Tuesday 27 September 2016

Ó Fearghaíl impresses on day one - but he has his work cut out for him

Published 11/03/2016 | 02:30

Dáil ushers carry the ballot box containing votes for the new Ceann Comhairle past portraits of former taoisigh in Dáil Éireann. Photo: Maxwell's
Dáil ushers carry the ballot box containing votes for the new Ceann Comhairle past portraits of former taoisigh in Dáil Éireann. Photo: Maxwell's

Even in his native Kildare, where he has served in politics for over 30 years, Seán Ó Fearghaíl is not exactly a household name.

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For the rest of the nation he is largely unknown. But this quietly spoken farmer- turned-politician is not to be underestimated.

The new Dáil chairman's political involvement runs in tandem with his life-long commitment to voluntary housing provision.

He has been at Leinster House since 1997 as both a Senator and TD and he was elected to the Dáil in 2002 on his fifth attempt.

Many deputies saw his election as the first ever Ceann Comhairle chosen by secret ballot as largely attributable to his work on the Dáil's Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

This secretive body is responsible for running parliament and upholding discipline, and along with his work as Fianna Fáil party whip, it led to contacts with politicians across all parties.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, congratulating Mr Ó Fearghaíl, reminded him that big things were expected of him. He must show the way in totally revamping how the Dáil works and he will get to head an all-party committee tasked with mapping out new ways for parliament to call the ministers to account for their work.

All of those new responsibilities are added to the already substantial challenge of keeping order among 157 other strong-willed politicians, with very definite ideas of their rights to be heard. We can expect the usually febrile Leinster House atmosphere to be augmented by the current political deadlock.

But of the five who stood for the post, his speech was the most concise and convincing to neutrals.

Later, in procedural challenges from Sinn Féin, he stood up well - showing a breadth of knowledge of the rules and a calm authority. It was a good start and he reminded everyone that he has a perfect command of Irish as long-time enthusiast of the language.

Ó Fearghaíl is very much a politician's politician, who began learning his trade on Kildare County Council in 1985 at the age of 25, rarely pushing himself in media. His extended family were well known in farming and in the butcher trade, but he has dedicated the bulk of his time to politics and he had a long association with Gaelscoil Chill Dara.

Reading, music, travel and spending time with good friends are his hobbies. He and his wife, Clare, have one son and three daughters.

Irish Independent

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