Frustrated TDs originally elected under both parties have agreed to co-operate in a bid to jointly challenge the Government and secure speaking rights.
As rebel Fine Gael TDs attempt to form a technical group, it has emerged that one of their group has agreed to hold a series of discussions with an exiled Labour-elected TD.
The prospect of rebel TDs teaming up would likely add pressure on the Coalition to allow a second technical group to be formed.
Galway East TD Colm Keaveney, who resigned from Labour earlier this summer, yesterday confirmed he had this week met with Roscommon-South Leitrim TD Denis Naughton, who is exiled from the Fine Gael parliamentary party.
Both formulated a Dáil motion on mental health and agreed to meet again to discuss further motions and co-operation in the Dáil on standing orders and legislation coming before the house, Mr Keaveney said.
“I’m obviously determined without the [party] whip to secure greater speaking time and contribute to legislation. Denis and I held very interesting discussions.”
The former Labour Party chairman said they were interested in how they could “fulfil their constitutional mandates”, adding that there was enthusiasm among other Labour TDs who had lost the whip to secure more representational rights in the Dáil. Others had as of yet not held talks with the rebel Fine Gael TDs, he said.
It was impossible to dismiss the speaking rights of 11 deputies (the numbers of originally elected Fine Gael and Labour TDs now on the backbenches) as they potentially represented over 300,000 voters nationwide, he argued.
Meanwhile, one of the eight Fine Gael rebel Oireachtas members yesterday outlined how six TDs in the bloc would seek permission to act as a technical group in the Dáil and thus be granted specific speaking rights.
Senator Paul Bradford, expelled for opposing the abortion legislation, said the group had new ideas, a new approach, and should be entitled to have its own speaking time in the Dáil.
“I would hope that at a time when the Government is talking about political reform, when the Government wishes to shut down one house of democracy, namely the Seanad, it wouldn’t shut down parliamentarians and it wouldn’t stop people from speaking and debating in the Dáil,” he told RTÉ.
The rebel Fine Gael group are made up of TDs Lucinda Creighton, Billy Timmins, Terence Flanagan, Denis Naughten, Peter Mathews, and Brian Walsh, and senators Paul Bradford and Fidelma Healy Eames.
Mr Bradford indicated that the group was not interested in forming a new party. He said the coalition was not their enemy but they were now “outside the fold” through no fault of their own.
He said there were two independent groups of speakers in the Seanad and the same model should apply to the Dáil “Let’s be a little grown-up and mature, our country has moved on and has moved on politically and we must surely accept it. Anybody elected to the Seanad or the Dáil has a right and entitlement to play a role as a parliamentarian.”
Q. How do you form a ‘technical group’ in the Dáil?
A technical group is established at the beginning of a Dáil and is made up of members who agree to share speaking time, rotate speakers, and who usually vote as a bloc. Only one currently exists in the Dáil and is comprised of independent TDs. The coalition is likely to argue against a second one, as rebel Fine Gael or Labour TDs originally stood on a party ticket and not as Independents.
Speaking time is shared in the Dáil and agreed between party whips and organisers. On a certain bill or motion, members are granted speaking time. Those not attached to a party or a technical group face difficulties trying to get speaking rights as individuals and not as a group because they have fewer rights in the Dáil.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny warned dissenting TDs during the abortion bill debates that they would not come under the party banner at the next general election. He is thus unlikely to allow a new group form in the Dáil. Rebel TDs, however, say promises of Dáil reform — if the Seanad is abolished — should include changing the standing orders to allow for such a group to be set up. However, some form of ‘backroom’ deal with rebel Fine Gael TDs could allow them speaking time if they agree to support key votes on government policies and legislation. Any changes must be decided by the Dáil but the Coalition has a majority of votes in the house, meaning it will decide the outcome of any proposals to extend speaking rights.
A TD or senator generally ‘loses the whip’ when they do not follow party orders, particularly when it comes to voting in accord with a leader’s wishes. In such a scenario, they are expelled from the parliamentary party — not necessarily the party itself — for losing the whip. Several from Fine Gael and Labour have lost the party whip since the Coalition took office in 2011.
At present, individual TDs who are not members of the technical group cannot join forces and seek stronger representation in the parliament, even if they share the same opinions on a bill or issue. Rebel TDs can opt to form a party to achieve more speaking rights but such a move requires funding, registration, much publicity, a constitution for the group, as well as a minimum number of members under existing rules.