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Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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  Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming I move amendment No. 4:

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7 are related and amendment No. 8 is an alternative to amendments Nos. 6 and 7. Amendments Nos. 5 to 8, inclusive, may be discussed together.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I move amendment No. 5:

I will discuss amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7. The amendments have two intents. The first is that in committee, a minority of committee members may refer back to the Dáil the request for a committee of inquiry to be set up. The wording is not perfect. We do not have access to the Attorney General’s office. However, let us say if on the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, of which I am a member, a minority believes a committee of inquiry should be set up, a minority vote is enough to send the matter to this House so that it can decide. A minority of committee members is enough to ask the Dáil to consider setting up a committee of inquiry. That is the first intent.

  The second intent is that when the Dáil does consider a committee of inquiry, be it a request from a committee or at its own instigation, that if pushed to a vote, a minority of Members of the Dáil would be sufficient to instigate a committee of inquiry. As the legislation stands it requires a 50% vote. The Minister stated in committee that it is his advice that it would be unconstitutional to do that.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Article 15.11.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly Right. As we are aware, no amendments ever get accepted on Report Stage anyway.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin That is not always true.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly It has been true in the two and a half years I have been in the House. The point is a relevant one. I appreciate that the proposal might not be constitutional and that a referendum might be required. Several are planned.

The point is a very important one. As the Minister is aware, this is common practice in many European parliaments. Seven European parliaments have in place a system whereby between one quarter and one third of their parliament is sufficient to instigate a parliamentary inquiry. In Germany it is just one quarter. I have Article 44 of the basic law of the Federal Republic of Germany which states the Bundestag shall have the right, and on the motion of one quarter of its members, the duty to establish a committee of inquiry which shall take the requisite evidence at public hearings. I think it is important. We know it is common practice in some well-functioning democracies. For the Germans it is 25%. As I said to the Minister on Committee Stage, I am not hung up on whether it is 25%, 35% or even 40% but I would not go above 40%. Listening to the previous debate on the banking inquiry and inherent bias I am all the more convinced that something of that nature would be very useful in order to instil some public trust that these kinds of inquiries are being set up for the right reasons.

The Minister made a comment that the Oireachtas can do whatever Westminster does. We have seen some excellent inquiries there, for example, the Leveson inquiry, among others. The Minister said we have to prove this House capable of doing the normal work of parliaments. Unfortunately, due to the stranglehold which the Fianna Fáil Cabinet had for years over the Dáil, and which the Fine Gael and Labour Cabinet now exerts over the Dáil, this House cannot do the normal work of Parliament. Let us look at what happened in recent days. On an utterly non-political issue of deep conscience-----

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin It was deeply political.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly It was not party political. The X case legislation is one of deep conscience.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming Where was Deputy Donnelly last night?

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I was on parliamentary business in Turkey.

Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming Thank you.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Why?

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly What does the Minister mean?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Why was Deputy Donnelly there?

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I was representing the Oireachtas at the annual meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell I must inform the Minister that this is not relevant to amendment No. 5 which is currently under discussion.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I was one of only two Members left when the Government called home its Deputies for a show of strength. It was a total waste of money.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin That was outrageous.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly Yes. It seemed pretty silly to me.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Deputy Donnelly stayed in Turkey.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly This House cannot do the work Westminster does. Let us look at what happened when four Government Deputies said they could not vote with the Government on an issue of conscience. In Westminster they would not have lost the Whip. They would not have been thrown out. Deputy Mathews would not have got thrown off the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. Last year in Westminster Government MPs voted against the Government 40% of the time and they did not lose the Whip. This is the only parliament in the democratic world that is run like this. There is a consensus among political scientists – the Minister scoffed at the point on the previous occasion when I made it in committee that we would look at the opinion of experts – that Dáil Éireann is the most controlled parliament in the developed world.

I put it to the Minister that I would like the Dáil and the Oireachtas to be able to do some of the stuff that can be done in Westminster, but until the Government relinquishes the obsessive control over its own backbenchers we will not be able to do that. It is reciprocated. The Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform has just set up a sub-committee to examine taxation loopholes, at my request. It will be important work. At our first meeting only one Government Deputy showed up. When Government Deputies show up on Committee Stage they are not allowed to speak or table amendments against the Government. They are not allowed to say what they want. Therefore the public does not trust us. The latest Bertelsmann study on the public’s trust in elected representatives shows that we have one of the lowest levels of trust in the developed world because so much control is exerted over party Deputies.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle Hear, hear.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I do not for a second suggest that there should be no Whip. Of course there must be a Whip to do the business of politics but not the way it is applied in this House. Therefore, these amendments are important because they say that even if one has a Cabinet controlling up to 60% of the Dáil, there are still enough Members of Dáil Éireann who can instigate a committee of inquiry. That is why this is important. Based on what I have seen happen in this House yesterday, today and this morning in this debate, it is all the more important.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle I wish to speak to amendment No. 8. I tabled the amendment because of my concerns. The Minister outlined the concerns people have on the basis that 58% of the people who voted “No” to the referendum wanted the Oireachtas to have the power to inquire into issues. Everyone across the House agrees it should have such power. One of the main concerns, as highlighted by Members on this side of the House during the referendum campaign, and it is highlighted in the poll results, is that the inquiries could be seen as being politically motivated and orchestrated by a Government to have, in effect, political show trials.


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