Bríd Smith defends opposition role in Dáil speaking rights row 

Bríd Smith defends opposition role in Dáil speaking rights row 
People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said the row happened because of the Government’s attempt at “shutting down the opposition”. Picture: Sam Boal /

Opposition TDs have defended their role in Thursday night’s bitter row in the Dáil which lasted over two hours and forced the sitting to go on until nearly 3am.

The sitting had to be suspended on more than one occasion because of the rancour and at one point Opposition TDs staged a walk-out in protest at the Government's attempt to alter speaking times during debates.

They accused the Government of seeking to shut down debate and abandoning longstanding practices which ensured voices from across the political spectrum are heard.

Solidarity TD Bríd Smith said the row happened because of the Government’s attempt at “shutting down the opposition” and changing a tradition during Dáil debates about how speaking time is allocated which dates back to the 1920s.

“The Government is reeling from a number of defeats and what they want to do is close down. And what is happening is that the voices of the Opposition are being pushed back and even the journalists are saying this is pushing us into the graveyard,” she said.

When asked about the clash between Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl and her colleague Richard Boyd Barrett who refused to sit down despite being asked more than a dozen times, she said: "Richard’s insistence at not sitting down was directed at the Ceann Comhairle. It is not that it makes it ok but the point is the Government is trying to break the Opposition and shut them down. The way they did it was despicable,” she said.

"Graveyard shift"

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said accountability is an extremely important part of any democracy. “Pushing our voices into the graveyard shift simply reduces our ability to hold the Government to account. This is simply about accountability, and it is absolutely ridiculous that the Government is looking to push our voices later and later in debates,” he said.

During the debate, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he was embarrassed to be a Member of this Chamber because of the behaviour from some of the parties present in the Dáil.

“Anytime anyone from Government stands up, a Minister tries to speak or a backbencher tries to make a point, they shout us down in the same way they bully people online day in and day out. 

"They bully people in the Chamber because they come from a larger party or a Government party.

We have more than half of the votes, more than half of the seats and we are only getting about 25% of the speaking time. 

"They are getting a disproportionate share of the speaking time. We are the ones who should be grandstanding, not them. 

"In terms of the order in which people speak, surely it makes sense that the largest parties, that got hundreds of thousands of votes, should come in before those that got one, two or three percent,” he said.

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