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Tuesday 24 December 2013

Oireachtas Petitions

Started writing this post as the year long delays were ongoing, as below the committee chair says they now have legal advice available and can deal with the petitions now.

This is follow on post from my previous blogpost on Oireachtas petitions I created a spreadsheet by scraping the petitions site with scraperwiki, joining together the petition transcripts and videos on one page, along with details of the petition, the dates of stages and actions and my notes on the result. I thought important that the public should be able to follow the petitions, and the petitions site doesn't link the necessary information together. I also use page2rss to monitor changes, and ifttt to email me them.

It took 371 days for a petition to be addressed publically by Oireachtas petitions committee, then they just say we'll write to the minister about it, and that's it for maybe months more. transcript video

I made a list of longest delayed public committee responses Longest wait for petitions list. 2nd longest delay was for 'equality budgeting' and the longest a petition about Gardai misconduct and wrongful arrest.

but to invite people already frustrated with bureaucracy to submit a petition and then delay it a year is maybe just another insult.

A self congratulatory column in the TheJournal.ie and Oireachtas press release with no acknowledgement of the delays, Oireachtas Committee to continue consideration of petitions 10th December 2013 press release.

Chairman of the Committee Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD says: “The Oireachtas petitions system is a direct channel for individual citizens and groups across Ireland to influence the parliamentary agenda. Creating a petition is simple and the process has been designed to be open, user-friendly and accessible to all. Tomorrow our Committee will have an opportunity to carefully consider a diverse series of petitions received, and how best to advance the concerns and suggestions in relation to delivery of public services.”

I emailed the chair and the secretary to give them a chance to tell us more about the behind the scenes work done by the committee and by the clerk. No response.

The press releases say that the committee meets for up to an hour in private session before each public session of the petitions committee. Although they often start the public session sooner especially if there are invitees.

Chair of Oireachtas Petitions committee Padraig Machochlain said they hadn't the resources to deal with the petitions but they now have a legal advisor available to the committee so they deal with or dismiss more petitions. Video .wmv

The reason we have a number of inadmissible petitions today is we had a backlog. We have since received legal advice on the matters involved and, therefore, are now able to deal with them together. It may seem negative that we are deeming a number of petitions to be inadmissible, but that is the nature of how we deal with our work at times.

The 11th of December meeting the committee chair apologises for the delays.

We now have a fast-track system to deal with matters that have been adjudicated on by a court or the Ombudsman. It will not be the committee's role to second guess these bodies and in the future we will relay that information promptly to petitioners. We apologise if people were waiting for considerable periods. In the future we will make it clear to petitioners that where matters have been decided by a court or the Ombudsman, we have no legal right to second guess the decision.

They are closing many, I don't if the issues were truely addressed, they "the purpose of this committee is not to lend support to endeavours in that way but rather its purpose is an oversight one". 6 November 2013

They've dismissed a number if the issue has already been through the courts, or if another avenue is open to deal with it, such as ombudsman or initiated Dail legislation. They passed two (committee discussion, petition) , off saying the constitutional convention was dealing with the issue, I'm not sure it was or they can, one person was complaining about over development of residential sites and they replied well the minister for housing said she is dealing with that now, petition closed. 18th September 2013.

They have had discussions with the minister for social protection and raised various petitions and also a had the Garda commissioner in so you can hope that they covered a number of petitions in a more general way with them.

Invited petitioner

Discussion with ombudsman and Garda commissioner

Revised Eligibility Criteria for State Pension (Contributory): Discussion with Minister for Social Protection Minister for Social Protection discusses two petitions. State Pension (contributory) Eligibility Result committee recommends a long lead in time to rule changes.
Provision of Good Samaritan clause in State Contributory Pension Legislation Result. Minister has no plan to change rules.

Back to Education Allowance
Nine months after petitions received petitioner invited to committee to discuss the issue of criteria for BTEA with INOU and Department of Social Protection officials for 50 minuntes. Good but no clear recommendations, the committee sends a transcript of committee he was at to him.

Employment Appeals Tribunal: Public Petition No. P00027/12
The fact that Employment Appeals Tribunal costs must be met be the complainant in the first instance Where a number of union, business and department reps were invited along with the petitioner in a three hour discussion, they wrote a letter to the Department of Enterprise, along with the transcripts but we don't know what their recommendations were that they said they included. 18/09/2013

Examples of Petition Process
Open Access to publicaly funded research details at bottom of previous post.

Petition P00001/13 submitted by Guy Le Jeune.

Status: Non-Admissible.
Discussion: None in public session
A pdf of the letter in response from committee clerk

Guy le Jeune said he wrote the petition to make a point, rather than expect anything to change, although it would be good to see any research he submitted to see what they'll except.

Submitting Previous Work

Under the "Admissibility of Petitions" rules.
Petitioners should demonstrate that they have already taken steps to resolve the issue raised in their petition, for example, through raising it with the Ombudsman, public bodies, or directly with the relevant Government Department.
The form ask you to fill in a box which asks,
Other action taken to resolve issues of concern before submitting the Petition:

Like this petition Legislation against Cyber Bullying and anonymous websites
We the undersigned agree herewith to petition the Government to legislate to ban all anonymous websites, recognising bullying as a crime, with prescribed punishment/rehabilitation for offenders
should we not be able to see what effort they made to recognise the current laws in this area.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill said in the Seanad that 6,000 people signed a petition in the name of Margaret Gilbert on behalf of the Killygordon & Crossroads Youth Club near Finn Valley, Donegal, the committee noted that "The petition came in response to a double tragedy in her community." This is referring to the Gallagher sisters fom Finn Valley but we still don't know the details of what happened.

A group of children in the Killygordon and Crossroads youth club, which is in my constituency, came together to write a report with recommendations, which some 6,000 people living in Donegal signed, and sent it to the Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions to ask it to make recommendations on this issue to the Seanad and the Dáil and, by extension, the Government.

I'm not sure how much research they did on this area of law they want addressed, we should be able to see this to be able to follow the petitions.

Status of Petitions

Petitions spreadsheet.
If the petition is listed on its page of Deliberation by Committee but not discussed in the public session then it was discussed in the private session.? Want to count how many times that has happened for each petition.

