Fine Gael TDs and senators have been called on to ‘muzzle’ the opposition in the Dáil by their leader Leo Varadkar.
At a private meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar demanded that his Fine Gael TDs and senators should deny space in the Dáil and Seanad chambers by using up speaking time and “not giving it away”.
Mr Varadkar set out his demand that he wants his TDs to “take time off other parties” and called on his colleagues to avoid “giving time” to others to attack them.
It comes amid some party concern that Fine Gael backbench TDs are not using their time fully, thereby allowing party opponents to criticise it during its own precious speaking time.
Citing recent speeches by former Mayo minister turned arch-critic, Michael Ring, and the work on the National Lottery issue by Kildare TD Bernard Durkan, Mr Varadkar said “strong performances in the Dáil can make a big difference”.
“In terms of Dáil and Seanad performance, I would really encourage everyone to make the most of the Dáil and Seanad time that we have," he said.
“So, you know, us using our time does make a difference. And even if it doesn't make the news, it takes time off of other parties. And there is value in that as well because we shouldn't be giving time to other parties.
“So I really encourage people really to use that time in the Dáil and Seanad. In particular in oral questions and things like that,” he added.
Several sources at the meeting said the direction from Mr Varadkar was clear.
“It was a rallying call, he wants us to muzzle the opposition and the other parties,” said one senior party figure who was at the meeting.
“There was some annoyance that our TDs were not using up their full allocation and that is simply handing time over to those who are beating us up during our own time,” the source said.
The annoyance stems from the fact that many TDs in the larger parties previously complained and demanded reforms after they felt they were being penalised in favour of independents and smaller groups.
Mr Varadkar 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 Dáil's business committee is the cross-body grouping of TDs which was created in 2016 as part of a programme of Dáil reforms to make the government more accountable.
This committee decides the business that will be taken in the Dáil for the following week including the allocation of speaking times.
The Business Committee considers the selection of business for Thursday afternoons, such as Private Members’ Bills or committee reports.
Unlike in 2016 where there was a minority government in place and when the Opposition often defeated the government, since the current coalition was formed in June 2020, it holds a majority on the Business Committee, meaning it can control the agenda.