Simon recently queried the use of broadcasts of Oireachtas proceedings for satirical use. There doesn’t seem to be any legal provision banning such a use, but the Dáil and Seanad’s own Standing Orders do explicitly give would-be satirists the hands-off. The question then is what power, if any, do the Standing Orders of the Houses of the Oireachtas have over those of us who are not members of either house? Certainly, a Standing Order does not have the force of law. It is literally a mere order of the house, albeit a “standing” (permanent) one. A piece of primary legislation must be passed by the Dáil and Seanad and signed by the President. The standing orders are passed only by the house which has adopted them, in exercise of their discretion to regulate their own affairs. This self-regulatory power on the part of the Dáil and Seanad has a root in the Constitution, and it is a discretion which is double-edged. Bunreacht Na hÉireann provides, at Article 15.10, that “Each House shall make its own rules and standing orders, with power to attach penalties for their infringement, and shall have power to ensure freedom of debate, to protect its official documents and the private papers of its members, and to protect itself and its members against any person or persons interfering with, molesting or attempting to corrupt its members in the exercise of their duties.???
It is worth noting that the constitutional reference to the Houses’ powers to attach penalties for infringement of their rules does not make a distinction between members and non-members. In principle then, it seems that either house has the power to punish those who might use broadcast footage to make mock of them. Kelly’s Constitution certainly thinks so (see 4.2.133). But what sort of punishment is open to them? If a deputy contravenes the Standing Orders, he can be dealt with by suspension, or some other in-house remedy. Such punishments hold no fear for the rest of us.
Under Bunreacht Na hÉireann and the doctrine of separation of powers, only the courts may impose criminal penalties. This seems to leave the Houses of the Oireachtas somewhat stranded (again, Kelly at 4.2.133). While they have absolute discretion in how they order their business, they are constitutionally restrained by this same discretion from imposing meaningful punishments on anyone except their own members. The aspiring satirist, I submit, is safe from the wrath of the Houses of the Oireachtas and need fret only about his copyright status.