Report of Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann shall consider the Report of the sub-Committee on Dáil Reform entitled, Draft Final Report of the sub-Committee on Dáil Reform, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 18th May 2016.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the report of the sub-Committee on Dáil Reform. When the Dáil first met on 10 March, following a general election that produced a Dáil in which no one party had secured a majority, many commentators predicted that the newly elected Deputies would find it impossible to agree on anything and that another election was probably just weeks away. These doubts have proved unfounded. First, the Members of the House, under a radical reform introduced by the previous Government, elected the Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot. This reform has made the office more independent and the holder of the office has a direct link with his fellow Dáil Members like never before.

The second item of business, agreed to on the first day back, was an all-party motion establishing the sub-Committee on Dáil Reform to be chaired by the new Ceann Comhairle and tasked with reviewing the way the Parliament worked and identifying a set of reforms that could be introduced to strengthen it. I was honoured to be appointed to the committee by the Taoiseach and to work with my party colleagues, Deputies Eoghan Murphy, David Stanton and Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, as the Fine Gael members of the committee. I am also proud to work with the other members of the committee representing all parties and Independents.

Under the, often patient, chairmanship of Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl, as a group of 19 Deputies from different political traditions and viewpoints, we worked in the past two months to review the way the Parliament works and prepare a report which sets out in detail a package of reforms which will radically change the way the Oireachtas operates for the better. As a group of Deputies, we have worked well together and, despite our differing opinions on other issues, shared a commitment to make the committee successful. It has worked. I thank the clerks and other staff of the Oireachtas who worked tirelessly in the past two months and without whom this report would not have been possible.

In its time in office, the previous Government introduced reform packages designed to strengthen the Parliament in its relationship with the Government, namely, Leaders' Questions on Thursdays, Topical Issues, specific Dáil time to debate Deputies' own Bills and a pre-legislative stage for Bills. Earlier this year new Standing Orders were introduced which focused on three areas, namely, the election of the Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot, the selection of Oireachtas committee chairmen using the d’Hondt system and the requirement for the Taoiseach to appear before the working group of committee Chairmen twice a year to discuss matters of public policy.

The sub-committee established on 10 March sought to review the way the Oireachtas worked. As a group, we wanted to build on the reforms introduced in the past but also to identify the failings in the Parliament and, where possible, correct them. The fact that the general election earlier this year produced a Dáil that required a new way to do politics if it was to work must be accepted as a major factor in prioritising our work. As a group of 158 Deputies elected by the people, we have a duty to make this Dáil and the new politics it both represents and requires work. If we fail in this task, the people will be not thank us and the critics and cynics will be proved correct.

As a member of the committee, I approached the issue of Dáil and Oireachtas reform with the belief that, as a newly founded nation in the 1920s and 1930s, we adopted the British form of parliamentary democracy, with its weak concept of the separation of powers, too easily. In the almost one century since independence, we have not challenged that system enough. No Government or Parliament has really challenged the status quo, until now and that is good.

In the report we are seeking to empower the Oireachtas like never before. We are seeking to give Parliament a stronger voice and make the Government more accountable to it and us. The first section of the report recommends the establishment of a Dáil business committee to give all Deputies a greater voice in the business of the Dáil and allow a fairer distribution of Dáil time between Government and Opposition business. This will not prevent the Government of the day from enacting the legislation required to govern the country or fulfilling its mandate. It recognises the new reality of a Dáil not dominated by the Government of the day and a Dáil in which Opposition parties and groups and Government Deputies each have a mandate and an obligation to play a greater role in the legislative process than ever before.

The second section of the report proposes a budget oversight committee. This new structure will allow Parliament to play a greater role in the decisions taken by the Government in the preparation of the annual budget. No longer will the budget be a Government only document. Under the new system proposed, each budget will be prepared in partnership between the Parliament and the Executive. This will not dilute the Government's constitutional responsibility in this area but enhance the role of the Oireachtas and address many of the concerns highlighted in the recently published OECD Report on Budget Oversight by Parliament: Ireland. We are adopting best international practice in this area and future budgets will benefit from the changes we are proposing and be more inclusive and rounded.

The third section of the report addresses the need for an independent parliamentary budget office, which is a requirement in any modern parliamentary system. If the Dáil and the Oireachtas committees are to perform their new functions to the highest possible standard, an office such as this is a necessity.

The fourth section of the report recommends the establishment of an office of parliamentary legal adviser to support Deputies in their work. The fifth section addresses the issue of groups, the new reality of Dáil Éireann. In the past Deputies elected to the Dáil as Independents or representatives of smaller parties were, unfortunately, not given the recognition their mandate deserved. Setting the minimum size of a group at seven and requiring all non-aligned Deputies to join a single technical group, regardless of their policy differences, was unfair. The report seeks to address these problems. The minimum number of Deputies required to form a group will be reduced to five and more than one technical group can now be formed, if the reforms are adopted. This is a significant departure from the rules that governed the House in the past but recognition that today we have a more fragmented political structure, that smaller parties and Independent groups are likely to be a feature of Irish politics in the future and that every Dáil Member must adapt to that reality and respect it.

The sixth section of the report recommends that in the future, as far as possible, Oireachtas committee meetings and the Dáil plenary sessions not clash. Oireachtas committees will meet on Tuesday evenings and Wednesday and Thursday mornings, with the Dáil sitting on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons and evenings. This new split will finally end the age old problem of Oireachtas committees clashing with important debates in the Dáil and Deputies being forced to choose between the two, or run up and down the stairs, as we frequently have done during recent years.

The seventh section enhances the legislative process in the Oireachtas. Pre-legislative scrutiny and post-enactment scrutiny will be enhanced and adhered to. The development of pre-legislative stages for Bills was one of the major reforms introduced by the previous Government. It opened up the law-making process to the public like never before. Experts, interested individuals and civil society groups could be involved in the legislative process from the beginning in an advisory capacity. Committees and the Deputies and Senators who sat on them had a greatly enhanced legislative role. The fact that each committee could review the heads of a Bill and report on the findings of the pre-legislative stage to the Minister before the Bill was published meant issues were identified earlier and better legislation was passed. I am delighted that the Thirty-second Dáil will build on the success to date of the pre-legislative structure in place.

It is at Oireachtas committee level that some of the most important work by the Members of this House is carried out.

The eighth section of the report identifies the importance of our committee structures and seeks to build on them. New committees such as the budget oversight committee and an Irish language committee will be established. Committees will be more effective, with a smaller number of members, and every effort will be made to ensure that Deputies are not required to be members of multiple committees. The working group of committee chairs will play greater consultative and policy roles as well as the Taoiseach appearing before it. Committee chairs will now be selected under the d'Hondt system, which is also a major step in empowering those committees.

The next sections of the report provide new structures for Leaders' Questions, Taoiseach's Questions, ministerial questions, Topical Issues and, importantly, the accountability of State bodies. The changes proposed are designed to make the Government more accountable to Parliament and to allow each non-office holding Deputy a greater opportunity to play a role in that. The time for ministerial questions will be extended and there will be a greater opportunity for Deputies to get to ask the Minister their question as 60 of the 90 minutes will be for ordinary Oral Questions. There will be two 45-minute sessions of Taoiseach's Questions a week but questions will only roll over for two weeks. The very successful Topical Issue debate introduced in the previous Dáil will be built on and improved. As with the previous Dáil, any Deputy unhappy with the advocacy of an answer may make an appeal to the Ceann Comhairle, and I believe that will be enforced during this Dáil session.

The final section of the report focuses on Dáil procedure and, for the first time, a number of changes are proposed, including a fixed time each week for taking all divisions on a Thursday afternoon. In the future, Members may formally abstain on a vote and relevant Ministers may, at the request of the Taoiseach, respond to questions on any promised legislation, which is a significant reform.

If these reforms are adopted by the House, the Thirty-second Dáil will look and operate very differently from any other Dáil in our history. The Members of this House are open to reform and willing to embrace change, as has been seen by the members of the sub-committee. These reforms are a major step forward in the direction of creating a real separation of powers between Parliament and our Executive. We are not seeking to abandon the traditions of our parliamentary systems but we are seeking to learn from the very best international practice and recognise the realities of politics in Ireland today.

The general election earlier this year delivered a message to all of those elected to this House that the people of Ireland want their policies done in a new way. The set of recommendations before the House today is by no means the final answer, nor will it create a perfect Parliament, but it is an honest attempt at reform from a committee that represented every shade of political opinion in this House.

The members of the sub-committee have published this report and have put it before the Dáil seeking the opinions of our fellow Deputies. This is an issue in which we each, as elected Deputies, have an interest. The changes we will make to the Standing Orders over the next few weeks will be the framework within which we will work over the next few years and which may well set the standard for decades to come. As members of the sub-committee, we look forward to hearing the views that will be expressed over the course of this coming days.

The next speaker on my list is Deputy Thomas Byrne who, unfortunately, is stuck in traffic. Therefore, I call the next speaker who is Deputy Brendan Howlin.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak in this debate. The issue of reform has been talked about since I was first elected to this House nearly 30 years ago. Like draining the River Shannon and restoring the Irish language, it is a permanent concept to which we all give allegiance and pay lip-service but seldom do we apply real action. In the previous Dáil, as the Government Whip indicated, we certainly had some improvements on the Dáil reform issue and a very remarkable suite of improvements on political reform. We had a deepening, extension and fixing of many of the problems with the Freedom of Information Act. We had the establishment of overarching whistleblowing legislation, the Protected Disclosures Act, which took much careful work to get right and to ensure it works in every area of not only the public service but private business. As we have seen in recent times, bringing about legislative change is often easier than bringing about cultural change whereby an awareness of a different way of working is required to be embedded and driven in every workplace. We had the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, a measure we had talked about for a long time and probably the most difficult of the suite of political reform measures we did because we have to protect the right of every citizen to lobby. It is a fundamental part of the way we do our democracy. Every citizen has the right to talk to every Member of the Oireachtas but we have to ensure that it is done in a public and overt way so that there is not covert lobbying influencing policy-making at the behest of the few. We had the inquiries legislation, which strengthened, within the constitutional constraints, our capacity to hold public inquiries; the public appointments reform, where, for the first time, we have an independent system of appointment to State boards through the Public Appointments Service; and the strengthening of the role and functions of the Ombudsman, more than doubling the remit of the Ombudsman during the previous Dáil. Notwithstanding all of that, and I listened carefully to the Government Whip speak about some of the changes we made about the workings of this House, in truth, there has been little fundamental reform in the way that the Dáil works up to now.

