With the return of Dáil reform to the political agenda, it is timely to revisit a previous reform aimed at making the Dáil more transparent and responsive to the citizens it serves. Over 15years ago, Standing Order 59 changed the relationship between members of the Dáil and the citizens. This reform of parliamentary privilege was to change the nature of political speech rights in Irish politics. The rule change meant that members of the Dáil would be made to answer for their statements when they damaged the reputation of a member of the public. At the time of introduction, this rule was met with claims that the provision would restrict the right to freedom of expression in the chamber and that the traditional role and protections for parliamentarians would be changed forever. There were also fears that it would create a stifled debating chamber, thereby curtailing the role of Parliament. Over 15 years after its introduction, the ability of members to scrutinise issues in the public interest is back on the agenda. There has already been one failed Oireachtas Inquiries referendum and pressure is growing for further reform of institutions to bring an investigative or inquires remit to the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is timely to assess the changes created by the original reform. This report analyses the reasons for the reform, concerns expressed at the time and whether the change has resulted in a more engaged parliament and it analyses the use of Standing Order 59. The results of the study show that the level of awareness of the change is minimal and questions whether reform is successful if the changes are not widely known and used.
- committee systems
- Dáil Éireann
- freedom of expression
- parliamentary speech and parliamentary privilege