Ceann Comhairle in last-minute talks with FF to save job
FIANNA Fail TDs and Senators will today decide whether to continue with a process that would force the Ceann Comhairle out of his job.
Last night, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin and the Dáil chairman, Sean Barrett, were due to speak by phone. It was understood that both men were seeking a way to defuse a bitter six-day row over procedures.
The dispute has led Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin to consider moving a no-confidence motion in Mr Barrett, effectively obliging him to resign.
Fianna Fáil chief whip Seán O Feargháil said that a statement by Mr Barrett earlier yesterday, acknowledging opposition parties' right to question his rulings as Ceann Comhairle, did not go far enough.
The FF deputy said he still had to withdraw allegations made on radio that the Opposition were trying to undermine him, and also discuss ways of avoiding a repeat of the decision that caused the row.
Mr Barrett sparked a Dáil walkout last Wednesday when he ruled against a debate on the terms of reference for a new commission of inquiry into alleged garda misconduct in Cavan-Monaghan.
He cited a Dáil rule that debates must not cut across court or tribunal proceedings.
It emerged the ruling related to a High Court case being taken by former Justice Minister, Alan Shatter. Mr Barrett later said he did not want the commission of inquiry's work delayed or to risk additional court proceedings that might arise from a Dáil debate.
As the row dragged on, Labour also expressed concern about the ruling. Over the weekend it emerged that in 2007 a debate was allowed on Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's finances, despite their being subject to Mahon Tribunal proceedings.
Critics of Mr Barrett said the original Dáil rule was in fact designed to have measured debate on issues which may also be before a court or tribunal.
The critics also warned that parliament was being diminished, as anyone with means could initiate court proceedings and block a Dail debate.
Throughout yesterday, several senior government ministers strongly defended Mr Barrett.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the Ceann Comhairle was scrupulously fair in his rulings and handling of Dáil debates.
Labour deputy leader, Alan Kelly, who was reportedly critical of Mr Barrett at a party meeting last week, also defended him publicly. Labour leader and Tánaiste Joan Burton also spoke up for Mr Barrett.
Ms Burton said: "I think it's good he has put on record his very strong appreciation of the role of the Opposition in raising matters in the Dáil and being able to debate them in full."
The Ceann Comhairle's post comes with the same pay and perks as a senior Government minister. It also means that the holder does not have to contest the next general election.