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Barrett under fire as TD ejected from Dail debate on water costs

THE chairman of the Dail is facing a motion of no confidence after being accused of "shutting down" a debate and bringing the parliament into disrepute.

Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett has been strongly criticised over his chairmanship of a debate on the water charges which was the subject of heated exchanges between the government and the Opposition.

Mr Barrett ejected Independent TD Roisin Shortall after she accused him of not upholding "the democratic rights of members of this House".

Ms Shortall had earlier demanded the attendance of Environment Minister Alan Kelly in the Dail to answer questions from the Opposition on the water charges issue.

There were heated exchanges after Mr Kelly was accused of producing misleading figures in regards to the €100 conservation grant.

The government has budgetted €130m for the grant, which will be paid to every household in the country that applies. Mr Kelly has said that the scheme is "demand-led" and therefore additional funding will be found if required.

But members of the Opposition say that the the budgeted figure falls far short of the level required to provide the payment to the 1.6 million households identified as potential Irish Water customers.

After several hours of debate, the Dail was suspended for a period as TDs voted to eject Roisin Shortall.

In exchanges with the Ceann Comhairle, she accused him of trying to shut down the debate on the Water Services Bill.

"It is a matter of extreme regret, a Cheann Comhairle, that when you came into the Chamber this morning, you came with the intention of shutting down the debate.

RIGHTS

"Your role is not to protect the minister and silence the Dail. Your role is to uphold the rights of members of this Dail," Ms Shortall said.

"We have a right to question the basis of the Government for proposing legislation. By your actions this morning, a Cheann Comhairle, you have brought this House into disrepute."

In a statement issued last night Mr Barrett defended his role.

"The rules governing Committee Stage strike a fair balance between on the one hand the right of members to properly debate and scrutinise legislation, and on the other, the need to ensure that legislation can be processed in an orderly and efficient way through the House," he said.

"It is the role of the Ceann Comhairle to ensure that members adhere to these rules as set out in Standing Orders when making their contributions."

Ms Shortall is due to discuss the prospect of tabling a motion of no confidence in the Ceann Comhairle over the weekend. The motion, due to be debated on Tuesday, will be supported by Sinn Fein.

However, the motion is likely to be defeated as it is being opposed by both government parties and Fianna Fail.

"I would not at all anticipate Fianna Fail supporting a motion of no confidence in the Ceann Comhairle," the party's chief whip Sean O Fearghail said.

noconnor@herald.ie


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