Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann: Motion

I move:

That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders or the Resolution of the Dáil of 5th April, 2011, in respect of Standing Orders 26 and 36, the following amendments be made to the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business until further notice in the 31st Dáil:

(a) The substitution of the following for Standing Order 19:

‘19. (1) The quorum necessary to constitute a meeting of the Dáil, other than a meeting at which business comprehended by Standing Order 117A is to be considered, shall be twenty members. [See S.O. 77]

(2) The quorum necessary to constitute a meeting of the Dáil for the purpose of considering business comprehended by Standing Order 117A shall be ten members. [See S.O. 77]';

(b) Topical Issue DebatesIn Standing Order 20, the substitution of ‘or while a matter brought forward in accordance with Standing Order 27A is being considered’ for ‘or while a matter brought forward in accordance with Standing Order 21(3) is being discussed’;

(c) Earlier Sitting time on TuesdayThe substitution of the following for Standing Order 21:

‘21. (1) Unless the Dáil shall otherwise resolve

(a) the Dáil shall meet every Tuesday at 2 p.m.; and every Wednesday, Thursday and every first Friday of a month at 10.30 a.m., and

(b) the proceedings on any business under consideration shall be interrupted (or if the Dáil be in Committee, progress shall be reported and leave asked to sit again) and the Dáil shall adjourn

(i) every Tuesday and Wednesday at 9 p.m.,

(ii) every Thursday at 5.45 p.m., and

(iii) on the first Friday of each month at 1.30 p.m.:

Provided that if an Order shall have been made under Standing Order 22, that the hour at which business is to be interrupted be other than that specified in this paragraph, the provisions of this Standing Order with such substitution shall otherwise apply.

(2) If, at the time appointed for the interruption of business as provided in paragraph (1)(b) of this Standing Order, the closure is moved or proceedings under the closure are in progress, the Ceann Comhairle will not effect such interruption until the proceedings under the closure, and on any such further motion as is specified in the Standing Order as to closure [S.O. 66] have been completed.

(3) If, at the time appointed for the interruption of business as aforesaid,

(a) a division is in progress or has been ordered to be taken, or

(b) the debate on an item of business has concluded,

the interruption shall not take place until after the decision has been declared from the Chair. If the decision is on an amendment, or on an amendment to the amendment, after such declaration the Ceann Comhairle shall proceed to put in proper sequence the Questions necessary to bring proceedings to a conclusion.';

(d) Streamlining of the Order of BusinessIn Standing Order 26

(a) in paragraph (2)(a), after ‘by announcement’, the insertion of ‘on Tuesdays, immediately after Questions to the Taoiseach, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays, immediately after Leaders’ Questions,’,

(b) the deletion of paragraph (2)(b), and

(c) in paragraph (3), before ‘, the Ceann Comhairle’ the insertion of ‘, and subject to proceedings comprehended by paragraph (2) and this paragraph not exceeding 30 minutes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 20 minutes on Thursdays’;

(e) Leaders’ Questions to be taken by the Tánaiste on ThursdaysIn Standing Order 27

(a) in paragraph (a), the substitution of ‘Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays’ for ‘Tuesdays and Wednesdays’,

(b) the addition of the following paragraph:

‘(d) On Thursdays the provisions of this Standing Order shall apply with the substitution of “Tánaiste” for “Taoiseach”.’;

(f) Topical Issue DebatesThe insertion of the following new Standing Order before Standing Order 28:

‘27A.(1) Any member may give notice in writing, not later than 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday on which the Dáil meets, of a matter which he or she wishes to bring forward on that day for consideration as a topical issue.

(2) The Ceann Comhairle shall select a maximum of four such matters on each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: Provided that the matters selected must relate to public affairs connected with a Department of State or to matters of administration for which a member of the Government or Minister of State is officially responsible (including bodies under the aegis of a Department of State in respect of Government policy).

(3) Matters selected by the Ceann Comhairle shall be considered

(a) on Tuesdays, immediately after the Order of Business,

(b) on Wednesdays, immediately after Questions to a member or members of the Government, and

(c) on Thursdays, immediately before Questions to a member or members of the Government.

(4) Consideration of each topical issue shall consist of

(a) a statement by the member who has given notice which shall not exceed 4 minutes,

(b) a statement in reply by a member of the Government or Minister of State which shall not exceed 4 minutes,

(c) a further statement by the member who has given notice which shall not exceed 2 minutes, and

(d) a concluding statement by the member of the Government or Minister of State concerned which shall not exceed 2 minutes:

Provided that the total time allowed for consideration of topical issues on any day shall not exceed 48 minutes: Provided further that the Dáil shall not divide on any matter arising out of such consideration.

(5) A list of the matters in respect of which notice has been given under this Standing Order and the name of the member concerned in each case shall be printed in the Official Report of the Debates.

(6) The Ceann Comhairle shall have regard to requests made pursuant to Standing Order 40A(7) in selecting matters in accordance with this Standing Order.';

(g) Friday Sittings for Members to introduce their own legislation

In Standing Order 28

(a) the substitution of ‘the ordinary routine of business in the Dáil on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays shall be as follows’ for ‘the ordinary routine of business in the Dáil shall be as follows’,

(b) the substitution of ‘Other than when the Dáil meets to consider business comprehended by Standing Order 117A, the ordinary routine of business in Private Members’ time [S.O. 117] shall be as follows’ for ‘The ordinary routine of business in Private Members’ time [S.O. 117] shall be as follows’, and

(c) the addition of the following:

‘When the Dáil meets on the first Friday of a month to consider business comprehended by Standing Order 117A, business shall be confined to a Bill selected in accordance with that Standing Order.';

(h) Reform of Standing Order 32 proceduresIn Standing Order 32, the substitution of the following for paragraphs (2) and (3):

‘(2) Where the Ceann Comhairle considers the motion to relate to a specific and important matter of public interest requiring urgent consideration (and to otherwise be one contemplated by this Standing Order), the member shall be called upon by the Ceann Comhairle immediately before the Order of Business, whereupon the member shall rise in his or her place and shall read the notice given but may not elaborate thereon.

