The purpose of this assignment is to
give the reader a brief outline of the principal roles of Select and Joint
Committees in the Oireachtas.  Following
this there will be a description of the role and development of the Irish Civil
Service.

 

Committees
of the Oireachtas

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Ireland is a democratic country.  As discussed in course notes, the Irish
legislature is Westminster style in nature; there are two Houses of the
Oireachtas; the upper House, Dáil Éireann and the lower House, the Seanad.  For the 158 Teachtaí Dála (T.D.’s) in Dáil
Éireann, the members are elected by the public. 
Ireland’s system of voting, Proportional Representation by the Single Transferable
Vote (PR STV), allowing for a more accurate representation of the choice made
by the voting public on what people they want to represent them in
government.  The party that is elected
with the majority of seats get to choose who to give ministries to.  The election of Seanad members is different
to the election of T.D.’s; they are not voted for by the public but by the
following, as described on the Oireachtas website:

·        
43 are
elected by five different panels that represent various interests, e.g.
Agriculture, Culture and Education, Industry and Commerce, Public
Administration and Labour.

·        
6 are
elected by university graduates from National University of Ireland (NUI) and
the University of Dublin (Trinity College).

·        
11 are
elected by the Taoiseach.

 

As outlined in course notes, the
purpose of parliamentary committees are to bring together subject matter experts
to work on parliamentary business and to allow interest groups and members of
the public to voice their opinions in matters of policy formation.  Oireachtas committees are made up of members
from Dáil Éireann and the Seanad.  Some
are made up of members from entirely one house while others are made up of a
mix of members from both houses. 

 

Powers of
Committees

As discussed by O’Donnell (2017), committees
have certain powers and privileges, as follows:

ü  Under the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas
(Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act, 1997 committees
have the power to send for ‘persons, papers and records’ and can come to
conclusions in respect of matters under investigation by the committee.

ü  The powers of compellability are not automatically held by an
Oireachtas committee.  To receive these
powers the committee must apply for them from the Compellability Committee,
which is a sub-committee of the Committee on Procedures and Privileges.

ü  The committees can compel anybody apart from the President or
members of the judiciary to appear before them.

ü  The appointment of sub-committees

ü  They can take evidence orally or in writing and take written
submissions

ü  Take advice from subject matter experts

ü  Publish material

ü  Discuss policy matters with Ministers and issues with principal
office holders on matters that they are responsible for

ü  Draft legislation

ü  Travel to meetings and conferences

Select
Committee

A Select Committee is made up solely of
representatives of one House, i.e. the committee members would all be from Dáil
Éireann or all from the Seanad.  There
are procedures that are in place when bringing legislation into force and there
are a number of stages that legislation must go through before being passed.  As highlighted in an Oireachtas fact sheet,
Dáil Éireann gives the job of the clause-by-clause study of Bills to Select
Committees. Although many of the functions of Select Committees relate to
legislation, they can also be established to deal with urgent matters of
current interest, e.g. Brexit.

 

In June 2016 the people of the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave
the European Union (EU).  A Special
Seanad Select Committee, Seanad Special
Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European
Union Membership, was established in February 2017.  As outlined on the Oireachtas website, the
purpose of this committee was to compile a report that would consider the
implications of Brexit in the Irish context.  This included the effects on the Irish
economy, border relations with Northern Ireland.  This committee calls on industry experts to
give their opinions and recommendations, which assists them in compiling the
necessary information for their report.  As
part of the terms of reference of this committee, it will be dissolved by the
31st December 2017.  This
committee was made up of members of the Seanad as shown in Appendix One.

 

Joint Committee

A Joint Committee is made up of members of both Houses; Dáil Éireann
and the Seanad.  According to an
Oireachtas fact sheet a Joint Committee is usually the joining of two select
committees.  A Joint Committee usually
shadows government departments and monitors their activities in relation to
legislation and expenditure and will contact the department should they need
clarification on any matters.  For
example there are Joint Committees on Communications, Climate Action and
Environment and Agriculture, Food and Marine which shadow the activities of
these Departments.  They can carry out detailed scrutiny
of statutory instruments that have been laid before the houses of the
Oireachtas.  These Committees have the
power to annul regulations up to one year after laying of the statutory
instrument.

