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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Vol. 709 No. 2

Ceisteanna — Questions

Questions Nos. 1 to 29 resubmitted.

Oireachtas Reform

Enda Kenny


30 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach his plans for Dáil Éireann reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4598/10]

Eamon Gilmore


31 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach his proposals for Dáil reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6733/10]

David Stanton


32 Deputy David Stanton asked the Taoiseach his plans regarding Dáil Éireann reform; the timescale for implementing same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9031/10]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


33 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the way he proposes to progress Dáil Éireann reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11529/10]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 30 to 33, inclusive, together.

I welcome this opportunity to answer these question and to speak on some issues which are often raised at the Order of Business with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.

The Government established a working group on Dáil reform in 2009, comprising the Minister for Transport, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Senator Boyle and my predecessor as Government Chief Whip, Deputy Carey. Following a number of meetings, this group submitted a set of proposals to the Cabinet for discussion and agreement.

Upon my appointment as Chief Whip, I examined the relevant documentation on this issue and I look forward to holding bilateral meetings with the various party representatives in the coming weeks, with a view to seeing where realistic progress can be made. Reform of the Dáil procedures has long been a matter of contention and debate in the House. The last significant reform was made during the tenure of the late Seamus Brennan, when he was in my current position. In reviewing the documentation, I was struck by how debate on the reform of the Dáil procedures is often confused with the wider discussion on electoral reform. The Government has a range of policy initiatives on this issue, and they are being guided by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

There are some simple and necessary reforms to Dáil procedures upon which most members of the House would agree. The principal issue among these is the need to reform the manner in which the Order of Business is conducted on a daily basis. The Order of Business lasted for almost an hour and 20 minutes last Thursday. This is a waste of valuable time which could be set aside for the discussion of legislation before the House. The Government has brought forward what I believe are sensible proposals for the reform of how we conduct the Order of Business. These proposals are balanced and give the opportunity for the Opposition to make their reservations and concerns known about the ordering of the given day's business, without it descending into what was described as a "farce" last week.

The achievement of consensus by all parties on the wider set of Government proposals will require significant political goodwill. The Government's proposals were an honest effort to make the working of this House more relevant and more efficient. The proposals set out a new Dáil schedule which would better reflect the normal working day, while they also accommodate some of the key concerns set out by the Opposition parties in the various policy documents they have released on this issue.

I look forward to all my counterparts displaying that political good-will over the coming weeks as I hold bilateral meetings with them to identify where agreement is possible on reforming the procedures of this House. The outcome of these meetings will define the timescale for progress.

We can have all the rules and regulations we like, but it is about how we implement them. I am fairly new to this position and I would like to express my gratitude to the Opposition Whips who meet with me every week to try to schedule the business. There is real co-operation at those meetings to accommodate the Government's legislative proposals, as well as the debates called by Members of this House.

The Minister of State is giving us a bad name.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. There is a sense of déjà vu here. The former Minister, Seamus Brennan did some work in this area, as did Deputies Hanafin, Carey and Dempsey when they acted as Chief Whip. However, we have seen no significant Dáil reform. I am here over 13 years but there has been no significant Dáil reform.

In the past, attempts were made to put together a package of reforms. Would it be a better approach to do this incrementally? A number of small procedural changes could be made that would make a huge difference to the running of the House. I will give an example. For the last year, I have had a motion on the Order Paper and I have it on today's Order Paper as Motion No. 77. It states:

"That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, Standing Order 21 of the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business paragraph (4) sixth line, after "reply" is hereby amended by the insertion of the following:

"and the Member concerned may then ask one brief supplementary question and the Member of the Government or Minister of State shall be called upon to reply in conclusion"."

Does the Minister of State not agree that the Adjournment is a farce at the moment?

A Minister of State, who has no connection with the Department involved in the question, comes into the House and reads out a pre-written script in response. Most of the time that Minister of State has neither the knowledge nor authority to respond to the questions raised by any Member on any side on the Adjournment. Surely that is an affront to the House, to Members and to the people who send us here. Would the Minister of State now allow this simple motion to be moved today or this week? It would take approximately three minutes of Government time to agree to this motion to allow supplementary questions on the Adjournment Debate. It is a very simple thing that could be done today. Many other procedures could be amended incrementally.

Is the Government really serious about procedural reforms in the House? I have not seen any major Government proposals in the recent past. For example, when did the task force he mentioned last meet? Are minutes of that meeting available to read in order to understand the Government's thinking in this area?