(3) Where the requirements of this Standing Order have been otherwise complied with, the Ceann Comhairle shall thereupon desire the members who support the request to rise in their places. If not less than twelve members rise accordingly, the Ceann Comhairle shall give leave to make the motion, which shall be moved at 7.30 p.m. on a Tuesday or Wednesday or 3.30 p.m. on a Thursday, or at such hour on the day on which the request is made as the Dáil may appoint.';

(i) Topical Issue DebatesIn Standing Order 35

(a) in paragraph (3), the substitution of ‘Standing Order 27A’ for ‘Standing Order 21’, and

(b) In paragraph (4), the substitution of ‘Standing Order 27A’ for ‘Standing Order 21’;

(j) Earlier Sitting time on Tuesday; Changes to Taoiseach’s Parliamentary Questions on Tuesdays and WednesdaysIn Standing Order 36

(a) the substitution of the following for subparagraph (1)(a):

‘(a) Questions for oral answer to the Taoiseach may be taken for one hour after Leaders’ Questions on Tuesdays.’,

(b) the substitution of the following for subparagraph (1)(b):

‘(b) Questions for oral answer to other members of the Government may be taken—

(i) from 2 p.m. to 3.15 p.m. on Tuesdays,

(ii) from 2.30 p.m. to 3.45 p.m. on Wednesdays, and

(iii) from 4.30 p.m. to 5.45 p.m. on Thursdays:';

and

(c) the substitution of the following for paragraph (2):

‘(2)

The time allowed for Questions nominated for priority for any one day shall not exceed thirty minutes.';

(k) Changes to Taoiseach’s Parliamentary Questions on Tuesdays and WednesdaysIn Standing Order 37, the substitution of the following for paragraph (1):

‘(1) Questions addressed to the Taoiseach shall be placed on the Order Paper before Questions to other members of the Government to be asked on the same day. Any Question to the Taoiseach which is not disposed of shall be placed on the Order Paper for the next day on which the Taoiseach is to answer Questions before Questions to the Taoiseach to be asked on that day: save that a Question to be answered by the Taoiseach may be placed before Questions to be answered by a Minister of State at his or her Department.';

(l) Standard of Information provided in response to Parliamentary QuestionsThe insertion of the following new Standing Order before Standing Order 41:

‘40A. (1) A member of the Government shall, in replying to a Question asked on notice, address each and every request for information contained therein.

(2) A member who is of the opinion that, in relation to a Question put down by him or her, the member of the Government concerned has failed to comply with paragraph (1) may communicate such opinion in writing to the Ceann Comhairle not later than two days after the Question has been answered, not reckoning a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday, identifying the specific request or requests for information not addressed in the reply and requesting that the provisions of this Standing Order be applied in order to remedy such failure.

(3) If and to the extent that he or she agrees with the opinion of the member concerned, the Ceann Comhairle shall communicate his or her opinion that there has been a failure to comply with the provisions of paragraph (1) in writing to the member of the Government concerned.

(4) A member of the Government who has been advised in writing that the Ceann Comhairle is of opinion that there has been a failure to comply with the provisions of paragraph (1) shall, not later than 12.30 p.m. on the day following the communication of such opinion, furnish to the Ceann Comhairle a response in writing to each of the requests for information in relation to which there has been, in the opinion of the Ceann Comhairle, a failure to comply with paragraph (1).

(5) Each and every response received pursuant to paragraph (4) shall be included in or otherwise be associated with the Official Report of the Debates to which it relates.

(6) A Question in relation to which the Ceann Comhairle has formed the opinion that the member of the Government concerned has failed to comply with paragraph (1) shall not be taken into account for the purposes of paragraphs (3) or (4) of Standing Order 35.

(7) A member who is of the opinion that a response furnished by a member of the Government in accordance with paragraph (4) has failed to comply with paragraph (1) may communicate such opinion in writing to the Ceann Comhairle not later than two days after the response has been furnished to the Ceann Comhairle, not reckoning a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday, identifying the specific request or requests for information not addressed in the response and requesting that the matter be selected for consideration as a topical issue. [See S.O. 27A]';

(m) Friday Sittings for Members to introduce their own legislationIn Standing Order 68, paragraph (2), the insertion of ‘unless otherwise provided for in Standing Orders and’ after ‘a division shall,’;

(n) Friday Sittings for Members to introduce their own legislationThe substitution of the following for Standing Order 117:

‘117.(1) Subject to paragraph (2) of this Standing Order

(a) Government business or Private business, as the case may be, shall be interrupted on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 7.30 p.m. and 9 p.m. to take private members’ business: Provided that, where leave has been given to make a motion under Standing Order 32, such motion shall have priority, and

(b) the Order Paper shall otherwise be confined

(i) on Thursdays, to Questions, Private business and Government business, and

(ii) on the first Friday of every month, to one Bill initiated by a private member and selected for consideration pursuant to Standing Order 117A.

(2) A member of the Government may move, without notice, at the commencement of public business on any Tuesday or Wednesday that, on that day or during the period specified in the motion, specified Government business or Private business, as the case may be, shall not be interrupted if under consideration at the time fixed for taking private members' business. Such motion shall be decided without amendment.';

(o) Friday Sittings for Members to introduce their own legislationThe insertion of the following new Standing Order before Standing Order 118:

‘117A.(1) Any member other than a member of the Government or Minister of State may give notice that he or she wishes to bring forward for consideration, on the first Friday of the month following, a Bill that has been initiated by him or her and that is listed on the Order Paper at Second Stage or order for Second Stage: Provided that such notice shall be received by the Clerk not later than 11 a.m. on the second preceding Friday.

