OIREACHTAS officials are working on plans for the Dáil to sit in either the Dublin Convention Centre or Dublin Castle in order to elect a new Taoiseach in the coming weeks, Independent.ie can reveal.
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl has confirmed that arrangements are being made for the Dáil to sit off-site, away from Leinster House, in order to elect a new Taoiseach once a new Government is formed.
This will allow all 160 TDs to attend the sitting and participate in the vote for Taoiseach while remaining in compliance with social distancing rules with many of the Covid-19 restrictions on public movement expected to be in place for the foreseeable future.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl said: “Arrangements are being made and we’re looking at having an off-site sitting for the election of the Taoiseach. It has yet to be discussed by the business committee, it’s at an embryonic stage. A number of locations are being considered.”
It is understood that the Convention Centre on Spencer Dock in Dublin’s North Wall Quay is the most likely venue for the sitting. It has a seating capacity of 8,000 and 22 separate rooms as well as over 300 car parking spaces. Dublin Castle has also been discussed as a possible venue by Oireachtas officials.
It comes amid increasing unease in political circles about Dáil sittings in Leinster House which are already restricted to a maximum of 50 TDs for votes and 20 at any one time during normal debates.
The Dáil will sit this Thursday despite not having any new legislation to debate with three hours allocated for statements on Health and Social Protection matters.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl said it was his personal view that Dáil sittings to deal with legislation should go ahead but that sittings to deal with other matters are “desirable, but perhaps not essential”.
He said: “It's a situation fraught with difficulty. We're all conscious of our role as legislators but we're also conscious of the fact that we tell people to stay at home and that we must be seen to give appropriate examples of ourselves. That puts conflicting pressures on us."
He said that Oireachtas ushers will be asked to guarantee that there are not more than 20 TDs in the chamber at any one time when the Dáil sits this week.
However, Labour has already said it will boycott the sitting and will instead submit written statements from TDs Alan Kelly and Ged Nash. “The Labour Parliamentary Party has agreed that our TDs would not attend the sitting of the Dáil for statements on Thursday as it is non-essential business and not legislation that was being proposed," a spokesman said:
“They will instead support the national effort to stay at home, and not place an unnecessary burden on the Oireachtas staff, and staff of those departments who are working heroically to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak and its social and economic impact.”
Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said she had inquired about the possibility of establishing a virtual system for the Dáil to sit and TDs to appear via videolink. Mr Ó Fearghaíl said he did not believe this would be constitutional but added that it might work for committee sittings.
The decision of the Dáil to sit on Thursday was confirmed by the Houses of the Oireachtas on Tuesday and follows pressure from Sinn Féin and People Before Profit.
PBP TD Richard Boyd-Barrett said he strenuously opposed the Dáil not sitting over the coming weeks. “It’s imperative that there is a clear decision that the Dáil continues to sit and meet and that public concerns and questions continue to be raised throughout this health emergency,” he told RTÉ.