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Fine Gael’s record on Dáil reform is slammed by... Fine Gael’s chairman

Charlie Flanagan says the current weighting of Dáil rules mean the ‘real opposition’ is the government backbenchers.

Image: Oireachtas screengrab

FINE GAEL’S RECORD of reforming the Dáil in government has come in for stinging criticism – by the chairman of the party.

Charlie Flanagan said a programme of meaningful Dáil reform was “like a snowstorm in a desert” – and that the government had done virtually nothing to try and end the adversarial system of politics in the Oireachtas.

Speaking on the proposal to abolish the Seanad – which he supported, on the basis that few could agree on exactly how the Seanad might be reformed – Flanagan condemned the use of ‘guillotine’ motions to kill off any debate from the opposition.

“Since the change of government, we’ve had 118 guillotine motions,” Flanagan said, including 50 in the nine months after the government took office, and 52 throughout the 2012 calendar year.

“As we head towards the end of this season, the rush to enact legislation under a guillotine motion will be all the more remarkable.”

Ironically, the debate on the legislation to abolish the Seanad – calling a referendum to surgically remove the Seanad from the constitution – will itself be guillotined tomorrow afternoon, without leaving adequate time to discuss proposed amendments from the opposition.

Major announcements made at ‘television set-pieces’

Flanagan also condemned the continued practice of making major policy announcements at “television set-pieces” instead of within the Dáil itself, and said the constant diversions from events outside the Dáil meant most people found the Dáil “boring, because it’s too stage-managed”.

The attendance of ministers at ‘topical issues’ debates was also criticised, with Flanagan saying ministers had only shown up for debates on 250 occasions out of the 650 times that various issues were raised.

On other occasions, he said, a single junior minister would be handed pre-prepared scripts and sent into the Dáil to speak on four Topical Issues debates – none of them with any direct relationship to their ministerial role.

The Oireachtas had also abdicated its role in scrutinising European Union affairs – complaining that the current government had demoted the Oireachtas’s European Scrutiny committee to a sub-committee which rarely met, and said TDs would have the staff support to undertake an investigation like a banking inquiry.

The dysfunction of the Dáil meant that the real opposition to the government came from its own backbench TDs, who formed the largest single voting bloc in the Dáil.

“We’re abolishing the Senate, we’re talking about Dáil reform – but unless we change the way we do our business here, cynicism will grow, and continue to grow, and we will become irrelevant.”

Read: Government announces Dáil reform plans if Seanad is scrapped

More: People who are not TDs or Senators ‘should be appointed as Ministers’

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Gavan Reilly

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