News Irish News

Sunday 19 January 2020

Varadkar in bid to crack down on Dail privilege

CONFUSION: Leo Varadkar says privilege is outdated
CONFUSION: Leo Varadkar says privilege is outdated

DANIEL McCONNELL Political Correspondent

TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar has this weekend waded into the controversy generated by Alan Shatter’s Garda checkpoint revelation by stating that the constitutiional privilege afforded to TDs and senators to avoid arrest is “outdated and redundant”.

Mr Varadkar is to write to the Oireachtas Committee on Procedure and Privileges in order to encourage curtailment of “any potential abuse” of the parliamentary privilege by members travelling to and from Leinster House.

Mr Varadkar's intervention comes on foot of serious concerns raised by the Road Safety Authority (RSA).

Mr Varadkar said the privilege is “outdated” and is “largely redundant in modern 21st-Century Ireland”.

Prior to the Shatter controversy Gay Byrne and the Road Safety Authority wrote to Varadkar to express their concern about potential mis-use of the privilege. “I am asking the committee to set the TDs and Senators straight so this provision isn't abused,” he said.

It has been confirmed that the RSA, concerned about the “persistent and ambiguous” mis-use by elected members of both the Dail and Seanad of the constitutional provision, wrote to Mr Varadkar last month and called on him to end such confusion.

The RSA board was “deeply alarmed” at the continual emergence of stories involving TDs and senators, who had seemingly incorrectly applied a privilege to avoid prosecution when stopped by gardai.

Speaking yesterday, Noel Brett of the RSA said: “I can confirm that the board did discuss the matter, and the board was and is concerned about the ambiguity around members not complying with the actual provisions.” “So the board has formally written to the minister calling on him to review the privilege, and to issue guidelines and a code of conduct for all members so we can eliminate such ambiguity.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny is under mounting pressure from within his own Coalition to sack Mr Shatter, given the Government has been dogged by the Wallace and checkpoint controversies for the past 10 days.

Two junior ministers, speaking this weekend, called on Mr Kenny to remove Mr discuss the matter, and the board was and is concerned about the ambiguity around members not complying with the actual provisions.” “So the board has formally written to the minister calling on him to review the privilege, and to issue guidelines and a code of conduct for all members so we can eliminate such ambiguity.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny is under mounting pressure from within his own Coalition to sack Mr Shatter, given the Government has been dogged by the Wallace and checkpoint controversies for the past 10 days.

Two junior ministers, speaking this weekend, called on Mr Kenny to remove Mr Shatter from his post, along with the two other Kenny loyalists, Ministers Phil Hogan and James Reilly, dubbed the “toxic trio” for the damage they are doing to the credibility of the Government.

“We have had 10 days of this nonsense and the arrogant plonker that Shatter is, it was all of his own making. Of course Kenny should get rid of him, he should get rid of the three of them,” said one junior minister.

“He barely looks at you and when he does he's looking down at you. He made a hero out of Wallace, a tax defaulter, when he didn't need to. But this stuff about the asthma is farcical. We'd be better off without him,” said another.

A number of other FG ministers and backbenchers came to Mr Shatter's defence, describing him as “reforming, hard working and committed,” but did say the affair has “deeply damaged” him and the Government.

While Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Labour ministers like Ruairi Quinn have publicly backed Mr Shatter, there is deep anger among the back benches over the ongoing controversy.

A canvass of Labour TDs and Senators revealed a considerable disquiet with Mr Shatter's explanation of the time he was stopped by gardai, with many calling on the garda report to be made public, if such a report exists.

“Labour TD for Dublin Mid West, Robert Dowds, said that if a garda report does exist, then it “would be a good idea to release it. The more we know about this incident the better”.

Donegal Senator Jimmy Harte was also critical saying the matter has been a “big unwanted distraction” from the important work in getting the country back on track.

“Until we have a written report on this, it is hard to know what really happened, as it is hard to judge this matter on the hearsay of Mattie McGrath.” Dublin South Central TD Eric Byrne said it is “disgusting that the country is being distracted by this tittle tattle.” While several other Labour TDs including Dublin South East TD Kevin Humphries, who earlier in the week said Mr Shatter had deep questions to answer, and Cork South Central TD Ciaran Lynch, said they intend to support Mr Shatter in the vote of confidence in the Dail later this week.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News