Does Being Examined For Compliance With Standing Orders refers to the clerks

I started a thread on the Petitions on Politics.ie which I've been updating, (forums are better for getting views and replies then blogs).

better presentation of spreadsheet?
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AqAEiinGYynOdFdkc0dGYW5CUUl0UGVicFhNaWpxTXc#gid=26 okfn listfy datatables tablestacker tablefu

Update in the 2013 Annual Report of the Oireachtas says
In 2013, an additional member of staff was assigned to
the petitions process, A working group of members of the
Committee was also set up to give preliminary consideration
to petitions before they are submitted to the Committee.
This resulted in an outcome wherein, by year end, 79% of
petitions received had been submitted to the Committee for
consideration (up from 37% at end 2012).

I asked about what this working group wasand who was on it the reply from a committee clerk

In order to streamline the petitions system a working group as referred to in the report was set up with the agreement of the Joint Committee in July 2013. This group consists of four Members, Mr Padraig MacLochlainn T,D, Chairman of the Committee, Mr Derek Nolan T.D. Vice Chairman and Senators Trevor O'Clochartaigh and Susan O'Keeffe. The group meet to consider petitions which are considered by the Secretariat to be borderline or clearly inadmissible under the Committees Standing Orders.

These petitions are considered by the Members of the group in the first instance and recommendations following consideration are then made to the main committee. The recommendations agreed on by the group are then brought before the full Joint sub-Committee for consideration and agreement.

Committee Page

Saturday 16 November 2013

Useful Freedom of Information

Its all a bit late now, I had re-read the FOI committees in the past month but its only when people start talking about it intensely that you can really begin to understand and argue the issues.

Freedom of Information Bill 2013 as initiated

Manner of access to records
17. 1. (c) where available in such form and subject to subsection (2), with a searchable electronic version of the record,

Freedom of Information Bill 2013 - Explanatory Memorandum

Section 17.
It also provides that where records are available in such form, they may be released in electronic and searchable format.

Is 'searchable electronic version of the record' strong or clear enough? we want machine readable formats, not just a .pdf you can search.

Section 17 isn't very detailed, it doesn't seem like the PER department really addressed the area, we may have to wait a couple of years for another amendment to set this into law. Howlin keeps saying that a lot of stuff will be dealt with in the FOI code of practice, which was supposed to be published in September but the UK specifically put reusablity into the legislation.

Section 102 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 amended section 11

the public authority must, so far as reasonably practicable, provide the information to the applicant in an electronic form which is capable of re-use.

UK code of practice

iii. 15. When releasing any dataset under the Act public authorities must, as far as
reasonably practicable, provide it in an electronic form which is capable of re-use,
i.e. a re-usable format. A re-usable format is one that is machine readable, such as
Comma-separated Value (CSV) format.

Does that mean capable of republishing or re-usable? or both?

this is where we are now

countrylawcode of practice
ukcapable of re-usemachine readable

Pre-legislative Submissions

Submissions on the FOI Amendment Bill 2012

National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) Submission

In reality records, especially copies of electronic databases are often provided in PDF format, which, in turn can lead to mistakes in the analysis of the record, as the record must be restored to electronic format for proper interpretation. There is no valid reason under which a database or part thereof could not be copied and provided to a requester in electronic format as allowed for under the legislation. Indeed this simplifies the process for the granting body and cuts down on printing costs.

Submission fom Mr.Gavin Sheridan

In my experience when releasing records held in machine readable formats (e.g. spreadsheets and databases) many public bodies chose to print and scan the record as non­searchable pdfs. The effect of this is to make further use and analysis much more difficult. Whether or not this is deliberate tactic of some public bodies is in the realm of speculation but I would urge the Minister to oblige public bodies to provide records in machine readable formats suitable for reuse
This would be consistent with the intention of the Public Sector Information Directive 2003/98/EC, and with Supporting Public Service Reform ­eGovernment 2012-­2015 from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and with the planned 2013 updating of the 2003 Directive

Supporting Public Service Reform ­eGovernment 2012-­2015

Action 21
All public bodies will publish appropriate data in machine-readable formats to facilitate re-use. Initially this will include data
newly released (in reports, on websites etc.). Over time, public bodies should identify additional data that could be released as
open data. This action will enable individuals and businesses to use data in ways most helpful to them including developing
applications relevant to their own needs and interests.

Action 22
Data released as images and/or included in reports that are published in formats such as PDF should also be made available in parallel in re-useable formats.

Directive on the re-use of public sector information

Public Bodies will ensure that, where possible, data made available publically will be produced in a re-useable format

Pre-legislative Committee hearings

Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2012

Mr. Gavin Sheridan: I have asked for items in open formats but have got tens of thousands of pages of PDFs, which are next to useless when one wants to display the sum of the figures. It is something as simple as that, whereas if it is in open accessible format, one can do calculations oneself on what the figures contain.

Ciaran Lynch TD (Lab) brought up concerns with manipulation

Chairman: I can see the potential for manipulation that exists when people decide to create pie charts and tables, etc., in order to present the information in a better way. Is there a danger that information which is in a fluid state as it is drawn up can be interpreted incorrectly as a result of deliberate or accidental manipulation?

Ultimately, the canonical or original version of the data is on the website. People can make their own judgements on it.

The pre-legislative Finance and Public expenditure and reform sub-committee on report compiled by Ciaran Lynch TD where it talks about machine readable formats it raises concern for 'context'.

Report on hearings in relation to the Draft General Scheme Freedom of Information Bill 2012

In the UK, Mr. Hammond advised the Members "I want to make a couple of points about issues that have come up in England with regard to criticisms of open data and the FOI regime. The first involves context. Often there are criticisms of FOI and measures to increase transparency more generally because it is felt that information is released without context and therefore people cannot effectively understand what data means.

The Joint Committee recommends that any legislation should address the provision of information in machine readable formats.

FOI Code of Practice?
The code of practice was supposed to be published in September, Howlin said at the Third Stage committee hearings that the legislation would shape the Code of Practice but it could have been published in draft form so could actually be shaped in parallel as he said it would be.

