Belfast Telegraph

Political reform measures pledged

Giving members of the public a role in the law-making process will become "the norm" under a new package of Dail reforms, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has confirmed.

The Government will publish plans for an overhaul of the political system tomorrow, aimed at making the legislative system more effective and consultative.

This will include inviting citizens, members of organisations and agencies into the Dail to help prepare legislation - to give an indication of what Irish society really wants.

"What we're doing as part of the process that we're developing here is giving citizens far more engagement in the process of developing legislation that affects them," Mr Kenny said.

"That's going to become the norm. Every minister from now on will refer heads of bill to committee chairpersons, engage with the committee, set timelines for the legislation, so you get a full and very thorough analysis of what it is you want in it, how it should be placed in it, who it is going to affect and so on."

The plan is a central part of the Government's campaign to abolish the Seanad.

Parts of the reform package depend on the scrapping of the upper house, but other measures will come into force regardless of how the public votes in the referendum on October 4.

The changes are aimed at moving the current law-making process from nine stages in two houses to seven stages in one.

Members of the public who are invited to take part in the pre-legislative process will be expected to demonstrate relevant expertise.

Mr Kenny said the Government had already begun this process in the drafting of recent landmark abortion laws, when medical and legal figures were called before a committee for their expert opinion.

"What we've started in part of the process some time ago, with the Children's First Bill, the ABC Bill, the Abortion Bill, is to engage at the pre-legislative stage by bringing in citizens, the public, members of organisations, agencies or indeed individuals," Mr Kenny said.

"To help the process of far more comprehensive analysis of how you prepare the legislation, what you want in it. So the minister in government has a full range of views in Irish society."

A Government source confirmed the Dail reform package, which will be launched by the Taoiseach and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, will include additional sitting time, changes to the current guillotine system and improving accountability.

Other reforms will include changes to topical issues, strengthening the link between Oireachtas committees and the Dail, developing the financial scrutiny role of Oireachtas committees, and the introduction of measures to improve the progress of legislation.

Meanwhile, launching the Labour Party's campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum, the Tanaiste rejected accusations from the Opposition that the Government was attempting a "power grab".

"This is about asking the people of the country to make a decision - a very straightforward decision - whether we will have one parliamentary chamber or two," Mr Gilmore said.

He said the Government's package of Dail reforms was aimed at ensuring the public has access to the legislative process.

"Whether it is business organisations, or trade unions or professional bodies, or whatever, if they have a political interest in a legislative issue, they will always knock on the door," Mr Gilmore added.

"What we have to do is make sure that members of the public are heard."

Fine Gael launched its campaign to abolish the Seanad yesterday, while Fianna Fail launched its counter drive for a No vote in the referendum.

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