Thursday, 17 December 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Deputy Peter Power): Before we continue proceedings I would be obliged if, in accordance with Standing Order 136, the Ceann Comhairle would direct the Clerk of the Dáil to make a change to the Bill, pursuant to that particular Order. The correction is: on page 10 of the Bill, on line 27, to move the comma that appears after the word “by”, where it occurs for the second time, and place it at the end of that line. This is a drafting error and the change does not alter the meaning of the Bill. I ask for that adjustment to be made, with the agreement of the House.
This amendment is simple and in line with the spirit of the view expressed by the Minister of State. He accepted an amendment from me in 2003 when we discussed the Act in Bill form. If one looks at the explanatory memorandum of the 2003 Act, it states: “An Act to establish a body to be known as Coimisiún Thithe an Oireachtais or, in the English language”, etc. It also states “Seirbhís Thithe an Oireachtais’ or, in the English language”.
The reason for this and the following grouped amendment No. 2 is to try to ensure that the Title is known in the Irish language rather than in English. Far too often, our newly established quangos, State boards and bodies are no longer known by the correct title, namely, the Irish language version. A way of overcoming this is to insert at an early stage of any Act that establishes a new body wording that gives prominence to the Irish name and then provides the English version, stating “also known as”.
Members may recall that one of the functions of the commission was to ensure that the translation of Acts of the Oireachtas from one official language into another, generally from English into Irish. That was one of the amendments provided in the amendment Act of 2006. The commission has failed in that role. When I was preparing these amendments, I found there was no Irish language translation of the very Act that gave the Coimisiún Tithe an Oireachtais the additional function to translate it.
That is not a criticism of the translation service. I have long had this argument with the Government. It is difficult for somebody like me who would like to contribute to debates in the Irish language more frequently but is hampered by the non-availability of Bills in the Irish language. Two and a half years later, the 2006 Act has still not been translated.
The common practice here is that the titles of positions in the House — the Ceann Comhairle and the Taoiseach — are in the Irish language. That is the reason amendment No. 2 states that “as far as possible the Irish language titles ...” should be used. It is not obligatory in that amendment but it is trying to ensure that one of the functions of this House, and of successive Governments, is to promote the Irish language and one way of doing that is to ensure that there is greater use of the Irish language. In 2003 the then Minister accepted the spirit of my amendment, which changed the Long Title of that Bill. In the same way I hope the Minister of State would accept my amendments Nos. 1 and 2.
Deputy Peter Power: While I acknowledge the intention behind amendments Nos. 1 and 2 and the Deputy’s sincerity in putting them forward, there would be considerable practical difficulties in putting them into effect.
In regard to amendment No. 1, section 2 contains the definition of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service with its title in both the English and Irish language. This presentation is consistent with normal drafting practice in terms of the alphabetical listing of definitions. This format makes for ease of reference to legislation for all users. This order of precedence also fits in with the common usage of the term “Houses of the Oireachtas” of which we in this House form a part. The Irish language title, however, will receive due recognition and prominence on all letterheads, stationery, etc.
The amendment proposes to reverse the linguistic order in section 2 by putting the Irish language title before the English language title and I do not believe this change, which could have serious implications for individuals seeking access to the legislation, is the appropriate way to achieve the objective of giving greater prominence and usage to the Irish language. In the circumstances, I do not believe we should become overly prescriptive about titles or the precedence to be given to them and, accordingly, I do not propose to accept this amendment.
Regarding amendment No. 2, the terms “Cathaoirleach” and “Leas-Chathaoirleach” are already in use in the Seanad. The thinking is that this would lead to unavoidable confusion between these titles and the title of the chairman of the commission, who is the Ceann Comhairle, if they were applied routinely to officers of the commission, particularly as the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad is an ex officio member of the commission. The amendment would require Irish language titles to be used as far as possible in respect of officers of the commission but the practice is that the relevant titles are most likely to be used within the context of meetings of the commission in any event and given its nature, composition and functions, it is conceivable that its deliberations need not be conducted with the level of formality which would require regular usage of such titles.
It is normal practice for committees and commissions to establish their own internal procedures and we should not seek to dictate or be overly prescriptive to the individuals concerned in terms of how to address each other in that particular format. I do not propose to accept the amendments.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: While I understand the arguments regarding the second amendment, the argument relating to the first amendment does not take account of what I said earlier, namely, that the Long Title of the 2003 Act has the opposite formulation to what is the current common usage. The Long Title puts the Irish language title in the primary position rather than it being an afterthought. In doing that, the House would be telling the public that this is the first title of a body. I have made this argument on a number of occasions but I have never got a logical answer. I get the same response each time but, as I said earlier, the then Minister, when establishing the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, or Coimisiún Tithe an Oireachtais, accepted my arguments. At the very least, in this Bill we should continue the logic behind accepting that in the first instance. Once it follows the English title it does not come into common usage, for example, CIE, Coras Iompair Éireann. Bord Soláthar Leictreachas is now known as ESB but for many years it was BSL. An Post is another example. There is a number of bodies set up by the State whose primary title, even if it is abbreviated with capital letters, is in Irish in the first place.
