Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 27 Jun 1979

Relationship with Elected Members of European Parliament.

The first item on the agenda is the relationship with the elected members of the European Parliament. Senator Robinson has given notice of her intention to raise the question of the relationship with the elected Members of the European Parliament.

Before calling on Senator Robinson I would like to give a ruling which will have a bearing on the discussion. Hitherto Members of the European Parliament have been delegates of the national parliament. The members of the new parliament are not delegates but are the elected representatives of the people. The various references in the Joint Committee's terms of reference to delegates do not apply to the elected representatives.

Two consequences follow from this. First, Deputy de Valera's and my own membership of this Committee would not be automatically terminated on our becoming members of the European Parliament. In practice our membership of the Committee will not continue but we will have to be discharged by the Committee of Selection. Second, there will be no obligation on this Committee to send notices of its meetings to the elected Members of the European Parliament.

Finally, it has been decided already that such services as have hitherto been provided by the Houses for delegates to the European Parliament, such as making travel arrangements for them and arranging the attendance of staff in Luxembourg and Strasbourg, will not be provided for the newly-elected representatives. It follows that the practice of the Joint Committee staff in supplying memoranda from Government Departments and other bodies will also cease. This is something that I regret, particularly since nothing has yet been put in the place of what was a very useful arrangement.

The discussion should, therefore, be confined to what is germane to the Joint Committee's terms of reference, namely, how the Committee considers the elected members of the European Parliament might be able to help the Committee in discharging its functions. Obviously if such help is required it will have to be asked for. It is important that the Committee should not appear to be seeking to impose anything on the elected members of the European Parliament. If the Committee considers it should have some special relationship with them, it is obviously necessary to consult them, but it would be premature to do so until they know what their duties in Europe will entail.

I am afraid that the majority of us have not yet the knowledge and experience to be in a position to know exactly where we stand. One course open to the Committee would be to seek a meeting with the new members after the summer recess when the organisation of the newly-elected Assembly will probably have taken some shape. The first real meeting of the Assembly will probably be in September. There will be, as members are aware, an inaugural meeting in July; but if the newly-elected members could meet this Committee sometime between September and Christmas it would be useful because the Assembly members would then know their commitments. It would then be more advantageous to have such a discussion. The Party Whips have been informed that the Joint Committee is considering this matter. I now call on Senator Robinson.

The Chairman's ruling has clarified some of the questions that might otherwise have arisen following the direct election of the 15 members to the European Parliament. My concern in asking that this matter be listed for today was to enable us to have a preliminary discussion of the future relationship between the directly-elected members of the Parliament and the Committee. One of the first questions was one on which the Chairman has given a ruling. We changed our terms of reference for the second Joint Committee so that delegates to the European Parliament would get our documentation and would be welcome at our meetings. As the Chairman pointed out, the new members of the European Parliament are not delegates so that that provision has lapsed. Is that correct?

That provision is now without any meaning as the new members are not delegates in that sense. Do I understand that, in the light of the fact that the Chairman does not have to vacate his position on the Joint Committee, he and Deputy de Valera have indicated that they are going to do so. Is that the position?

That, of course, must be the position because it would be quite impossible to retain membership as such. That is not to say that I would not like to have a connection with this Committee and its work.

That clarifies the point that there may, therefore, be vacancies as a result of the fact that the members of the Joint Committee who are also members of the European Parliament may not wish to remain as members of the Joint Committee. I should like to refer to the helpful memorandum which was prepared and circulated by the Secretariat. It raises a number of the issues involved. If we look at paragraph 4 of that memorandum we will see that two of the 15 members of the European Parliament are not Members of the Oireachtas and it will be a matter for our consideration as to what kind of relationship, if any, we would have with those two members. The first Joint Committee in its Seventh Report in June 1975 recommended that where a member of the European Parliament is not a Member of the Oireachtas he should be given a right of audience in the Dáil and Seanad and in the appropriate Committees of both Houses. That Joint Committee went on to say that it believed that this objective could be achieved by making appropriate provision in the Standing Orders of both Houses. Obviously, this Joint Committee is not bound by the report and recommendations of the first Joint Committee but it might be interesting to see whether this Joint Committee, when it has had a full opportunity for discussion on the matter, would be of the same view: that there should be a right of audience in the Dáil and Seanad and in the appropriate Committees of both Houses.

