FG and Labour TDs vote with their feet by ignoring extra Dail sessions
A RAFT of Government TDs -- including Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore -- are ignoring new Friday Dail sittings introduced by the Coalition as part of its trumpeted package of political reforms.
The Irish Independent has learned that a fifth of Coalition TDs, including some ministers, intend to hold constituency clinics or do local work today, instead of attending Leinster House for the only Friday sitting this month.
Mr Gilmore will open a constituency office for one of his Labour TDs, Derek Nolan, in Galway at 9.30am. The Dail will sit for three hours between 10.30am and 1.30pm.
Three junior ministers are scheduled to hold clinics this morning, with Labour's Alan Kelly and Kathleen Lynch and Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd all seeing constituents in their offices in Tipperary, Cork and Louth respectively.
Oireachtas officials say sitting days cost €90,000 and the once-a-month Dail Friday sitting was introduced by the Fine Gael-Labour Government in July. But it has been described as a "sham" by the Opposition, with no questions to the Taoiseach or ministers -- or even any Dail votes.
Traditionally, TDs returned to their constituencies on Thursday evening and spent the weekend and Monday doing local work.
The Government introduced Friday sittings to allow individual TDs table their own legislation, rather than waiting for cabinet ministers or opposition frontbenchers to do so.
When they were announced, the new Friday sittings were described as a major reform by ministers.
"All too often, the members of this House are criticised for being more concerned about local politics and neglecting their role as legislators," Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe said at the time.
He added: "In many cases, TDs who want to play a greater role as legislators have been denied the opportunity by the failure of former governments to reform the Dail."
For the February Friday sitting, this newspaper contacted the offices of all Government TDs to see if they would be holding clinics this morning or early in the afternoon. TDs holding clinics this evening or tonight were excluded from our results.
In total, 22 out of 109 -- over a fifth of Fine Gael and Labour TDs -- will be doing clinics or constituency work while the Dail sits this morning.
The Dail will debate legislation on homeowners in trouble with mortgages, which was tabled by Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly for the Technical Group of Independent deputies.
There will be no vote today on the Independents' private member's motion. Instead, the vote will instead take place on Tuesday, when all TDs return for a traditional sitting day.
Technical Group chairman Finian McGrath said Opposition TDs were getting increasingly fed up with the Friday sittings.
"I usually have a Friday morning clinic but I cancel it when the Dail is sitting and move it to Monday morning and Monday night," the Dublin North-Central TD said.
"There is no excuse for government backbench TDs not to be there. They're running away from a day when anyone can speak for as long as they want."
Fianna Fail environment spokesman Niall Collins said the sittings were a "sham" and just done "for optics".
"If the Dail is sitting, it should be sitting at full capacity where you have an order of business, leader's questions, questions to ministers and committee meetings," the Limerick TD said.
"It's all for optics. They're trying to persuade the public that they have created an extra full day when it's just three hours."
Meanwhile, there were a few raised eyebrows in Fine Gael on Wednesday night when one usually outspoken TD did not vote on a controversial Dail motion.
Longford-Westmeath's James Bannon attended a parliamentary party meeting and spoke against cuts to rural schools, but did not vote in the Dail to defeat an opposition motion condemning the cuts.