The Oireachtas Committee System

19th January, 2009

I estimate that I spend at least 1/3 of my time in the Oireachtas attending Committee meetings. The Committee system has begun to attract a lot of criticism because of their cost and also because of their sheer number. I think there are 26 formal committees and at least another 10 sub or special committees. Enda asked me to chair a sub committee into Ireland’s Future in Europe so I quickly gained an insight into how it all works and what is good and bad about the set up. I have also attached a very good overview which Michael O’Regan of the Irish Times did for the Drivetime RTE programme. In this clip he gives a good review of the system and is good enough to pick out my Lisbon sub committee as a body which did some good work. I have been struck by a lot of things about the Committee system.

Firstly, many of these bodies do a lot of good and important work. In the last 2 months we have seen examples of the Health Committee (grilling Brendan Drumm over HSE plans), the Public Accounts Committee (on FAS), the Agricultural Committee (on the pork crisis) and the Transport Committee (on the taxi business) doing work which is important for our country.

However this work is overshadowed by the fact that there are just too many of these committees in existence. In the whole area of Finance for example there is the Finance Committee and the Regulatory Affairs Committee. For legal matters we have the Justice Committee and the Constitutional Affairs Committee. For environmental matters we have the Climate Change Committee and the Environmental Committee. There can and should be a big reduction in the number of these organisations.

Finally, one of the reasons that these committees are needed is because of the complexity of ‘government’. The best example of this for me is the European Scrutiny Committee. Such a body (chaired by my colleague John Perry TD) spends a huge amount of time analysing and detailing regulations from the EU. This kind of work would overwhelm any committee not set up to deal specifically with this area.

So what needs to be done? There does need to be a reduction in the number of committees and the number of posts associated with committees. However there also needs to be more understanding of the work the remaining committees actually perform. The media have been legitimate in pointing out the flaws of the current system but they have a role to play in ensuring a new system works better by covering what happens in the meetings and reporting on the work produced by them.

Please find the below review by Michael O’Regan.