Taoiseach Micheál Martin has defended the establishment of a inner Cabinet committee made up of the three party leaders in government as a means of avoiding conflict.
Responding to concerns raised in the Dáil by Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald and Labour leader Alan Kelly, Mr Martin said the idea of the Cabinet co-ordination committee is a good idea.
The opposition leaders voiced alarm that this inner cabal involving non-elected people could undermine the primacy of the Cabinet.
“It is not only the three leaders. It involves the Secretary General of my Department. It involves the three advisers to each individual party leader. The idea is to review the programme for Government, make sure it is being implemented, identify any issues that are causing difficulties and see can a resolution be found,” he said.
“It is not the dominant committee in terms of the work of the Cabinet. It is there to prevent issues from festering and becoming bigger issues than they should and to also develop trust between the three parties, and that is working. It worked during the negotiations and it will continue,” Mr Martin said.
Ms McDonald said the Government co-ordination Cabinet committee brings the three wise men, or otherwise, together.
“It strikes me that the Taoiseach has an awful lot of apparatus of Government. I accept the need for expertise. I hear and accept that, but this looks clumsy,” she said.
She said it looks like perhaps the Taoiseach's partners in government cannot accept that he is, in fact, the Head of Government and he is in charge.
“I say this because we need somebody to be in charge. The job of Taoiseach cannot be contracted or sub-divided out between different political actors. That is not an approach that will bring cohesion. That is an approach that will bring confusion and that is born of rivalry rather than any strong co-operation. The body that is charged with good governance and overseeing the programme for Government is the Cabinet as a collective unit,” she added.
Mr Kelly concurred. "As somebody who has served in government, this will not work. There will be confusion all over the place. There is no consistency. The Taoiseach will have competition between committees in relation to funding and actions and it is a recipe for disaster," he said.
The Taoiseach responded by saying: "It is not clumsy at all. I think it will work as a structure. Having been in previous Governments, I know that co-ordination is key. In coalition Governments - this is a three-party Government - where one has regular engagement, particularly between the three leaders and also to avoid issues that may be disruptive or may cause difficulties, it will require hard work but that is needed in order to maintain cohesion."