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Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Constitution Review Group Report.

Wednesday, 12 June 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 466 No. 7

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 3. Miss Harney Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney  asked the Taoiseach Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  whether he has received the final report of the Constitution review group. [11569/96]

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton On Friday 31 May 1996, I met the chairman and secretary of the Constitution Review Group when a typed copy of the final report of the group was presented to me. Further typed copies of the report were made available by the secretariat of the group to my Department on 7 June for circulation to members of the Government. I have forwarded copies, on a confidential basis, to the leaders of the Opposition parties.

The report is now being prepared by the secretariat for printing and I expect to receive copies for publication later this month. The secretariat is also assembling background material which will be placed in the Oireachtas Library and made available to the proposed all-party committee on the Constitution.

I thank the Chairman, Dr. Whitaker, the members of the group and the secretariat for their hard work in completing their complex and difficult assignment in such an excellent manner in a very short time.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley When is it proposed to publish the report? Will it be published by the end of the month? If so, when will the all-party committee on the Constitution comprising Members of this House be set up and when will it hold its first meeting to consider the recommendations?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton I thank the Deputy's party for nominating one of its members to serve on the committee and for its indication of willingness to take part. I am awaiting names from other parties and as soon as they are received we will proceed with the committee. The committee can be established straight away because a number of interim reports from this body are already in the public domain and will be available to the committee. I assure the House that the full report will be published before the end of this month.

[1816] A logistical task remains to be done of preparing an index to accompany the printed copy — the copy the Deputy's leader received does not contain an index. That index is being prepared and the document is being printed. It is a very long and substantial document consisting of 654 pages and there are some printing delays, but it will be available before the end of the month. I would like the committee to start work as quickly as possible and I hope to receive names from other parties. A number of parties have not yet nominated members.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley Will the Taoiseach suggest a timeframe for completion of the committee's deliberations? Perhaps the date of 31 December next might be fixed, otherwise the matter could drag on interminably and none of the necessary changes to the Constitution will be made.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton Provision will be made for the body to produce interim reports. When the all-party group meets it will be free to determine its own procedure and if it wishes to set a deadline of 31 December it may do so. In matters on which the all-party committee agrees, action should be taken quickly and it will be possible for it to produce interim reports on those matters. The document prepared by the Whitaker committee is a very comprehensive one. It is a massive piece of work dealing not only with the aspects of the Constitution that are most frequently the subject of public controversy but also with a range of issues in the Constitution, some of a technical character, which deserve to be addressed. Against the background of the size and breadth of the Whitaker report it is unlikely the committee will have completed all the work on it by the end of the year. To set a deadline for all the work to be completed within that timeframe would not do justice to the task undertaken by the Whitaker committee. No problem will exist in regard to the presentation of interim reports.

[1817]Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I would like to be associated with the Taoiseach's remarks of thanks to Dr. Ken Whitaker and the committee. It is a good example of a committee accepting a remit from the Oireachtas and getting on with the job. A member of my party was on the committee, which devoted an extraordinary amount of time, including at night and weekends, to compiling the report and I thank them for that. As the Taoiseach said, the document is a massively comprehensive one. It would have been helpful to have an executive summary of it, but as a legal matter——

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton You would need a wheelbarrow to carry it around. It is not suitable for bedtime reading.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Fianna Fáil will nominate its four representatives within days. I thank the Taoiseach for agreeing to change the composition of the committee to allow for greater representation. There are so many constitutional lawyers on this side of the House that it will not be possible to accommodate all of them, but we will certainly put forward a strong team.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley As the Taoiseach is aware, a number of matters were excluded from consideration by the committee which has just reported. I have in mind in particular the urgent and sensitive question of the possible amendment of Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. Will the Taoiseach propose that the all-party committee should consider that topic urgently in view of its relevance to the talks taking place in Belfast?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton The question of the matters we indicated to the committee were being dealt with separately has been adverted to in correspondence I received about the report from Deputies Ahern and Harney. I responded to both Deputies indicating that the all-party committee is not precluded from dealing with these matters. The most appropriate way of dealing [1818] with Articles 2 and 3 is in the context of the all-party negotiations taking place in Belfast at present, at which the Government is represented.

The Government indicated in the Framework Document and in earlier statements that we are willing to promote amendments to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution as part of an overall settlement of other issues that are also being discussed in the all-party negotiations. That is the best way to deal with that matter rather than attempting to deal with it separately. The all-party committee is not precluded from expressing a view on that matter if it so wishes, although the best use of time by the all-party committee might be to address other Articles of the Constitution first.

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