Opposition withdraws from Business Committee over Woulfe dispute

Opposition withdraws from Business Committee over Woulfe dispute

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

All seven Opposition groupings have withdrawn from the Dáil's Business Committee, putting its future in doubt.

The whips of the groupings co-signed a letter to Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl on Tuesday evening, signalling that they will withdraw from the committee from tomorrow in protest at the Government's refusal to put Justice Minister Helen McEntee forward to answer Dáil questions on the appointment of Supreme Court justice Séamus Woulfe.

The move could also have serious consequences for the running of the Dáil, as the committee will be unable to meet a quorum of five, meaning that the Dáil would have no legitimate Order of Business upon which to proceed.

Ms McEntee had offered to take oral questions on the matter by bringing her planned date forward by two weeks to December 1. 

This, however, was deemed unacceptable due to the nature of the questioning. 

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy also pointed out that her question to Taoiseach Micheál Martin in July was deemed out of order by the Ceann Comhairle.

While some in Opposition said that it is a week to week decision on whether they will engage, others said that they will withdraw until Ms McEntee takes questions in the same manner as Tánaiste Leo Varadkar did recently.

Sinn Féin has said it will also withdraw from the "pairing system" which offsets the absence of Government ministers from votes for work reasons with abstentions from the Opposition.

Sinn Féin whip Pádraig Mac Lochlainn told the Irish Examiner that the move is needed to "protect democracy".

"We won't be participating until the minister comes in to answer questions," said Mr Mac Lochlainn.

"We just can't accept the precedent being laid out here. 

"Ministers coming in to answer questions is established in a democracy. Where does it stop?"

Ms McEntee said: "There is no issue with me answering questions. 

"I offered to change priority questions at a time of suiting. Every party said no. 

"The suggestion is that priority questions don't hold ministers to account, I would say that every week ministers answer priority questions to deputies."

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