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Ceisteanna – Questions. - Oireachtas Reform.

Wednesday, 18 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 559 No. 6

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 7. Mr. Kenny Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the Government's proposals for Dáil reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14400/02]

 8. Mr. Rabbitte Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the proposals the Government is considering in regard to Dáil reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16386/02]

 9. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the plans the Government has for reform of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19900/02]

 10. Mr. Sargent Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  the proposals the Government has for reform of Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20092/02]

 11. Mr. J. Higgins Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins  asked the Taoiseach Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  if he will report on his plans for the reform of Dáil Éireann. [21364/02]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Ms Hanafin): Information on Mary Hanafin Zoom on Mary Hanafin I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 11, inclusive, together.

As the Deputies are aware, the matter of Dáil and Seanad reform is essentially one for the Houses, which under the Constitution have responsibility for making their own rules and standing orders.

The sub-committee on Dáil reform was appointed by the Committee on Procedure and [1371]Privileges on 10 September 2002 and had its first meeting on Wednesday, 9 October 2002. It is expected that a sub-committee of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges will also be established in the Seanad shortly to look at proposals for reform of the Seanad. I have initiated consultations with the political parties concerning participation in the Oireachtas by Northern Ireland representatives.

Responsibility for promoting Dáil reform is shared by all parties in this House and the Government will play a constructive part in exploring with those parties opportunities for improving procedures.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison A number of Deputies have supplementary questions.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny When can we expect to see firm proposals to implement Dáil reform? In that context what is to be done about Question Time?

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Hear, hear.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Is it proposed to give the Ceann Comhairle of the day full authority over Question Time so that the Chair could call any question on the order paper in any Deputy's name provided he or she is present and that the Ceann Comhairle should have the authority to direct a Minister or anybody else to answer a question fully and completely? It is perfectly obvious that if this House was seen to be more effective and accountable and parliamentary answers were equivalent to what is available under freedom of information requests then there might not be as many tribunals running as there are now.

The single biggest obstacle to democratic interest and to public interest is that this Chamber appears to be empty most of the time. While the House of Commons Question Time may be contrived to a certain extent, will the Minister of State make a proposal to radically change the structure of Question Time and give authority to the Ceann Comhairle to ask Ministers to answer any question on the order paper and that Ministers are required to answer fully and comprehensively in the interests of democracy and of the people?

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte When does the Minister of State think the Oireachtas commission will be up and running? There is an imbalance in the resourcing of the Executive and the Parliament and between Government and Opposition. Are certain minimal proposals which were circulated some months ago as a result of a survey of Members now gone by the wayside in the new climate of cutbacks? In respect of a minor matter, the Minister of State can gain access to her office at half past seven or eight o'clock in the morning. When is it proposed that the rest of us in the House will be able to access our offices some time before the [1372]streets are well aired and in the early part of a Saturday?

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent Will the Taoiseach speed up the issue of Dáil reform and ensure that this House is made more accountable? The reinstatement of his own presence here on Thursdays would be one indication of his commitment. Will he ensure that accommodation in the Houses of the Oireachtas is allocated on a fair basis? Since the election there has not been an appraisal of the accommodation allocation. Parties such as the Green Party and Sinn Féin which have increased in size—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison A question please.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent —are left without accommodation. We do not have accommodation based on our numbers and I ask that this would be dealt with urgently.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Does the Taoiseach propose to act on the report of the last all-party Oireachtas committee on the Constitution? That report was issued in March of this year. My specific interest is in relation to Six County representation in the Oireachtas and in particular, in this House. There were three specific recommendations.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison That was dealt with yesterday.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to participate yesterday so I am asking the Taoiseach today. I am sure he is listening to all I am saying.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison It is the Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin, to whom you are addressing the question. She is taking these questions.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin I beg your pardon. Nevertheless it will be the Taoiseach who must realise that it is he who has the ultimate power and responsibility of bringing forward the recommendations for change to this House. Why he is proposing to send it back to the new All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution? This strikes me as knocking it into touch once again. It is a further delaying mechanism rather than going ahead and making the judgments on the recommendations and proceeding to implement. When will we see real implementation and action in this area?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I answered that question comprehensively yesterday.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg May I ask a brief supplementary question?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison There are a number of Deputies offering and we have already gone well [1373]over 45 minutes. No, I will have to call the Minister of State. I am sorry about that, Deputy Stagg.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin When will I receive a response to the question that I posed?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The question was dealt with yesterday.

Ms Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin Zoom on Mary Hanafin On Deputy Kenny's question, a number of proposals were put forward by the previous Dáil and by my predecessor, Deputy Brennan, including Question Time being taken in the House and the Ceann Comhairle having the right only to call Members who are present in the House, and I know that the Fine Gael Whip is anxious that we proceed, particularly in that regard. It is one of those proposals with which we do intend to move forward.

At our first meeting of the committee on Dáil reform, we went through the recommendations from the last package to see which of those are practical to implement, particularly bearing in mind where discussions and negotiations would have to take place with members of the staff, and we have now narrowed down the ones which are practical. Leaders in the House will be aware, of course, that we have already implemented the proposal on leaders' question, which was lifted out of the package and has been implemented very successfully.

On Deputy Rabbitte's question, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Bill is on Committee Stage. It has passed through Second Stage here. That of course will give us control of our own affairs and it will be up to us, as Members of the House, to determine how that money will be spent. I envisage that the committee will be dealing with that legislation early in the new year. It will then come back here and I hope the Commission can be established very quickly.

He raised a very valuable point about access to the House. I am glad he noted that I not only can, but do, access my office in the early hours of the morning and, indeed, on Saturdays.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton How does she do that?

Ms Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin Zoom on Mary Hanafin Deputy Rabbitte did say that I have access to my office and it is very desirable that every Member of the House should be able to access Leinster House. It is a matter we have raised at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. It forms part of the discussions with staff and is something on which to move forward.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent Can we use her office?

Ms Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin Zoom on Mary Hanafin The Deputy can certainly use mine when I am not in it, which is rare.

[1374]Mr. Gogarty: Information on Paul Nicholas Gogarty Zoom on Paul Nicholas Gogarty Will she let us use the Taoiseach's office instead?

Mr. Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten When he is not in it.

Mr. Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins Zoom on Billy Timmins On Thursdays.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I am in it on Thursdays.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Allow the Minister of State to speak.

Ms Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin Zoom on Mary Hanafin They are all matters which have come up at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and are part of the ongoing negotiations. The issue raised by Deputy Sargent is one for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. Accommodation and other issues which he has raised have come up on a frequent basis among the Whips. He will also be aware that in my role there is absolutely nothing further I can do, but we are awaiting a full report of the room allocation within the House.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent She could open up more offices.

Ms Hanafin: Information on Mary Hanafin Zoom on Mary Hanafin Undoubtedly it would appear that there are parties in the House who have more space than would be their due and perhaps a reallocation might benefit all of the other parties.

On Deputy Ó Caoláin's question, I suggest that if he reads the blacks from yesterday he will see the very comprehensive answers which the Taoiseach gave on this matter. It is unfortunate that Deputy Ó Caoláin was not here to participate in that debate.


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