"As long as there is anything to be gained by saying nothing, it is always better to say nothing than anything." - Sir Humphrey Appleby
The growing irrelevance of Dail Eireann in informing and shaping public debate became patently apparent this week.
On two separate occasions, issues of national importance and public concern were thrashed out in a supposed backwater of our legislative structure, the Oireachtas committees.
Which begs the question of whether the Oireachtas committees are now more in tune with delivering the type of political debate that modern voters can connect with today.
Many of the committee members are quickly becoming media darlings and household names. So in terms of advancing political agendas and careers, is it more advantageous to be a member of a strong all-party Oireachtas committee than a frontbench spokesperson for a political party?
In the course of many recent controversies, the committees have been infinitely more successful in delivering the type of debate which informs and appeals to modern media -- and by extension the public.
That is because in Dail Eireann debate is formulated and dictated by an archaic and outdated model which is governed by the party whip system. This system not only stifles the possibility for any real debate but also delivers several layers of separation between the speaker and the subject.
It allows ministers an almost bullet-proof buffer to shield them from delivering any new information that has not been sanitised and censored to within an inch of its life.
Ministers simply run down the clock with a series of stock responses which, although substantive in size and rhetoric, are sadly lacking in any real substance.
This tactic is not the brainchild of this particular Government, it has ever been thus. To quote Jim Hacker from the BBC's satirical 'Yes Minister': "I don't want the truth, I want something that I can tell Parliament."
The mind-numbing tedium of Dail debate which must be endured in an effort to extract a scintilla of new information must surely drive any self-respecting news hound to despair.
Rather than changing the political debate structure to suit the modern news stream and appease the growing appetite for up-to-the-minute information, politicians from all sides have opted for the 'less is more' option in terms of change.
However, this has resulted in less happening inside the main arena and much more happening elsewhere, leaving an empty vacuous chamber in the Dail with a sense that the only unusual thing you might find is tumbleweed passing through.
For any Government, controlling the agenda in the Dail is paramount. While politicians have been concentrating all their efforts on prescribing a politically sound legislative agenda, a more streamlined committee system has somehow crept in the back door of Leinster House and become more powerful and increasingly more relevant.
The structure of the committee system is flexible and inquisitorial and it allows the committee members who are savvy media performers, direct access to the people with the real information in a public forum.
Operating on the principle of "go hard or go home", committees are charging forward. Compellability powers aside, the power of public pressure can be enough to push a company, commercial or state body, a charity or an agency before the relevant committee. This is evidenced by the alacrity with which Irish Water embraced the opportunity to appear before the Environment Committee when it was drowning in a sea of negative headlines.
The tide only began to turn for Irish Water when executives made their only good decision in the fiasco and almost ran into the Environment Committee to lay their souls bare, pushing the agenda back to their political masters.
At committee hearings high-profile CEOs, executives, financial officers and senior civil servants cannot hide behind files or bluster.
Committees are the show trials of Irish politics today. The gloves are off. It is lights, cameras, action and the public have a ringside seat, they can watch a drama that makes the Dail seem turgid and irrelevant.