I would agree with the Chairman that it would not be appropriate for us to take any decisions today and I join with him in his proposals that it would be desirable for the members of the Joint Committee to meet with the new members of the European Parliament probably after the meeting of the new Parliament in September, when they have had a better opportunity to identify their own position in the Parliament, the kind of help they will be getting from the political groups and the kind of backup and help they will be getting from the European Parliament offices and the budget of that Parliament. It would be advisable for the Joint Committee to seek to have a meeting at that stage with all 15 members and get their views on the situation.

Paragraph 5 of the memorandum refers to the service which the Secretariat of the Joint Committee used provide for delegates to the European Parliament. They were, in practice, supplied with the memoranda received from the particular Department or Departments which dealt with a proposal and also received copies of the submission from interest groups. If the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the FUE or the CII made submissions to us copies were made available to the delegates to the European Parliament. If I understand the Chairman's ruling, this practice will cease because the members are not delegates to the Parliament but I suggest that this practice should continue. It would be of great assistance to the directly-elected members of the European Parliament and, in particular, it would be of great assistance to the two members of the European Parliament who are not Members of the Oireachtas, Mr. Seán Flanagan and Mr. T. J. Maher. They would get a Government memorandum on the departmental attitude and would get the views of the interest groups. I imagine it will be very difficult at times for members of the European Parliament to be sufficiently briefed to represent the various interests from Ireland in their political groups and in the committees of the Parliament.

If it is possible for us—and I am not sure how far we can go as a Joint Committee—I would like to see us making a positive recommendation that this practice would continue and that the directly-elected members of the Parliament would continue to get this service. I would be in favour of the Secretariat of the Joint Committee being requested to inform the 15 members of the Parliament, and also contact the Party Whips, and ask for views and submissions to be considered at a special meeting in late September or early October by the Joint Committee.

I agree with Senator Robinson and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the Inter-Parliamentary Section and the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas for the valuable assistance they rendered to delegations over the years. Membership of the new Parliament without expertise in the travel arrangements will be very difficult. We are the most peripheral region and it is seldom that one can hop on a plane and get a direct flight to a meeting place. In addition, it has been our experience that we have had to change our travelling arrangements on a number of occasions to meet contingencies at home or in Europe. The new members will need expert advice to get them to and from meeting places. I hope some arrangements can be arrived at with the staff in Leinster House who have proved so efficient over the years. I hope the Joint Committee will be able to continue to give the assistance they have rendered to the delegates in the past. We found it invaluable.

It has not always been possible for us to attend meetings of the Joint Committee mainly because the Parliament meets on twice as many days in a year as the Dáil does. According to the projections for the new Parliament they will meet more often, certainly in excess of 200 days per year. This will put quite a considerable burden on the members representing this country. I hope it will be possible for the Oireachtas services to assist in every way possible the new members who will after all be working on behalf of our people. We should assist them in every way. We are in a new situation and it is certainly one that will evolve and will have to be watched closely. We should be able to keep a close eye on it. As the Chairman so rightly said, the members themselves will know possibly by the end of the year the areas in which they would welcome the assistance and expert advice that the people serving this Committee and, indeed, the Committee themselves can render. We should try to have a meeting with the new members to see in what way we can be helpful so that we can make their tenure as effective as possible. I would support Senator Robinson in the points that she has made; they are valid ones. We should endeavour to make the ground for a meeting as early as possible.