Minister announces Government approval for FOI Reforms -
July 17th, 2013

is currently being finalised and is expected to be published for public consultation in September.

It is expected that the FOI Bill will be enacted in the autumn in parallel with the introduction of the Code of Practice for FOI so that the implementation of the legislation and Ireland’s FOI regime overall meets the objectives of the legislation

Re-use and/or Re-usable

Re-use is one thing re-usable is another, need both.

Re-use of Public Sector Information

Directive 2003/98/EC on the re-use of public sector information, otherwise known as the PSI Directive[2][3] is an EU directive that encourages EU member states to make as much public sector information available for re-use as possible.

This seems to relate more to regularly published statistics then Freedom of Information. There is a €20/hour + 5p copying 10 CD fee.

UK code of practice

This Code of Practice for Datasets will take effect on 1 September 2013.

UK code of practice

iii. 15. When releasing any dataset under the Act public authorities must, as far as
reasonably practicable, provide it in an electronic form which is capable of re-use,
i.e. a re-usable format. A re-usable format is one that is machine readable, such as
Comma-separated Value (CSV) format.

Section 45 Code of Practice (Datasets)

It seems the UK have spent a lot more time on this then the PER dept did, writing a UK Open Government Licence, is our regulation as developed as there's is?

Could be stumbling block, but how may times have journalist had to overcome copyright in FOI's considering they've regularly published them.

Statutory Instrument S.I. No. 279 of 2005

Where a public sector body makes a document available for re-use it shall make the document available in any pre-existing format or language, including through electronic means, where possible and appropriate.

Third Stage Committee hearings November 2013
Transcript of November 12th Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform

Ciaran Lynch raises concern about manipulation again, but endorsed committee recommendation of machine readable format.

Transcript of November 13th Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform


Did more research I collected here, it seems the UK Government Licensing Framework does cover FOI and Public Sector Information re-use.

I have traced it back at least to 2009 when Gorden Brown appointted Tim Berners Lee and Nigel Shadbolt who launched data.gov.uk and then set up the Public Sector Open Government Licence, Non-commercial Licence and Charged License

the Protection of Freedoms Bill added bodies and re-use and dataset rules.

Providing a "right to datasets", impact/cost and benefit they talk of PSI and FOI being for the private sector and and not wanting to crowd out the enterprise

Freedom of Information Bill explanatory memo says
It also provides that where records are available in such form, they may be released in electronic and searchable format.

Searchable is 1 point something on the 5 star scale, a very limited form of machine readability.

olol - searchableol - reol - re - ofol - re - of - uriol - re - of - uri - ld
Web data no open licenseopen licenseopen licenseopen license/re-usableopen license/re-usable/open formatopen license/re-usable/open format/uriopen license/re-usable/open format/uri/linked data
*1.5 stars**************
on the webon the websearchablemachine readablemanipulatablelinkablelinked to other data

Tried to trace the complete history FOI of re-use in this spreadsheet seems to be dependent on key figure in driving a open data policy, Howlin says that national open data board will be set up

So there is in the UK 4 parts to rules about re-use of datasets.

Code of practice
Model publication scheme

Although it has been criticised as focusing on way to introduce fees for public sector datasets

Thursday 10 October 2013

The pointless charging for FOI requests

Fees. Drop them and then deal with it.

Pre-legislative Scrutiny
Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform Committee to discuss FOI

Freedom of Information Bill 2012

Submissions on the FOI Amendment Bill 2012

Gavin Sheridan's submission

While we welcome the commitment to cap search and retrieval fees; if the Minister truly wants to restore the Act to its original form then we invite him to also revoke the order setting application and appeal fees since it is these, rather than search and retrieval fees, which are the real barrier to optimising transparency under the Act.

The issue of fees is often confounded with supposed abuses of the Act. The word “abuse” in my view is loaded and disrespects the motivation of the vast majority of the public who use the Act. While there may be isolated cases of such abuses, fees should not be used as a way of controlling them. This is because voluminous, frivolous, vexatious and manifestly unreasonable requests may already be rejected under the Act (Section 10) and we note that the Minister proposes to strengthen this exception in the Bill.

In my view using fees to control manifestly unreasonable behaviour is itself unreasonable and is disproportionate since it also acts as a major barrier to genuine requestors and is not consistent with the fundamental principle that a barrier to openness should be necessary in the interest of a specific interest.

Access to information is not a privilege within the gift of governments to distinguish between those seeking information on an artificial premise of “personal” versus “non­personal”: access to information is rather a human right under Article 10 of the European Convention, and fees are a contravention of that right.

In addition, if the fees are not removed it could potentially leave the State open to litigation as it could be argued that they are an infringement of the rights of Irish citizens under Article 10 of the European Convention.

UK parliament FOI evidence Summary

UK parliament FOI committee

Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform > Submissions and correspondence to the Committee

Wright Report (the Capacity Review of the Department of Finance)

Restoration of FOI?

Sean Fleming says mistruth because fees were just brought in for non-personal information and thus no change has been made on that Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform Debate Committee 10 January 2013

I note that the €15 fee in respect of third party requests introduced a number of years will remain in place, which is the issue that previously created the most controversy . Fianna Fáil may during Second and Committee Stages of this Bill refer to what Labour Party members previously had to say on this issue. As I recall, every member of the Labour Party was at that time opposed to the introduction of the €15 fee. I note there is no proposal in this Bill to change that. The Minister will, therefore, appreciate that we will come back to this issue.


what TDs said about fees, then and now

Sean Fleming PQs to each department about FOI search and retrieval fees

what TDs said about fees, then and now/Details of

fees a burden on the public servants?

Publication of the Freedom of Information Bill 2013

Government says 2011 reports is basis for fees and for any of them changing their mind on fees.

2011 Annual Report Information Commissioner

2012 Stats

Regulation Impact Analysis – Freedom of Information Bill, 2013

As set out in the Annex to this RIA on the basis of
survey data collected by the Freedom of Information Central Policy Unit in 2010 which
sought to establish the total amount of time spent in processing FOI requests, the Central
Expenditure Evaluation Unit in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
estimates the net administrative cost of FOI at approximately €9m.

