Dáil Éireann - Volume 433 - 21 July, 1993


Mr. T. O'Sullivan: I wish to present the report from the Committee on Enterprise and Economic Strategy. Since the committee was established on 5 May we have considered an Estimate for the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Estimates for the Department of the Marine, the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications, the Department of Tourism and Trade and the Department of Enterprise and Employment. The committee has also been given the task of taking Committee Stage of the Aviation Authority Bill and this is currently under consideration.

The committee is served by one officer at assistant principal level who is its clerk. There are problems regarding the staffing arrangements because clerical staff has not been available to the secretary of the committee to date, this is a major problem. I understand the Department has been requested to provide back-up staff at all levels but we are still awaiting clarification.

Since the committee was established we have encountered some problems and I note the points by the chairman of the Committee on Finance and General Affairs, Deputy Ellis, who contributed to the debate this morning. The committee [2158] is hampered by the restrictive nature of its terms of reference. The fact that we cannot summon a witness is a major obstacle to the development of the committee system. There is also the question of privilege for those making submissions to the committee. They should be entitled to the privilege extended to Members of this House. Without this facility problems could arise in the coming months, particularly in view of the Glackin report which was presented to us recently. This is the first time that any committee has had an opportunity to discuss a report of this nature.

Before we embark on this course it will be necessary to ensure that we have satisfactory back-up available to the committee, that we have expert advice available to us and that proper funding will be provided. This is essential if the committee is to carry out its functions properly. The report has been submitted to the committee for consideration. Precisely what the Dáil requires of the committee will have to be spelled out, carefully noting the very sensitive nature of this report.

I have the utmost faith in the continuing development of these committees. We had some initial problems regarding hours of sitting. We also have a problem regarding a suitable venue and this matter has already been raised here this morning. There is some confusion as to whether we should sit on days when there is a plenary session of the Dáil, and Deputy Rabbitte referred to this already in his contribution this morning. This matter must be examined carefully because members of the committee have been called away to vote in this House. I accept that proceedings in this House take precedence over the functions of the committees and I realise we are subject to the rules and regulations which govern business in this House. For that reason it is essential that the teething problems are resolved, hopefully before sittings of the committees are resumed. There is now ample time for us to consider how we will tackle these problems.

There is also the question of the extent [2159] of funds available to the committee. To date the liaison committee, which is responsible for providing funds to the various committees of this House has not met. How much funding will be available to us? What legal back-up and expertise will be available to us? There is another problem in that civil servants who would be called to brief or give evidence to the committee do not enjoy privilege. I see this as a likely obstacle in the way of a full discussion of the various issues that will arise from time to time. If this privilege cannot be extended to the Civil Service what effect will that have on the running of the committee? I believe it could be disastrous. If people in the employment of the State feel the evidence they present to the committee might leave them open to prosecution, it would hamper the work of the committee considerably. For that reason, these problems must be addressed.

There are precedents in this regard. Our counterparts in Britain have used the committee system for many years. There are a number of points which I have studied regarding the manner in which they conduct their business. For instance, what happens when there is no agreement at committee level? This will become relevant in the coming months when we depart from Committee Stage of a Bill, for which there is ample precedent, and indeed the consideration of Estimates. There is a traditional method of dealing with these matters and it does not present a challenge. We are carrying out work normally done in the House on Committee Stage. We are breaking new ground in the consideration of various reports but if a problem arises regarding the presentation of a report from this House what procedure must the committee follow? There must be some clarification regarding the committee's terms of reference. What type of report will the House require in this regard and in what detail? Is the committee required to examine work already covered in this case by the Glackin report? I perceive our committee's role as one where, arising from the Glackin report, we would [2160] identify any weakness in the system and the areas where there is a need for legislation to cover matters such as taxation and company law, rather than going over the ground already covered by the committee in an interim report, a final report and in the earlier McDonagh report on this issue.

I would thank the clerk of the committee, Cliona O'Rourke, who was presented with a daunting task. I realise that civil servants are not normally mentioned in the House but it is only right that this young woman should be mentioned because she did tremendous work on behalf of the committee. She dealt with an uncharted area and for that reason it was an extremely difficult task. We tend to work on precedent here but, in its absence, it requires someone who is extremely resourceful to make a system work effectively.

