The chair of the Oireachtas Eighth Amendment Committee has today accused two prominent pro-life members of trying to "undermine" her position on the cross-party group, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.
Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone made the claim after a tense exchange with Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Independent senator Ronan Mullen at the end of seven hours of meetings today.
At the start of the meetings, Mr McGrath had initially hit out at Ms Noone for refusing to read out two letters from pro-life witnesses to the committee saying they would not attend because the cross-party group's deliberations have become a "kangaroo court" and are biased against pro-life views.
Ms Noone initially rejected the allegation, alongside a number of other committee members including Independent senator Lynn Ruane.
However, returning to the matter at the end of seven hours of discussion with experts who did attend the committee, Ms Noone read from the Oireachtas committee chairperson rule book to say she is entitled to decide whether to read out the letters or not.
Ms Noone said under the "salient rules of the House" document, a committee chairperson does not have to read out a letter from a witness if the witness does not attend, and can instead simply publish it on the committee's website.
She added that a previous decision to read out letters from pro-choice medic Dr Peter Boylan and pro-life advocate Cora Sherlock was to clarify issues previously raised in public session.
Despite initially saying the rule book specifically states the decision of the chairperson on such a matter is final and cannot be challenged, Mr Mullen and Mr McGrath were allowed to "clarify" the point.
The debate quickly descended into a growing argument, with Ms Noone eventually warning both pro-life members they are trying to "undermine" her position.
As Ms Noone said she would be open to a vote if Mr Mullen and Mr McGrath demanded it, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy interjected to say the "practice" of the Oireachtas is clear - that the committee chair's view on the matter is final and cannot be challenged.
Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O'Brien said "I'm losing my temper here" at what colleagues said were the "stunts" from Mr Mullen and Mr McGrath and due to a Pro-Life Campaign media briefing at the gates of Leinster House as the committee was sitting, before Mr McGrath shouted back:
"Are you threatening us, are we going to be knee-capped."
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Mr Mullen and Mr McGrath have insisted they raised their concern for legitimate reasons and knew nothing of the Pro-Life Campaign media briefing.
However, a number of committee members have privately said both individuals are trying to undermine the committee before its findings are given to the Dáil next month.