Belfast Telegraph

Changing constitution 'essential'

Changing the constitution to give Oireachtas committees enhanced powers of inquiry is essential to give a more open, transparent form of Government, it has been claimed.

The Government has published the wording of the constitutional amendment to be put to the public in a referendum held on the same day as the presidential election.

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin said the proposed change was a key element of the Government`s political reform agenda.

"Ensuring that the Oireachtas has an effective system of inquiry which can secure effective and cost-efficient parliamentary scrutiny of issues of significant public importance is essential in facilitating more open, transparent and better Government as promised in the Programme for Government," Mr Howlin said.

The referendum, if passed, will overturn the Abbeylara judgment which said the Oireachtas did not have the power to initiate inquiries and therefore overstepped its mark when it opened an investigation into the shooting dead of John Carty at his home in Abbeylara, Co Longford, during a stand-off with gardai in 2000.

The Government said any inquiries held as a result of the referendum being passed will be held in private, with a written report issued at its conclusion.

Mr Howlin said the Abbeylara judgment had inhibited the Oireachtas from working as a parliament and "from holding the Government to account properly, agents of the state and the general workings of the state to account".

Fianna Fail's public expenditure and reform spokesman Sean Fleming welcomed the amendment.

"The referendum and legislation is necessary to ensure the elected representatives of the people have appropriate powers to investigate matters in the public interest. Such inquiries have been prohibited following the Abbeylara judgment," Mr Fleming said.

The Bill allowing for the constitutional amendment will begin its passage through the Dail on Thursday, and complete the Seanad no later than September 22.

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