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'Shooting from the hip' is a very risky game


Sean Barrett

Sean Barrett

Sean Barrett

IT IS not easy being Ceann Comhairle right now.

With an election in sight, the atmosphere in the Dáil is becoming increasingly febrile. Government ministers, including the Taoiseach, frequently go over time talking down the clock to avoid real answers to awkward questions.

On the Opposition benches, the deputies push their luck with tight procedures and then give vent to their frustrations with occasional tantrums. Late last year, Sinn Féin pumped up a procedural row, and their deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, staged a sit-in for four hours, a move aimed at deflecting attention from sex abuse allegations against the IRA from Mairia Cahill.

So, Mr Barrett has not always been met fairly by his Dáil colleagues. But neither has he helped his own case as a blunt-speaking man, with a quick temper, who sometimes shoots from the hip. His ill-starred effort to impose a TDs' dress code early in this Dáil term is a case in point.

It is hard not to conclude that there is wrong on both sides in this row between the Dáil chairman and the two main Opposition parties, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. Beyond the confines of Leinster House, this will seem an arcane enough spat.

But it has reached a point where, unless one or other, or preferably both sides, pull back from the brink, it will end badly. Mr Barrett could be ousted from his job, with no real gain for the Opposition, and the Dáil's reputation could be tarnished.

Both parties are enraged at a ruling by Mr Barrett last Wednesday that there could be no debate on the terms of reference for a garda commission of inquiry. He cited pending High Court proceedings by former Justice Minister Alan Shatter and a Dáil rule which states that TDs must not encroach on court or tribunal cases.

But some in the Labour Party have also joined in questioning the validity of this ruling. They have found a 2007 precedent when a debate was permitted on Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's affairs despite that matter being before the Mahon Tribunal.

The incident again shows that the Ceann Comhairle should be chosen by a secret ballot of all TDs.

It should not remain the de facto gift of the Taoiseach, which diminishes this important State office.

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In 2009 Enda Kenny, in Opposition, advocated this important change.

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