For some commentators, Dáil reform amounts to sitting longer hours or counting the number of days. It is a "never mind the quality feel the width" approach to legislation, whereby the tick box for it is the more hours we clock up, as opposed to what we usefully do, where we do it or what the outcomes are. Reform must involve the rebalancing of power in a fundamental way between the Executive and Parliament. I used the word "rebalancing" deliberately because, first, we must know and accept the respective role of Government and Parliament. Government proposes expenditure and it is constitutionally responsible for ensuring that overall expenditure and State revenues match. It is in charge of the big picture. Put simply, the Government presents to this House its detailed requirements for the financing of the public services. It is for this House acting on the sole initiative of Ministers to authorise the relevant expenditure or supply and to provide, through taxes, the ways and means necessary to meet that supply voted or granted by the House.

The system, as the Government Whip, Deputy Regina Doherty, suggested, transposes from the British parliamentary tradition their workings and mechanisms. The parliamentary tradition has been transposed across the common law world. In our 1922 Free State Constitution, we set out the workings of Parliament but that was not the first to mirror the British system. Australia, Canada and other common law countries with written constitutions had already captured the Westminster model in their systems of government and continue to do that to this day. We began that process in the Government of Ireland Act 1920. I say that because it is important that Government and Parliament are allowed to function within their respective rights in the people's interest. The gridlock or stalemate often found in the United States, for example, between President and Congress would not serve us well. The report to the House signals significant and remarkable progress arrived at on a cross-party and cross-Member basis because everybody in the House, and people outside it, had inputs into our thought process in bringing about a thoughtful set of proposals which, if applied with care and reason, can bring about meaningful change in the public interest.

The set of proposals represents a challenge to each of us to take on these responsibilities and new opportunities and arrangements and to act responsibly with them. Given the timeline involved, it is a remarkably comprehensive package. Of course, many measures will be tested in practice and require revisiting and further amendment. The reform agenda is not complete. I pay tribute to all the colleagues I worked with on the committee. We all went into it not knowing how it would gel and work or whether people would come with dogmatic views. In fact, we all entered with an open agenda, a clean piece of paper and an open mind. Great credit is due to the Ceann Comhairle for the way in which he facilitated every idea and steered debate to decision-making.

What are the major changes we set out now in this first major suite of reforms? The first is that for the first time since I entered the House the business of the House will not be proposed by a member of the Government. It will not be the Government Whip, the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste standing up on a daily basis to say what the business of the House should be in the certainty that it would in fact be the business transacted due to the phalanx of Deputies behind him or her to ensure the proposal was carried. We will now have a business committee involving every section of the House, chaired by the Ceann Comhairle and involving Government and Opposition, with every side bringing forward legislative proposals. That will allow not only a real prioritisation of debate but also proper planning and preparation for debate. We will know within a medium horizon what the agenda here will be. We can take soundings, talk among our own parliamentary colleagues and bring a much more thoughtful process to the debate of legislation.

The second major reform relates to budget oversight. In many ways, this is one of the most critical issues. In the previous Dáil, I certainly sought to bring about some changes in the way the budget was handled through the comprehensive review of expenditure whereby all expenditure options were analysed, published and forwarded to the sectoral committee responsible, whether on health, social protection or whatever. For the first time, we involved not only simply the accounting mechanism in regard to the expenditure of public moneys, but also an outcomes perspective so that one was evaluating not only whether the money was spent for the purpose for which it was voted, but also what outcome one got for that expenditure. I must admit that it did not really work in practice. An overarching and compelling reason for that was that we were in a time of economic retrenchment and real crisis. It would be a very tall order in the middle of that to ask the Opposition to put forward its cuts as opposed to cuts being suggested by Government. That did not happen.

However, there is an opportunity now when we are in a more normal budgetary cycle for Members to really engage with looking at the finite purse the State has. If a Member or a party wants to expand that purse and has a proposal for additional taxation, he or she can put that on the agenda to determine how that pool of money, whatever its size, should be deployed in the delivery of public services. To do that, we will have an independent parliamentary budget office, which will be an important new innovation. I looked at this myself last year. It is going to be a very difficult structure to put in place. It will have to link in many ways to Departments and mirror the work of evaluating costs there while remaining independent of Government so that it is the creature of the House subject to giving the best advice to Members who want to cost and evaluate their own proposals for Government expenditure.

The third major initiative relates to advanced legislation. Opposition and backbench Government Deputies will have the opportunity to put legislation before the House with, for the first time, a real prospect of seeing it enacted. We had the first taste of that last night. In order to do that, we need to begin to mirror the capacity of the Government which has the Office of the Attorney General and the legal draftspeople to help it. We need to resource ourselves here with proper parliamentary research in the first instance but also the techniques of draftsmanship to ensure that when we bring legislation to the House, it is as advanced or as polished as Government proposed legislation so that the old adage many people in Government, including me, have used the past that "the legislation is flawed" is no longer an argument that can be advanced and that we have real opportunity for Members to see legislative proposals put on the agenda. The area of groups has been touched upon and it is an important one to allow full participation of Members. The legislative proposals are not restricted to the Opposition, but also apply to backbench Government Deputies who often see themselves as the most disadvantaged Members in the House. In the past, they were seen as simply fodder to be expected to nod at the frontbench here to support its propositions. There will be a much enhanced role for Government backbenchers as well as for members of the Opposition.

Pre-legislative scrutiny was an enormously important innovation of the last Dáil, but I note a caveat because it will present a challenge for Members. Often, the people who present in terms of pre-legislative scrutiny have a strong vested interest in the outcome of the legislation. Our responsibility is always to have the common good in our perspective and to be able to discern what is a vested interest, lobby group or campaign for a political view. While they may feel passionately, they are not necessarily advocating their view in the general good. These new opportunities also provide us with new challenges. The committee system was always a critical if not the most important part of the functioning of the Oireachtas. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Bernard Durkan, has been a very active committee person. The committees will be improved as they will be better-resourced, more relevant and, I hope most of all, more visible in terms of the real work done. I remember several Dáileanna ago that I was on a very hard-working justice committee which brought through a number of really groundbreaking Bills and was involved in a number of inquiries. Several members of the committee, including frontbench spokespeople, lost their seats because they felt they were buried in the bowels of Leinster House 2000 for months on end without anybody noticing what they were doing. As such, we must front up the real work of the House so that it is visible.

I see my time is up. There is a real opportunity in this Dáil and a real test for each Member. We can measure up to these or utilise them to act in the old way. I am excited about these prospects and I think we can go further. I look forward to the real engagement and utilisation of the mandate that each of us has. Reform is not a transitory thing, it is permanent. We can really set the path of a functioning Parliament in the next months and weeks.

I propose to call Deputy Catherine Murphy. Deputy Thomas Byrne is in the House. The Ceann Comhairle had agreed that he would be facilitated as soon as possible. I will proceed with Deputy Catherine Murphy and then call Deputy Thomas Byrne. Is that agreed? Agreed.

This has been a very useful exercise. The tone was set by the Ceann Comhairle who chaired and facilitated the reform process. Everybody on the committee made a contribution and it is a rare thing to be able to say that.

I extend my thanks to Mr. Peter Finnegan and the staff of the Ceann Comhairle's office who have worked behind the scenes to present papers, tease out issues and find best practice elsewhere. It was a useful exercise.

Adopting a package of proposals is one matter but living up to them is entirely different. How we use the proposals made in the report will be down to us all. I have been critical of the Dáil not setting its own agenda. Under Article 15.2 of the Constitution, that power lies with the Oireachtas, but there has never been an equal distribution of power. It has resided exclusively with the small number of people who form the Government, following which there are degrees of influence, depending on whether a Deputy is a Government backbencher. Some of it is done in party rooms. For the Opposition, it involves holding the Government to account. This is the first time there has been a redistribution of power between the Government and the rest of the Parliament. That will be expressed, first and foremost, in the business committee which will not just decide the different times at which business will be taken and in what format, for example, in committee or the Chamber. In setting the agenda it will change what is done rather than simply how we do it by accepting and working with the diversity of this Dáil.

I was a member of the Constitutional Convention. During one of the sessions on Dáil reform Professor Michael Marsh of Trinity College Dublin attended to discuss list systems and, among other issues, restricting diversity. He discussed Independents, in particular. How the citizen members reacted was interesting. They wanted greater, not less, diversity, which has played out in the election results. It is not that a particular election result is an aberration, rather it is a deeper expression. I was surprised by how forceful that view was at the convention.

I wish to highlight a number of issues. There have been improvements in terms of freedom of information, but the responses to same have varied, depending on whom one asks. Some Departments and organisations are good; some are all right, while others are terrible. It shows a cultural difference. There is nothing wrong with the legislation, rather it is a question of how it is embraced. Frustratingly, one can obtain more information via a freedom of information request than via asking parliamentary questions. We addressed this issue in the report. There must be a cultural shift to answer questions fully. The appeals mechanism is one in respect of which we will have to be diligent if we are to bring about change. That change is not just about those of us sitting in the Chamber but also about those on the ministerial side and in the Civil Service. The more information we can put into the public arena, the better. The committee debated a matter Deputy Brendan Howlin previously discussed as a Minister, namely, having an open approach to information. Not only must the House move towards this, so too must the institutions of the State. If there is information available, it should be put into the public arena. That would give people a great deal of confidence about issues not being hidden and we would be open to providing information they had a right to receive.