The Deputy asked whether some of the proposals dealt with by the sub-committee on Dáil reform could be introduced on an incremental basis. I have not had the opportunity to sit on that committee. I understand that sub-committee had eight meetings and I have read the minutes and the progress on it. However, reading those is not the same as attending and listening to the debate and discussion that lead to these developments. As I said in my opening comments, I have already had a number of informal meetings with a number of Deputies on the issue of Dáil reform. However, I intend to meet the parties to this sub-committee on a bilateral basis in the coming weeks to ascertain the priorities and to ascertain if we were to implement changes on an incremental basis what would be the areas of agreement and consensus.

Having read the minutes as opposed to having participated in the meetings, trying to introduce the grand package of events seemed to be problematic. While people broadly agreed, there was always some other requirement of one person or another. Trying to achieve that larger package through unanimous consensus seemed to be problematic. My purpose in having these bilateral meetings is to give me an opportunity, having a missed the original meetings.

I have often contributed to the Adjournment Debate. It is always much easier for a Minister or Minister of State to respond on an area relating to his or her own Department. It is interesting to note something I never had a problem doing. While I do not know whether Seanad Standing Orders allow it, frequently those contributing ask supplementary questions in the Seanad meaning that the preparation of the Minister or Minister of State responding is somewhat different. The Deputy asked whether I would take that motion today. I will not because I will not cherry pick. In the next few weeks — I am not talking about a long period of time — it is my intention to meet the Whips and those who contributed to that sub-committee on a bilateral basis to understand the areas of consensus. I broadly have no issues with what the Deputy proposes on the Adjournment Debate. However, I am not prepared to take it in isolation until I see where the other items might go.

When would the Minister of State like to see reforms in procedures in the House occurring here? Could he state, for example, that we should agree on some proposals before we rise for the summer? These are simple procedural changes that have been discussed ad nauseam for the past 13 years that I have been in the House. Deputy Stagg who was a Member before I became a Member would probably confirm that the discussions took place before then. Could the Minister of State not agree to take some of those proposals on an incremental basis and implement them before the summer recess? Is the Government sub-committee of which he speaks still in operation? When did it last meet? Does the Minister of State realise that he is de facto the chairperson of the committee on Dáil reform? Does he intend to call a meeting of that sub-committee in the very near future?

The sub-committee on Dáil reform last met on 27 January. I believe it has had eight meetings in total. I acknowledge I am chairperson. I may well call a meeting of it. Before doing so I intend to have the bilateral meetings over the coming weeks. The Deputy asked if we could do things on an incremental basis. If there was consensus on a number of issue I would not see any reason some could not be at least piloted in the run-up to the summer recess to see how they are affected. That would mean having a large degree of consensus and it is in that context that I intend to have bilateral meetings, primarily because, as I said, I have read the minutes of the meeting and have spoken to my predecessor but I want to sit down and have the opportunity, on a one to one basis, to speak to the other people on the committee to see where consensus might be achieved.

I welcome the fact that the Government has put something together at last. The last time there was a paper from the Government on Dáil reform was when the late Séamus Brennan was the Chief Whip. I have no interest or intention of meeting the Whip on a bilateral basis to discuss a document that will have to be decided by this House. I would welcome seeing the document before a meeting of the statutory sub-committee of this House, set up and chaired by the Government Whip to deal with these matters. It is not a matter for bilateral talks but for that statutory committee. However, I would welcome having sight of Government proposals on Dáil reform at long last before a meeting of that committee because that is the way it should go. I will not be stampeded, however, into Government proposals on a bilateral basis. That is not the way the system works or should work. The reason it has not worked up to now is because there is a difference between Government's needs and interests and those of the Opposition. I am sure the Minister is aware that is the case. Either we deal by consensus or the Government will do it by diktat. Perhaps it will require diktat to get reform because of the contrary interests of both sides of the House, no matter who is in Government.

I ask the Minister of State to consider looking at this from an Opposition point of view now, seeing that there is every prospect that he will be in Opposition shortly. He and his party might gain from looking at it from an Opposition point of view.

It is a safe seat alright.

