Seanad Public Consultation Committee

Posted by Elaine Byrne

As part of a process of internal reform, the Seanad have established the Seanad Public Consultation Committee (SPCC) which will be launched next week.

According to the Oireachtas press release, this Committee will use new procedures to open up access to the Seanad and to invite submissions from the Public.

It will work like this. The committee will pick a topic and contributions will be confined to that subject. Submissions will be invited from the public and various interest groups. Relevant hearings will be heard in public in the Seanad Chamber, following which the committee will issue a report. The first topic picked by the Committee is “The Rights of Older People”

What topics would you like discussed in the Seanad and who should be invited to speak?

11 thoughts on “Seanad Public Consultation Committee

  1. Just to get the suggestions off to a start

    Topic 1. Freedom of Information (FoI) – why has the Government not done what it said it would do in its Programme ie. repeal the 2003 FoI simply and directly
    1) An Taoiseach on this statement “…We will legislate to restore the Freedom of Information Act to what it was before it was underined by the outgoing Government,…” see p.19

    Click to access Programme_for_Government_2011.pdf

    2) An Tanaiste on this statement “….I don’t think it is appropriate partly because some of the changes made back in 1997, in the way we manage public life in this State, were abruptly dismantled by an amendment Act in 2003. That amendment Act, in my view, did fundamental damage to the way in which the FOI regime ought to operate. The legislation has, as a result, been handicapped and it no longer functions as effectively as it should….”
    “FREEDOM OF INFORMATION IS NEEDED TO KEEP GOVERNMENT OPEN, HONEST AND ACCOUNTABLE” Speech by Eamon Gilmore, TD, Labour Party Leader at the 10th Anniversary Conference (15 May 2008) – “Freedom of Information: The First Decade”,8419,en.htm

    3) Information Commissioner on this statement
    “….To recap, the need for Openness, Transparency and Accountability was cued by the slew of political stroke business scandals of the late 20th century. Rules and regulations were heralded in through the Freedom of Information Act but within a very short period of time it became clear that the old cultures and values still nestled largely undisturbed at the heart of the administration.

    The Act was barely five years old when the Government rolled back some of its more sensitive provisions and introduced a scale of up-front fees, alien creatures in many international FOI regimes. As I have often said, following these measures, the Act was seriously winded but it wasn’t stretchered off the pitch. Very significant and effective use has been made of the Act even since its curtailment and, ironically, never more so than during this current economic downturn. Yet the curtailment of the FOI Act was an example of how legally binding rules and regulations still failed to defeat the prevailing values and culture of secrecy. There is no doubt that 12 years of FOI have brought about some significant change for the better, but as I will point out later, we still have quite a distance to travel…..”
    Address by Emily O’Reilly, Ombudsman and Information Commissioner at Institute of Public Administration & Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounting – Conference on Good Governance,11830,en.htm

    Other material

  2. As per my comment on the previous thread this is all far too little and far too late. In any event, these ‘public consultations’ are a total optical illusion and waste of time and effort. What is being proposed here is even worse than the more standard variety initiated by Government Departments or quangos because, in these cases, a specific policy or regulatory will be announced at the end of the process.

    It is important to note that a decision will be announced at the end of the process, rather than made in response to the submissions, evidence and analysis presented. In most cases the decision has been made in advance; the consultation process allows some time to work out the finer details and to develop the required spin. Irrespective of quality and quantity, any evidence or analysis presented that contests the decision that has been made already will be ignored or dismissed. Anyone who has the gall to persist in challenging the decision using evidence and analysis will be ridiculed or villified – and could have his or her professional reputation traduced.

    This proposed Senate consultation process is an even bigger waste of public resources since not even a pre-cooked policy or regulatory decision will emerge from it.

  3. I think it’s good to start experimenting. We could easily throw the baby out and be left with the bath water if we rush into disposing of the Seanad (and the President, as some have suggested too).

