Ceann Comhairle Barrett now faces three-prong threat

Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett,

John Drennan

Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett is facing a three-pronged attack by the Opposition which will put his ongoing tenure in the post in serious jeopardy next week.

In a significant development, the Opposition leader Micheal Martin has warned Mr Barrett that, ‘‘The Ceann Comhairle is not like a minister, they need the consent of the Opposition rather than the Government to remain in office’’.

The only previous Ceann Comhairle to resign was Fianna Fail’s John O’Donoghue, who departed from office after the then opposition of Fine Gael and Labour declared they had no confidence in him.

Commenting on the parallels, one senior figure noted: ‘‘what is sauce for the Fianna Fail goose may yet be sauce for the Fine Gael gander; Mr Barrett, if he is to remain in office, needs our support’’.

Significantly, yesterday Mr Martin took a hardline stance saying that, ‘‘if Mr Barrett is to retain the confidence of Fianna Fail he must withdraw his remarks about Fianna Fail being out to undermine him’’.

Mr Martin added: ‘‘Our concerns are substantive, the rules as interpreted by the Ceann Comhairle have thrown political reform back 20 years.’’

Under the new rules Mr Martin said: ‘‘we would not be able to debate issues as diverse as planning corruption, the issues raised by a whole series of Garda whistleblowers such as Maurice McCabe or the concerns raised by Mairia Cahill about the role of Sinn Fein and the IRA in the sexual abuse of children’’.

Mr Martin defended his decision to walk out with Gerry Adams, noting: ‘‘This is only the second time in the life of the Dail we have co-operated, the previous occasion was over the guillotining of the Irish Water Bill’’.

In a development that will further erode the Ceann Comhairle’s position, the Sunday Independent has learned he is facing a ‘‘make or break’’ meeting with the Independent technical group next week.

The group has also become increasingly unhappy over what one source called: ‘‘Mr Barrett’s intemperate style’’.

Finian McGrath warned that: ‘‘Concern is increasing amongst Independents over a series of decisions by Mr Barrett’’.

Given that Sinn Fein narrowly decided against putting  a motion of no confidence in Mr Barrett in the wake of the Mary Lou McDonald ‘sit in’ affair, should Mr Barrett fail to resolve his differences with Fianna Fail and the Independent group, he will be under serious threat.

One Fianna Fail source warned: ‘‘Barrett is on the rack; Enda also has big questions to answer about the role played by Shatter in this debacle’’.

Fianna Fail’s Niall Collins, meanwhile, turned the heat up on the embattled Ceann Comhairle with a query to the Tanaiste as to whether “she was told about the letters sent to both the Ceann Comhairle and the Taoiseach from Deputy Alan Shatter’s legal firm.’’

A senior Fine Gael minister told the Sunday Independent, however, that Mr Barrett was a respected figure who was being challenged ‘‘by the unprecedented disruption the street politics of the hard left and Sinn Fein has brought to the Dail’’.