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FF to decide next move in bitter row over Dail chairman


FIANNA Fail TDs and senators will today decide whether or not to force the Ceann Comhairle to quit his job.

Leader of Fianna Fail Micheal Martin and the Dail chairman, Sean Barrett, were due to speak by phone yesterday evening.

It was understood that both men were seeking a way to defuse a bitter six-day row over Dail procedures.

The dispute has led Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein to consider moving a no-confidence motion in Mr Barrett, effectively obliging him to resign.

Chief whip of FF Sean O Fearghail said a statement by Mr Barrett earlier yesterday, acknowledging opposition parties' right to question his rulings as Ceann Comhairle, did not go far enough.

The FF deputy said he still had to withdraw allegations made on radio that the opposition were trying to undermine him and also discuss ways of avoiding a repeat of the decision which caused the row.

Mr Barrett sparked a Dail walkout last Wednesday when he ruled against a debate on the terms of reference for a new commission of inquiry into alleged garda misconduct in Cavan-Monaghan. He cited a Dail rule that debates must not cut across court or tribunal proceedings.

It emerged the ruling related to a High Court case being taken by former Justice Minister Alan Shatter. Mr Barrett later said he did not want the commission of inquiry's work delayed or to risk additional court proceedings which might arise from a Dail debate.

As the row dragged on, Labour also expressed concern about the ruling. Over the weekend it emerged that in 2007 a debate was allowed on Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's finances, despite being subject to Mahon Tribunal proceedings.

Critics of Mr Barrett said the original Dail rule was in fact designed to have measured debate on issues which may also be before a court or tribunal.

Throughout yesterday, several senior government ministers strongly defended Mr Barrett. Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the Ceann Comhairle was always fair in his rulings and handling of debates.