In the past 20 years or so the State seems to have moved towards giving primacy to the English language title in all its new institutions or boards. For example, NAMA is now the common word rather than NUBS, which would be the Irish abbreviation of the title. That is one that comes to mind but there are others. If we accept that the Irish language is the first official language according to the Constitution, even though we have altered that slightly, all bodies set up by the State should be in that primary language. I will not pursue the issue beyond that.
Deputy Peter Power: I understand the distinction the Deputy is drawing as between the Long Title of the 2003 Act and the definitions section but while there is a difference in the ordering of the names as between both of those, the definitions section of the 2003 Act has them in the order in which they appear in this Act. That is just a matter of presentation and being consistent with normal drafting in alphabetical order listing the definitions. On a much more practical level, however, as the Deputy correctly pointed out, the Electricity Supply Board has come to be known in common parlance as the ESB. This House and the Upper House are known as the Houses of the Oireachtas in common parlance. That is not to take away from the constitutional priority attached to the Irish language or from the fact that the Irish language should be enhanced wherever possible, especially on headed notepaper, in documents emanating from the commission and so forth. In practical terms these Houses are known as the Houses of the Oireachtas and to change that could potentially take away from the important branding of this House which formed part of the debate we heard earlier. It is a matter of consistent drafting and the practical reality that these Houses are known as the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Despite what I said earlier with regard to the duplication of committees, etc., one of the difficulties which arises is that the Committees on Procedure and Privileges of both the Dáil and Seanad have a role to play with regard to oversight in terms of privileges, codes of conduct and so on in the Houses. Members of the Houses sit on these committees. The committees have built up expertise over many years and the amendment suggests that they, in conjunction with the Standards in Public Office Commission, should also be consulted. This will ensure that the code of conduct will take cognisance of some of the discussions in which the Committees on Procedure and Privileges are currently involved in order that conflicts of interest will not arise and that we do not publish something which we will be obliged to overturn after a short period.
Deputy Peter Power: The effect of amendment No. 3 would be to require consultation with the Committees on Procedure and Privileges of both Houses in addition to what will take place with the Standards in Public Office Commission in respect of the code of practice for members of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, which is provided for in section 5. The statutory requirement for consultation with the Standards in Public Office Commission which is contained in the section is appropriate, particularly in light of the functions of that commission and its expertise in respect of codes of conduct. The purpose of the code is to cover issues arising from the corporate governance functions of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. These are not matters on which the Committees on Procedure and Privileges would normally be required to deliberate and advise. However, nothing in the section precludes the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission from consulting more widely should it see fit to do so when drawing up the code of practice. The amendment is unnecessary and, accordingly, I am not disposed to accept it.
An important function of the Committees on Procedure and Privileges is to regulate the activities of Members of the respective Houses. At least one member of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission does not fall into that category. The role of a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is statutory in nature and is exercisable independently of that of public representative. In such circumstances, a statutory requirement for consultation with the Committees on Procedure and Privileges would pose difficulties in respect of their respective roles and would possibly raise conflicts of interest for Members. The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is not precluded from taking advice from the Committees on Procedure and Privileges. Under the amendment, however, it would be obligatory for it to do so.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: I understand what the Minister of State is saying. However, it is also not obligatory for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to take the advice of the Committees on Procedure and Privileges. The amendment is designed to ensure that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission will take the consultation process that bit further. I take on board what the Minister of State said but given that the code of conduct is to be drafted by a body established by the Houses of the Oireachtas, the content of that code should not run contrary to any matters contemplated or discussed by the Committees on Procedure and Privileges.
Major discussions have taken place at meetings of the Committees on Procedure and Privileges in respect of privilege, the use of equipment located in the Houses of the Oireachtas at election time, etc. Some of the work done by the committees at those meetings has obviously advised the thinking of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. If the boundaries relating to what the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, the Committees on Procedure and Privileges and the Joint Administration Committee are in a position to do were more clearly delineated, there would not be a need to consult various bodies.
I am happy to withdraw the amendment on the understanding that when the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission deals with this matter, someone will take on board what I have said. All parties are represented on the Committees on Procedure and Privileges but that is not the position with regard to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. Sinn Féin does not have a voice on the latter and this means that some of the points I have raised at meetings of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of the Dáil would not necessarily be reflected at meetings of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.
Deputy Peter Power: I accept the latter point with regard to the Deputy’s party being represented on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of the Dáil but not on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. However, I must point out that the commission represents Members rather than parties.
Deputy Richard Bruton: On a point of order, the conclusion of the debate on this legislation is fast approaching. An amendment which I wanted to have the opportunity to debate and divide the House on will not be reached. I will, therefore, have no option but to oppose the Bill, which I do not wish to do. This highlights the crass nature of the guillotines that are applied in the House. In such circumstances, I wish to call a quorum.
Deputy Peter Power: Unfortunately, this amendment ignores the reality that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission operates on the basis of annual Estimates, which it prepares in accordance with section 13(3) of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act 2003. The commission, having taken full account of the funding provision as set out in the Bill before the House, has already prepared its statement of Estimates for 2010 in any event. This statement, in which total expenditure for 2010 is estimated at €117 million, was presented to Dáil Éireann and noted by way of motion in the House on 19 November last. It was then furnished to the Minister for Finance in advance of his presentation to Dáil Éireann of the Estimates of receipts and expenditure for next year on budget day.