I thank both convenors, Deputy Lawlor on the Government side and Deputy Creed of Fine Gael, and all those who participated in the various debates in a constructive manner during the past few months thereby ensuring that the committee system proved successful. I have no doubt that in the years ahead it will be recognised that the decision to set up these committees was a wise one. I sincerely hope that we will be able to overcome the problems we have encountered to date and thereby improve the system. As Deputy Michael Ahern said, we have been given an opportunity to discuss legislation in greater detail on Committee Stage. This will prove to be of benefit in relation to legislation that emerges from this House.

Mr. Creed: While it may be represented in the media that this session is being held to show that the Dáil is not in recess, the purpose is to report to the Dáil on the way the committee system which was established recently is operating. Members who have spoken have been frank. While the principle is an excellent one it has to be said that there are some glaring deficiencies.

Under the committee system all Members of the House can become more [2161] involved in considering the Estimates for the various Government Departments, teasing out legislation or, as Deputy O'Sullivan said, examining reports which are laid before the committees. In a relatively short period a number of glaring deficiencies have been highlighted. In doing that we are not being critical of any Member of this House; rather we hope that this will be accepted and that the committees will be reformed within a short period.

The first of these deficiencies relates to the logistics in regard to the sitting arrangements. Like the Chairman of the Select Committee on Enterprise and Economic Strategy, I can recall vividly the difficulties encountered during the opening session in selecting suitable dates. This raises the question of whether Members of this House should have a dual mandate; in other words, whether they should be Members of this House and a local authority or Members of this House and the European Parliament at the same time. It is becoming obvious that it will be impossible to operate the committee system effectively if Members of this House have a dual mandate. What happened on the day the Select Committee on Enterprise and Economic Strategy first met was unedifying in that the legislators were dragged screaming to the altar of legislation, unwillingly.

The debates on the Estimates by the select committee were enlightening and I compliment each Minister, and departmental officials, who appeared before the select committee for being frank in their responses. However, some deficiencies were highlighted. In conjunction with the Estimate for the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications the select committee considered the Aer Lingus débâcle. Unfortunately, the select committee was not in a position to invite the relevant personnel dealing with the rescue package at Aer Lingus, including Mr. Cahill, to appear before it to pursue that matter.

That brings me to legislation in particular the Irish Aviation Authority Bill. This is one of the areas where the select committee has proved to be useful. [2162] Prior to the establishment of the committee system there was a demand for legislation which was being held up due to the backlog. The legislation before the select committees is being considered in detail and not being rushed through. That is as it should be. During the briefing sessions backbench members, particularly the Opposition, are given an insight into the legislation.

I should like to refer to the Glackin report on the Telecom affair to which the Chairman referred. In the absence of legislation under which we would be allowed invite witnesses to be cross-examined with the benefit of privilege we will only muddy the waters in considering that report and vent prejudice about that incident without referring in any meaningful way to the facts as we will not be able to interrogate the chief players in that saga. Legislation is therefore needed as a matter of urgency. I suggest that we should not consider that report in the absence of legislation, which was promised in this House, under which we would be allowed to invite witnesses who could be interrogated with the benefit of privilege.

In conclusion, I thank and compliment the Chairman of the select committee, Deputy O'Sullivan, who has been fair in dealing with all members when considering Estimates or legislation.

Mr. O'Malley: We now have limited experience, just a few months, of a more extensive committee system in this House. The most positive thing that can be said is that at least it has potential but this will not be realised until certain changes, which I will advocate during the next few minutes, are made and unless there is a general desire, particularly on the part of the Government, to make improvements in the system. As I look in front of me I wonder if there is a desire on the part of the Government to do anything about the committee system given that no member of the Fianna Fáil Party is present.

Where the Committee Stage of a Bill is referred to one of the select committees and sufficient time is allowed for a full [2163] Committee Stage debate the committee system is more useful than if the debate was in the House. However, if attempts are made to guillotine Committee Stage debates it is obviously not more useful; it is less so. The big drawback of covering Committee Stage in a select committee, from the point of view of Members of this House, is the lack of coverage in the press compared with the coverage when it is debated in the Dáil. This was certainly noticeable on Committee Stage of the Finance Bill and the tax amnesty Bill over the past two months. The Committee Stages of both Bills were extremely important but were scarcely reported.

