Sunday 16 December 2018

Row over lack of TDs at Dáil abortion debate

Mattie McGrath TD
Mattie McGrath TD
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

TWENTY government TDs have been put on stand-by for this evening to counteract perceived attempts to delay the Dáil debate on abortion.

For the past two nights Dáil sittings have ended abruptly after Independent TD Mattie McGrath called a quorum, arguing that the lack of TDs listening to the debate showed “a shameful disrespect for human life”.

A quorum requires 20 TDs to be present in the chamber or else proceedings have to be adjourned.

However, after calling one last night Mr McGrath and a number of Fianna Fáil TDs refused to take their own seats in order to be counted as part of the process.

The Government provided 12 TDs and Sinn Féin provided three TDs but no other party or group provided numbers.

Three Fianna Fáil TDs and two Rural Independents were presented when the quorum was called but then failed to take their seats so as not to be included in the headcount.

The Dáil was adjourned at 10.09pm, six minutes earlier than scheduled.

The situation led to frank exchanges at the Dáil business committee today where Mr McGrath and some anti-repeal Fianna Fáil deputies  were accused of playacting in a bid to stall the debate.

It is understood the Government Chief Whip Joe McHugh warned that as the Report of the Joint Committee on the Eight Amendment is an Oireachtas Report and not Government legislation, it is the responsibility of all parties to provide TDs for the sittings.

However, in order to ensure that there is no suspension of the House tonight he has put 20 Fine Gael TDs on stand-by in case a quorum is called.

So far the referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment has been debated in the House for 12 hours with more than 60 TDs making contributions.

Sources told the majority of remaining speaking slots have been assigned to Fianna Fáil and the Rural Independent group of which Mr McGrath is a part.

There is a belief on the Government side that a cohort of TDs in Fianna Fáil and the Rural group want to delay the process in order to prevent a referendum being held in May as proposed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Pro-choice TDs have argued that allowing it slip back into summer could affect the outcome as many students go abroad for work or travel.

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