Tuesday 20 March 2018

Government accused of bringing Dáil 'into disrepute' during heated row over development plan for Ireland

Leinster house in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA Archive)
Leinster house in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA Archive)

Wayne O'Connor and Cormac McQuinn

THE Dáil was almost suspended again today amid a massive row over the government's plan to announce its vision for developing Ireland over the next two decades.

The government has been accused of bringing the Dáil “into disrepute” during a heated row in the Chamber.

Labour leader Bredan Howlin made the remarks as he challenges Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on the plan to announce the National Planning Framework (NPF) on Friday, before the passing of a law that would require it to be put to votes in Leinster House.

He told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar both men were in power together with then Labour minister Alan Kelly in 2016 when it was decided that the NPF would be underpinned by a Dáil vote.

“This undermines democracy and undermines people’s faith and trust.

Mr Varadkar branded Mr Howlin’s comments “opposition for opposition sake” and insisted the plan would go on a statutory footing.

“It will automatically go on a statutory footing because of the draft document being passed by the Oireachtas in November.

“This is a real vision for a better place than we have now and the opposition are petrified of it,” Mr Varadkar insisted.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl threatened to suspend proceedings amid persistent heckling over the issue.

Earlier opposition TDs have warned the government against "skullduggery" hitting out at the plan to announce the NPF and the €115bn spending spree that underpins it before the passing of the legislation that would require Dáil and Seanad votes on it.

A coalition of TDs who have raised strong objections to a draft of the NPF said they don’t believe the final document can be launched on Friday.

They are to meet Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy this afternoon to discuss their concerns about the rural aspects of the plan.

One member, Labour's Mr Kelly, hit out at the plan to announce it before the legislation requiring Oireachtas votes on it passes though the Seanad.

He argued “We think that is absolutely terrible practice. It is unacceptable”.

The Tipperary TD also questioned how the plan could have been “substantially changed” in the last three weeks since the coalition went public with their objections.

He said: “We believe that this plan cannot be launched on Friday.

“We believe that the integrity of the process has been completely undermined and finally we believe that this plan – according to the legislation which this government is sponsoring itself - needs to go before a vote of both Houses.”

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice warned that there shouldn’t be  “skulduggery” over the NPF.

“This should be laid before the Dáil and voted on but above all given time to get it right once and for all for the generations of the future.”

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said the Oireachtas Housing Committee has written to Mr Murphy raising similar concerns and are seeking a response before Friday.

Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív said the NPF should be considered by an all-party Oireachtas Committee before it is finalised as there will be changes in government over the next two decades and there s need for consensus on the plan.

He would not go as far as to say that Fianna Fáil will withdraw support for the government over the matter, saying that the issue is not included in the Confidence and Supply Agreement his party has with the Fine Gael-led minority administration.

He said: “It shouldn’t take threats to get that point across. I would hope that they would have sense before Friday.”

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