Legislating and the art of preventing others from getting what they want

The process of enacting legislation in this Dáil has largely ground to a halt through delaying tactics and deliberate obfuscation of the political process, writes Political Correspondent Elaine Loughlin.

THE now jaded system of new politics has simply become a game in which every side tries to outsmart and out-trick the other by using and abusing loopholes and lacunas.

This do-nothing Dáil has managed to enact just five private members bills since 2016, while the Government busily scurries to find any way possible to cynically frustrate and hold up the 123 other opposition bills floating about in the system.

At the same time, the Government has seen 56 of its own bills enacted.

Frustrated by this lack of progress, many in opposition have themselves turned to cynicism and are now using private members bills as an alternative form of press release, with no intention of bringing them any further than a quick mention in the Dáil at first stage.

The week before last, just 32 of the 123 private members bills waiting a hearing at second stage in the Dáil were submitted to the lottery which randomly picks which will be debated the following week.

Questions must be asked of the authors of the other 91 bills who seem to have little or no interest in progressing their new laws.

The 2016 general election threw up a situation which gave opposition parties unprecedented powers, with Fianna Fáil propping up the minority government.

There was talk that for the first time since the foundation of the State that all members of the Oireachtas, and not just those in government, could act as real legislators.

In previous Dáils, opposition parties very rarely even bothered to put forward their own bills as they were almost certain of having them trampled on at the first hurdle by the majority party in power.

New politics gave those on the one-time powerless opposition benches a new, but perhaps false, hope.

As Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless put it, the Dáil arithmetic should have allowed it to work as “a legislative assembly where parliamentarians can come in, table legislation, table amendments, have a hope of having them passed if they get the numbers on their side actually having them become law.” In reality, new politics has simply created a massive log-jam with little being enacted.

There are now 242 Government and opposition bills crawling through the system, with the current administration putting up every roadblock it can find to stop the opposition getting new laws passed.

Many of these bills are commonsense approaches to problems which exist and could be easily addressed if the legislation was passed.

These include a bill to tackle ticket touting, a bill to regulate voluntary contributions in schools, another to sort out neighbour disputes over high hedges and trees, as well as a bill to establish a National Famine Memorial Day.

With the vast amount of legislation delayed, Mr Lawless and his fellow first-time TDs must be questioning whether new politics was ever new.

The latest trick Leo Varadkar’s government has mastered is the money message delay tactic.

There are currently 30 private members bills which the Government says require money messages.

These include the Prohibition of Microplastics Bill 2016; the Multi-Party Actions Bill 2017; and the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016.

Money messages, in theory, are a good idea and ensure any new law does not put pressure on the public pursestrings, through a cost-benefit analysis.

However, many of the increasingly cynical members of the opposition believe they are now being requested in an effort to further hold up new laws.

A frustrated Róisín Shortall said: “In some cases, bills are going through second stage in the Dáil without any mention of a money message.

“It’s only later when they are at committee stage that this is brought up.

“I think it’s quite a deliberate delay tactic by government. Many of us on the opposition benches are losing patience with government,” the Social Democrat TD said.

While the political tricks will undoubtedly continue on both sides, it is the public who will suffer from a lack of progress on new legislation.

New politics, unfortunately, means nothing new for the people of this country.

How a bill becomes law, stage by stage

The law is not easy to change and there are several stages that a bill must pass, before finally being signed off by the President.

A bill initiated by a TD is generally debated first in the Dáil.

If the Dáil passes the bill, it is then debated in the Seanad.

A bill initiated by a senator is generally debated first in the Seanad, and then in the Dáil.

Only when both Houses have passed a bill can it be sent to the President and enacted.

First Stage (the initiation of a bill): In general, bills can be introduced in the Dáil or Seanad. However, most bills come from TDs and are, therefore, introduced in the Dáil.

There is no limit to the number of bills a member may seek leave to introduce.

Bills introduced by members of the opposition are referred to as private members’ bills (PMBs).

Second Stage: The person bringing forward the bill is allocated time to make a statement on the proposed new law.

