Fáilte isteach!

Feargal Quinn is an independent member of Seanad Éireann.

ImageWhen I first became a senator, the one thing that really surprised me was how much important work went on in Leinster House, almost unknown to the general public. Everyone is the loser from this. But the people who lose most are the ordinary citizens of Ireland, whose daily lives are affected by what goes on in the Oireachtas.

Now with the internet, it's possible for people to take a much closer interest in what their legislators are doing. You can "look over our shoulders" as we make new laws - and, if you want, you can play a part in shaping those laws to reflect your interests.

The main focus on this site is the scrutiny of new laws as they go through the legislative process. Every year about 40 new laws go on the Statute Book, all of them with impact on our lives in some way or another.

You can monitor a draft law from the time it is first published, then follow it through the various stages of discussion in both Houses of the Oireachtas on its way to becoming the law of the land when the President signs it.

At any stage along the way, you can make your views known by getting in touch with the relevant Minister, with your local TD, or with individual Senators.

At any time, you can check on the progress of a particular Bill by looking it up in the full list of current bills.

Each week the Oireachtas sits, you can see what is about to be discussed - and read the same documentation we legislators get.

Day by day, you can follow the debates on new laws and issues of the day - in far more detail than a newspaper can ever bring you.

There are three Oireachtas sessions each year - the first runs from the end of September until Christmas, the second from the end of January until Easter, and the third from Easter until early July. The Dáil when in session usually sits on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; the Seanad usually sits on Wednesday and Thursday. The first day's sitting in each House begins at 2:30pm; the other days begin at 10:30am.

Early in each day is the Order of Business, and in the Dáil there is an opportunity for opposition parties to put "leaders' questions" to the Taoiseach on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; in the Seanad the Order of Business is used to raise questions of topical concern.

Under the Constitution, the government is answerable to the Dáil; hence the importance of parliamentary questions. The Taoiseach answers questions on Tuesday and Wednesday each week (in addition to leaders' questions), and the other Ministers answer questions about their departmental responsibilities on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, according to a set rota.

How laws get passed

  • A new law starts as a Bill (draft law)
  • Most Bills start in the Dáil
  • Bill has 5 stages in each House
  • 1st Stage: Bill published
  • 2nd Stage: General discussion
  • 3rd "Committee" Stage: line-by-line scrutiny; amendments are made
  • 4th "Report" Stage: Bill reconsidered, may be amended again
  • 5th "Final" Stage: Bill passed
  • Other House: Stages 2-5 repeated
  • If amended again, first House must confirm
  • Then: President signs it into law
  • Note: A Bill may provide that some or all of its sections come into effect only with the issue of a Commencement Order [in the form of a Statutory Instrument] by the relevant Minister.

Oireachtas-watching tip

The text of a Bill is full of legal language and can often be hard to follow. I have found the best way into a Bill is through the "explanatory memorandum" which usually accompanies a Bill. It spells out in ordinary language the meaning and the point of each section.

I hope this site will stimulate your interest and participation in the legislative process. If enough people follow it closely, that process will get better - and more responsive to people's needs. For democracy to thrive, it needs a strong level of interest from the general public day in and day out. Let me know what you think of the site, and please share with me any ideas you have for making it do its job better.