Monday 19 March 2018

Ceann Comhairle row resolved by compromise, so let's return to civility

Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett
Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett

Liz O’Donnell

The stand-off with the Ceann Comhairle was brewing for a while. There have been walk-outs, sit-ins and almost routine disregard for the Chair's rulings, contributing to unprecedented parliamentary disruption and discord. Few anticipated it might come to a vote of no confidence in the holder of this constitutional office. After all, there had been no personal misconduct on Sean Barrett's part to warrant such an outcome. In my view, the opposition's outrage was overplayed and ill-judged.

Following legal advice, and in line with established precedent, the Ceann Comhairle made a ruling on the tabling of a motion to establish a Commission of Investigation. A specific standing order (No 57) states that if a matter is before the courts or a tribunal, the Houses of the Oireachtas, steers clear of it: "A matter shall not be raised in such an overt manner so that it seems to be an attempt by the Dail to encroach on the functions of the courts or a judicial tribunal".

This is in line with the constitutional separation of powers, the rules of natural justice and the independence of the judiciary. Some politicians have fallen foul of this rule by making comments on matters before the courts with unwanted outcomes.

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