PAC in bid to change rule that 'paralyses' spending watchdog

The committee can only question witnesses about accounts audited by the C&AG after Supreme Court ruling
PAC in bid to change rule that 'paralyses' spending watchdog

'I believe in fixing things that need to be fixed,' said PAC chair Brian Stanley, in advance of a private meeting today at which he was planning to initiate a change to the rule that 'ties the hands of the committee'. File Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has moved to tackle a Dáil rule which allegedly “totally paralyses” its workflows by drafting a suggested change to the controversial requirement.

Standing Order 218 is the Dáil rule first drafted and accepted last July in apparent response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that a former PAC had gone significantly beyond its remit in questioning former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins in 2014.

The rule requires that the PAC may only question witnesses regarding accounts of State bodies and agencies that have been audited by the State’s accountant, the Comptroller & Auditor General, which typically are presented many months after the fact, thus precluding the committee from interrogating current affairs in the public interest.

Rule 'paralyses' committee system

Previous objections to the standing order were overruled late last year by both the Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl and the Dáil Committee on Procedures, at a time when PAC member Marc MacSharry described the rule as one which "totally paralyses" the committee system and "over proscribes" the allowable actions of members in a way that "assumes us all to be incapable of interpreting basic rules while preserving the vital importance of and the existence of parliamentary privilege".

Standing Order 218 was introduced after the Supreme Court ruled that a former PAC had gone significantly beyond its remit in questioning former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins in 2014. File picture: CourtPix
Standing Order 218 was introduced after the Supreme Court ruled that a former PAC had gone significantly beyond its remit in questioning former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins in 2014. File picture: CourtPix

However, PAC chair Brian Stanley has now drafted a “suggested change” to the rule, which was to be discussed at the private meeting of the PAC earlier today. It’s understood that the change was drafted following comment by the committee’s membership.

It states that the committee shall have the “power to examine and report upon a specific matter of general public interest relating to the appropriation of public moneys which is not comprehended by appropriation accounts or reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General”.

“There’s a general feeling that this [standing order 218] has gone too far,” Mr Stanley told the Irish Examiner

I think there is unanimity that the new standing order ties the hands of the committee, which is the watchdog of public spending.

“But it’s not enough to moan about it,” he said. 

I believe in fixing things that need to be fixed. This is the first time that we’ve put together a proposal to actually change it. 

“This isn’t to go rogue, the Ceann Comhairle can only interpret what’s there with the standing orders. I understand and respect that. But this has restricted the committee over the past six months. We need the additional elbow room,” he said.

Asked how he thought the change could be adopted, Mr Stanley said “it needs to go the shortest route”. 

“That could be the Committee on Procedure, or it could be the Committee on Dáil Reform, but my preference would be that it goes through a Dáil motion in the chamber, which ultimately is the decision-making body,” he said.

 

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