Posted by David Farrell, Eoin O’Malley, Theresa Reidy and Jane Suiter
January 4, 2016
Much like waiting a long time for the proverbial bus only to see several arrive together it seems the political parties (at least some of them) are starting to take the Dáil reform agenda a little more seriously.
First, in today’s Irish Times we learned that the Taoiseach is taking a set of proposals on Dáil reform to Cabinet tomorrow that follow some of the recommendations of the Irish Constitutional Convention report of March 2014 (which can be downloaded here). The proposals he has reportedly accepted are:
- The use of a secret ballot to elect the Ceann Comhairle. Here it’s interesting to note that apparently the Attorney General has advised that this reform would not require a constitutional change, something that the advice to the Constitutional Convention had been uncertain about.
- The allocation of committee chair positions to parties proportionate to their party strength.
- That the Taoiseach should appear before the working group of Oireachtas Committee chairs on a regular basis.
These steps are all easily implementable: the first two require changes to Dáil standing orders, and the third an understanding that a future Taoiseach simply accepts invitations to appear.
The news about Fine Gael’s initiative was swiftly followed by the launch of Renua’s election manifesto. In the section on political reform there are a number of proposals relating to the Dáil:
- The election of the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil by secret ballot.
- A secret ballot will also apply to the election of committee chairpersons.
- A requirement that the use of the guillotine in parliamentary debates be deemed necessary by the Attorney General.
- New powers to be accorded to the Oireachtas in relation to reviewing submissions made by a citizens’ petitions process.
- New powers to be accorded to Oireachtas committees to independently refer specific questions on constitutional or policy issues to an expert commission. Government will be obliged to respond to the findings of any such commission.
- The creation of an exceptional power to delay legislation from being passed in the face of significant principled opposition. This power will require the support of the majority of parties / technical groupings in Dáil Eireann, and there will be limits on how frequently it is used.
While we might discuss the merits of some of these ideas, the fact that both Renua and Fine Gael have proposals that include changing the systems to appoint the Ceann Comhairle and Oireachtas committee chairs augers well for the possibility that these may see the light of day in the next Dáil. It would be nice to see some cross-party consensus emerge on these issues, and indeed more generally on changes to the Dáil procedures and processes that give it greater capacity to hold future governments properly to account.
Over the coming weeks we will be monitoring all the parties’ election manifestos on the theme of Dáil reform – with particular attention to reforms (1) that will actually make a difference to the power balance between the Dáil and the government, and (2) that can be delivered within the first 100 days of the new Dáil.