The business committee will be important. It gives expression to the changing nature of the distribution of power. If it does not work well, it will be the greatest failure. There must be a throughput of legislation from the Government, the Opposition and Government backbenchers. This system must work within the general timeframes that have been set out in order that work will not be frustrated but advanced in a timely way and in order that legislation from all sides of the House will be adopted.

I was a member of the former Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht which initially included matters to do with transport, tourism and sport. Its remit was too wide. We undertook two large pieces of pre-legislative scrutiny work, one of which items was climate change. For approximately two weeks Professor John Sweeney of what is now Maynooth University worked with us and we invited various groups to appear before us. It was a useful process. However, the good report we wrote did not shape the legislation that was ultimately adopted. That legislation is flawed, as it does not set targets and will cause problems. There is not much point in undertaking pre-legislative scrutiny unless we include the expertise of organisations and citizens invited to appear before committees in order that we have good engagement and both sides which might propose good ideas. There must be a way of ensuring good ideas end up in legislation. Introducing pre-legislative scrutiny was a good change, but it did not always deliver the results desired, thanks to the Government's size.

Post-legislative scrutiny presents real possibilities. In the case of some Acts, the period involved will be one year. In the case of others, it will be longer because time is needed to show a pattern. Many of our failings are institutional. If we adopt legislation and it does not work as intended, one often finds that there is an inadequacy. Perhaps there is not sufficient support in an organisation or it needs to configure itself in a different way. The purpose of post-legislative scrutiny is to secure a better outcome for citizens and have institutions that work and become citizen-centred. If they do, less will be demanded of us. Many of the issues raised in the House and at constituency level are raised because of failures at institutional level. This will show up during the post-legislative scrutiny stage. That housing is probably the number one issue for all of us lets us know that there is a failure. People should be able to find out about their rights and entitlements, but this can prove difficult and politicians often become middle men or women in a process in which they should have no involvement. The post-legislative scrutiny process can address the issue of clientelism if it is taken to the extent required.

A useful aspect of the process was that, from the outset, we were not concerned about everything being perfect. Matters can be as good as they can be and there is a review mechanism. Not everything will work perfectly or at all. It is useful to accept this from the outset and to have a mechanism whereby one can review what is not working, tweak or change it completely in order that it will work.

Those involved engaged in the process in a very honest way. Most people would want the vast majority of elements to play out as intended.

There are one or two aspects I do not support. If mandates are pooled in a group, this should be reflected in the order of how things are done. Although I am now in a party, I believe the pecking order regarding how Members are called should reflect the mandate as opposed to how the mandate is constituted. This would reflect the diversity, which has been decided on not by us but by the citizens. I expressed my view that I did not support the aspect on mandates.

Budgetary oversight will be really important because up to now, we have had staged pieces of work, very much delivered by the Government, rather than a process. If the process is right, it will be very useful from a citizen's perspective to see what the choices are. I refer to how much money is available and how it might be spent. It should not just be a question of the one year. Consider a scenario in which one would spend a lot more money on youth, communities and diversionary programmes for communities with specific challenges instead of on criminal justice over time. That is the kind of outcome I would like to see. Ensuring our budgets really are equality budgets may well help to bring about what I desire. The question of how we spend money should not just be about a one-year scenario. Good decision-making would entail not just one piece of work over a year but consideration of the outcomes in the lifetime of a Government or Dáil.

One feature of the last Dáil was the guillotining of legislation. The very fact that this has ended is very good. We have ended up with very poor legislation in some respects because Bills did not receive the kind of scrutiny required. While we may see less legislation, better outcomes will benefit all of us, both inside and outside the House.

It appears there will be multiple technical groups. There will have to be support to make this work. This would be in everybody's interest. I acted as the Whip for the Technical Group on the last occasion and noted the arrangement then was a constant source of problems. The Minister needs to be able to telephone one person and not 15 or 16 to impart information. The smooth running of the House in terms of timing has to be achieved and there ought to be support for that. The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission should not delay on this — the sub-committee does not have power to do this — because it would set a very unacceptable tone. What I propose needs to happen if the system is to work for everyone.

I apologise to the House and my colleagues on the sub-committee for being late. I was still on Seanad time because the Order of Business in that House used to last an hour. I recommend to my colleagues involved the Seanad reform or innovation to reduce the length of their Order of Business because half an hour is sufficient. I thank my colleagues for facilitating me.

I thank all my colleagues on the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform for their work and co-operation. Every member, left, right and centre, and the officials worked really well together once the doors were closed. It is fair to say all of us contributed in an astonishingly co-operative and constructive way. All of us worked hard, put forward our ideas and compromised to some extent and accepted, possibly, what other members had to say.

With regard to the lesson on how we did our work, I admit the Constitution requires us to do our work in public in general in this House, as we do, but there will be times when some work will have to be done in private. Certainly, it is possible to do a lot of work in private and much can come out of it. In such circumstances, all Members can talk freely. This is what one gets from it. I am simply referring to the procedure of the House, the way we do business, but there must be lessons to be learned in this regard for all of us across the entire political spectrum. Every possible grouping had representation or some sort of effect on the process. All of their concerns were met, or at least met halfway.

When my leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, proposed this, almost on day one of this new Dáil, there was some guffawing and there were some accusations that it was merely a diversionary measure. This has clearly been proven to be false by the Members, including the Taoiseach and all the leaders of the parties, who took this process seriously. However, the measure was necessary. It has been talked about for many years. I speak for my party in saying we recognised this as a massive issue in 2011 and we also recognised it as a huge issue throughout the term of the last Dáil. We are constantly thinking about and putting forward policies for reform. Fianna Fáil has had a comprehensive policy on Dáil reform.

The numbers, based on those elected to this Dáil, dictated that we really had no option but to change the way we do business. It seems that the Members, and the officials, in fairness, have copped on to the story and know circumstances will be different. Our friends in the media must realise that if the Government loses a vote, or if the Opposition does not win one, as will soon turn out to be the case, it is not a crisis; it is just democracy in action. It is a crisis for a Government if it loses a vote on confidence or stability and there are arrangements in place for that. However, it is not a crisis if the Government loses a vote on a day-to-day policy issue; it is simply the reflection of the democratic will of this House. Constant pressure on the stability of a Government based on this side of the House winning a vote or succeeding in an argument should not be an issue. The media and the rest of us should call the Government to account in terms of how it is running its Departments and the policies it is putting forward but the Government should be held to account when the Dáil decides its policy is wrong. It should simply be reported that the Dáil, as the supreme legislative body in this State, has decided differently. That is the way it should be; it should be ordinary.

This Chamber should be deliberative to get the best possible result and nobody should be imposing his or her will on anybody. I certainly object to the talk of Fianna Fáil vetoing items. We have got 43 Members and are in no position to veto anything. The reality, as with the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform, is that we will have to work together to get the best possible solution for the people. For the moment, we have the best possible solution for this House, which is, of course, the House of the representatives of the people.

For my party's part, we have continually pressed for real Dáil reform. My party and I welcome the measures that the sub-committee has put forward. We need a strong Legislature and it has to be as independent of the Government as possible within the confines of the Constitution. This Legislature must have an impact on policy and must fully scrutinise Government actions. It is critical to democracy and it is an accepted part of the job. We must, and have an obligation to, do it properly. We must create an efficient Parliament. It must be attractive to all walks of life, including families, and also Members who live in constituencies far from Dublin, where the Constitution requires us to meet.

We in Fianna Fáil — the sub-committee would agree with this — are committed to the ongoing implementation of these reforms. Many of the reforms will require implementation and some will require review. If the House has got something wrong or finds something does not work, I will certainly be in no way embarrassed to say it has not worked and advocate that it be changed and that we move on.

I was particularly interested in two aspects of the report, the first of which was my party's proposal to establish an independent legal office to strengthen and change the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser. The office provides very important services to Members of the Oireachtas and the Oireachtas Commission, as was very much in evidence during the banking inquiry when all the boxes were ticked to enable the inquiry to do its work within the parameters set down in the Constitution. The sub-committee recommended that the office be placed on a statutory footing to underpin its independence and states it "would be appropriate for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to play a lead role in the development and initiation of this legislation with a view to early enactment".

What do we want? Twice in the past week and on multiple occasions previously, the Opposition was presented with advice received by the Government from the Attorney General. By its nature, this legal advice cannot be released and my party would not call for its release on the basis that to do so could reveal weaknesses in the Government's case and damage the State. The Oireachtas requires separate, independent advice on the Constitution and this should be provided for by Statute. Such advice was provided in the case of the O'Higgins commission of investigation and the Private Members' Bill tabled by my party this week. While work remains to be done on the details, I envisage that the parliamentary legal adviser would enjoy a position similar to that of the Attorney General and would only provide advice to the Oireachtas. I do not make this suggestion to cause conflict or division but to ensure Parliament can stand on its own two feet and the flow of information no longer comes exclusively from the Government. In the case of advice from the Attorney General, we do not have a flow of information but a Minister's interpretation of advice received. This proposal is a key element of the reforms and would give Dáil Éireann great strength and backbone in its dealings on behalf of citizens.

Reference was made to an independent parliamentary budget office and a budget committee which would be indirectly linked to it. The reason we need an independent parliamentary budget office is to ensure Members have a separate flow of information because practically all the information we receive is from Departments. We need a counterpoint to that similar to the highly respected Congressional Budget Office available to the US Congress. The Houses have a team of researchers and economists who do outstanding work. Under this proposal, this service would be given more status and resources, not to serve Members but to serve the country better. This change would make a serious difference to how we do our work in a collaborative manner.