(2) Where notice from more than one member has been received, the Bill to be considered on the next first Friday shall be determined by lot.

(3) A Bill to be considered on the first Friday of the month pursuant to this Standing Order shall be set down for Second Stage and the time allowed for the debate on the motion for second reading shall not exceed a period of three hours in the aggregate.

(4) The Ceann Comhairle shall, where a division has been demanded at such sitting, postpone the taking of such division until immediately after the Order of Business on the next day on which the Dáil shall sit.';

and

(p) Friday Sittings for Members to introduce their own legislationIn Standing Order 121, paragraph (2), the substitution of ‘The time allowed for the debate on the motion for the second reading of a Bill initiated by a private member, other than a Bill to be considered on the first Friday of a month [See S.O. 117A], shall not exceed a period of six hours in the aggregate.’ for ‘The time allowed for the debate on the motion for the Second Stage of a Bill initiated by a private member shall not exceed a period of six hours in the aggregate.’.”

I wish to share time with Deputy Joe Carey.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Fine Gael-Labour Government has committed in our programme for Government to radical reform of our entire political system. Dáil and Oireachtas reform is one aspect of what is long-overdue reform of our political system.

I am pleased to recommend to the House a package of reform measures which represents the first phase of the Government's Dáil reform programme. Dáil reform is the shared responsibility of every Member of this House. In the just over four months since the change of Government, the deputy Government Whip, Deputy Emmet Stagg, and I, as Chief Whip, have had a number of meetings with the three Opposition Whips to progress the Dáil reform agenda. These meetings have been very productive because the Whips from all the parties have engaged in the process in a very open-minded, positive and constructive way.

The Government has now brought forward a set of reforms that includes commitments outlined in the programme for Government, issues raised by the Opposition Whips and administrative changes designed to improve the efficiency of the Dáil. These reforms have been discussed at the Dáil reform committee and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and are now before the House for approval of Members.

This is the first phase of a programme of Dáil reform designed to be implemented over the lifetime of this Government. Work will commence in the autumn on the second phase of the reform which will consider further recommendations made by the Ceann Comhairle and members of the Opposition as well as commitments in the programme for Government that remain outstanding.

The impact of the reforms contained in today's proposals will have a transformative effect on this Dáil. Members on 14 September, following a shortened summer recess, will return to a different Dáil, with new rules and improved procedures. They will return to a Dáil where Members can play a more active and meaningful role in the legislative process and where Members will have more opportunity to raise issues with Ministers in a more effective manner. They will return to a Dáil better equipped to hold the Executive to account, a Dáil that has started to turn back the tide and to recover some of the power it has been losing to the Executive for over a decade. The most important improvements proposed in this first phase of Dáil reform include a topical issue debate. A new system of topical issue debates will be introduced to allow Members to raise topical issues with a Minister for the relevant Department in the Dáil Chamber in the middle of the sitting day. The new topical issue debates will replace the current Adjournment debates. The Adjournment debate system is seen as an afterthought to Dáil business rather than one of the primary ways in which Deputies, including Government Deputies, can hold the Government to account. The Adjournment debates scheduled at the end of the sitting day are often overlooked and forgotten. In recent years, the practice of a junior Minister reading scripts on behalf of a number of Departments about a range of issues unrelated to his or her Department has developed. In opposition Labour and Fine Gael criticised the format of the Adjournment Debate especially when Ministers who had no connection with the Department responded to the debate. We made a commitment in the programme for Government to reform this system and now we will.

Time will be allocated for 12 topical issue debates during the full sitting week and these debates will be held in the middle of the Dáil sitting day and not the last thing before the Dáil adjourns for the day. On Tuesdays, four topical issue debates will start at 5:06 p.m.; on Wednesdays, four topical issue debates will start at 3.45 p.m.; and on Thursdays four topical issue debates will start at 3.42 p.m. Each item selected for the topical issue debate will be given an allocation of 12 minutes. The proposer will introduce the debate for four minutes; the Minister or Minister of State will have four minutes to reply; the proposer will have two minutes for a supplementary question; and the Minister or Minister of State will have two minutes for a concluding statement.

The Minister or Minister of State for the relevant Department will, except in exceptional circumstances, be the one to respond to the debate on behalf of the Government. The new system of topical issue debates will give Deputies in the Dáil the opportunity to raise current issues with a Minister from the relevant Department early in the Dáil sitting day. This is a vast improvement on the existing system and I believe it will be welcomed by Deputies across the House.

Leaders Questions will be taken by the Tánaiste on Thursdays with 21 minutes allocated on Thursday at 10.30 a.m. before the Order of Business to allow the Opposition parties raise issues in a Leader's Questions format. These questions will be taken, except in exceptional circumstances, by the Tánaiste. Leader's Questions are the most high profile and effective method by which Opposition parties hold the Government to account. They are the main focus of media attention on any sitting day, even being televised live on RTE One on Wednesdays. By increasing the weekly allocation of Leader's Questions by 50% the Government is voluntarily providing the Opposition parties an opportunity to hold the Government to account in the Dáil Chamber.

There will be Friday sittings for Deputies to introduce their own legislation. This change will enhance the legislative role of Deputies. Under the current system the Executive has almost a monopoly on the formation of legislation in the Dáil. Opposition Deputies can only use Opposition Private Members' time to introduce a Bill and Government Deputies have no such outlet. The new system will allow Deputies an opportunity to be part of the law-making process by giving them an opportunity to write and publish their own Bills and then submit those Bills to be debated in the Dáil. The Dáil will sit on the first Friday of every month and this sitting will be dedicated to providing time to allow Deputies introduce their own Bills.