    Needless to say the Seanad is antiquated but that doesn’t mean that it cannot be updated and serve an indefensible purpose. Experiments like this are a good way to figure out what we might want.

    Right now, I think there’s a lot of big questions hanging over the relationship between the People and the institutions of their state. Poking around inside these questions in a public forum like the Seanad would not be a bad idea at all:

    – the responsibilities of citizenship (I’m tired of “rights”)
    – the role and powers of the People (in particular vis-a-vis the Oireachtas)
    – ethics, rights and responsibilities in public life
    – the diaspora, rights/entitlements, relationship between the people of this state and them

    Needless to say, I’m assuming that the Constitutional Convention is also going ahead and is sufficiently open to input and interaction with the public generally.

    • Oliver,
      I am not tired of “rights”.
      IMO, a republic rests on the rights of citizens – which is what you seem to be suggesting in the second indent.

      For far too long, our governing elites cast of mind is derived from “the liberties of the subject” – we, being the subjects.

      As an example of one well-informed outsider’s view of where this cast of mind leads and what it does, consider the following comment by Maarten van Eden, former CFO of Anglo-Irish (appointed after nationalisation)
      “Apart from the recklessness, overconfidence and the total lack of professionalism, one sees clearly a lack of checks and balances not only within Anglo but within the country/ system as a whole,” he wrote in the letter that was read out in part to Anglo staff when he announced his resignation in February 2011.
      “Parties were not dealing with one another at arm’s length, transactions were circular in nature, back to back and off market pricing. There was misrepresentation, market manipulation and market abuse. “There was a green jersey agenda that, as so often is the case when nationalism is invoked, covered a multitude of sins. The rationale was made to fit the objective at the expense of guiding principles and truth.”

      Our governing elite has admitted their irresponsibility in how they have governed since Ireland joined the €uro.
      “In the past decade, Ireland’s approach to fiscal policy, prices, costs and financial regulation were not sufficiently adapted to the disciplines of a single currency.“

      Press Release from National Economic and Social Council (NESC) on a report “The Euro: an Irish
      Perspective” 17th August 2010.
      NESC is 30-person social partnership body made up of representatives of government, business, trade unions, agriculture, community and environment. The Secretary General
      of the Government chairs NESC. Among the seven Government nominees are the Secretaries-General of five Government Departments.

      Click to access The%20euro%20MEDIA%20RELEASE%20from%20NESC.pdf

      Our responsbilities no include the need for us to design, develop, debate, adopt and apply means to limit the scope for excess by the powerful – be they elected or appointed, public or private.

  4. Out of interest, what are the differences between Committee discussions and this? From what I can see, the only difference is going to be held in the Seanad rather than in a Committee room that allows TDs to be part of the proceedings.

    Am I missing something here?

    • @Andrea Pappin,

      Apologies for appearing cynical – though only in the original Diogenesian sense, but, as per my earlier comment, this is both an exercise in futility and a belated attempt to confer a part of the legislature under sentence of death with some semblance of relevance. These ‘hearings’ presumably will take evidence from all and sundry and a report, eventually, will be laid before both Houses. The Government will express its profound gratitude and commit to taking on board the important findings of these ‘consultations’ as it progresses and expands the implementation of its Programme for Government. And it will then studiously and steadfastly ignore any useful recommendations that might emerge but whose implementation might cause, let’s say, some ‘political difficulties’.

      Although they are almost totally ineffectual – and governments are determined that they should remain so, the conventional Oireachtas Cttees actually get stuck into important policy issues. This exercise will just generate more hot air. But it is even worse than this as it is likely to falsely raise the hopes of the civic-minded citizens and groups who will participate in the expectation that something concrete and useful will emerge.

      That is cycnicism in its most modern and purest form.

  5. @Andrea,

    Agree. But only in the sense that we would have the ferocity of Achilles in combat to change the things we can, the Stoicism to accept the things we can’t and the ‘cynicism’ of Diogenes to know the difference 🙂

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