On 1 January 2013, Ireland took up the Presidency of the Council for the seventh time, at the same time as it marked 40 years of EU membership.
There have been huge changes, as the Communities developed into the European Union, during this period. National parliaments’ roles in EU affairs have also steadily developed. They are now considered to be an important element in the scrutiny of EU proposals and in providing a link to citizens.
Previous Irish Presidencies
Ireland acceded to the then EEC in 1973, some 40 years ago. Prior to the current January to June 2013 Presidency, Ireland has chaired the Council in six other periods:
- January-June 2004 (Taoiseach: Bertie Ahern),
- July-December 1996 (Taoiseach: John Bruton),
- January-June 1990 (Taoiseach: Charles Haughey),
- July-December 1984 (Taoiseach: Garret FitzGerald),
- July-December 1979 (Taoiseachs: Jack Lynch and Charles Haughey)
The first direct elections to the European Parliament took place only a few weeks before the start of this presidency,
- January-June 1975 (Taoiseach: Liam Cosgrave).
The role of Ireland’s Parliament in EU Affairs has steadily developed throughout this time.
Shortly after the beginning of the previous Irish Presidency, in January 2004, the Taoiseach (head of government or prime minister) addressed the Dáil. He discussed the key issues on the agenda of the Presidency programme and Ireland’s aims and objectives during its six months in the chair.
He said that there was now a coherent and coordinated Presidency framework with a multi-annual strategic programme covering six future Presidencies. In addition, Ireland was involved in 2003 in producing an annual operational programme setting out the EU’s agenda in detail for the Irish Presidency. Both programmes had been laid before the Dáil and the Presidency programme given to each Oireachtas member.
He noted the importance of bringing Europe closer to its citizens, in which the Dáil had a clear role to play. Praising the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs, which scrutinises EU proposals, he said that this activity protects and promotes the interests of the Irish people and strengthens the EU. He foresaw the Committee’s work and the related debates in the Dáil becoming more important given an increasingly complex and larger Union.
Over one hundred Presidency meetings were held in Ireland in 2004.
The Irish Parliament and the 2013 Presidency
Addressing the Senate in July 2012 on the subject of Ireland’s forthcoming EU presidency, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that his government is committed to adding to the Parliament’s role in conducting EU business.
In November 2012, the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents (the President and leaders of the political groups) visited the Irish parliament for two days to discuss the Presidency’s parliamentary dimension.
The Dáil Speaker (Seán Barrett), the Senate Chairman (Paddy Burke) and the chairs of Oireachtas Committees introduced the priorities of the parliamentary dimension.
There will be eight high-profile meetings during these six months:
- January: COSAC (The Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs) Chairs’ Conference,
- February: Meeting of Chairs of Finance Committees of EU Member States’ parliaments and the EP,
- March: Meeting of Chairs of Agriculture and Fisheries Committees of EU Member States’ parliaments and the EP,
- March: Interparliamentary Conference on Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP),
- April: Meeting of Chairs of Employment, Enterprise, Innovation and Social Affairs Committees of EU Member States’ parliaments and the EP,
- May: Meeting of Chairs of Environment and Energy Committees of EU Member States’ parliaments and the EP,
- June: Meeting of Chairs of Communications, Education and Transport Committees of EU Member States’ parliaments and the European Parliament,
- June: XLIXth Plenary Meeting of COSAC.
EU committee structure
The Oireachtas created a Joint Committee on European affairs in 2007 made up of 17 members from both houses. The foreign minister is also a member by right (ex officio) and Irish MEPs and members of the Irish delegation at the Council of Europe may attend and participate in committee meetings.
Its main function is to monitor overall EU policy, the EU’s external relations, presidency priorities and the development of pre-legislative initiatives.
It holds meetings with experts in EU areas such as agriculture, trade, enlargement or institutional reform and there is a regular session with the Minister for European Affairs before each meeting of the EU’s General Affairs Council.
There is also a Joint Committee on European Scrutiny (established in 2007 as well), comprising 15 parliamentarians, for the monitoring of EU legislation. This Committee met 22 times in 2010 to examine EU legislative proposals. It examined 441 documents – around 500 are received each year – of which 382 were proposals for new legislation. It decided that 21 needed to be the subject of greater study:
- eleven were examined in further detail by the Committee itself, and
- eight were referred to other committees.
Other committees also deal with EU matters relevant to their policy area in addition to such formal scrutiny of EU proposals.
Ireland’s Parliament consists of the President and:
- Dáil Éireann – the House of Representatives, the principal chamber, and
- Seanad Éireann – the Senate.