Sunday 25 February 2018

Dail chief hits back over bid to 'blacken his name'

Sean Barrett
Sean Barrett

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

THE Government is set to override Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett to make a key appointment in the Dail.

It comes as relations between Mr Barrett and senior ministers are strained over a number of issues, with the Ceann Comhairle claiming there are attempts being made to "blacken" his name.

He made a dramatic statement in the Dail, in which he said leaks from the Oireachtas were being made to damage him – and he wasn't going to take it anymore.

Mr Barrett became animated when Fianna Fail's Willie O'Dea raised the appointment of a new chief civil servant – the clerk of the Dail – for the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Kieran Coughlan retired as Dail clerk earlier this year, but the relationship between him and Mr Barrett deteriorated before Mr Coughlan's retirement.

Choosing a successor to Mr Coughlan has caused friction between Mr Barrett and the Government, and the Ceann Comhairle told the Dail he is "being dragged into a controversy over this matter".

He added: "I resent it very much" and claimed he was "piggy in the middle".

Traditionally, the Taoiseach appointed a new clerk on the recommendation of the Ceann Comhairle.

However, the Government wants to use a system for appointing senior civil servants while Mr Barrett wants Mr Coughlan's job filled by two civil servants already working in the Oireachtas.

Mr Barrett feels the Government's approach would lead to a weakening of parliament.

He previously told Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin, who will be responsible for the appointment, he couldn't stand over their approach.

He also tried to convince the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission – the body which runs Leinster House – to back his position, but they declined to do so last week.

Mr Barrett yesterday described the meeting as a "shambles that took place".

Mr Barrett told the Dail he would allow Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Government decide on how to make the appointment. Mr Kenny's spokesman said the appointment will be made in the "most open and transparent way".

STRUCTURE

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform also confirmed it is drawing up legislation to make the appointment through open competition and "underpin the present senior management structure of the Oireachtas Service of one secretary general and two assistant secretaries".

One source said Mr Barrett was "really annoyed" while others claimed there was no problem between the Ceann Comhairle and the Taoiseach.

Mr Barrett last week granted extra Dail speaking time to Fine Gael and Labour rebels.

He also said yesterday: "I'm appearing in newspapers, people are leaking stuff following a consultation process that took place within the law which the content of the leak was... improper and an attempt to blacken my good name.

"I have to sit here and take this abuse without having any right of response."

Irish Independent

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