Before commenting on that point I would like to join with the members in congratulating both the Chairman and Deputy Síle de Valera on their success in the recent election. I would also like to say, since there may not be an opportunity for me to do so, that it has been a pleasure to work with the Chairman here on this Committee; he is an excellent chairman and I would just like to record that at this point. I would like to thank the members of the Committee for the congratulations which they accorded me.

In relation to the discussion here, it is appropriate to discuss and consider this whole question in the time which is available to us now. This is the line which the Chairman indicated. This is a good opportunity to discuss the possible links and the possible arrangements. This should be done in a cool and constructive way and we could come to some arrangement in the autumn. It is very important that we have links with the new members and that afterwards we have the means of communicating with them.

My thanks to Deputy Woods. Most of the members seem to endorse this line. Is there anybody else who would like to add anything to this discussion?

I agree that this Committee should work in close liaison with the newly elected members of the Parliament because they were elected to represent all of Ireland and the Irish people in the Parliament. We could be of great asistance to them and they could be of assistance to us by working in close harmony and they should be given the right of audience here because of certain changes effected within the EEC. Therefore, I fully support the arguments being made for granting our newly elected members the right of audience here. We will depend on them in order to get our message across and we can assist them and make things easier for them because they need to be more fully informed than if they were working at home all the time because of the complexity and the varied nature of the problems that will be confronting the new Parliament.

A very strong proposal should go from this meeting, mainly along the lines indicated by Senator McDonald, that the same facilities hitherto granted to the delegates should be granted to the members of the new European Parliament, particularly in relation to travelling facilities, and that the full documentation and full secretarial services of this Committee should also be granted to facilitate them in every respect towards fulfilment of their duties as representatives of Ireland in the European Parliament. If it has not already been proposed or implied I would like to make a strong proposal in that regard.

I would appreciate it if the Committee would consider sending a resolution to the Ceann Comhairle asking him, through his good offices, to continue certainly in the interim the facilities that the members have enjoyed because in Strasbourg, for instance, there is the huge shortfall of hotel accommodation. By bringing new people in to organise travel and accommodation at this stage we could find our members living 30 or 40 miles away from Strasbourg. At least Mr. Martin McMahon, Mr. David Reynolds and the House staff here have shown a tremendous amount of expertise and in the short-term at least, we should ask the Ceann Comhairle to facilitate members if they so require until the Parliament itself comes up with some arrangements. Could we send a resolution on those lines?

Is the Senator supporting such a resolution?

I am glad that this resolution has been proposed because I had a mind myself to make such a recommendation. Until we have this meeting and can discuss intelligently what we would like to see here, the existing arrangements in relation to travel and hotel bookings and all that sort of thing should be continued for the time being.

I would strongly support that. As I understand it, there has been a decision taken internally by the Ceann Comhairle to cease these arrangements, which seems precipitate, considering that these facilities are afforded to Members of the Oireachtas generally. If a Member is travelling then assistance will be granted whether or not he is going to the European Parliament.

The decision to cease these arrangements seems to imply a mentality that somehow the new members of the Parliament are away out in Europe and not at all involved in what is happening here. I would strongly support what I hope is a two-fold proposal, that they be accorded the facilities in relation to travel and bookings and the kind of arrangement that the delegates have had in the past until some other arrangement is made and that they be accorded the kind of back-up services and documentation from this Committee that the delegates had in practice, certainly until we review the situation in September and see how the new members feel about it.

Of course, the service provided by this Committee will not arise until we re-assemble after the recess.

Do we not continue on during the recess?

I see. We get information during the summer about the matters that might be of interest to Ireland. That usually continues during the summer.

We only send to the members of the European Parliament documentation relevant to their own committee work.

Will that not arise in July?

If it does we will worm our way in the back door but the Committees of the European Parliament have not yet been constituted. Is that generally agreed?

It is. Is it also agreed that we have a meeting in September?

We will have a meeting towards the end of September or as near a date as possible that looks suitable when we have some idea where we stand.