Last week the Dáil passed a government motion to make three important changes to Standing Orders (in typical Dáil fashion with little debate). In summary, the changes that will be in operation from the start of the next Dáil session are:
- A secret ballot to elect the Ceann Comhairle,
- Use of d’Hondt formula to allocate Oireachtas committee chair positions proportionate to party size in the chamber (with the tradition remaining that the main opposition party controls the Public Accounts Committee), and
- A requirement that twice a year the Taoiseach appear before the Working Group of Committee Chairs.
These changes all follow recommendations by the Irish Constitutional Convention. On the whole they are good, apart from one important detail. It is a pity that the government ignored Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan’s suggestion (in the debate) to require candidates for the position of Ceann Comhairle to have support from more than one party (the procedure that applies in the House of Commons for electing its Speaker).
These reforms to Standing Orders are a first step towards making future governments more accountable to the Dáil. They are good start, but there is more to do.
As my colleagues and I have set out in our ‘100 Days’ campaign, there is a wider set of changes that need to be implemented: the Dáil needs to be given more control over its own agenda; committees need to be given more resources; and committee work needs to be taken more seriously. These are all changes that could be made easily and immediately, for operation in the next Dáil.
We have discussed the details with representatives of all political parties. In the coming weeks we will be assessing the parties’ manifestos on Dáil reform specifically and political reform more generally.