Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to oireachtas.ie

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

First Page Previous Page Page of 101 Next Page Last Page

  1 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle] Amendment No. 8 is an attempt to try to ease that situation, in that it provides that a proposal for an inquiry to be held would not pass unless two thirds of recognised Opposition Deputies supported it. This would provide a safeguard against the Executive dominating the establishment of inquiries in the House.

The Minister's responses to the other amendments were interesting. He constantly referred to the Oireachtas being able to do what it wanted. However, the fact of the matter is that it cannot. The Executive controls the House. The Executive decides what goes on the Order Paper, what is discussed and whether something is guillotined. It governs the House's workings. There may be 113 or so Government Deputies, but only 15 of them have any power in the House. This is the problem, and is what the people saw when they considered the potential risks in the referendum. The Bill can get us over the problem if amendment No. 8 is accepted so that, if a majority of Opposition Deputies are in favour, an inquiry can go ahead. This amendment should be taken on board.

This is an important matter, as the Oireachtas should be able to inquire into the issues in question in the same way as obtains in Westminster and elsewhere. Our inquiries should be quick, strong and reach findings. We and the people need to be able to see that inquiries are fair and not controlled by the Executive. In the parliaments of seven European countries, a small number of members can ensure that an inquiry is held.

Regarding constitutionality, the legislation provides in section 13 that the House shall make rules and Standing Orders on voting in inquiries. Amendment No. 8 is in line with that section. For this reason, it would be constitutional and should be taken on board.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I support the spirit of a lower threshold to trigger and sanction inquiries. If the Minister accepted some or all of these amendments, it would offset concerns about majoritarianism in the establishment of inquiries. In other parliaments and assemblies, a trigger of one third is deemed an appropriate level to give impetus to the establishment of an inquiry. There is merit in this proposal, as nothing would fall captive to the mathematics of a particular Chamber or committee.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin In amendment No. 5, Deputy Donnelly is proposing that one quarter of the members of a committee should constitute a sufficient number to deem a proposal by a committee to have been passed and to cause it to come to the House.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly Only when the committee asks for a committee of inquiry to be established.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin It is an extraordinary proposition, if one thinks about it. A quarter of the members of a committee could overrule three quarters and have a motion tabled in the House.

I have a number of reservations about this proposal. These inquiries will not be routine matters. They will demand resources and deal with matters of significant substance. Most of us believe there should at least be a case compelling enough for the majority of members of a committee to believe that there should be an inquiry into those matters.

I have a degree of experience in the Houses on a number of issues. For example, and as Deputy Pringle would know, I campaigned for a long time for an inquiry into policing in Donegal. Subsequently, we had the Morris tribunal. There was significant resistance from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Oireachtas of the day. The then Government had a narrow majority and voted it down.

In any issue where there is sufficient public demand, the House must yield to it. It will not be a matter of a Government denying the clamour of the people. It would be an extraordinary situation if a quarter of a committee - if there were eight members, one quarter would be two members - could overrule the other six members.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly Is the Bundestag an extraordinary situation?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I am not familiar with the Bundestag. I do not know how it works. However, this is an extraordinary proposition. Whatever about majoritarianism, a dictatorship of the minority would be an interesting concept to debate. There are issues in respect of which a minority should be able to trigger actions and I am not ruling that out in all instances.

In amendments Nos. 6 and 7, Deputy Donnelly is proposing that a vote of one quarter of the Members of the House would be sufficient to pass a resolution in respect of an inquiry. As he rightly stated and as I mentioned on Committee Stage, Article 15.11.1° of the Constitution requires: "All questions in each House shall, save as otherwise provided by this Constitution, [it is not a rule of the House-----

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle The Constitutional Convention cannot make its own rules.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin -----but the House's rules cannot overturn the Constitution itself] shall be determined by a majority of the votes of the members present and voting other than the Chairman or presiding member." The Constitution is clear that a majority of Deputies are needed to pass a resolution of the House. A quarter of the Members of the House overruling three quarters would be an extraordinary proposition.

In amendment No. 8, Deputy Pringle proposes that a vote in favour of conducting an inquiry shall pass if no less than two thirds of the designated Opposition vote in favour. This is unconstitutional for the reasons that I have given. Even were this proposition constitutional, I would reject it. I have been longer on the Opposition benches than I have been on the Government benches in this House. There is almost a flavour emerging that, somehow, the Government side is inherently political and would act politically and the Opposition side does not act politically. I have served long years on both sides of the House. My experience is that the temptation to act politically is not the universal prerogative on either side.

In terms of what is right, we must respect the vote of the people and their democratic decisions.

Deputy Donnelly gave a dissertation on the role of the Whips. He is a new Independent. I entered politics because I was interested in a political party. Originally, I did not expect to be an elected Member, but I subscribe to the views of the party and we debate vigorously within it. We are not sole traders. I do not stand in the Chamber as a sole trader. I must argue my case within the confines of the parliamentary party first and, ultimately, within the confines of the conference of my party, which makes policy. The notion that we are all sole traders and that everyone can amble in here as he or she pleases is not how political parties work. It is not normally the way for Fianna Fáil. Except when the exigencies of the situation, shall we say kindly, require it to be otherwise, Fianna Fáil normally requires the consensus view within the party to prevail. If one is a member of any organisation, one can have a vigorous democratic debate, but once the majority decides, that decision becomes the organisation's policy. We are not sole traders. I understand that it is difficult for people outside the political party system to understand that. If the day comes when one cannot live with this situation, one walks away.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly It is too hard for me to understand.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin This is how it works. Parliament needs it. Consider what this Parliament has needed to do in recent years. The notion that every difficult budgetary decision could be a free vote, the pressure on everybody-----

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly Nobody suggested that every vote should be free.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin May I speak as freely as I allowed the Deputy to speak?

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly Yes-----

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly -----and I will interrupt the Minister as much as he interrupted me.


Last Updated: 29/04/2020 15:32:13 First Page Previous Page Page of 101 Next Page Last Page