Deputy Ó Cuív described the way in which this Dáil will work as a partnership, not between one party and another, but between the Oireachtas and Government. This way of working will result in division as well as agreement and it is essential that the Oireachtas side of this partnership has its own resources and source of information in order that it can act on behalf of citizens. Based on strong expert advice, it may also choose to make decisions that differ from what the Government wants, as the House did yesterday.

I took the strong view at the sub-committee that a sectoral committee should be established for every Department. The previous Government merged a number of committees, placing, for example, education and social protection in one committee and transport and arts in another. While this looked good in that it reduced the number of committees and addressed the perception that committees were established for Members' benefit, if we want effective scrutiny of Departments, we must establish a committee to shadow each Department. Last year, I was a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, which shadowed two Departments. Under these proposals, that committee will separate into two committees, which will mean a new committee on health will focus exclusively on the Department of Health and Health Service Executive and a committee on children and youth affairs will focus exclusively on the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Tusla and associated bodies. This is a good development and should be acknowledged as such.

Those who believe it is better for Members to have more committees are mistaken. A sectoral committee for each Department will mean each Department can be properly scrutinised and each area of policy properly developed by the House, with Members able to specialise in a given field. While some Members will be appointed to more than one committee, the numbers of members of committees will be reduced. Members will also have a greater obligation to play a full role on the committees of which they are members.

Members of the public who have listened to the rhetoric about the Dáil having a strong voice as a consequence of the election result will ask questions at the end of this Dáil term. I do not know if that will be sooner or later but people will ask what happened to the enhanced role of the Dáil and what did the Dáil do. We can start by pointing out that we introduced a Bill on variable mortgage interest rates with which the Government did not agree. When that Bill proceeds to Committee Stage in the new committee on finance and public expenditure, I hope Deputies on all sides will engage in debate and submit amendments. I spoke to Deputy Michael McGrath last night on a particular issue on which no problems should arise if we work collaboratively and take on board genuine concerns held by the other side. Perhaps some people believe the legislation does not go far enough. The passage of the Bill through Second Stage shows that we have a new way of doing business. We must all take responsibility for this and get involved in it.

I am particularly pleased that a new Coiste na Gaeilge will be established. This is an important development because the Irish language is at a critical juncture. As the House debated the Irish language yesterday, I will not dwell on the issue other than to compliment, as I did in Irish yesterday, the former Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Joe McHugh. His level of Irish is astonishing and he deserves great credit for what he has done. He is a great example to anyone who wishes to learn the language. It is incredible to listen to him speaking in Irish and I say this as one of those who protested when a Minister without spoken Irish was appointed to the Department. Deputy McHugh has proved himself worthy of his previous role and I wish him well in the forthcoming appointments of Ministers of State.

If we are to be serious about an Ghaeilge, caithfimid an Ghaeilge a úsáid ar na laethanta agus sna díospóireachtaí nach bhfuil an Ghaeilge nó an Ghaeltacht mar ábhar cainte acu. Members must use the Irish language on occasions other than debates on the Irish language or the Gaeltacht or during Seachtáin na Gaeilge. We used to speak Irish in the Seanad from time to time. The Houses have translation facilities and Members should speak Irish. Deputy McHugh, who could not speak Irish, now speaks the language at native speaker level, which shows that it is possible for anybody to learn Irish. No one should experience difficulties or feel inhibited in this regard.

Those of us who attended the private meetings of the sub-committee in the weeks after the House agreed to the initiative on Dáil reform are giving their spiel. I am interested in hearing the views of other Members who may have difficulties with the sub-committee's proposals and may point out flaws in them. That is the purpose of this debate and the reason a vote has been scheduled on the matter for next week. I thank my colleagues on the sub-committee and the officials involved. The work starts now. We must do as citizens asked by passing good laws when they are needed and rejecting poor law when it is not needed.

I will not speak for long because I had an opportunity to speak on this issue recently. I also spoke on Dáil reform on a number of occasions during the previous Dáil when I had an opportunity to write a number of pamphlets and papers on the issue. After sitting on the banking inquiry, I swore I would never sit on another Oireachtas committee. I also felt there should be some kind of dispensation for members of inquiry in respect of committee membership. It was a privilege, however, to be asked to sit on the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform and I was pleased to do so.

I should mention the role of the Ceann Comhairle and his officials. The work of the sub-committee was done professionally and efficiently to an ambitious timeframe.

As a result, we are now in a position of being able to enact these reforms. In no small part, this is due to their dedication and effort in driving this through.

It also fell to the members of the sub-committee to dedicate themselves to putting in this work in this time period. The sub-committee had an interesting composition and I enjoyed working on it. It was interesting not necessarily in the context of their parties or their political viewpoints, but in the context of their experience. We had three former Ministers in Deputies Brendan Howlin, Éamon Ó Cuív and Eamon Ryan, who could present a humourous point of view some of us did not have. We had the Sinn Féin Whip, the new Fine Gael Chief Whip and a new Member of the Dáil, Deputy Louise O'Reilly, to give their perspective. We had former Chairs of committees, including Deputy Stanton, a former MEP, Deputy Paul Murphy, representatives from a new party, Deputy Catherine Murphy, Independent Members like Deputy Thomas Pringle and members from other parties, such as the AAA-PBP. We had a broad spectrum of people with different perspectives, bringing their own experience of how the Dáil does or does not work. I came with the perspective of a government backbencher.

During the previous Dáil, as a backbencher Deputy, I had the opportunity to do some writing and a few years ago, I produced a pamphlet on 30 changes that could be made to fundamentally and radically transform the Dáil without changing the Constitution or a law. On the back of that, I was invited to speak at the MacGill summer school. Rather than give a boring speech, as I sometimes do, I decided to write a short story to try to point out some of the flaws here in a humorous way. The title of that story may be reflective of my perspective in my approach to the reform committee. The title "Show up and shut up – the button pusher, a cautionary tale of a backbench TD". That was my experience as a government backbencher in the last Dáil - not being able to play a full meaningful role as an elected representative and parliamentarian in the work of the Dáil in holding the Government of the day to account. Even though I was a member of a government party, I felt I still had that dual role to fulfil.

What pleases me so much about this draft report we are now debating is that it represents fundamental reform. It is probably the largest and most wide-ranging suite of reforms this House has introduced in decades. There is real vision in it and that is why I am proud we were able to do the work and of the report we have produced as a result. This fundamental reform began with the election of the Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot. As I have said before, people did not quite understand what that would mean. In essence, it was the first step in a flow or transfer of power from the Executive to the Parliament. Since then, the Ceann Comhairle has been able to assume more powers, this sub-committee being part of that. As a result, this sub- committee, its work and this Dáil now stand separate from government, with a greater ability and responsibility to work in the interest of the country, with the Government when it can and against it when it must. I believe that is important.

Some of the questions raised yesterday by the press when we launched this report related to the issue of what this reform will cost. This reform will cost money and that is only right, although not a huge amount. Sometimes we must spend money to save money. I was often made aware of that when I sat on the Committee of Public Accounts. People complained about the price of an audit but that audit was revealing the waste of millions of taxpayers' money. The money spent on that audit was worthwhile and well spent. When we look at the legacy of the financial crisis and the work done by the banking inquiry committee, we understand that is what this is about. That is why the reform committee is so important. It is not just about making this a better place for all of us to work in, it is about making our Parliament more responsive and accountable to the people. It is about giving us the resources and the space to be better legislators and it is about giving us the incentive and the tools to hold the Government of the day to account, to scrutinise legislation and spending, to make changes and to have the House agree them. The Government will be accountable to Dáil Éireann and fulfil that essential element of the Constitution.

Let me pick out just one measure - the budget oversight office and committee - which fulfils this requirement 1,000 times, through the work the Dáil will now be empowered to do, which it never had the resources to do in the lead up to the financial crisis. While the Government was not paying significant attention to what was happening in society and in our economy and was not capable of doing so, the Dáil was not able to do so at all. Now I hope we will come to a new arrangement. Hopefully, we will learn lessons from then and not repeat past mistakes. That begins with this report and changing how we do business here.

Another speaker said that "done" is better than "perfect". If we tried to produce the perfect report, we would be here forever and would never satisfy everyone. When we presented the draft report to the Fine Gael parliamentary party, some of my colleagues were unhappy with certain elements of it. That is natural. However, there is positivity in regard to the broad sweep of changes. The sub-committee has also included a standing reform mechanism. Therefore, if something is tried and fails, that is okay and we will go back to the drawing board, reassess the situation and try to improve it. This also means that any Member who seeks reform can make a proposal to the sub-committee or Ceann Comhairle. We will consider that and if it is a good idea, we will bring it before the Dáil for debate and a vote.

This is a key legacy from the reform debate process. We are not standing still. Reform is a constant and is now enshrined in the sub-committee. It is a sub-committee of the Dáil, not of any one party, of Government or of a particular interest. It is a sub-committee of all of us and is representative of the people, which is why it is so important. I congratulate everyone involved in the sub-committee. I enjoyed working with them and commend the Ceann Comhairle on how great he was at leading us through the process over the past six to eight weeks.

While I am going to speak about the Dáil reform report, I will also try to make some broader points about democratic change and the change needed that goes beyond the remit of the sub-committee.

We welcome the report. We played a role with others in producing it and broadly support it. The report must be considered in the context of the political changes that are taking place, not just here in Ireland but across Europe and in America. The fundamental change taking place is based on the impact of the economic crisis of 2007-2008, the impact of massive austerity, driven by neo-liberal ideology in the interest of the 1% and by the key establishment parties in many different countries across Europe, including Ireland, and by the impact of that in undermining the old political certainties and the old political parties. This was reflected dramatically in the general election here, a third historic election after local elections and the previous general election, which brought about the smashing of the two and a half party system. The two and a half party system is dead. It is no longer reflected in this Parliament and, therefore, there was an obligation and necessity for the rules of the Dáil to change to reflect that reality. While the two and a half party system is dead, what will replace it has not fully emerged. The idea of a substantial left force, to represent working class people, that could become a major party in this country has not fully emerged but it is a process that is taking place.