 

An example of a Joint Committee is the Joint Committee on Eighth
Amendment of the Constitution.  This
differs from the Joint Committees mentioned above as this committee doesn’t
shadow the work of a Department.  This
committee was set up to review and make recommendations on the eighth amendment
of the Irish constitution.  According to
the Oireachtas website, this committee was set up to examine the Citizens’
Assembly report and recommendations on the Eighth Amendment of the
Constitution.  The committee will examine
the report’s recommendations and report its own conclusions to both Houses.  Experts appear before the committee and give
their recommendations based on evidence and research.  This committee is made up members of the
Seanad and Dáil Éireann as shown in Appendix 2.

 

2 (b) Discuss the role and
development of the Irish Civil Service

The fundamental principles of the Irish Civil Service have altered
very little from the when the civil service was reformed back in the
1800s.  Prior to 1922 Ireland was
governed by the United Kingdom (UK).  At
the height of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, two UK
parliamentary members Northcote and Trevelyan were commissioned by the
Chancellor of the Exchequer to conduct a study on the civil service.  They reported their findings to government
officials.  As detailed in course notes,
the report’s conclusions were; that civil service should be recruited through
open competitive examination and that the examination board should be independent
and promotion through the civil service should be on merit rather than on
length of service.  Their report wasn’t
taken into consideration until a change in Prime Minister.  When William Gladstone took office in 1864 he
noted the report and found that the report conclusions were something to take
on board.   This process is still in
operation to this day.  It worked because
it gave all civil servants and non-civil servants the chance to progress in a
fair and open manner.  It judged candidates
on their skills and knowledge rather than the length of time they were working
there.  This report laid the foundations
for the civil service that was introduced following Irelands independence and
is very similar to the civil service that we see in operation in Ireland
today. 

 

Members of the Civil Service are
politically impartial; this means that when Governments change following
elections there is a seamless run of service as although the Ministers and
leadership may change the staff within the departments do not.  Each department has permanent staff, which
does not change following an election. 
As noted by the Citizens Information website, there are 17 government
departments, each headed up by a Minister and a Minister of State.  They elect a Secretary General for each
department for a term of 7 years.  As
outlined on the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants website, the
Secretary General of each department is responsible for the overall managing of
the department, the implementation and delivery of policies, advising the
Minister and the delegation of tasks within the department. 

Below the Secretary General there are
a number of different positions (see Appendix 3).

 

As mentioned in the course handout,
there are over 37,000 civil servants currently employed in Ireland.  As detailed in the course handout, the role
of the Irish Civil Service is to assist the Government with policy development
and the implementation of the policies that are in place.  Also, as highlighted by the civil service renewal
plan, of October 2014, it states that the purpose of the civil service is to
provide public services to the people of Ireland effectively and
efficiently.  Although a lot of civil
service work is behind the scenes, with policy formation and administration, it
also provides a lot of frontline services to the public.

 

Reform

As detailed in the class
presentation, Public Service Mod 2017, there have been a number of reform
initiatives over the life of the civil service, from the Devlin report of 1969
to the current Public Service Reform Plan. 
O’Malley and MacCarthaigh (2012) outline the
Devlin report of 1969, this report identified two main problems with the civil
service; “lack of strategic capacity and
poor coordination of activities across departments.” 
It didn’t see the civil service as forward thinking, efficient or value
for money.  A
white paper entitled Serving the Country
Better (Government of Ireland 1985) was published in 1985.  The main attention of this report was senior
and middle management and how this section was required to become managers
rather than administrators and to concentrate on the cost effectiveness when
meeting targets.

 

The Transforming Public Services report, 2008, conclusions were to
make the public service citizen centred and performance focussed. This report
mentions that in light of the OECD review that Ireland needed to work on increasing quality, efficiency and
value for money in providing services to the public.  As highlighted
by the civil service renewal plan, 2014, the purpose of the civil service is to
provide public services to the people of Ireland effectively and efficiently.  It is important to keep public services up to
date, the changing economy, political structures, environmental factors, the
constantly changing technology are challenges for the civil service when trying
to keep up to date with the changing needs of the public.

Conclusion

Oireachtas committees play an essential part in Irish Government,
from scrutinising of legislation to the review of current interest topics.  The reports that they provide give Government
the opportunity to make fully informed decisions.  The Civil Service has gone through many
changes over the years, however, the ethos remains the same, provide quality,
efficient, effective services for the public; provide assistance to
government.