Enda Kenny took the unprecedented step of answering a “topical issues” question in the House this evening. But rather than answering to the opposition, he was responding to eight of his own party backbenchers - including the so-called five-a-side group who were calling changes to how the Dáil works.
The Fine Gael TDs called for:
-A loosening of the whip system which dictates that TDs are kicked out of the party if they vote against it.
-Allowing backbenchers more of a say when drawing up legislation.
-The setting aside of time in the Dáil when all TDs can ask the Taoiseach or Tánaiste about matters of importance to their constituents.
-Changes to the structure of Oireachtas committees, so that TDs do not have to duck out of meetings to attend Dáil matters, as well as a week dedicated only to committees.
-More debate and votes on Bills proposed by individual TDs.
-Extending the time for questions to ministers to one and a half hours and making ministesr answer more questions to back bench TDs and not just opposition members.
The group who put down the question on Dáil reform included: Sean Kyne (Galway West); Paul Connnaughton (Galway East); Brendan Griffin (Kerry South); Eoghan Murphy (Dublin South East); Pat Deering (Carlow-Kilkenny); Noel Harrington (Cork South-West); Anthony Lawlor (Kildare North) and Sean Conlan (Cavan- Monaghan).
The Taoiseach responded that he is “serious” about reform and that he would take some of their suggestions on board.
Mr Kenny said there was an “opportunity” when draft legislation was being drawn up “that people could give their view irrespective of whether it’s in accordance with Government philosophy or not.”
But he said: “When you sign on for a government bill as government members you would be expected to support that.”
Explaining his opposition with loosening the whip, the Taoiseach said: “The issue of stability is very important for international investors when they look at the country: is the government going to continue in office or is it not.”
He said he has been in the Dáil many times where votes were very close. “What might be one person’s crisis of conscience might be another persons’ political crisis,” he said. “If you don’t have stability, you can’t have investment.”