The Minister of State's time has concluded.

All Deputies who are not holders of ministerial office will be allowed to avail of this system.

Procedures will be introduced whereby Deputies, who believe that the reply received to a parliamentary question fails to address the issues raised, can refer the matter to the Ceann Comhairle to decide if reasonable information has been provided.

I believe the reforms we have set out in the House are meaningful and I thank the Members opposite and the Deputy Government Whip, Deputy Stagg, for being so forthright in bringing proposals forward. I thank the Opposition Whips for their help in this also.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this very important matter. Political reform and reform of the Dáil was a very important issue on the doorsteps during the general election campaign. The programme for Government commits to radical reform of our political system of which Dáil and Oireachtas reform is a critical component. Reform of how we conduct our business in this Chamber has been long spoken about, but we have not seen any changes taking place. I congratulate the Government Whip, the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, on hitting the ground running, on taking this crucial issue on board and on introducing these reforms today. He is to be commended on bringing these about in the first session of the 31st Dáil.

I also commend the approach of all the Whips, including the Opposition Whips in this process. I was privileged to be a Member of the last Dáil and our views on Dáil reform were not taken on board. It is a welcome change. It is also important to recognise that this is a first phase of a package of Dáil reform. The work of the Dáil reform elements will come in during the lifetime of the Government.

I wish to focus on one element. The topical issue debate will replace the Adjournment Debate and will be taken in the middle of the sitting day. It is a welcome step that will allow such issues to become alive in the Chamber. The Minister or Minister of State will be required to answer a supplementary question and will make it more meaningful. I welcome the introduction of these reforms and look forward to coming back after the break and seeing them in practice.

I welcome the opportunity to speak today on behalf of the Labour Party section of the coalition on the motion to change Standing Orders. The changes, which are proposed to take effect from 14 September, are the first step of the Government's plan for the radical reform of our entire political system. Both Labour and Fine Gael gave a commitment in our election manifestos to reform how business is done in this House to make it more efficient, effective and accountable. These reforms were endorsed by the electorate and are reflected in our programme for Government. We have been given a democratic mandate to implement these commitments and we are delivering on them.

These changes also reflect the contributions of the members of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, who have contributed much to these changes. This set of proposals also reflects input from the Opposition Whips. Based on my recent experience as Labour Party assistant Whip and being a member of the CPP, there seems to be a very positive relationship between both sides of the House and I commend everybody on their efforts and on voicing their opinions. I would like to think those opinions have been listened to.

I also thank the Ceann Comhairle for his detailed contribution on these changes. His experience and advice have been invaluable in the formation of these measures. I know I speak for Deputy Stagg in saying that we look forward to giving further consideration to more of his proposals in the autumn.

There is a long history of work done on these issues with no outcome, but this time it is different. This time we have real positive proposals for change in how we do business in this House. With these proposals we are undertaking to make better use of the time available to us in this House to legislate and to hold the Executive to account.

While some of these points have been made already, it is important to point out the changes that will be implemented in September. The Dáil will commence earlier on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. Topical issue debates will replace the current Adjournment Debate. The Standing Order 32 procedures for raising urgent issues will be reformed. A time limit will be introduced for the Order of Business. We will provide for Leaders Questions to be taken by the Tánaiste on Thursdays. A new procedure will allow Dáil Deputies raise issues regarding replies to parliamentary questions. There will be changes to Taoiseach's Questions on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There will be extra Dáil sitting days on the first Friday of every month to provide time for Deputies to introduce their own Bills.

It is important to note the origin of these proposals. These commitments were given in the respective manifestos of Labour and Fine Gael. These proposals came from parties which had spent 14 years in opposition and witnessed 14 years of inaction on Dáil reform. This experience of opposition means that the changes are in the interest of those now in opposition. There is therefore a large measure of agreement on these measures because of the origins of the proposals.

We know the Dáil must be able to hold the Executive to account, and this first step and the steps to follow will greatly strengthen the hand of Dáil Éireann in that regard.

Two of the measures of this reform agenda are crucial to how we function as a Parliament. The first relates to the primacy of power being held by elected public representatives. In recent years, power has been taken from the House and transferred to nameless persons holding positions in unaccountable bodies. This was a policy instrument to abdicate Government responsibility and weakened our parliamentary democracy and the power of the people.

In autumn, the Government Whips will start work on the next phase of Dáil reform in consultation with the Opposition Whips. The next step in the programme for reform will concern returning more power to the Dáil. In this we will propose to return to Deputies the right to raise parliamentary questions on the activity of the bodies to which I referred. Since these bodies deal with the people's money, the people are entitled to ask questions about how it is spent. This is an undertaking in the programme for Government and will mean that Members will be able to ask questions of and get replies from Ministers who have quangos under their remit. My colleague and deputy Government Whip, Deputy Stagg, recently told the House that "real power in democracy is the power to ask a question and get an answer". I agree with him that this feature has been removed in recent years by the reduction in the Chamber's power. We propose to return that power.

We also propose reforms relating to the standard of information to be provided in response to parliamentary questions. Procedures will be introduced for Deputies who have issues with the details of replies to their parliamentary questions. These issues will be referred to the Ceann Comhairle to decide if reasonable information has been provided. The Ceann Comhairle can refer a matter back to the Minister with a request for further information. If the reply from the Minister is still unsatisfactory in the view of the Deputy who originally asked the question, he or she can request that the Ceann Comhairle schedule the issue as a topical issue debate. This fair appeals procedure will increase the power of Deputies to access information and fulfil their roles as elected representatives.

