Tuesday 16 January 2018

FF wants rule changed to cut Dáil speaking time for small parties

Backlash: Micheal Martin Photo: Tony Gavin
Backlash: Micheal Martin Photo: Tony Gavin
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Fianna Fáil is pushing to have the allocation of speaking in the Dáil dramatically restructured to favour larger parties.

In a shift away from so-called 'new politics', Michéal Martin wants to team up with incoming Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to rebalance power in the Dáil to reflect the number of TDs in a party.

Frustration has been growing for months within Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that smaller parties and groups are being given too much air time compared to their backbenchers.

Micheál Martin told the Irish Independent the situation is "not healthy and not fair".

"A lot of our backbenchers simply can't get in on key debates. That can't continue," he said.

Mr Martin raised the issue with Mr Varadkar when they met last week to discuss the continuation of the 'confidence and supply' arrangement which will see Fianna Fáil abstain on his election as Taoiseach tomorrow.

Under the 'new politics' system, each group in the Dáil is entitled to equal speaking time during the first round of any debate.

"I'm not saying people should be limited to two or three minutes. But the idea that people with 46 TDs get 10 minutes and some with four or five TDs gets 10 minutes is not fair," Mr Martin said.

Read More: New politics facilitates TDs who simply want to moan about everything

The allocation means that backbenchers from the main parties are routinely excluded from debates while Independent TDs get to speak on most issues. At best, backbenchers are confined to speaking late at night.

Senior Fine Gael sources confirmed they are facing similar complaints from TDs who feel the system was "rigged" in a bid to find some consensus following the inconclusive result of last year's general election.

And ministers are concerned that time available for Government business has been reduced as part of the deal to allow more time for smaller parties.

"The Dáil Reform Committee came up with the rules. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have a majority on that committee so it's up to the two parties to make a decision to change things," an Oireachtas source said.

A review of the Dáil's working is expected to take place after the House breaks for the summer recess on July 13.

Mr Martin said it is up to the new Fine Gael leader to make sure the Dáil is run "more efficiently and effectively".

During his meeting with Mr Varadkar, the Fianna Fáil leader argued that the d'Hondt system should be used for deciding speaking time. This would see time allocated based on the size of a party's representation.

"I think Leo understood where I was coming from very strongly on that," he said.

His comments are likely to draw the ire of the Labour Party, Solidarity/People Before Profit, the Rural Alliance, Social Democrats, Green Party and Independets4Change.

However, Mr Martin said: "I think 'new politics' has been very fair to independents and smaller groups relative to what went on before. There's no comparison. I think that's an irritant with us."

Fianna Fáil is also seeking immediate progress on setting up an Independent Budgetary Office which will crunch the numbers ahead of the Budget.

Mr Martin said its establishment has been "dragged out for 12 months, simply because there was a row going on as to whether the head officer should be at assistant secretary level of principle officer level".

"Given that office would have to have respect and status, it has to be at assistant secretary level to ensure that findings in relation to particular pieces of legislation, costing and so on, and proposals coming from deputies are robust."

Mr Martin said the changes would help the Dáil and "bring a bit of discipline".

Mr Varadkar said yesterday that he looks forward to "a good working relationship with him [Mr Martin] and Fianna Fáil".

Irish Independent

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