Question to the Taoiseach by Clare Daly on people initiated referendum
A BIG thank you to Clare Daly for raising the issue of people-initiated referendums in the Dail and putting the question to the Taoiseach. Typically, the question got a reply but the question was not answered. Further proof that real change will only happen when the people unite and make it happen by using their vote..
QUESTION NO: *225 DÁIL QUESTION
addressed to the Taoiseach by Deputy Clare Daly for
WRITTEN ANSWER on Tuesday, 21st April, 2015.
QUESTION NO: *225
To ask the Taoiseach his views on the provision for citizen initiated referendums to empower persons, and the separation of the Government and Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
I take it that this question concerns the Fourth Report of the Convention on the Constitution.
The subject of the Fourth Report was the Dáil electoral system and the Convention made various recommendations in that regard. It also made three other recommendations, detailed below, to which I assume the Deputy is referring. The Fourth Report was debated in Dáil Éireann on 18 December 2014 and the script circulated in the Dáil that day by the Minister of State with special responsibility for Rural Economic Development and Rural Transport setting out the Government’s response is available on the website of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.
The three items referred to above, on which the Convention recommended that referendums be held, and the Government’s response on each, are as follows.
The Convention recommended that there should be a referendum to permit the appointment of non-Oireachtas members as Ministers. However, as the House will be aware, the Constitution already allows the Taoiseach to nominate as Ministers up to two people who have not been elected to the Oireachtas but have been nominated to the Seanad. This provision enables the thrust of the Convention’s recommendation to be met without the need for a referendum. Taoisigh have availed of this facility only twice since 1937, in each case appointing one person as Minister. The holding of a referendum to widen the scope of an option that already exists but has very rarely been used, and never to the full, would be very hard to justify.
The Convention also recommended a referendum to require Dáil members to resign their Dáil seats on appointment to Ministerial office. However, proposing a referendum to amend the Constitution to this effect would be a major change from the current Constitutional arrangement whereby members of the Government sit in the Oireachtas.
It would be difficult to propose such a referendum without making provision for who would succeed to the vacant seats and to secure the objective of freeing Ministers from constituency work. However, as regards filling the vacant seats, the Convention had not favoured a list system when considering the Dáil electoral system; and as regards freeing Ministers from constituency work, the Convention did not recommend automatic re-election of Ministers at the next general election.
Finally, the Convention recommended providing a right for citizens to petition on influencing the legislative agenda and to petition for referendums. However, referendums are already relatively common in Ireland and there is nothing to prevent citizens presenting petitions. Also, the Government has already substantially opened up the legislative process to citizens both via the work of the Convention itself and with the various packages of Dáil reform introduced since 2011. For example, a Public Service Oversight and Petitions Committee, chaired by a member of the Opposition, was established in 2011. As part of its remit, the Committee receives and considers public petitions submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Committee also engages with the Ombudsman and other oversight bodies.
In addition, in 2011 the Government introduced a system of pre legislative review before Oireachtas Committees. In 2013 this was expanded to become a pre-legislative stage before the relevant Oireachtas Committee as a requirement for non-emergency legislation generally. This allows for an unprecedented and extensive engagement by the public directly in the law making process. The Committee can consult with citizens with expertise in the area, civic society groups and other interested groups; crucially, such consultation takes place before the legislation is drafted.
The Government will however bear in mind these recommendations of the Convention when the latest package of Dáil reform, and its success in opening up the legislative process, is being reviewed.