Anton Savage: Dáil committees are not for dodging, they are fundamental to our democracy

Ducking out of Oireachtas committee invitations has become a national sport, but it should not be allowed, regardless of the excuses put forward

20th Jun 2024
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Originally published in the Business Post.

This week Angela Kerins failed in her final bid to hold the Public Accounts Committee liable for damage she maintains was caused to her health and reputation during her 2014 appearance before the committee to discuss her stewardship of Rehab, the disabilities charity, and the salary she received for same.

In hearing her appeal, the Supreme Court didn’t adjudicate on the merits of her claim, but rather on the capacity to hold the Dáil civilly liable at all. And it turns out you can’t. Any actions to make her whole have to come from the Oireachtas itself, and not the courts. One hopes she doesn’t hold her breath.

Kerins’s subsequent legal actions, along with the public discussion of how she was treated, have done much to temper the nature of Dáil committees. Unfortunately, we may have lost the baby with the bathwater. The once fearsome committees are now so emasculated that many invitees simply choose to ignore them entirely.

Most notably, the Road Safety Authority (RSA) recently “declined an invitation” to attend the Public Accounts Committee. In the movie A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks plays a cynical, alcoholic baseball coach who finds himself coaching a team of female players during WW2 as all the men in the Major Leagues have been drafted into the war effort.

As he berates one player for a poor performance, she begins to weep. He stares in stunned horror before roaring “Are you CRYING? This is baseball!! There’s no CRYING in baseball!!!”.

Well, there’s no “declining an invitation” from the Public Accounts Committee for a state entity. Someone seems to have subsequently explained this to them as they reversed their position. It’s now a fair assumption they will have a significantly more torrid time than they otherwise might have had.

The RSA’s refusal was undiplomatic, but far from unique. Ducking Oireachtas committees has become a national sport. The former chief executive of the FAI tried it in the most bizarre way, by attending but refusing to say anything, which turned out to be a catastrophically ill-judged approach. Since then a pattern has emerged where people can get away with refusing to attend on two grounds; they attended before (Moyà Doherty, Rory Coveney) or they are unwell (Jim Jennings, Dee Forbes).

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