The bill is discussed and debated in the Dáil or Seanad (depending on where it was introduced).

At the end of second stage, the House (Dáil or Seanad) may, or may not, agree to allow the bill to proceed to committee stage.

Third (Committee) Stage: This is a detailed examination of, and improvement on, what is proposed. The bill is looked at section by section.

It provides an opportunity for government and opposition members to make changes to the text.

This can be done by either committee of the whole House, a select committee, or a special committee.

In case of the Dáil, select committee is the norm.

There is no limit to the number of times a member may speak on an amendment, so committee stage can be lengthy.

Fourth (Report) Stage: The bill is then sent back to the Dáil (in the case of a Dáil bill) or Seanad (in the case of a Seanad bill) for a review of changes made at third stage.

This is the final opportunity for members to make amendments to the text of the bill.

However, these amendments can only come from proceedings at third stage and cannot be entirely new.

Fifth (Final) Stage: This is generally taken directly after report stage and members are asked to vote “that the bill do now pass”.

The bill, if passed, is then sent to the other House.

Typically, from Dáil to Seanad, and second, third, fourth, and fifth stages are repeated.

If the Seanad does decide to make any amendments, the bill is sent back again, for one final time, to the Dáil, for approval.

Enactment: A bill finally becomes law when it is signed by the President of Ireland.

A bill becomes law on the day it is signed by the President and, unless otherwise stated, by way of ministerial order, comes into operation on that day.

A total of 128 Private Members Bills were listed on the Dáil order paper last week week (March 6th). This list does not include Government Bills, Bills at stage or Bills which begin in the Seanad, but it does gives an idea of the congestion within the system.

Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) (Amendment) Bill 2018

Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) (Amendment) Bill 2018

Public Health (Availability of Defibrillators) Bill 2018

Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries) Bill 2018

Finance (Office of Tax Simplification) Bill 2018

Arts (Dignity at Work) (Amendment) Bill 2016

Maternity Protection (Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas) Bill 2018

Comptroller & Auditor General (Amendment) Bill 2017

Gambling Control Bill 2018

Competition & Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill 2018

Trade Union Representation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018

Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill 2017

Overcrowded Housing Bill 2018

Extreme Weather (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018

Consumer Rights (Gift Vouchers) Bill 2017

Social Welfare (Payment Order) (Amendment) Bill 2018

Prohibition of Sulky–Racing Bill 2018

Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No.2) Bill 2017

Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2017

Living Cities Bill 2017

Valuation (Amendment) Bill 2018

Property Services Regulatory Authority (Amendment) (Bidding Transparency) Bill 2017

Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill 2017

Assisted Decision–Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill 2017

Bail (Amendment) Bill 2017

Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Bill 2017

Personal Insolvency (Amendment) Bill 2017

Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2017

Planning and Development (Amendment) (Short Term Lettings) Bill 2017

Community Energy (Co–ownership) Bill 2017

Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) (Amendment) Bill 2016

Contempt of Court Bill 2017

Housing (Sale of Local Authority Housing) Bill 2016

Prohibition of Fossil Fuels (Keep it on the Ground) Bill 2017

Local Government Reform (Amendment) (Directly Elected Mayor of Dublin) Bill 2016

Local Government (Mayor and REgional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2016

Comptroller and Auditor General (Accountability of Recipients of Public Funds) (Amendment) Bill 2017

Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) (Amendment) Bill 2017

Nursing Home Support Scheme (Amendment) Bill 2016

Maternity Protection (Local Government Members) Bill Parole Bill 2016

Thirty–fifth amendment of the Constitution (Divorce) Bill 2016

Criminal Justice (Commission of Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2017

Education (Regulation of Voluntary Contribution in Schools) Bill 2017

Health Parity Bill 2017

Small Unmanned Aircraft (Drones) Bill 2017

Defamation (Amendment ) Bill 2017

Waste Reduction (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017

Education (Regulation of Voluntary Contribution in Schools) Bill 2017

Court Funds Administration Bill 2017

Planning and Development (Rapid Broadband) Bill 2017

Thirty–fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Blasphemy) Bill 2017

