Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has strongly defended giving more speaking time to government TDs at the expense of the Opposition declaring “we will re-establish democracy” in the Dáil.
The Government Chief Whip Jack Chambers is seeking to reduce speaking time for smaller groups and independents in the Dáil.
The three government parties are being supported by Sinn Féin in this proposal, which will ensure its safe passage.
Under controversial plans to be voted on in the Dáil today, the plan would see smaller parties and independent TDs cease to have the right to speak during the opening round of debates.
During testy exchanges amid questions on promised legislation, Mr Varadkar was asked by Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore about the “undemocratic and unfair” move.
“It beggars belief that the government have come together with Sinn Féin to exclude voices of the Social Democrats, People Before Profit/Solidarity and independent groupings from the speaking times, it is undemocratic and it is unfair,” she said.
“It's important that we can all represent our constituents, and we cannot be squeezed out of our speaking time. So I would ask that you would reconsider because it does not bode well for the future of this term, if they're going to squeeze dissenting voices, or opposition voices out of the discussion,” Ms Whitemore said.
But the Tánaiste hit back strongly saying the move was entire “appropriate”.
“You will have 20 minutes of speaking time, but we are endeavouring to do in this Dáil which is entirely appropriate, is that speaking time should be proportionate. Every TD elected to the Dáil has a mandate, and that mandate is equal.
“Everybody elected to this house, their mandate is equal, and you may try to shout me down as much as you like. We're going to re-establish democracy in this house, and that means that every TD is equal and every TD should have the right to speaking rights, but actually no preferential arrangements for independence or micro-parties,” he said.
Under the proposal tabled by the Government at the Dáil reform committee by Mr Chambers, seen by the Irish Examiner, the Government is seeking that the speaking time for Groups/Parties reflect the proportionate membership of the House.
“The proposal is based on the Oireachtas paper on proportionality prepared for the meeting of the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform on 16 July, 2020. The speaking times for Parties and Groups other than the Government parties and Sinn Féin remain the same as in that paper.
"Additional speaking time has been added on to Government and Sinn Féin slots and these slots have been interspersed between the other Parties/Groups. There is no second round,” the proposal states.
“The overall percentage for the Government and Sinn Féin is still below their proportionate membership of the House and the speaking times for all other opposition parties is still well above their collective proportionate representation in the House,” it says.
The move was seized upon by the Opposition this morning as a “power grab”.
Smaller Dáil groups are already crying foul with People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett describing the move as “very disappointing”.
He hit out at Sinn Féin’s decision to “gang up” with the Government to ram through the motion with no debate to “gag” smaller left-wing parties and independents.
“Serious attack by government on opposition rights, shocking SF supporting this,” he said on Twitter.
Very disappointing: @sinnfeinireland plan to gang up today in #Dail with FF,FG, Greens &Lab to ram thru motion with no debate to gag smaller left/Ind groups-exclude them from opening round of debates. Serious attack by Gov on opposition rights, shocking SF supporting this @pb4p— Richard Boyd Barrett (@RBoydBarrett) July 30, 2020
Gary Gannon, Dublin Central TD for the Social Democrats also hit out at the move by Sinn Féin to “silence” the left.
“If Sinn Féin intend to lead the opposition by pushing us to the back of the queue, they’ll do so to the detriment of what has been a very effective Left block in the Dáil this term.
"We won’t be silenced, and are more than prepared to hold them to account,” he said.
“And if you’re wondering why I’m calling Sinn Féin out here and not Labour – it’s that I didn’t really have any expectation that Labour would behave any differently under its current leadership,” Mr Gannon said in relation to Alan Kelly.
Labour's Duncan Smith strongly rejected Mr Gannon's suggestion that his party were backing the move.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Smith said: "This is a proposal from Government which benefits their backbenchers and Sinn Féin.
"Labour opposes this proposal which is aimed at damaging all smaller parties and groups and stifling opposition."