Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Questions (57)

Joanna Tuffy


61 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Taoiseach his plans to review the changes to the way the Oireachtas conducts its business including the changes to Dáil and Seanad Standing Orders that have taken place in the current Oireachtas term, the changes to committees and the new committees; if this review will be carried out on a cross party basis to ensure that the changes are working well; when is it intended to bring in the outstanding changes that are outlined in the programme for Government; if the matter of reform of the way the Oireachtas does its business will be an ongoing matter of consultation on a cross party basis to ensure there is a genuine shift over the course of this Oireachtas term of power from the Executive to the Dail and the Seanad, and that the changes outlined in the programme for Government are something to be built upon in future beyond the term of this Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34349/12]

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Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

The Programme for Government sets out an ambitious agenda of Dáil Reform, which will continue to be implemented over the lifetime of the Government.

In July 2011, after just four months in office, the Government introduced a package of reforms which included:

An additional Leaders Questions session, taken by the Tánaiste, on Thursdays;

Topical Issues Debates, which replaced the adjournment debates and are taken earlier in the day. Under this arrangement, four debates are held each sitting day on issues of both local and national importance and a Minister or Minister of State from the Department concerned must, except where unavoidable, respond to the debate;

Special sittings on the first Friday of a month to provide time for TDs to introduce their own Bills, thereby enhancing TD's legislative role;

A procedure to allow Dáil Deputies raise issues regarding replies to Parliamentary Questions with the Ceann Comhairle. Under this procedure, the Ceann Comhairle can refer a matter back to the Minister with a request for further information;

Time limits for the Order of Business, to provide more structure to the working format of the Dáil; Streamlining the system of Taoiseach's Questions;

Section 32 requests no longer being read out unless they are granted by the Ceann Comhairle;

The Taoiseach briefing the Oireachtas prior to attending European Council meetings.

The Programme for Government also contains a commitment to increasing the number of Dáil sitting days by 50%. The number of Dáil sitting days has been significantly increased since the change of Government by reducing the length of Dáil breaks at Christmas, at Easter, after bank holidays and during the summer and the introduction of regular Friday sitting days. Significant progress has been made in this area. In this Government's first year in office there were 127 Dáil sitting days compared with 88 Dáil sitting days in the previous Government's last year in office

In 2011 a new Oireachtas Committee system was established that included a number of reforms promised in the Programme for Government including:

The number of Oireachtas Committees was reduced from 25 under the previous Government to 16.

An Investigation, Oversight and Petitions Committee chaired by a member of the Opposition was established.

A system was established under which Oireachtas Committees are involved at an early stage in the development of legislation before a Bill is published.

MEPs can attend Oireachtas Committees.

In June 2012, we further re-structured the Oireachtas Committee system in light of its operation during the first year of the Government's term of office. This re-structuring was carried out following discussions by me with the other Whips; the Chair of the Working Group of Committee Chairs, Deputy David Stanton; the other Oireachtas Committee Chairs; TDs and Senators from across all the political parties who are members of Oireachtas Committees; and the Committee Secretariat.

It is the Government's intention to follow these reform packages with additional reforms in the future. Indeed, I am currently in discussions with the other Whips; the Ceann Comhairle; the Dáil Reform sub-committee of the Dáil CPP; the Chair of the Working Group of Committee Chairs, Deputy David Stanton; and officials in Leinster House regarding a second phase of Dáil reforms to be introduced in the Autumn Session.

I can assure the Deputy that my office continues to monitor the day-to-day working of Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann and the Oireachtas Committees, including the impact of the reforms we have already introduced. This process of ongoing review, along with our Programme for Government commitments, will be the basis for further Dáil Reform.