Green Party senator seeks legal advice on party rules

Green Party Senator Pauline O'Reilly has taken legal advice over her own party's constitution, the Examiner can reveal.
Green Party senator seeks legal advice on party rules
Eamon Ryan. Photo:Leon Farrell/
Eamon Ryan. Photo:Leon Farrell/

Green Party Senator Pauline O'Reilly has taken legal advice over her own party's constitution, the Examiner can reveal.

Ms O'Reilly, a qualified solicitor from Galway and the party's spokesperson for foreign affairs and trade, spoke to a legal professional on the party's constitution, over how votes in the parliamentary party were counted on whether the party should enter formal negotiations with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and approval of the draft document for the Programme for Government.

Under the party's constitution, members of the Seanad cannot vote on issues related to Dáil business, these votes are limited to TDs only, as Senators sit in a separate House of the Oireachtas.

Ms O'Reilly disputed the rule, stating that her opinion and the opinion of fellow Senator Pippa Hackett for the draft programme was being "overlooked" and tabled the issue at a parliamentary party meeting before contacting the party's executive committee, multiple sources claim that Ms O'Reilly was "considering a judicial review".

The executive confirmed the constitution was clear on the rules of the party, and was backed by a committee overseeing the party's rules and procedures, which includes a barrister.

"She has threatened a judicial review, which you can't actually do, because she interprets the party constitution differently in terms of how the rules work," a senior party source said.

Their votes aren't counted in the same way as TDs, because they're not TDs. A lot of people seem to have not read the constitution of the organisation that they're in.

When approached by the Irish Examiner, Ms O Reilly said she "certainly did not threaten anything".

"I felt that there was support amongst the parliamentary party for a programme for government that was not being accounted for," she said.

"Whereas the votes of senators in other parties are counted, the interpretation of our constitution was that they are not counted in the Green Party. We did not agree with this.

"I said I would take legal advice and I did, but did not threaten judicial review. "The parliamentary party was in agreement with the senators continuing with the internal procedures and explaining the various likely interpretations of the Constitution, and as a stop-gap measure our votes are taken as indicative.

"I will make a decision regarding seeking a constitutional change, which is nevertheless needed for ultimate clarity for the future. The party is growing and it is important to make sure that the Constitution and procedures works for a large party."

The programme for government document has further divided the Green Party, who have battled splits in opinion over whether to enter government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for months.

Eamon Ryan's party need a two-thirds majority from members in order to enter government, and tensions have risen in the days since the special convention on Thursday.

Senior members will spend the coming days campaigning through teleconference and over the phone in order to convince undecided members to back the deal.

Some members have criticised the communications strategy from the party representatives over mixed messages.

Last Wednesday, the Dublin Bay South contingent of the party held an online meeting. According to sources, TD Roderic O' Gorman said from his perspective, any move towards austerity measures would instigate "walking away" and a move to "bring down the government".

However, at the same meeting Eamon Ryan said the party must stay in government for at least four years. "Right at the end, Eamon said that four years would be necessary to make changes and it would be impossible in any less time than that," a source said.

"No one could ask a follow-up question about these completely contradictory messages.

"Who is correct? People are confused.

"In the past when we had the same considerations about dissolving the government, it was put to the members, I don't think Eamon would rule with an iron fist on this.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael held a live Q&A session for its membership on social media on Sunday in which they encouraged members to back the deal.

Taoiseach and party leader Leo Varadkar said that during negotiations, Fine Gael blocked a ban on live exports and a referendum on the right to housing being included in the programme for government. It is understood the Green Party had pushed hard for both policies to be included in the document.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney told members it is "very unlikely" that the 7% emissions reduction will be achieved in the first years of the Government.

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