Dáil Covid-19 committee close to being finalised

A Dáil Covid-19 committee is close to being finalised but the government is trying to ensure that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris are excluded from being quizzed by TDs.
Dáil Covid-19 committee close to being finalised
Labour Party whip Duncan Smith: "“The proposal that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health should be excluded from the remit of the Committee is completely unacceptable to us. A committee established on that basis would not be worth joining."

A Dáil Covid-19 committee is close to being finalised but the government is trying to ensure that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris are excluded from being quizzed by TDs.

The Irish Examiner understands that the setting up of the new body to assess the fight against the virus and any problems will be discussed later this week when the Dáil meets for two days.

In a letter to Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Labour Party whip Duncan Smith said Covid-19 committee meetings could be held online or virtually.

Labour said it has received legal advice saying this would not preclude any privilege for TDs with hearings.

“There is no connection between Leinster House and parliamentary privilege...It has not been suggested that if the Dáil does move to the Convention Centre to nominate a Taoiseach that parliamentary privilege would not attach to that sitting,” Mr Smith wrote.

Labour also disagrees with demands by other parties that the new committee’s agenda be dictated by the Dáil business committee and in advance.

Furthermore, Labour is pushing back against efforts to exclude senior government members from questioning.

“The proposal that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health should be excluded from the remit of the Committee is completely unacceptable to us. A committee established on that basis would not be worth joining.

“We completely understand and accept that Ministers and officials are very busy. In a parliamentary democracy, it is precisely because they are busy that they must give an account of their activities.

"The fact that the Government is acting in a caretaker capacity makes interaction with, and securing support from, the Dáil all the more urgent, so as to confer democratic legitimacy on decisions taken during this public health crisis,” Mr Smith added.

It is understood that the Greens, Sinn Féin, Solidarity-People Before Profit and the Social Democrats all want the Taoiseach and Minister for Health to attend committee hearings.

Fianna Fáil is more reluctant and senior party sources also suggest that any Covid-19 committee could be scrapped in a few weeks or next month if and when government formation talks come to a successful conclusion and a deal is done.

This would see a full schedule of new committees agreed, including ones covering health and the current virus crisis.

“If a government is formed, the committee would be defunct as other committees will take over,” said a Fianna Fáil source.

Parties are set to make decisions on the Covid-19 committee when the Dáil business committee meets on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Dáil will meet on Wednesday and Thursday this week where more questions will be asked about the response by health authorities and the caretaker government to the pandemic.

It is also expected that final agreement will be reached on restarting the written parliamentary question system, which stopped when the virus crisis began and was replaced by what Dáil sources say was a "bureaucratic nightmare" of a system.

Instead, TDs will see a backlog of questions on everything from the economy, to the virus and to local concerns now answered in written form once again.

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