Wednesday, 2nd October 2013
I raise with the Leader, and the Cathaoirleach, a decision made by the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, yesterday to cease allowing Members to invite non-governmental organisations to host briefings in the AV room. I learned of this not as a member of the Seanad CPP.
I learned it from Deputy Thomas Pringle’s tweet. He tweeted, “Dáil CPP closes down presentation room to NGOs too embarrassing it seems to see effective cuts inside Leinster House”. I have verified that information with the CPP.
Yesterday, I organised a briefing on the Child and Family Agency Bill 2013, which everybody says is a significant Bill. We had cross-party and group representatives at the meeting. I invited the Children’s Rights Alliance, which brought in Barnardos, EPIC, Empowering People in Care, Pain, Lifestart, the Irish Association of Social Workers, Focus Ireland, Young Ballymun, Start Strong and the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development. They gave their collective views to Deputies and Senators on the Bill. The Bill has been delayed and will have significant changes made to it which I know were advocated by the NGOs.
The situation asks serious questions of us. I have visited several parliaments around the world and NGOs have much greater access. For example, last year I visited Wisconsin – in case any reporters are tuning in I add that I did so at my own expense – and there is a round space where NGOs can protest inside the Parliament. That allows members to have direct engagement with and the NGOs are not kept beyond the gates.
We often talk about the use of the guillotine in this House. I wonder whether this situation is an example if its over-use. I have some serious questions to ask about this matter: does the Dáil CPP have ownership rights over the AV room? Is it pre-empting a forthcoming vote? Are we only in favour of representative democracy or do we not also agree in participatory democracy? If decisions are made, we need to be involved. The rules in this House about the use of the AV room are ever changing. I would therefore welcome written guidance on what is and is not allowed. The development is a serious one and I seek urgent clarification.