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How does the Dáil work?


TommyO'Brien

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 14, 2009
Messages
12,222
As a lot of posters don't seem to know how the Dáil functions, I have written an explanation - sorry for the length.

1) In modern parliaments committees meet simultaneously with plenary sessions (plenary sessions are the full parliamentary session taking place in the chamber). At many times 50 TDs+ may be attending committee meetings while the plenary is on. They are in the committee rooms. Members of the public can go in there at any stage to watch them.

2) All TDs (like parliaments worldwide) have video links on TV screens in their office. So they can, and do, sit in their offices and watch it from there. They can also watch the Seanad, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the European Parliament or many other parliaments, or watch Sky News, BBC World, CNN or whatever, and so follow international events. Members had to sit in the chamber of a parliament in the 19th century to follow debates. They haven't to any more, so most don't. Only a small number of members of a parliament sit in the plenary chamber, usually those directly involved at that moment in the debate (ie, those scheduled to speak in the next few minutes). The rest follow it from their offices, and come down for their speaking slot.

3) Parliamentary chambers in general are not particularly good places to follow debates. The US congress spent millions trying to improve the acoustics of the Senate and Representatives, and ended up having to remove the original ceilings and put in special ones. The Dáil because of its size has particularly poor acoustics. Someone up in the office listening on the monitor will hear things far better than the sod sitting in the chamber. So most TDs prefer to follow debates on the monitor than struggle to hear in a very large cavernous chamber. The Dáil chamber also has another problem. Because of its size it is very hard to heat. It has an old boiler system which depending on how it is on, either turns the chamber into a fridge or an oven. For that reason too people tend to avoid it if they can and work from their offices. Their offices at least aren't an oven or a fridge, though the fact that the damn Greens blocked an attempt to put in air conditioning means that people largely rely on windows that automatically open and shut for no logical reason (ie, open when it is snowing or at 8pm on a cold night, stay shut in a heatwave or at midday) and when opening make a sound like a chainsaw. (If you ever are onto your TD on the phone and you hear the sound of a chainsaw it is those damned windows opening again. They can be over-ridden, but only standing like an ejjit for minutes pressing an override button and waiting for it to do something. All sides curse the Greens for their damn insistence on those 'environmentally friendly' bloody windows.)

4) In the Dáil unfortunately the rules of debate are crazily restrictive and governments won't change it. In Westminster, ministers "give way" to allow someone to make a point so there is a cut and thrust. In the Dáil it all consists of people standing up giving a ten minute speech, then been replaced by someone else giving a ten minute speech, then another, and another, with no cut and thrust.

5) For every person who complains that there are not enough TDs in the chamber, another will complain if their TD is in the chamber, ringing up to say things like "what the fukk are you doing sitting around on your arse all day. Why don't you do something useful?'

The idea that TDs are off mitching or in the bar or something when they are not in the chamber is fanciful. There is no sense in sitting around for hours on end in a stuffy or freezing chamber where you cannot hear the debate properly, unable to contribute until your time comes hours later, when you might as well be in your office able to listen to the debate clearly, deal with paper work and be available if someone calls - even if you are constantly been interrupted by the 'chainsaw' windows opening and closing as they feel like it. When it came to the debate on the economy today, BTW, people could follow it in their offices while keep an eye on the bond markets, or read up on what was making international news, or even reading this site (and yes, some do!).

BTW, in case you wonder why the Dáil is empty while the Commons looks crowded, that is an optical illusion. The Dáil chamber is physically very spread out and has more seats in it than are needed. So even if the house is one-quarter full it looks as if less than 10% full. The Commons is a tiny chamber - really really tiny when you see it in real life. Everyone gets a shock when they see it - about the size of your average rectangular bungalow, with seats for only 450 though there are 650 MPs. So even when only 10% of its members are there it looks at least a quarter full. When full MPs sit on the steps, behind the speaker's chair and in an overflow gallery beside the public gallery. It also has fantastic acoustics, unlike the Dáil.