The other point on which I wished to query the Minister of State is the idea of a package, or doing it on a piecemeal basis. It is very hard to predict on a piecemeal basis what the effect of one piece of reform will have on other unrelated matters until they are all put together. It is extremely difficult. We have been working on Dáil reform and getting very close to the decisions on a number of occasions. The Minister of State's predecessor did a lot of work on this and we brought it to the Dáil reform committee. Subsequently at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, the Fianna Fáil members came out in force and all voted it down despite the fact that it came from the Ceann Comhairle and that the Whips, in their meeting on Dáil reform committee, had agreed this package of fairly minor changes. They voted them down. A similar thing happened at the CPP where Deputy Ruairí Quinn brought to the attention of that committee that Ministers were answering only half of their questions. It was agreed by everybody at the CPP this was a bad practice and the staff were asked to go away and draw up the necessary changes in Standing Orders.

I know what the Ceann Comhairle is going to say. I am not used to Question Time.

Is the Minister aware that following all that procedure, the Fianna Fáil members of the CPP, even those I did not know were members, were whipped in and voted it down solidly? Further, is he aware — I am sure he is because he was present at the meeting before last of the CPP — that he was asked, as Minister of State and chairman of the Dáil reform committee, to deal with that specific issue and come back to the next meeting with that proposal? That would be a sign of his good will and that he is really interested in Dáil reform. I would have deep suspicions about a Government package, prepared by the people on the list I have. I do not see any value in it. I hope the Minister will agree with me that there is no value in it in a bilateral context. I presume the document is complicated and I shall need to refer a copy of it to my party before we can proceed further with it. Let the Minister of State not expect this to be stampeded through.

The Deputy's contribution did not culminate in a question.

It was a general comment and I will respond to it. It should not be inferred from anything I have said or tried to convey that I am trying to stampede anything through. In response specifically to Deputy Stanton, I asked how to deal with the entire package being worked on by the sub-committee dealing with Dáil reform, which had advanced over a number of meetings, if there was no progression. Deputy Stanton asked specifically if I would consider it on an incremental basis. I am prepared to do so, which is not to suggest for a moment that I intend to stampede anything through.

I intend to convene a meeting of the sub-committee dealing with Dáil reform and although I have not sat on the committee, I have read the minutes. Before doing so I intend to have bilateral meetings with the various Whips on the committee to get a sense of their priorities and the way they see the issue. Listening to the contributions and questions from the two previous speakers, there is some difference of opinion on whether the process can be achieved incrementally. I intend to propose the series of bilateral meetings to brief myself as much as anything else. I do not for a moment agree, and I would not like it to be suggested, that the purpose is to stampede through a range of reforms.

It was suggested that it may be necessary to do this through diktat. I have not been here as long as Deputy Stagg but I recognise that the procedures in this Chamber must be improved. Efficiencies in the way we do our business are possible and would benefit everybody, not just the Government side.

I will ask specific questions about the Minister of State's intentions. He is aware of the position here every Thursday morning, when party leaders try to devise something within the existing restrictive Standing Orders to ask Leaders' Questions. Does the Minister of State agree this needs to be addressed immediately to allow Leaders' Questions on a Thursday morning? The Minister is probably aware that the Labour Party may have some responsibility for the current position as we agreed to the Taoiseach being absent on a Thursday morning. The Taoiseach does not have to be present for Leaders' Questions and the de facto position, as the Ceann Comhairle is well aware, is that there are Leaders’ Questions now on a Thursday morning and the issue should be formalised.

The Order of Business is the only device available to Members of the House to raise current issues and they must try to find a Bill to attach to the interested matter. Does the Minister of State agree that it would be desirable to have time for discussing current issues in the Dáil at the time we are pretending to talk about the Order of Business but actually debating current issues?

The other matter, referred to by Deputy Stanton, is the Adjournment Debate, which is now farcical. Ministers or Ministers of State who do not know anything about a subject simply read a script which was badly prepared by some civil servant who is not politically or directly involved, or who does not know about the issues. No supplementary questions are allowed and this needs immediate reform. I ask the Minister of State to include such matters in a package.

I hope the Minister of State has included the next issue in the package, and if not, he should include it. It concerns quangos, of which there are approximately 200, and to which we vote public money. Ministers are responsible for them. I ask that this House be given back the authority given by the public and the people who sent us here to ask questions about the spending of that public money. There are devices at committee level to do so but the primary function of Members of the House is to ask questions about State bodies under the remit of various Ministers, with Ministers having the responsibility to answer. I ask the Minister of State to include that in his Dáil reform package, which I hope will be circulated in order to discuss it before the meeting of the sub-committee. Is the Minister of State aware that prior to the establishment of the HSE, we could ask a question in the House about health issues and they were answered in three days? The current Minister has installed a parliamentary section in the HSE but it takes as much as two months to get an answer. Sometimes, I have been telephoned to be criticised for tabling a question in the first place.

