Report of Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform: Motion (Resumed)

The following motion was moved by Deputy Regina Doherty on Thursday, 19 May 2016:
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
-(Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Regina Doherty)

I appreciate the chance to make a few brief remarks about the draft final report of the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform. I warmly thank the Ceann Comhairle for the work he has done along with all the members of the committee, and, indeed, the Oireachtas Commission staff, in bringing forward the report. In particular, I also thank Deputy Pringle, who represented many Independents on that committee. The Ceann Comhairle has held one-to-one meetings with many Deputies, including myself, in relation to the body of reforms that are coming forward.

In general terms, I welcome the general thrust of the report before us. The proposed business committee is a welcome advance. In the past, opposition, and, indeed, Government backbenchers would find out at a few hours' or at a day's notice what the business of the House was to be. However, when a business committee is established, we will know a couple of weeks in advance and will be able to have an input into that, which is very valuable.

A key element of the report relates to the monitoring of legislation. Bills which come to mind include the sale of alcohol Bill, dating back over perhaps a decade and a half, the noise Bill, dating back over a decade and a half, and the foreshore Bill. These all have been on the clár at different times in my time in this House but they have not been implemented. The idea of monitoring and implementing desirable legislation for the people is important.

Late in the previous Dáil or early in this Dáil, I asked the Oireachtas Library and Information Service to prepare a report on an Estimates committee for Dáil Éireann. Our colleagues in the Library produced a fine report which focused on the failure in this regard. It carried on from the OECD 2015 report which showed up the grave deficiencies of this House in monitoring financial legislation and measures. It showed, of course, that we follow the United Kingdom post hoc system in budgets, that we measure expenditure through the Committee of Public Accounts, which has done fine work over the years, but we have never had an ex ante system whereby a committee would look at possible spending, in this case, for 2017.

Through the years, as the Acting Chairman might appreciate, we have had situations in which we discussed the Estimates for 2016 in the middle of 2017, or for 2014 in the middle of 2015. We were always a year behind in considering Estimates and we were discussing money that had already been spent. It is important we get away from this.

I have reservations about the structure of the budget oversight committee proposed. We will have a sectoral finance committee in this area. One of the OECD proposals, reflected in the report the Oireachtas Library staff carried out, was that an Estimates or budget oversight committee would comprise the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and the heads of the other committees. It was a different type of committee and would have had a major input into the structure of the budget during the preparation of Estimates each spring and summer and the bringing together of the budgetary process in September and October. I am not sure the committee will do this or whether it will be going over the work of the sectoral committees in this area again.

I hope the committee will represent a break with the past and give much more input, for example, this year into the budgetary programmes for 2017 and 2018, and however long the Government lasts. It may not reflect the powerful budgetary committees to be found in the Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal, France, Germany, Austria and Italy where they have always had the non-Westminster tradition of invigilating future spending plans of each Department, which I hope the committee will do.

The independent parliamentary budget office could play a major role and there is major emphasis laid on the statutory underpinning of the office. I would make it an independent parliamentary budget supervisor or facility. I think the Parliament should have this role and the fundamental say on the preparation of future budgets through the committee. The role of the office, which was suggested on the independent parliamentary budget, would be proper as part of the budget oversight committee and would be a function of the budget oversight committee, which would have this fundamental independence. I am not sure how it would work or whether it could be another instrument for a Government and powerful interests in society to say certain things cannot happen, for example that we cannot introduce a single-tier health system or a proper child care system given that we do not have the money. I wonder about the independence of the budget oversight committee and putting the independent parliamentary budget officer beside it in a role that might impinge on the work of the committee.

Like other Deputies, I have used the services of the parliamentary legal adviser. It commissioned legal support when Opposition Members were preparing Bills. I welcome the proposal on this, which is valuable. I agree with a previous Deputy on Leaders' Questions. It seems incongruous that a number of leaders for Fianna Fáil could ask questions on Leaders' Questions. It seems to be copper-fastening the idea that Fianna Fáil is both in government and in opposition, which it is. It will be another device to try to help Fianna Fáil to straddle these two roles. It is fair enough that each group or party would have a speaking slot during Leaders' Questions.

Our Dáil has often been criticised as being very family-unfriendly and making it very difficult for families due to the incredibly late hours. The previous Government was famous for holding major debates well after midnight. Major issues have been discussed, usually on Tuesday nights, and have run way late. I wonder about scheduling plenary business up to 10 p.m. I wonder if it could be scheduled much earlier or if the committee meetings could be scheduled for an earlier part of the day, 7 a.m. or 8 a.m., and be finished earlier to give Members who have families, and their partners, a chance to have a more normal style of life.

The fact that the Parliament is in Dublin makes it much more difficult for all our Members. At some discussions, people said maybe we should take the Parliament outside Dublin, that there might be merit in having plenary sessions in Cork, Galway, Athlone and our other great towns and cities. The Chamber is due for refurbishment, as is the Seanad Chamber, which I would have liked to have been permanently closed. There might be an opportunity to explore this. We need more family-friendly working hours.

Earlier comments about the role of the pre-legislative process were very valuable. Maybe there are too many committees in the draft report. There are 23 committees, although some of them, such as the thematic committees, do not meet often. It seems a large number of committees for a reduced Dáil. I thank the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Pringle and others who have worked so hard on the report. The general thrust of it will produce a more democratic, transparent and accountable Dáil.

I am delighted to speak on this historic document as a member of the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform. We are here because of the mandate which constituents gave us across the country. Nothing was clear-cut and we had to sit down as politicians and figure out what we were going to do. The fact that we have produced this document in a short timeframe reflects the collegial nature of the committee and the fact that it was seen as an opportunity for us to sit down, talk to each other and consider the submissions. Every Deputy had an opportunity to make a submission on it. We even received submissions from external people. There are many opportunities for people to have their say.

I note the collegial nature of the committee. Leaving the heat of the television cameras out of it showed that when politicians sit down and talk to each other seriously and with good intentions, they can reach a consensus on certain topics. The document we have produced reflects this. I pay tribute to the Ceann Comhairle for his excellent chairing of the committee and to the staff who were involved in helping distil all the ideas and find research for us in such a prompt and professional fashion. Without them, we could not have done it. I pay tribute to all the members of the committee, particularly my colleagues who were appointed by the Taoiseach, the Minister of State, Deputy Regina Doherty, and Deputies Eoghan Murphy and David Stanton, all of whom are passionate about Dáil reform and making the Chamber much more efficient and meaningful for the people participating.

The fact that we will be on the clock a little more is a good thing. As a member of the panel of Acting Chairmen, I have seen the frustration on the part of Deputies who were sharing time or who came to the end of a slot to discover that the time had run out because those ahead of them had deprived them of the opportunity and democratic right to speak here because they did not observe the clock.

If we are sincere about what we want to do in this new landscape of politics, we will have to have more respect for each other, less grandstanding and be conscious that if a Member is eroding speaking time he or she is depriving another public representative, who is as entitled to speak as that Member, of the opportunity to have his or her say.

I am glad we are building on the work the previous Government did on political reform and, for example, on the process of pre-legislative scrutiny which was introduced. I participated in that on a number of committees and found it very helpful. I believe it influenced the outcome of the Bills subsequently produced. The fact that we will now introduce post-legislative scrutiny, which is an issue all of us felt strongly about, will make being a member of a committee even more meaningful. It will be a good opportunity for Members of the House who have ideas on legislation to go to the parliamentary legal office to get their heads of a Bill referred to committees and thereby participate in meaningful engagement. That is the reason we are here. Nobody has a monopoly on ideas. Excellent ideas can come from all sides of the House, and that is what we would like to see happen. The proposal to enhance the parliamentary legal office is excellent because none of us realised that the budget allocated for that office each year was not spent.

The other excellent initiative the previous Ceann Comhairle took was to make this Parliament more accessible to the people. If they cannot come into the Visitors Gallery, how can they participate? Previously, they might have had to read transcripts of proceedings or whatever but we now have a dedicated Oireachtas television channel, which is excellent. We also have a dedicated website on which all the legislative programmes can be seen. People can listen live to debates and the fact that we have an Oireachtas app is also excellent. As a Member I find it very useful to check the business that is planned for the coming week.

The business committee proposed in the report, which will reflect the make-up of the Dáil, will put power back into the hands of the Members as they will be able to make decisions around scheduling of business and so on. With regard to the new proposed layout of the Dáil week, luckily I do not have small children but I know colleagues who do and trying to work towards a family friendly situation has been challenging. I agree with the collective voting proposal for Thursdays. I recall Deputies in the previous Administration who felt that if they could have gone home an hour earlier they might have been able to put their child to bed rather than having to wait for a vote that would be called later in the House. I am reflecting on Members who are within driving distance of Dublin. It clearly will not suit all Members but it is a step in the right direction.

As a chair of a committee in the previous Dáil, one of the frustrations I experienced was that members of the committee could be called to a Dáil vote in the middle of committee proceedings. This was most frustrating, especially on occasions when we had invited guests before the committee who were helping us with pre-legislative scrutiny. The Seanad members would have remained at the committee while we had to leave to go to the Dáil for a vote. It was very frustrating. The scheduling of two separate morning sittings dedicated to committee business only will be beneficial to all Members, not only in the efficient management of Dáil business but it will give Members an opportunity to focus and concentrate on the legislation they will be working on. The fact that we have narrowed down the numbers is a good idea. It will give Members an opportunity to become more expert on their areas of interest. I hope that is acceptable and that it will work.

The proposed establishment of a budgetary oversight committee and the dedicated independent parliamentary budget office is a step in the right direction. I imagine it will particularly work in the favour of the Opposition Members. It is something they have wanted for a long time. Previously they had to extract information from parliamentary questions and elsewhere. If they have good ideas they can be professionally assisted in costing their ideas. Nobody has a monopoly ideas but I believe it will be an office that will work very well.

Our relationship with State bodies is challenging. As a public representative, I can vouch for the frustration I have experienced when I have got a reply to a parliamentary question from a Minister to the effect that he or she will have to refer this matter to a specific State agency and hopefully it will report back to me in 14 days or so. I found with some officials there was a sense of detachment. When we did some research on this area we discovered that very few State agencies have an Oireachtas helpline, a dedicated line on which Members could raise queries with them. The State bodies will have to adjust to the change. I remember the frustration I felt when I sought a meeting with a person in a State agency, whom I shall not name, and that person refused to meet me. I am a public representative democratically elected and for somebody in a State agency to refuse to meet me is undemocratic. It is a denial of a service for people who asked me to find out something for them when that State agency had the answer and refused to meet me to talk about the matter. That is highly unacceptable. It is the type of issue on which all members of the committee were united. We all had experienced such frustration. If we can put something constructive and positive in place, that should help in that respect.

While there is a great deal I could speak about in the draft report, an important provision is that the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform will remain in place. Even as we were signing off on this document, many of us were coming up with further topics that we would like to have discussed. This debate provides an opportunity for us to hear the view of other Members. They may come up with ideas we did not consider. We tried to cover as much as we could but we will have an opportunity to revisit issues when hopefully we will get consensus on this draft report next week. We can then consider other topics that were submitted by some of the members of the sub-committee that they would like to discuss further down the line. That is well worth doing. It was very much a collegial committee. The fact that we worked so well together and obtained consensus is something about which everybody can be justifiably proud. I hope that the Members of the Dáil recognise genuine efforts were put in by the members of the sub-committee. There was no attempt to exclude or not take into account the views of the members who had submitted their ideas and who will be contributing to the debate today. We will take all those contributions on board. We will meet next week and if there are amendments to this draft document they will be made and hopefully that will mean we will be able to move forward with it.

A proposal that is worth considering, which would form part of the next discussion of the sub-committee, relates to the Constitutional Convention we had and how that worked very well in dealing with specific items in the Constitution. Other civil society groups are coming up with different ideas and they would like to have a similar process to tease out specific topics. For example, a group of academics are seeking a forum on climate change and it is a question of deciding how that could be put in place. Their concern is to get the engagement of all our politicians and citizens. We are the citizens' assembly in this House. Setting up a forum that is called a citizens assembly might not be acceptable but it could be called something else.

The aim would be the same - to engage with our people and politicians in a meaningful way. Of course, we have to start thinking long-term. Dáil cycles are short, but something like climate change is an issue about which we all need to talk. It will impact on every one of us and future generations. Having some assembly, whatever it might be called, is something at which we have to look. It is something at which the next sub-committee will look.

I hope Members are happy with this report. The Irish language was discussed in detail. Those of us who are not fluent are still anxious that an Irish language committee be established and it is included as a recommendation, which is very welcome.

On the grouping system, I hope Independent members of the Opposition will be happy that we have attempted to give them the speaking time to which they are entitled as democratically elected Members of the Dáil. It was frustrating for a lot of them to find they could not get much speaking time. I know that it is not of much comfort to them, but I did not get much time either as a backbencher in a Government party whereas Ministers got a lot. I understood completely from where they were coming and hope they are happy with the suggestion we have made of reducing the number required to form a group to give them the speaking time to which they are entitled as Members of the Dáil and messengers of the people, as we all are. I hope it reflects the make-up of this new Chamber. I hope the Dáil Members who were not on the sub-committee are happy with what we have done and that we can adopt it next week and move on with all of the excellent ideas in a more collegiate manner. I hope there will be less fire here and more consideration for each other because that is was the electorate expects of us.

The purpose of the debate is to hear views from across the House, including from those who were not members of the reform sub-committee. I had the pleasure of serving on it and thank the Ceann Comhairle for his leadership and ensuring a diverse committee drawn from all political viewpoints and strands worked extremely well. It was one of the most efficient committees with which I had been involved in my time here since 2007. In particular, I thank the staff. We had ten detailed meetings at which redrafts of and changes to reports were required, as were minutes of meetings, etc. A great deal of research was carried out in the background and it was not simply based on OECD recommendations. A great deal of the work was done by our own staff in the Oireachtas research service who did a superb job.