4.5 The analysis also points to the extent to which the search and retrieval fee system
does not appear to be properly functioning.
Committee hearings

10 January 2013
Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill: Discussion with Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform

6 February 2013
Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2012: Discussion - Journalists
Gavin Sheridan 6 February 2013
Anti-Deportation Ireland
Emily O'Reilly

7 February 2013
Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2012: Discussion (Resumed) with National Newspapers of Ireland
NUJ in Irish parliament to discuss FOI legislation

11th February 2013
speech by the minister for public expenditure and reform brendan howlin the right to know examining 15 years of the freedom of information-act

20 March 2013
Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2012: Discussion with Centre for Public Scrutiny

26 June 2013
Report on hearings in relation to the Draft General Scheme of FOI Bill

17th July 2013
Minister Howlin announces Government approval for FOI Reforms
The legislation has been finalised in tandem with a review of the operation of FOI, which was assisted and informed by the assessment of two expert groups; one of which comprised FOI users, academics and transparency advocates and the other comprising representatives of public bodies.
Code of Practice for FOI

24th July 2013
Minister announces publication of FOI Bill

24th July 2013

25th July 2012
Brendan Howlin “had to fight a battle” for new Freedom of Information law

25th July 2012

“Government committed to greater openness, transparency and accountability” – Minister Howlin

Draft Heads of the FOI Bill 2012

FOI Bill initiated in Dail - Winter 2013

Freedom of Information Bill 2013

Freedom of Information Bill 2013: Order for Second Stage 2 October 2013

Freedom of Information Bill 2013: Second Stage 2 October 2013
The UK Government decided not to charge fees stating,Charging for FOI requests would have an adverse impact on transparency and would undermine the objectives of the Act. A charge would be expensive to administer and may result in increasing rather than reducing burdens on public authorities. This is particularly the case where a nominal charge rather than a much higher full cost recovery charge is being considered.

Freedom of Information Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed) 3 October 2013

Freedom of Information Bill 2013: Referral to Select Committee 3 October 2013 Select Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform

public expenditure reform sub committee

Pearse Doherty and Sean Fleming private bills 2012

Pearse Doherty TD SF and Sean Fleming FF TD sponsored private members bills on FOI in 2012, focusing on Nama/fees and xxxxxxx respectively.

Pearse Doherty TD

Freedom of Information Amendment Bill 2012 [PMB] Sponsored by Deputy Pearse Doherty

Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2012: First Stage

FOI amendment Bills 2012 submissions

Deputy Sean Fleming

Freedom of Information (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 2012 [PMB] Sponsored by Deputy Sean Fleming

Freedom of Information (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012: First Stage

Freedom of Information (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012: Second Stage

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Where Does Your Tax Go?

Where Does Your Tax Go? is a new app from Public Policy a think tank funded via Atlantic Philanthropies by Irish American Duty-Free billionaire Chuck Feeney

Its a copy of the UK based Where Does My Money Go? - Daily Bread as an effort to tell a human sized story out of government spending estimates by the Open Knowledge Foundation based on OpenSpending data.

I had collected some source of information to copy the UK version while noting the gaps in the data but Public Policy seems to have simplified the calculations compared to the UK version, which showed the effect of indirect taxation on lower incomes. The Effects of Taxes and Benefits
on Household Income, 2010/11 in the UK
page 6.

A more detailed blog post explaining it would help, sources for the tax and spending numbers etc.

The UK version used to display the tax categories by size of spend which I somewhat preferred because its hard to take in all the numbers but they split it out into a general bubble tree of UK tax spend

A treemap of the spending might be better

Spending 2011 Treemap Many Eyes
Or comparison over time.

Irish Department Estimates 2000 - 2011 Many Eyes

Interesting discussion start by Johnathan Gray on the OKFN mailing list about representing spending numbers. Comparing like with like is best. 1, 2 eg Spending by type - € 1995-2009


They've now written a blog post about Where does your tax go app

Where Do You Fit In?

An earlier app shows where your income lies in relation to everyone else in Ireland. How many are in the bottom 10% of earners and how few earn so much more.

Their third app Can You Hit The Budget Target?.

Update - Tax Transparency
A week later Eoghan Murphy TD introduced Tax Transparency tool, which he explains is a show case for his Tax Transparency Bill he introduced to parliament last year, he emphasises the difference in his is that it is to be used to both calculate the tax, show you what taxes you pay and what slice of them is used in government spending.
He was helped make this by Karl Monaghan who also made Taxcalc.ie tax calculator tool.

Saturday 14 September 2013

Senator Zappone's Seanad article source linked

Senator Katherine Zappone wrote this article for the SBP giving examples of contributions that Seantors made to law whether they were officially amendments passed by them or not. I have tried to find source links for every example Senator Zappone gives, and put them in spreadsheet and inserted them in a copy of the article below.


It should bother you that among this talk of Dail Reform that politicians are discounting Senators contributions to bills, think, they could say the same thing about the Dail TD's contribution, if all amendments to bills were 'government amendments' we can get rid of all opposition TDs, most TDs, no need for them.

This seemed to be the attitude of Fine Gael deputy referendum director Regina Doherty on Tonight with Vincent Browne this week when he challenged his guests about the strictness of the whip harming democracy and making the government unaccountable, she said that government TDs vote for laws drafted by government and as they had majority of TDs their votes always passed and the opposition always lost she didn't see a problem with this. So Regina what are opposition TDs for? Why are they in the Dail at all?

One presumes she excepts that if an opposition TD makes a good point or amendment that if the government agrees with politically it will be incorporated into the bill, by adoption of the amendments by government or through the whips allowing the majority to vote for the opposition amendment, this happens very rarely. But is this as far as it goes? Doherty pretended not to get that there needs to be an element of democracy within the Dail itself to hold the government to account, and that the backbench TDs shouldn't simply be lobby fodder.

Argue for Seanad abolition as hard as you want, it is archaic and elitist but by repeating this idea that Senators make no contribution to laws that the government passed, by discounting them completely you are also diminishing the contribution of TDs in the Dail, the house we'll be left with, and I presume you want their contributions to be acknowledged and be increased.

