THERE CAN BE no doubt that the main focus of the Government over the past three years has been the maintenance and the creation of jobs and the gradual return to economic growth.
Now that the Government is well into the second half of its term, I believe it should embark upon the type of meaningful political and Dáil reform that was the subject matter of the programme for Government.
There is very little in terms of parliamentary control of Government. The focus centres on the ongoing battle between Government and Opposition rather than the real contest between Government and Parliament.
We require a reformed Dáil where Deputies play a central role not only in scrutinising legislation but in preparing legislation, where the Dáil has the real power to hold to account Ministers and senior officials, and where the work of public bodies and regulators is overseen and continuously monitored by Deputies for and on behalf of the people we represent.
I believe dynamic political reform can be achieved through a number of measures:
- A strong independent Ceann Comhairle, elected by secret ballot with a minimum level of cross-party support, with the powers to regulate the parliamentary timetable. The set piece of the day should be Question Time. The lottery for questions should be undertaken by the Ceann Comhairle in this House every morning and allow those who have tabled questions and are in attendance to have their questions answered. That would introduce an element of debate and less stage management. The guillotine should not be used without the imprimatur, or the stamp, of the independent Chair – the Ceann Comhairle.
- A well-resourced parliamentary legal office would advise Dáil Éireann in the same way that the Attorney General advises government. This would ensure that the practice and procedure of Dail Eireann would be robustly tested and developed on an ongoing basis and further provide strong legal force to enhance powerful Committees.
- There is a necessity for stronger Dáil Committees with adequate powers and resources. Provision should be made for Committee reports where the Chairs of Dail Committees would present themselves to the floor of the House for questions and scrutiny on a range of issues. This could all be carried out over the course of a “committee week”. Some Dáil committees are working well but they must be supplemented with proper resources and powers to function properly.
- The innovative Constitutional Convention has forwarded a number of reports on a wide range of issues to Government that must now be considered. The designation of a “Constitution Day” in 2015 would be a novel way of putting these matters to the voters. We could divide up this House into groups of 10 to 15 Deputies who would promote a particular question being put, on a cross-party basis, to ensure that we have the capacity to ask the Irish people to decide on five or six constitutional questions on the same day.
Over the past three years the Government has been completely focused on job creation and on promoting measures that will see our people return to work. The legacy of this Government can be further underpinned by a programme of real political reform of a type that we have not seen in the last three years, but that we must see between now and the end of the Government’s term in office.
Charlie Flanagan is the Fine Gael Chair and Dáil Deputy for Constituency of Laois/Offaly.