I am glad that Members across the House are reading the proposals made, the reform does not stop here. The sub-committee will remain in place. There are some things we want to see changed and which will change and I hope we can bring forward a motion in the House next Tuesday. If it is passed, the relevant Standing Orders to effect the necessary changes will be brought forward on Wednesday. I was speaking at an event earlier on Dawson Street on Dáil reform, in particular, and will discuss Oireachtas reform in one minute. I note to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, who was involved in the previous Seanad and changing how it worked, that there is scepticism, a great deal of it driven by the media, that anything we bring forward may not work or constitute window dressing. We need time for it to work. I put it to colleagues that if the Dáil does not change, it will not work - full stop. The Dáil will not work. In recent years, particularly under the last Government but also under the two before it, the Dáil became, in effect, a rubber stamp for Cabinet decisions. That is not the way Parliament should work, but that was the way it worked under Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Governments and others. We have a real opportunity to change this.

I listened to the comments and views of Deputy Thomas P. Broughan about how things would work. The reason the independent budgetary office will be set up on a statutory basis is not for it to become an animal of the Government but in order to establish it in law and provide it with independence and power under statute. It will be independent and not part of the Department of Finance. I will go back to that issue in one minute. It is exactly the same with the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser, set up under law. I served as a backbencher in a previous Government and I am in opposition this time out. Even as a backbench Government Deputy, it was practically impossible to bring forward legislation. We did not have the advice required. Any Minister could, as happened this week with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, in the case of the Central Bank (Variable Rate Mortgages) Bill 2016, assert that legislation might be unconstitutional. While that is fine and it is an opinion he holds, when the Opposition and other Members of the House have access to an independent parliamentary legal advice service which is staffed with properly qualified people and draftspeople, the quality of the legislation will stand up. It is a counterbalance to the Attorney General. This office is not being placed in conflict with the Attorney General but will provide resources for all Deputies, in particular Opposition Members, and access to independent parliamentary legal advice. That will be really important for those who wish to introduce legislation.

One of the areas the sub-committee considered involved Private Members' Bills. We will now have two Private Members' slots per week. The issue is what will happen to a Bill once it is allowed through on Second Stage. There is a set timeframe such that within ten weeks of a Bill being passed on Second Stage, it must be referred to a committee. Good legislation will not die on the vine and it will not be possible simply to park it. As there will be real opportunities for Opposition Members to have legislation passed by way of consensus, an onus will be placed on us to ensure legislation is robust and will stand up to legal scrutiny. Hence, there will be an absolute need for a parliamentary legal adviser. The scepticism to which I referred is recognised by those same people and, as such, this change needs to happen.

The sub-committee has tried with the assistance of Members across the House and people outside who made submissions to put forward a reform document that is actually doable. The OECD report referenced earlier showed that we had one of the poorest systems of parliamentary oversight of the budgetary process in the OECD. The introduction of a budget oversight committee is a positive step forward. It is not everything one would want immediately because that cannot be done, but it is a very good start. It will get to a stage where we will have budget committees such as those in the Czech Republic, France and Germany, to which Deputy Thomas P. Broughan referred. However, it will need to be serviced and have the resources of an independent budgetary office. That is crucial. Part of that will be when we try to deal with the new political reality of consensus politics and agree on things as best we can through that office. That will include smaller parties, those on the far left and those with very different views who may have espoused in the past a consequence-free opposition. Thankfully, we do not have far right parties. When Governments brought things in, these parties stated they were awful, jumped up and down, voted against them and went out and stated the Minister was wrong. It will now be incumbent on these Deputies to bring forward alternatives to the policies brought forward. They will have the opportunity to do so through the independent budgetary office to have their ideas and policies costed independently, verified and stress-tested. Should a party, including mine, or an Independent bring forward proposals which stack up, I would like to see the budget committee recommend their inclusion. The Minister for Finance will have to take this recommendation on board.

If parties or Independents who have always voted against budgets, come hell or high water, now have some policies reflected in a budget, it will be a step forward and they should consider supporting budgets and financial policy instead of constantly hurling from the ditch, of which people are sick. Although people are sick of big government and the Government controlling everything, they are also sick of those who do not propose realistic alternatives. The independent office will allow for this. I am not saying I am right about everything - God knows I am not - or that my political philosophy is the correct one, as people have different political philosophies, but this is an opportunity to become involved.

The report includes many good proposals. The additional responsibilities and powers for the Ceann Comhairle to be able to state a Minister has not answered a question and to direct him or her to answer it are important. This will apply to oral and written questions. Every quarter what is effectively a league table will be published. Two new Ministers of State - one will be a Minister of State shortly - are present. They are aware that their Departments will be called out if answers to parliamentary questions are not deemed sufficient.

We also considered how State agencies responded to Deputies' queries. I am only referring to Deputies because our remit covered the Dáil specifically. State agencies and Government bodies have a responsibility to reply in a comprehensive and timely way. We will continue to work on this issue to bring about a code or service-level agreement that will apply to some agencies but not others in order that Members who are elected by the people can receive the answers they need.

I listened with interest to Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett's opinions. It is welcome that, in broad terms, he saw many positives in the report. I commend all members of the committee and the Deputy's representative thereon, Deputy Paul Murphy, who did a great deal of good work. As was stated at the last committee meeting, if only the Dáil could work in the way the committee worked. Fifteen people from diverse political backgrounds, with diverse political views and approaches and with diverse personalities worked together well and in a respectful way. We have been able to produce the most significant proposals on Dáil reform in decades and there is no reason that attitude cannot be brought into the Chamber. It must be. Everyone to whom I have listened has stated he or she does not want to see more grandstanding or hear long-winded answers from Ministers, but neither does anyone want to hear long-winded contributions from Opposition Deputies or the person being played instead of the ball, of which there is far too much.

People in the media and the public will have to get used to the Government losing votes - big deal. It happens in other democracies. We will have the real business of the budget, the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill and so on to do. Some parties are not represented in the Chamber at the moment because we are coming towards the end of the debate, but I say to members of the Opposition and Government Members that the use of motions of no confidence as a tactical measure is something through which people see. One should never underestimate the intelligence of the electorate. We have a very sophisticated electorate. It voted for a changed Dáil, on the back of which there have been proposals that will ensure a more mature and collegial parliamentary system. This was one of the reasons, on the Monday straight after the general election while votes were still being counted in some constituencies, my party leader called for the establishment of a reform committee and for reforms to be implemented in advance of a Government's formation. Experience has shown us that Governments of all hues have only ever wanted reforms that suited them. As such, it was important that our work be done in advance of a Government's formation. These reforms are not perfect or complete, but they will provide a good basis on which we can work. If we do not change how we work, cynicism about how we operate in the Chamber which, in many instances, is well placed will grow, we will not be able to do our job and will enter into a cycle of having election after election in which the pressing issues of housing, homelessness and health, to name but a few, will not be tackled.

We must give these proposals a chance. They afford a real opportunity for all Deputies to champion their policy positions. It is incumbent on all Members to propose alternative policies. If people do not like something, great. That is what this is about. They can say they do not like it, but they should propose an alternative. They will now have the opportunity to do this by way of legislation. If these changes are made next week, as I believe they will be, an Independent, Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael Deputy knocking on doors at the next general election looking to be re-elected could campaign on the basis of passing this or that legislation because he or she will have the support of the new offices and facilities that are necessary to ensure a Bill will stack up. This could not be done previously. Since the foundation of the First Dáil, only six Bills that did not emanate from the Government have gone through all Stages in both Houses. This report presents an opportunity to ensure much more legislation emanates from across the House. Six Bills is a poor record.

Another issue is that of timeliness in debates and giving concise answers; theerfore, I will conclude before my time ends. I do not have a utopian view, as I am a realist, but we must give these proposals a try. I thank my colleagues on the committee.

I propose to share time with Deputy Seamus Healy.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this discussion on the report of the Dáil reform sub-committee, of which I was happy to be a member. It worked hard for many weeks after its establishment and examined all aspects of the reform proposals made to determine which would be workable and could be put in place. The report is comprehensive and significantly positive, although there is a great deal that is negative.

On its positive aspects, the establishment of a business committee is a welcome development. Most Deputies will see that it will provide for useful engagement and a different way of ordering the business of the House. I hope it will wind down some of the control exercised by Government parties.

The parliamentary budgetary office and the budgetary committee will also prove to be a useful change, but that aspect will depend on how Members and the permanent government, as people like to term it, engage with them. They might have to be dragged kicking and screaming if they are to work. I was a member of the agriculture committee in the previous Dáil when a process was introduced, supposedly as part of the Dáil reform process, whereby Departments would engage with committees on the Estimates process. Unfortunately, they only provided documents one hour before a meeting, which did not allow for proper engagement or scrutiny. It is important that the Civil Service and Departments engage with this process and are committed to it, as they have the potential to stymie some of the progressive work that could be done via committees.

Let us consider the change that will allow individual Members to submit amendments to legislation in their own name. In the past, all amendments in the name of a Member, particularly an Independent, had to be submitted in the name of the member of the relevant committee. Even if committee members did not agree with the amendments, they facilitated their submission so other Members would have them heard on Committee Stage. Some of us took a hit in doing so. Some amendments tabled in my name but of which I was certainly not in favour did not go down well for me in my constituency. However, that was part of the arrangement of the Technical Group and part of working within it. The new development addressing this is, therefore, welcome. It entitles Members to engage in the committee process or legislative process as a whole, which is important.

There is a serious flaw in this report that is very worrying given the context of the reform and the talk of a new politics and a new way of working in the House. It concerns the proposals on Leaders' Questions and Priority Questions. In very many ways, as will be seen over time, these questions reflect the public face of the Dáil reform process. Leaders' Questions and Priority Questions are set-piece events in the House.

I was disappointed by how the mood changed throughout the proceedings of the sub-committee. As it got closer to concluding its work and producing a draft report, much of the positive sentiment expressed about groups and new politics seemed to wane quite a bit. With regard to how groupings, Leaders' Questions and Priority Questions would work, we were provided with a document early in the process implying there could be six groups in opposition. Groups with more than 20 Members were regarded as large, groups with between ten and 20 were regarded as medium and groups with under ten were regarded as small. Based on the proposal, the groups of between ten and 20 were to be entitled to two questions on Leaders' Questions per week and five Priority Questions every two weeks. In a two-week cycle, there would be three in the first week and two in the second. This was slightly fewer than what the Technical Group had in the last Dáil but everybody would have been quite happy to regard it as a workable arrangement. Lo and behold, in the past week, an arrangement was submitted and the sub-committee agreed on a change to allow for four questions on Leaders' Questions per day, amounting to 12 per week. However, we see it is now proposed that Fianna Fáil would have six of those and a technical group with ten Members would have one question per week, representing a reduction of 50% over what was discussed previously. This has gone a long way towards undermining belief in the process and how it is evolving.

With regard to Priority Questions, previously a technical group could have five questions every two weeks. Under the current proposal, it would have two questions every two weeks. This shows that very little will change in terms of the public face of the Dáil. It is interesting that Fianna Fáil will now have two questions on Leaders' Questions every day. This shows that party is quite happy to use its numbers to demand the lion's share of Opposition time and yet it would not use its numbers to form or participate in a government. We must, therefore, question how this new politics will develop if this system is allowed to operate.

In fairness to the officials in the office of the Clerk of the Dáil, the difficulty involved not knowing how the groups would be constituted. We will not know until the Standing Orders have been amended, at which point the groups will gel together. Those concerned are operating in a different system and trying to figure out what the scenarios will be. There will have been a very definite and serious rowing back from the work of this sub-committee over the period in which it has been sitting if these proposals are implemented. That does not augur well for the so-called new politics and the change that is supposed to be made to how the House does its business.

We were talking about new politics. It is more than likely that we will end up with six groups in opposition. We should have six questions on Leaders' Questions every day, namely, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. That would really be new politics, drive change and show the complexion of the House is changing. We would accommodate this in Priority Questions also such that each of the groups would be reflected according to the very public face of the House. However, I am too much of a realist to believe that would be allowed to happen. What happens in politics, and the natural tendency of parties, is to protect parties. That is ultimately what is at stake in the changes that have been proposed by the sub-committee in the past couple of weeks.

As a member of the sub-committee, I do not actually recall its having decided that party groups would always have precedence over technical groups. As I understood the workings of the sub-committee, I understood arrangements were to be made on a pro rata basis. We will now see that the Labour Party, which has seven Members, will still maintain its dominance, as in the previous Dáil. When technical groups were first established, Standing Orders were amended to facilitate the Labour Party to ensure it would always be called before a technical group.

The proposed changes to the rotas, if implemented on the basis of what we were provided with in the past week, will actually represent a regression. This would call into question my support for the final document that comes forward.

I thank Deputy Pringle for sharing time with me.

This Dáil reform document is effectively a product of the changed landscape resulting from the general election and particularly of what I would call the "people power" we witnessed over recent years, primarily the Right2Water protests that have taken place. The protests have changed the landscape of politics. In mentioning that, it is worth noting that Irish Water has finally come clean today in regard to the payment of bills. The bill paying system has effectively collapsed, with a reduction in payments of 20% over the last quarter.

The document we have before us is like many a document in that it needs to be read in detail. The old saying that the devil is in the detail is one that needs to be taken on board in a very significant way. Unfortunately, I do not believe the document contains the details required to ensure equity and fairness to all groups and individual Members in the House. Certainly, there are improvements in the document. Participating in Leaders' Questions as a member of the old Technical Group was absolutely frustrating, not only for me but for everybody asking questions, be they party people or Independents. It simply was not possible to get replies; the Taoiseach would answer any question other than the one he was asked. I hope there will be a cultural change in this regard arising from the reform document. However, the questions Deputy Pringle has raised on the number and distribution of entitlements to ask questions on Leaders' Questions and Priority Questions and to propose Private Members' business go to the heart of what occurs in this Chamber. It is not at all clear from the document how the arrangement will work.

As I indicated, the devil is in the detail. The document does not make clear how this arrangement will work or if every grouping in the Dáil will receive fair representation. While the document may appear reasonable, it is unclear in respect of the detail provided on the number of groups and the number of questions to be allowed weekly, particularly on Leaders' Questions. If the proposed system were to operate on the basis outlined by Deputy Thomas Pringle, it would negate the entire document. Having set out to achieve a complete change of culture for this Dáil, we would like more detail on how the proposals will work in practice before deciding whether to accept them.

