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Let's worry about cuts, not tailoring

It's difficult to know whether to laugh or to cry at the news that the Dail is set to impose a dress code on its members, with male TDs expected to wear a jacket and long-sleeved shirt and women TDs banned from wearing jeans when our national parliament returns from its two-month summer holidays next September.

While we have always found Independent TD Mick Wallace's preference for shocking pink polo shirts a bit hard on the eye, it's hard to see how such sartorial lapses interfere with his ability to perform his parliamentary duties. Likewise, Luke 'Ming' Flanagan's preference for not tucking his shirt into his trousers and refusing to wear a jacket in the Dail chamber.

Amazingly, despite such fashion faux pas, these and other, mainly Independent, deputies are among the most effective members of the recently elected Dail.

Which is all that should matter. The purpose of the Dail is supposed to be to hold the Government to account on behalf of we the voters who elected them. After that, as Mr Wallace has observed, so long as our TDs wash regularly then whatever they choose to wear, as long as it covers their rude bits, should be irrelevant.

Not if the Dail establishment has its way. The Committee on Procedures and Privileges, chaired by Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett, has recommended a dress code that would force all of our TDs to dress like bank managers. Members who adopt a more relaxed style of dressing could find themselves suspended from the Dail.

The country is as good as bust. The ratings agencies are getting ready to slash our credit rating to "junk" status. We are facing into another savage Budget in December. The Dail has utterly failed in its core mission of holding the executive accountable. Distrust of politicians by most voters is running at record levels.

And yet all the Ceann Comhairle and most of his fellow committee members seem to be worried about is the fact that a few TDs refuse to wear tailored jackets or collared shirts in the Dail chamber.

If Mr Barrett, who seems to be the driving force behind the proposed dress code, gets his way he will succeed not in smartening up the appearance of the Dail but in emphasising just how irrelevant it has become to most citizens. One can imagine the mayhem if the dress code is rigidly enforced as sartorial rebels exploit the opportunity for publicity. Who will be the first TD to be suspended for refusing to wear a jacket?

Mr Barrett would be far better employed pursuing a programme of meaningful Dail reform: longer parliamentary weeks, shorter holidays, proper debates with less legislation 'guillotined' and a committee system that actually works.

The first item on his agenda should be to keep the Government to its promise to hold a referendum to reverse the Abbeylara decision, which renders Oireachtas committees impotent.

If, and only if, he delivers these reforms, should Mr Barrett even think of sending in the fashion police.

Irish Independent