would allow this to happen. It would be contrary to its divine right to make law and to whip the Oireachtas to enact it. It’s a bit more time-consuming, but it’s far easier to convey the impression of ‘consultation’ and ‘debate’. It might also make it easier to implicate – and neuter – some, more awkward, TDs using this process.

    On the quango front, Minister Bruton seems keen to implement the stupid decision to merge the NCA with the CA inherited from the previous government with unusual gusto. A competition authority has to strike a balance between the legitimate interests of business and the interests of consumers in the public interest. A statutory consumer protection body has to advocate and represent consumers’ collective interests unrestrained by other concerns. Merging them makes a nonsense of both statutory duties and renders them, effectively, unperformable. It should be the principal duty of a properly established consumer protection body to highlight, in the presentation of argument and evidence to the competition authority, the detrimental impact on consumers of alleged anti-competitive practices. The competition body would have powers to investigate these allegations. The businesses concerned would have opportunity to present their defence. And the competition authority would have the power to make its decision on the merits of the case and, where necessary, to enforce appropriate remedies.

    In fact, such a consumer protection body should be empowered to represent consumers’ interests collectively in those areas where economic regulation is applied. Currently economic regulators are required to protect the interests of final consumers, but, in reality, they are either trapped by implicict government policy that favours the regulated businesses or have been captured by the businesses they are supposed to regulate or both. They should be stripped of this duty to protect the interests of consumers and required to strike a balance between the interests of the owners, management and staff of the regulated businesses, on one side, and the interests of consumers, on the other. Furthermore, where economic regulators have introduced retail competition in their sectors, the competition authority should be granted concurrent responsibility.

    In both cases, while what is being proposed is intended to convey the impression of a commitment to genuine structural refrom, in reality it is nonsense on stilts – and citizens and consumers will be no better served.

      • @Veronica and @Paul You both well may be proven right but personally I prefer to wait and see how it plays out. The committee may do more than you think, it may call witnesses, it may call the minister or his advisers and there may well be oppotunities for questions and the seeking of clarification by Cttee members and so on.
        Just for info the Chairman is Ciarán Lynch and vice-Chairman: Noel Coonan.
        The members are: James Bannon, Paudie Coffey, Niall Collins, Noel Coonan, Marcella Corcoran, Kennedy, Clare Daly, Timmy Dooley, Dessie Ellis, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Kevin Humphreys, Seán Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Sandra McLellan, Tony McLoughlin, Catherine Murphy, Gerald Nash, Patrick O’Donovan, Brian Stanley, Robert Troy and Brian Walsh. And
        senators Eamonn Coghlan, Cáit Keane, Denis Landy, Catherine Noone, Labhrás Ó’Murchú, Ned O’Sullivan

  6. Jane,

    I sincerely hope you are right and that I’m wrong. At least Leo Varadkar is yet not ‘institutionalised’ by the Leinster House culture, as he has demonstrated in some other comments he has made, on foot of which he got a kick in the head from his Cabinet colleagues. There may be hope yet.

  7. @Jane Suitor,

    Your optimism and wish to wait and see if the good intentions expressed will bear fruit do you credit, but citizens should be angry and are entitled to be angry. However, as Colm McCarthy has pointed out in a different, but not entirely removed, context; “anger isn’t a policy”. Citizens should be angry, but, once the initial surge has subsided, they should ‘get even’. And they can do this by exploiting every means at their disposal to hold government – and the entire machinery of government – to account between general elections. The politicians we elect aren’t just for elections; they are for life – since 15 of those elected govern our lives (and appoint those who implement this ever-expanding scope of governance). And nowadays people are ‘governed’ more than they have ever been.

    Yet many citizens seem content – or are necouraged to be content – that the periodic exercise of their ultimate authority in the secrecy of the polling booth is sufficient to enforce accountability of government. It probably bever was, but it certainly isn’t now.

    And the struggle required to enforce the necessary extent of accountability won’t be pretty. Governments will never devolve voluntarily the power they have accumulated steadily and assiduously. It has to be wrested from their grasp.One has to be at one’s most vigilant and sceptical when they seek to convey the impression that are devolving power and increasing accountability.

    They will simply laugh up their sleeves at those who advance polite arguments.

  8. I’d like people to respond to some of my queries to expand on the oireachtas guide in this editable document https://docs.google.com/document/d/1s9mFsTdkwqI6yqoXAVlA0SiQjkyDeLcCxAw6bju1gGY/edit?pli=1

    Want to trace the steps from green paper, to Oireachtas stages, to presidential signature to statutory order

    in order to improve this https://docs.google.com/drawings/edit?id=17lS–nXZsh-_Ch-1dCHaX10JsBDoPpp0orzuCukcXVM&hl=en_GB im sure there are obvious mistakes which can be corrected

    I want to point out the stages, vote points, kill and delay points and where inputs can be made.

    this link details some of the time issues
    http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/government_in_ireland/national_government/houses_of_the_oireachtas/legislation.html

    don’t suppose there clear way to identify guillotined bills other then see them referred to as such in the Dail debate record, is this an example of one http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=12468&&CatID=59

  9. I’m afrid this announcement came in the same week the fiscal advisory council was announced from on high – and the announcement wasn’t even in the Oireachtas. I’m less optimistic than Jane.

  10. @gcgc,

    The FAC has been raised on irisheconomy.ie and I’ve being engaging in the discourse there which might be of some interest to folks here:
    http://www.irisheconomy.ie/index.php/2011/07/08/five-go-mad-on-fiscal-rules/

    The FAC makes it a government hat-trick of optical illusions – firstly Ministers Varadkar and Bruton and now Minister Noonan. The last was netted to coincide with the arrival of the reps from the Troika. The Government probably reckons they’ll be impressed with Ministers’ ability to dribble past cardboard cut-outs and score in an empty goal.

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