If it was up to me, I would make the Dáil chamber smaller - I'd turn the overflow seats in the front into the government and opposition benches, to create a more intimate relationship like in Westminster, remove the back row of seats, and put in proper acoustics.

BTW - one other difference with Westminster. In Westminster you have to "get the speaker's eye" to get called - hence the sight if MPs bobbing up and down looking to be invited to speak. In the Dáil the party whips draw up a list. They allocate time. So you get told you are speaking at, say, 4.30 to 4.40. So you follow the debate in your office until 4.25, head down to the chamber (anything from 30 seconds to 5 minutes depending on where your office is), get called off the list by the Ceann Comhairle who has received a list from the whips, then when you are finished at 4.40 head back to your office to follow the debate.

So if there are four or five TDs in the chamber, that is usually

  • one government minister (often the sponsoring minister. So if it is Finance debate, the Finance Minister or junior is often there)
  • one representative from Fine Gael and one from Labour.
  • Occasionally one representative from Sinn Féin
  • The speaker on his or her feet
  • The person due to speak next.
Anyway, guys, that is how the place works. Come in and see it sometime. Your TD can get you in. The Dáil chamber is located in the nineteenth century extension to Leinster House - between the original Leinster House and the National Museum, the Seanad is on the old ballroom of the original 18th century Leinster House (two windows on the left of the Kildare Street side on the first floor) while the committees meet in Floor 0 (basement) of LH2000 - the millennium wing between Leinster House and the National Library.
 


Barnacle

Well-known member
Joined
Sep 15, 2009
Messages
854
Good post, it would be nice to see "cut and thrust" in our Dail. Interesting what you said about the Commons, bit of a squash if they all turn up.

BTW, in case you wonder why the Dáil is empty while the Commons looks crowded, that is an optical illusion. The Dáil chamber is physically very spread out and has more seats in it than are needed. So even if the house is one-quarter full it looks as if less than 10% full. The Commons is a tiny chamber - really really tiny when you see it in real life. Everyone gets a shock when they see it - about the size of your average rectangular bungalow, with seats for only 450 though there are 650 MPs. So even when only 10% of its members are there it looks at least a quarter full. When full MPs sit on the steps, behind the speaker's chair and in an overflow gallery beside the public gallery. It also has fantastic acoustics, unlike the Dáil.
 

an innocent abroad

Well-known member
Joined
Apr 15, 2010
Messages
27,685
how does the dail work? It doesn't! it only works for those who want to claim their attendence allowance, which is every politican of all parties! contact your rep and ask them to get a question asked and see how democratic that dinosaur is, actually we are being unfair to our national house. it's the foreign occupiers of the benches on all sides that have demeaned it and brought it to it's knee's! if only walls could talk.
 

Conchubhairb

Member
Joined
Oct 2, 2010
Messages
34
As a lot of posters don't seem to know how the Dáil functions, I have written an explanation - sorry for the length.

1) In modern parliaments committees meet simultaneously with plenary sessions (plenary sessions are the full parliamentary session taking place in the chamber). At many times 50 TDs+ may be attending committee meetings while the plenary is on. They are in the committee rooms. Members of the public can go in there at any stage to watch them.

2) All TDs (like parliaments worldwide) have video links on TV screens in their office. So they can, and do, sit in their offices and watch it from there. They can also watch the Seanad, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the European Parliament or many other parliaments, or watch Sky News, BBC World, CNN or whatever, and so follow international events. Members had to sit in the chamber of a parliament in the 19th century to follow debates. They haven't to any more, so most don't. Only a small number of members of a parliament sit in the plenary chamber, usually those directly involved at that moment in the debate (ie, those scheduled to speak in the next few minutes). The rest follow it from their offices, and come down for their speaking slot.

