The Chairman of the Dáil, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, has said pending reforms as to who Committees operate would negate any need for sanctions for politicians who break the law.
Speaking today, the Ceann Comhairle said the apology he offered to former Rehab boss Angela Kerins was made in a personal capacity as he had no authority to make it on behalf of the Dáil.
“What I said I said on my own behalf and very carefully in a personal capacity. I had not been authorised by the Dáil or any committee of the Dáil to say so but my reaction was on foot of careful reading of the Supreme Court ruling and on deliberations here as how to implement the recommendations that are implicit in what the Supreme Court found,” he said.
While the Supreme Court judgement in the Kerins case referred to the need for adequate sanctions for those politicians who are found to have breached the rules, Mr Ó Fearghaíl said TDs and Senators must ensure members of the public who appear before committees are treated fairly.
“The idea of putting sanctions in place is something identified by the Supreme Court. I would like to think that we would have such a process in place here that the need for sanction would never arise but we need to look at how we can redress any wrong done in a committee to a member of the public, particularly a member of the public,” he said.
We are well used to taking criticisms ourselves as politicians, but when a member of the public comes in here, they have a right to expect that the highest standards pertain. Remember we are lawmakers, we make the law, at least the public can expect is that the standards we apply are at least commensurate with the laws we set.
When asked about the risk of committees having their powers nobbled, the Ceann Comhairle said the new rules will “empower” committees to do their work effectively.
“We cannot overreact, we must be measured in what we do. The reforms we put in place must empower committees to operate more effectively, but within the context of standing orders, due process and the law,” he said.
Asked did he think those members of the former Public Accounts Committee, who were found to have exceeded their remit should apologise, Mr Ó Fearghaíl said that is entirely a matter for themselves.
He said the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission must ensure TDs must stop falling over themselves to bring the same witnesses in before several committees at the same time.
“I think we have to do two things. We have to look at our own practice to streamline it, to eliminate any unnecessary duplication. There may be circumstances in which two committees on occasion may have to look at a particular matter, but it should be the exception rather than the rule,” he said.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl was speaking at the launch of the ‘Treasures of the Oireachtas Library’ project, which reveals unusual items of national significance which will now be available online.
As part of Dáil 100 celebrations, the Oireachtas Library opened up a special collections range from the late sixteenth century onwards and include historical monographs, maps, periodicals, cartoons, prints and pamphlets.
They represent a unique perspective on Anglo-Irish relations and administration during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Mr Ó Fearghaíl said.
At the launch, the Ceann Comhairle outlined the contents of a booklet which contained three appeals: two from Ireland to America in June 1917 and one from America to Ireland in May 1775.
The first appeal is an open letter to President Woodrow Wilson by Patrick McCartan, a medical doctor, revolutionary, and politician. It describes the link between Ireland and America, the American Revolution, Irish efforts for independence, and English attempts to maintain rule over Ireland.
The second appeal is from a group of Irish Volunteers to the U.S. Congress and President. The third appeal is an extract from the Journals of Congress prepared by delegates appointed at the United Colonies in General Congress, Philadelphia, 1775.
The appeal is directed to the people of Ireland. It states their motives for taking up arms and outlines the English force against Americans, noting that the United States would offer the Irish ‘a safe asylum’.
Details of the project can be found here.