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Friday 4 December 2015

Replies to Parliamentary Questions from State Agencies

Often you see a TD (member of the Irish parliament) ask parliamentary questions answered with,

I have referred the Deputy’s question to [State Agency] for direct reply. I ask him to advise my private office if he does not receive a reply within 10 working days.
Departments send by letter further details directly to a TD which means the public don't get to see the full answer to all parliamentary questions, often TDs pass this information to the media for the basis of stories, which is unfortunate as we mostly don't get to see the full government information these stories are based on.

A few times I've asked TDs to pass onto me this further information, they have done so without question.

As with all parliamentary questions sometimes this infomation is publically available or could be researched or collated from the state agency website, but the Minister will ask the agency to get the information requested for the TD anyway or direct them to the website or specific website address.

Only the HSE give full replies, as per the HSE guide for Parliamentary Affairs Division

I wonder what the rules are to this, there doesn't seem to be any specific written rules on this, it is possible done under precedence, or the 'Salient Rulings of the Chair', it is probably an informal process allowed by the Minister and their deaprtment and if TDs are not happy with it they would complain. Since 2011 they can complain about parliamentary questions they don't think have been answered under Dail Standing Order 40a Questions: Requests for information not addressed, added in Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann: Motion 21 July 2011.

There has been only 5 such complaints that have succeeded, "The following information was provided under Standing Order 40A".

A journalist submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Oireachtas for details of any 40a correspondence, which was refused by the Oireachtas but is in an Information Ombudsman process.
Mr David Yip and the Houses of the Oireachtas Service (FOI Act 2014)

There are many mentions of what is required to be in the Official Report of the Debates in the Consolidated- version of all of the Standing Orders of Dail-Eireann currently in effect, as of 5 March 2015, in the chapter on Questions it says,
Relevancy of Questions.
34. Questions addressed to a member of the Government must relate to public affairs connected with his or her Department, or to matters of administration for which he or she is officially responsible (including bodies under the aegis of his or her Department in respect of Government policy).
Grouping of Questions:Questions not answered orally or not reached.
40 (4) Where a Question put down for oral answer is of such a nature as to require a lengthy reply or a reply in the form of a tabular statement, the Ceann Comhairle shall, at the request of the member of the Government to whom the Question is addressed, direct that the answer be furnished in the Official Report of the Debates.

Programme for Government
Reference to it in the programme for government Programme for Government Pg 18
We propose a radical extension of the parliamentary question system, so that it shall be a statutory duty on any body established by or under statute, or with a majority ownership or funding by the State, to submit to the same parliamentary questions regime as applies to Government departments. This will involve a liability to provide answers to written questions within a specified number of Dáil sitting days. (We will however recognise the special position of bodies with a commercial mandate operating at arm’s length from Government.)

Although departments (such as the Department of Transport below) may have introduced new procedures in this regard, I don't know of any statute implemented to compel them.

Dail Written Answers 16 June 2015
My predecessor introduced new procedures for answering Parliamentary Questions within the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport where they relate to the functions of State Agencies under the aegis of the Department. The procedures, designed to introduce greater transparency in answering Parliamentary Questions, require that all such parliamentary Questions be referred to the Agency or Agencies in question for a direct response to the Deputy within 10 working days.

Can full replies be made public?
I wonder could you automatically asks TDs or departments for the full answer to these types of questions?

research notepad

Consolidated version of all of the Standing Orders of Dail Eireann currently in effect, as of 5 March 2015.