The Dáil debated possible new Dáil reforms yesterday. The reforms introduced by the Chief Whip Paul Kehoe are to include:
The introduction of Topical Issue Debates to replace the current Adjournment Debates
Extra Dáil sitting days – on the first Friday of every month – to provide time for TDs to introduce their own Bills
Providing for Leaders Questions to be taken by the Tánaiste on Thursdays
A procedure to allow Dáil Deputies raise issues regarding replies to Parliamentary Questions
The Dáil commencing earlier on Tuesdays at 2pm
Reform of the Standing Order 32 procedures for raising urgent issues
Establishing a time limit for the Order of Business
Changes to Taoiseach’s PQs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays
These come in addition to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2011 which will reduce the number of TDs, have all by-elections held within six months of the vacancy arising and lower the caps on spending for the presidential election campaigns.
While many of these are worthy, one is left wondering if they will solve the real problems in the political system. The Dáil being allowed to debate a bit more won’t matter much when most TDs still don’t have the incentive to challenge the government. Nothing here will stop the government’s control of Dáil time, exemplified by an interaction in yesterday’s debate.
There is little here that will put pressure on government, and many of the reforms, particularly the desire to reduce the number of TDs appear to be populists notions. There are no arguments why the number of TDs should be reduced, and certainly none informed by evidence. I have no problem reducing their number if the reason is more than saving (in the scheme of things) a minuscule amount of money.
The desire to be seen to save money in the Dáil and government might be actively hindering good government. So junior ministers are no longer allowed hire special advisers. While special advisers were often glorified bag carriers, some offered an alternative point of view to that emanating from the civil service and so they at least enabled a plurality of views and some source of debate in government. Again, we see ‘reforms’ for the sake of being seen to save money.
The government would be better placed if it were to have a single minister with responsibility for all political reforms, and it set out the plan of how the reforms will link together and what the political system will look like afterward.