Ming escalates hostilities with 'biased' Ceann Comhairle claim
INDEPENDENT TD Luke 'Ming' Flanagan has escalated hostilities with the referee of the Dail by accusing him of being "biased" and "guzzling pints" with other TDs in the Dail bar.
The unprecedented conflict between him and Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett has prompted the Leinster House authorities to demand that Mr Flanagan deliver a public apology to him on the floor of the Dail next month.
An angry Mr Flanagan had criticised Mr Barrett outside the Dail chamber last month over the failure to have a vote on the Personal Insolvency Bill. He repeatedly called him a "disgrace" during an encounter witnessed by several other TDs.
But instead of agreeing to apologise to the Ceann Comhairle, Mr Flanagan has escalated the situation by referring to him as a "biased chair" on his own Facebook page.
He went even further by becoming the first TD to call for Mr Barrett to step down. And he rejected complaints about his own behaviour by saying that other TDs were mingling with Mr Barrett outside the Dail chamber.
"That rule must not count in the Dail bar, where I understand he regularly freely associates with TDs while guzzling pints. He can't have it both ways," he wrote.
There are no strict rules which ban the Ceann Comhairle from socialising with TDs but previous office holders have often adopted a policy of keeping their distance. It is understood that Mr Barrett does visit the Dail bar around once a month after the conclusion of Dail business and chats mainly to long-serving TDs he knows from Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail.
But it is the first time in memory that the Ceann Comhairle has been confronted so vehemently outside the Dail chamber.
A TD who was present said that the Independent TDs had missed their chance to call a vote on the second stage of the Personal Insolvency Bill aimed at helping people with enormous debts.
He said that Mr Flanagan had protested when Mr Barrett wrapped up proceedings for the night. The TD said Mr Flanagan had lost his temper outside the Dail chamber and kept shouting at Mr Barrett -- who walked away without saying anything to him.
The incident led to an emergency meeting of the Dail's Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which is charged with maintaining standards in Leinster House and is chaired by Mr Barrett.
"You're effectively attacking the institution when you attack and berate the Ceann Comhairle. It's not on and it's not acceptable," said one committee member.
Following discussions, the committee agreed to get the clerk of the Dail, Kieran Coughlan, to write to Mr Flanagan and Independent Waterford TD John Halligan calling on them both to apologise for being involved in a "vicious, unprovoked verbal assault" on the Ceann Comhairle.
But so far, both Mr Flanagan and Mr Barrett have refused to apologise for their actions -- and show no sign of delivering the required public apology to Mr Barrett in the Dail chamber when the new term begins on September 18.
When contacted by the Irish Independent, Mr Flanagan insisted that he would not make any comment unless he was allowed to publish a lengthy article in this newspaper.
"I can only send it into ye on the basis that ye use it all and if ye don't use it all, don't use any of it," he said.
Mr Halligan could not be contacted for comment. The Leinster House authorities, who represent Mr Barrett, did not wish to comment on Mr Flanagan's remarks.