Maiden Speech to Dail Eireann – Reform of Dail Committees

31/03/2011
Thank you Ceann Comhairle.
As this is my maiden speech in this house, I would like to this opportunity to express my appreciation to the electorate in Dublin North and the membership of the Fine Gael party in that constituency who worked tirelessly with me in order to achieve a feat not seen since the days of Nora Owen and John Boland, some 25 years ago.
May I also take this opportunity to congratulate Minister Howlin on his appointment to this hugely important role within the 31st Dail.
The reform of the Committee system in the 31st Dáil is, in my view, an element of political reform which is essential if we are to properly reform our parliamentary democracy. 
For too long the committee system has been used as a method of rewarding political loyalty, rather than as a tool of properly functioning parliamentary democracy.  It should be an honour and a privilege to be asked to sit on a committee, not something that comes by virtue of political service.
Deputies and Senators who sit on committees must be there to effect change rather than as a reward for the political loyalty.  Committees should not and cannot exist purely for the sake of it although that is not detract from the important work that some committees have performed over the years, not least of which the Public Account Committee.
The method in which the committees operate must be changed not only so that they operate effectively but also to restore public confidence in the political system.  The only way that this will be achieved is by empowering the committees to properly perform the functions for which they were formed and to appoint committee chairperson and vice chairperson based on merit so that proper oversight of our political processes can take place.
Committees are essential to investigate issues of public concern in a cost and time effective manner.  
Key committees must, in my opinion, be given more investigative power to conduct enquiries and their findings should be enforceable in a court of law.  Those powers should include the power to compel witness, question those witnesses in full public session and to provide reports and recommendations.  I would also favour the reduction in the number of committees in conjunction with the strengthening of their power.  A smaller, more effective committee system will serve our people better and I hope this can be achieved in the coming weeks and months.
It is essential in a properly functioning modern democracy that the business of government be open to scrutiny, and proper scrutiny at that, not just for the sake of generating headlines.   The task of reforming government is immense but it is one that is essential to our democracy.  We cannot continue with a lumbering system that does not serve the people properly.  We must remember that we are here as representatives of the people, tasked with representing their needs.  This requires a radical overhaul of our system to ensure that government works for the people and not for itself.
Thank you.