The last election saw a dramatic change in the Irish political landscape.

The formation of a minority Government promised to shift power away from the executive and back to the parliament.

Under the now wearisome label of "New Politics" it offered the promise that any TD or Senator with a good idea, could formulate a bill and get his or her own legislation passed.

In theory, it meant that making law no longer required the indulgence of the Government. Legislators could finally do the job they were elected to do.

The reality, however, has been somewhat different.

Call to tackle growing backlog of Private Members' Bills

Politicians, especially those in opposition, have embraced the opportunity to push through their own legislation, but very few bills have made it into law.

There are a number of reasons for this.

1. Volume

The first problem is the volume of legislation that is being pushed into the system.

Since this Dáil was established, 195 private members bills have been tabled, the vast majority of those coming from opposition parties.

Some of these have been defeated or withdrawn, but 117 of them are still on the order paper.

Getting through all of these bills is an impossible task, and will never be accomplished, yet each week more and more bills get added to the pile.

On top of this, the Government’s own legislation has to be accommodated. This makes for a hefty workload, and a system that is so clogged that very little is moving.

TDs keep pushing more and more legislation into the pipe, but only in exceptional circumstances, is anything coming out the other end.

Just five private members bills have been enacted by the current Oireachtas.

They include a Sinn Féin bill to end the rule preventing the Financial Services Ombudsman from hearing complaints about financial products sold more than six years ago; a Labour party bill to ensure protection of the right to collectively bargain for freelance workers; a Fianna Fáil bill to recognise Irish sign language; a Fine Gael bill banning fracking, and a bill tabled by a group of independent senators allowing the sale of alcohol on Good Friday.

Three of these started their life in the Seanad, which has the advantage of dealing with committee stage, as well as second stage of the legislation.

2. Quality

The second problem is the quality of the legislation that is being tabled.

Opposition TDs or a private member from a Government party needs little or no expertise in drafting legislation to get a bill discussed in the Dáil.

The current Dáil arithmetic means the Government’s ability to block opposition legislation has been neutered.  

Much of the new legislation being proposed by TDs in this Dáil is either being supported by the Government or voted through in the early stages, only to be stymied later on.

This is often because the legislation being tabled is seen to be of poor quality and would require an enormous amount of work to bring it up to scratch.

An example of this is Gino Kenny’s proposal to legislate for medical cannabis, an idea many TDs support.

However, when this bill was properly scrutinised at committee stage, and the detail was examined, support for it ebbed away. It was criticised as unworkable.

The bill is still in the system but it’s highly unlikely it will be passed in the lifetime of this Dáil.

Many politicians will admit that tabling a bill, even if you don’t expect it to be enacted, is a good way of embarrassing the Government.

As Labour Senator Ged Nash put it some of the legislation is so bad that it "looks like it's been written on the back of a bookies' docket and is incapable of becoming a coherent statement in law".

But even legislation that is taken seriously is being held up.

This is because the committee system, which scrutinises legislation, is moving at a glacial pace, partly because of the amount of time dedicated to scrutinising each individual bill.

Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath has described the intense scrutiny of private members bills as "killing them with kindness".  

3. Money

The third problem is money.

Article 17.2 of the Constitution stipulates that no law which requires public money to be spent shall be passed without the approval of the Government, via a money message signed by the Taoiseach.

In other words, the Taoiseach must give his approval if legislation is going to cost the State money.

There are currently 29 bills that have been stalled because so called ‘money messages’ were requested.

4. Solution

Attempts have been made to bring about a solution to the legislative backlog.

The Taoiseach would like opposition parties and private members to be subject to the same standards as the Government, meaning that they could not bring forward a bill unless it has been properly drafted.

Another suggestion is to prevent TDs from bringing forward more than one bill at a time.

So far, there is no agreement on what should be done.

In the meantime, opposition TDs continue the process of publishing bills, winning votes, making a point and getting a headline. As one member of the opposition put it, bills are fast becoming "glorified press statements".

Up to now politicians seem satisfied to go along with this, but it does not indicate a properly functioning democracy.

A clogged, slow moving system, results in much time being wasted debating legislation that is going nowhere.

Unless the system begins to deliver, the seemingly empty promises of new politics will make busy fools of our legislators.