Ireland has some of the best internet-based information on its government in Europe: at least, that is the view of international juries. The Oireachtas is no exception.
Traditionally, the main publication of the Oireachtas has been the parliamentary debates, which go back to the 1st Dáil in 1919. In 2011, the Oireachtas entered the paperless age and these are now published only electronically. The entry point is: www.oireachtas.ie.
Every statement made by every member in the house during business is recorded and this forms the Oireachtas record. It follows the business of the day, from the order of business, through debates, oral question time, discussion on legislation and concludes with the adjournment debate. Written parliamentary question answers then follow. On most days, the volume of business is so large that the written answers are normally published as a separate PDF. The transcript of the debates is normally available on the Oireachtas site the following day and in PDF form a week to ten days later. Members have 21 days to check the text of what they said. The files are divided into pages and a typical reference format is Seanad Eireann, Debates, 1st June 2001, 424-5. Although questions have individual numbers, these are not normally cited in references.
The importance of ‘the record’
The text of debates is important, for it includes statements of government policy, information and the perspectives of different parties. Ministers in particular are expected to give accurate information. Even if inaccurate information is given in error, ministers will be expected to correct the record and apologize. Those statements are the basis, though, on which voluntary and community organisations may present their case to other arms of government, like the civil service, public service, state agencies and local authorities. Any statement on the record is considered an authoritative source to quote. Alternately, an unenlightened statement can become the basis on which a policy may be challenged. The record also enables organisations to identify who is interested in what and find possible champions to their cause (or opponents who must be won over).
Finding out more
The Oireachtas site provides details on its individual members. This identifies them by constituency, panel, party or alphabetically and provides a link directly to each member’s website (which can also be the party website). The site also provides details of business under way, committees, delegations, visits and events, educational resources and history. Enquiries can be taken by the Communications Unit.
- For those interested to follow the Oireachtas in real time, the Watch and listen and Watch Oireachtas sections now provides live streaming by TV and radio of the Dáil, Seanad and committees.
- For those wishing to know of the business the following week, there is an e-mail alert service: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For those wishing to find out more about members, then the Nealon guide is recommended. This dates to the 1970s, when journalist, later deputy, Ted Nealon began write a guide whenever a new Oireachtas was elected. This contains, as well as election analysis and detail of the counts, pen portraits of every member. The publisher is normally Gill & McMillan and it is called ‘the Nealon guide’. For more info see: www.gillmacmillan.ie/
Business in the Oireachtas is normally covered in the daily newspapers and on RTE (Oireachtas report), but voluntary and community organisations are likely to require a level of detail that is unlikely to be covered by these broader reports. Accordingly, using the Oireachtas site directly is recommended. This Oireachtasbrief service selects details of those issues and members likely to be of most interest to voluntary and community organisations (www.oireachtasbrief.ie).