Real Dáil reform at last!


The sub-committee on Dáil reform published its ‘draft’ final report yesterday and it makes for very pleasurable reading. Among the key proposals are the following:

  • Dáil agenda and order of business to be determined by a new business committee chaired by the Ceann Comhairle;
  • A new and powerful Budget Oversight Committee whose work will be supported by a new Independent Budget Office (set up on a statutory basis);
  • The Office of the Parliamentary Legal advisor to be given an increased role to assist members in drafting legislation;
  • The timetable of the Dáil to be recalibrated to avoid clashes between plenary and committee sittings;
  • A restructuring of committees, which includes the aim that a TD should normally sit only on one committee;
  • Post-legislative scrutiny.

These are the types of proposals for reform that have been called for on a number of occasions (e.g. in the 7th report of the Constitutional Convention in 2014, and in the ‘100 days’ campaign that I and my colleagues promoted during the recent election). They provide a great opportunity for a re-balancing of the relationship between Dáil and government. They bring us much closer to what was envisaged in article 28.4.1 of the Constitution.

The Dáil’s style of operation is about to become more accommodating and consensual, but there is a need to tread carefully. One other recommendation by the Dail reform sub-committee that is significant here is the proposal to change the rules relating to parliamentary group status in two respects: (1) to reduce the minimum size from 7 to 5, and (2) to permit more than one technical group. There is a risk that this could result in the Dail becoming more difficult to manage: more groups require more Dail time and increases the risk of chaos in the chamber. The first couple of weeks of the new Dail (admittedly under the existing archaic rules) have shown just how chaotic things can get.

The Irish parliament now has the potential to transform from being a legislative backwater to becoming an influential national parliament, with the same ability to hold the government to account that we see in other European democracies.

But for this ambitious package of Dail reform measures to work it is incumbent on all of its members (whether in government or in opposition) to act responsibly: ‘majoritarian’ (adversarial) grandstanding needs to be replaced by a more ‘consensual’ (accommodating) style of politics: the name of the game should be less about scoring points against your opponents and more about finding ways to cooperate and work together. The government still needs to govern, but it needs to take better account than before of the views of the opposition. The opposition still needs to oppose, but this should be less about opposing for opposing sake and more about opposing when the issue calls for it.

3 thoughts on “Real Dáil reform at last!

  1. Michael Martin said in the Dail on October 25th that

    The Dáil rose on 21 July and resumed on 27 September. In July we were all told major works were to be undertaken to physically refurbish the Chamber, but that did not happen. Therefore, it transpired that there was no necessity for the longer than usual summer recess.

    which sounded like a remarkable claim considering the discussions over the amount of legislation this government has progressed, I emailed Michael Martin and Fianna Fail about but have gotten no reply or explaination, clarification or retraction. I ask the Oireachtas about it and got the reply below,

    On Thu, Nov 10, 2016 at 1:19 PM,

    As you’re probably aware there were quite extensive works undertaken in the Dáil chamber during the summer recess (read more here and here). The quote may reference the wider restoration work to be completed in Leinster House but this would not have impacted on Dáil sitting dates. Perhaps Michael Martin’s office may be able to clarify the quote however.


    Best regards,

    Press Officer
    Communications | Broadcasting | Web
    Houses of the Oireachtas
    Dublin 2

    the Irish Times, the Irish Mirror, the Independent and the Sunday Times all quoted Michael Martin without clarification ( only the Irish Times added a qualifying sentence some hours later), I can’t get any of them to either stand over publishing the quote without clarification or make a correction.

    Its need to be actively corrected if what Michael Martin said is not true.

  2. Chief Whips Regina Doherty says “Particularly given that I only have five hours a week to pass legislation – as opposed to as much as I would have liked in the old Dail”

    How much time on average would the gov and opp have/used in previous Dails

    30th Dail The time available currently in Dail for Legislation is 11.25 hours per week's_Speeches_/Committee_System_30th_D%C3%A1il.html

    this doc says opp used to have 3 hours

    so did gov used to have/use 8.5 hours no?

  3. whats going on?

    Micheál Martin seeks cut to small parties

    FF deputies complain about Ceann Comhairle in speaking row

    Green Party: Fianna Fáil’s commitment to political reform has come to an end
    26th October 2016
    “Independent analysis shows that overall speaking times are allocated to parties on a proportional basis, with bigger parties having the advantage of speaking first. Now they want to go further by cutting the speaking time for the smaller parties. That would restrict debate in an attempt to return us to an old two-party system that has had its day.”

    What independent analysis?

    Eamon Ryan was complaining about speaking time in the Dail

    “There is a danger that on Thursday we will not have the same speaking rights that we have today, if the Government and Fianna Fáil plans, working together, are agreed.”

    but hasn’t spoken about it since.

    A motion for changes of Dail standing orders reducing time by 10 minutes of speeches at second stage was passed

    That, in accordance with the recommendation of the sub-Committee on Dáil Reform under Standing Order 107(1)(a), the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business be amended in Standing Order 148 as follows:With effect from 15th November, 2016 (and only in respect of Bills which commence their second reading on or after that date), in paragraph (2) of Standing Order 148, to delete all words from ‘shall not exceed thirty minutes’ down to and including ‘not exceed twenty minutes.’, and substitute the following:

    ‘shall not exceed 20 minutes: Provided that where the Business Committee is of the opinion that in respect of a particular Bill, the time for each speech in this first round should be extended by a certain amount, it shall include a proposal to that effect in its report under Standing Order 27C(3).

    The speech of any other member in the course of the debate shall not exceed 20 minutes.’.

    Click to access m141116.pdf

    Standing Orders , Houses of the Oireachtas

    Regina Doherty in the Irish Times Jan 2016
    The two larger parties also share a concern that the smaller groupings in the Dáil are getting too much speaking time relative to their parliamentary strength, something that is now kept under constant review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s