This was the context of the discussions that took place and it is reflected in the changes and reforms proposed. I will mention some of what I consider the positive reforms. The business committee is a step forward. It is not sufficient but it is a step forward towards taking power over the Dáil out of the hands of the Government and into the hands of the Dáil, with the full reflection of the different trends of opinion that exist here, which represent different trends of opinion within society. The second reform to welcome is the increased space for opposition motions and Bills, reflecting the reality of the increased weight of the Opposition in the Dáil and the fact that our voices should be heard as well and we should have the ability not only to propose but to pass legislation.

I welcome the fact the Ceann Comhairle will be empowered to have a quarterly report on Ministers and that where Ministers repeatedly refuse to answer questions, the Ceann Comhairle can raise that matter. This is necessary. This issue was a problem in the last Dáil. I refer for example to the case of Siteserv and the 19 questions asked by Deputy Catherine Murphy that were not answered. There were multiple instances of such failures. Trying to get the Irish Water payment figures was difficult and it remains difficult to get them, even now that water charges are almost dead. I see this proposal as a positive step and I hope the Ceann Comhairle takes advantage of this power and pays close attention to the answers Minister are giving or not giving and then lays his report before the House.

The ability to abstain is not a revolutionary change but it is correct politically that the range of political views on a topic can be expressed as these can sometimes not be expressed by means of the binary options "Tá" or "Níl".

Political forces may choose to abstain on a particular issue where, for example, they agree with the thrust but not the specifics. Combined with the ability to give a written explanation of their vote, even when they do not have the opportunity to speak, this is important for the process of political clarification and to enable people's ideas to be accurately reflected in how they choose to vote.

The most important change is to the rules for groups. The fact that there may be multiple technical groups is significant and an important step forward, reflecting the reality of the rise of Independents and small parties in Irish politics. There are people who now regret that they voted for Independents, thinking they were votes against establishment parties only to find they have put establishment parties back into power. Nevertheless, people have the right to vote for Independents and chose to do so. They should have the right to organise themselves and have access to the necessary resources to properly participate in the Dáil like any other political force.

From the point of view of the left and the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit, the change which is of most significance is the reduction to five in the number of Members required to be an official grouping inside the Dáil. This is a necessary democratic change and there is an argument for reducing it further, but it is an historic point in that there is now a clear anti-capitalist, socialist, principled left force as a grouping inside this Dáil. That reflects a change taking place across many countries in Europe and America, with Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, Podemos, Izquierda Unida and the rise of the left. We are unashamedly going to take advantage of the situation to have Leaders' Questions on a weekly basis and Private Members' Bills, as well as Priority Questions to Ministers on a greater scale than in the previous Dáil when we were part of the Technical Group and had to strive for access to parliamentary time.

We were happy to participate in the Dáil reform sub-committee on a collaborative basis to reach agreement on these things and are happy to have reached agreement on Dáil reforms. We will be happy to continue to agree on various issues as they come up, but we also unashamedly say we plan to be the Opposition. There will be other forces claiming to be part of it, but we will use our access to speaking time to oppose the neoliberal agenda and the interests of the 1% which we believe are reflected in the establishment political parties in this House - Fine Gael, the Government Independents, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party. We will use the Dáil as a platform and act as tribunes of the people to expose and highlight what is happening. We will be a voice for working class people - the 99%. We will mobilise in significant struggle such as next Wednesday at 5 p.m. when there will be a demonstration outside Leinster House at the same time as the motion on water charges of the Right2Water forces will be discussed. We will put forward a very different vision of how society could be organised, a social society in which people's needs come before the interests of profit.

On the issues that were not addressed, or which we did not get a chance to address, the discussion on the inability of the Opposition to bring forward amendments or Bills which would impose a charge on the State was instructive. We did not do anything about that, but I do not believe the question is closed. There is a limitation in the Constitution, but the limitation in Standing Orders is significantly more restrictive than the one in the Constitution and we believe Standing Orders should be changed to make the position as open as that in the Constitution. More fundamentally, we need a change in the Constitution as we should not be restricted in proposing Bills to abolish Irish Water or oppose certain cuts that would result in the imposition of a charge on the State. We believe it is the democratic right of the Opposition to be able to do these things.

We have to return to the issue of ending the practice where the Government avoids voting on Private Members' motions by tabling its own amendment first, an amendment which simply states how great the Government is on whatever topic is being discussed. It is undemocratic not to be able to put pressure on the Government to vote against or for a particular motion tabled by the Opposition.

Another issue which should be inserted in the final page in the list of other issues to be discussed is the prayer. It was agreed but does not appear in the final draft. It was not the main issue at the committee, but it is one which should be resolved. In modern day Irish society it is anachronistic and inappropriate to start our day with a prayer. This should be a secular Parliament and we should not start our day with a religious prayer. It has been agreed that this will go before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, but it is an appropriate question for the Dáil reform sub-committee to discuss when it reconvenes because it relates to Standing Orders.

I will make some broader points on our vision for society. The problems we have with democracy in this House are a pale reflection of the fundamental absence of democracy in society as a whole. There has been a process, called the hollowing of western democracy by Peter Mair, whereby the limited democratic rights on the basis of capitalism have been diminished even further. A driving force has been the European Union and a few weeks ago the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, gave the game away when, in talking about Irish Water, he said European diktats had to be followed. It gave the game away by confirming that there were diktats and that the European Commission dictated austerity policy, with which right-wing governments agreed. The European Union is fundamentally undemocratic - indeed anti-democratic - and an authoritarian, neoliberal construction. That is seen in the role of the European Central Bank and was seen in the various silent coups that took place where elected governments were replaced by governments by bankers and for bankers, with a mandate to rule in the interests of the markets. It is also evident in the ability of the European Commission to fine states that do not implement sufficient austerity measures. That is designed to stop pressure being placed on elected governments and to stop governments from being elected with a different policy. It states people can elect whomever they want but that they must implement neoliberal policies.

There are fundamental democratic problems here also. It is undemocratic that people are elected on a certain platform and then betray that platform. Much was made of Deputy Alan Kelly's statement that it was treachery to get rid of water charges, but he had obviously forgotten that he had previously been elected on a platform of opposing water charges and had then been so won over to them that it became treachery not to implement them. It is undemocratic that people can be elected and betray all of their promises, yet nothing can happen to them. People should have the right of recall of Deputies who break their promises. People should also be on the average wage of those they represent. We also support the initiative of 1Yi for popularly initiated referenda whereby a certain number of people can sign a document to initiate a referendum to change Government policy or the Constitution.

Fundamentally, we are for a different model of democracy, a participative model where power is devolved to local or workplace level, where elected councils take responsibility for things at that level, while we elect representatives who would be recallable to decide on things that must be decided at a higher level. It is not, however, just a question of political democracy. The key decisions affecting many people's lives, whether they have a house, a job or a decent income, are not made in democratically elected chambers such as this House, the European Parliament of local councils, or even by unelected bodies such as the European Commission or the European Central Bank. Many decisions are made in the boardrooms of big business with an interest only in profit. Many decisions are made by those with accounts in Panama or by the markets, about which the media love to talk and speculate. That reflects the domination of profit. If we want a truly democratic society, we have to have democratic public ownership of the key sources of wealth in our society.

Key parts of the economy and key natural resources should be in public ownership under democratic control. They should not be run by quangos or political appointees. Workers, consumers and the public as a whole should be brought into the heart of the running of all aspects of our society. That is how we will achieve the fundamental and real democratic change that is socialist change.

I thank everybody who participated in the writing of the report. In particular, I thank the staff who did a phenomenal amount of work. They turned around papers in a short space of time. That is greatly appreciated.

As the next speakers on the list, Deputies Dara Murphy and Éamon Ó Cuív, are not present, I call Deputy Louise O'Reilly.

I join my colleagues in thanking the Ceann Comhairle for the patient and diligent manner in which he chaired the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform. He drove us on by making sure our meetings were run very effectively. I thank the Clerk of the Dáil and all the staff who worked very hard. I echo what Deputy Paul Murphy has just said about the turnaround time for papers. Everything we needed was provided for us. The staff were impeccable. They worked incredibly hard. They are to be commended for that.

While we welcome much of what is in the report, unfortunately this process is about Dáil reform only and does not provide for the kind of political reform we would like. Many of the reforms proposed in the report have been necessitated by the new composition of the Dáil. The members of the sub-committee have been careful to ensure the measures being put in place are future-proofed. They will be as fit for purpose tomorrow as they will be in the longer term. I am pleased to note that if something does not work, there will be a facility to debate further changes in that regard.

When statements on Dáil reform took place in this Chamber recently, I was disappointed to be accused by another Member of the House of being disingenuous. It was suggested that I did not believe in the work of the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform, that I was not putting my best foot forward and that I was not making my best effort. I think that Deputy's ill-judged statement was corrected by the remarks made by the Ceann Comhairle to the media yesterday, when he commended all the members of the sub-committee on the manner in which we had approached our business. We conducted our work in a manner that focused on solutions. I suggest the report we are debating today is evidence of the spirit of collegiality that was evident at every meeting of the sub-committee. It seems to me that the report echoes something of the new politics about which people are very fond of talking.

Even though our approach was very constructive, as I have said, many reforms that my party and I consider necessary are not dealt with in this report because they were not included in the terms of reference of the sub-committee. I find it incredible that my new workplace has not one but two bars. Aside from providing employment, albeit with somewhat erratic hours, I cannot see any reason for the existence of bars in this or any other workplace. We should use the opportunity presented to us by all the talk of new politics and a new way of doing politics to make some real and lasting reforms. If we think people outside this Chamber agree that we need two bars, we are fooling nobody. The public certainly does not think two bars are needed. Similarly, many people cannot understand why we start every day with a prayer rather than a few moments of quiet and inclusive reflection.

