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Fianna Fáil proposes referendum to reduce government control of Dáil agenda

The opposition party released a policy discussion document this week which proposes a raft of reforms to the way the Irish parliament does business.

Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

FIANNA FÁIL WANTS to hold a referendum on repealing an article of the Constitution which gives the government control of how public money is spent.

In a policy discussion document published by leader Micheál Martin this week the main opposition party has proposed a series of radical reforms to parliamentary procedures.

These include the creation of US-style budget office to scrutinise and cost legislation and policy, an independent Ceann Comhairle who would be elected by secret ballot and allowing non-elected politicians to become ministers.

One other notable change that is proposed is that in the medium-term the party – if in government – would hold a referendum on Article 17.2 of the Constitution which states:

“Dáil Éireann shall not pass any vote or resolution, and no law shall be enacted, for the appropriation of revenue or other public moneys unless the purpose of the appropriation shall have been recommended to Dáil Éireann by a message from the Government signed by the Taoiseach.”

This article effectively means that Dáil cannot not pass any legislation or resolution concerning the allocation of Exchequer funding without the approval of the government of the day.

Fianna Fáil argues that this provision, added to the current standing orders of the Dáil, means that no parliamentary business can be set or amended without it being proposed by the Taoiseach or a government minister.

‘No major impact’

The party highlights the government’s use of the guillotine to curtail debate on legislation and amendments to private members’ motions which have the effect of reversing their intention.

Repealing article article 17.2, Fianna Fáil argues, would have the effect of ensuring all members of parliament would have an equal role to play in the work it carries out.

Eoin O’Malley, a lectuer in political science at DCU, says the current constitutional provision gives the government a formal veto, not dissimilar to one that the US President has but that removing this article, would not have major impact.

He said: “Removing it, would possibly not have that great an impact, given that the government can usually muster a majority in the Dáil anyway, but it might send a signal that TDs control the legislative agenda.”

O’Malley did say that it could potentially give legal basis to motions designed to embarrass the government but doubts whether it would lead to significant changes given the whip system which is currently operated and means TDs must vote with their party position or face expulsion.

Fianna Fáil argues that its raft of proposed changes would put power back into the hands of the Dáil with Martin saying that the Article 28.4.1 of the Constitution that “the government shall be responsible to Dáil Éireann” is being consistently undermined by the current government.

The party will be campaigning for the retention and reform of the Seanad in the forthcoming referendum and intends to issue a separate policy document on the upper house in the coming weeks.

Read the full Fianna Fáil policy discussion document here >

Martin: Taoiseach’s political reform claims are ‘transparently ridiculous’

Read: ‘Not fit for purpose?’ Why the Dáil’s party whip system may need reform

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Hugh O'Connell

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