3) Parliamentary chambers in general are not particularly good places to follow debates. The US congress spent millions trying to improve the acoustics of the Senate and Representatives, and ended up having to remove the original ceilings and put in special ones. The Dáil because of its size has particularly poor acoustics. Someone up in the office listening on the monitor will hear things far better than the sod sitting in the chamber. So most TDs prefer to follow debates on the monitor than struggle to hear in a very large cavernous chamber. The Dáil chamber also has another problem. Because of its size it is very hard to heat. It has an old boiler system which depending on how it is on, either turns the chamber into a fridge or an oven. For that reason too people tend to avoid it if they can and work from their offices. Their offices at least aren't an oven or a fridge, though the fact that the damn Greens blocked an attempt to put in air conditioning means that people largely rely on windows that automatically open and shut for no logical reason (ie, open when it is snowing or at 8pm on a cold night, stay shut in a heatwave or at midday) and when opening make a sound like a chainsaw. (If you ever are onto your TD on the phone and you hear the sound of a chainsaw it is those damned windows opening again. They can be over-ridden, but only standing like an ejjit for minutes pressing an override button and waiting for it to do something. All sides curse the Greens for their damn insistence on those 'environmentally friendly' bloody windows.)

4) In the Dáil unfortunately the rules of debate are crazily restrictive and governments won't change it. In Westminster, ministers "give way" to allow someone to make a point so there is a cut and thrust. In the Dáil it all consists of people standing up giving a ten minute speech, then been replaced by someone else giving a ten minute speech, then another, and another, with no cut and thrust.

5) For every person who complains that there are not enough TDs in the chamber, another will complain if their TD is in the chamber, ringing up to say things like "what the fukk are you doing sitting around on your arse all day. Why don't you do something useful?'

The idea that TDs are off mitching or in the bar or something when they are not in the chamber is fanciful. There is no sense in sitting around for hours on end in a stuffy or freezing chamber where you cannot hear the debate properly, unable to contribute until your time comes hours later, when you might as well be in your office able to listen to the debate clearly, deal with paper work and be available if someone calls - even if you are constantly been interrupted by the 'chainsaw' windows opening and closing as they feel like it. When it came to the debate on the economy today, BTW, people could follow it in their offices while keep an eye on the bond markets, or read up on what was making international news, or even reading this site (and yes, some do!).

BTW, in case you wonder why the Dáil is empty while the Commons looks crowded, that is an optical illusion. The Dáil chamber is physically very spread out and has more seats in it than are needed. So even if the house is one-quarter full it looks as if less than 10% full. The Commons is a tiny chamber - really really tiny when you see it in real life. Everyone gets a shock when they see it - about the size of your average rectangular bungalow, with seats for only 450 though there are 650 MPs. So even when only 10% of its members are there it looks at least a quarter full. When full MPs sit on the steps, behind the speaker's chair and in an overflow gallery beside the public gallery. It also has fantastic acoustics, unlike the Dáil.

If it was up to me, I would make the Dáil chamber smaller - I'd turn the overflow seats in the front into the government and opposition benches, to create a more intimate relationship like in Westminster, remove the back row of seats, and put in proper acoustics.

BTW - one other difference with Westminster. In Westminster you have to "get the speaker's eye" to get called - hence the sight if MPs bobbing up and down looking to be invited to speak. In the Dáil the party whips draw up a list. They allocate time. So you get told you are speaking at, say, 4.30 to 4.40. So you follow the debate in your office until 4.25, head down to the chamber (anything from 30 seconds to 5 minutes depending on where your office is), get called off the list by the Ceann Comhairle who has received a list from the whips, then when you are finished at 4.40 head back to your office to follow the debate.

So if there are four or five TDs in the chamber, that is usually

  • one government minister (often the sponsoring minister. So if it is Finance debate, the Finance Minister or junior is often there)
  • one representative from Fine Gael and one from Labour.
  • Occasionally one representative from Sinn Féin
  • The speaker on his or her feet
  • The person due to speak next.
Anyway, guys, that is how the place works. Come in and see it sometime. Your TD can get you in. The Dáil chamber is located in the nineteenth century extension to Leinster House - between the original Leinster House and the National Museum, the Seanad is on the old ballroom of the original 18th century Leinster House (two windows on the left of the Kildare Street side on the first floor) while the committees meet in Floor 0 (basement) of LH2000 - the millennium wing between Leinster House and the National Library.