The need for the way we do business in this Chamber to be reformed was brought home to me quite starkly during the statements on climate change a couple of weeks ago. I can say from a personal perspective that what occurred in this Chamber on that occasion did not feel like new politics. Indeed, the points I was trying to raise and the links I was trying to make were reported publicly on 13 May in an official impact assessment report, which highlighted the link to which I was trying to draw attention in this Chamber only to be quite unfairly ruled out of order. I mention this to show that even though a great deal of good work has been undertaken by the members of the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform in a spirit of collegiality and co-operation, we all have a job to do to ensure this spirit is replicated in all of our dealings in this Chamber and at the various committees.

The draft report on Dáil reform acknowledges the precedence of parties over groups in recognition of the fact that each group of Deputies representing a political party went before the electorate with a set of ideologies and a particular political philosophy. Groups that are formed after general elections come together for technical reasons. If there were other reasons for the existence of such a group, its members would join or form a political party. Unless and until we know the exact composition of such Dáil groups, we cannot know how the pro rata time distribution will work. I emphasise that regardless of how many groups are formed, the sub-committee's commitment to the precedent of parties over groups must be respected and reflected when time is allocated for critical set-pieces such as Leaders' Questions every time we meet here. We may be in dispute with our colleagues on the benches to our left regarding which of our parties leads the Opposition - I will not get into that now - but it cannot be denied that the Deputies on these benches have a substantial mandate. We expect that this will be reflected during Leaders' Questions and in all set-pieces. We cannot and will not support any notion to the contrary.

A central part of the work of the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform was the need to make the way we do business in this House better, more efficient and more transparent. I believe we have achieved a great deal in this regard. The scheduling changes may, probably will and most definitely should lead to an increased workload for Deputies. This is to be welcomed. Smaller committee numbers will result in more specialisation for the members of committees and will enable Deputies to develop expertise in certain areas. There will be more work and it will be more focused and more specialised. As someone who has often waited with bated breath for the answers to parliamentary questions, I welcome the proposed sanction on Ministers who repeatedly fail to answer questions. I hope this will lead to less tension in homes where people are watching Oireachtas TV. I am one of those who have been known to scream repeatedly at the television in frustration because Ministers are not answering questions. We will wait the impact of the proposed new sanction. I think it will have a positive effect on how we do our business here. I am sure the Ceann Comhairle will use the powers available to him in this regard sparingly. I hope he will use them to good effect.

Many proposals in the draft report should make us work better as parliamentarians. This process should ensure the work we do is seen by those outside Leinster House who elect us. There is much more that I would have liked to have seen in the report. Now that we have made such a good start, I hope a further suite of reforms will not be too far away. I will conclude by reiterating my gratitude to the Ceann Comhairle for his stewardship of the sub-committee.

Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leo siúd ar fad a ghlac páirt sna díospóireachtaí - bhí roinnt argóintí freisin - a bhí againn agus muid ag plé athchóiriú na Dála. Tá sé mar aidhm ag an bpróiseas seo a chinntiú go bhfuilimid mar Theachtaí ábalta an gnó atá romhainn a dhéanamh chomh héifeachtach agus chomh tapaidh agus ba chóir san am atá ann faoi láthair.

Chuireamar gníomh cuibheasach substaintiúil os ár gcomhair chun déileáil le a lán athruithe gur chóir go mbeadh ag tarlú. Don chuid is mó, measaim gur éirigh linn déileáil leo agus tuairisc de mholtaí a chur faoi bhráid na Dála a dhéanfaidh cursaí i bhfad Éireann níos fearr, ní hamháin don Dáil seo ach do Dháileanna amach anseo. Beidh muidne, nó iad siúd a thiocfaidh inár ndiaidh, in ann gnó a dhéanamh i gceart, thar cheann na ndaoine a dhéanann muid a thoghadh agus thar ceann na bpáirtithe atáimid ag seasamh ar son nó páirtí ar bith. Tá athruithe suntasacha molta againn sa tuairisc seo agus rachaidh mé tríd roinnt dóibh níos déanaí. Measaim go bhfuil éacht, i slí amháin nó i slí eile, déanta ag an bhfochoiste ina iomlán toisc gur éirigh linn, don chuid is mó, aontú ar na moltaí seo. Déileáileamar leo ceann ar cheann, diaidh ar ndiaidh, agus bhí siad ar fad fite fuaite le chéile ionas go bhfeictear sna doiciméid seo conas mar a bheidh am an Tí rite amach anseo.

Ar leathanach 33 den tuairisc, tá moladh maidir leis an tslí a mbeidh an t-am a bheimid ag caitheamh anseo eagraithe amach anseo. Tá athruithe suntasacha ag gabháil le hamchlár na Dála. Measaim go mbeidh spéis acu siúd atá spéis acu sa Dáil féachaint ar sin. Tá súil agam go mbeidh spéis ag na meáin chumarsáide ann, a bhíonn ag caitheamh anuas orainn nó ag cuidiú leis an gcaitheamh anuas go minic ag rá nach bhfuilimid ag déanamh ár gcuid oibre chuí nó nach bhfuilimid ag dul i ngleic leis an obair atá os ár gcomhair go dian dícheallach. Go minic, déanann siad siúd a bhíonn ag caitheamh anuas orainn ag rá nach bhfuil go leor Teachta Dála sa Teach seo dearmad nach go dtí an Teach seo amháin atáimid tofa. Tá coistí, obair dháilcheantair agus bualadh le toscairí ónar gceantair i gceist. Is é sin an obair a choimeádann muid as an Seomra seo go minic agus an fáth nach mbímid ar fad anseo. Ní bheadh obair pholaitíochta na tíre seo déanta dá mbeadh muid ar fad gafa anseo ar feadh 30 nó 40 uair a chloig in aghaidh na seachtaine.

When the proposal to set up a Dáil reform sub-committee was announced, I was a Doubting Thomas in many ways because I have been here before. I have spent too long in the House dealing with reform without seeing much of it. However, I have been surprised by how much we have managed to get through in a short period of time and with relative consensus on the changes that are required, or at least on the attempt to change. What we have before us may need tinkering in later months. There is also a commitment - this is very important for those of us and for the members of the public who made submissions - that it does not end at the adoption of these changes and the adoption of Standing Orders, which will hopefully happen next week or the week after. We have asked in appendix 6 of this report that a future sub-committee on Dáil reform look at a whole range of matters which we did not have time to look at due to time constraints, or which were not exactly pertinent to getting this document through and getting the Dáil up and running as quickly as possible in the way we want.

There are matters relating to quorum. There is the interesting matter of the working group of committee chairs looking at the attendance of Deputies at committee meetings. I asked that we look at a whole range of issues, some of which have been mentioned before, such as the prayer, the conventions of bowing to a Chair and standing up when a citizen who happens to be the Ceann Comhairle comes into the room. There is also the use of consolidated Bills, which we should be using to help us in our work of scrutinising legislation, particularly with the likes of social welfare or finance Bills which are highly complicated and sometimes involve three or four pieces of legislation. There are additional supports required to help the media who are in this House. Are they the fourth estate or the third estate? I cannot remember which one they are.

The fifth. No, it is the fifth column the Deputy is talking about. Some of them are fifth columnists alright. They also require additional supports and access to help them do the work we want them to do. We should facilitate that. We should look again at having dedicated weeks, such as on issues pertaining to the Six Counties, the Irish language - as I have proposed before - or even the EU. There is also the matter of access to speaking times for MPs from this island, MLAs or MEPs.

There are changes which would affect the Opposition. There is a proposal to reduce speaking times in order to be more efficient in the use of our time and to ensure that we are not waffling on and on, as politicians are often accused of, myself included. Sometimes we have to curtail our speeches and get our point across in less time.

Another suggestion is to look at removing the privileges from former Members. In my view, if we are seeking to be a Republic, that suggests that citizens are equal. If citizens are equal, former Members should not enjoy privileges after their term of office is over. That might be controversial with the former Members but it is one of the things we should look at. We should also look at how we deal with the whole issue of political reform. One of the issues we debated in the sub-committee, but on which did reach agreement as it was not within our gift, was how to deal with the restriction placed on Members with regard to the proviso on amendments which have a financial charge on the Exchequer and on the people. That would require a constitutional change and I believe we should come back to that at a future Dáil reform committee or at another constitutional convention. It remains an issue despite the fact that the Constitutional Convention addressed it and suggested it be removed.

Some of the issues we addressed were ones my own party and I put forward, such as the independent budgetary office, which we suggested a number of years ago in a pre-budget submission. I believe it would be a useful tool for all parties to be able to cost proposals which we come up with. Members of the public are often very innovative in what they suggest to us. Sometimes we would say a suggestion is beyond our remit and we are unable to cost it. With this proposal, we might have some mechanism to cost it. We could then see how feasible it is in terms of our budgetary consideration. The new budget oversight committee, once established and up and running, would be a useful tool to deal with the proper scrutiny of budgets and estimates, which we have not managed to do properly in this House, despite changes in the last term that we did not manage to fulfil. I believe our mandate to the oversight we need to have over one the key elements of parliamentary procedure, which is the-----

Excuse me, Deputy, I need to correct the record. I may have inadvertently announced the name of Deputy Dara Murphy when I called out the list of speakers earlier. I should have called out Deputy Darragh O'Brien. Deputy Murphy was not on the list.

That is not a problem. There is a whole range of other issues, such as the suggestion that the minimum for political groups be reduced to five. A number of submissions were agreed on that issue.

There is a particular issue with the pre-legislative stage of Bills. I was one of those who praised the previous Government in proposing and introducing it. There was a discussion that this would be compulsory or mandatory with regard to Opposition legislation. Thankfully, the report does not reflect that. We are to discuss the matter further but I believe were it to be accepted it would hamper the workings of the Dáil and would kill off some of the innovation and spontaneity of the Dáil and of backbenchers, not only on the Opposition side but also some on the Government side, who respond to events as they happen rather than plan for months or years ahead.

