The role of national parliaments in the European Union (EU) has developed considerably over time. This book focuses on one parliament as a case study in this regard: the national parliament of Ireland, the Oireachtas. The basic structure of that parliament is modelled on that of the United Kingdom. Like the United Kingdom, Ireland joined the then European Communities on 1 January 1973. Within a relatively short period from the date of Ireland's joining the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, it became clear that major structural change to the Communities would be needed if the EEC were ever to fulfil its potential. The book examines the initial adaptations of its parliament to European integration and how Ireland's domestic parliamentary accommodation of membership slowly changed over time. It focuses on the considerable impact on domestic parliamentary arrangements of the recent banking and foreign debt crises and of the Treaty of Lisbon. An assessment of the role of the Oireachtas in European law and policy during the lifetimes of the 30th Dail (2007-11) and the 31st Dail (2011-16) follows. The book discusses the formation of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs, which held its first meeting in private on 19 July 2016, and its first public meeting on 7 September. However, Ireland's position as a "slow adaptor" to European integration has meant that the Oireachtas has had more ground to make up than many other legislatures.
An overview of the role of the Oireachtas in European Union affairs
Foreign Affairs, Eamon Gilmore, to the Seanad
towards the end of 2013 of his view that
there is a comprehensive legislative framework in place that is largely fit for purpose, subject to some technical adjustments to reflect the role of sectoral committees
in the scrutiny of statutory instruments. However, while statutory instruments are
being laid in the Oireachtas Library, Oireachtascommittees do not receive the texts
directly. Therefore, there is scope for improvement. Equally, there may be scope to
improve the information provided for committees to help them to
Catalysts for reform of the Oireachtas role in European Union affairs
made provision for a medium-term budgetary objective and a budgetary correction mechanism; and established an independent Irish Fiscal Advisory Council.16
Not all Oireachtas-approved constitutional changes related to the crisis were successful, however. Two bailout-era proposals concerning the Oireachtas itself failed.
The Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Houses of the Oireachtas Inquiries)
Bill 2011 which sought to increase considerably the investigative powers of Oireachtascommittees was defeated in referendum in October 2011.17 Subsequently, the
Reflections on how the role of the Irish parliament in European affairs might be improved
some new ideas of its own.
Report of the Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in
the European Union
Following the referendum rejection of the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the
Constitution Bill 2008, designed to facilitate ratification of the Lisbon Treaty,7
the Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the EU was established as a Sub-
Committee of both the Joint OireachtasCommittee on European Affairs and
the Joint OireachtasCommittee on European Scrutiny. Chaired by opposition
Senator Paschal Donohoe, its purpose was considering the referendum results’
Eliciting a response from the Irish parliament to European integration
preparation or thought
given to the topic under discussion. The emphasis on constituency work is also
reflected in limited sittings. In 2015, the Seanad sat for only 106 days, and the
Dáil for only 118.14 Moreover, as elections approach in the second half of a parliamentary term, parliamentarians’ focus on policy and legislative work declines,15
resulting, e.g., in worsened attendance at Oireachtascommittees.
Even within the realm of policy work, the attention of parliamentarians can
be divided. An Oireachtas member will frequently be a member of more than
include ‘married families, families that rely on the
care of children by members of the extended family, families based
on cohabiting couples and [significantly for same-sex couples] civil
partnerships’.12 Additionally, the bill sought to address children born
through assisted human reproduction and surrogacy. Within weeks,
Shatter published the heads of bill; this was a legislative change that
he had personally worked on introducing.
The Children and Family Relationships Bill went to the Joint
OireachtasCommittee for Justice for pre-legislative hearings. In its
However, charging for domestic water services was suspended altogether in an amendment Act in 2016 following a general election which eventually led to the establishment of a minority Fine Gael government. Water charges was a key campaigning issue, especially for the small left parties and Fianna Fáil also endorsed the removal of water charges though their message was inconsistent. The Water Services Bill 2017 facilitated the recommendations of the report of the Joint OireachtasCommittee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water
Policy actors and structures: the democratic coda
In 1990 one former Minister for Foreign Affairs described the Oireachtas as
being ‘the least developed legislature in the European Community’ and noted that
it was unique in Europe in having no parliamentary committee to consider
foreign affairs (Dáil 396: 1638). The 1974 establishment of the Joint OireachtasCommittee on Secondary Legislation of the European Communities had been the
first parliamentary foray into what might be described as foreign policy and
this was only the second Joint Oireachtas
Using sectoral committees is a widely-employed means of involving large
numbers of parliamentarians in European affairs. An early mechanism for involving sectoral committees in European scrutiny in Ireland was seen in the 30th Dáil
period, when the Joint OireachtasCommittee on European Scrutiny enjoyed the
power to refer draft European laws to sectoral committees for further scrutiny.
Little success was experienced in engaging other parliamentarians in scrutiny
by using this method, however68 (leading to the introduction of mainstreaming
in the 31st
Oireachtas (hereafter HoO) Report of Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on hearings and submissions on the review of prostitution legislation (2013). Available at: https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/committee/dail/31/joint_committee_on_education_and_social_protection/reports/2013/2013-06-27_report-on-review-of-legislation-on-prostitution-part-1_en.pdf (accessed 2 September 2021).
HoO, Report of Joint Committee