Sunday 16 December 2018

Ceann Comhairle to stay, political jockeying to end

Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett
Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett
Pat Rabbitte

Philip Ryan and John Drennan

The Ceann Comhairle of the Dail, Sean Barrett, said yesterday that he did not intend to step down before the General Election - putting to an end to what had become an unedifying race to succeed him while he was still in office.

Mr Barrett's statement followed a call by Fianna Fail for him to clarify his position following reports that former communications minister Pat Rabbitte, and others, were interested in succeeding him.

Labour was reported to be preparing to propose one of its own TDs for the position if Mr Barrett resigned from the €157,000 post, regarded to be the fourth most important office in the State.

Last month, Mr Barrett told The Irish Times that he might resign and return to the Fine Gael backbenches before the next election.

The Ceann Comhairle has clashed with Sinn Fein on several occasions in recent months and has accused the party of using him as a "pawn to deflect attention" from their own political difficulties such as the Mairia Cahill controversy.

His statement led to speculation around Leinster House about which Fine Gael TD would replace him, with both Children's Minister James Reilly and veteran TD Bernard Burkan tipped.

However, Labour sources let it be known that the party might press the case for one of its own TDs to get the job, and Mr Rabbitte was reported to be keen on the post.

However, in a statement yesterday a spokeswoman for the Oireachtas said: "We wish to clarify that, contrary to newspaper reports, the Ceann Comhairle intends to complete his term in office and so does not intend departing his post before the end of the current Dail." She added that, amongst a number of priorities, the Ceann Comhairle had work he wished to complete in his wider role as chairman of the Oireachtas Commission.

Earlier yesterday Fianna Fail Party Whip Sean O Fearghail had called on Mr Barrett to clarify whether he intended to resign his position. Mr O Fearghail said: "This ongoing conjecture surrounding the post of the Ceann Comhairle is deeply worrying.

"Reports this morning suggest that Labour is now vying to fill the role if it becomes vacant. This is not a position that should be offered up as a 'sweetener' to keep a government coalition partner happy or to repair internal disagreements.

"It is a position that is integral to the smooth running of administrative and other business in Leinster House and for ensuring impartiality in Dail debates.

"I am anxious to ensure that the reputation and independence of this important Constitutional position is maintained and is not tainted by political manoeuvrings or platitudes.

"It is essential that the continuing speculation surrounding the Ceann Comhairle position is brought to an end, and as someone with great personal respect for Sean Barrett, I am calling on him to clarify his intentions and to put the issue to rest".

Fine Gael TDs had also begun to position themselves, with Mayo deputies Michael Ring and John O'Mahony tipped as most likely to succeed.

The Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin had said he would not accept "any relapse into cronyism" over what he described as the "fourth most important office of the State".

Sunday Independent

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