Houses of the Oireachtas (Appointments to Certain Offices) Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I had begun my reply earlier. I welcome Deputy Fleming to the House. I know that he was unavoidably delayed and that Deputy Ó Fearghaíl made the Fianna Fáil presentation. I wish to respond to the Deputies who spoke - I thank them for their contributions.

As everyone who spoke has said, this is not an earth-shattering Bill. In essence, it simply seeks to ensure that the prime administrator of the offices of the Houses of the Oireachtas would be selected through the normal Top Level Appointments Committee process. I know that some Members are keen for us to go further. I have said that I have an open mind in respect of how that could be accomplished. There are also those in the House who argue that we should go a different way. In a way I do not believe this should be enforced upon the Houses of the Oireachtas by the Executive. That is why I wanted debate on the matter.

Although I have been criticised for delay, I wanted the opportunity for people to reflect on the Bill I published. I sent it to the Oireachtas joint committee. It was interesting that a number of Deputies made reference to the fact that the joint Oireachtas committee submitted reports to me. In fact, the committee made no recommendations but sent me all the submissions that it had received. That was not particularly helpful in my deliberations in understanding the cross-party views of the committee. There is a difference between simply being a post box for submissions received and analysing the submissions, coming to a view, if that were possible, and making recommendations to me. In the absence of any recommendations I have proceeded on the basis of the draft Bill that I submitted to the joint Oireachtas committee.

Everyone who spoke this morning made positive mention of Kieran Coughlan. I have already said that he was a very fine, outstanding public servant. I continue to wish him well in his retirement.

The Clerk of the Dáil appointment is one of the appointments captured by this Bill. I have said this should be done through the TLAC process. Some Members referred to what that TLAC process involved and were critical of the role - saving your presence, a Cheann Comhairle, but since Members talked about the role of the Ceann Comhairle I have to do so by way of reply as well.

The role I envisage for the Ceann Comhairle is no different to the role currently carried out by any member of the Government in respect of the appointment of the Secretary General of his Department.

The TLAC takes on all applications, does the interviews, makes the recommendations and shortlists a panel as it deems appropriate. It submits that to the relevant Minister, who goes to Cabinet which makes the decision. The Minister is obviously in Cabinet and so is both nominator and part of the decision-making process. I envisage a mirroring of that situation for the Ceann Comhairle. The shortlist from the TLAC of those deemed appropriate for appointment would go to the Ceann Comhairle, who would make the recommendation to the commission and, naturally, he would be part of the decision-making of the commission as well. There is no difference, in that sense, in the role envisaged for the Ceann Comhairle in this appointment mechanism and the role given to the Minister in any event.

Some Members thought we should leave it to the Taoiseach and I have spoken to the Taoiseach on this. The Taoiseach has a nominating role right now but he feels it is more appropriate that that role should be the Ceann Comhairle's, as opposed to the head of the Executive. We can, however, tease these matters out on Committee Stage.

Deputy Ó Fearghaíl and others spoke about the fact that the only TLAC appointment I envisage under this proposal is for the Clerk of the Dáil. The other three appointments captured by this legislation, the Clerk Assistant, the Clerk of the Seanad and the Clerk Assistant of the Seanad, would be appointments made within the Houses of the Oireachtas in the normal way. On balance that is the right thing to do as it gives the flexibility about which Members have spoken. If there is a strong view in the Opposition that they should also be TLAC appointments, I am willing to debate that. Many Members, particularly Deputy Timmins, argued for flexibility to enable the Houses of the Oireachtas to move people around while being respectful of their roles. The Houses of the Oireachtas are not an exact replication of a Department, however. There are, also, two Houses of the Oireachtas, not one, and the people have determined that they should remain two Houses and not one. The role of the Clerk of the Seanad involves a unique set of responsibilities and the Clerk is not just another officer of the Houses of the Oireachtas. In trying to balance all these matters I determined to recommend in the legislation that they would not be TLAC appointments but made by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission on the nomination of the appropriate persons, namely, the Ceann Comhairle in relation to the Clerk Assistant of the Dáil and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad in relation to officers of the Seanad.

A number of Deputies made a strong point on the structure of the commission. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said the Oireachtas Commission was not representative of all shades of opinion in the House and that is a point which needs to be addressed. There are now 11 members and, while I would not make it too big, I accept the point that it needs to be reflective of as many discernible views in the House as it is possible to be, contingent on being a manageable decision-making body. We might deal with it in further legislation. The Deputy rightly made the point that the appointment process has to be above politics and the TLAC is that. He was also open to consideration of whether the TLAC should be the appointing body for the other, secondary posts. I do not think there is a black and white answer to that but if Deputies table amendments on Committee Stage, I am willing to discuss the matter.

Deputy Ross, who is unfortunately not present, talked about the failure to modernise and to bring about radical reform. I am open to any suggestions for radical reform that Deputy Ross wishes to table. For clarity, normal officials of the Houses of the Oireachtas service, just as officials in any Department, are subject to the normal open competition and the Public Appointments Service system. The Deputy also said the Clerk of the Dáil should be allowed to move staff around as appropriate, but the problem with that is that there is a discernible standing of officers in each House and that has to be respected.

I thank Deputy Finian McGrath for supporting the process and the proposals. He thinks TLAC is the right way to go, while making a robust defence of public service reform and the productivity that has been delivered, which is a point I would echo. Deputy Timmins was very complimentary of the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the work they have done. He made a point about the allocation of offices, which is well beyond the scope of this legislation. I am sure the Government Whip heard his point and would robustly defend his role but it is a matter for a different forum and a different Bill.

They are related matters.

It would not be an appropriate amendment for this legislation but the Deputy has made his point. This is not enormously radical legislation and it is not a Bill the Executive should bulldoze through without building as much consensus as is possible, so if Deputies feel strongly about the appointment of the other, non-TLAC designated officers, they can table amendments and we can discuss them on Committee Stage.

Question put and declared carried.