The Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy T.D. wishes to announce that the Government has authorised the presentation of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Bill to Dáil Éireann. The Bill provides for the establishment of an independent Commission to oversee and control the funding and organisation of the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas. This is a very significant change which is part of an overall series of changes and reforms provided for by the Government to ensure a more accountable and better resourced Parliamentary system.
In recent years there has been a significant expansion of the business of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The development of the committee system in particular has resulted in considerably greater and more structured direct contact with members of the public through representative organisations and interest groups. There has also been a more intensive supervision of the activities of Government by the Dáil and Seanad, particularly through the select committees which now deal with estimates, legislation and other issues affecting Departments. A perception exists among members that these changes have not been reflected in terms of the resources, staff and organisation of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Many members believe that this is impacting negatively on the effectiveness of members as public representatives and some regard it as inconsistent with the independence of Parliament that its resources are determined annually in the same way as those of Government Departments.
As Minister for Finance I can appreciate the perceptions of fellow members of the Oireachtas. Accordingly, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Bill provides for fundamental changes in the governance and financing of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Bill has two main elements:-
The Houses of the Oireachtas will cease to be funded through the normal Estimates and Vote procedure. Instead the Bill will provide for a sum of money intended to be charged on the Central Fund over a period of three years. Each year the Oireachtas will be presented with a statement of the expenditure by the Houses showing how a portion of that fund will be spent in a particular year. This will be introduced by a member of the Oireachtas Commission and, instead of being formally granted by a vote, will be taken note of by the Houses. This will replace the current procedure whereby its annual estimate is presented by the Minister for Finance. When the overall sum has been spent new legislation will be required to replenish it. This provides the Oireachtas with a regular opportunity for a general debate on its finances.
Secondly, the Bill provides for a Commission which will take responsibility for the funding, organisation and staffing of the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It will be Chaired by the Ceann Comhairle, have the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and the Clerk of Dáil Éireann as ex-officio members, as well as a representative of the Minister for Finance (who, except for dissolution periods, will be a member of the Oireachtas). It will also include up to an additional seven representatives of parliamentarians. The manner in which the parliamentary representatives are to be chosen is left to the agreement of the Houses of the Oireachtas.
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