The granting of Dáil speaking time to rebel government party TDs has angered other opposition groups who have had their own speaking slots reduced due to the measure agreed by the Ceann Comhairle.
Rebel Fine Gael and Labour TDs look likely now to join forces on the opposition benches as they co-operate on question time and speaking slots on legislation.
The measure was agreed by Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett and effectively means the Dáil will now have a second technical group. Up to 14 TDs have been offered the shared speaking time. But the new measure is only likely to be taken up by 10 TDs, who were kicked out of both the parliamentary parties of Fine Gael and Labour.
The TDs include former European affairs minister Lucinda Creighton, involved in the new Reform Alliance group, as well as former junior health minister Róisín Shortall, a rebel Labour TD.
But their question and speaking time will come from other groups on the opposition benches, including Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. Opposition party leaders expressed surprise at the new speaking rights yesterday and claimed the Government had failed to consult them on the matter.
But the new measures will not allow the group of rebels TDs to take part in leaders questions or become members of committees.
Government chief whip Paul Kehoe yesterday said the rebel TDs could avail of private members time in the Dáil if they signed up to the technical group (a body in the Dáil made up of independent deputies), a move which they are unlikely to agree.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny also said that if they joined the technical group that they could get more access to committee membership.
Wicklow TD and Reform Alliance member Billy Timmins — exiled with others after voting against the coalition’s abortion legislation — said he could not emphasise the importance of the Ceann Comhairle’s decision.
“It is a very diverse [group of non-aligned TDs] and we will have to work together to share that time out. That’s something we will have to do in the days ahead.”
Former Labour party minister Róisín Shortall also welcomed the move.
She said: “Every TD has an equal mandate from the electorate, yet it hasn’t been possible to exercise that mandate because the Dáil has been very tightly and undemocratically controlled by the Government party whips and there was no facility for people who had been previous members of parliamentary parties to actually have their speaking rights and exercise that mandate in terms of legislation.”
Q. What do the new speaking rights for TDs in the Dáil mean?
A. TDs on the opposition benches, who are called ‘the others’ under the measure, will be granted specific speaking rights but only after Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, and the Technical Group in the Dáil.
Q. What does this mean for Government party rebel TDs who say they have no ability to represent their voters?
A. Those TDs exiled from their parties for voting against the Government will be able to question ministers on legislation and raise matters important to them. However, they will not be granted private members time, which allows groups to raise issues such as motions of confidence in ministers. Furthermore, they will still not be allowed become a member of a committee, which allows them scrutinise legislation even more.
Q. Why has this been agreed now for rebel TDs on the opposition benches?
A. A group has been formed mainly of dissident Fine Gael TDs who were kicked out of their parliamentary party for opposing the abortion legislation. Widely viewed as being led by ex-European Affairs minister Lucinda Creighton, the alliance made it known there were concerns that its TDs had no speaking rights after being exiled to the opposition benches. The same issue, however, had been raised continuously by rebel Labour TDs, such as Róisín Shortall and Tommy Broughan, as well as former Labour party chairman Colm Keaveney, all three of whom are now on the opposition benches.
It is expected that three standalone independent TDs (Michael Lowry, Michael Healy Rae, and Noel Grealish) will not avail of the speaking time agreement with the other TDs.
Furthermore, Galway TD Brian Walsh has also told Fine Gael TDs that he will not form part of the new Reform Alliance.
Q. When will the new speaking rights arrangement be in place for the rebel TDs?
A. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the measure would commence in October but he would hold talks with opposition parties about other Dáil reform measures.
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