The Minister tells us she is referring a question to the HSE. After there has been no answer for one, two or three months, a Deputy asks the question again, but he or she gets the same answer about referring it to the HSE. This situation is unsatisfactory and does not hold the HSE to account by method of parliamentary inquiry, as should be the case.

The Deputy's first point was about Thursday mornings and the lack of Leaders' Questions. While there is none, there is an Order of Business. Recently, the scope of matters raised on the Order of Business has broadened. The Deputy asked whether I would give a commitment to introducing this type of questioning on Thursday, but I will answer him exactly as I answered Deputy Stanton — "No". I will not cherry-pick pieces today and do X, Y and Z.

I am asking the Minister of State to put it into the Government's Dáil reform package.

It is an item for consideration. At times, it might be believed that there is not much progress. Given the complexity, trying to achieve an overall agreement has proven difficult. This is not my experience, but the experience of those who went before me. On 18 November, the standing Sub-committee on Dáil Reform had a comprehensive meeting. I will not read out everything, only the main headings. It had a substantial consideration of a range of Dáil reform proposals that would have seen business commencing at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays with a commencement debate, confined business, oral parliamentary questions and so forth. On Wednesdays, the Dáil would have commenced at 9.30 a.m. with a commencement debate, 30-second questions and Government business. On Thursdays, the Dáil would also have started at 9.30 a.m. The sub-committee explained what the commencement debate would be, supplementary questions, oral questions and Questions to An Taoiseach. I will not read out the full list, but it was comprehensive.

The Minister of State does not know what occurred.

Reading minutes again.

Fianna Fáil blocked it.

I will read into the record what occurred. The sub-committee went through everything. Without being smart, this is the reason I want a series of bilateral meetings. I am restricted to what I am reading in the minutes.

The sub-committee addressed a range of issues. It has resumed its consideration of proposals and agreed the routine of business for each day. According to the minutes, the Labour Party Whip stated that while he was in general agreement with what I have outlined, a final agreement could only be reached if it was agreed that first, legislative or appropriate amendments to Standing Orders be put in place in order for parliamentary questions to be allowed in respect of the activities of State-sponsored bodies and, second, Leaders' Questions be allowed on Thursdays.

There seemed to be progress on many issues but different issues were then raised. I am reading from the minutes.

There were subsequent meetings.

Only one or maybe two. Since I did not attend those meetings, I want bilateral meetings. I am reading the conclusions rather than the content of the meetings.

I will buy the Minister of State a cup of coffee.

I thank the Deputy.

Will the Government consider constitutional or legislative change to compel Governments, now and in the future, to uphold the right of all of the electorate to its franchise? I am referring to the issue of by-elections resulting from the demise or departure of sitting Members of this Chamber. We are almost 12 months on from the creation of such a vacancy as a result of the European Union elections of last year, namely, in the constituency of Donegal South-West. Is it not an imperative of the Government to act within a reasonable and, by way of a constitutional or legislative change, a set time to hold the said by-election in order to ensure that each constituency has the full allocated representation commensurate with its population?

The Minister of State may recall my attempt a couple of weeks ago to move the writ to the Donegal South-West by-election was unsuccessful when the Ceann Comhairle used his casting vote and that he indicated at that time it was not possible to do so because it would be a distraction for Members from the current difficulties in the economy. The Government addresses with haste vacancies occurring in the Upper House, the Seanad. It is interesting that there appears to be a two-tier system or twin track approach on the part of Government in respect of vacancies occurring in the Seanad——

A question, please.

——Members of which must surely be as concerned about the economy as are Members of the Dáil yet, there has been a 12 month delay in regard to the holding of this by-election. There are currently three by-elections outstanding. Will the Minister of State accept that whatever the reason behind the Government's dilatoriness in regard to these by-elections, it is important, as measure of Dáil reform, that we have a stipulated and respectful timeframe in regard to same following the demise or departure of a Member of the House, one that is reasonable and will allow the electorate in the relevant constituency fill that vacancy and that it no longer be the preserve of Government to suit its own interests or expediency?

A question, please.

My second question relates to another important scuppered reform, namely, the stated intent of former Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern to provide an opportunity for elected Members North of the Border to participate in a committee of the Dáil. This was announced by the former Taoiseach in 2005 and was due to come into effect in early 2006. As then indicated by the former Taoiseach, there were other parties to the Government and other voices in this House that were unsettled at the prospect of MPs from North of the Border constituencies having an opportunity——

I ask the Deputy to conclude with a question.

