Wednesday, 17 June 1987
Seanad Eireann Debate
(1) That Seanad Éireann concurs with Dáil Éireann in its Resolution communicated to Seanad Éireann on 16th June, 1987, that it is expedient that a Joint Committee (to be called the Joint Services Committee), consisting of 9 members of Dáil Éireann and 9 members of Seanad Éireann, be appointed
(iii) to regulate and supervise the operation of the research service for Members and to recommend to the  Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach any improvements in the operation of the service which may appear to it to be desirable from time to time.
(4) That all questions in the Joint Committee and in each sub-committee shall be determined by a majority of votes of the members present and voting and in the event of there being an equality of votes the question shall be decided in the negative.
(5) That the quorum of the Joint Committee be five of whom at least one shall be a member of Dáil Éireann and one shall be a member of Seanad Éireann and that the quorum of each sub-committee shall be three at least one of whom shall be a member of Dáil Éireann and one a member of Seanad Éireann.
Mr. Manning: With some reluctance we agree to this motion. We should be thankful at this stage to the Government for small mercies. Four months after the setting up of the Government, two months after the election of this House, we now see very small signs of a committee system emerging. I want to register the enormous disappointment of my party and our sense of impatience at the very truncated list of committees which has emerged here today. Of the five committees included today two have no bearing whatsoever on legislation.
The Joint Services Committee is important but it is concerned merely with housekeeping duties here in the House. The Irish language committee is a worthy committee but it is mainly concerned with encouraging the use of spoken Irish in  both Houses of the Oireachtas. It has no function as far as the scrutiny of legislation is concerned, or for making proposals for legislation. It is not, in the strictest sense, a parliamentary committee.
At long last we have three real Joint Committees. All are welcome. I welcome especially the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities which was, Members would agree, the most hardworking committee in the last Oireachtas. Overall, it produced over 45 reports, many of them on major issues, including European union, the Single European Act, acid rain and a very wide variety of agricultural issues. The committee had a very significant Seanad participation. I hope that tradition will be continued in the new committee.
I should like to ask the Leader of the House and, through him, the Government, what of the other major committees of the last Oireachtas. The small businesses committee was excellent. Under Deputy Ivan Yates it produced a series of major reports and it was brimful of positive ideas for the improvement and development of small businesses. Surely Members would agree there is a need for a committee like this, indeed, a new committee with its base broadened out to encourage ideas on enterprise and employment and to provide access to the Oireachtas for people in the wide community who have ideas on these matters.
Members will be shocked to see the absence of any committee on development aid. In the last Oireachtas there was a vigorous joint committee chaired by former Senator Nora Owen. It raised the profile of development aid throughout the entire country and it established very good relations with those countries with which we have bilateral aid arrangements. It also had a very important educational function, both within this House and outside, in bringing to public attention an increasing awareness of Third World issues. Are we to assume that the Government have no interest whatsoever in development aid? Are we to assume  that the proud record of the last committee is to be totally abandoned?
What of that most vocal, if not the most substantial of the committees of the last Oireachtas, that on crime, lawlessness and vandalism? It is extraordinary that, at a time when huge questions are being raised about every aspect of our legal system, about the efficiency and the effectiveness of the courts, restrictive practices among lawyers, the public accountability of lawyers and judges, Garda procedures and the prison service, when every day all of these major questions are being discussed by the public at large, this committee is being abandoned. Surely, the time has come for a much more broadly based committee on law reform and law enforcement. Surely that is the least we could ask for at this stage.
The most depressing thing about this list of committees which the Leader of the House has given us here this afternoon is not just that the Government are cutting back on the reform of the Oireachtas, which was such an important part of the programme of the last Government, but that they have no ideas of their own. Do the Government really want to get the best out of us here in the Oireachtas? It hardly appears so from this list of cutbacks we have been given, a list as badly thought out as the cutbacks we have seen taking place in health, social welfare and education.
