independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Barrett kept in the dark on new Dail reforms as relations worsen

Sean Barrett

THE Government failed to give any details to the Ceann Comhairle about its new Dail reform plan in a further sign of worsening relations.

Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett, pictured below, will be required to implement the new changes in the Dail, including up to five extra sitting hours per week and more scrutiny of legislation.

But the Irish Independent has learned that Mr Barrett was not given any advance notice of the changes before they were announced in Government Buildings.

And he did not receive any response from the Government to his own Dail reform plan – which he submitted more than two years ago.

He is already involved in a heated row with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin over how the job of the most powerful civil servant in the Oireachtas is to be filled.

The Government wants to appoint a person through a system for filling high-level civil service jobs.

But Mr Barrett feels that the body which runs the Dail should have a central role in deciding who gets the job.

When asked about the lack of consultation with Mr Barret on the new Dail reform plan, Government chief whip Paul Kehoe said every person who made a submission had their views taken into consideration. The Dail reforms have been proposed by the Government to counter criticism that legislation will not receive adequate scrutiny should the Seanad be abolished in the October 4 referendum.

Although the Dail will be sitting for up to five hours extra per week, the amount of time available to question Government ministers has not increased and there will be no opportunity for TDs to debate Budget cuts until after they are decided on by the Cabinet.

However, there will be a requirement for a lengthy public consultation process by the Dail on all draft bills – as happened recently with the abortion legislation.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it was a genuine attempt to improve the Dail's workings.

And he said the new provision to allow Dail committees to discuss the October Budget before the money was spent next year was an improvement.

"I think that's genuinely an opportunity for members of the committees and ministers to examine if there's something that they missed," he said.

Under the plan, the Dail will start an hour earlier on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as well as sitting for two Fridays every month, instead of one.

However, there will be no votes on any of the Friday sittings – so many TDs are likely to continue to avoid them.

CHANGES

Under the changes, Dail committees will carry out a second examination of a bill before it is passed – and ministers will be required to report back to the Dail 12 months later to explain how the legislation is working.

And the key positions of committee chairs will be shared out based on a party's share of the vote – rather than primarily taken by Government TDs.

There will also be two weeks of Dail time for the scrutiny of EU affairs – one in April and another in November.

However, there was a negative response from the opposition with Fianna Fail complaining that the plan changed the Dail schedule yet left "all power in the hands of ministers".

Sinn Fein complained that there was no consultation.

And Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the Government was pretending to be changing how politics works with "a few extra hours" of Dail sittings.

Irish Independent

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