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Dáil Éireann - Private Members Business (The Labour Party) 9 and 10 November 2010

“That Dáil Éireann:

  • concerned that the sudden and calamitous change in our economic fortunes, coupled with revelations of waste of public money and resources, has undermined public confidence not alone in the present Government but also in the structures of government;
  • recognising that fewer and fewer people feel any sense of ownership of their politics and that we need to bring about a more practical democracy, that empowers citizens and ends the sense of exclusion of so many of our people, and to ensure that individuals have a far greater involvement in the decisions that shape their lives;
  • acknowledging that a process of renewal must commence with the Oireachtas itself and with fundamental reforms of our national parliament and its procedures, so as to meet the needs of the Irish people in the 21st century;
  • believing that the principles and practices underpinning accountability in government and in public administration also need radical reform and that legislation and constitutional measures guaranteeing the primacy of the public interest must be put in place as a priority; and
  • affirming that the abuse of the whip by the parties in Government, as exemplified by the recent dismissal by the Government majority on the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of the Ombudsman’s Special Report on the ‘Lost at Sea’ Scheme, is utterly destructive of attempts to secure the accountability of the Government to the Dáil as required by the Constitution;

calls for the introduction of a programme of reform that would include at a minimum the following elements:

  • legislation on the issue of cabinet confidentiality, to ensure that it cannot be used to cover up necessary investigations;
  • the restoration of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 to its original form and scope and the extension of its remit to the Garda Síochána and other public bodies;
  • the introduction of whistleblowers legislation;
  • spending limits for local and Presidential elections and the reduction in the ceilings for European and general elections;
  • reform of the system of appointments to State boards to ensure that the process is transparent and that those appointed have the requisite knowledge and skills;
  • legislation to further restrict contributions to political parties and candidates and to require greater disclosure of donations;
  • repeal of the Official Secrets Act 1963, retaining a criminal sanction only for breaches which involve a serious threat to public policy (the international relations of the State, the conduct of a fair trial, national security and the like);
  • a statutory register of lobbyists and rules concerning the practice of lobbying;
  • rules to ensure that senior public servants (including political appointees) cannot work in the private sector, in an area involving a potential conflict of interest with their former public employment, until at least two years have elapsed;
  • a 50 per cent increase in Dáil sitting days, with sittings four days a week, a shorter summer recess and significantly reduced breaks at Christmas and Easter;
  • a break-up of the Government monopoly on legislation and its stranglehold over the business of the Dáil;
  • a restriction on the use of guillotine motions and other procedural devices that prevent full debate on bills and other measures;
  • a petition system for the Dáil, similar to that operating in the European Parliament;
  • an independent Fiscal Advisory Council, separated from decision-makers in government, to undertake fiscal macro-economic projections and monitoring, independent of the Government and reporting to the Dáil and the public;
  • bring forward the annual Estimates cycle, so that it becomes more timely and relevant, with the Book of Estimates accompanied by a detailed performance report on what the previous year’s spending had achieved;
  • Oireachtas Committees to be given powers to publish reports on the economy, efficiency and propriety of the Estimates and to give the Dáil an assessment and evaluation of the merits of individual expenditure proposals;
  • a role for the Ceann Comhairle in deciding whether a Minister has failed to provide reasonable information in response to a question;
  • a repeal of the ‘gag’ clause that applies to the officers of public bodies and prevents them from expressing an opinion on the merits of Government policy;
  • a requirement that the Attorney General’s advice to Government be published if it is publicly relied upon as justifying or requiring the passage, defeat or amendment of a bill or the development or amendment of a policy or programme, unless the advice is given in the course of litigation or in relation to pending or contemplated litigation;
  • the provision of adequate powers for parliamentary inquiries into matters of public interest and importance, if necessary by an amendment to the Constitution; and
  • a reformulated code of laws, replacing both the Ministers and Secretaries Acts 1924 to 2007 and the Public Service Management Act 1997, which would spell out the functions, powers and duties of Ministers in charge of each Department of State; The law that defines the relationship between Ministers and their Departments to enshrine three basic propositions:
    • if the Minister takes a decision personally, he or she should say so and account for it;
    • if the decision is taken by the Department, under a delegated power, then the relevant, named official should say so and account for it; and
    • the Minister would then have to account for the degree of supervision he or she exercised over the Department in relation to the exercise within it of delegated powers;
  • legislate for a system of delegation of specified Ministerial powers to specified officers who would, to the extent of the authority delegated to them, be accountable both within the Department and also directly to the Oireachtas for the exercise of those powers;
  • ensure that each Minister is responsible for the supervision and oversight of his or her Department to ensure that adequate standards are maintained; outputs are delivered as determined or agreed; and procedures are in place to enable the Minister to respond to problems of administration and to give an account to the Dáil and to the public generally;
  • the responsibilities of Secretaries General to be strengthened by assigning to them authority and accountability for ensuring that the Department and its officers perform their functions in a non-political and impartial manner, in accordance with law and with the highest ethical standards of conduct and integrity and in accordance with any prescribed code of conduct;
  • the Secretary General to be required to ensure that risk management and other internal controls are in place so that public funds are safeguarded; functions are performed effectively, efficiently and economically; laws, regulations and approved policies are complied with; and records and reports are adequate, reliable and accurate; and
  • the Secretary General to be given specific responsibility for ensuring that legal advice or opinion is brought to the personal attention of the Minister if it casts substantial doubt on the constitutionality or validity of a statute, statutory instrument or departmental scheme, practice or course of action.”

- Brendan Howlin, Eamon Gilmore, Joan Burton, Emmet Stagg, Thomas P. Broughan, Joe Costello, Michael D. Higgins, Kathleen Lynch, Ciarán Lynch, Liz McManus, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, Ruairí Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Jack Wall.

[5 November, 2010]