Surely we could ask whether the Government have some ideas of their own so far as Oireachtas reform is concerned. We in this House spent the past few weeks in very fruitful debate and many ideas emerged as to how we could better reform ourselves. Surely we have a right to ask the Government to come forward with some distinctive ideas of their own on how this House and the overall Oireachtas could be made more effective. Surely we have a right to ask for the setting up of some select committees where, over the course of the summer recess ideas for legislation could be teased out, where outside voices could be heard, where Members of the Oireachtas  could be seen to have some sort of overall input into the framing of our laws.
This side of the House will demand that this paltry offering of committees be at least in place by the beginning of the summer recess, that these committees have a full programme of work for the summer recess, that the Government come forward before the end of this session with specific thought out ideas for the detailed setting up of committees, so that the ideas expressed in this House over the past few weeks about the need for a more vigorous participation in the whole work of the Oireachtas can become a reality and that we will be seen by the public and by ourselves to be serious about the whole business of making the Oireachtas work.
Mrs. Robinson: I join with Senator Manning in welcoming the establishment of the committees that are before us today. I regret, as he does, that the number is small and that the range of those committees is quite narrow. I did not get a clear idea from the Leader of the House whether this is the first batch of joint committees being established and that there is an intention of coming back to both Houses, preferably before the summer recess, with motions to re-establish the important committees which existed under the previous Oireachtas, the development co-operation committee and the committee on small businesses. The work of these committees was extremely important and an expertise was gained not only by the members of those committees but also by the staff who serviced those committees. I hope they will be re-established. The crime, lawlessness and vandalism committee was not a committee of both Houses so perhaps Senators would be less immediately concerned with it unless it were to be re-established as a joint committee. Certainly the subject area is extremely important.
There are other significant areas. There has been a very lively debate here and a very lively debate in the outgoing and previous Seanad about the necessity  to establish a committee on foreign relations. There is a motion in the other House on that. There is a very general recognition, partly because of the whole debate at the time of the referendum on the Single European Act, of the need for a parliamentary expertise, a parliamentary vigilance and an informed committee examination of issues relating to Ireland's relations with the world, be it in the United Nations, in the European Community and so on. I know the Leader of the House in a personal capacity shares that interest. I very much hope that it will be possible to see the establishment of a committee on foreign relations.
Like Senator Manning and as a former member I welcome the re-establishment of the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities. That committee has a statutory function so its re-establishment could not be in doubt. It has a statutory duty to examine European Community legislation and to examine its implementation here. I hope that committee will be brought together and commence its work. The Leader of the House, as a former member of that committee, will know there is a backlog of European Community legislation to be examined and statutory instruments implementing directives, regulations and so on. That committee has a well established secretariat; it has a work programme. The sooner the committee gets back to that work programme the better.
I would have hoped that, when introducing the brief debate on these motions, the Leader of the House would have given the House some indication of what the intention of the Government is. The Seanad is receiving in these motions ideas from the Dáil. There is a Dáil motion in relation to each of these joint committees which has been passed and the Dáil is requesting this House to join with it to establish a joint committee. I should like to ask the Leader of the House if he would favour the idea of the Seanad taking the initiative in proposing the establishment of some other joint committees, either re-establishing the existing ones, or giving some thought to the  possibility of extending the range of joint committees.
The Seanad is entitled to consider taking the initiative in proposing the establishment of committees because, as the Leader of the House and other Members who have participated on committees well know, it is very often Senators who put in the major portion of time and commitment to these committees. I re-echo what Senator Manning said about the recent debate on the role of the Seanad. We have fulfilled a role in participating in joint committees. We have a very considerable part to play and I hope this is only the first of the initiatives in this regard. I welcome the initiative but I regret that the range of committees is somewhat limited and I hope it will be expanded.
Mr. Robb: I regret very much that I was unable to be here for the discussion on the future of the Seanad and the ideas which presumably were debated and discussed during the past few weeks. Therefore, I am a little in the dark and perhaps what I am about to suggest may have already been taken up. I should like to support very much what other Senators have said, in particular Senator Robinson, about the function of the Seanad in relation to the possibility of setting up committees which we feel are important.