Every Deputy elected to the House is entitled to speak in the Chamber. We are sent here as Teachtaí Dála - messengers to parliament - to speak and be heard. Every effort should be made to ensure every Deputy and political group has fair and reasonable access to speaking rights. If the changes in train are as outlined by Deputy Pringle, unfortunately, they will not be of any great benefit.

Dáil reform is only one aspect of political reform and both are needed. Constituents must be able to recall Deputies and the right of members of the public to initiate referendums and legislative change must be reinserted in the Constitution.

I thank the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform, whose members were drawn from all political parties, on the wonderful job it has done. It is interesting that some people claimed the election would result in chaos in the Dáil on the basis that too many small groups and Independents had been elected and the variety of Deputies from the right and left was too great. It was argued that this would lead to instability and the Dáil would not be able to function. It should be noted, however, that if one or two parties had secured an overall majority, we would not be discussing Dáil reform today or proposing to give everyone who was elected the right to have a say in the House. Democracy is not so much about the will of the majority but the rights of the minority and that is what is important in this Dáil reform.

Dáil reform was not an issue on the doorsteps during the general election campaign. While people wanted to know what was happening in the Dáil and if it would be reformed, their focus was on other, more substantive issues such as health, education and housing, and rightly so. However, Dáil reform was an issue for many Deputies who believed they were not being treated properly with regard to speaking time and their rights, as individual parliamentarians, to represent their constituents and serve as legislators. The establishment of the sub-committee was important for these reasons.

I have some difficulties with certain aspects of the report. I note that some members of the Technical Group believe the proposals undermine their speaking rights on Leaders' Questions. That would be disappointing and wrong if it were the case because the Technical Group has a substantial number of Deputies and is an integral part of the Dáil. I understand it has ten members, making it a much larger group than the Labour Party. As such, it should have more speaking rights and time on Leaders' Questions and Priority Questions than the Labour Party or any other smaller group, including the Independent Alliance. We must be up-front and honest in that regard. If the Technical Group has ten members, it should be treated as a larger group. This issue should be revisited before a final decision is made on the proposals.

I have always had a problem with Priority Questions. It is an affront to Deputies that we are allowed only 30 seconds to introduce a priority question. These questions are taken in prime speaking time and address issues such as housing or the hospital crisis that affect the entire country. I will be very disappointed if the 30 second period for introducing a priority question is maintained. It is unfair to provide speaking time of only 30 seconds, followed by two one-minute slots for supplementary questions, for a priority question. Alongside Leaders' Questions, this is the most important aspect of Dáil business.

I had the privilege of speaking on behalf of the Technical Group on Leaders' Questions on a number of occasions. It was frustrating at times to be rushed along when raising serious issues in prime speaking time. This sense of frustration was not related to the publicity associated with Leaders' Questions but arose because I was raising important issues that affected us as legislators and the country. The Ceann Comhairle, Leas-Cheann Comhairle and Acting Chairmen must give some leeway on Leaders' Questions because there is nothing more frustrating than being rushed when raising a serious issue, as happened to me on a number of occasions. I recall speaking on the abortion issue when a number of women who had been raped or had pregnancies involving fatal foetal abnormalities were present in the Gallery. I found it offensive that the Chair rushed me while speaking on such an important issue. Some of the women who had come to the House to listen to a number of speakers, including Deputies Clare Daly, Joan Collins and Ruth Coppinger, pointed out that we had not been given adequate speaking time. The procedures in place for Leaders' Questions and Priority Questions should be re-examined.

I have faith in the willingness of spokespersons, regardless of which party or group they represent, to be honest during Leaders' Questions. I do not expect them to hog the floor or speak for ten or 15 minutes. The three minutes provided to introduce a question on Leaders' Question must be reviewed. Furthermore, the 30 seconds provided to introduce a question on Priority Questions is unfair and not good enough. The procedures in place for groups in the Dáil must also be reviewed to ensure technical groups are given adequate speaking rights on Leaders' Questions and Priority Questions and their speaking time is proportionate to their membership.

I do not see much in the document on the introduction of Bills. I do not like the idea of having a lottery for Bills. Legislation should be prioritised on the basis of when it was submitted. Bills should be placed before the House in order of submission. I understand a controversial Bill I submitted on assisted suicide has been lost in the lottery system for the past two months, although I am not sure where it is. I understand Bills can be submitted on any sitting day and several of these are then chosen every second Friday using a lottery system. This is not fair to Deputies who may wait for a long period for their Bill to come before the House. Legislation should be prioritised on the basis of the time at which it was submitted. This issue needs to be examined.

Dáil privilege is not referred to in the reform proposals. This important issue for many Deputies must be addressed. While I do not argue that Dáil privilege is being abused, I am concerned that a Deputy may make a factually incorrect statement in the Dáil that could have terrible or horrendous consequences for an individual or a family.

There must be some balance and checks must be put in place. I believe that if I have something to say in the Dáil, I should be able to say it outside of the House also. I am not saying Dáil privilege should be done away with. It should not be but we need to have some balance and checks. I do not know what these should be but we should think about the issue because of the possible far-reaching consequences of what is said.

Each of the 158 Deputies elected to the Dáil is elected in his or her own right, whatever constituents or ideology they represent, and whatever happens with these reforms, every Deputy has a right to speaking time. We must ensure that right is adhered to. If this means allowing for extra speaking time, so be it. If it means extending hours on a day or sitting another day, that would not trouble me or many other Deputies. Reform will mean nothing if Deputies come into this House and cannot raise or speak on a particular issue, perhaps because they are members of a small group or are Independents who want to plough their own furrow. These Members should have the same right as everybody else to speak, the same right as a Minister, the Taoiseach or any other Member. Dáil reform will be respected and judged on the basis that the person people voted for has the same speaking rights as everybody else. We are in a unique position now and have the ability to make far-reaching changes that will operate to the benefit of not so much Members, but people who pay attention to Parliament and want business and work to be conducted in a businesslike manner.

On one other point, I have noticed that an increasing number of people, like me, have no religious belief or are humanist or atheist. Out of respect, we stand for the prayer here but perhaps we should consider a moment for reflection rather than a prayer. While the prayer is obligatory, it looks disrespectful if a Member remains sitting or waits outside until the prayer is over. We must consider the increasing number of people who do not feel there is a place in this Dáil for prayer. I have nothing against people who want to pray but I do not pray. We should discuss the possibility of a reflection rather than a prayer, based on the increasing number of people who feel this is an issue.

Overall, we should look again at Leaders' Questions and Priority Questions. We must ensure that speaking time on these issues for groupings in the Dáil is not diluted based on the proportionate numbers in the groupings. Speaking time should not be taken from them because they happen to be a technical group or small party. I am disappointed that it appears that time allowed on Leaders' Questions or Priority Questions for the Technical Group, now a group of ten, may be reduced. That should not be acceptable to any of us.

I am glad I objected to the Order of Business earlier in terms of the allocation of speaking time on this issue, as the original proposal would have seen the rest of the House confined to a mere 30 minutes, with the majority of the time given to the sub-committee members. As matters have turned out, the sub-committee members did not use all of their time and we may have enough time to make our contributions. However, the principle of seeking more time was right. I was not pressing for more time in order to take away from the work of the sub-committee members. Tremendous work has gone into this issue over the past weeks and members of all parties and none have given of their time voluntarily to try to make this place a bit more democratic and accountable. There is an urgency to the situation because it is so long now since the election was held and yet we are not up and running. For those of us on this side of the House, the structures around how we are going to get to that are not even clear. This situation needs to end quickly.

I echo the points made by previous speakers that the backdrop to this reform must be seen in the context that these are different times. We are now operating in a system that will be permanently different. The age of the dominance of political parties is over. This is not just an Irish phenomenon but a feature across Europe now. The age of the power of a strong majority is also confined to the dustbin of history. More minority governments, smaller coalitions and new formations coming into being are the order now of the world as we know it. Our structures here do not take account of the new reality taking place. We are at a juncture where we are transitioning from one type of Dáil to another, moving from a situation where the Government had all of the power and dictated everything to a situation where the Oireachtas has more of the power and there is more co-operation in that regard.

It is against that backdrop that we must measure the document before us. We must also measure it in the context of the points made about the need for radical reform. In that context, I welcome the majority of the proposals in the document. Many issues have been touched on already. I welcome the transparency that will be introduced in regard to Topical Issues and the improvements in regard to ministerial questions. I like the fact we will have extra time and that the inadequacy of responses, whether from the Taoiseach or a Minister, will be challenged more. This is really good, as is the empowerment of the Ceann Comhairle to insist on questions being answered. I like the proposal that a list will be published of complaints that have been upheld. However, the list should also reflect the number of complaints that have not been upheld. This would demonstrate how the Ceann Comhairle is implementing the new change in reality. This could be a good change, depending on how it is implemented.

I agree with the points made by Deputy Halligan in regard to the prayer and other broader reform. However, I will confine myself to the document before us and the proposals I do not agree with. I very much agree with and welcome the majority of the proposals. The biggest problem with the document is the halfway house measure that moves from the old system to the new system without fully taking into account how it will work. For me, it is not workable, fair or transparent. Agreeing we will have a new type of technical group, allowing for more than one such group and for different arrangements and coming together of smaller groupings or formations in the new fluid type of politics is better. However, how can we regulate that when something is changing and in flux? That is difficult. The only way of doing it is on a system of proportionality. There must be an incentive for people to group together, which will allow for a certain order in proceedings. However, what we have in this report is a halfway house.

I am particularly shocked by the example issued yesterday regarding how Leaders' Questions and Priority Questions might work in this new reformed Dáil. In the example given, Fianna Fáil was allowed two Leaders' Questions every day, while those of us on this side of the House, perhaps in a fairly big group, were getting one a week or one a fortnight. This is ludicrous. Informally, people might say that will not happen. However, that was an example produced at the sub-committee yesterday, based on the support of the sub-committee. We must have clarity on that. Even in the Thirtieth Dáil, when Fine Gael and the Labour Party were in opposition, and Fine Gael was a much bigger party than the Labour Party, Fine Gael did not get two Leaders' Questions while Labour Party got only one. It would be ludicrous to operate on that basis.

The reason this proposal has been put forward here is that the allocation of time is being dealt with on a strictly proportional basis. While we must have proportionality, it must be a balanced proportionality. It cannot be taken to ridiculous extremes that allow the biggest opposition party get the bulk, or 50%, of every allocation. That would be ludicrous. I was shocked that the Fianna Fáil members of the group agreed to that proposal and I wonder whether it was a payback for the support in abstaining from the vote for a Taoiseach. We must nip it in the bud.

It goes against all of the nice soundings from Deputy Micheál Martin about Dáil reform and about leading the way in that respect. It would not be fair and would be completely unworkable.

If we are in a new era and things are going to be different, how do we encompass that? The only way is to take the groups as they stand and to deal with them on a proportionate basis. By introducing discrimination into the system where parties take precedence, we undermine everything and it makes a mockery of the proposals. It says we are in a new system but we are not really in a new system. People could be elected as a political party comprising a group of five and they would take priority over a grouping of parties that might have more than five. There may be a broad group of parties and Independents in a group of, say, 20 but three or four groups of five come ahead of them in the order in which questions are taken, priority questions allocated and Leaders' Questions given. That is nonsense and nobody could stand over such a situation. I fully support the right of small political parties to regroup and come in under the banner of a new technical arrangement to give themselves an extra leg up in the pecking order on that basis but there has to be some consistency.

The briefings on how the committee was discussing how this reform might be implemented suggested it would be fairer and dealt with proportionately. If the idea is to give greater rights to party members than to Independent Deputies simply by virtue of their being in a political party, then we need to focus on that. The only way we can do that is by removing the relevant clause which gives parties precedence regardless of their size. That harks back to the old days and it is completely unworkable.

We do not know how many technical groups there will be and we will not really know until people align but that is not good enough either. We do not know how to align and do not know whether or not we are buying a pig in a poke. What is the position if there are 20 of us? Are we to be dealt with proportionately or not proportionately? What are we buying into? In the committee discussions there was a lot of talk about a system in which, for example, a group of between five and nine Members would be treated in a certain way and a group with between ten and 19, or 20 and 29, in another way. That is reasonable and fair and gives us an indication that if we regroup in a certain way there would be a predictable order. However, that is not reflected in the report. How can we sign up to it without the necessary clarity? It is not good enough to say we should form a technical group and then tell us what we are going to get.

Bigger groupings will impact better on the workings of the House, and that is not in any way to slag off anybody else. The past number of weeks have been incredibly difficult for everybody but today's discussion is borderline chaotic with the changes being contemplated. We do not have the regularity in the system we had before because we do not know the structures. I want that section of the report to go and we will move amendments to it on Tuesday if the committee does not agree with the proposal. I thank the committee sincerely for its work and I know it put in a lot of hours. There was really good co-operation and there is a lot of really good stuff in the report. However, it will be meaningless unless the other bit is added in as well.

Deputy Seán Crowe is sharing time with Deputy Pearse Doherty.

I welcome the findings of the sub-committee on Dáil reform and agree with others that Dáil reform is overdue. The uncertainty of the Thirty-second Dáil has probably led to the reforms about which we are talking. I congratulate those who were on the committee and there are certainly a lot of positive things in the report. There are a lot of questions on the document and how it is going to roll out. Most of the specific reforms have been debated already and I share the views of my colleagues, Deputies Louise O'Reilly and Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who were on the committee.

This is my third term in the Dáil and I have experience in having attended Whips' meetings. I congratulate the new Whip on her appointment and I know how the Whips office works. At some meetings, anything the Government put forward the Government got and there was no meeting of minds but with the reforms that will have to change.

I must interrupt Deputy Crowe. Our guests are most welcome in the Visitors' Gallery but I ask them to visit us in silence.

I have been on different committees. The frustrating thing for a person from a different background is that every committee had a Government majority. That did not help the committee and is not good for democracy. It did not work. I have been a member of delegations on behalf of the Dáil too and I can bring such experience to the debate today.

