Party politics, national interest
MARY Coughlan, the Tanaiste and Education Minister, was due to lead a mission, organised by the state agency Enterprise Ireland, to the United States this week. But Fine Gael have prevented her from travelling by refusing her what in the politicians' arcane language is called a "pair".
Under the "pairing" system, opposition parties agree to take one of their deputies out of the parliamentary arithmetic. The deputy in question does not vote in the Dail while the minister who benefits from the agreement is absent. Obviously such an arrangement is important to a government which, as at present, commands a very uncertain Dail majority.
Obviously, too, it can be abused. Junketing by ministers, deputies and senators is notorious. But the American trip is not a junket. Ms Coughlan intended to travel on legitimate government business. Fine Gael will argue that their leader, Enda Kenny, lately proclaimed a more aggressive approach in the new Dail session which begins on Wednesday, characterised by stricter pairing arrangements and with a focus on the innumerable scandals for which the Fianna Fail-Green coalition has given no satisfactory explanation.