Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Houses of the Oireachtas Inquiries) Bill 2011- Second Stage

22nd September 2011

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Howlin, and the Government’s proposed amendment to the Constitution, which will give the Houses of the Oireachtas full inquiry jurisdiction and rectify the deficiencies identified by the Supreme Court in the Abbeylara judgment.

While listening to Senator O’Brien, Sir Humphrey Appleby telling “Yes, Minister” that this is a courageous decision came to mind.

I am sure the Senator did not mean it in the same spirit as Sir Humphrey Appleby. I worked in a previous capacity with the Minister and I am aware of his commitment to fairness and on this issue.
In July, we had an opportunity to speak in this House on the Cloyne report, which right I fully exercised. I take this opportunity to reiterate my admiration for the work done by Judge Yvonne Murphy, as chairperson of the commission, and her fellow commission members. The Murphy reports were empowered under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 which was enacted to provide a more timely and cost-effective option to the tribunal of inquiry mechanism by taking a less adversarial approach, thus reducing the likelihood of resource to judicial intervention.

The Murphy reports have shown that this legislation is capable of providing for a robust, effective and efficient means of conducting investigations into matters of significant public concern. I understand that the proposed amendment is intended to provide a further improvement to and additional option within our inquiry mechanisms. I fully support the finding of the Joint Committee on the Constitution that the Constitution should expressly provide the Oireachtas with the power to conduct inquiries into matters of general public importance for the purpose of making findings in respect of the conduct of named individuals. I believe that subsections (2) and (3) of the proposed amendment meet these criteria. However, subsection (4) is a cause for concern for me. It gives the Oireachtas the power to “determine the appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest and for the purpose of ensuring an effective inquiry”. I am concerned about where that balance is.

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