There will be Friday sittings for Deputies to introduce their own legislation. This is probably the most important element of Dáil reform as it constitutes the creation of a new parliamentary space for non-officeholders to legislate. From September, the Dáil will sit on the first Friday of every month. This sitting will be designed to provide time to consider Second Stage of Bills introduced by Members. Any Deputy who is not a holder of ministerial office and who has published a Bill can submit it to be debated in the Chamber on one of these Friday sittings. Bills submitted will be selected by a lottery system a minimum of two weeks before the sitting day on which the Bill is to be debated to allow the proposing Deputy and the Department concerned to prepare. No vote will be held during these Friday sittings. Rather, they will be held on the next sitting day after the Order of Business.

This Friday time will be much in demand and there exists the possibility to introduce approximately eight to ten new Bills each year. It will give significant additional powers to Opposition parties and increase involvement by non-officeholders through contributing legislation.

This is the first step in a programme of reform to be implemented over the lifetime of the Government. The introduction of a Dáil reform package just four months into the Government's life shows a genuine commitment to deliver on reform. We are delivering on our commitments outlined in the programme for Government to sit longer and do more. With this and other measures, we will bring greater effectiveness and accountability to how we do business. After more than a decade of inaction, the issue of Dáil reform is not only back on the agenda, real progress is at last being made on the issue.

As I rise to participate in this debate, it occurs to me that the party and Independent Whips may be accused of having had something of a love-in. There has been positive engagement between us all and a collegial approach to the reform agenda. My party is unhappy with some of the elements contained in this package, but we will not oppose it, as we see merit in a number of its proposals. We are fully committed to the process embarked upon by the Chief Whip and the incremental approach being taken. We will work with him on phases two and three. We are also struck by the fact that he has given firm commitments to the effect that none of this is written in stone and that we are taking these proposals through a trial process. We expect he will honour his commitment that, if we find particular problems with these arrangements while we are working them out, matters can be revisited.

In the first weeks after the general election, all parties and groups expressed their absolute commitment to significant reform of the Dáil. A consistent theme was the need to increase significantly the opportunities for Deputies to hold the Government to account for its actions and to loosen the tight control exercised by the Government on the House's substantive business. The Taoiseach has repeatedly confirmed his intention to support radical reform.

Regrettably, while the package before the House has merit, in no way does it deliver on the substantial reforms promised by the Government. No single measure marks a radical departure in how we conduct business and a wide swathe of the promises contained in the past five years of Fine Gael and Labour policy documents are nowhere to be seen. Most disturbingly, key elements of the package mark a retrograde step, not least in terms of the answerability of the Taoiseach to the House. It is striking that the only significant change to our daily business is that of the topical issue debate, which I must welcome because it was included in the package of proposals initiated by Mr. John Curran, my predecessor as Fianna Fáil Whip.

It is also regrettable that the Government has chosen to spend so much time making fundamentally false allegations about the issue of reform by claiming there have been no reforms in the past 14 years. Deputy Lyons can be forgiven his allusion, as he was not a Member for the past 14 years, but other Members know that significant change was introduced by successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments.

For example, the introduction of Leaders' Questions on the proposal of the then Chief Whip was the first major change since 1919, in that the Head of Government agreed to answer questions on any topic without notice. This Fianna Fáil initiative was taken to make the Dáil more responsive to the issues of the day and to give the leaders of the Opposition parties recognition and a significant platform at the most important points in our daily schedule. Nothing in today's proposals approaches the significance of this initiative. My party introduced another major structural reform, that being the development of a major research facility in the Houses to aid Members and enable them to get expert assistance on all matters before the Oireachtas.

Last week, the Tánaiste claimed that sitting past the first week of July was a major reform, but he chose to forget or not to mention that we have sat past the first week of July in each of the past three years. When in Opposition, many members of the Government got into the habit of being hyper-political in everything. This is understandable and it was reflected in their willingness to make promises they had no ability or intention to implement. Hence, the level of disappointment with this initiative felt by many Members.

The need for reform of the Dáil is clear. Most of our business is decided for us on Tuesday mornings around the Cabinet table. Members' contributions are generally brushed aside by Ministers. This is true in terms of general policy debates, the consideration of legislation and even direct questions. Important reforms were proposed last year and the only positive changes in today's package originate from the work of Mr. Curran and the last Dáil's Whips. What has changed since then is that the demand for reform has increased and the need for it has become more urgent.

The Government has an unprecedented majority and is clearly intent on using it to push aside controversial matters. No Government in recent decades would have refused to acknowledge there was a serious problem with a Minister withholding vital information while guillotining a measure to restrict the work of a tribunal, which happened in recent weeks. Equally, no Government has refused to provide even a single piece of background information when imposing a €1.8 billion charge on the public. Attempts by the Opposition to seek reasonable information on matters before the Houses are routinely brushed aside by Ministers. After many years in government, Fianna Fáil was accused of being arrogant, but Members on this side of the House can conclude that Ministers not long in office are quite arrogant in the way they deal with questions.

Perhaps it is the arrogance Fianna Fáil left behind.

I welcome the changes to allow for debate on topical issues. That is a positive initiative proposed by Fianna Fáil. It is important such debates are managed constructively and that we do not deal with a host of parish pump issues in the middle of the working day. Equally, it is important that we find a system under which Members who have concerns about legitimate constituency issues can raise them. We do not want to see a situation develop such as that at Westminster where government backbenchers come in with scripts to laud the work of particular Ministers; we want to have a more positive and meaningful role.

