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Let TDs vote by their conscience

Sir -- The expulsion of Deputies Broughan and Nulty from the Labour Parliamentary Party for voting against the Government highlights yet again the draconian nature of our so-called democracy. Free votes are frequently allowed in the British House of Commons and most other parliaments across Europe, enabling members to vote on certain issue in accordance with their consciences.

While accepting that a measure of discipline is required to get essential or emergency pieces of legislation through the Oireachtas, I believe there should also be an allowance for conscientious objectors.

I recall sitting in the public gallery of the Dail in 1993 when the late Tony Gregory moved a Private Members Bill to ban hare coursing.

TDs who had publicly condemned the bloodsport on many occasions were whipped into voting down the Bill, and three Fine Gael deputies who defied the whip were immediately expelled from their parliamentary party. Though close to half of all TDs had pledged support at one time or another for a ban on hare coursing, the outcome of the vote on the Gregory Bill did not reflect this: the proposed measure was defeated by 104 votes to 16.

I mention that because it is an issue that I happen to be familiar with, but democracy has been denied many times in our national parliament by this hamfisted approach to enacting legislation.

The case for reform or relaxation of the party whip system will hopefully become more compelling with each 'man (or woman) overboard' scenario that arises in the politically challenging months and years ahead.

I say the time has come to dust off the cobwebbed, archaic and stifling debating chamber that is Dail Eireann and let true democracy prevail!

John Fitzgerald,

Callan, Co Kilkenny

Sunday Independent