Expert forum to advise on the misuse of Dáil privilege…

This was launched whilst I was away, but it’s long overdue. I’m pretty certain Dail privilege is cast iron guaranteed via Article 15.10 of the Irish Constitution, but that guarantee has been used to launch attacks on individuals outside parliament.

So Ceann Comhairle Sean O’Fearghaíl (the Dail’s first freely elected ‘speaker’) has announced the establishment of an expert forum on Dáil privilege.

According to the terms of reference, there are two key issues at play (PDF):

…make recommendations on how to strike a fair balance in relation to:

(i) freedom of debate and protection of the citizen’s constitutional rights to his or her good name
and to privacy; and
(ii) freedom of debate and the rights of the individual in the context of court proceedings.

It’s specific about what’s under consideration, re the administration of Dail standing orders (PDF):

– the operation of Dáil Standing Order 59 (‘the sub judice rule’)
– the operation of Dáil Standing Order 61 (‘Defamatory Utterances’);
– similar issues of privilege arising under Articles 15.12 and 15.13 of the Constitution;
– avenues of redress for persons who have been found to have been adversely affected by
statements made under privilege;
– the sanctions which the Dáil may impose for abuse of privilege;

The forum consists of former government chief whip Mary Hanafin, former editor of Irish Times Conor Brady, senior counsel Conleth Bradley and UCD’s widely respected Professor David Farrell will act as chair.

They’ve made a call for submissions from the public on the matter…

The Forum now wishes to hear from interested members of the public and is seeking written submissions addressing the following 6 questions as applicable in Dáil Éireann:-

1. What constitutes a responsible use of freedom of debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas?

2. How should freedom of debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas and the right of an individual to his or her good name be balanced against each other?

3. How should freedom of debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas and the rights of the individual in court proceedings be balanced against each other?

4. If a person’s good name has been impugned in the Houses of the Oireachtas, or his or her privacy has been breached, what procedure should be in place (within the Oireachtas itself) to deal with the abuse of privilege?

5. What recourse should the citizen have where his or her good name or privacy rights have been interfered with by the abuse of privilege? What measures to protect the good name of the citizen should be considered?

6. What sanctions should be imposed on a Member who has abused privilege?

Submissions should be sent by email to privilegeforum@oireachtas.ie (email attachments will not be accepted), or by post to the Journal Office, Houses of the Oireachtas Service, Leinster House, Dublin 2, D02 XR20.

The deadline for receipt of written submissions is 11 September 2017 at 6pm.

The forum will start detailed work in September, with their first report expected to be by taken the Ceann Comhairle by the end of November.

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  • Jag

    An utter and complete waste of time, effort and money.

    The Constitution guarantees the absolute privilege of statements made by politicians in the Oireachtas. So, unless there’s going to be a referendum, there won’t be any change.

    Talk of fining TDs/senators for breaking rules in making accusations against individuals and companies is also rubbish because it will unfairly target those of limited means, and will also be unconstitutional.

    The use of privilege to make claims about individuals and businesses has been exceedingly rare. The claims about Siteserv gave rise to a commission of investigation, the claims about NAMA/Project Eagle gave rise to a public accounts committee inquiry and now, a commission of investigation, the claims by Mary Lou McDonald about named individuals and offshore bank accounts were denied by those about whom they were made and Mary Lou got a slap on the wrist, which is about as much as she deserved.

    The only reason there’s now going to be a “forum” is Paul Murphy TD claimed that Gardai had conspired to commit perjury during the recent trial of Paul and others for “falsely imprisoning” the former Tanaiste. Whether Paul Murphy was right or wrong, he certainly has grounds to believe he was right, and it was a matter of national importance, the trust in the Gardai. He was not out of order raising the matter, in my view.

    This forum is going nowhere.

  • steve white

    I’d like a bit more explanation from Mary Lou McDonald about what she was up to? That Gerard Ryan guy complained about things not being investigated properly then went quiet.

  • mickfealty

    Think standing orders and the long term weakness of the CC office is the key targets here Jag: a position that cannot be resolved without the support of the Dail.

    The mainstream parties have never expressed an appetite for remedying that, and it sounds like he’ll no support from SF or the left for anything that curbs the enthusiasm of their TDs for raising their profiles.

    Still, it might raise some good ideas. Letting TDs freely defame individuals on less evidence than a tabloid journalist does negatively affect the general standing of politicians.

  • steve white

    the Programme for Partnership government includes (pg 153)
    http://www.merrionstreet.ie/MerrionStreet/en/ImageLibrary/Programme_for_Partnership_Government.pdf

    Constitutional Reform
    We propose that a number of referenda be held. These include referenda on:
    Giving the Office of the Ceann Comhairle constitutional standing, as recommended by the Constitutional Convention

    TDs are not mere tabloid journalists.