The consideration of Estimates by the committees is not different in any major way from the procedure in the House, except that there is a guarantee of some debate and the ability to ask questions. However, it is not a particularly satisfactory system and a greater opportunity to speak should be given to all Members. The consideration of Estimates should be reasonably open-ended and should not be confined to relatively short periods.

The greatest weakness of the committees is their lack of enforceable power to send for persons and papers. This is especially noticeable on the Joint Committee on Commercial State-sponsored Bodies where the executive chairman of one State-sponsored company refused to appear before the committee and finally agreed to turn up only after the Government and the Dáil had approved certain proposals he had put forward in relation to the company. Unless all Dáil committees have the enforceable power to send for persons and papers and to examine persons, including Ministers, on relevent policy questions, and the power to do so at relatively short notice, these committees will not be effective. It is imperative that the committees have power to examine Ministers on current matters. Ministers should be entitled to some reasonable notice of three or four days and should not be subjected to examination more than once a month or nine or ten times a year.

The ability to examine certain topics [2164] of importance in some depth with Ministers on policy questions through these committees is vital when one sees how limited in value the present format of Question Time in the Dáil has become. Even though the time for questions in the Dáil has been extended, it is rare to have more than 15-20 questions answered in any one day. The priority questions system is largely breaking down because of the tendency of Ministers to answer a large number of questions together in one composite answer at great length, which uses most of the time available to Members and prevents any meaningful number of supplementaries being asked or pressed.

It is unsatisfactory that the majority of chairpersons of committees are from the Government side of the House and that some of them see their function as facilitating the Government and its interests. Any committee will tend to be dominated by its chairperson and will only be as strong or as useful as its chairperson. A great deal more thought and care should have been given to the appointment of chairpersons on several of these committees to make them work more effectively. The Government has given an indication to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance of its willingness to agree in principle to introduce legislation in the autumn, giving the necessary powers to committees of the House to send for persons and papers and to enforce those requests. It is imperative that this is done and that the legislation is passed as quickly as possible in the autumn because the committees will be ineffectual until it is done.

The ability of properly constituted committees in other jurisdictions to examine Ministers and others from whom they wish to hear evidence, is very valuable. The country and this House are wrong to deprive themselves unnecessarily of the same power. It is also noticeable that committees examining Bills are not sending for persons or organisations with a particular point of view who should be able to give evidence to the committee on the relevant sections, to express the arguments for and against the different [2165] points of view before the committee makes up its mind as to how to finalise the relevant sections.

The resources of the committees in terms of professional or administrative back-up are very limited. These resources should ideally be expanded, available to the committee as a whole and to individual members and not just to the chairperson. If the House and the Government are prepared to accept the spirit of what I have been saying and the suggestions I have been making and are prepared to expand the powers, scope and work of the committees on these lines the system can be a success. It will not work if it is seen simply as an extension of Government control over the Oireachtas to individual committees. There is a particular danger with a Government majority of 35 in the House that the normal tendency for the Government to dominate the Dáil will be more accentuated than ever. It is necessary for the House to assert its parliamentary role. If the House wants to work the committee system properly it can go a long way towards achieving this purpose but if it wants to use the committees simply as rubber stamps for the Government in the way the House is frequently used, it will not be successful. Because of the size of the Government majority the need is greater than ever, but, because of that majority, the opportunity is also greater than ever if the Government parties are prepared to allow it to be availed of.

In general terms if this House becomes less and less meaningful, opposition to Government policy and examination of Government proposals will move increasingly from here to extra parliamentary opposition and to the media. The first alternative of extra parliamentary opposition is a danger to democracy and while media analysis is vital the media should not be the primary focus of analysis in a healthy domocracy. That should be in the elected parliament and in its properly constituted and properly empowered committees and I hope it will develop here in the months and years ahead.

