'Fix it Friday' needs fixing itself if bills are to succeed
Published 04/02/2012 | 05:00
THE Dail's 'Fix it Friday' was supposed to make it more of a parliament where even the most humble backbencher could bring forward a bill of their own.
That would represent a sea-change on the long-standing practice of the Government coming up with all the laws and driving them through on its own.
But so far, the opposition has found that the Government has rejected all of its bills -- on subjects such as lowering the age limit for running for the Presidency to yesterday's bill to help struggling mortgage holders.
And they have been confronted with the 'Empty House' syndrome -- with dozens of Government and opposition TDs deciding their best interests lie elsewhere.
There are no votes -- so being absent won't affect a TD's voting record. And although TDs can "fob in" to claim their travel expenses, they will not miss out on their full allowance once they do so on any of the other 120 days they attend Leinster House.
But many of them know that their constituents are happier to see them at the opening of a hospital in Kerry than up debating in the Dail in Dublin.
But yesterday's debate about how to help the 63,000 people in mortgage arrears was reasonably lively -- even with the reduced number of TDs.
And those who turned up appeared to be actually listening to each other rather than just rushing in and out with pre-prepared scripts.
We heard from Independent TD Stephen Donnelly about a Wicklow businessman and his public sector-employed wife who were in mortgage arrears because their variable rate had gone up four times.
"The thing I cannot get out of my mind is that the lady said that they are now watching the amount of toothpaste they put on their toothbrushes because they are left with so little money that they do not have money for toothpaste," he said.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter tried his utmost to appear attentive and conciliatory.
He suggested that Mr Donnelly withdraw his "unworkable" bill and to have a "constructive dialogue" before the Government's own Personal Insolvency bill is published in April.
But for the 'Fix It Friday' to work, there will have to be a healthy scattering of government and opposition backbenchers tuning in consistently.
And if the opposition private members' bills come up with the right answers to the nation's problems, the Government will have to accept them.