Saturday 24 March 2018

Taoiseach and Ceann Comhairle clash over Dail post

Fiach Kelly and Fionnan Sheahan

A FURIOUS row has erupted between the Ceann Comhairle, Taoiseach and Public Expenditure Minister over how the job of the most powerful civil servant in the Houses of the Oireachtas is to be filled.

Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett warned Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister Brendan Howlin that he would not stand over new proposals on the way to appoint the Clerk of the Dail.

At a meeting last month, Mr Barrett said he would not agree with proposals to make the appointment through a system for choosing high-level civil servants.

"He effectively said 'Not on my watch'," a source said.

It is understood Mr Howlin wanted the appointment made through a system for filling high-level civil service jobs.

This would be instead of the traditional route whereby the Ceann Comhairle nominates someone for the Taoiseach to rubber stamp.

But Mr Barrett feels the government proposals would be a weakening of parliament, and this week he wrote to Mr Kenny outlining his concerns.

"I strongly believe that the management structure for the Houses of the Oireachtas should not be based on that for a government department," reads Mr Barrett's letter to Mr Kenny, which was sent on Monday and has been seen by the Irish Independent.

"Despite some media reports to suggest that I am trying to install some favoured person into a top position, on the contrary, I am only concerned that whatever structure is in place will be the most efficient and cost-effective one in the interest of the public we try and serve."

The move is part of a range of political reforms running in tandem with the Seanad referendum, some of which will be announced today.

It comes as the Cabinet is also split over a new way to elect the Ceann Comhairle – the chairman of the Dail – as part of its package of political reforms.

Changes to the election of the Ceann Comhairle will not be outlined today, since they haven't been agreed yet.

It means the Government is facing a headache both on the selection of the Ceann Comhairle and the Clerk of the Dail.

The last Clerk of the Dail, Kieran Coughlan, retired earlier this year, and the relationship between he and Mr Barrett deteriorated in recent months.

The pair had a row at a meeting of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, which runs Leinster House, over Mr Coughlan's successor.

Mr Barrett is arguing that two people currently employed by the Oireachtas should share Mr Coughlan's job, and nobody new should be appointed.


However, it is understood the Government wants to appoint one person as Clerk of the Dail – a Secretary General who would be the chief civil servant in Leinster House.

Mr Kenny agrees that the position should be elected in an open process by TDs, rather than just nominated by the Government.

But Mr Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore resisted pressure from ministers to allow a secret ballot of TDs.

The decision on the open or secret ballot has been deferred for a later meeting in the coming weeks.

Some ministers believe if the vote is open, TDs will feel obliged to vote for a candidate from their party – or be pressured to back the leadership's favoured choice.

Sometimes the position has been used to reward loyalty or compensate for not being appointed to a ministerial post.

Frequently it goes to a veteran TD with long years of service.

But one minister said that under new reforms, "it will no longer be in the gift of the Taoiseach. It will be elected by the members".

Irish Independent

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