Bertie is to face fewer grillings in new Dail
ONLY two Opposition parties can now question Bertie Ahern at Taoiseach's Question Time in the Dail because of the numbers thrown up by the General Election.
Officially, just 14 minutes - seven minutes for questions from each of the leaders of Fine Gael and Labour - are allocated for the twice-weekly question and answer session.
The new regime began in the Dail yesterday on its first full day back after the election.
In the last Dail, Fine Gael, Labour and the Technical Group - which included the Greens - were able to pose questions to Mr Ahern.
But with the six Green TDs now in Government, the ranks of the technical group are depleted. Seven TDs are needed to make up a technical group.
With four Independent TDs supporting the Government, only Dublin Central TD Tony Gregory and the four Sinn Fein TDs remain outside and, with just five TDs, they do not have sufficient numbers for a technical group.
Under arrangements made with Labour while under the leadership of Ruairi Quinn, the Taoiseach does not have to go into the Dail on a Thursday.
Since Pat Rabbitte took over the job, he has said several times he would change that arrangement if he could but the Government has not been agreeable to do so.
The Taoiseach takes Leaders' Questions in the Dail on Tuesday afternoons and Wednesday mornings, but has claimed he still appears in parliament to answer questions more often than his EU counterparts. Up until now, with three Opposition groups allowed under the rules of the House to ask questions, the exchanges were officially due to last 21 minutes.
Now, with just the Fine Gael and Labour leaders entitled to do so, the time allocated is officially reduced to 14 minutes.
In effect, the 21 minutes allowed in the last Dail often stretched beyond that - often up to 45 minutes. This was because then Ceann Comhairle Dr Rory O'Hanlon or Leas Ceann Comhairle Seamus Pattison frequently gave latitude to the Opposition to pursue points with Mr Ahern.
The Wednesday morning 10.30am session has been televised live by RTE over the past few years.