Ceisteanna — Questions

Dáil Reform

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

1 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when he will bring forward a comprehensive plan for Dáil reform. [8372/11]

As theDeputy is aware, the Government is committed to implementing a comprehensive programme of Dáil reform. I met the other party Whips on 13 April when we had an initial discussionof areas in which the reform of Dáil procedures could proceed in the short term. Thesediscussions are continuing and I am hopeful we can reach agreement on a number of matters speedily.

I welcome the initial discussions on Dáil reform. Will they include consideration of earlier Dáil sitting times and longer and more sitting days? Will they also include consideration of the Taoiseach being present on more occasions and being more accountable to the Dáil? These demands were made by all Opposition Members at the last two Dáil reform committees. I understand from our own discussions that Sinn Féin hopes to present a Dáil reform package. Will Members be encouraged, other than through their Whips, to bring forward proposals to help to formulate Dáil reform proposals, similar to what we did on committee system reform? Recently the House held a debate when new and older Members were able to give their views on the committee system. Would it be feasible to hold such a discussion on the various Dáil reform proposals made?

Everything the Whips wish to discuss will be discussed. I will have no problem in accepting proposals from any of the political parties opposite. The Deputy was a Whip in the previous Dáil and is aware that a number of comprehensive proposals were set out by the Whips at the time, some of which I hope will be taken into consideration and can be implemented by the next term.

The Deputy spoke about more sitting days. I have increased the number by almost 35%. The programme for Government contains a proposal that the House should sit on Fridays. To increase the number of sitting days by 35% we have shortened the holiday periods and are coming back a day earlier after bank holidays. We will have a special sitting on Monday next, Europe Day. The Deputy asked that the Taoiseach be more readily available and come to the Chamber more frequently. The Taoiseach will be present on Monday and take part in the special sitting.

The Deputy spoke about encouraging newer Members to take part in the discussion on Dáil reform. I would have no problem in arranging a debate similar to that on the committee system. That was an idea of my own. I thought the debate on the committee system was worthwhile. A number of proposals and suggestions were made on that day which we have included in the proposals for the new committee system. I will also accommodate a special debate on Dáil reform. Some new Members who have been here for the past seven or eight weeks might see where we can improve on our procedures. It would be only right to give them the opportunity to debate the matter in the Chamber.

I am not sure what the Deputy means by encouragement of backbenchers. I hope the proposals for Dáil reform will include measures to allow backbenchers to debate urgent constituency issues rather than raising them on the Adjournment. The Adjournment debate is often a set-piece when a Minister listens to a Member's speech and then gives a detailed answer. That could be done in a more meaningful way. It is something we will discuss.

On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I acknowledge the ongoing work of the Whips on the matter of Dáil reform. We are generally satisfied with the approach being set out by the Chief Whip. We also acknowledge and commend the Government for providing for additional sittings. We are committed to having Friday sittings. Does the Minister of State agree that it is essential that these sittings form part of the routine Dáil week, that they be fully meaningful, that we deal with legislation on Fridays as we do throughout the week and that Ministers be present for oral questions?

Will the Minister of State comment on today's announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, of plans for a reduction in the number of Deputies as part of the overall Dáil reform package? In the run up to the general election Fine Gael stressed the perceived need to reduce the number of Members by 20. The Labour Party has been unenthusiastic. In fact, I believe it is opposed to the proposal to reduce the number of Members of the House. Will the Chief Whip say if the Government has reached agreement on this matter and what the current position is?

The Deputy spoke about routine Dáil sittings. That is not merely a matter for the Government. It will also be a matter for the Opposition to make sure it takes part fully in Friday sittings. It is not simply for the Government to keep a sitting going and supply speakers for an entire day. It is also the responsibility of the Opposition to supply speakers, take part properly in a debate and ensure a debate is successful and meaningful for the people watching outside the House.

The reduction in the number of Deputies is being discussed at Government level. The Deputy will know well in advance of any Government proposals in this regard.

I acknowledge that there has been dialogue regarding Dáil reform. In the Technical Group the demand has been for the adoption of a more inclusive approach. I would welcome the provision of time for a more comprehensive debate rather than a discussion among the Whips. When are we likely to have such a debate? The timeline for reform is working towards the end of July. It would be better to hold the debate at an earlier stage.

When is it likely that the body to examine political reform will meet? I believe it will be called a constitutional convention, although no terms of reference have yet been published. When will its terms of reference be announced and when is it likely to be set up? The demand in the Oireachtas and among voters, as expressed during the general election campaign, is for major political reform. If what we do between now and the end of July constitutes the bulk of the work of reform, there will be considerable disappointment because this will be seen as an exercise in box-ticking and the changes minor. Much more substantial change is expected by the public.