——to participate in this Chamber. The question, which I have already put in part, is obvious. Will the Government now reconsider, following on the recent Westminster election results North of the Border and in recognition of the contribution so far of the five successful candidates returned as abstentionist republican MPs — as were all of those who attended the Mansion House on 21 January 1919 — in regard to the Good Friday Agreement Implementation Committee, the objections raised by the then Deputies and others, as advised by the former Taoiseach——

The Deputy must remember that this is Question Time and he must put a question.

I ask the Ceann Comhairle to allow me to finish my question. These are major reforms that must take place, ones which, whether or not the Ceann Comhairle likes them, are important. His direct participation in respect of one of them only a couple of weeks ago must underscore that fact. I want to know if the Government is now willing to revisit the proposition put forward by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, to allow MPs North of the Border to participate with Members of this House in discussions here on matters of an all-Ireland and cross-Border nature?

First, I wish to make a distinction on the type of questions asked by Deputy Ó Caoláin, in that they primarily pertain to electoral reform rather than reform of Dáil procedures per se, which primarily is what is being addressed here, that is, how Members do their business. As for the broader issue of electoral reform, both the programme for Government and the revised programme for Government indicated clearly that an independent electoral commission would be established. Many of the issues raised by the Deputy, such as his specific questions on timeframes for by-elections and so forth, would be more appropriately dealt with by that electoral commission. I understand that consultations on its establishment are progressing under the aegis of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Subsequently, the Deputy specifically asked about the participation of MPs elected in Northern Ireland in committees of this House on cross-Border or all-island issues. Since taking up this position, I have not considered this issue specifically to date. My sole focus has been on the reform of procedures in this House but as a matter of courtesy and in response to the question raised by the Deputy, I certainly will consider this matter and revert to him.

I call Deputy Charles Flanagan.

Excuse me, but I have a supplementary question.

Deputy, you have had a significant innings.

With respect, I have tabled a question in the same manner as any other Member.

A Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order——

The time has elapsed and we must get away from using——

On a point of order——

Yes, just one second.

I have tabled a question before the House.

I accept all that fully.

I am entitled to a supplementary, just as are all the other speakers.

We cannot monopolise the time. Question Time will finish at 3.15 p.m.

I would have it finished, were it not for the interruptions.

On a point of order, I indicated approximately 15 minutes ago that I wished to ask a question.

Will it be possible to ask that question? It is highly relevant to the current debate on Dáil reform.

I am in the same position.

Three other Members are offering and I will take them in sequence. I appeal for co-operation from Members. I am anxious to accommodate those three Members before 3.15 p.m.

A Cheann Comhairle, I have been extremely co-operative and highly patient.

Please allow an Teachta Ó Caoláin to ask his final question.

This is the reason Dáil reform is required.

I have a supplementary question for the Minister of State. This is not about asking for electoral reform. I ask that the right of the electorate be upheld in respect of the numeric representation to which each constituency is entitled. If Dáil reform is under consideration, surely one of the principal requirements must be that all Members accept the right of the electorate to choose its representation. For the past 12 months, the Government has been denying——

Deputy, we must avail of another time on which to discuss this matter in more detail.

This pertains to Dáil reform. Just because the Ceann Comhairle is uncomfortable with its focus does not exclude the question as invalid. The question is absolutely valid.

The Deputy ventilated this issue quite significantly in his earlier contribution.

I have not received a satisfactory answer. I repeat my question, will the Government recognise the right of the electorate of Donegal South-West and of all the other constituencies in which by-elections are pending by ensuring in future, following the demise or departure of a Member of this House, that a set timeframe period is put in place either by legislation or constitutional change by referendum? Will the current practice, which is an absolute outrage, be brought to an end?

Deputy, please.

I will leave it at that.

The Deputy has had a good innings.

The Minister of State has undertaken to revert to me on the second matter I raised. I now ask him to address the first issue, which is not a matter for the electoral commission.

The Minister of State briefly, as I wish to accommodate three other Members.

I will be brief in an effort to accommodate everyone. I reiterate that the point the Deputy has again raised with regard to by-elections, timings and so forth is very much an issue for the independent electoral commission that is to be established. It will be very much within its remit to make such recommendations. I reiterate that, in respect of cross-Border representation, I will revert to the Deputy.

I call Deputy Charles Flanagan.