Sunday Business Post Opinion: Democracy’s the victim if Seanad is abolished

The Seanad is an important part of the law making process and a counterweight to the government.

In light of recent polls, optimism is rising that the unwarranted referendum on the abolition of the Seanad will fail next October.

I welcome this development. I strongly argue that the Seanad is in need of reform, but it is most definitely not in need of abolition. To abolish the institution without setting out how its functions are to be replaced is beyond folly -- it is simply dangerous to democracy in this state.

The costs argument presented by Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton is an indefensible red herring. The real issue is about how power is exercised.

Checks and balances

Nearly 50 years ago, the Report of the Committee on the Constitution of 1967 [link?] stressed the importance of the Seanad in the context of the principle of checks and balances by saying how vital it is to "have a safeguard against ill-considered or hasty action on the part of the first house [the Dáil]" that can give "more comprehensive treatment" to "important technical matters" regarding legislation.

In the absence of meaningful reform of either the Dáil or local government, the necessity of upholding this principle is now more urgent in Ireland than it ever was.

One key function of the Seanad is to scrutinise independently-proposed legislation and bring the government of the day to account.

The strengthening of the party whip mechanism in recent years translates to a Dáil that does not so much represent constituents, but rather rubber stamps policy handed down from upon high by the Cabinet. As a result it is a Dáil where nuanced debate on key legislation and policy is stifled: it's either compliant or acrimonious and not much in-between.

In contrast, members of the Seanad have tabled 529 amendments to 14 Bills that have been passed over the past two years. Being credited for their particular amendments is generally not a priority of senators -- their focus is on strengthening the reach of the particular legislation. As a result, data that maps Seanad inputs that have been subsumed in legislation is lacking.

I know, for example, that the exemption from local property tax that children and youth organisations enjoy came about because of Senator Jillian van Turnhout's recommendations.[ Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2013, Noonan adopts amendment, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan credits Senator van Turnhout with the amendment even though all amendments were government amendments ] As a result of exchanges I had in the Seanad, three Finance Acts were amended (regarding equivalence in taxation law between spouses and civil partners).[ Finance bills 1, 2, 3 ] Likewise, as a direct result of the expert knowledge in the Seanad, the Education and Training Boards Bill 2012 ensures the inclusion of learner organisations' representatives on Education and Training Boards. [ Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn acknowledging Senators on focus on learner organisations ] I facilitated the access of civil society organisations to influence the Personal Insolvency Bill 2012 that resulted in the inclusion of minimum income guidelines for debtors in the legislation. [ Alan Shatter credits a number of government amendments to Senators ] [ The InsolvencyJournal.ie credits Senators with improvements to the PIB].

These, and many equivalent legislative inputs, are categorised as government amendments, thereby 'disappearing' the role of Seanad members. Ordinarily, this is not important, but now in the context of Seanad abolition on the rationale of its purported 'irrelevance' it is useful to help voters get a deeper sense of what business is actually done there.

Democratic deliberation

Besides scrutinising proposed legislation, another vital function of the Seanad is to initiate and explore issues of public interest and concern.

The Independent group of Taoiseach's nominees, to which I belong, put forward two motions on the issue of the future of prostitution legislation,[ 1, 2 ] as a result of which the issue was brought to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality.

A huge public consultation took place and a report was issued, with radical recommendations for changes in legislation, which are being laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien tabled a motion on the need to establish a Charities Regulator that was debated in the Seanad. [Charities Regulation: Motion] In mid-July of this year, the Minister for Justice and Equality [Alan Shatter] announced this would be created soon. Again, this is one of many examples of how deliberation on issues of policy and law is integral to the Seanad's work.

Generating ideas for law and policy

The Seanad has long been a site where new ideas for law and policy have been generated. There are many such examples: Senator Feargal Quinn's Construction Contracts Bill has now passed into law, and Senator Ivana Bacik introduced the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act [ a private members bill in 2011 that the Minister recognised led to the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2012 that was enacted] that allows humanists to officiate at marriages, while Senator Kelly's Wind Turbines Bill 2012 passed to Committee stage last year.

My own Legal Recognition of Gender Bill 2013 that offers a simple legal pathway to gender recognition can justifiably be seen to have triggered the unexpected publication of the long-awaited Heads of Bill on the same issue. The Minister for Justice will be seeking the opinion of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission regarding section 37 of the Equal Status Act, triggered by a Bill sponsored by Senator Power.

Exercising power

I think we need to have the capacity to ensure there are constraints on a sitting government in the form of checks and balances.

Should the government's abolition bid fail at the referendum, let that be a mandate for reform. The government has already accepted a bill for radical Seanad reform proposed by Senator Feargal Quinn and myself.

As an electorate, we can reject spurious argument and insist on expansion of our democratic capacity rather than endangering it.

In my opinion, on this particular issue, we need to exercise our power, and vote no on October 4.

Dr Katherine Zappone is an Independent Senator

Monday 9 September 2013

Seanad details 2

Continuing the debate about the Seanad Abolishment Referendum from my first post on Seanad Details

I finally got a list of amendments table or made by the Seanad, they are mostly made by the government, although Seanad defenders say it made many vital contributions to legislation whether through tabling amendments or the government adopting their suggestion for amendment of bills.

Katherine Zappone wrote an accompanying article about contributions made by the Seanad to legislation.

In contrast, members of the Seanad have tabled 529 amendments to 14 Bills that have been passed over the past two years. Being credited for their particular amendments is generally not a priority of senators -- their focus is on strengthening the reach of the particular legislation. As a result, data that maps Seanad inputs that have been subsumed in legislation is lacking.

I know, for example, that the exemption from local property tax that children and youth organisations enjoy came about because of Senator Jillian van Turnhout's recommendations. As a result of exchanges I had in the Seanad, three Finance Acts were amended (regarding equivalence in taxation law between spouses and civil partners). Likewise, as a direct result of the expert knowledge in the Seanad, the Education and Training Boards Bill 2012 ensures the inclusion of learner organisations' representatives on Education and Training Boards. I facilitated the access of civil society organisations to influence the Personal Insolvency Bill 2012 that resulted in the inclusion of minimum income guidelines for debtors in the legislation.