I welcome the electronic visitors' system being piloted at the moment. It should make the job of the ushers and ourselves a lot easier. It is a much more efficient way of signing in large groups of visitors and there are also welcome health and safety benefits. On my way in I was talking to elected representatives who were still looking for IT equipment, and some are still looking for a room. This should be part of the package. We have known for weeks and weeks that we were coming in here but people still do not have the vital tools for their job and that is wrong.

Dáil reform is not just about ourselves. We were elected to do our job but I have raised concerns about the length of sitting hours and the short notice some are given for extended hours. We may moan and groan about it but the impact on staff is also important. I have talked to staff, as has everyone else, and they are pulling their hair out thinking about babysitting and various appointments they might have. A lot of the decisions in the last Dáil were based on the Whip. The Government said we would sit until such and such a time but there needs to be some consideration taken of staff. Staff should be part of this process in the future because this House would not operate without their support and input.

People have said there needs to be an inclusive working environment. I remember changes being made to the Chamber because someone in a wheelchair was elected but it is extraordinary that we are only now talking about people with a disability having access. It is not just about people in wheelchairs - it also includes people who are infirm or have a broken leg etc. I am glad those changes have happened but they show the exclusive nature of this Chamber in the past.

The previous acting Acting Chairman was a colleague in my constituency. He has been in the Dáil for just a couple weeks and he is chairing Dáil proceedings, which is a positive thing. However, in all the years I have been in this House I have never seen a Member from Sinn Féin in the Chair. I do not know if it has been offered or whether an offer has been made and not taken up.

I am not looking for an offer. If we are talking about an inclusive organisation we need to think about these things.

The sub-committee should review international best practices. I do not know whether it will be dissolved after the recommendations we are considering today have been dealt with - I am not a member of it - but we should look at how other parliaments around the world operate. Such a body of research could lead to other reforms. My views in this regard are informed by my experience as a spokesman on foreign affairs. Some of the work of Irish Aid, for example, involves enhancing democracy, accountability and transparency in other parliaments around the world. I suggest we need to focus on such matters here. I am glad we are talking about the establishment of a budgetary committee with support staff to help us to work on budgets. We provide assistance in this regard in other countries even though such supports are not provided in this Parliament. When I travel to different parts of the world, I find it bizarre when we say that best parliamentary practice involves something we do not do in this Parliament. I am pleased we are now talking about doing this.

As I am conscious that my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, is trying to get in, I will conclude by saying we need to make a change so that Ministers no longer reply to parliamentary questions and Topical Issue matters by reading from scripts without showing any flexibility. There has been an attempt to bring about such a change in recent times. If I am talking about the closure of a factory and the consequent loss of jobs, I do not want a script; I want to hear what the Minister is going to be able to do. If we cannot facilitate interaction with Ministers in such circumstances, we need to change the rules governing Topical Issue matters. I have much more to say on this issue, but I will give way to my colleague.

Ba mhaith liom míle buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Crowe fá choinne a chuid ama a roinnt liom. Cuirim fáilte roimh an tuairisc ón bhfochoiste. Caithfidh mé a rá go n-aontaím le mórchuid de na moltaí atá inti. Má tá athchóiriú Dála le bheith againn, ba cheart go mbeadh athchóiriú intinne againn fosta ó thaobh na ndaoine a úsáidfidh na struchtúir úra seo.

I am a bit of a sceptic with regard to Dáil reform and political reform. While I welcome the proposals in the sub-committee's report, I do not believe they are groundbreaking measures worthy of taking out our big flags. Some of them are very simple. I refer, for example, to the recommendations that additional time be provided and that Deputies be entitled to get direct answers to questions. In 2004, my party pioneered the campaign for a independent costings unit, which is a big issue for me. We led the charge in regard to that and we received a commitment from the outgoing Government that such a unit would be introduced. We made the point that this was one of the OECD's recommendations in this area also. I think this will be a strong addition to the Oireachtas, as will the provision to us of legal advice.

I welcome the proposal to allow the Ceann Comhairle to intervene when a Minister is not giving a direct reply to a question. I suggest this should be extended to Leaders' Questions. There is no reason to preclude the Ceann Comhairle from intervening when a direct answer is not being given on Leaders' Questions. I cannot understand why Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael do not want that to happen. That is my understanding of what they agreed at the committee. They want all Ministers with the exception of the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste to be under the threat of sanction from the Ceann Comhairle. This week's events were a good example of why we need to apply this proposal to Leaders' Questions.

At present, there is a ruling from the Ceann Comhairle that a proposal to annul a statutory instrument, which is permissible within 21 sitting days, must be taken in Private Members' time. My view is that this is not accurate. As not all Members of this House have access to Private Members' time, and especially not within 21 sitting days, the effect of this ruling is to deny some Members their right to annul a statutory instrument. We have tabled a motion to annul the statutory instrument in relation to the penalty points issue, but the clock is ticking on it.

As I am mindful that my time is running out, I will be brief in speaking about pre-legislative scrutiny. I believe our legislation must be as fit-for-purpose as possible. I am not convinced that the proposals in this regard will work, although I am willing to be convinced. I will explain the difficulty in this regard. If the finance committee, for example, has to consider ten finance Bills that have been proposed by ten different groupings, how will it be able to engage in pre-legislative scrutiny of all of them? Some of them will not proceed to Second Stage or Committee Stage. If the committee has to go through the pre-legislative scrutiny stage in the case of each of them, it will tie up the work of the finance committee completely. I have yet to be convinced with regard to how this will operate in practice. I welcome the recommendation in terms of how money Bills will be addressed by the committee and I have tabled legislation on behalf of my party proposing a constitutional amendment in this regard.

I listened with interest to what Deputy Pringle said about Leaders' Questions. He said that a shift in attitude within the committee had resulted in a proposal to assign the political parties greater roles in Leaders' Questions. My personal view is that on a single sitting day, as many groupings as possible should be facilitated during Leaders' Questions. It is not on for parties to be given an opportunity to raise multiple matters during Leaders' Questions on a single day, while other groupings are denied the opportunity to raise a single issue on the same day.

I welcome this document and thank the members of the sub-Committee on Dáil Reform who put in a great deal of hard work into it. In particular, I thank Deputy Thomas Pringle, who represented the views of the Independents4Change group on the sub-committee. It is a very positive document, by and large, although I intend to come back to some of its negative aspects. It is going in the right direction. Page 2 of the report sets out some of the most positive aspects of the work of the sub-committee. In proposing "more power for parliament", the report goes some way towards allowing the Dáil to comply with the Constitution, which obliges it to make legislation. I welcome the decision to provide for a parliamentary legal adviser.

I am pleased that there will be an independent budgetary oversight committee which will be able to give particular advice to all of us in the Dáil. I hope to use that committee to examine measures passed by the Dáil that are not poverty-proofed, equality-proofed nor gender-proofed. Many measures are not looked at in terms of the amount of money that is spent needlessly as a result of failing to deal with problems like domestic violence. I have mentioned domestic violence repeatedly in this Chamber and I will continue to do so. The failure of the State to deal with domestic violence is costing €2.2 billion per annum. It seems on the basis of an extrapolation from Northern Irish figures that mental health problems which are not dealt with cost the economy over €10 billion per annum. This extraordinary figure was mentioned in A Vision for Change. I hope the new budgetary arrangements will allow Deputies to mention such facts in the expectation that they will be factored into budgetary proceedings. Níl a fhios agam cad atá i ndán don choiste nua don Ghaeilge, ach ar a laghad cuirim fáilte roimh bhunú an choiste sin.

I would like to mention a number of things about which I am very concerned. It occurs to me as I read through the work of the committee and as I watch politicians clapping themselves on the back in regard to reform that if Fine Gael and the Labour Party were seriously interested in reform, they would have introduced reforms over the last five years when they had an overwhelming majority in this House.

While these changes could have been proposed in the previous Dáil, they are better late than never. The Government's change on the road to Damascus, which I welcome, was forced by public opinion when a substantial number of Independents were elected to the Dáil by people who saw the Dáil as totally irrelevant to their lives. These reforms have resulted from the recent general election and from an OECD report that criticised the functioning of this Parliament on more than one occasion. We must acknowledge the outside influences on the Parliament and the Dáil that have forced this welcome change.

I would like to comment on some of the parts of the report about which I am concerned. I have mentioned that there is a substantial number of Independents in the Dáil. This report refers to the importance of giving greater time to Independents to reflect recent changes. However, page 17 of the report proposes that "A party which is a group has precedence over a technical group". My reading of this and some other references to parties is that they seem to give precedence to parties regardless of how small they are. It appears that a party of five or seven Deputies - five Deputies will be needed to form a technical group - will have precedence over a bigger technical group of ten or 15 Deputies. I suggest that this needs to be examined in the interests of new politics.

This proposal cannot be passed on Tuesday. It would be awful if this reform were to be pushed through by majority vote in the guise of new politics. I do not think that would be acceptable. It would go against everything we have been trying to do on a cross-party basis with the inclusion of Independents. Consideration must be given to giving precedence to a bigger technical group. If we are going to lose out on Leaders' Questions and Priority Questions, what impetus is there for us to join together?

In that situation there is no reason for us to join together with a view to gaining any advantage, not for us but as public representatives who represent the people who put us here.

My next point is not clearly related to the motion but it has a relevance to it. We have just come from a meeting organised by Deputy Clare Daly on the issue of refugees in Calais and Dunkirk. Up to now, that voice has not been represented in this Dáil. As a Deputy, as a mother and as a woman, I was greatly disturbed listening to the horrific stories that were related to us as well as was possible in a non-emotional manner. I recommend to every Deputy in this House to hear what we were told. To tie that back into Dáil reform, there must be space within this Dáil to reflect what people have elected us to speak about, with a view to solutions. Other Deputies and I have been overwhelmed with e-mails asking for leadership on our part and asking how they can take refugees into their homes. That is the good side of Irish society. If Independents are neglected in this overall group, that voice will not be there. I ask, in the spirit of new politics, that what we are saying today is taken on board. We stayed here to make our voices heard and to make our contributions within a positive framework.

This is not a bad document, it is a good one. However, the criticisms must be taken on board. Deputy Thomas Pringle, on our behalf, has made those views known at sub-committee level and we have now come here today and made those views known to the Dáil. I ask that they be taken on board so that precedence is also given to the technical groups and that whatever emerges reflects the fact that no party in this Dáil has an overall majority. That was the wish of the electorate. It gave no party an overall majority, yet the new reform is giving parties a favoured position within the Dáil, which is not what the people asked for. I ask the Chief Whip to go back and look at that. I thank her for the work that has gone into this process.

I am happy to contribute to this debate as I believe it is an important one. Like other speakers, I take on board the fact that many people put a lot of work into this. Much of it is very positive and it is a step forward. I will preface that by saying this is not happening because we wanted it to or because anybody in this room wanted it to. We know if that had been the case, it would have happened in the Thirtieth Dáil or in the Thirty-first Dáil. It is happening in the Thirty-second Dáil because the people have spoken. The people explicitly rejected the Fine Gael majority and the party was returned 50 seats. They also rejected the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil got the second worst vote in its history. The people have said to the major parties that they are not accepting what they have had before. They want change. That change has to be reflected in the Dáil and in the structures of the Dáil.

In some ways, we have come a good way on this. I thank everybody who was a part of the sub-committee, including Deputy Pringle, who played a role from our point of view. We have to move away from the idea that "might is right". The people spoke on 26 February and the result has reflected that view.

The good points in this document involving parliamentary questions, the pre-budgetary committee and the way in which expertise will be used to support Deputies in technical groups with tabling legislation are all very positive. There is an aspect at the end of the document about whether the prayer should be changed to a moment of reflection. I ask the sub-committee to take that on board and have a moment of reflection rather than a prayer. Everybody could do their own thing within that space, whatever their religion, creed or non-religion. I am tired of walking to the back of the Chamber every time we have prayers. I believe that would be good.

The important part of this, as my colleagues have said, is what has changed since two weeks ago. As Deputy Thomas Pringle pointed out, there was an acceptance of majority groupings of over 20 Members, middle groupings of between ten and 19 Members and smaller groupings. That was to be reflected in the Leaders' Questions and the parliamentary questions. Leaders' Questions are a very important aspect of the Dáil in calling the leader of the minority Government to account. Parliamentary questions are another important aspect of this Dáil. How has that mid-group of ten to 19 gone from having two questions down to one question during Leaders' Questions and from five parliamentary questions every two weeks down to two parliamentary questions every two weeks? Why have we reverted back to the precedent being given to the parties and not to the technical group majority?

This goes back to a point I made a couple of weeks ago with regard to the formation of the minority Government. In the famous book by Lampedusa, The Leopard, in Garibaldi's time the middle class realised they were on the back foot. The famous quote is, "For things to stay the same, everything must change". There is a lot of change here but the absolute kingpin of this is how we operate and how we respect the different voices and parties in the Dáil from that point of view. We will be looking for an amendment to reflect what we are putting forward here. We want that to be taken on board before we come to the Dáil next Tuesday. Otherwise, we will have difficulty supporting what is in general a step forward towards the new era that we are supposed to be facing into. The devil is in the detail and that detail must be addressed. I would welcome the point of view of the Chief Whip.

I am very pleased to have taken part, along with the Chief Whip and the 13 other Members, in this sub-committee. I know it might be a little self-congratulatory and we must be careful about that, but it seems that there was universal agreement across all those who took part and that it was an excellent sub-committee. It worked very well and was an example of collaborative, non-adversarial politics. It was very ably led by the Ceann Comhairle, the Clerk of the Dáil, Mr. Peter Finnegan, and his officials who supported it in a way that worked.

I was very proud yesterday to see this draft report being published. It is not perfect. I am sure there will be suggested changes. One of the interesting and good things in this was that this was acknowledged. It sets the tone for the nature of the work in that we will try some of these things. If they do not work, we will come back and change them. That was the nature in which we started this process and that atmosphere and approach throughout our work has led to what I believe is a very good draft report. It is something I am glad to have made a small contribution towards.

