Filibuster deployed to defy will of the Dáil on Road Traffic Bill

“It is a sad day for rural Ireland,” boomed a defiant Danny Healy Rae.

His strong Kerry accent was instantly recognisable and was rapidly greeted by groans and jeers in a hot and heavy Dáil chamber.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, who had endured a rough morning, had just finished his declaration of the passage of the controversial Road Traffic Bill, pioneered by Transport Minister Shane Ross.

The bill passed by 75 votes to just eight.

That’s it, eight. Not 80, not 18. Just eight.

The Dáil debate yesterday morning was nothing short of disgraceful and it was spearheaded by a handful of deputies who went way beyond the reasonable point of trying to represent their constituents.

They sought, as many of their colleagues argued, to defy the will of the vast majority of the Dáil.

Danny Healy Rae, his brother Michael, and Tipperary Independent Mattie McGrath have been to the fore of a small band of rural TDs who doggedly opposed this bill over many weeks, by means of a filibuster.

At this stage of the bill’s passage, deputies can speak for an unlimited time without having to give way.

Michael Healy Rae was in possession of the debate when it commenced and spoke for well over an hour.

At times he was “rambling”. At times, he was speaking on matters that had little or nothing to do with the bill in question.

The Ceann Comhairle sought as best he could to rein him in, warning the deputy several times to get back on point.

“Deputy Healy-Rae is wandering again,” became a mantra from the chair.

Healy Rae was defiant, saying he was entitled to speak and was operating within the rules of the Dáil.

Other TDs were not so kind. Fianna Fáil TD Declan Breathnach said: “We’re listening to nothing only verbal diarrhoea. The issue of stalling it is absolutely inappropriate.

As a rural TD, he said, “I might share some of the concerns of the Independent TDs”, but he added that the chamber had a duty to pass legislation and that there should be an informal arrangement to give everyone a chance to speak.

When McGrath and the other rural Independents tried to defend their voyage of frustration, it drew a testy response from one Government minister.

Regina Doherty, who had had enough of the shenanigans, vented her fury at McGrath: “Deputy McGrath demands that whatever the minister of state, Deputy Kehoe, said, be withdrawn from the record and then 10 seconds later he stands up and tells us that we are being bullied by the minister, Deputy Ross.” 

“Yes, there is bullying,” McGrath pleaded in reply. 

An unimpressed Doherty retorted: “Will the deputy cop on to himself?” 

The Ceann Comhairle again appealed for calm, reminding the misbehaving deputies that members of the public were watching these unedifying scenes on TV.

It took Social Democrat co-leader Catherine Murphy to bring some order to the proceedings.

“I seek to invoke Standing Order 68, considering the length of time that has been given to this,” she said. 

“We have heard from members from all sides of the House. There is no value in stretching this to another day next week. It is an amendment; it is not a second-stage debate. I ask that the Ceann Comhairle consider granting that request.”

The Ceann Comhairle was in agreement.

“It is regrettable that we have got to a point where such a proposal is being made,” he said. 

“I will say — I am not required to give an explanation in these matters — I consider filibuster a legitimate parliamentary tactic. However, this debate has been going on since 24 April.

“We are now at a point where we will have reached nearly 16 hours of debate on a four-page bill. I am unhappy about having to accede to the proposal.” 

 “Faced with the reality of the length of debate we have had, and the Rural Independent Group deputies have had 24 lengthy contributions to this debate at this stage, I can be happy as chair that no member has been deprived of an opportunity to make their position clear on this piece of legislation.” 

The ‘rurals’ were not happy.

“It is disgraceful. Justice is all I want,” McGrath cried repeatedly, as the vote was called.

It duly passed, to applause from the families of those who have died on our roads.

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