The Debates Office is responsible for the publication of the Official Report, the authoritative record of proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas and parliamentary committees. The Debates Office works under the direction of the Editor of Debates with a team of Deputy Editors, Assistant Editors, Parliamentary Reporters and a number of administrative staff.
The Official Report, while not strictly verbatim, is substantially the verbatim report, with repetitions and redundancies omitted and with obvious mistakes corrected, but which on the other hand leaves out nothing that adds to the meaning of the speech or illustrates the argument.
The current staff are graduates in a wide range of disciplines and a large proportion have postgraduate degrees. They are required to have excellent language skills and a sound knowledge of public affairs, both national and international. They must be also able to recognise and understand references by Members on a wide range of subjects, political, historical, financial, scientific and technical. Their job is demanding, requiring great attention to detail and an ability to work long hours during busy periods in the parliamentary calendar.
Staff of the Debates Office are conscious of the importance of their work in compiling the report of parliamentary proceedings and take pride in the independent and professional service offered to Members and others within the public service, the media, professional bodies, interest groups and the wider public. The office has developed a good relationship with colleagues in other parliamentary bodies in these islands and beyond. The Editor has hosted visits by parliamentary reporting staff from more than a dozen countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and North America. Through membership of the British-Irish Parliamentary Reporting Association, we have also had the benefit of staff exchanges with staff of the Scottish Parliament and the House of Lords.
Since 2010, the Debates Office has assumed control of the entire publication process of the Official Report. The debates are recorded on electronic sound files and transcribed and published directly to the Debates website using a Lotus Notes-based system, whereupon they are immediately available to the public as well as to Members and staff of the Oireachtas. Hard-copy publication of the Daily Book was discontinued in 2010, although the periodic Bound Volumes are still issued in hard copy format.
The deployment of staff within the office is decided by the Editor. On a typical day, a team of 13/14 reporters will be assigned to the Dáil, while the rest are assigned to the Seanad and committees. Each member of the Dáil team spends ten minutes in the Chamber, keeping a log of speakers and business transacted. These segments of the debate are known as ‘takes’. The first round of the day may consist of five-minute takes. On leaving the Chamber, the reporter returns to his or her workstation to transcribe the ten-minute take, which should be completed within two hours and marked as ready for the editors. A number of reporters use voice recognition software to complete their takes.
An assistant editor will read a take on screen and make any changes necessary. It is then marked ‘edited’ and is available to the Editor and Deputy Editor, who check for procedural correctness and the ‘run in’ with the preceding and following takes to ensure there is no gap or overlap. The debate is then published in batches to the website.
On the Seanad and committee team, three reporters log the Seanad in rotation, with the log sheets being made available to other reporters in electronic format. The other members of the team transcribe the takes as they become available, with priority being given to the Seanad.
The Dáil and Seanad debates are published on a same-day basis up to 7 p.m. (5 p.m. for the Seanad), with the remainder being published before 11 a.m. the following day.
Reporters also deal each week with hundreds of written answers to parliamentary questions tabled by Deputies. The replies are supplied electronically by Departments and collated and checked by reporters before being edited and published by a team of reporters known as the Writtens Coordinators. The written replies are usually published to the Web on a next-day basis.
Since the Official Report became available on the Internet, its readership has greatly increased. The office regularly receives correspondence from people all over the world who have accessed the debates on the Oireachtas website, particularly since the launch on the website of the entire historical debates of both Houses of the Oireachtas from 1919. This provides an invaluable source of information on the issues and attitudes of the political establishment since the First Dáil. The Debates website is also one of the primary points of entrance to the wider Oireachtas website among the general public.
The Official Report of the Dáil, Seanad and Committees is available on the Houses of the Oireachtas App.