Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil

Before proceeding to Leaders' Questions, I wish to bring Members up to date with matters relating to the voting process in this House on 17 October. On Tuesday, I informed the House that I had commissioned a review into the conduct of the voting bloc on Thursday, 17 October. The review, which was undertaken by the Clerk of the Dáil with the assistance of senior officials of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service, was submitted to the Committee on Procedure, which this morning incorporated the review into its own report, which has now been laid before the Dáil.

The controversy that ensued following the voting one week ago has further eroded public confidence in how our national Parliament conducts its business. Like many Members, I have received emails, phone calls and correspondence from the public, which have been highly critical of our voting practices. It is most timely that I remind Members of the code of parliamentary standards adopted by resolution of the House on 7 July 2010. The first principle of that code reads:

Members belong to an institution that is a cornerstone of and plays a central part in our democracy. They have a fundamental duty to behave in a manner that supports and reflects this and should endeavour to avoid comment or action that undermines the institution of parliament or how it is perceived.

Politics is an honourable profession, and, as politicians, we must conduct ourselves professionally. It is a matter of deep personal and professional regret to me that this did not happen last week.

Over the coming hours, I hope Members will take the opportunity to read the report. It is factual and evidence-based. It makes no finding against any individual, but the facts as laid out in the report are stark and unpalatable. It is sobering to reflect on the voting irregularities that occurred last week and under no circumstances can they be allowed to happen again. The Constitution requires Members to be present in the Dáil Chamber when voting and there can be no deviation from this fundamental requirement.

On a personal level, I have always believed that when errors are made in life - and we all err - they should be admitted and learned from. I would apply this maxim to what transpired last week. As Ceann Comhairle, I have endeavoured to be open and accountable about these events. As a parliamentary institution, we can take some solace from having established the facts expeditiously, and for that, I thank the Clerk of the Dáil and his dedicated staff. I also very much appreciate the co-operation from every Member in the course of this process.

As stated in the report, a number of complaints have now been made pursuant to the Ethics in Public Office Acts. Of necessity and based on legal advice, these complaints must be allowed to take their course in accordance with the processes laid down in statute. It is now for the Committee on Members' Interests to examine the matter and recommend any appropriate sanction. Any recommendation from that committee will be made to this House, and this House, rather than any one committee, will decide on the imposition of sanctions if deemed appropriate.

Later today, we will have statements in the House on the report. It is my sincere wish that Members read the report before expressing their views. I refer again to our code of parliamentary standards, which states that Members are expected to recognise the importance of their collective responsibilities and show respect for both the institution of Parliament and each other by conducting themselves with decorum.

Dáil Éireann is first and foremost a Legislature and I am, therefore, reassured by the advice of the Chief Parliamentary Legal Adviser regarding the presumption of constitutionality that attaches to all legislation passed by the Oireachtas. This presumption also applies to resolutions of this House.

As Ceann Comhairle and chairman of the Committee on Procedure, I commissioned the report, and I now undertake to do my utmost to lead the changes required as a result of it. However, I will require all Members to work with me in implementing solutions. The problems of last Thursday were not of a technical nature; the failure was a political one. As politicians and parliamentarians, there is an onus on us to deliver the solutions that are now required.

In conclusion, I thank Deputies for their attention. I am under no illusion regarding the work that now needs to be undertaken, but I know I can count on the support of all Members of this House in implementing the necessary measures to strengthen public confidence in the proceedings of Dáil Éireann. Go raibh maith agaibh.