Interesting insight - thanks for writing.

Any other alterations you'd suggest to improve the running of business?
 

Chrisco

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 14, 2008
Messages
3,830
Great post Tommy, with one exception:

where you claim TDs are "following the debate" in their offices...
 

TommyO'Brien

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 14, 2009
Messages
12,222
Good post, it would be nice to see "cut and thrust" in our Dail. Interesting what you said about the Commons, bit of a squash if they all turn up.
Glad to help. To give you some idea of the physical nature of the place, below are some pictures.

The picture below shows the Dáil chamber. Its spread out style, and Green octagonal dome, makes heating it and the acoustics difficult. (It has changed slightly since the picture was taken below - two seats for wheelchairs have been placed in.)


The picture below shows the House of Commons which is much smaller - probably no more than 70% the size of the Dáil, and very crowded, with MPs having to stand around the speaker and sit on steps, etc.



The picture has only 25 MPs in it out of 650 yet still looks like it has a reasonable crowd. 25 TDs in the Dáil looks empty.


The picture below is the library.



Below is the view from the outside of the Dáil chamber. The pictures are of former taoisigh. The corridor above runs straight to the Seanad chamber through the 18th century building. The corridor below runs down to the library, past the main hall. The two door frames up and below are where the 18th century meets the 19th century extension.
 

selkies

Active member
Joined
Oct 25, 2010
Messages
198
Website
www.politicswiki.ie
The Dail...Irelands No1 dosshouse for all those useless,money grabbing basterds...
Great post Tommy, with one exception:

where you claim TDs are "following the debate" in their offices...
Anyone who claims that all politicians are corrupt or lazy without any supporting evidence is corrupt and lazy.
 

TommyO'Brien

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Joined
Jan 14, 2009
Messages
12,222
Below is the 21st century extension, Leinster House 2000 (LH2000). It has been redesigned a bit since that picture. The seating area to the right is now a little café where visitors, politicians and staff get tea and sandwiches. The staircase goes down to the committee rooms in the lower basement (known as level 0). The floor the picture is taken from is Level 1 - actually one floor below ground level. Level 2, which is actually ground level, houses FF TDs, as does level 1. Levels 3 and 4 house FG TDs including the party leader and deputy leader on Level 4. Level 5 houses Labour TDs' offices including the leader and deputy leader, while Level 6 houses Sinn Féin, independents and some politicians from the main parties. (BTW - the statue you see was previously on that site - it was where the old National College of Art and Design was. It was a nude model for students to learn technique to draw with. So it was kept in the building to link the location with its past use.)



To give you an idea of where it all fits together, the main building, the former home of the Duke of Leinster, dates from the 18th century. The Dáil chamber is behind the small extension to the right (just off the picture - you can see the green octagonal dome from Merrion Square). The Seanad is in the room behind the two first floor windows of the main building - the old Ballroom. The room below is the Library. The RTE studios are in the top floor - which had to be closed off because it was structurally unsound, though apparently they put in new floors over the summer as otherwise the whole building risked being closed over health and safety rules (well it is 250 years old!). LH2000, where the committees meet, is behind that door to the left of the picture on the ground floor - the wall above it is a dummy wall to hide the modern building. There is a courtyard behind that wall, and then the new building. Until 1947 a rather large statue of Queen Victoria stood in the front of the building on a plinth. (The name stuck so that raises step in the front, where RTÉ does all its interviews from, is called 'The Plinth'.


That is the geography of the place. You can go in at any stage and see it.
 

TommyO'Brien

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 14, 2009
Messages
12,222
Great post Tommy, with one exception:

where you claim TDs are "following the debate" in their offices...
Every office has a monitor on which the Dáil, Seanad, all committees, European Parliament, BBC parliament, Sky News, CNN, BBC World etc can be watched (as well as the usual RTÉ, TV3, BBC one, UTV, etc. No sky sports though!).

Technically TDs' offices are out of bounds to the public but if you know a TD they often will bring you in. You will find almost all the monitors on on the Dáil channel. It is eerie walking down a corridor and finding the same channel being heard from each office.

