Motion of no confidence on the cards for Ceann Comhairle

Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett in the Dáil. Fianna Fáil's threat to withdraw its support for him has put his position in further doubt.

The opposition is considering a motion of no confidence in Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett after a row escalated over his decision to ban a debate on the terms of an inquiry into garda malpractice.

Both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin members yesterday said they had no confidence in Mr Barrett.

It comes after the chairman of the Dáil gave a heated interview in which he defended pulling a Dáil debate after getting a legal warning from Alan Shatter, the former justice minister.

The Dáil had been due to debate the terms of reference into a commission of investigation into alleged garda malpractice in the Cavan/Monaghan division, recommended by barrister Sean Guerin.

Mr Shatter is taking a court action to try and overturn Mr Guerin’s report.

Mr Barrett defended his decision to pull last week’s Dáil debate. He said he had received correspondence from Mr Shatter’s solicitors and took advice but was not influenced by the letter.

“I took a decision in the interest of the public so that an investigation can proceed immediately without the possibility of the Houses of the Oireachtas being hauled to the High Court and this matter being delayed and thousands of euro being spent on legal fees.”

Mr Barrett has said he was advised that, according to the Dáil’s standing orders or rules, the debate could “encroach on the functions of the courts”.

He also confirmed Mr Shatter’s solicitors had asked for a reference to him on the inquiry’s terms to be deleted.

“I certainly did not bow to any pressure from anybody and that’s where the unfairness is coming in.

“They wanted Alan Shatter’s name deleted from the terms of reference. That was a matter for the Government, not for me,” he told RTÉ radio.

Opposition parties stormed out of the Dáil this week after the debate was cancelled.

They claim Mr Shatter has managed to silence debate on an important issue with a gagging order.

But the row took another turn yesterday when Mr Barrett also claimed during the radio interview that the opposition was out to get him.

“Of course they are, it’s perfectly obvious,” he said.

This drew immediate criticism, with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin threatening his party would pull support for Mr Barrett in the Dáil unless he withdrew his comments.

Both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin TDs last night said they had no confidence in Mr Barrett.

Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said a motion of no confidence could be considered while Fianna Fáil said it would give Mr Barrett until next week to withdraw his remarks.

Government sources said the situation was being viewed as “quite serious”.

“Why didn’t he tell the party whips why he was cancelling the debate?” said one source.

However, Government figures last night gave their support to Mr Barrett.

Both Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton ndicated they were happy with Mr Barrett’s decision about why he cancelled the debate.

Spokesmen for Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton said they had confidence in Mr Barrett.

While government parties would oppose any motion brought against Mr Barrett, he could face difficulties continuing to chair the Dáil if all opposition parties united and backed such a proposal.

Former ceann comhairle Seamus Kirk said yesterday he believed that the Dáil’s standing orders needed to be reviewed and updated.

Latest calls for his head could be last

Juno McEnroe

The position of Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett looks to be under serious question after a blazing row this week over the shutting down of a Dáil debate on an inquiry into Garda practice.

The opposition can smell blood and the chairman of the Dáil is on the ropes. It might only be a matter of time before pressure is brought to bear on his post. Certainly, it is impossible to see how day-to-day proceedings in the chamber can go on without further clashes between Mr Barrett and TDs on the opposition benches.

The latest disagreement revolves around Mr Barrett’s decision to bar debate on the forthcoming commission of investigation into the Cavan/Monaghan garda division. The inquiry was set up after initial recommendations by barrister Seán Guerin. His report last year on the mishandling of Garda investigations resulted in Alan Shatter, then the justice minister, resigning. Mr Shatter has launched a High Court case to overturn those findings.

When Taoiseach Enda Kenny was pressed in the Dáil during the week, he revealed why a scheduled debate into the inquiry’s terms was disallowed. He said the Ceann Comhairle had received a letter from Mr Shatter and decided, after taking advice, that the debate could result in legal problems, namely it could “encroach on the functions of the courts”.

However, the “gagging order”, as some TDs deemed it, resulted in the opposition staging a Dáil walk-out and claiming Mr Shatter had managed to “muzzle” the Dáil through legal manoeuvring. An incensed Mr Barrett took to the airwaves yesterday morning — while waiting for a flight in Dublin Airport — to defend his actions. But his incendiary remarks, rather than defusing the situation, have now set the proverbial cat among the pigeons.

It was not so much his words about defending his independence in deciding to cancel the debate that caused a furore, but rather his worried referral to the opposition being “out to get” him, that will now hang over his position as Ceann Comhairle. By yesterday afternoon, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin had warned that if Mr Barrett did not withdraw his remarks, his party would pull its support.

Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn went further, saying there could be a no-confidence motion in Mr Barrett.

Government sources agreed yesterday that Mr Barrett had been “seriously damaged”.

However, there’s history here, in the fractious relationship between Mr Barrett and the opposition benches. In December, Mr Barrett faced threats of a motion of no confidence from Independent TDs after he suspended Roisín Shortall from the chamber. The month before, Sinn Féin threatened a motion after he kicked Mary Lou McDonald out of the Dáil. Independent TDs are also arguing with him over their speaking time.

But Fianna Fáil’s threat to withdraw its support puts his position in serious doubt. The substance of the issue, Fianna Fáil says, is a concern that Mr Shatter’s legal manoeuvring could set a precedent where people use the courts to gag debate in parliament.

Mr Barrett’s position is not helped by criticism from Labour deputy leader Alan Kelly, who privately told TDs his ruling might leave the Government with a “constitutional crisis”.


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