Minister suggests sanctions for TDs who breach privilege rules

A Cabinet minister has suggested that stronger sanctions should be applied to politicians who breach Oireachtas privilege rules but defended the right of TDs to have their say in the Dail.

Communications Minister Alex White was responding to suggestions by former Fine Gael spin doctor Frank Flannery, who has called for more regulation about what can be said in the Dáil.

The comments come after it emerged recently that businessman Denis O’Brien is suing a Dáil committee following claims made about his banking arrangements in the Dáil by TDs.

Mr White yesterday defended the system whereby TDs and senators have privilege when they stand up in the chambers. “Parliamentarians who are elected by the people should have the right, indeed the duty, to speak freely and clearly in the parliament of the people and I think that should not change,” he said.

“It’s an important constitutional privilege by the way that this case will not change and cannot change.

“It is open to abuse, but thankfully that has not happened very often in our system. There were one or two examples recently, but they’re quite rare I think.”

Mr O’Brien has begun a lawsuit against the Committee on Procedure and Privileges over claims made by two Opposition TDs in the Dáil in May, which he says breached his constitutional rights.

The businessman says the CPP was wrong to find that TDs did not breach privilege rules. His lawsuit against the committee was last week deemed “outrageous” and “totally out of order” by Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett.

However, Mr White thinks changes could be made to how abuses by TDs using privilege are regulated.

“I think there’s case to be made for stronger sanctions, I think there is a case certainly to be made there, but bear in mind that this important privilege is very, very seldom abused.”

Mr Flannery, a former Fine Gael director of elections, questioned the level of sanctions if TDs abused their right to privilege and said that the current system was “very weak”.

A regulated system was needed which allowed politicians govern the country but without “trampling on the rights of defenceless individual citizens”, Mr Flannery told RTÉ’s This Week, because the “damage it does on the other side is incalculable and very often irrecoverable”.

Mr Flannery previously took issue with an Oireachtas committee examining his role with Rehab and payments he received in relation to the charity.


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