In order to be assistance in this regard, I am glad the Taoiseach has acknowledged it is absurd that an important committee such as, for example, the committee on foreign affairs should be governed as to the length of time it sits by the availability of a room, as has happened frequently. The aforementioned committee is a good illustration of the need for a debate on the fundamental role of committees, which the House should have next Thursday. Yesterday I made the point about the distinction between scrutiny committees, the purpose of which is to scrutinise legislation put before them by the Executive, and initiating or legislative committees, such as exist in Denmark, that have the right to introduce legislation or even committees that have the right to make amendments and return them to the House.
A fundamental issue arises as to whether committees are an extension of the Executive or a creature of the Parliament. If one is to defend a robust parliamentary system, a debate on the different categories of committee is required. A further example that arises in this House concerns the chairman of the committee on European affairs, who has the right to be consulted on some intelligence matters affecting the European Union. However, such a right does not exist for the chairman of the committee on foreign affairs. At present, several different unspecified functions exist. After the committees have been initiated in this House it will be too late because their Standing Orders will have been established and Members will be unable to amend them.
This issue will arise in the context of preparing for the constitutional referendum on the European treaty, whenever it will take place, when Members will be obliged to discuss issues pertaining to the democratic deficit. No foreign affairs committee in the European Union was able to say anything significant regarding the prevention of the Iraq war. In other Parliaments, such as the Parliament of Australia, Members have been unable to secure information on the war's consequences.
I have raised this issue today and yesterday because at the outset of a new period for the committees, it would be irresponsible not to discuss their functions and purposes in the Dáil in plenary session and to continue thereafter to fill them properly, resource them with staff and rooms and have minutes available that are accountable in the plenary system. I do so as a parliamentarian who is committed to the accountability that must exist in this Parliament.
I repeat the policy at issue is whether the committees are an extension of the Executive or a creature of the Dáil in plenary session. For example, it is nonsense to suggest the committee on foreign affairs, under its existing Standing Orders, is anything but an extension of Iveagh House.