I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, well in his new job as Government Chief Whip. I am sure he will take on board the concerns as outlined by Members both today and at the sub-committee.

When I hear of Dáil reform under the current procedures, I think of Emperor Nero, fires and cities in Italy and that this matter is not being taken seriously. At 5.30 p.m., when everyone else is heading home from work, we will be arguing about the Order of Business. That is surely testament to the total irrelevance of this place. The reason I came into the House was that in the initial reply, the Minister of State mentioned making a submission on Dáil reform to Cabinet. Cabinet has no place in Dáil reform, this is the Dáil, it does not relate to Cabinet reform. If submissions are made to Cabinet, they will come back with the stamp of Government Ministers, that is the problem. It is the abdication of responsibility on the part of Ministers, the Minister for Health and Children being the worst culprit, with Ministers having no regard at all for the procedures of the House or its constitutional position in terms of answerability.

The Minister of State mentioned Adjournment debates. There are 12 such debates per week. Looking back over the last 50 such debates, how many Cabinet Ministers attended and answered questions addressed to them by Members of this House? I guarantee I could count the number of such occasions on the fingers of one hand.

I was out of this House for five years. I came back in 2007 and I can say that standards in this place have dropped. The attitude of the Government towards Parliament has decreased considerably and that should change. If the Minister of State can achieve that on his watch, he will leave a mark.

The debate about Dáil reform is amusing when Independent Deputies are not allowed to speak regularly. The Minister of State should examine that.

The Minister of State said he would meet all the political parties. Would he meet the Independent Members, who are not allowed to speak regularly on Private Members' time and legislation? Is the Minister of State aware that Independent Members such as myself, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and Deputy Joe Behan are furious that our democratic rights are not respected in this House? He must do something to protect those rights.

We must discuss current issues every day and become more involved in them. Dáil procedures are out of date and out of touch with people on the ground.

While looking at reform of the Dáil, would the Minister of State examine the committee system, particularly the compellability of witnesses? At the moment, Foynes Harbour Board is refusing to answer questions in front of the Joint Committee on Transport on its annual statement and CIE and Irish Rail refuse to answer important questions on their audits. Either these quangos are accountable to the Oireachtas or they are not. At present they refuse to be accountable.

The Minister for Transport clearly instructed the National Roads Authority not to build service areas but he still refuses to answer questions on this matter in the Dáil on the grounds he has no responsibility for the area. It is an absolute joke. I urge the Minister of State to crack the whip, get the job done and get Ministers and quangos to answer questions.

What is the status of the working group on Dáil reform that the Government established on Dáil reform in 2009, comprising the Minister for Transport, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Senator Dan Boyle and the Government Chief Whip of the day? When did it last meet? This is probably the weakest Parliament in Europe in terms of holding the Executive to account. The Executive controls everything — the agenda, sitting times and dates, how matters are debated and for how long. Has the Minister of State looked at other Parliaments in Europe and does he not agree that the Dáil is one of weakest? We live in a benign dictatorship.

It is not even that benign.

Deputy Flanagan, I hope the Order of Business today goes somewhat better and that at 5.30 p.m. we will have progressed beyond it.

On a serious note, Deputy O'Dowd asked about reform of the committees and compellability of witnesses. I understand that constitutional issues arise in this regard which need to be developed and teased out. We did not really discuss this matter here and at times we do ourselves no favours, as we discuss the procedures of the House but there is a parallel committee system and many of the committees perform invaluable work. It is often stated that Ministers are not held to account but as a Minister of State I was certainly held to account and quizzed as I was developing——

They refuse to answer the questions, that is the point. They refuse to answer committee questions stating they are not obliged to answer them.

Allow the Minister of State to finalise his reply.

I state this by way of being helpful. They refuse to answer questions.

I had considerable experience during the development of the national drugs strategy, when I appeared before the relevant committee and answered specific questions on an ongoing basis. The committee system is far superior to the thrust of what goes on here with regard to the detail that might be required. We did not discuss the committee system when we spoke about reform but we should not undermine its importance and the importance of the attendance of relevant Ministers.

Deputy Finian McGrath asked about the Independent Members. I had not intended to speak to them because they were not part of the standing Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform, which has met on eight occasions. That being said, given the fact that Deputy McGrath has requested it I will arrange a meeting to elicit their views. I was not a member of the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform, but rather than reading the transcript of its decisions I wanted to try to understand the level of debate and what was going on at it. The working group to which Deputy Stanton referred last met in July 2009.