There will be comprehensive discussions. Ideas from Opposition Deputies are welcome and will be considered. Deputy Catherine Murphy referred to a possible debate on Dáil reform. That matter can be discussed at this evening's Whips meeting and a debate could be held in the next two weeks. Next week's schedule has been agreed, but a debate on Dáil reform could be held in the Chamber the following week. Members opposite and from my side of the House could take part in the debate. Good ideas can be taken on board. Deputy Ó Snodaigh's idea is a good one. The debate on committees we had in the House was extremely successful. A similar debate on Dáil reform and procedures in the Dáil that new Members have seen here in recent weeks, with new ideas being brought forward, can be accommodated by the Government.

First, will consideration be given to re-examining the pilot project run in the last Dáil in terms of giving assistance to Deputies in producing legislation? Will the question of the Library and Research Service be taken on board during our discussions on Dáil reform?

Second, in all our discussions on Dáil reform we need to be mindful of the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Will that be borne in mind given the public service embargo which prevents the Houses of the Oireachtas commission from employing additional staff to make up the shortfall due to natural wastage and so on and its impact on staff who are already stretched? If we extend the working hours that could cause further problems. That aspect should be borne in mind, even in the short period between now and July when we present the full Dáil reform document.

I would hope that when we go to the sub-committee on Dáil reform of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges we can ask for the advice of the Clerk of the Dáil on staffing issues in terms of any proposals the Government Whip may bring to that sub-committee. It is important to take that into consideration when we are bringing our proposals to the House.

The Deputy mentioned the Library and Research Service. That is something that can be discussed also with the Ceann Comhairle and the Clerk of the Dáil at the CPP sub-committee. We might even be able to discuss those issues at CPP level.

Oireachtas Committee System

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

2 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the Government will announce its proposals for the new committee system. [8364/11]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

3 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement committee will be established; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8395/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 3 together.

I am currently preparing proposals for a committee system for the Thirty-first Dáil. When the Government has considered these proposals and given its approval to the new arrangements, I will consult with the Opposition Whips in relation to them.

As Deputies will appreciate, I am not in a position at this point to comment on the detail of these proposals, except to say that I have taken into consideration many of the points raised in the recent debate on how to make the Dáil committee system more relevant and effective.

Will the new committees to be announced soon be larger committees given that the Government has given a commitment to having fewer committees of the House, and will they be fully resourced? The key point that came up during our discussions on the committees recently was the need to ensure some type of compellability mechanisms. Is there legislation on that or advice from the Attorney General regarding compellability of witnesses when committee inquiries and so on are held? Will that legislation be forthcoming or when will we see it?

Parts of the legislation the Deputy refers to are being prepared. I have spoken to the Attorney General about such legislation that we will bring forward in the future. When the Taoiseach spoke about this issue, which is in the programme for Government, and the Labour Party also referred to it in its pre-election manifesto, he spoke about making committees stronger and more relevant. That is something I would like to see happen but pieces of legislation will be required to make some of the committees stronger and more meaningful.

The committees we are proposing to go forward with are being signed off. I hope I will have them signed off entirely by tomorrow or the end of this week. There will be a larger number of members on each of the committees. They will include Deputies and Senators, and they will be resourced fully. As there will be half the number of committees that were in the Thirtieth Dáil I would hope the same number of staff members involved in all the committees can be combined, but that is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas through the commission, which will be set up shortly to make sure that the committee system is fully resourced and that it will work in a different way than was the case in the past.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and acknowledge that the plenary session here on committees and the committee structure was useful but I must point out that we have not had the level of engagement on this issue at Whips level as we have had on Dáil reform. Would the Chief Whip consider convening a special meeting of the Whips to discuss that in advance of any final decision?

I emphasise to the Minister of State the importance of setting up the Houses of the Oireachtas commission as a matter of urgency. I presume the commission falls within the ambit of committees in general. I support the issue raised by Deputy Ó Snodaigh in terms of the critical importance of the joint committee on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the fact that it should not be sacrificed, given its critical importance at this juncture.

On consultation with the Opposition on the setting up of committees, I had a special debate here in the Dáil to give the Opposition Members an opportunity to discuss fully their proposals on the number of committees and so on. The debate held in the House was meaningful but not that many Deputies spoke about the committees that should be formed, those that should be sacrificed and the committees that should be combined. I thought there would have been more views expressed on that in the debate.

I hope to announce before the end of this week the number of committees. I can assure the Deputy that the Good Friday Agreement committee will not be sacrificed. There will be a full committee to carry out the work that has been done previously, and the work that will be done in coming years on the Good Friday Agreement. I assure the Deputy that we will have a stand alone committee for the Good Friday Agreement.

On the setting up of the Oireachtas commission, I have spoken to the Taoiseach on that and I would hope the Taoiseach will announce through the Houses of the Oireachtas the setting up of the Oireachtas commission within the next ten days. It is hoped we will have announced everything on the committee system and the Oireachtas commission by the end of the following week. I have no doubt that Members opposite have an appetite to get involved in the committee structure in the House and in the workings of the committees and bring forward some of their ideas but I have set out a programme for the committees to work for the first three or four weeks. The Taoiseach spoke about the chairpersons of bodies and so on coming before different committees to outline their plans and proposals on what they want to bring to the chairmanship of the new bodies.