I think both are required.

The key change, and one I have argued for over a number of years, is in regard to post-legislative scrutiny. When legislation is passed, it should come back to the committee after it is enacted and is operational in order to have some type of view and to see whether it is doing what was intended. This would mean we would not have the situation we had in regard to the Charities Bill, where the charities regulator was not in place for many years after the Bill had been passed. What is the purpose of the House passing legislation if it is not going to be enacted or followed through?

This will hopefully also be used to look at statutory instruments. There is a problem in that statutory instruments are often passed by Ministers but we see neither sight nor sound of them until they have a negative effect and, then, on all sides of the House, we get lobbied to remove them. If they were at least referred to a committee, it might help to identify problems in advance.

The proposals in regard to committees are welcome. In particular, for a number of years I have proposed the setting up of a coiste ar an nGaeilge agus tá súil agam go mbeidh sé sin in ann an obair atá os a chomhair a dhéanamh i gceart. The Irish language committee has a lot of work in front of it because even though there was a sub-committee on the Irish language for many years, it is now a committee in its own right and will be able to raise and deal with issues which most Deputies believe need to be given greater priority. Perhaps the Minister or Minister of State - hopefully, someone will be appointed today as Minister of State with responsibility for the Irish language - can use that committee to greater effect in order to bring about what I believe is the aim of most parties, namely, to enhance and encourage the Irish language in this country and further afield. I believe the committee has a big job of work in trying to focus in on the Department of Education and Skills in regard to the Irish language.

With regard to Leaders' Questions, it is good that the clock will be used to enforce a time limit. We have all too often sat here and seen either the questioner or the respondent going on a lot longer than I believe is appropriate. This is sometimes just winding down the clock, because we are not getting the answer anyway, but on other occasions, the speaker is going well over the time. I do not believe that is fair either to those coming after us or those of us who are here for Leaders' Questions.

I am not 100% sold on the idea of some parties not having a Leader's Question on each given day and others having two. While I understand proportionality, given that a Leader's Question is supposed to deal with the issue of the day, on behalf of a party, how can there be two of them? We will see how it works but we should consider coming back to this.

A further change I had proposed was that the explanatory memorandum for Irish language Bills would be published simultaneously as Gaeilge. I welcome the fact this is contained in the proposals but I had argued for a further change, which I thought was accepted, which was that this was a temporary step in a full movement towards simultaneously publishing all Bills bilingually, in line with what the EU will do by 2022. It is important that we are ahead of it because it would be to our shame if this House was behind the European Parliament in terms of the use of the Irish language in its legislative work.

I am pleased to speak on the motion. I attended all the meetings of the committee and, as other speakers have said, it was a revelation to see how people worked together and listened to each other - I agree with Deputy Thomas Byrne in that regard. I believe we have come up with a historic report. Other speakers, such as Deputy Howlin and Deputy Ó Snodaigh, have, like myself, spent many years trying to get Dáil reform onto the agenda and to make changes.

In fairness to the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, some changes were made in the last Dáil, although once they are made, they disappear into the workings of the Dáil and people do not see them. Nonetheless, a number of important things happened. For example, pre-legislative scrutiny had a major impact on how legislation was developed, although much of it happened in the committee rooms, down in the dungeons, where I spent many hours and days. Topical Issues were brought in instead of Adjournment Matters, and they were brought to the middle of the day so an issue raised by a Deputy got a better time slot. Leaders' Questions were extended to three days of the week. At the same time, questions under Standing Order 32 were sidelined as they were a waste of time.

Much of what we have to do concerns making efficient use of the time we have and making the House more interactive and perhaps less adversarial. This Chamber is set up to be adversarial whereas the committee rooms are not; they are less adversarial and committee members roll up their sleeves and work and listen. I contend there is consensus on 90% of what we debate here because it is needed by the people and the country and we get on with it.

By the way, one change I would like to see is to the alphabetical listing of Members. For example, if someone's surname begins with the letter S, that person is always at the bottom, which can change things.

The business committee is a huge new innovation. This is in vogue in many other countries across the world. The Ceann Comhairle, known as the speaker or president of the parliament in other countries, has been given a very powerful position in the Dáil. This is not before time. The fact the Ceann Comhairle is now elected by majority and by secret ballot and has a mandate from everyone in the House, enhances that position. The position of the Ceann Comhairle should be enhanced as an independent arbiter and we should examine how this can be done in the coming years. I pay tribute to the Ceann Comhairle and to all the staff who worked with us in the committee to bring this report forward.

A package of Dáil reforms was worked on in almost every Dáil going way back but nothing ever happened because it was a case that all was agreed or nothing was agreed - that was the mantra. Then, when an election came, the whole thing was shelved and had to start again and again. In a previous Dáil, the former Minister, Pat Carey, and myself had agreed a package of reforms but, unfortunately, an election came and they did not come about until the last Dáil. This incremental process is part of that. The intention is that other reforms will be needed. Some of these reforms may not work - we will have the unknown unknowns that jump up - and, as others have said, other reforms may have to be tweaked or revisited as time goes on. The budgetary oversight committee is another major reform. My committee did quite a bit of work on that, as did the finance committee under former Deputy Liam Twomey. The OECD was commissioned to carry out a report on this issue, which states:

The relationship between a legislature and an executive goes to the heart of national democratic life. Across the OECD, each country has developed its own traditions, customs and legal frameworks to give expression to this relationship. Similar issues arise from one country to another: How can the parliament best exercise its accountability functions? How should the country balance effective, decisive government action with the deliberative, oversight and control functions of the parliament? How can parliamentary scrutiny enhance trust in the fairness and effectiveness of public policy-making?

The report then looks at specific issues. With regard to the table on page 30, the report states:

The “Index of Legislative Budget Institutions” is a composite metric that compares legislative budget engagement across countries, based on a range of objective criteria. The results ... show that the level of budget engagement by the Houses of the Oireachtas is the lowest observed in any OECD country.

We were the worst when it came to budget scrutiny engagement and oversight. The new budgetary oversight committee and the budgetary office will have major roles to play in changing this scenario. The justice committee engaged in a little of this on a pilot basis and I can tell Members that it will take a lot of time, work and study and involve training for them. This is serious stuff and it will be a whole of year budgetary cycle. It will not be a one-off but will happen throughout the year. The detail is scary. It is badly needed and welcome and we really and truly have to get our teeth into it. Supporting this work will be the independent budgetary office, a major reform which is badly needed. Members and staff will have to be trained for this work. The first point made in the report is on training and the development of Members and staff to strengthen their capacity in financial analysis and scrutiny. It also mentions technical and independent analysis and briefings for committees in scrutinising the budget process. It will also be a major challenge for Departments and Ministers to produce the figures, facts and information in a manner that can be understood and debated in committees. This was one of the problems we came across.

The number required for a group will be reduced to five. When is a group not a group? We probably need to look at this. We have political parties which register as such, with members and councillors, while in the Dáil we have had a technical group which, in the main, was established to enable those who were not members of parties to come together to gain speaking rights. They were mainly Independents and Members representing smaller parties. Now we have another situation developing, where groups are formed which are not technical groups in the House as such. They are political parties in everything but name. We might need to look at this and I said so at the meetings. This is a new departure. They are not parties, but they have the rights of parties. Perhaps if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.

A proposal about which we have spoken for quite some time concerns the split between plenary and committee time. It is very frustrating to be at a committee when a vote is called in the House. One must leave the committee and delegates who have travelled long distances must then wait for 20 minutes. This reform is welcome. Many parliaments throughout the world do this, including in Finland. It is something we need to do to ensure committees have their own time. I am not sure whether enough time is being given to committees. There is provision in the report for committees to meet outside the specific times if they need to do so.

Pre-legislative scrutiny has been mentioned and the justice committee did this a lot. It is very useful. I listened to what Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh had to say about Private Members' Bills, whereby something might happen and one might want to table a Bill for political purposes on a particular day. If serious legislation needs to be developed, my advice is to submit it for pre-legislative scrutiny because it is amazing how much one learns. NGOs, citizens and academics can be invited to have an input. I have seen Bills being turned on their head from what the Minister and the Government had initially planned to introduce because of pre-legislative scrutiny. The same could happen with Private Members' Bills. The idea of having a legal adviser giving advice on whether a Bill is constitutional is important. It would be very foolish of the Oireachtas, as can now happen, to force through a Bill, in spite of the Government and the Attorney General stating it is unconstitutional, and then having it shot down in the courts. It might be useful to receive this advice earlier. If the Attorney General states a Bill is unconstitutional, it should be accepted and that should be the end of it. I agree with Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh on post-legislative scrutiny, which is important.

A smaller number of members on a committee is envisaged. In the previous Dáil we had more than 20 members on some committees, which is impossible. I have mentioned attendance at committees. It needs to be encouraged in some shape or form. The working group on committee chairmen will be enhanced and given a stronger role and the Taoiseach will appear before it, which is important. We will have 24 committees - seven thematic, 14 sectoral and three housekeeping. We may need to revisit this number, if there are too many. A proposal has been made that one person could chair a number of committees, but we will still have 14. Perhaps some of the thematic and housekeeping committees could be chaired by the same person.

If I understood Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh correctly, he spoke about raising one issue during Leaders' Questions. The original intention was that one issue, the burning topic of the day, would be raised. I was here when it was introduced, as was Deputy Thomas P. Broughan. For many years there were rows when a party leader wanted to raise an issue which had happened overnight or recently and could not do so because Standing Orders would not allow it. When the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, became leader of Fine Gael, it was one of the first motions he brought forward and it was accepted at the time. It was a big reform.