[2166] Throughout my remarks I emphasised the necessity for the willingness of the Government to accept the spirit of what is being sought to be done. The absence of any member or representative of the Government here makes me pessimistic about the spirit that needs to be applied to this. It is very disappointing. Let us hope there will be some change of heart but if there is not, the committee system will not work.

Mr. Sargent: Is a translation system from English to Irish and vice versa available here?

Acting Chairman (Mr. McGrath): Yes, a translation from Irish to English is available on the headphones.

Mr. Sargent: Cuirim fáilte roimh na coistí thar cheann an Chomhaontais Glas. Is mór an trua gur mhinic nach raibh aon chóras aistriúcháin ag an gcoiste ar a raibh mé féin i mo bhall de. Léiríonn sé nach bhfuil an tábhacht atá tuillte ag na coistí ann i ndáirire, ó thaobh an Rialtais de.

Ar dtús, cuirim fáilte rompu go ginearálta mar tugann siad seans dúinn go léir níos mó a chloisint agus a phlé, seachas a bheith in aon seomra amháin agus muid go léir ag éisteacht leis an duine amháin i gcónaí. Chomh maith leis sin braithim go bhfuil meon oibre ag na coistí agus go bhfuil na baill ag iarraidh rud éigin a dhéanamh. Caithfear fáilte a chur roimhe sin gan amhras. Tá suim ag na baill a bhíonn i láthair san obair atá ar siúl; go praiticiúil measaim go dtugann sé deis do na baill rud éigin a fhoghlaim chomh maith le rud éigin a rá. Tá sé sin an-tábhachtach domsa mar Theachta nua.

Is trua dom roinnt rudaí ó thaobh na gcoistí, áfach. Luaigh mé ceist na teanga. Mar chomhairleoir chontae bhí sé i gcónaí deacair dom aon teanga seachas Béarla a úsáid. Nuair a toghadh don Dáil mé bhí mé ag súil leis an gcóras aistriúcháin anseo — sin an fáth a bhfuil an Ghaeilge á úsáid agam anois. Cheap me áfach go mbeadh córas aistriúcháin ar fáil [2167] sna coistí chomh maith. B'fhéidir nach raibh aon tagairt don cheist go dtí seo ach ba chóir don Rialtas freagra a thabhairt air: an bhfuil sé sásta an córas aistriúcháin a leathnú amach i dtreo is gur féidir linn go léir tairbhe a bhaint as?

Is aisteach a bheith ag caint ar an gComhphobal Eorpach — agus ar maidin bhí Baill ag iarraidh ceisteanna a chur maidir leis an gCiste Struchtúrtha — gan smaoineamh gur Comhphobal ilteangach atá ann. An bhfuilimid i ndáiríre faoin gcomhoibriú sa CE le tíortha i dteangacha eile agus gan aon chóras aistriúcháin ar fáil anseo i gcoistí na Dála? Measaim go bhfuilimid beagáinín lag-mhisniúil mar gheall air agus ní dóigh liom go dtuigimid i gceart cad go díreach atá romhainn.

The committees present an opportunity for in-depth discussion on the various elements of economics. Many people will not be familiar with the Green Party's perspective on economics. People involved in the Green Party are central to the changes which are essential for progress. In discussing the economic system at committee level and in Dáil Éireann recognition should be given to the individual self-worth which is not recognised in the present system under which unemployment is increasing.

There is scope for greater efficiency in the workings of the committee system. Many Bills have been extremely late in coming before committees, particularly the Finance Bill in view of its size. Some of the explanations of sections of the Road Traffic Bill were very helpful. The informal briefing session which takes place prior to open discussion in committees is very useful in that officials who are familiar with the legislation may answer questions that may not be the subject of amendments. This helps to provide an understanding of what is being done.

I will give one example of work that will be done in committee that would not otherwise be done in plenary session of the Dáil. The first section of a Bill normally outlines definitions of various matters which everybody understands but which, for the purposes of legislation, need [2168] to be defined. For example, the term “mechanically propelled vehicle” is used in the Road Traffic Bill but there is no differentiation as between one type of vehicle and another. Even though that term appeared in a previous Road Traffic Act it is not sufficiently defined. That matter was the cause of some debate in committee and the question as to whether bicycles were included was clarified. I am not sure whether skateboards are included. On a lighter note, I am sure Christy Moore would be interested to know whether surfboards, as referred to in one of his songs, are included. It is important that details which are not normally clarified in plenary session of the Dáil — quite often Dáil procedure stifles such debate — are teased out.