We also welcome the extended sitting times. We are concerned, however, about the proposed Friday sittings, a positive initiative in so far as it will allow an opportunity to discuss Private Member's Bills, but we had looked forward to a more substantive session that would involve legislation and Ministers answering questions the way they would during a routine sitting day. It is, therefore, something of a missed opportunity, although we recognise the importance of new initiatives such as Members having significant time to introduce Private Members' Bills. As others have mentioned, at the last election the message on the doorsteps was that those of us returned were to focus on national issues. This system gives us an opportunity to work on Private Members' Bill and legislation, an opportunity that was not provided previously. I note, however, that the people who were advocating more work on national issues are still coming to constituency clinics and demanding that local issues be dealt with.

The major weakness of the initiative concerns the accountability of the Taoiseach. Looking at the Taoiseach's current approach to answering questions, the initiative provides him with an opportunity to participate even less in giving an account to the House. He will spend half an hour less on questions, combined with the new aggressive approach by his office to transferring questions to other Ministers which has been the subject of heated debate on the Order of Business on a number of occasions. This is completely contrary to the personal and party promise he made. In his final press conference before the election he talked about reform and said the Taoiseach should spend more time answering questions. He gave an unambiguous commitment to attend and answer questions on Thursdays. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government reiterated this commitment on 6 March when he said the Taoiseach was personally committed to answering questions on Thursdays. When the proposal for establishing committees was published, the Government hailed its own reforming zeal in cutting numbers. It did not, however, mention its intention to establish a raft of sub-committees which effectively carry out the work of the supposedly abolished committees. What happened was then disguised as reform. I am concerned about the lessening of the time the Taoiseach will attend the House, about the doing away with questions to the Taoiseach on Wednesdays and not honouring the commitment to come into the House on Thursdays. We welcome that the fact that there will be Leaders' Questions, but we would prefer to see the Taoiseach dealing with them.

I welcome this package of changes to the operation and running of the House. As a Member of the Oireachtas committee on Dáil reform for nine years, some of these ideas have been long sought and awaited. It was not always possible to get agreement at that committee, sometimes for party political reasons. The first Dáil reform committee from 2002 to 2007 was specifically held up because at the time the Labour Party and Fine Gael opposed any movement on Dáil reform unless the Taoiseach would make himself available in the Chamber on Thursdays to take Leaders' Questions. How times have changed; in fact, the Labour Party released the Taoiseach from that duty in a deal to overtake the Technical Group.

We can play politics with this issue, but that is not the point; the aim is to ensure the Dáil is as effective as possible and that Members' time is used as constructively as possible, allowing as many Members as possible to participate in debates and play a role in the parliament to which they have been elected. Some of these changes will have that effect, but there also problems. That is why I welcome the commitment given by the Chief Whip that this issue will be revisited in order that we can tinker with the mechanism, if required. It is a shame we did not have a longer debate as a group prior to today's presentation. That is the nature of this Dáil since it was elected; everything seems to be done in a rush. A programme was set out that insisted this must be passed now in order that it can take effect in September, but another one or two meetings might have been needed to ensure the proposals would deliver what was needed.

There are other issues that should be addressed in a Dáil reform package and which I will continue to push for inclusion in the next reform package. I encourage all Deputies, particularly newly elected Deputies, to continue to submit ideas to the relevant Whip or the Ceann Comhairle in order that we can ensure all ideas are taken on board.

When we contemplate major change along the lines of that presented, we must bear in mind the implications for industrial relations and workers in the Houses. Because of the embargo, the staff of the Houses are working flat out and stretched to the limit and we are imposing additional sitting days on them. That was included in the programme for Government and we do not oppose it, but there are problems if we continually stretch out the number of hours the ushers, porters and transcribers all must work. We must recognise this issue and ask the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to deal with it, if need be by seeking an exemption from the embargo to ensure the Houses can work effectively. It is not just Deputies who are needed to run this House, we need the support of the staff also.

I have no problem with the change to an earlier sitting time of 2 p.m. on Tuesdays; I have argued that the House should sit at 10.30 a.m. and that the work proposed to be done on Fridays should be done on Tuesday mornings. That would not require the attendance of a senior Cabinet Minister, taking the Cabinet meeting held on Tuesday mornings into account. That would allow us, if required, to sit on a Friday. It would also allow Deputies, especially rural-based ones, to continue the other work they must get on with on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It is not the case that TDs do not work on Fridays.

My major concern is that the time for the Taoiseach to attend the Chamber has been substantially reduced. It is a reduction of nearly 25% of the time during which the Taoiseach is accountable to the Dáil, other than on the Order of Business. Even though on Tuesdays the time for Taoiseach's Questions has been increased, there will be no such questions on Wednesdays. The programme for Government stated the Taoiseach would be more accountable, so we need to address that matter. This may only be a temporary measure, however, so we need to discover whether there will be a second round of Leaders' Questions which might solve the problem.

I welcome the change to have topical issues discussed during the day, rather than having an evening Adjournment debate. I am concerned, however, that it should not be dominated by key spokespersons. It should not take away from the opportunities that currently exist for backbenchers to raise matters on the Adjournment. They are often local issues, which are important nonetheless — not about potholes, but major issues that may arise locally. There is no other mechanism to have such a debate with a Minister. I welcome the changes which mean there will be more of a debate with Ministers, rather than the stale exchange that now passes for a debate on the Adjournment. While the proposed changes are welcome, I sound that note of caution.

I welcome the promise by the Government Chief Whip that a senior Minister will engage in the proposed topical issues debate. Hopefully that will avoid having a Minister reading scripts back to a Deputy. While that is absolutely pointless in some respects, one does need to have a debate sometimes. I have attended Adjournment debates to raise points, but a Minister has then read out a script that has no relationship to what I asked. The Minister may then apologise and say "This is what I have been given". The proposal for a debate on topical issues is welcome, particularly as it will be in the middle of the day. In addition, a senior Minister will be present who, hopefully, will be on top of the brief and thus able to engage with the questions posed.