I want to reflect on a couple of comments from those ten or so meetings that we had that stuck with me. One of the later comments was from a meeting in which we were making amendments the day before yesterday. If people read the recognition in the very first paragraph of the Ceann Comhairle's introduction, there was a suggested discussion around the nature of our Parliament. I believe the phrase "Parliament for the people" was a particularly welcome last-minute insertion. It was unanimously agreed across the board that, to a certain extent, we have to turn our focus outwards. We have to open up our Parliament and be as open as we can in terms of how we do our business. We have to be a citizen's assembly in every way.

Another change which came about in the latter stages of the report is the recognition in our Dáil procedures that we have to open ourselves up and be accountable and provide information about what goes on here in an accessible way. We have to work with any citizens' assemblies or constitutional assemblies that may be formed and be willing to share the democratic systems we have as widely as possible. In the end, a number of people said it during that discussion. I hope I am not inappropriately making people aware of that information, but there was a strong sense there that we are a citizens' assembly. That is appropriate and true. Anyone who has had the great fortune of being elected here cannot but have that sense as he or she walks through the gates. There is a certain sense of pride as well as a sense of responsibility that we are here as representatives of our democratic Republic and as ordinary citizens who have been lucky to get the honour of representing our electoral areas and the State.

I believe this will improve the people's Parliament. If we can implement the working mechanisms here, we will serve the rest of the citizens well.

I want to comment on some of the other elements, though by no means all. One of the interesting opportunities in this is how we manage our budgetary process. I am very keen that the proposed select committee can be established very quickly and can deliver what is being asked of it, namely, to give clear recommendations on how our budget scrutiny system will work and to set in place the establishment of the budget office.

One of the reasons that is so significant and important relates to one of the lessons I have taken from all the international reports on the economic crash that I have read, namely, one of the underlying difficulties was that we did not have enough different opinions or different people questioning the conventional wisdom. We all know how, in this Chamber, conventional wisdom can easily form, whereby everyone is chasing the latest story, sees one aspect of it and sees that aspect as the agreed, politically correct approach. It is very important, as we move towards a less adversarial, more consensual form of politics, that it actually delivers what might seem a contradiction, which is that it encourages different views and the unconventional outlook or the awkward question, and makes sure that awkward question gets answered. In regard to the budget process in particular, we need to share the responsibility for how we allocate resources and raise funding, so there is not just a response at the end of autumn to a document that is a fait accompli, and the hard questions are asked and answered by both sides of the House.

I believe this would be a very significant and healthy change. However, it would require the Opposition to step up and take a real responsibility. That is not an easy thing to do and it would put many demands on the Parliament but I believe it is something we are ready to do.

Another area where the Opposition will have to step up and take responsibility in a way that has not quite happened in the past is in regard to the provision of additional resources for our legal advisory system within the Parliament. There is also the four hours of speaking time we can now use for motions or to draft legislation that has a real prospect of being delivered. I believe this will require a major step up from this side of the House but it is one I believe we are ready and able to take. To point out the hidden aspect of this, it will also require a major transformation in the way the public service works. For all of us here, this is a significant change but, actually, the bigger change may well be how public servants relate to the Parliament because it will require that - I have to be careful here - rather than them having control of the legislative process from each Department, the legislation may be arriving in a way they have to respond to and interact with in order to make sure that whatever legislation is passed serves our people's needs. That is probably the hidden story here, namely, this is going to be as big a reform of the public service as it is of the political system.

The further empowerment of committees is very significant. The assessment of Deputy Brendan Howlin, who is a very seasoned parliamentarian - again, I have to be careful with my words - is that, in his time here, there has been a significant increase in productivity with the introduction of the committee system and the structures to support it. He said that when he was first here as a Deputy, almost all the business was done in the Chamber and very rarely was anything done in a committee room. Now, as we know, the vast majority of business is done in committees. I believe the further enhancement of committees and the attention to who is selected and how they are selected is a very important and positive step.

In the talks we have had over those ten meetings, the idea of creating parliamentarians who can be specialists in certain areas is an important development. In past debates about the public service, I remember there was always a commentary about the change from public servants being generalists to having specialist skills. While I would nod and agree, there would be a slight background sense in my own mind that it is politicians who are the pure generalists. I believe it would be appropriate for us, in the very complex policy world we live in, to develop those specialist skills, which is what is set out.

We will have to see how the formation of groups works. It may be difficult, given colleagues who have just spoken say they are unhappy with the nature of the speaking arrangements. We should heed that and listen, in order that, as the groups are formed in the next week, we can judge how they work. We can then look at this in three months or six months to see how it has developed.

To go back to my first days in the Dáil, my very first day was a desperately awkward and embarrassing one because we were engaged straight away in a row about speaking time. We took possession of the Government's front bench seats. I was mortified - my mother was in the Visitors Gallery and I was thinking, "What in God's name are we doing protesting on the first day?" However, my experience of the first Technical Group that was set up at the time with Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party was that this can actually work. We are good at collaboration in Irish politics and we know how to make this sort of consensus politics work. I believe the last seven weeks have shown this. We need to replicate this elsewhere and, if we do that, we may surprise people. As I said in a Dáil contribution a few weeks ago, this is not new politics because we have always done it. It is just better politics and, the more of it we can have, the better for the people of the country.

I welcome the publication of this report. I commend the work of the Dáil reform sub-committee and thank all the members for their work, including the Sinn Féin representatives, Teachta Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Teachta Louise O'Reilly. I also want to thank the Ceann Comhairle for his stewardship of the sub-committee and its work over the past eight weeks. For the record, I agree absolutely with the remarks made by Teachtaí Seán Crowe and Pearse Doherty. Sinn Féin has advocated reform of the Dáil for many years and I am glad that some practical steps are now being taken to address long-standing issues.

The proposal that the Ceann Comhairle should be empowered to rule on the relevance of an oral reply from a Minister is particularly relevant, given this week's point-blank refusal by the Tánaiste to answer important and very appropriate questions about how she holds or does not hold the Garda Commissioner to account over issues arising from the O'Higgins report. The proposed reforms will contribute to a more responsive and relevant Dáil that will, hopefully, be allowed to adequately deliberate and deliver solutions to the real issues of concern for the citizens who sent us here. They will, I hope, go some way to addressing the deficit that we, as legislators, have faced in trying to ensure that legislative proposals are discussed in a democratic fashion.

As I have said before, however, much more is required if Dáil reform is to be really meaningful. The provision of Northern representation here is something everyone should be supportive of and it should be considered in the next round of matters to be considered by the reform sub-committee. The practice of excluding the introduction of money Bills from the Opposition also needs to be revised and Dáil committees should be afforded the means of introducing legislation.

While changes to Standing Orders and procedures are welcome and will obviously assist us collectively in our work, the reform of the institution more generally, in particular, doing away with some of the more archaic and antiquated practices, is equally, if not more, important. We want to make this Parliament more transparent and citizen-friendly - truly, a people's parliament. That means undertaking a serious review in this place of work of the operation of two bars in Leinster House which function without the normal licensing requirements. It is quite a bizarre situation, apparently covered because we have privilege. This does not take into account the need of ushers and other staff to have proper terms and conditions. The staff here also need to be consulted in all of these matters - the catering staff, the bar staff, the ushers and the others who do a great job, some of whom have been here longer than many of us. They too need to be included in reforming this institution because it is, after all, their workplace.

We have an unacceptable situation with regard to media facilities, which are equally antiquated, given the reporting and consumption of news has changed dramatically in recent years. There are no modern or appropriate media facilities for interviewing Oireachtas Members, particularly backbenchers and Opposition Teachtaí Dála, or for press conferences and other media work.

The media should be afforded the means of reporting in as professional and modern a way as possible from these quarters in order that citizens know what is happening.

It is welcome that the Ceann Comhairle has committed to dealing with some of these outstanding matters in the time ahead and that all of these issues will continue to be open for review, discussion and change.

I am delighted to speak about Dáil reform. Ar an gcéad dul síos, is mian liom mo chomhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an gCeann Comhairle. I thank the Ceann Comhairle and congratulate him on his stewardship of the sub-committee. I also congratulate the sub-committee which worked so hard. The reforms include more power for the Parliament to plan and make arrangements for its own business, with a new business committee comprising Government and Opposition Deputies who, together, will plan the business of the House on a weekly, sessional and yearly basis. It is very important that we will work together and that it will not be by diktat as happened for the past five years and all that went with it.

We will have better scrutiny of the annual budgetary cycle by a new budget oversight committee which will be supported by a new independent review committee. We need this as we do not have any access to this information. We are just given figures and told to table amendments which are then disallowed because of they would involve a cost to the Exchequer. It is hugely important that we get an explanation for this and that we are told the exact figures and costs.

There will also be an increased role for the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser to allow it to assist backbench Members in drafting legislation and give advice on all legislation coming before the House. This is paramount. As an Opposition Member, in the past five years I have tabled five Private Members' Bills. We are left on our own with no assistance. In fairness, the Bills Office is helpful, but after that one is on one's own. On one occasion we brought a Bill before the House, but it was rubbished by the former Minister, Mr. Alan Shatter. I had asked his officials about it but did not get any help. Sin scéal eile. It is very important that these resources are made available in dealing with Private Members' Bills, particularly in this new session because the Government cannot reject them just because of from where or who they come.

The rules on groupings will be changed to allow more than one technical group to be formed. This will enable Independent Deputies and members of small parties to join forces. This is vital. There was a technical group in the previous Dáil and the Dáil before that, but it is welcome that uimhir a cúig is the magic number of Members who can form a technical group. If they can double that number to a deich, they will have a stronger group, but five is a reasonable number and we could not have it any smaller than this.

We will have a rearrangement of sitting times and sitting days. It was vital that this was examined for many reasons, including that we did not waste time. I remember the first time I was here, six or seven years ago, running from committee to committee and back to the Chamber. It is very important that our time be spent more constructively and that we can give time to committees. Members are now expected to be on only one committee; I hope one in which they will be interested and on which they want to be. Committees will be much more powerful and will benefit from this.

Pre-legislative scrutiny will be extended to non-Government Bills, which will increase the possibility of Bills being enacted. This is very important with reference to what I said earlier.

A new Irish language committee will be established. Tá sé sin go hiontach. We need something like this and need it to be meaningful and begin at a base level. Cuirim fáilte roimh an rud sin.

Members will have a facility to formally record their abstention from voting, an option which was not previously available, and state the reason. This is very important. We will have another button to press and it will be like a set of traffic lights, with red, green and orange lights. If Members cannot vote for a Bill but do not want to oppose it outright, they can abstain and explain their reasons, which will be included in the Official Report. This is important because often one is asked why one is an abstentionist. I hate being an abstentionist, but it will give Members latitude. If they are not happy with certain aspects and cannot have amendments accepted, rather than vote against a Bill, they can abstain. This reflects modern day thinking and is reflective of the sincerely held views of many people who might have an issue about which they are passionate.

The sitting hours will be more family friendly. It is proposed to hold a great many votes on Thursday afternoon. I welcome the first aspect of this, about making it more family friendly, particularly for parents who have small children, but I am concerned about banking all votes to take place on a Thursday evening. Will it allow too much latitude for the Government of the day to have its troops here for just one session in order to vote?

It does not have the troops.

We accept that, but it may have troops from time to time. We might all support it on certain issues on various occasions. I certainly will, on constructive items of legislation and business. That is my intention. There is no point in being reckless. If the Government wants to engage and be meaningful, we have to reciprocate. I disagreed with the fact that Private Members' Bills taken on Fridays in the last Dáil were not voted on until the following Tuesday. It was a little strange. It is nice to have the time, but I would not like to see all votes banked and take place in a two hour period to allow backbenchers and others to disappear. It would be a retrograde step.

I have mentioned that pre-legislative scrutiny will be extended to non-Government Bills. Dáil reform comprises many items, which I welcome. It is not one minute too early. It has been promised and promised. The biggest Dáil reform was expected and promised five years ago with the largest majority any Government ever had. It must be welcomed and is not something for which any Government deserves a great clap on the back. The reform is badly needed, wanted and long overdue. A powerful Dáil is a constitutional imperative because it must give effect to Article 28.4.1° of the Constitution which states the Government shall be responsible to Dáil Éireann. It is vital that we go back to this constitutional provision which was included for very good reason. With the economic management committee in the previous Government, accountability left the Cabinet. That committee had four members and was a retrograde step. I hope it has been disbanded.

In 2011 the Government promised radical Oireachtas reform and we all know that that promise ended in the same way as previous promises such as that to burn the bondholders. Professor David Farrell of UCD stated the only reform of any significance made in the Thirty-first Dáil was to introduce pre-legislative scrutiny. He stated that, apart from this one exception, we were left with an Oireachtas that looked much as it did in 2011 and in 1975 when the Taoiseach was first elected to Dáil Éireann. I compliment him on being here for so long. This was not much for an independent observer of some renown to say. Oireachtas reform was one of the central planks of the supposed democratic revolution in 2011. This revolution has been more about style and posturing rather than actual substance.

I welcome the formation of the groups. I am a member of the rural independent alliance. I look forward to working with the Chief Whip and compliment her on her elevation. Our first meeting was this morning. I thank her for her co-operation and generosity of spirit and look forward to moving forward in this vein. I also look forward to working with the other Whips. I was involved in Government formation talks for many days and during those talks the Taoiseach promised several times that we would have a new way of doing business. This has been forced on us by the electorate, thankfully, which chose the formation of the various groups and no one has an overall majority. The Dáil has had to change radically. At least ten times during the talks the Taoiseach said this must happen alongside reform of the Civil Service. This reform should be meaningful and total.

It is needed and has been for a long time. There are many good civil servants, and I compliment them for the long hours of work they do in supporting Governments, but it is vital that we get reform in the Civil Service, and not only there but also down to local and regional authorities. We need fewer diktats from Europe and more engagement. The new committee structure under the d'Hondt system will prove to be meaningful. Some people here have given out or made criticisms that it will be too slow. It will be slow like any change, but we must get this leap of faith. We must accept what the people have said and I hope that everybody will put their shoulders to the wheel and that nobody will unduly delay matters. Some smaller parties might not be happy that they will have to make decisions that might not suit them at committees, but sin é agus sin an tslí mar atá sé. Go n-éirí go geal leis an Dáil reform.

Bhí sé mar phribhléid agamsa a bheith ar an gcoiste seo a bhí ag plé le hathchóiriú na Dála, agus is obair fíorthábhachtach í seo.

