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Constitution must be modernised to protect functioning parliament in times of emergency – Carroll MacNeill

18th August 2020 - Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, TD

A Bill to safeguard the functioning of the Houses of the Oireachtas in times of emergency has been published by a Fine Gael TD.


Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said it is time the Constitution was modernised to protect a functioning parliament in extraordinary circumstances and that the option for remote voting in limited situations was a necessary part of that change.


The Dún Laoghaire TD said the practical measures proposed in the Bill would also pave the way for maternity leave for elected representatives.


Deputy Carroll MacNeill said: “At present, only members of the Oireachtas who are “present and voting” may vote in parliamentary proceedings.


“This is appropriate in so called “normal” times – being a member of parliament is a huge privilege – and turning up and voting is the most basic part of exercising that privilege on behalf of the community you represent.


“However, this pandemic has shone a light on the overly restrictive nature of the constitutional requirement to be present for every vote, in every circumstance.


“In an emergency, we need our Government to protect its people through the passage of emergency legislation.


“It is time now to proof our parliament against the effects of pandemics and future emergencies that we cannot envisage today; events in which shared physical presence becomes the antithesis of public service.


“There are at least three foreseeable situations in which the option of remote or proxy voting would be desirable in the public interest.


“They are: 


1. Provision for the operation of the Houses during an emergency preventing physical presence of members, such as a pandemic.

2. Provision for members who are or become immuno-compromised.

3. Provision for members who have recently had, or adopted, a baby and/or are the primary caregivers of that infant. 


“Not alone could this prepare us for any future waves or pandemics, it would also form the first necessary step in considering further arrangements that may be made for maternity leave for TDs and Senators.


“We have had lots of talk about maternity leave for politicians; this is the only way to take the first step towards it and I really hope this measure will be supported by every person interested in a more representative Dáil in the medium to long term.


“At a minimum, maternity or paternity provision requires the possibility of remote or proxy voting.


“This Bill removes this constitutional block and enables each House of the Oireachtas to make specific arrangements for such vacancies in its standing orders. This then has the added advantage of being flexible over time to account for situations we cannot imagine today.”


Deputy Carroll MacNeill concluded: “This Bill is not intended for casual vacancies. It is the enabling of new rules for how we govern remotely, if and when that ever became imperative again, and it is the first step to a more inclusive parliament for parents and those with additional physical needs.

“Having a family or, through no fault of your own becoming ill, should not preclude you from participation in your duties as an elected representative. The rules governing the Houses of the Oireachtas should not actually limit the functionality of the people’s chamber to work when our people may need it most.”


The new proposed Article 15.11.4 states:

“Each House may make its own rules and standing orders providing for special and limited circumstances by which members not present in that House may vote when any matter, or any class of matter as so provided for, is to be determined by a vote of that House.”

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