I remind the Leader of the House that many of us were very encouraged by remarks made by the Taoiseach at the time he was elected to the effect that he felt the time had come perhaps to consider a relook at the Constitution. With that in mind I would say there is a very important place for a sub-committee which would be prepared to look at the Constitution. I say that for a number of reasons. It is 50 years since the Constitution was ratified. It has now had, if I am correct, ten amendments and it looks as though it may be subject to further amendments. It was originally passed by less than 40 per cent of the people living in the Republic.
Mr. Robb: I heartily commend to your attention the possibility of having a select committee set up to study the Constitution as it now stands and look to the future to see if any change is necessary.
Mr. Ferris: I join with speakers who have reservations about the number of committees that have been formed. I can see the problem the Leader of the House has in that it is a decision of the other House to set up these committees. It is obvious that the Seanad is not being consulted at all in regard to the setting up of some of the joint committees. It is obvious also that the number of them and the range of areas that they cover are the absolute minimum required to carry on the business of the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The Houses of the Oireachtas could not run without the Joint Services Committee. The statutory committee dealing with joint EC legislation could not be done without and, as members of that committee will know, in a period when we had quite a lot of elections, this committee was not re-established. The amount of damage done in that area, because of a lapse of time in setting up the committee, was great. This affected the committee's ability to consider EC legislation that came before it. It was a suggestion from the Seanad that triggered off the need for an Oireachtas joint committee on the Irish language. That debate originated here and the need for it was confirmed here. The Dáil followed suit when we showed the way.
I agree with Senator Robinson that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges should discuss Oireachtas joint committees we feel as Senators are important and need the continuing involvement of Members from both Houses in the specific areas that are of interest to us. It has been said that Members of the Seanad in particular have always been very good attenders of these Oireachtas joint committees. They are the people who make up the quorum usually and make the most input as well. In asking the Leader of the House to try to further those interests and to extend the area of Oireachtas joint  committees, I also ask that serious consideration should be given to the setting up of a joint committee on foreign policy. That suggestion was initiated in the Seanad by the Labour Party group and, was eventually amended by the Fine Gael Party group, but the principle was accepted. There was resistance by the Government party, who were then in Opposition, to the concept of a committee on foreign policy. It would be refreshing for us if the Leader of the House could reassure us that he still believes in the idea of a foreign policy committee or an Oireachtas joint committee and that we will be suggesting that to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
With regard to the committee referrred to by Senator Manning, the Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism, for some obscure reason the previous Government excluded Members of the Seanad from that committee. We were not allowed to sit on it; there was no place for us on it. Members of this House could and should play a major role on that re-established committee. I hope when the Government are looking at that new committee, Members of the Seanad will not be excluded. Members of this House have a role to play in that area and indeed can make a major contribution to that committee. I want to defend Members of this House from being excluded by the Government from membership of any Oireachtas joint committee.
Mr. Cregan: There is just one point I should like to make. I am sorry that we do not have the same number of committees. Indeed I thought we might even have an extension of them. I have been in the Seanad since 1982 and I felt that the one area where the Oireachtas was getting recognition was at committee level, in the discussions that went on at committee level and, indeed, the reports that came before both Houses. An example of that was the report on marriage breakdown. It was an excellent  report. We had other committees like the small businesses committee.
I should like to add to what Senator Robinson said. If the Seanad is to be seen as in some way productive, why not consider the idea of asking for a particular committee to be set up? For instance, there is the massive problem within our society of unemployment. A committee should be dealing with that. I see no reason why the public should not be aware that Members of both Houses were discussing the setting up of an incentive committee to create employment. That is a problem we do not have enough opportunity to discuss. We should ask the other House to set up a committee to create an incentive for employment. That is a very serious area and we should look at it.
Mrs. Fennell: I welcome this motion and I am very pleased that the Seanad will participate in committees in the future. It is rather petty and regrettable that the same committees which operated in the last Oireachtas will not be a feature of this one. It is regrettable that there is such a diminution in their numbers. I believe they were a vital aspect of the last Oireachtas. I have to say that because I did not serve on any of them being a Minister of State. Certainly I am aware that they drew great public attention to the role of Members of both Houses and produced reports which got a great deal of publicity. Unfortunately they were not discussed as they should have been in both Houses. The Seanad was the only House that debated some of the reports.
