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These are the other talks going on that you probably haven't heard much about

While government formation talks have been ongoing, another group are actually making a lot of progress.

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IT’S DAY 53 and the talks on government formation are still ongoing.

While Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil bash out what the future state of a government will look like, other talks have also been going on behind closed doors and you probably haven’t heard much about them.

Over the last number of weeks, the sub-committee on Dáil reform have been meeting and they’ve even published an interim report.

“Reform talks” may not be the most eye-catching of phrases, but this actually means that all those times you have complained about how business gets done, may be about to change.

Perhaps you’ve watched the Dáil in action and witnessed legislation from other parties, which you might have viewed as having some merit, being voted down or on some occasions not even debated.

Well, this cross-party group is recommending this changes.

Day t0 day business

The group is looking at day-to-day business of the Dáil, procedures for committees and privileges attached to members.

While it took over seven weeks to get Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the room, the two, along with other parties, have been getting on well, and dare we say it, even agreeing with one another in this committee.

“It’s a strange thing to witness to see Fine Gael agreeing with Paul Murphy on a number of issues,” said one TD.

Another committee member said: “It’s refreshing to see members from other parties actually agreeing on something for a change.”

22/10/2014. Technical Group. Pictured (LtoR) Thoma Thomas Pringle, Catherine Murphy, and John Halligan. Source: sam boal

So, what have they been talking about and why will it matter?

‘No more guillotining of legislation’

Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats told TheJournal.ie the changes are going to put the members of the Dáil in control over its own business.

It’s proposed a new business committee be established to set the agenda for the weekly business of what legislation should be enacted.

She said all members will have a “meaningful role” and there will be “equal input from the opposition”.

Essentially, this means when the government wants to get a piece of legislation through, there will be no more guillotines.
They will have to get buy-in from the entire Dáil. That kind of input is a marked contrast as to what happened when we have a large majority when they could just bludgeon legislation through.
This is a much better way of doing things and a move away from the Punch and Judy-style of politics. It will have to be a cooperative arrangement, they have got to negotiate… that for me is a very important and significant difference.

13/10/2015 Budget Day 2016 Source: Sam Boal

A change in the way we draw up the yearly budget 

The group also wants to change the way we carry out our budget every year.

Speaking in the Dáil last week, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said it was the “overwhelming view” of the members that an independent budget committee be established, whereby information from outside the Department of Finance can be sourced when drawing up the annual budget.

Murphy said this will ensure that misinformation – such as that phantom €2 billion bandied around at the time of election – won’t happen again.

“Choices about the budget will have to be made in a much more public way.”

If legislation isn’t working, it will be reviewed

Murphy said that under the new proposals there will be “pre and post legislative scrutiny”.

When legislation is enacted, it will be looked at again in six and 12 months time to ensure that it is actually working and not just a piece of paper.

“If for example, there was new legislation brought in for the HSE, and it is not working, we will look at why it is not working,” said Murphy.

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TDs want better answers from ministers 

TDs can ask questions to government departments through parliamentary questions. On some occasions, the response can be inadequate.

The group wants better accountability and has agreed to reinstate Sessional Order 40A to allow for a process for a written appeal by any member to the Ceann Comhairle in relation to the adequacy of a ministerial reply to oral questions, topical issues and written questions.

During her course of work, Murphy said she had to submit a lot of parliamentary questions on issues such as the IBRC controversy. She said she found information less than forthcoming on a number of matters and only got the full truth when she submitted Freedom of Information requests.

“It is such a wasteful way to spend your time, on the administration alone,” she said, adding that it does not instill public confidence in how the government do their work.

Due to no party holding a majority, the way in which the Dáil does its business is going to have to change.

Essentially, what it comes down to, is the Dáil reform proposals will transfer power from the government to the Dáil, and could potentially rewrite the rules of how our politicians do their work on a daily basis.

“I do not doubt that when they are implemented, they will make a discernible difference to how we conduct our proceedings,” said Ó Fearghaíl.

Day 53: Still no government but those FF-FG talks are going “quite well”>

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