Ceann Comhairle: No need for Dáil to sit late at night

Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett has said more reform of the houses of the Oireachtas is needed — including a reduction in Dáil late-night sittings.

Ceann Comhairle: No need for Dáil to sit late at night

Mr Barrett has also suggested that a special question time, which operates in the French parliament, should be introduced in the Dáil which would make ministers more accountable to TDs.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, he spoke candidly about his role. He said most of his suggestions to Taoiseach Enda Kenny on reform had been taken on board since he was appointed Ceann Comhairle in 2011.

These included proposals to reclaim question time for ordinary members, topical questions, enhanced scrutiny of legislation by committees, and the right of backbenchers to publish bills.

But he said the Government and departments still needed to realise that it was their responsibility to bring legislative proposals fully to the Oireachtas, to have them accepted or rejected.

He said he wants to see a new type of question time introduced in the next Dáil by his successor, similar to the format that exists in France. It would require ministers to be in the Dáil for “questions of the day”.

“It’s a centrepiece of the day. You [the TD] go up, put your question for two minutes in a hat and the minister then goes up to a packed chamber and he replies. Topical questions is more a set piece, this is on the spot. The ministers involved would have to be in the chamber. I’d love to see that happen [in the next Dáil]. Things about Dáil reform disappear as things go on but it’s something I’d follow up before I leave.”

Mr Barrett said there was no need for the Dáil to sit late at night. Debates ran after midnight several times in the last year.

“We shouldn’t be sitting at 10 o’clock at night if we’re doing the job. It’s going to change. It’s the way you do your business, it’s not the number of hours.”

Speaking about recent rows with opposition TDs, he said: “The vast majority of members understand that sometimes I might have to have a go and give out, even to some of my best friends.

“I understand politicians. I was that soldier at one stage. I know. There are very few tricks that I don’t know.”

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