There are other proposals for 30 second issues and matters like that in future. We should examine them because they might provide a mechanism that would compensate for the loss of matters raised under Standing Order 32. Even though it may sometimes look like a waste of time, it is a vehicle that has been used quite effectively both by Government and Opposition backbenchers to raise issues of local or national importance. In that way, a Deputy can put on the record the fact that he or she attempted to raise a matter in the House. We should re-examine that proposal.

I welcome the proposal concerning Private Members' Bills. Anything that gives greater opportunities for TDs to present their own, or their party's, agenda is welcome. We are legislators so it might get some Members into the mode of examining legislation and producing their own legislative proposals. Since first having been elected to this House, I have produced a number of pieces of legislation so I know how arduous is that work. I have produced some single-line Bills which are easy, but I also worked on a substantial Bill last year concerning the control of head shops. It took an awful lot of work because I wanted to ensure the Bill was correct. I did not want to present something that could be shot down straight away.

While that proposal is welcome therefore, we should not oversell it because it amounts to an extra 28 hours a year, which is not a huge amount. It comprises only nine such Private Members' opportunities per annum of three hours each, which is not a substantial amount. In addition, it is shared across the board, so it is not just an Opposition facility but is also available for Government backbenchers. I know that many Government backbenchers are eager to use this facility when it is presented.

The proposal for Friday Dáil sittings is welcome, but it should not be used just to deal with Private Members' business. If the Chamber is full, we should also transact other business on that day, such as reports or other legislation. If the House is in session on Fridays, it should be open for the full day rather than three hours.

While I want to give a guarded welcome to the proposals, I look forward to working with the Committee on Dáil Reform and the Ceann Comhairle in dealing with other proposals that will be forthcoming for the second phase of Dáil reform, hopefully before Christmas.

I wish to share time with Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Despite the fact the Technical Group is quite disparate, we try to capture the essence of important issues and wish to engage positively in this reform process. We have quite a lot of ideas, some of which have received broad backing within our group, and others that emanated from individuals. While we are not opposed to the measures, we do have difficulties with some of them. Perhaps the biggest difficulty is that there is a big difference between having a vision that is delivered in increments, and a piecemeal approach. We are concerned that the latter approach is being taken. We want to see not just Dáil reform but also broader political reform.

I acknowledge that this is the first of three increments that have been promised on Dáil reform. However, it will not be possible to achieve real Dáil reform — where localism is placed where it should be, in the locality — unless there is meaningful local government reform. We will always be dominated by a local approach unless we also adopt local government reform. We must see both types of reform as part of a broader vision.

Like my Technical Group colleagues, I am in favour of political change, including Dáil reform. The public deserve nothing less. It was one of the three big topics raised on doorsteps during the general election campaign.

We must strike a balance between a formal and informal process of reform. The process itself was quite informal and while there was a positive aspect to that, the negative aspect was that there was not enough time towards the end. That lesson has been learned from this particular process.

We would like to have seen Ministers' question time changed so senior Ministers would have to attend the Chamber. We want to see a proper engagement in a full Chamber. I am disappointed, however, that is not on the agenda. It is not just about having people in the Chamber, but also having Members here to do meaningful things that the public can understand.

I support some of the points that have already been made concerning Friday sittings of the Dáil. We feel that such matters could be dealt with on Tuesday mornings, or even by lengthening the Tuesday evening sittings. We have no difficulty with Friday sittings so long as they are meaningful and include the Order of Business. We are concerned that having a quorum of ten Members is more about optics, although I acknowledge that what is intended is a serious change.

We would like to have seen something more serious done to address the issue of guillotines. Another issue with which we have serious concerns, is the inability of Members to raise points they feel strongly about. Earlier this week, Deputy Mattie McGrath was asked to leave the House because he wanted to make a point he felt strongly about. We sought a small change to Standing Order 26 to allow for a brief statement by a representative of each Opposition party or group. We were not seeking the right for every one of us to make such a statement, but only a representative. We thought that was a modest proposal to overcome a problem that will arise later this year because it was not addressed in the current batch of measures. The citizens of this country are sovereign. The Constitution says absolutely nothing about political parties. The architecture of the standing orders has been devised by political parties. We may be a nuisance to many people, but we are here for the next five years if this Government lasts that long. We want to play a meaningful role, but we do not want to be sidelined where we cannot have somebody stand up to represent our group. We thought that was a fairly modest change, and I am very disappointed it was not taken on board. We looked for others, but this was our primary concern with the standing orders.

We have concerns about the time limit being put on the Order of Business because we do not know how workable that is if votes are called. The Ceann Comhairle is then required to restrict people from raising legitimate things, so we have concerns about that. We are concerned that the topical debates will deliver too much localism. It will be down to each of us individually to make sure that does not happen. There was something akin to an education process during the last election campaign. This crisis happened because the focus of attention was not on national issues. We must make sure this Dáil stays focused on those national issues. I think people wanted us to come to this Parliament and not be paid over and above the very generous salary that we receive for roles such as chairing committees. That has not been addressed here.

We provided the Minister of State a comprehensive document on how parties are funded. Most members of our group do not get party funding and we are not looking for party funding. A party allowance is paid to the leader of each political party, but that is not possible with independents. If we agree to employ additional people to make our group function better, that should not be criticised.

We would also like to have seen less focus on the Whip system. There are independent thinkers in all political parties, as well as the independents. We would like to have seen a relaxation of the party Whip system to take account of that. We will continue to engage in the process, but we want to see that the process is meaningful and that this Dáil is a very different place at the end of its lifetime.