Central to the success of the committees will be the reforms which the Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Taylor, intends to introduce. This follows on the report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women which states that women are disadvantaged in society by virtue of the operation of the dual mandate whereby people simultaneously serve in the Oireachtas and on county councils. This matter has major implications for the committee system because conflicts of interest will arise in the event of committee meetings taking place on the same day as county council meetings. In these circumstances people invariably attend local authority meetings simply because committees do not receive as much media coverage as do local authorities. The report recommends that all political parties eliminate the practice of dual mandate, with effect from the next election.

Mr. Creed: The Deputy should lead by example.

Mr. Sargent: I presume the Minister is leading by example in most cases. He has expressed his interest in this matter and said that after the divorce referendum he will consider introducing legislation in this area. As has been suggested I have to some extent led by example. The Green Party has made available funds for [2169] research purposes and selected a person who will be ready to take on the role of councillor.

In the interests of democracy of the effective operation of the committee system, in addition to women being involved and represented in society, in particular in politics, we should introduce this reform.

Mr. Lawlor: My brief comments will concern the practical operations of the committee system as I interpret them to date. I would have agreed over many years with Deputy O'Malley's views — perhaps not in more recent years — and I agree with much of what he said this morning about the practical aspects of the operations of the committee system. Collectively, as parliamentarians, we are afforded a unique opportunity to ensure that this committee system works effectively. In this respect I do not think any Government or Opposition Member would deny, in their desire to have the committee system effective, the need, on a practical basis, for the appropriate facilities, such as electronic voting procedures. The mechanics of the operations of the committees are in need of detailed analysis. Therefore, I suggest that the chairmen and convenors including Opposition convenors, should get together and draw up a blueprint for presentation to the Government Whip on what are the requirements for this effective operation of the committee system.

I recognise that in the difficult financial circumstances obtaining the allocation to the House for this purpose probably did not adequastely take into account the requisite back-up staff and research requirements for the various committees. Additional resources will have to be provided. Prior to the preparation of the 1994 Estimate the Committee on Procedure and Privileges should request from the chairmen and convenors of the committees a comprehensive report on their requirements for submission to the Minister for Finance. We must emphasise the need for these committees to be productive and efficient.

I heard what Deputy Rabbitte said [2170] about discussing Estimates midway in the financial year. They having formed an integral part of the budget. Therefore, parliamentarians criticising, constructively or negatively, what was or was not included is a farcical, time-wasting exercise because, by then, the overall concept will have been adopted with Government Departments already expending the moneys allocated to them. It is ridiculous that we debate Estimates in this manner.

Deputy John Bruton, when Minister for Finance, and in more recent times, suggested the Book of Estimates, which has such a major impact on everything that occurs in the following financial year, be made available in the autumn. Members of the select committees should demand that these Estimates be available in the autumn so that Government Departments can be made aware of the views of parliamentarians in advance of the adoption of programmes of expenditure in any financial year.

The committee on which I serve, under the chairmanship of Deputy Toddy O'Sullivan, has now begun to consider legislation. Last week Deputies Noonan and O'Malley on the Irish Aviation Bill has an opportunity to make a greater input to the debate on this Bill within the more confined committee atmosphere. They obtained a great deal of information from the Minister and were afforded a great opportunity to put their views across. That was the practical advantage of dealing with that Bill in select committee.

While I am not satisfied with the total workings of the committee system we must recognise that we have an opportunity to rectify that position. We should draw up a blueprint to be adopted by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and submitted to the Government in the autumn to form a programme for the operations of the committees in 1994.

Mr. J. Bruton: We must see the reform of the Dáil, and the institution of this committee system, as part of a response by this House to an overall crisis of confidence in politics obtaining throughout [2171] the western world from which Ireland certainly has not escaped. There is a general feeling that, to a great extent, parliamentary politics is less and less relevant to the lives of ordinary people. To a great extent, it is less relevant than at a time when this House could institute tariffs on imports from other countries, when there was a realistic prospect that this country might take a major, independent foreign policy initiative, or when it was expected that the State, through the exercise of Keynesian economics, could solve virtually all economic problems by State action or when this House was much more central to the whole political process than it is today.