The Minister for Finance considers that the amendment would be unworkable in practice. I understand the Deputy’s intention in introducing it, particularly in light of the contribution he made during this debate. However, the commission is primarily accountable to the Dáil for its expenditure in that the Secretary General can be called before the Committee of Public Accounts to give evidence on all aspects of his accounting functions as set out in section 14 of the 2003 Act. In the context of accountability and good governance, the issue of reporting to the House is covered by the principal Act of 2003. Accordingly, it would be impractical to accept the amendment.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I wish to protest. This is a shambles. We are debating whether the Dáil is fit for purpose and discussing legislation on how it should be funded. This amendment relates to a matter in respect of which there is a genuine difference of opinion and the Ceann Comhairle is using an order of the day in order to prevent the House making a mature judgment on it.
Deputy Richard Bruton: Does the Ceann Comhairle not recognise that he is presiding over something which is unacceptable in a modern democracy? We should have the opportunity to debate and decide on Bills.
An Ceann Comhairle: As it is now 4.30 p.m. I am required to put the question: “That the amendment set down by Minister for Finance for Committee Stage and not disposed of is hereby made to Bill; in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, that the section is hereby agreed to in Committee; the Schedule, as amended, and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee; the Bill, as amended, is accordingly reported to House; Fourth Stage is hereby completed; and the Bill is hereby passed.”
|Ahern, Bertie.||Ahern, Dermot.|
|Ahern, Michael.||Ahern, Noel.|
|Andrews, Barry.||Andrews, Chris.|
|Ardagh, Seán.||Aylward, Bobby.|
|Behan, Joe.||Blaney, Niall.|
|Brady, Áine.||Brady, Cyprian.|
|Brady, Johnny.||Browne, John.|
|Byrne, Thomas.||Calleary, Dara.|
|Carey, Pat.||Conlon, Margaret.|
|Connick, Seán.||Coughlan, Mary.|
|Cregan, John.||Cullen, Martin.|
|Curran, John.||Devins, Jimmy.|
|Dooley, Timmy.||Fahey, Frank.|
|Finneran, Michael.||Fitzpatrick, Michael.|
|Flynn, Beverley.||Gogarty, Paul.|
|Grealish, Noel.||Haughey, Seán.|
|Hoctor, Máire.||Kelleher, Billy.|
|Kelly, Peter.||Kenneally, Brendan.|
|Kennedy, Michael.||Killeen, Tony.|
|Kitt, Michael P.||Kitt, Tom.|
|Lenihan, Conor.||McEllistrim, Thomas.|
|McGrath, Mattie.||McGrath, Michael.|
|McGuinness, John.||Martin, Micheál.|
|Moloney, John.||Moynihan, Michael.|
|Mulcahy, Michael.||Nolan, M. J.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|O’Brien, Darragh.||O’Connor, Charlie.|
|O’Donoghue, John.||O’Flynn, Noel.|
|O’Hanlon, Rory.||O’Keeffe, Batt.|
|O’Keeffe, Edward.||O’Rourke, Mary.|
|O’Sullivan, Christy.||O’Sullivan, Maureen.|
|Power, Peter.||Power, Seán.|
|Roche, Dick.||Ryan, Eamon.|
|Sargent, Trevor.||Scanlon, Eamon.|
|Smith, Brendan.||Treacy, Noel.|
|Wallace, Mary.||White, Mary Alexandra.|
|Allen, Bernard.||Bannon, James.|
|Barrett, Seán.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burke, Ulick.|
|Burton, Joan.||Byrne, Catherine.|
|Carey, Joe.||Clune, Deirdre.|
|Connaughton, Paul.||Coonan, Noel J.|
|Costello, Joe.||Crawford, Seymour.|
|Creed, Michael.||D’Arcy, Michael.|
|Deenihan, Jimmy.||Doyle, Andrew.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||English, Damien.|
|Feighan, Frank.||Flanagan, Charles.|
|Flanagan, Terence.||Gilmore, Eamon.|
|Hayes, Brian.||Hayes, Tom.|
|Higgins, Michael D.||Hogan, Phil.|
|Howlin, Brendan.||Kehoe, Paul.|
|Lee, George.||Lynch, Ciarán.|
|Lynch, Kathleen.||McCormack, Pádraic.|
|McEntee, Shane.||McGinley, Dinny.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McHugh, Joe.|
|Mitchell, Olivia.||Neville, Dan.|
|Noonan, Michael.||O’Donnell, Kieran.|
|O’Dowd, Fergus.||O’Mahony, John.|
|O’Sullivan, Jan.||Perry, John.|
|Rabbitte, Pat.||Reilly, James.|
|Ring, Michael.||Sheahan, Tom.|
|Sherlock, Seán.||Shortall, Róisín.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Stanton, David.|
|Timmins, Billy.||Tuffy, Joanna.|
|Upton, Mary.||Varadkar, Leo.|
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