Seanad Amendments PQs, compared to Oireachtas Research list

The Personal Insolvency Bill is one of the examples given, the Insolvency journal explains.

Anti-abolishment Labour TD Joanna Tuffy gives more example of Seanad's effect.

Joanna Tuffy TD emailed more details of one example, The Bills page Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 200 showing progress through the houses, it started in the Seanad.

Here is an example that I did mention on twitter - it is the Electoral Bill 2000 and in particular a provision in the bill to ban opinion polls 7 days from polling.

Here is a link to the debate where Maurice Manning seeks to have the bill recommitted. This proposal was defeated. Then there are two other proposals to recommit and these two are defeated. What was being attempted here by the Senators is to delay a bill they think is flawed, both constitutionally and from a press freedom point of view. Worth reading the debates from them on the 10 July. Note the Fine Gael Senators and Labour Senators that are speaking against the bill and for it to be recommitted - in the Dail their party spokespersons supported the ban on opinion polls when originally proposed in the Dail.


the next day however, the Minister comes back into the house and see his speech (smith) paragraph 2. The offending section 59 is being dropped from the bill.


Obviously the Seanad played its part in this uturn. While it did not use its delaying powers, because the majority to do so was not reached, the debate on whether to do so would have helped make the Government's mind up for them. Without the Seanad's existence the Bill would have been passed by then because it had passed in the Dail as you will see from this article from the time in the Irish Independent:


Dail Reform
I'm mostly interested on where this will leave the Dail. The government released some Dail reform proposals in June. They also point reforms already made, I wish it was easier to check and quantify those reforms.

1. As a general rule, major non-emergency legislation will first be submitted to the relevant Dáil committee in Heads of Bill format.

2. To allow for extra consideration and scrutiny, each Bill will be referred back to the committee which considered it at Pre-Legislative and Committee Stages for a final examination after Report Stage and before the Bill is passed by the House. This new stage will be known as Pre-Enactment Stage. It will be provided for in Dáil Standing Orders.

3. It is proposed that a Minister will revert to the relevant select committee within 12 months of the enactment of a Bill, to discuss and review the functioning of the law and to allow for a debate from members and stakeholders as to whether the legislation is fulfilling its intended purpose.

4. As part of a strengthened committee system, there will be 14 Dáil committees: four strategic committees on issues of major strategic and political importance (including PAC, Finance and EU scrutiny); seven sectoral committees to shadow Government Departments; and three thematic committees which will focus on specific issue (petitions, Good Friday Agreement, members’ interests). It is envisaged that each committee will have twelve members and will invite external experts to provide specialist input to its work.

5. When enacted, the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill will enable Oireachtas committees to once again undertake parliamentary inquires into certain matters of major public importance. Since such inquires can involve unique and complex legal and policy issues a separate administrative system will ensure that they function smoothly. Once an inquiry is established, it will be undertaken by a sub-committee of the relevant select committee in order to ensure that the work of the select committee can continue uninterrupted.

6. A proposed new Dáil schedule will increase time spent on deliberating legislation.

7. The d’Hondt system will be introduced to distribute chairs of key committees on a proportional and equitable basis. This proposal, if agreed by the House, will go hand in hand with a revised Dáil schedule to allow committees to do as much work as possible when the House is not sitting.

8. A new ‘10 Minute Bills’ procedure will be introduced.
Fine Gael keep promising more Dail reform proposals will be unveiled before the referendum vote but there no guarantee they'll be implemented.

A Sunday Independent had an article suggesting disagreement between the coalition partners over the place of external experts in reviewing legislation. The government proposals says invite external experts to committees, Fine Gael says the proposals are (pg 8 & 16)

The Government’s reforms to the Dáil will establish a panel of available experts to be available to Committees to assist in their work.

They publish they're Abolish Seanad Eireann Bill booklet today

Fine Gael Abolish the Seanad booklet by lostexpectation

Cost of new committees

An analysis and comparison of the 20 million costs of the Seanad by Shane Conneely.

On the question of whether the savings from abolishing the Seanad will be swallowed up by expanded Dail committees Fine Gael asserts on page 16 that they will be funded from Dail Budget.

Even though we've heard Minister in charge of Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin link the Seanad abolishment with more resources for new Dail committees.

Any additional resources needed for new structures in a single chamber can be funded from smaller Dáil membership and continuing savings in the Dáil

Separately to the €20 million Seanad saving, we estimate that approximately €2 millions in
savings will be generated by cutting the number of TDs from 166 to 158—a measure which is
already scheduled to take place at the next general election.

The Houses of the Oireachtas will continue to drive down costs, like all other government
departments. There were overall savings of over 8% on the three year Oireachtas budget for

These savings will be sufficient to fund the additional resources required to serve a reformed Dáil, such as the panel of independent experts and additional Committee Hearings.

does that make the cost 2 million plus (that 8% of 125 million Dail cost) around 10 million.

which is reduced from 168 TDs to 158 for the next Dail. So the Seanad savings will go on 'urgent' frontline services apparently. Still even though there will be less staff, a lot of the same staff and work and cost will have been shared by the two houses of parliament and they won't be able to cancel out all the indirect costs.

Monday 2 September 2013

Seanad Referendum Details

The government of Ireland has proposed abolishing the Seanad the upper house of the parliament, and referendum will be held on it on the 4th of October 2013.

Two issues have come up that I want to clearer details on.

Details of amendments the Seanad made to bills.

The anti-abolishment side keeps citing the number 529 amendments made to bills (or '523 amendments' or 'over 540 amendments') which they seem to have sourced from Senator Daragh O'Brien who was first to use this stat, as far as I know, on Wednesday, 26 June 2013 and a number of others senators who raised it in the Seanad. I emailed them last week to ask for the list and contacted everyone who used that stat to ask them to get the list behind the number but haven't been able to get anyone to get the list of amendments published.

Some criticised Regina Doherty for asking for this list in the Dail but the list already exists Senator Zappone has read it. Zappone: Wednesday, 17 July 2013

I note Senator Zappone says the list is incomplete but it would be a start and beneficial to all sides in the debate to publish it.

