Committee Reports::Interim Report - Northern Ireland Relief Expenditure::15 December, 1970::Report



The Committee has made progress in the matters referred to it by Order of the Dáil of 1 December, 1970, and has agreed to the following interim Report:—

1. In considering the adoption of procedures to govern its proceedings, the Committee has encountered a difficulty of a fundamental nature viz. the extent of application of the provisions of sections 12 and 13 of Article 15 of the Constitution.

2. Section 12 applies privilege to all official reports and publications of the Oireachtas or of either House and to utterances made in either House wherever published. Section 13 states that members of each House… shall, not, in respect of any utterance in either House, be amenable to any court or any authority other than the House itself.

3. The difficulty for the Committee was whether these sections, which are essential to the effective discharge by members of the Houses of their duties, are applicable to—

(a) the utterances in the Committee of the members, advisors, officials and agents of the Committee of Public Accounts;

(b) the utterances in the Committee of any persons sent for by the Committee to give evidence;

(c) the documents of the Committee and of its members prior to an order of the Dáil that they be laid before it; and

(d) any papers or records sent to the Committee at its request or of his own volition by any person prior to an order of the Dáil that such papers or records be laid before it.

It seemed to the Committee that if the sections of the Article did not apply, the effective conduct of the business referred to it by the Dáil might prove to be impossible, having regard to the nature of the examination which it must conduct.

4. The Committee adverted to the fact that in the report of the all-Party Committee on the Constitution it was stated that the following point had been referred to the Attorney General for examination by a legal committee under his chairmanship:—

The view was expressed that this section [section 12 of Article 15] might not provide privilege in respect of utterances by the Public Accounts Committee and its members in the course of their duties. Privilege should be extended to the utterances and publications of all official Committees of the Oireachtas.

The opinion of the Attorney General’s Committee has been made available to the Committee and is reproduced in Appendix 1. The Committee had engaged counsel to provide legal advice on some aspects of its procedure. The opinion of counsel on the point under consideration is reproduced in Appendix 2.

5. It will be seen from these documents that, although the Committee has been advised that it enjoys absolute privilege, the constitutional provisions may bear differing interpretations as to whether privilege attaches to the documents of the Committee before presentation to the House and to any papers, or records sent to the Committee at its request or of his own volition by any person prior to an Order of the Dáil for presentation and to utterances made in the Committee.

6. In the circumstances, and since it cannot adjudicate authoritatively on the issues the Committee has come to the conclusion that it would not be proper for it to proceed with the examination of the matter referred to it pending a resolution of the difficulty. Consideration of the legal opinions suggests that the matter can be resolved by legislation. Conscious of the Dáil’s direction, that it should report on the matter referred to it as soon as possible, the Committee recommends the earliest adoption of this course for the favourable consideration of the Dáil.

7. During the Dáil debate on the motion referring the examination of the expenditure of the Grant-in-Aid to the Committee the question as to whether the Committee had power to compel attendance of witnesses was adverted to. No provision was made by the Dáil to settle the matter apparently on the basis that, if it transpired that lack of this power made the Committee’s procedure inadequate, it would be open to the Committee to report back to the Dáil. The Dáil could then decide what action to take. Should the House now decide to take legislative action as suggested by the Committee, the Committee further suggests that the opportunity be taken to resolve this matter also.

8. In order that it may be in a position to proceed as soon as possible when the difficulties brought to attention have been resolved, the Committee has adopted a number of procedures to govern its examination. These procedures-which may of course be subject to review in the light of such action as the Dáil may see fit to take—are set out in Appendix 3. It will be noted that item (v) will require an Order of the Dáil.



15th December, 1970