On the Sunday night of the election I spoke to Deputy Micheál Martin and I said that I thought things would have to change radically, considering the numbers. I suggested to him that night that we needed dramatic Dáil reform and an approach that had not only different rules but a different mindset. The acceptance of the new Dáil of the need to consider things differently is very welcome, but we must be careful that, having written quite a good report, one that is like a Lego set that can be built on, we do not think that that will necessarily change people's mindsets if they do not want to operate this in the full spirit of its meaning. We need much greater accountability from Government but we also need greater responsibility from Opposition. I hope that through debate we might be able to come to well teased out answers to quite complicated issues. Very few issues come forward nowadays that have simple black and white answers. One of the great challenges in politics is to look all the time for the unintended consequence.

As I see the report, there are the big issues, the headline issues, such as the business committee which represents a very different way of operating. I accept that it will be a huge challenge for the Government Whip to operate in a situation in which the business of the House is really decided by the House and not dictated by a parliamentary majority. The simple fact of the matter is that, whether we reform the Dáil or not this time, it would not be possible to do that any more.

The second thing is the whole idea of Opposition and Independent Members being able to put forward legislation but, as we know, putting forward legislation that can be enacted is a very highly skilled business. In the old days the tabling of legislation by Members of the Opposition was a way of highlighting an issue, but one did not really expect the legislation to be enacted. Now the challenge for this side of the House is to produce legislation that is of a quality that could be enacted. That is why the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser will be so important. Until now it gave legal advice more or less to committees, the Ceann Comhairle and the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. Now we need people who will help to draft Bills, which raises another long-standing issue which we need to address, namely, the lack of trained parliamentary counsel in this country. My understanding from my time in government is that it was hard enough for the Government, through the Office of the Attorney General, to get enough parliamentary counsel. It is very important that we talk to the third level institutions and ensure that there is a stream of trained parliamentary counsel coming forward who can write legislation because being a barrister does not necessarily qualify a person to write legislation, which is a highly technical job.

Maybe the biggest change that will happen - again it is being forced on us regardless of whether we like it - is a whole different approach to the budget. This should have happened long before now. I argued when I was in government with my colleagues that we should change the way of doing business and put it up to the Opposition, I remember saying, to justify the alternative choices that it was saying were there. There is a huge opportunity now with the budgetary committee to do budgets in a different way, a systematic way. It will do away with budget day as we have known it. I hope it will become a pro forma and that all of the major issues will be teased out long before they become part of a budget. The fact that other people will be engaged, rather than just the Cabinet, in the discussion of the options in my view should be a help rather than a hindrance to Government and should avoid some of the pitfalls of the past where a small issue could bring down a Government. I often think of the introduction of VAT on children's clothing and footwear. It is fair to say that if the Taoiseach of the time, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, had known that would be the lightning rod issue, he would have put in another issue or proposal that would have raised the same amount of money, a cent on the pint, for example, or whatever the equivalent would have been in that time. Therefore, I hope we will be able to avoid some of the proposals put forward from time to time that draw the ire of the public. I hope also that this will be a very coherent process. I envisage each Department, sectoral committee and departmental committee considering their requirements and then feeding that into the central budget committee. If one's demands far exceeded any money that was there, that committee would then have to explain how the circle could be squared.

The second part of the report that is very important is the whole issue of our day-to-day responsibility and getting answers to parliamentary questions and to letters. In many cases we should not even have to seek those answers because the public should have been given them in the first place. I believe the Deputy has a role in this regard because we often have expertise in the rules. When people ask, "Why do people go to TDs?" I always say, "Why do people go to solicitors if they are going into a courtroom? They get justice in the court anyway." Of course, people should go to solicitors. It is handy to have one there who understands all the rules and laws. Similarly, I justify the feeling some people have that it is an advantage to be able to go to their local Deputy who, first, can change the law and, second, probably knows a lot about the detail of the various schemes. However, in most cases, if it is a simple query, the person should be given the information in the first place.

When I hear about reform of the Civil Service, I sometimes run cold because we tend to keep changing the structures in this country and we never leave them in place long enough for them to work properly. When I was a Minister I had a rule that if we were drawing up a form in one section of the Department, it had to be given to a clerical officer in a totally different section of the Department, and if that clerical officer could not fill the form with ease, then the form was too complicated for the public. If somebody whose day job it was to create and deal with forms and so on could not fill it out with ease, how the hell could we expect the public to do so? These are simple things that make the world user-friendly.

I believe everybody is entitled to a substantive answer to a letter within a fortnight. I have seen that operate in one of the Departments I was in, and it cut down on the huge amount of wasted time dealing with the reps. Once it got embedded in the mindset that should happen, it cut down on the work. The same goes for the responses to parliamentary questions. It still seems to be the culture in some Departments to try to give as little information as possible and to misunderstand the question if possible. There also seems to be a policy now to say, "I haven't got the information to hand, I will send it on to you when I can." That information should be given and given expeditiously. It is obviously important that Teachtaí Dála only ask questions that are relevant and which they want to use for some purpose and do not ask questions just for the sake of asking questions. That is another big issue.

Sa 54 soicind atá fágtha agam, ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil an-áthas orm go bhfuil glacadh leis an mholadh go mbeidh coiste ann a bheidh ag déileáil le cúrsaí Gaeilge, ní hamháin i dTithe an Oireachtais ach cúrsaí Gaeilge i gcoitinne, mar níl aon mhaith do choiste de dhaoine nach bhfuil aon spéis acu sa Ghaeilge a bheith ag plé le cúrsaí Gaeilge - oideachas trí Ghaeilge, múineadh na Gaeilge, an Ghaeltacht agus na hoileáin. Chomh maith leis sin, caithfimid breathnú ar an gcaoi go gcaitear leis an nGaeilge sa Teach seo.

One aspect I have found most frustrating in this House over the years is that while I have no problem with people not being able to understand or speak Irish - that is their business - Members who do not understand the language do not extend to Irish speakers the same courtesy they would extend in the European Parliament if somebody spoke in a language they did not understand, where they automatically use the earphones to understand what was being said.

This is particularly relevant in that during the years, if we spoke Irish, Ministers could not address the issues one had raised. I hope the Ceann Comhairle will deal with this issue.

The next speaker on the list is Deputy Mick Wallace who is not present. I call Deputy James Lawless who, I understand, is sharing time.

I am sharing with Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin.

I welcome the reforms in the Dáil. As a new Deputy, I suppose I know no different to the previous arrangements. However, as an observer of the House and being in the political process for some time, I would be familiar with them.

I commend my party colleagues, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív who has just spoken and Deputies Thomas Byrne and Darragh O'Brien, for their part in this, as well as all the parties. I understand it was a constructive collaborative process. As a previous speaker stated, the House works well when it works and the political system has produced a positive outcome in this case.

It always puzzled me how the separation of powers did not appear to work in this House, as it was designed. The machinery of State is designed with an Executive, a Parliament and a Judiciary, each keeping tabs on the others. The Judiciary is certainly independent and the Executive is ultra-independent but it appeared that the Dáil had little role to play in those checks and balances. I have known Deputies of different hues who have recounted experiences of arriving in the House in different terms and finding themselves essentially surplus to requirement and voting when the need arose. Sometimes it did not matter whether they were in government or in opposition. If one was in the Executive, one was all powerful but if one was not, one was cast out into the wilderness where one had little role to play. That is a most unfortunate and undesirable situation and these Dáil reforms are engineered to address that and from my reading of the report, they appear to do so.

We all have individual mandates. All of us, as Deputies, and all of us who belong to groups, parties and technical groups have rights and responsibilities. It is a positive step in that regard to put in place those checks and balances and to enable the Parliament to act in this way.

We saw the first example of it last night with the Fianna Fáil Private Members' Bill on mortgage interest rates. It was good to see that Bill going through and, to an extent, history being made. Let us hope we see many more issues raised by all sides in the House. I am sure there will be agreements and disagreements but each party has the right and the opportunity now to contribute constructively to those.

Other Deputies said it is fair to say this is not a normal workplace. The arrangements in the workplace here take a little getting used to. Having said that, Deputies and the system are accommodated. It amuses me to an extent that it appears that the sitting hours are designed for the pony and trap era more so than the modern day - Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with a late sitting on a Wednesday. My understanding is it dates back to Daniel O'Connell coming up from the country on his horse and cart but, obviously, that no longer pertains. However, the working arrangements mean that the constituency matters of Deputies, including me, take precedence on Monday and Friday, with legislative duties on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and these complement each other. That same system has appeared to work well - water has a way of finding its own balance.

I would make an observation on the Thursday votes, an issue Deputy Mattie McGrath also mentioned. My understanding of the proposal is that back votes will be bundled together into a Thursday sitting, perhaps a two-hour window when Deputies will come into the Chamber to vote en masse on different issues. I appreciate wiser and more experienced heads than mine have studied this and come up with the formula based, presumably, on experience, trying to minimise time wasted in sessions and trying to be more efficient about operating business. Coming from a local authority background where votes were commonplace as well, I would voice one concern. Sometimes there is a moment in time during a debate when there is a particular drama, there is a particular passion in the chamber and minds are concentrated, and then votes occur. I wonder a little about postponing the votes for two or three days or maybe even a week and voting on maybe 20 items in one slot. It seems a little artificial. I wonder is it overly mechanical and would one's mind be concentrated to the same extent as in the live debate, although time will tell.

I mention the budget review office. This is a welcome and sensible move. My understanding is that the United States Congress has had such an office in place for a couple of decades. Approaching budget time in recent years, it has become a political performance, asking whether one had one's proposal costed by the Department of Finance. This provoked much discussion and the Department became a sort of de facto budgetary review office. Now a formal one is being put in place and that seems to be a welcome, positive and sensible move.

As another new Deputy, with Deputy Jdames Lawless, and as someone who spent many years in local government, I have certainly found that the best way of achieving progress was through consensus and collaboration. I viewed the proceedings in the Dáil from afar and was always struck by their adversarial nature, while understanding the need for Government and a strong and constructive opposition. One of the most important aspects of the Dáil is the fact that it is the people's assembly and no matter what background any one of the 158 Deputies comes from, every one of us has a mandate that needs to be understood and respected. In fact, on my first day in the Chamber, which was 10 March, I was delighted when my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, placed such strong emphasis on Dáil reform. It was key for my party in terms of looking at the possibility of supporting a minority Government. Perhaps the Dáil reform that we see before us now was a positive and unintended consequence of the situation that we all found ourselves in after the people voted on 26 February, following which, as the House will be aware, there was no clear result.

I commend the report. At the end of the day, all of us want to have a strong Legislature, independent of the Government of the day, that can impact on policy and oversee Government action. That is vital to an effective Parliament. We want to address the issues people all over Ireland are facing.

I thank all the Deputies from all parties and none who were involved in drafting the report. It is important we agree to review it on a timely basis and that we continue to reform. True reform is ongoing; it should never be once-off. We need to constantly tweak things and see what we can do to improve the business here.

The idea of changing and ensuring separate committee time from plenary time is important. Unfortunately, we saw recently during a particular debate that many observers took to social media straightaway to bemoan the fact there were only ten Deputies in the Chamber. Afterwards it was realised that 62 Deputies contributed to that debate. It behoved Deputies to point out that, in fact, there were important committees meeting at the time.

The fact that the times will change will be very helpful to those of us who want to be active on committees and during plenary sessions.

I particularly welcome the measures to empower Dáil Deputies with a strong committee system. With 23 committees, there will be much work for all of us to do in ensuring it will be a strong, robust system. The legal resources and independent economic analysis that will be before us will be particularly welcome and help us all to do our work better. The implementation of reforms such as a new budget committee and pre-legislative scrutiny is especially welcome. The work that has been done will help us on an ongoing basis. These changes are against the backdrop of a formal confidence and supply arrangement in supporting a minority Government. My party was very pleased to have been involved in it and is looking forward to helping to implement the suggestions made in the draft report, after it is accepted on Tuesday.

I welcome the Minister of State's speech and the report of the sub-Committee on Dáil Reform. It has been published and we have had time to examine it and take statements on it. We have had false dawns on Dáil and Seanad reform and new politics. People have heard it all before and will want to see how it works out in practice. There is a responsibility on all of us, in government and opposition, to make the new politics work and ensure whatever reforms we agree to are implemented, not just as words in a document but also in deed. I welcome the opportunity and the many positive proposals made in the reform report.

While my party and I have long argued for smaller parties and technical groups to have as much speaking time as possible, we must protect the integrity of political parties. We put ourselves forward as members of parties and receive our mandate as a party, whereas Independents do not put themselves forward as members of parties. There is a difference between political parties and Independents. While I support Independents coalescing in a technical way to get more speaking time, it must not infringe on or diminish the speaking time available to and the opportunities in the Dáil of political parties which are elected in a different way, as we seek to support, as best we can, smaller parties and the number of technical groups which might emerge from the new dispensation. This is especially true in the case of Leaders' Questions. All of the main Opposition parties must be able to ask questions of the Taoiseach every day when the Dáil sits. This applies to Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and all of the parties in government and opposition. We can disagree on where Fianna Fáil lies; we are certainly in opposition and it is right and proper that, as the lead Opposition party, our leader have the opportunity to question the Taoiseach every day there are Leaders' Questions.

I will focus on two elements of the report that will impact on my work as spokesperson on public expenditure and reform. One is the recommendation to establish a committee to examine budgetary matters, which is welcome. The Minister of State said, "No longer will the budget be a Government-only document." I am not sure I agree. While we can have an input, unless the Government is going to take on board all of the very practical, realistic, deliverable proposals which we and other groupings have put forward in the past in our alternative budgets, we will not have a budget document which has the support of everybody. We must realise and acknowledge there are political and ideological differences on economic, fiscal and budgetary policy.

Never say never.

Through the Chair, please. The Minister of State should not respond.

We can work constructively together. We can try to reach consensus where we can. I embrace this. However, I have sat through many committee meetings and discussions with Ministers at which we have proposed very credible, realistic, deliverable alternative fiscal, social and economic policies and they have been knocked back. I do not agree with the policies of the more conservative parties and we will not achieve total agreement on all issues. It will still be the Government which brings forward budgets. If we have more of a role in the process, I agree with and welcome it as a concept.