Update: Senator Zappone wrote an column for the Sunday Business Posts about the Seanad abolishment or reform, which she posted on her site. She emphases that they haven't been tracking the number of amendments and list is incomplete but she says she got the number from the Oireachtas Library & Research Service

Update 2 Amount of Amendments tabled by members of the Seanad on 14 Bills

I was hoping for an actual list of amendments, they must actually list every amendment when counting because how else are they sure they are not double counting.

so why was this information unavailable when Regina Doherty asked for it? She wasn't asking for exactly the same info but it was over lapping but she was told to PFO by a number of ministers and various people mocked her and told her she was wasting money, bizarre.

Katherine Zappone's Oireachtas Research sourced list is entitled 'Amendments Made By the Seanad' but then says 'members of the Seanad have tabled 529 amendments to 14 Bills' Democracy Matters then put up the list but says its amendments made.

I compared the two sources of info the Minsiterial replies and the Oireachtas Research list and the only Bill that both refer to is the Credit Union Bill 2012 which had 174 Government amendments at Committee Stage according to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and 6 more at Report Stage. and the Oireachtas Research Lists 179 amendments in total, close enough.

Will money be saved or go to the committees.

Senator John Crown has raised the point several times that as opposed to the pro-referendum side assertion that abolishing the Seanad will save (a disputed amount of) money that this saving will not reduce the cost to the public of government administration or be used for some other worthy cause but be redeployed to the beef up the committee systems part in reviewing legislation, as proposed by the government.

He has said this over a year ago,

and last week,

he says he said it "in this Chamber in 2011, again on RTE and more recently in a private conversation with me" but he never provided a link to confirm it so I can point people to where Brendan Howlin said it, I emailed him to ask him if could provide links but have gotten no reply, I cannot find where he said it after hours of searching either in Seanad record or 'on the radio' on the 25th of June 2013, can you help me find it in the Seanad record, search via Kildarestreet.com or the Oireachtas record.

His first tweet about it was on the 25th of August so this was before the debate on the Houses of the Oireachtas Inquiries - 22 September 2011 which I had thought was the most likley time this topic would come up.

Although checking the Senator attendance record he is not listed as being present on the 22 of September but is listed for the 29th of June.

The other time Minister Brendan Howlin spoke in 2011 in the Seanad was the Second stage or the Committee Stage and Remaining Stages of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2011.

I've used Kildarestreet.com to search for every time Brendan Howlin spoke in the Seanad in 2011, which was as far as I know 3 occasions and then listed them in spreadsheet


Senator John Crown got back to me via @ItsMoss


Senator Crown said in Seanad that Howlin said this on the radio on 25th June, I asked him about this and he said he thought it was RTE in the morning, I listened to Morning Ireland for the 25th of June where there was a brief clip from Brendan Howlin but he didn't mention the Seanad.

Found one
I used Topsy.com to search for @profjohncrown tweeting about Howlin on the 25th of June 2013.

Tweeting just after the six news this interview must be what he had heard and reacted to.

Brendan Howlin was on RTE 6.1 TV news on the 25th June news talking about the Anglo tapes and the need for a banking inquiry, at 3 minutes 50 seconds he mentions the Seanad abolition.
"...we need to provide the resources and part of the reform we want of public administration in this country and part of the recommendation to have a single chamber is to have the resources, the capacity and the ability of parliament to do the people's business."
Minister Brendan Howlin does seem to be suggesting that without a second a chamber those resources will be for the rest of parliament including the committees and the new form of inquires.

Still want to find the Seanad quote its probably somewhere in the record for the 3 times he spoke in the Seanad in 2011.

Having found one quote I'm using the phrases he used to search the Oireachtas record, I found Making Committees Work in the 31st Dail: Statements - March 2011 although its was said in the Dail, so maybe not the quote Senator John Crown was talking about.

Brendan Howlin: "This is the principle that underpins the Government's proposal to abolish the Seanad. It is not a knee-jerk reaction to the need for cost savings or demands for reform or smaller government. It is about strengthening democracy itself."

Minister Brendan Howlin mentions the Seanad and committees and resources during the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013
Brendan Howlin: "If we are to convince people to vote for the Seanad’s abolition... ...That means we must have better and stronger committee systems that are clearly resourced. As the Minister charged with resources"

Minister Brendan Howlin cites the position paper he co-wrote and published in January 2011 as part of their elections proposals New Government Better Government. New Government, Better Government as where he firmed his reasoning.


Got an email from Senator John Crown's secretary with quotes of Howlin from two committees in 2011 and 2013,
Joint Committee on Investigations, Oversight and Petitions Debate - 15th December 2011 Video or Video
Brenadan Howlin: ...but if we were in a unicameral situation, resources might become available for empowering Dáil committees in a way that they are not currently available. I do not want to be facetious about it. I expect a proposition will be put to the people next year in relation to the abolition of the Seanad. In such circumstances, we will have to look at how the Dáil might work differently. I think the committees would have to be resourced in a much clearer way.

Wednesday Select Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform Debate - 5th June 2013 Video

As part of a reform agenda and if people determine we must have a unicameral system, there should be a much more robust Dáil system and a better resourced committee system

The Oireachtas video playback system is nightmare to use, it very hard to find the section of speech your looking for and I tried to embed the videos here, but it hard to get wmv to work the same on all browsers, it seem link to the same start times in video will somehow play different parts of the video.

Two simple things but I'm puzzled as to why they haven't been cleared up and its been like banging my head off a wall to get anybody to respond to these two very simple requests, so I thought I'd spell it out here to see if this got any response.

I follow up on this is a new blogpost

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Clontarf promenade and flood defences: Dublin City Council tries to fix lack of information with even less information

Update 2015 the issue of the flood defence wall and path at Dollymount is different and is being discussed by me and others on boards.ie.

Review of the Clontarf Flood Defence Wall And Esplande Clontarf Flood Defence Wall And Esplande via Turas byb Johanna Varghese and Myles Farre.
starts page 175

new modelling exercise of the level of flood defence required scheduled to be completed at the end of May 2015.

