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Referendum on inquiries by the Oireachtas

Image: A smiling young woman dressed casually and standing with her arms behind her backThis referendum proposes to give the Houses of the Oireachtas (the Dáil and Seanad) express power to conduct inquiries into matters of general public importance and, in doing so, to make findings of fact about any person’s conduct.

At present, the Constitution does not give power to the Houses of the Oireachtas to conduct such inquiries. The proposed change to the Constitution would mean that

1. The Dáil and the Seanad, either separately or together, would have the power to conduct an inquiry into any matter that either or both consider to be a matter of general public importance. Legislation would be required to be introduced to set out the details of how such inquiries would take place.
2. When conducting any such inquiry, either or both Houses would have the power to inquire into the conduct of any person and the power to make relevant findings about that person’s conduct.
3. The Dáil and/or the Seanad would have the power to determine the appropriate balance between the rights of people involved in any such inquiry and the requirements of the public interest. When doing so, they would be obliged to have regard to the principles of fair procedures. These principles have been established by the Constitution and by the Courts.

Proposed amendment – Oireachtas inquiries

At present, Article 15.10 states:
“Each House shall make its own rules and standing orders, with power to attach penalties for their infringement, and shall have power to ensure freedom of debate, to protect its official documents and the private papers of its members, and to protect itself and its members against any person or persons interfering with, molesting or attempting to corrupt its members in the exercise of their duties.”

It is proposed to renumber this as 15.10.1° and to insert the following subsections:

2° Each House shall have the power to conduct an inquiry, or an inquiry with the other House, in a manner provided for by law, into any matter stated by the House or Houses concerned to be of general public importance.

3° In the course of any such inquiry the conduct of any person (whether or not a member of either House) may be investigated and the House or Houses concerned may make findings in respect of the conduct of that person concerning the matter to which the inquiry relates.

4° It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with due regard to the principles of fair procedures, the appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest for the purposes of ensuring an effective inquiry into any matter to which subsection 2° applies.

 

Links to background information related to this referendum:

The powers of the Oireachtas

The Abbeylara case

The effect of the proposed amendment

What are “matters of general importance”

Findings which affect a person’s good name

Balance of rights and fair procedures

Carrying out an inquiry

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