Group will advise of new ways to punish Dáil privilege abuse

Seán Ó Fearghaíl said the consultation, aimed at producing high-level advice to the Committee on Procedures and Privileges ’will form the basis for making a decision to address the problems that we undoubtedly have’

The Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil is to undertake a consultation to address problems with discipline in the House, he has confirmed.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl said on Sunday the consultation, aimed at producing high-level advice to the Committee on Procedures and Privileges “will form the basis for making a decision to address the problems that we undoubtedly have”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, Mr Ó Fearghaíl said privilege was a constitutional provision “for very good reason”

“The privilege that we have is meant to be used, but it most definitely is not meant to be abused and we have to find ways to deal with the very limited circumstances in which members may deliberately or inadvertently abuse the privilege they are privileged to have,” he said.

Asked whether the committee might consider sanctions such as fines for breaches, the Ceann Comhairle said: “I’m not going to pre-determine what will come out of what will be announced next week but the concept in standing orders whereby the Committee on Procedures could find against a member, find that they had breached privilege, and reprimand them if you like, that that was the sanction.

“Traditionally, I suppose, the sanction of your peers was sufficient to deter people in the past. Currently we’re in the sort of environment where the sanction of one’s peers might be considered to be a badge of honour by some people and therefore we have to look at more pragmatic ways of dealing with the problem.”

On whether fines or suspension could be considered against members, Mr Ó Fearghaíl said that “all of those things could be looked at”.

“I’m not prescriptive. I have to wait and see what advice is available. Will evaluate and the committee on procedures will make the best decision possible in the circumstances.”