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Monday 20 November 2017

McGuinness lashes out over €90,000 Dail 'Friday sitting' as only seven TDs speak

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

FIANNA Fail TD John McGuinness lashed out last night at the €90,000 cost of the Dail's once-a-month Friday sittings -- after just seven TDs turned up to speak about his private bill.

Due to the shortage of speakers, the Dail had to be adjourned at 12.15pm instead of 1.30pm as planned.

The Government shot down Mr McGuinness' bill to give the State spending watchdog the power to investigate the €4.4bn spent every year by councils.

Currently, the Comptroller and Auditor General is unable to check the books of the country's city, county and town councils -- who have been involved in numerous spending scandals.

But this led to an angry response from Mr McGuinness, who said that just seven people had spoken on the bill when it was costing €90,000 to have the Dail sitting for the day.

"It has just shone a spotlight on the Friday sittings which has revealed them for what they are -- a shameful waste of €90,000," he said.

The seven other TDs who spoke during yesterday's debate on the bill were: Sinn Fein TD Jonathan O'Brien, Independent TD Catherine Murphy, Independent TD Mattie McGrath, Independent TD Thomas Pringle, Labour TD Kevin Humphreys, Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy and Junior Minister for Housing and Planning Jan O'Sullivan.

Around 18 opposition TDs turned up for the debate, which began at 10.30am, including four from Fianna Fail.

The once-a-month Dail Friday sitting was introduced by the Fine Gael-Labour Government last year to allow individual TDs to table their own legislation, rather than waiting for cabinet ministers or opposition frontbenchers to do so. But it has been described as a "sham" by the opposition, with no questions to the Taoiseach or ministers -- or even any Dail votes. Many TDs have continued the traditional practice of doing constituency work on Fridays rather than attending the Dail.

Mr McGuinness said he had spent two months putting his bill together. He said its rejection meant there would still be no proper scrutiny of why €80m was spent on planning the Poolbeg incinerator by Dublin City Council or why the High Court had awarded €4m against Meath County Council for planning irregularities.

Junior Minister for Planning Jan O'Sullivan said the Government was rejecting the bill because it would duplicate the work already done by the local government audit service.

Labour chief whip Emmet Stagg said it was up to Mr McGuinness to ensure there were TDs there to support his bill. He said that Fianna Fail had been in power for the previous 14 years and had never introduced such a reform to allow private bills.

"What's he on about? Our job is to create law. It's not to create an audience for John McGuinness or anybody else," he said.

Sinn Fein chief whip Aengus O Snodaigh defended the absence of many of his party's TDs by saying that Sinn Fein wanted a proper Dail day on Fridays with ministers answering questions and legislation being passed.

"Otherwise it is no more than an exercise in just have sittings for the sake of saying Dail met for so many extra days," he said.

Government chief whip Paul Kehoe was not available for comment.

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