Saturday 20 September 2014

Back Chat: Time not on the Coalition's side

Liam Fay

Published 13/07/2014 | 02:30

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Senator John Crown.
Senator John Crown.
Singer Garth Brooks
Singer Garth Brooks

Parliamentary democracy is supposed to involve an urgent battle of ideas – face-to-face and toe-to-toe – between passionately engaged antagonists. In the political playpen that is Seanad Eireann, however, some of the most sterling public service is performed by politicians who fail to turn up on time. On Wednesday, the Government suffered the latest in a succession of embarrassing defeats in the Upper House, following another outbreak of no-shows and belated arrivals by some of its senatorial footsoldiers.

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An amendment to the free GP care legislation, proposed by independent senator Prof John Crown, was passed by 27 votes to 26 when a walk-through headcount was requested by Crown. The amendment – overturning a government attempt to 'gag' doctors who speak out against the HSE – is good news for the citizenry but wouldn't have squeaked through were it not for scheduling confusion on the coalition benches.

'Timeserver' is a term of abuse regularly flung at senators. In the case of government senators at least, it is an unfounded allegation. The frequency with which the coalition side has either been defeated or has narrowly prevailed in Seanad votes is striking, and timetabling mix-ups are regularly cited as the primary cause. Following the election of Fine Gael's Deirdre Clune to the European Parliament in May, the government's senate position is even more precarious and the stage seems set for further embarrassments.

The timekeeping problems which have gripped some coalition supporters in the second chamber are richly ironic. Only a few months ago Fine Gael and Labour senators were among campaigners against plans to give all senators the ultimate retirement gift. Had they accepted the gold watches, however, their punctuality might have improved.

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