There are no pictures of TDs' offices on-line (but then the Captain of the Guard would probably no apesh*t if there was as they are private working places).

The picture below is of Lord Glenavy, who served as Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann (possibly the first Cathaoirleach if I remember correct).

 

an innocent abroad

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Joined
Apr 15, 2010
Messages
27,685
the evidence is the no of days the dail sits, the no of days the leader of the country sits and answers questions, the no of legislation bills passed. and the fact we are in one of the most threathening periods of our independence and they still take 3 months holidays! not to mention their salaries, expenses, pensions!
 

TommyO'Brien

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Joined
Jan 14, 2009
Messages
12,222
People wonder about the Oireachtas committees, as they don't hear much about them. Most days has committee meetings, but the media don't cover them much because they can be highly technical.

If you ever wonder where your TD is, if they are not in their office or in the chamber, the chances are they are at one of these committees. Members are on a number.

Joint Committees of the 30th Dáil


  1. Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
  2. Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security
  3. Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
  4. Joint Committee on the Constitution
  5. Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children
  6. Joint Committee on Economic Regulatory Affairs
  7. Joint Committee on Education and Skills
  8. Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Innovation
  9. Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government
  10. Joint Committee on European Affairs
  11. Joint Committee on European Scrutiny
  12. Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service
  13. Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs
  14. Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
  15. Joint Committee on Health and Children
  16. Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Women’s Rights
  17. Joint Committee on Social Protection
  18. Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Sport, Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs
  19. Joint Committee on Transport

Select Committees of the 30th Dáil


  1. Select Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
  2. Select Committee on Tourism, Culture, Sport, Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs
  3. Select Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
  4. Select Committee on Constitution
  5. Select Committee on Education and Skills
  6. Select Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Innovation
  7. Select Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government
  8. Select Committee on European Affairs
  9. Select Committee on European Scrutiny
  10. Select Committee on Finance and the Public Service
  11. Select Committee on Foreign Affairs
  12. Select Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
  13. Select Committee on Health and Children
  14. Select Committee on Justice and Law Reform
  15. Select Committee on Social Protection
  16. Select Committee on Transport
  17. Select Committee on Members' Interests Dáil Éireann
Dáil Committees

  1. Committee of Public Accounts
  2. Committee on Procedure and Privileges

Other Committees



International Parliamentary Assemblies, Bodies and Delegations

Ireland and the United Kingdom

European Union

International Parliamentary Bodies

Below is Committee Room 4.


Finally, another part of the Leinster House complex is the Audio-Visual room, where many meetings take place with delegations, particularly if there is an audio or visual aspect. Members of the public are often brought in there also.

A picture can be seen at http://www.patbreen.ie/wp-content/gallery/fine-gael/pat-breen-pictured-with-des-bishop-in-the-dail-recently.jpg (The picture is too big to show here. It shows comedian Des Bishop with Pat Breen, TD in the Audio Visual room.)
 

TommyO'Brien

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Joined
Jan 14, 2009
Messages
12,222
A lot of people are genuinely interested in politics but don't know much about the Oireachtas, how it works, or have ever set foot in the place. As I am leaving this site at the end of this week I thought it worth giving people some information both on what happens, and a sense of the visuals of the place.

You can go in yourself any time and see the place. Just call a TD or senator and they will arrange a ticket.

If you ever get a chance, go on the open day when you will get to see places normally closed off to people.

Finally, some more visuals

The spectacular two-storey main hall ceiling


The old Queen Victoria statue - which was removed in 1947. All but one of the statues at the base have been re-used around the place. The picture dates from King George V's visit in 1912 when Leinster House was the HQ of the RDS. (The letters GR in the facade stand for Georgius Rex.)



The Seanad chamber


And finally, for those political wonks out there may remember the story of the day Albert Reynolds locked Labour out of Government Buildings while he read the Beef Tribunal report, below is the corridor in Government Buildings looking down from the Taoiseach's office. The doors that were locked can be seen at the end.

 

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