Before calling on Deputy Boyd Barrett, I would like to correct the record. The reason Deputy Mattie McGrath was asked to leave the House was for continuously refusing to obey the ruling of the Chair, and not because he wished to raise a particular issue.

I will tell him that.

I welcome the efforts to reform the Dáil. Although I was not here before to know what it was like, we felt some frustration at the procedures and protocols when it came to making the Dáil a place that can really be responsive to the issues that confront the country and which are brought to us by the public. I welcome the fact that the suggestions to bring in a stricter dress code were taken off the agenda, because people are overwhelmingly interested in political substance and not in style.

There are several good things in these proposals. Changing the Adjournment debates to topical debates and taking them in the middle of the day is a very positive proposal. The extension of Dáil sitting time on Tuesday and Friday to allow Private Members' Bills is a very positive move. There may be more required, but I welcome the fact that the Government sees this as the first part of a review of these procedures. It is a welcome change that we can question ministerial answers, as they are sometimes unsatisfactory. I should have a better knowledge of the standing orders, but it would be good if we moved away from completely scripted responses from the Government. Frankly, it is often difficult to work out what people are saying when they are reading from scripts.

More people should be in the Chamber for Ministers' questions. That is a basic reform that would reflect the public's expectations, which is to see more people in here. If we want to be heard, we should come in here. That seems to be a very reasonable proposal.

I would like to see some change in the Order of Business. This is not a criticism of the Ceann Comhairle, who is simply operating according to existing standing orders. I would like to see those standing orders loosened up a bit, not to make it a free-for-all, but to allow for very topical current issues to be raised at that point.

People Before Profit and the Socialist Party are entitled to some party support, but we agree with the technical group that independents should have some support. People like Deputy Murphy are doing great amounts of work, but they do not get the resources that political parties receive for doing that work. It seems only fair and reasonable that they should get some support for that.

Substantially reducing the amount of time allowed for questions to the Taoiseach in the Dáil is a retrograde step and I ask the Government to reconsider it. Time should be allocated on two days, but if it is to be reduced to one day, why not make it as long as Ministers' questions? These last an hour and a quarter.

I call on the Minister of State to reply.

No, that is not allowed. Unfortunately, only the Minister or the Minister of State may reply to the debate.

Fine. I thank everybody who contributed to the debate. There has been much proactive debate about the issue of Dáil reform in recent months. I remind the Fianna Fáil Party Whip that the only reform introduced in the 14 years of the last Government was for Leaders' Questions. That was introduced by the Ceann Comhairle at the time because the Opposition leader, Deputy Noonan, put huge pressure on the procedures that were allowed for questioning the leader of that Government. That was the only reason it was introduced at the time. It was not introduced specifically by the Chief Whip. These reforms today might not go the whole way of reforming how the House works, but they are a path to making this a better debating Chamber than it has been in recent years.

Deputy Murphy spoke about Members being in the Chamber. I know of three committees that are currently sitting, including the health committee and the Committee of Public Accounts. Members of the technical group seem very concerned about having Members present in the Chamber, but I have only seen two members of that group present during this debate on Dáil reform. It is very easy to say that we must have 60 or 70 Members in the Chamber on a full-time basis, but other work of the House must also continue.

I refer to the work of the committees, party work, and representational work involving meeting groups and delegations.

That is not what we said.

That is also part of a TD's work. We have to take that into account. People might have criticised the proposal to have Friday sittings but I believe they can work. It is a new proposal. Friday sittings of this House are very rare. Giving Members from all of sides of the House a chance to introduce their own Private Members' Bill represents a huge opportunity for people. I very much look forward to people who have been grandstanding for the last while about not having sufficient time or the opportunity to bring forward legislation to now doing so. I look forward to Deputy Boyd Barrett, Deputy Higgins and others bringing forward their own Private Members' Bills. When one brings forward a Private Members' Bill, one does not simply write the provisions to be included in it on the back of cigarette box. Meaningful thought and research is involved in that process. I very much look forward to that happening. We have excellent research facilities in the Library and Research Service of the House. The staff there would be only too willing to assist Members to bring forward their proposals. I very much look forward to Members across the divide in the House bringing forward their proposals.

On the streamlining of the Order of Business, everyone would agree that the Order of Business can turn into a circus at times. That is why we propose to limit the time of the Order of Business to 30 minutes on a Tuesday and a Wednesday and to 20 minutes on a Thursday morning. This Chamber is about passing laws, Bills and legislation. We need only consider the amount of time devoted to debating legislation in this House, but that is what we were elected to do. We were elected to debate legislation in the House as a national Parliament.

It is also important for people to be able to bring up local issues. Some people might call that parish pump politics but it is about bringing local issues to the attention of the House and that of the relevant Minister and for him or her to have an opportunity to reply to them.

We are extending the time allocated for oral parliamentary questions to Ministers on a Tuesday and the Dáil will sit earlier on a Tuesday. I want to ensure that a senior Minister, or a Minister relevant to the Department to which a Private Members' Bill is being addressed, will be present for the topical issue debate and debates on Private Members' Bills to give his on her view on the matter being debated.

I thank everyone for their co-operation. I believe this is a positive step forward for all Members. I believe it will ensure the Executive is held more to account.

Before putting the question on the motion I want to correct a mistaken impression regarding the decision of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges regarding dress code. The dress code at the moment states that Members' dress should be in keeping with the dignity of the House. The decision of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges was to clarify what that means. That decision of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges stands and is dependent on when it is implemented, if and when a motion to change the existing code or to correct it or to give it a proper meaning is implemented.

Question put and agreed to.