People are elected to both Houses who bring with them expertise, skills and talents which should be utilised fully and the committee system is one way to use them. I am aware that if all of us were to propose committees we would all suggest committees to deal with our own pet subjects. That would be ridiculous because we might end up with an endless list of committees, and they would be badly attended. I absolutely believe that the Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism, which was such an important feature of the last Administration, should  be a feature of this one. I well recall in the Dáil that, when it was proposed by the then Opposition, we on our side of the House had an open mind about it. I appeal to the Leader of the House to have an open mind about suggestions for setting up further committees and not just leave them at the number we have before us today.
I should like to pick up a point made by the last speaker. One of the most important jobs done at committee level last time was done by the Committee on Marriage Breakdown. I know that was a specific committee set up with a specific purpose, but I believe the need is still there to examine family law reform and family legislation. That would be one of my pet areas if I were to look for a further committee. It would be desirable to discuss those matters in a less pressured area. While I welcome the motion and the setting up of these committees, I ask the Leader of the House to be a little bit more open and to accept suggestions for further committees.
Mrs. Bulbulia: I should like to express my disappointment at what I regard as a parsimonious announcement by the Government. Five committees are too few. I have done a quick calculation here and the number of Senators who will be entitled to partake in these committees is just 30 Senators out of 60. That means there will be a certain mad scrambling by those who are enthusiastic to have a place on one of these committees. I would welcome some sort of assurance from the Leader of the House that other committees are in the pipeline because it may be that there are certain Senators who would have an interest in serving on another committee rather than on the ones that have been brought forward today.
As Senator Manning said if one takes away the housekeeping committee, the Joint Services Committee, and the Joint Committee on the Irish Language which may not, although it is important, actually rivet such a number of Senators to offer to take part in it in fact it is a difficult situation. I certainly would like  assurances that more committees are coming on stream although I welcome what is on offer today.
About half the membership of the Seanad is new this time. I should like to indicate to new Senators what a very valuable experience it is to serve on a committee of the House. It is an opportunity to take part in debates, discussions and analysis out of the heat of party political cross fire. It is an opportunity to call in experts, people who are working in the fields in which the committees have terms of reference, to examine in detail and at length issues affecting the concerns of the committee.
It is a valuable learning experience. It is an opportunity to ventilate concerns. Certainly the press in the past have very often been kinder to the committees than to the deliberations of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The general public found the committees something of value. In reference to the Seanad all the reports of the various committees received extensive debate in this House and we did justice to the painstaking and carefully assembled reports of these committees. I should like to think we will continue to have an opportunity to take part in that type of activity.
I am particularly disappointed — other speakers have made this point — that there is no announcement of a committee on development co-operation. That was a very good committee in the last Oireachtas. Most of its reports were debated fully in this House. The Taoiseach went on the record during the period of the previous Administration as calling the post of Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with special responsibility for development co-operation superfluous and supernumerary. Many people at the time were incensed at such an attitude. Fortunately in the appointment of a Minister of State that did not obtain on this occasion.
I am tempted to ask if the introduction of a committee on development co-operation is being regarded as superfluous and supernumerary, I hope not, because it is an important and significant committee and one which has a large constituency.  The response to Band Aid is an indication of the huge interest and awareness amongst the community at large in matters of development co-operation. Following the debates on the reports of the committees in this House a growing body of Members of the Oireachtas as Irish parliamentarians expressed an interest in matters of development co-operation, became involved and grew in knowledge and in expertise. It would be a great pity if this committee was not brought forward.
I am also disappointed not to see a committee on foreign relations. Item No. 27 on the Order Paper of the Seanad is a request from Senators John A. Murphy, Shane Ross and Joe O'Toole for an Oireachtas joint committee on foreign policy in order to encourage maximum accountability and participation in the area of politics. I agree that such joint committee should be brought forward and I should like to express my disappointment that to date there is no sign of it. Certainly the level of apathy and indeed, ignorance which we all experienced in the wake of the debate on the Single European Act should be further evidence, if evidence were needed, that we badly need to establish such a committee. I express my disappointment and my awareness of the fact that 60 Senators will be scrambling for 30 places on the committees that have been brought forward to date. I would like indications that more committees will be coming on stream and I express my disappointment at how few there are to date.