I support the proposal to establish an independent parliamentary budget office. This is very important. One of the false debates we have had has been about whether the alternative budgets presented by a number of Opposition groupings have been costed. Every year we send our proposals to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which responds with costings, yet the Government tells us they have not been fully costed. Over and over again we have asked to have our full alternative budgets costed by the costing unit to dispense with the false debate and deal with the substance of the proposals made. This should be extended to the policy documents parties put forward. If they want to have their policy documents costed, this should be embraced and facilitated. We are up for it; we want it and do not want distractions. Unfortunately, distractions have been part and parcel of politics for far too long, with claims that our proposals have not been costed or questions about who costed them. Let us agree on how it is to be done and the shape of it and then ensure it happens.

Not only should we cost proposals, we should examine the impact any budget proposal made by the Government or the Opposition would have on people. We have had report after report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, EUROSTAT, the Central Statistics Office, CSO, think tanks and many other organisations such as the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, and the Think-tank for Action on Social Change, TASC, which have shown that income inequality in the State has increased year on year, especially owing to the policies of the previous Government. More people are living in poverty; there is greater income inequality and the gap between rich and poor has increased. This is because of the budget policies that have been put in place. We must not only cost the individual budget proposals made by the Government and the Opposition, but we must also have social and economic impact assessments made and ensure they are poverty and equality-proofed. Far too many proposals and budgets have been passed by the House which put more people into poverty. When the talking was done and the independent analysts made their analysis, we saw that they were unfair, unequal and would drive more people into poverty and create even deeper inequality. Let us use the new dispensation, the budget committee and the independent finance office not just to cost proposals but also to examine their impact on citizens and to equality and poverty-proof them.

In broad terms, I welcome the new initiatives and proposals. We need to give them fair wind. I very much hope it is real and that we will see it all work out in practice the way many people have said it will. My party and I are up for it. It is hoped, however long this Dáil lasts, that we will be able to say we made a difference and changed how we do business in the House for the better of the people outside the Chamber.

I thank the Acting Chairman for giving me the opportunity to speak. As a new Deputy, although not a new politician, I appreciate the level of work the reform document has taken and the inclusivity that has occurred on the part of all parties in the House to reach this point. It sets a very good standard with which to begin the new Government session and is a good base from which to work. I always like to start any new endeavour from a solid foundation and the document provides it.

It is also very welcome that the Dáil will have additional powers to plan and make arrangements for its business with a new business committee that will comprise Government and Opposition members who will plan the business of the House on a weekly, sessional and yearly basis. That will lead to a more effective and productive Dáil.

I am very supportive of the new budgetary oversight committee that will be assisted in its work by a new independent budget office, which will lead to a more transparent process for all. As the previous Deputy said, if a proposal made across the floor is practical, costed and worthy of further exploration, I am sure my party will look favourably at it. However, I have been party to many local budgets, 12 in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, where people had aspirational ideas but did not find the money in the budget document to implement them, or found they would be to the detriment of proposals made in another part of the document. If a proposal is constructive and properly costed and would not be to the detriment of another measure of good standard or quality, I am sure it will be looked at favourably.

I commend the planned increased role for the office of the parliamentary legal adviser, which will assist backbenchers in the drafting of legislation they wish to bring forward. The report also recommends the establishment of a Dáil business committee to give all Deputies, irrespective of to which party they belong, a greater voice and allow a fair distribution of Dáil time between the Government and the Opposition.

I commend the rearrangement of sitting times in order that, wherever possible, the proceedings of the House will not clash with committee meetings. That will allow Members to attend both and be more effective in their endeavours. It will also make the committees more productive. Making the membership of committees smaller will allow for greater debate and more effective use of time.

As a working parent, like most of my generation because of exorbitant house prices, I very much welcome the introduction of more family-friendly hours. As politicians, we all accept the erratic hours we work which we come to expect, but for non-elected staff, this will allow for a better work-family balance also.

The reforms allow for increased time in the Dáil for Leaders' Questions, Taoiseach's Questions and questions to Ministers. The pre-legislative scrutiny of Bills has been strengthened, with interested individuals, experts and civil society groups now being involved in the legislative process from the beginning.

A number of changes are proposed to Dáil procedures which, among other things, will enhance the public's understanding of what goes on in Parliament. For instance, Members will be able to have an explanation included in the Official Report as to why they voted in a particular way. Also, for the first time, they can be recorded as abstaining in particular votes. Votes will take place at a particular time each week and when a Member asks about promised legislation on the Order of Business, the relevant Minister may reply when requested to do so by the Taoiseach.

I very much welcome this Dail reform process. It is a very good start in this new term.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the final draft report of the sub-Committee on Dáil Reform. I congratulate the Members all sides of the House who contributed to this important report.

I was first elected to the House in 1981. Only three Members of the class of 1981 are still in the House, with the Taoiseach having been a Member of the class of 1975. We have come a long way since, but we have come further in the past few weeks than we did in the past few decades. Back then we had to walk through the lobbies for every vote, as we did not have the electronic voting system now in place. At the time there were no select committees, which meant all Stages of Bills, including Committee and Report Stages, were taken in plenary session in the House. That did not make much sense, but that is the way business was done and we possibly make some progress.

We would not be debating this draft report if one, two or three parties had received an overall majority in the general election. Some might say we would be doing this any way, but we would not. The electorate shaped the Thirty-second Dáil which is radically different from any previous Dáil. This is my ninth time to have been elected to the House. I was also elected three times to the European Parliament and a few times to my local authority. Therefore, I very much welcome these reforms. All members of the sub-committee devoted much of their time to working together and they came up with this important document.

The option of doing business in the usual way is a non-starter. We realised this when the votes were counted and we knew what the make-up of the new Dáil would be, but this is not new to me. I am accustomed to it having spent from 1994 to 2002 and from 2009 to 2014 in the European Parliament. It had 500 Members representing an area that stretched from the Atlantic to almost the Ural Mountains, from various backgrounds and who spoke various languages, but we succeeded. There are only two languages spoken in this country and I am delighted that in the future all Bills will be produced in Irish and English simultaneously. As Members of the European Parliament, we attended various committees. Legislation initiated by the European Commission was passed to the committees and sometimes the amended legislation was almost unrecognisable when returned to the Parliament. We ensured legislation was improved as a result of our consideration.

With many others, I was invited to make a submission to the sub-committee. Drawing on my experience in the European Parliament, I took the opportunity to do so. My proposals were twofold, namely, that we increase and strengthen the role and rights of individual Deputies and provide the services required by them. There is no point in strengthening the role of Deputies unless we provide the backup services required. We must also increase the powers of the Dáil and provide for its full and meaningful involvement at all Stages of the legislative cycle. I believe we will see this happen in the coming weeks and months.

What does strengthening the role of a Deputy involve? The electoral system in Ireland is very different from the systems in place throughout Europe. There were times when we might have wished we could be elected under a list system, but I am a great supporter of the system we have in place. Regardless of whether a party is popular, it is important that the people can vote for the individual they wish to represent them. That means citizens expect their Deputy to be accessible at all times. That is the reason we are in this House. Teachtaí Dála are the eyes and ears of the people. We are messengers of the people and come here to express their views. As such, we should be accessible to represent their views and concerns in the Dáil. The system that will be in place until the final draft report is adopted by the House does not allow that to happen.

I am very impressed by the way in which the draft report is presented. It is readable, simple and understandable. It is in a language anyone can read and understand. There will be a cost, but what is the cost of democracy? Resources will be required to implement the proposals made in the report. The Secretary General will produce detailed proposals for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission in accordance with best practice, but whatever the cost, they will be as prudent as possible. I am also impressed that there will be an opportunity, whether in six or 12 months, to review their operation. We will await the outcome of that review, but I am sure the committee that will have responsibility for reviewing their operation will be happy to make whatever amendments are necessary to ensure they are workable.

I am delighted to see the number of committees, of which there will be 23. It is important from my perspective go bhfuil coiste ansin a bheidh ag amharc i ndiaidh chúrsaí na Gaeilge agus chúrsaí na Gaeltachta. Ní bheidh an coiste seo fite fuaite leis an Roinn ina bhfuil Rannóg na Gaeltachta anois. Beidh sé neamhspléach ó sin. Nuair a bhí mé féin mar chathaoirleach ar an gcoiste, bhí sé measctha le spóirt, turasóireacht agus le Gaeilge. Ní raibh sé sin maith go leor. Molaim go mór iad siúd atá ar an gcoiste seo gur mhol siadsan go mbeidh coiste ag amharc i ndiaidh chúrsaí Gaeltachta.

As I am sure many have said, the budget and finance committee is all important as is the parliamentary budget office. This is all new although, of course, the sub-committee drew on the experience of other countries. It is important to remember in speaking about the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisor that we currently have a facility to advise Members which is provided by the Commission through the independent Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisor. There is backup in the House but in the past, we perhaps did not avail of it as often as we should have.

The d'Hondt system is an ideal one whereby the parties with the most Deputies will have the first choice and so on and then Members will indicate to their Whips which committees they want to sit on. I am not opposed to committees being smaller because they can be just as effective if they are but that does not deprive, as is the case in the European Parliament, any Member of the opportunity go in and make a contribution or to vote as an alternate when the full committee member is not there. The Chief Whip might look at the following, which I have read in the printout we got. It is the split between plenary and committee time. It states they will not overlap but also that committees will meet from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays while there will be plenary sessions of the Dáil from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays. Perhaps there is a typographical error there. It is only a detail.

My constituency colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, made reference to the following which we discussed prior to today's debate. We have a very serious situation along the coast whereby on 10 March 2016, the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, introduced a statutory instrument on fisheries in the Houses. There are 21 days to address that. Everyone in the House, including the incoming Minister, Deputy Michael Creed, wants to ensure that can be amended. It provides that immediately someone might appear to have broken a rule, penalty points will be imposed. If he or she goes to court, the court cannot throw out those penalty points. While the Minister knows this, we do not have an opportunity to discuss it. I note to the Chief Whip that there are six sitting days left in that regard. We do not want to find a decent Minister, Deputy Creed, in an embarrassing situation given that most Members will vote to rescind it. I ask the Chief Whip to take note of it and to speak with her Minister. We like to win votes but I am anxious that we move on.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate today on the subject of Dáil reform. It is right to commend the sub-committee members who gave of their time so generously, led by the Ceann Comhairle, to deal with the issue. I congratulate the politicians and political parties who put this matter very much to the fore of the new Dáil. I compliment them on the body of work that has been presented to us. There are a number of interesting initiatives in it which will hopefully result in more efficient governance by all of us on all sides of the House in getting our business done. Hopefully, it will make things more interesting and there will be more interaction with the people we have the good fortune to represent.

It is important to look at the interpretation of reform and what we mean by Dáil reform. To broaden out the context slightly during this debate, I note that someone once said change was not reform any more than noise was music. We have to keep our focus on what we are really talking about when we talk about Dáil reform. It is very easy to assume that Dáil reform is the same as political reform. What people are looking for more than anything else is political reform and we must ensure that the steps we take vis-à-vis the Dáil and reform of the institution. It may merely be change and may not be what people are looking for. We have to be very cognisant of that. The most significant reform delivered to the body politic and the establishment was the last election. People looked in from the outside and saw a Government with a massive majority. It seemed to them that these guys could decide that we should all go down on our hands and knees going into mass on a Sunday and vote that through with its big majority. The people did not like the look of that and delivered in spades a very different dynamic in the election through a very different Dáil. They made sure that we had to recognise that and move with them.

I have spoken in the House before about, and continue to lobby for, menu-option politics. That is what people want to see. The political class and political people are always behind the curve and the people are ahead of us. People are not stupid but we can treat them like that sometimes in thinking we can get away with talking out of both sides of our mouths. That has been a habit and a trait of politicians for a long time. People do not want populist politics which is not real and honest with people and which just rolls along saying what people want to hear on a given day. People want to hear the truth. They prefer to hear the facts. That is the kind of reform and real change that is being looked for by the electorate out there. They have started that journey with this recent election and I have no doubt they will continue with it. They are well able to decipher what they want as they go along the way.

A previous speaker referred to one of the most welcome developments, which is that committees will be smaller. It is a very positive step. This next Dáil will constitute a very exciting opportunity. For those of us fortunate enough to be in here, it will be really interesting and challenging. On a political level, it will be much more rewarding for those of us engaging in the process. The new powerhouse and real avenue for, and locus of, change will be the committee system. Those committees will take on a new life of their own. It is a little bit difficult. People do not get the whole idea of this large room here and why there are so many empty seats all the time. Journalists can play on that and play up the empty seats but we all know the reality that this is a very different Chamber. It is not interactive. We make speeches and people listen. There is no two-way cut and thrust, there is no debate and there is no real engagement and, therefore, not many issues are moved on solidly here. In the committees, where we get to challenge, question and query what is going on, we make significant progress in advancing policy. Smaller committees will be even more welcome and effective. I look forward to playing my part in that regard.

I welcome the reforms and, like the last speaker, I congratulate and commend the committee that took the time and effort to put them together. The reforms have come about via cross-party support and the work of members representative of the whole Dáil and, in essence, of the country. It is a very positive start to the new Dáil that these reforms have come about through collaboration and an interest in seeing things done differently and more efficiently.

I welcome the fact that committee structures are being strengthened. Like the last speaker, I agree that smaller committees is a better way to go. From any job that one does, one knows that makes things much easier. In my experience as a member of Mayo County Council, smaller groupings were far better and far easier to work within. One definitely had more scope to get one's ideas across and to work better with people. As such, this is a very positive step forward and a positive change.

We have heard the terms "political reform" and "Dáil reform" bandied about for a number of years.

There was a feeling among the public and some public representatives that reform was something that we discussed but did nothing about and that it was not possible to achieve reforms that made our Parliament work better. As such, this report is a positive step forward in how we do politics and represents a crucial change in how the country operates. It shows the public that, when there is buy-in, collaboration and support from across the House and an appetite to work differently and better, it can be done. It sets a good tone for how the Dáil will operate.

