By Ciarán Doherty
Ireland has an imperfect separation of powers. The Constitution appears to create a strong legislature, the Oireachtas, but in practice the Dáil and Seanad have been under the control of Government as a result of both their constitutional architecture and the practical realities of the party whip system.
However, the position has been changed radically by the results of the 2016 General Election, the advent of so-called New Politics and the instability caused by Brexit in the UK reinforcing a need for stability in this State. The result is a Government which does not have a majority in either House of the Oireachtas and an increasingly empowered Oireachtas.
One result of this has been an explosion in the number of opposition or private members bills which have been working their way through the legislative process. Government are no longer in a position to use built-in majorities to block or delay opposition Bills. This has led to an element of legislative gridlock as a backlog of opposition bills have not yet been processed by Oireachtas Committees.
The new dynamic has also led to changes in the legislative process. New procedures have been introduced for detailed scrutiny of legislation before the formal committee stage. Government have also sought to adopt a more consensual approach to the workings of the Oireachtas with the advent of a Business committee to discuss Dáil business and a greater focus on the Heads of Bill being discussed in committee before legislation is formally tabled.
Finally the little know requirement for a “money message” has been used in some cases to delay the avalanche of opposition legislation which has passed second stage. All and all the current Dáil make up has led to changes in our legislative process though whether these are temporary or permanent developments remains to be seen.
Ciarán Doherty is a qualified barrister specialising in the areas of Public Law, Judicial Review and Employment Law.
Before being called to the Bar, Ciarán was employed in the Houses of the Oireachtas. He has an Honours Degree in History and Political Science from Trinity College Dublin, as well as a Diploma in Law from the Honorable Society of Kings Inns. He was called to the Bar in 2013.