By Andrew Leahy
After an extremely busy and stressful season in the Dail chambers, TD’s broke up for their summer recess on the 21st of July. The length of this recess had previously came under scrutiny from many members of the house, including Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin when Fine Gael proposed the house would take their summer break on the 7th of July, due to renovations that were planned during the recess. The Cork native issued his concerns about the length of the recess saying that it was too long following the amount of time the Irish people had without a stable government following this year’s election.
The Dail usual resumes mid-September, which would mean TD’s would have had almost 3 months off, but the issue was resolved and the 21st of July was a date which all parties agreed upon along with the Chief Whip Regina Doherty.
It was originally planned that the renovations to Leinster House would focus on the old Georgian part of the building, however closer to the summer recess Oireachtas representatives outlined that further renovations regarding technology supporting the Dail chamber would also take place.
These technological updates were found wanting in 2014, after the Houses of the Oireachtas Service established a group which would review the technology within the chamber. Their task was to compare the technologies regarding broadcast, voting and sound systems within the chamber, with those of other Parliaments in Europe.
The group’s research observed that although some of the elements of the sound equipment had been updated, the core of the system had remained un-changed for almost 25 years and was in serious need of improvement. The age of the equipment which was still in use had led to reductions in sound quality, unlike most other major Parliaments in Europe.
Voting systems were replaced during the summer break. The review group reported that the system was installed in 2001, but it operated on un-supported operating systems with the initialisation of votes from out-of-date media. The synoptic voting display system was replaced with a brand new system which is the norm now in most other modern Parliaments. This new voting system is of high-resolution and is remote controllable making it far more efficient than its predecessor. The new system allows for voting data to be displayed and summarised in a far easier fashion, and will certainly make life easier for all those in the chamber.
The quality of voice reinforcement within the Dail’s chambers was also an area which needed improvement. The quality was improved to the recommended voice reinforcement standards, which are of broadcast quality. Further improvements were made to this system meaning that any interference which may occur due to mobile phones or proximate cabling will be eliminated.
All of these renovations were envisaged to have been finished by the time the TD’s stepped back into Leinster House to resume their work on the 27th of September and that turned out to be the case. Certain TD’s were critical of the systems which were in place before the recess, in particular the voting systems, as before the system was upgraded, TD’s were unable to abstain from a vote. One Fine Gael TD said “New politics has to facilitate abstentions”. Hopefully these new improvements have put us on a par with our European colleagues.