Six years and counting to pass a law in Ireland

Next time a politician complains of being overworked, you could do worse than point out this statistic: among the bills unfinished by the 30th Dáil because of the election are two dating back to the 29th Dáil.

The two bills are the Privacy Bill, introduced in 2006 by then justice minister Michael McDowell along with the Defamation Act as part of a package of press reform, and left to languish, and the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill, introduced by the same minister in 2005.

Photo: Empty Dáil chamber
Nobody at work in Dáil Éireann: Image: Wikimedia Commons

The bills are now in a legal limbo. It is up to the new government, once it takes office following the general election, to decide whether to abandon them or to continue the process of making them into law.

The tribunals bill was designed to update and consolidate existing law on tribunals, which dates back to a law passed by the British parliament, and has been amended several times since by the Oireachtas.

Among other measures, the bill would have required any new tribunal to produce an estimate of its costs and duration within three months of being set up.

It would also allow the Oirechtas to dissolve a tribunal, and clarify the basis on which legal costs were awarded to people called to appear before an inquiry.

The justice minister would also given new powers to set maximum legal fees recoverable by the State.

Yesterday, the public accounts committee found that the cost of three tribunals, Morris, Mahon and Moriarty, totalled over €504 million.

The Morris tribunal into allegations of Garda corruption in Donegal completed public hearings in 2007, and published its final reports in 2008.

The Mahon and Moriarty tribunals have yet to submit their final reports.