I welcome the fact that we pursued this project on foot of what is a numerically different Dáil and a changed country. While many people were uneasy and frightened by these changes, given that change can be difficult, something positive has been produced. I hope that people see the positive aspects of the different political situation in which we find ourselves.

I also welcome the budget and finance committee and the fact that the budget will have more input from all Deputies, recognising the mandate of each individual and political party in the House. This is important. In recent years and further back into the history of Irish politics, there was never scope for dissenting views and little scope for minority views, small parties and individuals. This represents a change in terms of taking on board all views, even those that one does not want to hear or do not align with one's own. This is forcing that to happen, which is a positive.

While the d'Hondt system can be time consuming and cumbersome, it is practical and fair and recognises the mandates of Deputies and parties. It gives greater respect to the decision of citizens in voting for their local representatives. That is positive. While it may take us longer to get things done and we may need to put in more hours of work, we should not be concerned.

These reforms represent an opportunity as well as a change to how we work. I appreciate that, as a new Deputy, I did not operate under the old system and it may be easier for a first-time Deputy to operate under the new one, given that it is all one knows. For some, the change may be more difficult than for others. Getting used to changes in how things operate is always a challenge, but the buy-in from all representatives in the House in order to make things work better sends a positive message to the public to the effect that this is not about rhetoric and saying one thing while doing something else, but that we are committed to these changes. I am proud and privileged to be a part of them.

It could be construed as showing a lack of experience of working in the House, but I am looking forward to keeping an open mind and being prepared to understand and take on board the views of others as best I can. It is important that the House not operate in a bubble, although avoiding that can be difficult. Often, one is surrounded by like-minded thinkers, people from one's own party or social group or one's friends. It is important that the new Dáil challenges all Members to get involved in committees and debates on legislation where they must listen to and take on board others' views even if they do not agree with them. It might present an opportunity for some people to change their views on certain issues. I hope that it will minimise the negative impact that groupthink can sometimes have on the House.

I welcome the changes. They are a positive step. I look forward to working within the new structures with all of my colleagues to ensure that this works. It is prudent that we review this reform at a later stage, for example, in a year's time. We are not infallible and may not be doing everything correctly. We are making decisions based on our current information. We may have got some matters wrong and others right, but it is prudent that the entire Dáil review how the reform works. It is positive that we are open to making whatever changes are necessary.

I congratulate the committee, which worked on a cross-party basis to produce a document of great substance. That substance is clear for all to see. The comments from Deputies who welcomed and scrutinised it were welcome. The review period of one year is worthwhile and useful.

In the broader context, Deputy Jim Daly's remarks have much merit. The public has made a demand for political reform, including of the Dáil. In my few weeks as a Deputy, I have had the pleasure and pride of representing my area and of opening the doors of this great institution to allow people in to see the work that we do, including that which does not come across in the media as it should. We all work very hard, but communicating that to the public is sometimes difficult. That the people whom I have brought to the Oireachtas have acknowledged the amount of work that we do and how hard the Dáil works everyday is incredible. Through these reforms, we can continue that work but in a visibly more cohesive way. They will have an impact by making politics more accessible to people as well as more professional and businesslike. The proposed timetable will make it easier for parliamentarians to define their workloads and divide their work between the representative side of politics, which is a fact of life for Deputies, and the parliamentary side of politics, which is why we are in the Dáil and seek election.

I welcome the budgetary oversight committee. It is necessary and worthwhile and follows on from the OECD report on budgetary oversight by Parliament that was produced in autumn 2015 and effectively recommended the precise path that we are pursuing. We will have a more European way of deciding budgets. There will be fewer big bang and red briefcase moments, or red CDs as is now the case, and more scrutiny, oversight and collaboration from all sides of the House in putting together budgets and examining how each Department intends to spend. This should be welcomed by all sides.

The increased importance of committees is a fact of this Dáil. That this matter is amply covered in the document is also important. The use of exclusive committee time underscores committees' increased importance and means that people will not be moving between them and the Dáil Chamber and can instead devote their attention and time to committees. This is worthwhile.

It is useful to have a defined period for votes. The time-slot of 45-minute or thereabouts on Thursday, starting at 12:45 p.m., is in the European mould, whereby the European Parliament effectively has all of its votes in one block. That is probably the best way to handle matters if we want a more professional and businesslike Parliament. It is what the public want to see. They want Deputies to focus on the work at hand and, as Deputy Jim Daly stated, more robust debates. Given the fact that this is an 158-person Chamber, there is little scope for interaction and back-and-forth debates. In a committee environment, though, there is more scope for same and to scrutinise the nitty-gritty. With more committees and a greater focus on them, that can be achieved. It will produce good policy-focused outcomes for the Parliament and the public at large. This can only be welcome.

The ability to abstain from votes is touched on in the document. There has been a great deal of focus on this and abstaining will be useful in this Parliament, but there will also be an ability to attach a note or state a reason for a given vote.

Context can always be helpful and understanding the reason a person votes in a particular way can absolutely be helpful. For parliamentarians, it is useful. It is important that we be seen as thinking parliamentarians, as people who think about their votes and who have reasons for voting the way they do. Being able to record reasons is an absolutely welcome and useful step in this regard.

The ability to have two rounds of parliamentary questions answered during the summer recess will be helpful. Although the summer recess means a slowing down of business to some extent, the business of people's lives does not stop, nor do their questions on certain matters. Therefore, being able to submit a parliamentary question and receive an answer during the summer recess, however long it may be, is useful. I certainly welcome this.

The publication of deferred replies feeds the appetite for greater transparency and scrutiny. This is one aspect of the document that has not really been touched on in the media, but it is worthwhile mentioning it.

I thank the sub-committee for its work. The document is tremendous. It has been drawn up with cross-party support. A great deal of time and effort was devoted to it by Deputies on all sides and this should be commended. I welcome the changes proposed. Like Deputy Lisa Chambers, I welcome the fact that a review is to be carried out in a year. We have no time to rest on our laurels and as good as the document is, its recommendations may not work entirely as envisioned. I welcome the document and the ability to review it. Once again, I thank the sub-committee.

As a former Whip and someone who has been around this Chamber for a couple of years, I should make some comments on the points made in the document. With every turn in the road, there comes a need for change. If one keeps going straight, one ends up in the fence. The general election saw the people bring about change in a certain direction. It is very difficult to figure out what was intended, but the draft proposals encompass, in so far as possible, a means of accommodating the intentions of the people when they voted. The reforms bring much more power to the Parliament than it had but with power comes responsibility. I point this out for everybody's sake. There might have been a suggestion in some of the earlier speeches today to the effect that one could have power without responsibility and blame somebody else if things did not happen in accordance with one's wishes. It is not that way, unfortunately. The reform proposals are a great opportunity for everybody to take responsibility and become involved in the serious and responsible process of governing. There is now a partnership between the Parliament and the Executive, the Government. Neither can exist without the other and neither can exist without the help, advice and support of the other.

Deputy Thomas Byrne mentioned the role of the Attorney General. He is correct in saying the Attorney General is the legal adviser to the Government. Nobody else has this role. As the Deputy rightly pointed out, disclosure of the Attorney General's advice would make his or her position impossible in the event of a court challenge. In fact, that happened some years ago when an opinion was offered that entered the public arena and was used very effectively by an opposing counsel. As we know, the job of the opposing counsel when it has its day in court - no disrespect to the legal profession - is to do the best it can for its client, whoever it may be. Counsel does not get paid to sit down, accept or acquiesce but to do a job, namely, to win. Those of us who have been in court will know this is how it works.

It is no harm to remember that this change brings about power and also responsibility. Reference was made to the tyranny of the European Union. In case we are misleading ourselves, I must point out that the tyranny of control from the European Union is not tyranny in itself but a mechanism put in place to ensure fiscal stability and cohesion. It is put in place to ensure no gdministration in Europe can take off on a tangent that creates the kind of liability we saw created in this country and a number of others in the past ten years. That should never happen again. Those who believe it could not happen need only consult some of the other governments across Europe that have been similarly affected and afflicted. Some governments in other parts of Europe were adamant in the past few years that they had a different and better system than others, that there would be no pain and that they could abolish what has been called "austerity". Unfortunately, it did not work out that way and they had to revert to continuing in the same old way. To protect our interests in the future, it is significantly important that we act responsibly and that responsibility begins in this Chamber. If we act responsibly, these reforms will be very successful. The country will benefit, as will the European Union. While many people have commented on bureaucracies in every country and advocated that they be abolished, all the checks and balances were introduced for a particular purpose, namely, to eliminate potential damage to what some people nowadays call "the system". As the system may mean the integrity of an economy, country or the European Union itself, we cannot afford to be irresponsible. I hold no brief for the divergent views now exploding across Europe on the extreme right and the extreme left. I reminded the House of the consequences of taking this tangent in the past. I will not hesitate in predicting disastrous consequences if these tendencies continue.

Better scrutiny of the annual budgetary cycle by the new budgetary oversight committee should be welcomed. Deputy Brendan Howlin mentioned the pre-legislative discussions in committee in the past. Without a doubt, they were useful. However, because of the smaller number of members on a committee by comparison with the number in the House, it is always possible the committee may be influenced by submissions made to it to an extent greater than represents the total membership of the House and the Government together. We need to ensure in the future that the committee system will not disporportionately drag the House in a particular direction. I have seen pre-legislative discussion result in legislation with which I could not agree at all. If I had been a member of the relevant committee, I certainly would not have agreed with it. That does not mean to say I am right, but if one had the opportunity to debate the subject, one could at least say one had participated, that it had not worked out and that, for whatever reason, better minds had thought differently.

I remind Members that in earlier days in this House, when I was a lot younger, we had much longer debates, but we got through legislation just the same. I do not know whether we had longer sitting hours, but I do not believe we had. There was less time spent dealing with the edges of the debate and we got straight into it. There was a revolving debate across the House as the day passed. The sitting was suspended at lunchtime or not, as the case may be, and Government and Opposition speakers alternated throughout the day. It was a quick way of getting through the various participants. I am not suggesting for one moment that we should copy the European Parliament because, as Deputy Brendan Howlin rightly stated, there is no possibility of addressing an entire issue in any debate in the space of 30 seconds. It cannot be done; one merely makes an interjection. That would do us no great favours.

Speaking of time, as there are only two minutes and 20 seconds left in this slot, I cannot go through all of the bullet points in the paper. I have always believed everybody has the right to speak in the House. I speak as one of those who has probably been ejected from the House more often than others for refusing to accept decisions on information it was believed should have been available to a Member.

Given my experience in the House, I expect my knowledge of what is or is not in order is as good as that of anyone else. I am reminded of the song, "I Fought the Law and the Law Won", because I did not win most of those bouts and spent long periods outside the House. I believed, however, that it was something I should have done at the time and about which I had the right to protest, which I did in the way I believed was necessary. I believe some of the reforms coming to the fore are a response to the issues I raised in my inimitable fashion over the years.

I did not agree with the introduction of Topical Issue Matters in the middle of a sitting day. In the old days, when a Minister was reticent about supplying details in reply to a parliamentary question and the questioner was dissatisfied, the latter immediately informed the Ceann Comhairle that the matter would be raised on the Adjournment that night. This helped to concentrate the minds of the questioner and Minister and an accommodation would generally be found because neither party wanted to return to the House at 11 p.m. The arrangement reached would accommodate all sides, including the House. This was an efficient system that worked and may well return.

In principle, I accept and embrace the need for change and hope the proposals work. If a review is required after six months, I hope it will be done because history shows that a year can be a long time in politics.

I thank colleagues from all parties and Independent Deputies for their contributions. I speak on behalf of the sub-committee, rather in my capacity as Government Whip. It was a privilege to be a member of the sub-committee. The Chairman, the Ceann Comhairle, and all members of the sub-committee invested a great deal of time and effort in its deliberations in recent weeks.

I welcome the thorough and comprehensive contributions made by all sides in this debate. It was interesting to listen to the various issues raised by the parties and Independent Deputies.

The proposals in the draft report will strengthen the foundation upon which changes will be made to the national Parliament next week or the week after and, I hope, for many years to come. This Dáil in particular will benefit greatly from many of the proposed reforms. As a result, responsibility will be shared among all elected Deputies which will, I hope, provide Ireland with a stable and inclusive Parliament. Inclusivity is just as important as stability in this regard.

As several speakers noted, there have been many attempts to reform the Dáil in recent decades. The final report on Dáil reform which will take into account the views expressed today will result in some of the most representative changes in how we do politics. This will be achieved thanks to the willingness of members of the cross-party sub-committee to work together to reach consensus, despite our differing views. This was most impressive and emphasises that while Deputies adhere to different political ideologies, we can achieve consensus on what is in the best interests of the House. It should be noted in this regard that many commentators, specifically in the media, did not believe consensus was possible. We have shown again that it is possible.

The sub-committee will meet again on Tuesday, 24 May when it will give full and deserved consideration to all of the points raised by Deputies today. We hope the meeting will conclude with the adoption of the reforms, after which changes will be made to Standing Orders in the coming weeks.

I thank my counterparts and members of the sub-committee for their dedication and commitment to ensuring that this Dáil will be stronger and more accountable and its Members more empowered than ever.

The outcome of the recent general election delivered a message to everyone elected to the Dáil that people want politics to be done in a new way. I believe we will all embrace this message. All elected Members have an interest in the issue of Dáil reform. The changes that will be made to Dáil Standing Orders in the coming weeks will provide a framework within which the House will work in the next few years and may well set the standard for decades to come. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing this debate to take place and extending the time provided to facilitate all Deputies who wished to make a contribution.

It is proposed to adjourn the debate until next Tuesday.

Is the sitting due to continue after Oral Questions?

Yes, the Adjournment Debate will follow questions.

Will further business be concluded before the House adjourns today?

Other than Oral Questions and the Adjournment Debate, there is no other business scheduled to my knowledge.

I have heard media reports that there may well be other business before the House adjourns.

The Chair has not been informed to that effect.

Has the Government Chief Whip been informed of any business to be taken at 6 p.m.?

I have been in the Chamber all afternoon, as the Deputy is aware.

Debate adjourned.