Friday 19 January 2018

Coalition resists rebels' bid to join Dail committees

Sean Barrett claims attempts were made to blacken his name
Sean Barrett claims attempts were made to blacken his name

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

THE GOVERNMENT is slapping down efforts by Fine Gael rebels to get onto Dail committees, after Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett granted their new breakaway group greater speaking rights.

Mr Barrett changed Dail rules to give Fine Gael and Labour rebels more speaking time, which caused annoyance in Government, but led to praise from the rebels themselves.

And the 'Reform Alliance' followed up by trying to force their way onto Oireachtas committees. Fine Gael and Labour TDs, who lost the party whip on abortion and other issues, have been kicked off Dail committees.

In the Dail yesterday, Lucinda Creighton asked Taoiseach Enda Kenny to allow rebels sit on committees, a move which would require a change in Dail standing orders.

Mr Kenny caused confusion by saying the TDs can join the Technical Group to do so, although the Oireachtas insists anyone elected under a party banner can't join the Independents.

A Government spokesman said there could be different legal interpretations of this rule, but said it is still unlikely any change will happen even if the TDs can't join the Technical Group.

Other Government sources were also adamant no changes will be made to facilitate the rebels.

Ms Creighton praised Mr Barrett's "democratic fairness" and asked the Taoiseach to follow his "leadership in injecting more democracy, more opportunity for participation for members in this chamber".

Mr Kenny also "commended" Mr Barrett but said the route for TDs who "by their actions" decide not to be members of political parties anymore to get on committees "is to apply to the Technical Group".

Sources close to the Ceann Comhairle said he had been approached by the rebels in July about getting more speaking time.

They also stressed his decision had nothing to do with his relationship with the Government, which they claimed is excellent.

FURIOUS

However, Mr Barrett was involved in a furious row with Mr Kenny and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin last month over how to fill a senior civil service vacancy in Leinster House.

Mr Barrett and the Government are at odds over how the job of Clerk of the Dail – the most powerful civil servant in the Houses of the Oireachtas – is to be filled.

And at a meeting of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission yesterday, the body which runs Leinster House, Mr Barrett repeated his opposition to the Government's plans to make the appointment through a system for choosing high level civil servants.

The last Clerk of the Dail, Kieran Coughlan, retired earlier this year.

Mr Barrett is arguing two people currently employed by the Oireachtas should share Mr Coughlan's job, and nobody new should be appointed.

However, it is understood the Government wants to appoint one person who would be the chief civil servant in Leinster House.

An Oireachtas statement said Mr Barrett had briefed the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission yesterday on his proposal, as he is required to do.

"Having fulfilled his legal obligation, the Ceann Comhairle and the commission now await legislative proposals from government," the statement said.

"It's over to them now," a source said.

The Reform Alliance is also likely to seek a meeting with Mr Barrett this week to "iron out a few issues", and they are expected to raise the issue of committee membership.

But the group had no prior notice Mr Barrett was going to grant them more speaking time. Billy Timmins, the Wicklow TD who is a member of the group, thanked Mr Barrett and said he had shown the "independence of his office".

Irish Independent

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