There are resource issues hampering the progress of this Project. September 2014

Clontarf Promenade Development Scheme: DCC : Tommy Broughan 06/2014

Clontarf Promenade Development Scheme: DCC
Flood Defence Unit informed the North Central Committee in May that there was an agreement with the Joint Working Group that consultant hydrologists would be contracted to model a possible twin wall flood reduction measure and that preliminary environmental studies were being carried out. A recommendation will soon be made on whether an E.I.S. will be required due to the
revised proposal.

Update August 2013 via Clontarf RA

After reading through all the information that is available I've come to realise this current working group has little to do with the flood defence berm and is only dealing with temporary landscape issues and was primarily established to keep the residential/business association that complained feeling important until they restart the actual planning process for the berm. This Herald headline is rubbish Flood walls may be axed in new plans consultation.

A Dail question on 16th July Brian Hayes on behalf of OPW

Update July 4th via Clontarf RA

Original Post.( 2 days after I wrote this an update was provided via the CRA/CBA )

Dublin City Council (DCC) had been planning to build a flood berm along along 3km of Clontarf coastline in 2011, but locals objected to the height of the berm or wall as they called it. After a campaign the plan was suspended by the council. DCC are reviving the plan again but now only consulting one 'stakeholder group' with minutes of meetings only coming out months afterwards repeating the mistakes of restricting information which caused the problem the first time.

A lot of local people were generally aware and in favour of the plan to build a berm but were surprised by the final height of the berm which in places would be above eye-level and visually obstruct the promenade pathways and the sea from the seafront Clontarf road. They feared this would spoil the amenity area and cut off the safety of passive surveillance from the road to the public using the promenade paths. The council offered to reduce the height by half a metre in places but this did not satisfy the objectors, who were dissatisfied by the whole process. Statement on behalf of joint CRA/CBA committee following meeting with DCC. This may have satisfied me personally not being so concerned by the views but by the flooding, but I can understand how the lack of active public consultation and pre-visuals prompted this reaction, I was not surprised the plan was stalled. It was the councils fault, not the public.

Council officials later admitted that the public consultation process was “minimal” and “didn’t work”.
Irish Times 5th Dec 2011

Seamus Lyons, Assistant City Manager admitted that ‘the message did not get through’, adding ‘for that we take responsibility.
via Cllr Jane Horgan October 12, 2011

The plan began in 2005 partly in response to tidal flooding in 2002 and 2004 (See floods.ie for 2004 flooding report. A study was carried out by Royal Haskonin looking at flooding along the whole of Dublin Bay area and which presented options to deal with a future 1 in 200 year flooding event at the Clontarf coast road. Flooding has damaged houses and blocked the busy R807 Clontarf regional road several times, often due to coinciding pluvial(rain) flooding which is somewhat separate problem to that of tidal flooding. The council needed to place a north city water main along the Clontarf Road and decided in 2006 to merge the projects and place the water pipe under the berm. The project was processed as the North City Watermain and Clontarf Flood Defence Project under the new Strategic infrastructure development (SID) rules in 2007 where it was sent straight to the national planning board rather then through the local council planning processes first, requiring the public to pay 50 euro to make a submission and approved in 2008. The issue went quiet in 2009 and 2010 as tendering and planning for construction was worked on. The SID rules seem to have been counter productive. SID rules require that 'stakeholders' are informed and the council may be sticking to this reuirement by only consulting with one stakeholder group, repeating the error of this SID process.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD Dublin North Central TD and former local councillor describes the history of the projects planning from his perspective. Government Response via Minister for OPW Brian Hayes

He highlights the lack of engagement on the project, The required Environmental Impact Statement wasn't shown widely in the local area or put online. There was only two poor drawings suggestion the heights of the berm, published in realtion to the North Arterial Water Main neither which really conveyed to the public the impact of the project.

The council only produced more information and visuals of the berm heights when people and councillors started to protests about their surprise at the height of the berm as it was nearing construction.

Plan revived 2012

In 2012 DCC revived the plan to tackle the flooding issue, after all the controversy with the lack of public information the first time the Council administrative management and the councillors decided that best way to deal with the lack of information is to give out even less information by restriction the consultation to councillors and just one local lobby group the Clontarf Residents Association and Business Association that were most vocal the last time, no residential association ever represents all residents. An initial meeting was held in regard to the Clontarf Flood Defence Scheme on 23rd of October 2012 but the report of this wasn't published till March 6th 2013, 6 months later, where they decided to recognise the importance of planning for the promenade by changing the name of the project to the Clontarf Promenade Development and Flood Defence Project Further meetings were held in January and February and 3 months later still no information is coming out of them, I have contacted the councillors and council and no-one will share any information about the contents of the meeting (more of which happening this week 06/2013) or acknowledge that a 6 month delay in information is not public consultation or explain why restricting information to one lobby group is appropriate response to the deficiencies in the public consultation last time.

"Contrary to some media reports, those privy to the plans say there is no proposal to build a controversial flood barrier."
CRA/CRB spokesperson I presume they mean "yet". because what else are they talking about other then the plan to build flood defences.

"The consultation and discussions are via the local representative group referred to this has been agreed by the City Council and the elected members."
- council projects official.

Dublin City Council and councillors conspiring to withhold information about Clontarf flood berm from the wider public.

I have seen before how hostile an opinion council planning, engineering staff and consultants have for the general public and councillors, they treat them as stupid, and some how this instinct suggests to them they should restrict the information flow even more in-case a member of the public or the media misinterprets something, which certainly does happens, but Dublin City Council is trying to fix lack of information with even less information.

The solution obviously is more information as soon as possible so we can all debate the merits of the project.

a collection of clontarf berm links

Clontarf Promenade Development and Flood Defence Project: Update 6th March 2013

The Environmental Impact Statement

Additional berm visuals

DCC flooding handout 11/07/2011

Dublin City Council Statement 11/11/2011

Clontarf Promenade Development and Flood Defence Project

Clontarf Residents Association

DCC flooding presentation

Dublin Coastal Flooding study

Dublin Coastal Flooding presentation

Images of Clontarf Coast flooding

Storm floods in Clontarf 13.12.12

Dec 2012

dublinlocal Dec 2012
Temporary flood protection 1 2