Wednesday, 14 February 1996
Dáil Éireann Debate
1. Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach the number of parliamentary draftsmen currently employed in the Office of the Attorney General; and the way in which this compares with the situation in December 1994 and 1995. [2975/96]
The Taoiseach: The number of parliamentary draftsmen currently employed in the office of the Attorney General is 11. This compares with eight in December 1994 and ten in December 1995. In addition, throughout the period in question, the office of the Attorney General has continued to avail of the services of three former parliamentary draftsmen on a consultancy basis.
Mr. B. Ahern: Will the Taoiseach outline any major improvements which have been made in the reporting system, which was where the difficulty lay in that office? Will he outline the current procedure in the delegation of responsibility and co-ordination of progress reports on particularly sensitive issues? Those were the two major issues which led to the reviews and improvements. Can the House have an update on those two matters?
The Taoiseach: This question relates to parliamentary draftsmen specifically, not to the general operations of the Attorney General's office. The House will recall that extensive information on all the matters to which the Deputy's question refers was given in the Attorney General's first six-monthly report. I do not have that report in my brief because this question relates solely to the number of parliamentary draftsmen.
The Taoiseach: No, I am not. As the House may be aware, it was intended to recruit an additional five persons and a competition was held, as I told the House on 17 October, for that purpose. Of the five candidates deemed suitable, only three accepted offers of appointment and are in the process of being, or have been, appointed. There remain at least two places to be filled in order to bring the number of draftsmen up to what would be regarded as a moderately acceptable level. No doubt, even when one reaches that stage there will still be need for improvement but we have not completed our programme of enhancing the level of drafting resources available.
Miss Harney: I am sure the reason two of the five people did not accept positions is because of the level of remuneration and because many of these draftsmen come from the Bar where they are much better remunerated.
Miss Harney: It is hard to get them into politics too. In view of the fact that some work has been given to former employees of that office by way of consultancy work, can I take it consideration might be given to contracting out some work to persons other than those who worked formerly in that office?
The Taoiseach: That is being considered. We will be availing of the services of draftsmen from other jurisdictions who have not worked in the office. There are difficulties, to which I have referred on other occasions, in regard to contracting out drafting to the general Bar. The drafting of legislation on behalf of the State is a specific skill, separate from general legal qualifications which requires specific training. The on-the-job training of a legislative draftsperson takes approximately three  years over and above the normal level of qualification which persons would obtain by being a qualified and practising barrister.
Mr. M. McDowell: Does the Taoiseach agree that it would be desirable if the skills of drafting were more widely available? Whereas I can readily agree with him that it is a highly specialised skill, it seems to me that, both in the Law Society in Blackhall Place and in King's Inns, there should be lectures and courses in legislative drafting. At the very least, it gives skills in interpretation to those who undergo the courses, but it would also create a wider bank of people from which the State could choose its draftsmen.
On occasion legislation is rushed through this House in circumstances where it is not adequately vetted. If there were a wider pool of people who had some education in this area, there are many occasions on which the skills of draftsmen could be made available, both to the Opposition and the Government, in this House.
The Taoiseach: I will have the Deputy's suggestion considered by the Attorney General and the Ministers for Education and Justice who may be able to examine collectively this aspect of legal education.
Mr. B. Ahern: I must say draftsmen have been extraordinary over the years because they have dealt with an amount of legislation in unbelievable circumstances. Their facilities, technology and numbers have never been great. Some of the semi-retired people who have worked in that office have been extraordinary people and have given great service to the State.
There has always been the question of the length of time involved in training. It is complicated and takes seven years to become a draftsman. Is it not possible to recruit at a far younger age? We will always have the difficulty when we seek to recruit senior draftsmen that  they are not available. As Deputy Harney says, the remuneration is not satisfactory. Is it not possible to recruit barristers or legal people at a young age? My understanding is that there are dozens of these people in the Law Library earning very little money. Whether that is true, I am not qualified to say, but that is what I am told by legal friends in the House and elsewhere.
Mr. B. Ahern: Should we not give them an opportunity to build up those skills over a few years? It seems incredible that the Government must go around the world to find senior draftsmen. I am grateful to the draftsmen and am not in any way critical of them. I was involved in trying to convince a few of them to stay on even though they were long past the final retirement age plus five years. Will the Taoiseach examine that aspect of the matter? Otherwise the problem will arise again in this House and somebody else will be talking about the same issue in ten years' time.
The Taoiseach: Taken in conjunction with Deputy McDowell's suggestion, Deputy Ahern is making a reasonable point. Nonetheless, I do not have available to me details of the ages of the people being recruited. I have no reason to believe they are not comparatively young but I will check and let the Deputy know. While I agree that some earnings at the Bar are very high, there are many people at the Bar who, given their present level of income and taking into account their very considerable talents, would be very happy to accept work of this kind. It is a myth to suggest that everybody at the Bar is making huge sums. There are many talented people who, for one reason or another, do not make huge sums and would be  quite suitable for this type of work. Deputy Michael McDowell's suggestion of incorporating greater training in legal drafting in general law courses would be very helpful in this regard.
Another helpful improvement would be in the training of officials in Government Departments in drafting heads of Bills. The job is much easier if the heads have been properly prepared before being referred to the Draftsman's Office. That is a matter of general Civil Service education and also of considerable relevance and perhaps reinforces Deputy McDowell's case for incorporating legal drafting in general education in the legal field.
Mr. Dempsey: I am not trying to introduce personalities. I used the name because I do not know his official title, but there was an equivalent vacancy on the legislative side at that time which was not filled for many years. Has that position been filled?
The Taoiseach: I will get the relevant information for the Deputy. I was asked specifically about parliamentary draftsmen, I was not asked about the general staffing of the office. I do not have all that information with me but will confirm the veracity of what I have just said.
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