Tuesday 24 October 2017

Varadkar bid to prevent TDs abusing travel privileges fails

JOHN DRENNAN Political Editor

AN Oireachtas committee chaired by the Ceann Com-hairle Sean Barrett has rebuffed attempts by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar to draw up guidelines to prevent TDs from abusing their travelling privileges to the Dail. The row erupted in the wake of the public furore after Roscommon TD Luke 'Ming' Flanagan had his penalty points quashed by local gardai. The Sunday Independent has learned that broadcaster and chairman of the Road Safety Authority (RSA), Gay Byrne, wrote to Mr Varadkar urging him to respond to widespread concern that TDs were abusing their constitutional privileges.

Mr Byrne said the RSA had received a "significant" number of complaints arising out of the 'Ming' penalty points controversy and asked the minister for clarity on what privileges elected members enjoyed.

He wrote: "The board is of the view that it is necessary now to restate precisely what the provisions are for exemption." And he asked Mr Varadkar to ask the appropriate Dail committee to "publish guidelines for Oireachtas members to ensure that there is no further ambiguity in the implementation of road traffic legislation''.

But when Mr Varadkar raised the matter he was informed that: "The committee considered your letter . . . and decided not to draw up such guidelines."

Mr Varadkar then asked the committee to explain why "the CPP decided against drawing up guidelines''.

On July 3, the committee wrote back to Mr Varadkar, saying the reason it decided against drawing up the guidelines was simply because "the committee felt it was inappropriate to do so".

The CPP added it was "not the appropriate forum in relation to the interpretation of Constitutional Article 15.13''. Sources said the minister was deeply unhappy with the CPP's decision to block his request, which arose out of serious public concerns.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Varadkar said: "The guidance I would like to be issued is that the provision is only there to ensure that a TD or senator cannot be prevented from getting to a vote, on the basis that missing a vote on a money bill which is then lost would cause the Government to collapse.

"It should not be invoked other than when a TD or senator is trying to make it to a vote and is never an excuse in any circumstances."

Sunday Independent

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