CATHERINE MURPHY’S DÁIL DEBATES
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Alternatively you can search the Oireachtas website (www.oireachtas.ie) here to see the debates I have taken part in.
Another useful resource that provides easy links to and statistics about my participation in the Dáil Debates is www.kildarestreet.com, click here to go directly to their page on my debating and voting statistics.
When the Dáil is in session Debates take place throughout the day on whatever motions or legisltation have been scheduled by the Government Whip in accordance with the agreement of the opposition Whips – n.b. whips are simply TDs that have been appointed by their groups or parties to coordinate its business and liase with the other whips, although in the case of parties this role also extends to informing TDs as to the party’s position on issues and how to vote on them.
The legislative programme – i.e. the schedule according to which Bills are introduced to the Oireachtas, discussed under the various stages required by the legislative process, and put before the Dáil and Seanad to be accepted or rejected – is determined almost entirely by the Government. The only opportunity that opposition TDs and groups have to introduce their own legislation and determine when it may be discussed is under the heading of “Private Members Time” (3 hours weekly in total, usually broken into 1.5 hour segments which start at 7pm on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings). While it is open to the government to accept legislative proposals made by the opposition and schedule them into the daily Oireachtas schedule, in reality this rarely if ever happens.
Equally, again save for Private Members Time, the government also determines what motions come before the Dáil for general debate – i.e. debates in which members from each recognised Dáil group or parliamentary party are eligible to take part.
TDs can request that a Minister discuss a particular matter with them in the Dáil for a limited time on any sitting day which are known as ‘Topical Debates’. In such debates the TD who proposes the matter must submit it on the day they wish to be allocated time and only 4 items are taken each day.
Parliamentary questions are another avenue for obtaining information from government ministers on the record of the house, you can learn more about these at “Parliamentary Questions”.
Speaking Time on Legislation and Motions
Debate time is split 50:50 basis between government and opposition. Therefore, although the Government of the 31st Dáil currently has 103 Dáil seats and the opposition 61*, the opposition gets roughly half of the time to fill.
The basic pattern used to divide up debate time is as follows:
Opening Remarks (usually 30 minute slots): Government, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Technical Group
First Round of Debate (usually 20 minute slots): Government, Fianna Fáil, Government, Sinn Féin, Government, Technical Group
Second Round: Government, Fianna Fáil, Government, Sinn Féin, Government, Fianna Fáil, Government, Technical Group, Government, Others
Third Round: Government, Fianna Fáil, Government, Sinn Féin, Government, Technical Group
Wrap Up: When all members schedule to speak have made their contributions, the Minister responsible for the bill or motion makes a final speech, informally referred to as the “wrap up”.
If any Deputy fails to fill their slot, they do not get an opportunity to come back in again unless by agreement of the Ceann Comhairle and Members.
The ‘Guillotine’ is an informal term applied to cases where the Government votes to bring debate to a close (sometimes called ‘cloture’) earlier than usual allotted time. Use of the guillotine is extremely controversial, particularly if it is abused to try and limit the amount of time the Opposition has to bring scrutiny to a bill which may be unpopular or contain elements a Government may not wish to have scrutinised. In some cases, Governments have given virtually no time to debates on very important pieces of legislation, such as the IBRC Act of February 2013 (liquidating IBRC) and the Water Services No 2 Act of December 2013 (establishing Irish Water).
*State of the 31st Dáil as at September 2014 can be viewed here.
Private Members Time
This time is usually used to discuss motions introduced by the various groups of the opposition (Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin & the Dáil Technical Group) who alternate possession of this 3 hour period each week – this is usually equally divided between Tuesday & Wednesday evenings and tends to begin at 7pm.
The subject-matter that discussed during this period each week is always determined by the opposition group whose turn it is to take the lead, the group in question also has a large amount of the speaking time on the topic during their week in possession (1hr 25 minutes over the two evenings) with the other opposition groups having only 30 minutes between them and the government using 1hr 5minutes. In order to determine which group has possession of this valuable debate time each week a specific pattern has been devised which is based on the number of seats each group has. That pattern is as follows:
Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Dáil Technical Group, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Dáil Technical Group, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Technical Group.
You’ll note that Fianna Fáil has one extra slot above that which Sinn Féin and The Dáil Technical Group control. This is because Fianna Fáil has a marginally higher number of TDs in the Dáil than Sinn Féin and the Dáil Technical Group, who each respectively have 14 and 16 Dáil seats as compared to Fianna Fáil’s 20.
The Rules of the Dáil
All the rules that determine how Dáil Business is conducted and how members should behave while in the Dáil are set out in the Standing Orders Relative To Public Business which can be found at www.oireachtas.ie. All of the above information is based on those rules and procedures along with first-hand experience of how the Dáil works.
For more information on the Dáil and Seanad visit www.oireachtas.ie or www.kildarestreet.com