Dr. O'Connell: I welcome the idea of committees being set up. I first proposed that a committee be set up to inquire into semi-State bodies in 1975. However, the record of committees during the period of the past Administration left a lot to be desired because no action was taken on recommendations of these committees. Indeed, if I remember rightly, in the case of one committee, the Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism, the Minister for Justice at the time, Deputy Dukes refused to meet that committee. I  would say, not from a party political point of view, that no matter what committee is set up its recommendations should receive serious consideration from the Administration. Otherwise it becomes a mere talking shop and a very expensive process with the backup services that are provided for such a committee.
We should not set up a committee for the sake of setting up a committee. We should be very selective about this and get an assurance from the Adminstration that its deliberations will be considered seriously. Otherwise we are wasting our time. I do not think this is the final say. I would say a number of committees will evolve but I earnestly ask that the committees that are set up should be treated seriously. If that is done, we will feel we have achieved something. I hope that future Administrations will treat the deliberations of joint committees of the Oireachtas seriously.
Mr. Daly: I too am very disappointed that a committee I served on — the Joint Committee on Small Businesses — has not been set up. This was one of the best committees. It was presided over by Deputy Ivan Yates and we had a very good team from across all the parties with great attendances. There were more reports issued by that committee than by any other committee. Also, we had two of those reports discussed in this House. I know Senator O'Connell was not here at the time so to say no action was taken is not correct, but it might be correct to his knowledge. We have discussed two of those in the Seanad and there is one before the Dáil at the moment, the one on under cost selling and small businesses.
The Adoption Bill, was started in the Dáil from a committee. There was a change there and the Government are bringing in their own Bill and it is coming before this House. Even though the reports may not be acted upon directly they are acted upon indirectly. The Government have used the information that is available in them. If the Dáil is not prepared to set up any more than they have set up, will the Leader of this  House initiate the setting up of the balance of the committees and let us get our fair share? As far as I can see, we in this House are second class citizens although it is supposed to be the upper House. The Dáil only uses us when it wants to. It may not be correct but my information is that this House will be loaded down with business for the month of July when the Dáil will not be sitting. If that is true, at least we should be recognised and get the committees to which we are entitled.
Mr. G. Reynolds: I welcome the decision to have the committee system reintroduced into both Houses but I would like to support my colleague, Senator Daly, and express my disappointment at the omission of the Joint Committee on Small Businesses. For example, the last Joint Committee on Small Businesses brought to the forefront the unfavourable aspects of some of the things that happened in building societies which had a great effect on most people within our society. I might add that the Government acted on the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Small Businesses in regard to the building societies. Small businesses are set up and run by Irish entrepreneurs who stay in the country. Young people should be getting involved in businesses. They create much needed employment specifically in rural areas. The Joint Committee on Small Businesses had a major effect on the establishment of businesses and I ask the Leader of the House to try to get it reintroduced.
Mr. Lanigan: A number of points have been raised and quite a number of Senators made the same point over and over again. I should like to remind the House that, rather than having had major cutbacks in the setting up of committees, under the last Government there were 13 committees and as of today eight committees have been set up. It is not the intention of the Government to leave it at eight. If the Leader of the Opposition had checked with his own party Whip or with his counterpart in the Dáil he would know that there has been an agreement  that there will be further committees set up. It was necessary to speed up the setting up of the committees so that at least the committees which are to be set up on a statutory basis could get on with their work. Mention was made of the fact that an Oireachtas joint committee on the Secondary Legislation of the European Communities did not sit for many years and a certain amount of legislation coming from the EEC has passed without having been dealt with by this Oireachtas joint committee.