Neighbour Disputes (Vegetation) Bill 2017

Thirty–fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Separation of Church and State) Bill 2017

Roads (Amendment) Bill 2017

Rent Transparency Bill 2017

Genuine Progress Indicators and National Distributional Accounts Bill 2017

Health and Safety (Funfair) (Amendment) Bill 2017

Industrial Relations (Defence Forces) (Amendment) Bill 2017

Valuation (Amendment) Bill 2017

Foal Levy Bill 2017

Public Services and Procurement (Workers’ Rights) Bill 2017

Thirty–fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Pension Property Rights) Bill 2017

Urban Regeneration and Housing (Amendment) Bill 2017

Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2017

Road Traffic (Quads and Scramblers) (Amendment) Bill 2017

Education (Guidance Counselling Provision) Bill 2017

Sale of Illicit Goods Bill 2017

Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) (Amendment) Bill 2017

Trade Union (Garda Síochana and the Defence Forces) Bill 2017

Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2017

Welfare of Greyhounds (Amendment) Bill 2017

Public Transport Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2017

Road Traffic (Minimum Passing Distance of Cyclists) Bill 2017

Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Restoration of Birthright Citizenship) Bill 2017

National Food Ombudsman Bill 2017

Pensions (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2017

Prohibition of Wild Animals in Circuses Bill 2017

Keeping People in their Homes Bill 2017

Education (Disadvantage Committee) Bill 2017

Civil Law (Missing Persons) (No.2) Bill 2016

Benefits fifth Health (Amendment) Bill 2014

Equal Status (Equality Proofing) (Amendment) Bill 2016

Thirty–fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Common Ownership of Water Resources) Bill 2016

Garda Síochána (Appointment of Senior Officers) Bill 2016

Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2016

Electoral (Extension of Voting Rights to Non–Irish Citizens) Bill 2017

Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2013

Famine Memorial Day Bill 2016

European Communities (Brexit) Bill 2017

Prohibition of Above–cost Ticket Touting Bill 2017

Harmful Communications and Digital Safety Bill 2017

Civil Liability (Amendment) (Prevention of Benefits from Homicide) Bill 2017

Pensions (Amendment) Bill 2017

Sentencing Council Bill 2017

Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill 2016

Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill 2017

Statistics (1916 Rising Centenary) Bill 2016

Prohibition of Hydraulic Fracturing (Extraction of Hydrocarbon) Bill 2016

Thirty–fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Public Ownership of Certain Assets) Bill 2016

An Bille um Thithíocht Shóisialta, 2016 Social Housing Bill 2016

Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) (Amendment) Bill 2016

Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2016

Thirty–Fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) Bill 2016

Thirty–Fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill 2016

Corporate Manslaughter Bill 2016

Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2016

Disability (Amendment) Bill 2015

Vulnerable Persons Bill 2015

Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill 2015

Equality in Education Bill 2015

Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill 2013

Pensions (Traceability of Assets) (Amendment) Bill 2013

Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Bill 2012

Equality (Amendment) Bill 2014

Central Bank (Code of Conduct) Bill 2015

Fiscal Responsibility (Amendment) Bill 2015

Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2014

Financial Services (Protection of Deposits) Bill 2013

Regulation of Moneylenders Bill 2013

Mortgage Resolution Bill 2013

Credit Institutions (Stabilisation) (Amendment) Bill 2013

Thirty–fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Inclusive Budget Reform) Bill 2014

Protection of Minimum Wage Earners Bill 2013

Environment and Public Health (Wind Turbines) (No. 2) Bill 2013

Companies (Amendment) Bill 2016

Housing (Homeless Prevention) Bill 2014

Health (Amendment) Bill 2014

Equal Status (Equality Proofing) (Amendment) Bill 2016

Thirty–fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Common Ownership of Water Resources) Bill 2016

Garda Síochána (Appointment of Senior Officers) Bill 2016

Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2016

Commissions of Investigation (Amendment) Bill 2016


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