Sunday 4 December 2016

Swap daily Dáil prayer for a minute's silence as part of reforms, argue TDs

Cormac McQuinn, John Downing and Barry Lennon

Published 07/04/2016 | 02:30

Paul Murphy Photo: Tom Burke
Paul Murphy Photo: Tom Burke

Prayers which start each Dáil session should be scrapped, Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy has said.

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Mr Murphy's comments came as part of a wide-ranging debate on changes to the Dáil rules which aimed at giving TDs more freedom to call the government to account. The Dublin South West TD, who served from October 2014 until January 2016 in the last Dáil, said he was very disappointed at the lack of accountability of government and lack of TDs' powers to get answers to questions on behalf of ordinary citizens.

He welcomed some of the proposed changes contained in an interim report to the Dáil but said change must reflect a changing Ireland and a new political landscape. He said voters had decided the end of the "2.5 party system" in the last election and the Dáil must change to accommodate new party structures.

Mr Murphy then turned to the prayer read by the Ceann Comhairle at the start of each session. "We think the prayer should go. We think it's anachronistic," he argued - adding that Ireland was now a secular society and the Dáil should reflect this.

Heated

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he agreed with some of what Mr Murphy had to say about the prayer.

He said the Dáil must be reformed so it could better defend citizens' interests, and he also called for changes to the Seanad and local government.

Mr Ryan urged an assessment of what happened in the Northern Ireland or Scottish Assemblies on the use of prayer.

He said it might be possible to substitute a minute's silence and he also suggested that, when debate got too heated, a bell might be rung to begin a short break to draw a deep breath and cool things down.

"We should be creative and we should be innovative and open," Mr Ryan said.

Independent TD Catherine Zappone, who is a former Senator, said the Seanad had already debated the use of the opening prayer. Senators had compromised on a minute of silent reflection, followed a minute-long Christian prayer.

"The Dáil could go further with a couple of minutes silence," Ms Zappone said. She added that this could allow people reflect on their own spiritual inspiration and/or drawing upon their "own ethical sources."

The debate on Dáil reform at one stage teetered on the brink of farce as TDs argued over the order in which they should speak. Members of the committee on reform complained that acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny had spoken first. They said the agreement was that committee members would speak in alphabetical order.

After Mr Kenny's contribution, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin spoke, followed by representatives of Sinn Féin and Labour. As acting minister Brendan Howlin began to speak for Labour, Fianna Fáil committee member Thomas Byrne complained.

Bernard Durkan, who was standing in for the Ceann Comhairle, tried to revert to the original running order after Mr Howlin had spoken. But Mr Murphy and Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats insisted they should to speak first.

Another committee member Darragh O'Brien said the debate had "gone awry" while Independent Clare Daly branded it "a mess".

Irish Independent

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