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Dublin: 1 °C Tuesday 25 February, 2020

The minister, the opposition, and the 36 unanswered Dáil questions

Jonathan O’Brien makes a formal complaint after Alan Shatter refuses to answer dozens of questions submitted in a single day.

Jonathan O'Brien submitted 67 questions to Shatter in one day - and has lodged a complaint because Shatter said it would take too much work.
Jonathan O'Brien submitted 67 questions to Shatter in one day - and has lodged a complaint because Shatter said it would take too much work.
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

A SINN FÉIN TD has lodged an official complaint with the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, Seán Barrett, after a cabinet minister refused to answer dozens of parliamentary questions saying it would be impractical to do so.

The party’s justice spokesman Jonathan O’Brien has asked the Ceann Comhairle to respond to the decision of his opposite number in government, minister Alan Shatter, to dismiss dozens of questions which O’Brien had tabled, seeking written responses.

O’Brien submitted 67 questions seeking written responses from ministers last Wednesday, with 66 of those relating to Shatter’s Department of Justice and Equality.

The minister declined to provide a response to 36 of those questions, however, saying the information being sought by O’Brien did “not relate to the public affairs of my Department”.

O’Brien’s questions related to spending within an Garda Siochána and various sub-branches of the police force including its medical aid society, as well as the Courts Service and the Property Registration Authority.

In his written response to the 36 questions, Shatter said:

While I would like to be of assistance to the Deputy, the provision of the sheer volume of information requested in the above parliamentary questions, especially where I have no official responsibility for the matters raised, would require the allocation and expenditure of a disproportionate and inordinate amount of staff time and effort, which cannot be justified where there are other significant demands on resources both in my Department and the organisations concerned.

Another 15 questions relating to spending within the Irish Prisons Service were deferred, with Shatter saying the information could not be compiled in time, but that it would be sent to O’Brien when ready.

Yesterday O’Brien told he disagreed with Shatter’s assessment that the bodies and agencies mentioned in the letter were not under his remit, and said a complaint had been lodged.

Asked why he had submitted so many questions on one day, O’Brien said opposition parties planned their policies months in advance, and that they needed to have up-to-date information in order to put those forward.

“The only way we can do that is by asking questions. There is no scope within the chamber to have a back-and-forth with the Minister.

We don’t like doing it – it’s a lot of work for us to put them together, and a lot of work for the Department – and maybe that’s something that the government needs to look at.

O’Brien added that current Dáil arrangements, which only allow individual ministers to take oral questions on their work every five weeks, were not satisfactory.

Additional reporting by Hugh O’Connell

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Gavan Reilly

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