Over the past number of years different committees have evolved but, of course, committees have evolved for different reasons and there is no reason why, just because a committee was set up to deal with a problem at a particular time, that committee should remain in being. There is always a need to have an evolvement of committees. Different committees should be set up at different times to develop specific areas of concern. Of course, some of the committees that were set up in the past were set up to deal with specific problems and, once those problems were addressed and reports issued by the committees, it was quite obvious that there was not sufficient work for them.
Senator O'Connell said that sufficient action was not taken as a result of the deliberations of the committees and, indeed, this is true. This House at all times, and in particular over the past three years, addressed reports from the committees. On most Thursdays these reports came before this House. Having said that, I must say that very few of the Senators from the last Seanad who are here present, who have been querying the work and the setting up of Seanad committees, took part in those debates on Thursdays. There were very few people here on Thursdays when the Seanad was debating reports from committees. Very few of these reports came before the last Dáil to be discussed. They never even appeared on the Order Paper in the other House. If one looks at the Order Paper here before us there are quite a number of reports which still have to be taken.
 The role of the Seanad was mentioned by a number of people. It is suggested that because these committees were initially addressed in the other House this is running down this House. I do not agree. If this House had been sitting yesterday, these motions could have come before us. They came before the other House yesterday; they come before this House today; and they go back to the other House tomorrow.
In relation to running down the Seanad, I can guarantee that many of the Senators who are talking about running down the Seanad will have their eyes opened within the next number of weeks. I can guarantee that there will be quite an amount of new legislation coming before this House in the next month and in the months throughout the summer. As I said last week, anybody who had intended to arrange holidays for the months of July, August and September would want to make certain that they send their wives and families away and make arrangements for——
Mr. Lanigan: Again, sexism raises its ugly head. A number of committees have been mentioned as desirable. In particular people mentioned the necessity for the formation of the foreign affairs policy committee and the small businesses committee. Since they are joint committees they have to be discussed by both Houses before they can be set up. There is nothing I know of to stop the Seanad, through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges setting up an inhouse committee on any subject. I would want to see Standing Orders before I make any definite statement on that but I do not think there is anything in the Standing Orders that would prevent us from doing that.
Mention was made of the Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism. Many people mentioned the fact that there is a lot of crime around and that there is concern about the situation  regarding lawyers, courts etc. The committee had nothing to do with lawyers or courts. It dealt with the problem on the streets and how to solve it. It was said that we will have 30 Members out of 60 on the current number of committees. Other committees will be set up and obviously there will be a greater number of Senators on committees then. In relation to our numbers, vis-a-vis the Dáil numbers, we are getting a reasonable balance. There will be a bigger percentage of Senators on the joint committees when they are all set up, vis-a-vis the percentage of Members of the Dáil on committees.
I am glad there was a welcome for the number of committees that were set up. I do not agree that the committee on the Irish language is of secondary interest to this House or of secondary interest to the country. This is a most important committee. I, for one, would not accept that it is secondary in nature to any of the other committees which are being set up today. The role of the Senators on committees has been addressed. As a member of the joint committee on secondary legislation, I would say that at all times there was a better attendance by Senators on that committee. This has also been true of the attendance by Senators on other committees.
I can guarantee to the House that the points raised here today will be brought before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to see how best we can organise our affairs as regards committees of this House. Points were raised about the urgency of setting up other committees. I presume Members on the Opposition side will report to their parties what has been said here. When the remainder of the committees are being set up the points raised will be taken into account.
The role of committees is important but it is a secondary role to the role of bringing legislation before the House. An enormous amount of legislation will be brought before this House before the recess. I would not worry too much about the recess; it will be short. There is a vigour in this Seanad but we should not set up committees for the sake of setting  up committees, or because they give an added impetus to publicity or whatever for either House. It has to be said that they are costing an enormous amount of money, there should be, for the State and the people, a very definite sign that they are of financial value to the State.
Mr. Lanigan: They are joint committees of the Oireachtas. If we do not set up a joint committee it cannot be set up by any other House. There is absolutely no way that a joint committee could be set up if we decided not to have a joint committee.
|Last Updated: 13/09/2010 21:29:56||Page of 18|