Question Time needs to be more efficient and we need to work the clock. On some occasions in the previous Dáil only two oral questions were taken. Everybody should have the chance to ask a question and receive a response. It should not just be spokespersons of parties. Backbenchers need to be allowed to do so also. Questions should be snappier. We should not have long drawn out questions and answers and speeches before questions. Question Time is not the time for Second Stage speeches; a question should be asked.

The powers of the Ceann Comhairle have been mentioned with regard to written and oral questions and Topical Issues. An appeal or complaint can be made to the Ceann Comhairle if a Member believes he or she is not receiving information. I draw attention to one caveat. A Minister should have a chance to correct the record. If someone makes a complaint to the Ceann Comhairle, for instance, where a question was asked about how much had been spent on a particular item and an answer was not given, this is a clear breach and the Minister should have an opportunity to correct it and should be sanctioned afterwards, if necessary.

Tabling questions during the summer recess has been mentioned for years, decades in fact, and now it will happen. Members will be able to table written questions during the summer recess, which is useful.

Many State bodies and local authorities are not as accountable as they should be to the democratic process. Let us get this done because it is important. We need to revisit this issue.

I suggest everybody be reminded of the protocols in the Chamber. It is very distracting if someone walks in front of the person speaking. We should all address the Chair and not each other across the Chamber. Questions and comments should be made through the Chair. That would lead to a far more efficient way of working and doing business.

I wish to speak for one moment about the rise of populism. Churchill or someone said it had been said of democracy that it was the worst form of government, apart from all of those others which had been tried. I worry a little when I hear people speak about getting rid of and taking down the establishment. What would be put in its place? Does anywhere in the world have the perfect system? I challenge those on the extreme left to tell me where it is. Where is this utopia about which they always speak? I would like to see it.

There is talk of wider political reform. Fianna Fáil has made a very interesting proposal in its document, that when a Member becomes a Minister, he or she resign from the Dáil, as happens in Sweden and France, and replaced in parliament by a parliamentarian. The Minister would do nothing but Minister's work and would no longer be a parliamentarian. It is an interesting idea and it is done elsewhere. Perhaps it is something we should consider, but I believe it would require a referendum.

As I am at it, I will throw this into the mix. Do we really need by-elections? Are they a complete waste of time and money? Do they make major changes to the overall picture? Do they distract us here for one month or longer? Could we do what is done in the European Parliament and elsewhere and co-opt if someone resigns or passes away and get on with it? I am advised that it would probably require constitutional reform but as a wider political reform, it is something we should probably examine.

First of all, I welcome the chance to discuss the issue of Dáil reform and make some comments about the wider need and popular thirst for political reform. This is at least a step towards addressing that concern. I pay tribute to the members of the committee who, by all accounts, have worked well together, not withstanding the differences of opinion that they have, in trying to make this Dáil function in a better way.

Some people are sceptical about what is being described as the new politics. Interestingly, the most sceptical people I have met are those in the media, who do not believe for a minute that there can be a new politics but believe that everything will revert to type sooner or later. While I believe there are fundamental policy and ideological differences between many of us on key issues of policy, that does not mean that it is impossible for us to move from the politics of being adversarial for its own sake to beginning to discuss policy and try to solve problems in a serious way and, where necessary, debate genuinely held differences of outlook, philosophy, policy or whatever, and let the public decide on those. I hope all of these measures will move us in this direction. Like others, I want to pay tribute to the staff who are involved in trying to collate all of the opinions on this and work it into a new system for organising the Dáil. I also pay tribute to the new Ceann Comhairle, who has played a very active and genuine role in trying to move this forward.

Before I get into the specific measures proposed, I want to make a general point. There were probably two things that in general terms drove the political and electoral choices that people made in the last election. One was the consequences of the economic crash, namely, austerity and the anger at the injustice and inequality of it, which was reflected in a fairly substantial, arguably historic, change in the balance of power in the Parliament. The other factor, as well as economic and social concerns, was the question of democracy. It was most popularly expressed in the idea of, and the anger directed against, the fact that people could make promises prior to elections and then do something completely different when they got in here.

This has begun to be reflected in a whole series of civil society-led initiatives calling for radical democratic reform, most notably the One Year Initiative, which calls for citizen-led referendums and provision for a certain number of citizens to be able to require the Dáil to hold referenda on issues about which enough people feel strongly. The idea is that people could petition in sufficient numbers for popularly inspired or people-inspired legislation and force us to address certain legislative proposals that would come from the people themselves. That idea of a direct and participatory democracy, which is not just about an election every five years but about an ongoing engagement between the people and the House of representatives, is something that we really must consider.

This leads me to another point about democracy. Here I quote a brilliant pamphlet James Connolly wrote in 1910 which should inform all of our attitudes towards democracy. I will read just a few parts of it. I cannot read it all because it is a brilliant but reasonably lengthy piece. Connolly said:

All hail...to the mob, the incarnation of progress!

In [its] civilising...work the mob had at all times to meet and master the hatred and opposition of kings and nobles; ...there is not in history a record of any movement for abolishing of torture, preventing war, establishing popular suffrage, or shortening the hours of labour led by the hierarchy.

In the course of [its] upward march the mob has transformed and humanised the world. It has abolished religious persecution and imposed toleration upon the bigots of all creeds; it has established the value of human life.

The rest of it, by the way, is brilliant as well. The pamphlet turns the popular - I would say the conventional - conception of politics on its head. It puts it the right way up, that it is the people who drive change and always have, and people elected to this House - all of us - need a bit of humility about that fact. The words "Teachta Dála" mean-----

That is what we should be. I thank the Deputy for the translation.

Deputy Boyd Barrett is welcome. This is the new politics.

We must take extremely seriously that we are messengers. We are not rulers; we are the messengers of the people, and we must have faith and belief in the wisdom and power of the people to bring change, as has always been the case, as Connolly mentioned.

This is absolutely true about the recent election. To my mind, there is no doubt whatsoever that the changed political landscape in here has to do with a level of popular mobilisation and politicisation of the public. There has been nothing in my experience like the level of political sophistication across the public that we have now, and that is a very good thing. The days when anybody could pull the wool over the public's eyes with rhetoric or spin about what he or she does are coming to a close. People are engaging. They are discerning and sophisticated in their understanding of what we do in here, and that is very much to be welcomed. The logic in the long run of this is a much more thoroughgoing democracy that involves direct and participatory democracy and measures like, as Deputy Paul Murphy mentioned, the right of the people to recall Deputies if they do not discharge the mandate given to them during an election. We need to move in that direction.

The specific measures proposed are generally all positive. The new business committee, which will allow the parties to discuss and have an input into the ordering of Government business, is a very positive development. Similarly, the new budget oversight committee and, connected to it, the independent budgetary office could be potentially very good. They would give all parties, those in opposition and in government, serious input into the budgetary process and, hopefully, in line with what I said earlier an opportunity for the public to engage in a serious way with what we do in the process of putting together the budget and to influence our priorities.

Although this is an improvement, I agree with earlier comments on the question of the Opposition still not being able to put forward proposals that involve a charge on the State as being problematic. Notwithstanding the constitutional limitations there, we need to push that envelop as far as we can so that there is that opportunity to put forward suggestions on tax and revenue raising and other matters that could be a charge on the State. There was nothing more frustrating for me in the past five years than when proposals of that sort were ruled out of order.

The pre-legislative stage is positive and can potentially offer the opportunity for the public to engage more in the process of putting together policy and legislation and for us to be conduits for the public to engage in that process.

The abstention proposal is positive for reasons that have already been outlined. It creates the possibility at least for everything not to be adversarial where there is not a necessity for that. Regularly, there are Bills where one might agree with some elements of them while disagreeing with others. I sometimes think the Government has done that deliberately in order to make it difficult for the Opposition to say it opposes one aspect but not another and try to put members of the Opposition in a difficult position of having to be in favour or against, even though they have mixed views on the legislation. Hopefully, that can change.

I raise a couple of questions about some aspects of the reforms that I generally welcome. The issue of Leaders' Questions highlighted by Deputy Ó Snodaigh is potentially problematic. On one level, proportionality is important but it is a problem if we have groups having multiple Leaders' Questions on the same day as a result of proportionality. We have never had that. It does not make a great deal of sense, particularly when it will be the case that as a result others, either in the smaller groups or in the technical groups that are likely to be formed, may not get a chance even in the entire week to make a comment on issues of important topical interest. We need to look at that. Fairness requires that groups, such as Fianna Fáil, which is bigger proportionally, should have a bigger share of these but reflecting the diversity of the Dáil also requires a little rebalancing of that to ensure all voices at least get some chance in any given week to contribute to those leaders' debates.

I would also make a point about Taoiseach's Questions, which has not been touched on at all. Taoiseach's Questions has to change. It is crazy. Often these are not questions and they go on for too long and the answers are nothing but exercises in winding down the clock. There can be answers of up to 15 and 16 minutes for questions. That is bonkers. To be honest, it takes completely from the value of Taoiseach's Questions, which could be a valuable exercise, for it to merely be an exercise in rambling and - what is that expression for just talking to-----

Filibustering. There should be time limits put on-----

A lot of that happens on Deputy Boyd Barrett's side of the House.

It does but Taoiseach's Questions was an exercise in serious filibustering on the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe's, side as well. Let us do something about that.

All of this democratic reform can be undermined by what is going on in Europe at present and the control that the banks and the financial institutions, which the ECB is acting as a conduit for, wield can circumscribe and undermine our ability to function in any sort of democratic way. This was summed up by Trichet's incredible threat, which people really need to think about, to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, at the beginning of the previous Dáil where he stated that if there was any attempt to burn bondholders, he would let off a financial bomb in Dublin. Let us think about the use of that language. It is not hyperbole to describe that as economic terrorism, that a bomb would go off if one democratically decides to do something the people have asked for, want and have an entitlement to and if that is what the popular will is. We have to seriously address the question of an unelected economic power or unelected financial institutions dictating to democratically elected parliaments.

I thank messenger Boyd Barrett.

Debate adjourned.