We continue with forms of activity that were appropriate to a House and a poltiical system that were actually able to exercise huge power on society on their own account without referral to other multi-national institutions, and had the confidence to actually command things to happen. That is no longer the case. The formal boundaries of politics are dissolving. In fact, the world of political parties is becoming increasingly less important in the lives of ordinary people. The number of people willing to become involved in party politics is becoming ever fewer. At the same time, there is a huge increase in the number of people willing to become involved in other types of organisations, for example, in women's movements, in community groups, in Leader programmes in rural areas and so on.

The general, common feature of all of this is that people are saying: “We can do it ourselves; we do not need the politicians, other than that the politicians should support us in doing things for ourselves; we reject the idea of politics as some type of process whereby things are done for us by others; we want politicians, in a sense, to get out of the road and let us get on with the journey”.

I see the institution of the commitee system as a very belated response by the political system to what is happening in the outside world. I see the committee system achieving that in a number of [2172] ways. It must do all of the things that have been called for in this debate. As a number of Members have pointed out, committees must have the power to require Ministers to appear before them regularly. A committee must have the power to reconsider the Estimates for spending for a given year before the money is spent; a committee that cannot call a Minister to account does not have authority. A committee that talks about spending after the money has been spent does not have authority. But, more imporantly, the committee system has the capacity that this House, in plenary session, can never have, of actually linking directly to people. It is possible for committes to hold hearings. For example, it is possible for committees of this House to allow women's groups, or community groups, to appear before them and give evidence, to make that connection between the lively world of voluntary organisations here and the increasingly atrophied world of party politics as expressed in this House. If this House is to revive in public respect it must draw a much closer link with the community organisations which are so lively in our society.

Whenever legislation is in contemplation, whenever a committee is considering work, rather than simply discuss it themselves in here, they should make specific arrangements to invite outside groups to participate in their work and appoint rapporteurs to go out on behalf the committee to examine a particular issue. There is no need to send a whole committee to, say, west Cork to talk about the problems of drift netting and its effects on the livelihoods of fishermen, licensing and so on. One member, a rapporteur, could be appointed to go and investigate that issue. He or she, by so doing, would be bringing the Dáil much closer to the people, would be allowing politics to revive itself by tapping into the sense of community where the real action is in Ireland today.

All of the political parties, in some senses, face a crisis of identity. But we must recognise that that crisis of identity [2173] which each of us in our own political way feels, some more intensely than others, in fact is a reflection of a much wider phenomenon, that of a general distancing of the general public from politics. If we are to restore politics to its proper place — I believe very strongly that most of the very serious problems obtaining here, particularly that of the unemployment, but also that of peace on the island and of the restoration of the strength and vibrancy of the family as an institution — those problems should be addressed by political action. Only changes in taxes and social welfare will solve unemployment and enhance the status of the family. If we are to have the political authority in this House to make those changes on behalf of the people we must recharge our batteries. It means that this House must listen to people by holding sessions throughout the country. While it is clear that the House as a whole in plenary session could never have done that it is patently obvious that committees of the House can. I strongly urge that the terms of reference be changed to allow more hearings to be held throughout the country and for rapporteurs to be appointed to look at particular issues as well as for better ordering of the business of the House, as suggested by many others.

I shall end my contribution with a quotation from an article in The Sunday Times of 18 July, which is very much on this theme:

But decline of the political party and the shrinking importance of the formal political world, with the consequent growing inability of the political system adequately to represent society, suggests there is a need for this to be complemented by forms of direct democracy as a means of enabling wider participation in the democratic process.

By meeting people rather than simply holding discussions here in committee rooms, the committee have the capacity to recharge the batteries of politics in a way that no other organ of this House has.

