Calls for standards body for Oireachtas committees

There have been calls for a new standards body to set rules for Oireachtas committees and for members to be trained following a significant Supreme Court ruling.

Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley made the suggestion and said the new body could be made up of former Oireachtas members.

Health Minister Simon Harris said this was a “good idea”, as he also said rules governing commentary in the Dáil should be examined following the Angela Kerins court ruling.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) acted outside its terms of reference in its dealings with former chief executive of the Rehab group, Ms Kerins.

The ruling overturned a previous High Court ruling that the courts did not have powers to decide on PAC’s remit. Further court submissions will proceed this month before the Supreme Court decides if the high-profile committee acted unlawfully.

Politicians are worried the ruling may impact on committees and future investigations. Mr Dooley, a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission which governs the Dáil and Seanad, 

told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics that Oireachtas committee chairpersons should be trained and that a new standards body should be set up.

It would be “difficult” for Oireachtas members to set standards for themselves, he said, and so the body could be made up of former members and others from outside the Dáil and Seanad.

I think there is an opportunity for former members and former officials of the House to get together in an advisory capacity and draw up a new set of rules and procedures that would assist the Dáil.

Mr Harris said this was a “good idea”. However, he also said the court ruling should be used as an opportunity to address problems in the Dáil.

He said there had been blatant breaches of privilege in the Dáil in the past.

“There is a need, I think, for the Dáil now, in light of this Supreme Court ruling, to actually take stock and say what do we need to do to get our own house in order,” said Mr Harris.

Oireachtas officials are expected to discuss the Kerins ruling later this week, particularly concerns that it may have a chilling effect on committee proceedings.

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