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New Oireachtas inquiries regime can be used 'to hold government to account'

The legislation to allow Oireachtas inquiries – within the limits of the Constitution – has finally been published today.

Oireachtas inquiries are limited to making observations of fact because of the rejection of a referendum in 2011, which drew some criticisms that the referendum could create 'kangaroo courts'.
Oireachtas inquiries are limited to making observations of fact because of the rejection of a referendum in 2011, which drew some criticisms that the referendum could create 'kangaroo courts'.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

LEGISLATION ALLOWING TDs and senators to undertake public inquiries has been published today.

The Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013 (PDF) outlines procedures by which members of the Dáil and Seanad can “hold the Government to account”, as well as those who consent to the scrutiny of the Oireachtas when taking up public office.

The legislation outlines five different types of inquiries which can be undertaken by politicians – including an ‘inquire-report-record’ inquiry, the format likely to be used for an inquiry into the circumstances of the State bank guarantee and the financial crisis.

Inquiries under the new laws also, for the first time, outline a legal mechanism by which the President, a Supreme or High Court judge, or the Comptroller and Auditor General can be impeach from office.

In an effort to avoid a repeat of the Ivor Callely scandal, where court action was taken to contest the findings of an Oireachtas committee, the legislation also provides a new system to inquire into the conduct of a member of either the Dáil or Seanad.

Publishing the legislation this afternoon, Brendan Howlin said that holding a parliamentary inquiry was not a method of identifying a person to blame, other than in circumstances where a committee was set up specifically inquire into a politician’s conduct.

The courts system will be able to give directions for an inquiry if requested.

“This legislation is essential to conducting a parliamentary banking inquiry,” Howlin said.

“Parliamentary inquiries under this legislation can be cost-effective, efficient and resilient to any legal challenge providing they have focused terms of reference and comply strictly with fair procedures.”

Read: Seanad could be given role to hold public inquiries… if it survives

October 2011: Howlin hints that if Committee amendment doesn’t pass… it won’t be end of it

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Gavan Reilly

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