[2174] Mr. M. McDowell: I endorse Deputy John Bruton's remarks. Recently, in another capacity, I was looking at reports of the 1933 moneylenders Bill when it was going through the Free State Parliament. The curious thing was that when they got to Committee Stage it was sent off to a select committee and they brought in a selection of moneylenders from Dublin to discuss the issue with them while they were debating it. Certainly on the last occasion that I was a Member of this House I never saw a similar process, whereby a committee of this House charged with the drafting of legislation brought in people to advise them on Committee Stage. We have become hidebound in our concept of what a Committee Stage is by thinking that the only participants can be the Minister and the Opposition spokesmen or backbenchers whereas what Deputy Bruton has said is absolutely correct. When dealing with a bankruptcy Bill or a moneylenders' Bill the committee should discuss the implications of the legislation with people affected by it. For instance, the other day Deputy Nealon spoke about the effect of the new drink driving legislation on rural life and publicans' business in rural areas. Instead of pontificating from on high as Deputy Bruton said, it would be far more to the point if the rural vintners were invited to the Dáil and asked to express their views on this matter. To keep the matter on the straight and narrow and to provide balance the anti-drink driving lobby — Mothers Against Drunk Driving — should also be invited to give evidence before that committee. We have an odd notion that plenary session committees, which operate in this House, are the only model for conducting Committee Stage of legislation outside this House. If we go back to the Official Reports of the Irish Free State we will find that committees did not operate that way and it is about time they did.

Mr. T. O'Sullivan: It is necessary to recognise that the committee system has been in operation for less than three months. The first meeting of the Select Committee on Enterprise and Economic [2175] Strategy was held on 5 May 1993. Bearing in mind that the State is over 70 years old, much has been achieved in three months and we must recognise that. Deputy John Bruton raised a fundamental question regarding the political boundaries evolving. What has happened here in the past three months has been revolutionary but there have been problems. Essentially we are stocktaking in regard to what transpired during the past three months. I have no doubt there is cynicism in the electorate towards people working here, supposedly, on their behalf. Largely, that is our own fault. Deputy John Bruton was Leader of this House at one time and was charged with responsibility for bringing about change. He should recognise that an effort is now being made to introduce that change.

Mr. J. Bruton: I do.

Mr. T. O'Sullivan: We cannot change the whole system overnight. The Deputy suggested that we send one person into the community to investigate what is happening. In practice that would mean sending one person from each party because we do not trust each other. The basic problem is the lack of trust between one party and another and, occasionally between one individual and another. That is part and parcel of the problem.

Mr. J. Bruton: The committee system provides an opportunity for politicians to trust one another. That is one of the good things about it. I strongly endorse the Deputy's work, the committee system and all the progress made in the past three months but we must keep moving forward.

Mr. T. O'Sullivan: There was a reference to Deputy Nealon's comments on the new drink driving legislation and the effect it will have on rural publicans; I heard it on the radio as I was travelling through the country. As Deputy Michael McDowell said, we should also invite the Mothers Against Drunk Driving to give [2176] evidence before the Committee to provide a balance.

The Glackin report was referred to by the committee of which I am chairman. It will present a tremendous challenge to the committee in the manner in which we will deal with it. Certain areas of the report will be very difficult and we will need legal backup which is not available at present. We will also need expertise to ensure we do not infringe a prohibited area. All these problems will have to be confronted in the months ahead. The committee can take a written submission from a witness but it is an obstacle to the development of the system. It is necessary for us to be afforded the opportunity to summon a witness if we so desire, In other jurisdictions, committees on their own initiative, can summon witnesses but we are dependent on the business handed down to us by the House. Does the House have sufficient trust in the committees to say that they are mature and have the ability to come to grips with very complex problems which, to date, have been handled by the House? When we can demonstrate to the House and to the electorate that we mean business we will then be given the added responsbility. Needless to say there is a certain amount of political gamesmanship at present, to which Deputy O'Malley referred. I very much regret what he said and I sincerely hope that the committee of which I am chairman would not be seen as an extension of the Government's arm. I chair the committee and have every intention of being fair and even-handed in my approach to the business. Deputy Bruton effectively got to the nub of the problem and the committee is evolving. I sincerely hope that in the months ahead we will demonstrate beyond doubt that the step taken on 5 May 1993 was an historic one.

Acting Chairman: That concludes our discussion on the Select Committee on Enterprise and Economic Strategy.