THE CEANN COMHAIRLE Séan Ó Fearghaíl has announced the establishment of an expert forum on Dáil privilege.
The forum will examine the issues surrounding the Constitutional right to freedom of debate and will offer advice and recommendations to Ó Fearghaíl.
The announcement comes following the most recent debate fuelled by the use of Dáil privileges two weeks ago, which was caused by comments made by Solidarity TD Paul Murphy about garda testimonies during the Jobstown trial.
The remarks were called into question by Ó Fearghaíl. He referred them on to the group that decides whether TDs have abused their privilege.
In this case, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, will consider whether the comments were in breach of Dáil privileges, and report back on their findings (which could be months from now).
When assessing abuse of privilege, the committee makes considerations as to whether comments were in the public’s interest – and if they’re not, they could be considered defamatory.
The recommendations from the expert forum will be brought to the Committee on Procedure for consideration.
It will also look at possible sanctions for breaches of privilege and appropriate mechanisms for people adversely affected to “vindicate their good name”, according to Ó Fearghaíl.
Members of the Dáil, Seanad and committee speakers have certain privileges, or slight exemptions from the law, that are set down in the Constitution.
Former government chief whip Mary Hanafin, former editor of Irish Times Conor Brady, senior counsel Conleth Bradley and UCD’s Professor David Farrell have been chosen to sit on the forum.
“[The forum] will examine how Constitutional privilege should be applied in a modern Parliament and in particular the application of existing rules,” he said.
As Chair, I am acutely aware of the need to balance the Constitutional right to freedom of debate during Parliamentary proceedings, and the right of private individuals to their good name.
With reporting by Gráinna Ní Aodha