Elaine Loughlin: Time for talking is not over where our politicians are concerned

Our elected representatives took over an hour to decide what they wanted to talk about today
Elaine Loughlin: Time for talking is not over where our politicians are concerned

Taoiseach Micheál Martin accused opposition TDs of 'deliberately using every available opportunity to undermine' business committee. Picture: Tom Honan/PA 

In the midst of a global pandemic you would imagine our politicians would at least be able to get their priorities right.

But no, not our bunch.

Not for the first time, a chunk of the Dáil's business was today taken up with debate, discussion, disagreement, and finally two votes on what our TDs should discuss this week.

In fact, our elected representatives took over an hour to decide what they want to talk about.

At a time when we are supposed to be limiting our social contacts and spending as little time as possible indoors with others, it is verging on the farcical that our politicians would use the curtailed time they now have to squabble over a schedule — especially when that schedule is, in theory, agreed upon in advance.

How are we supposed to have faith in our politicians to work together in steering this country through the most difficult and demanding period in perhaps the history of the State when they cannot agree on a simple schedule?

The business committee, made up of the various party whips and some Independent TDs, meets every Tuesday morning before the Dáil returns each week with the aim of coming up with, and agreeing on, a schedule of work for the days ahead.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin accused opposition TDs of "deliberately using every available opportunity to undermine" this after they refused to accept the proposed schedule.

"I have noticed that every Tuesday here, notwithstanding what is agreed at the business committee, a vote is called. If there is not one vote, there are two votes. Every excuse will be used to politically platform-cause a vote, get up and posture, and so on," he told the Dáil.

In the last Dáil, the business committee worked relativity well, although TDs were still partial to indulging in some Dáil grandstanding if the mood took them.

Back then, the Fine Gael-led minority government relied heavily on opposition goodwill to pass legislation.

However, the weighting has now been significantly shifted in this new Government, which enjoys a significant majority and Mr Martin no longer needs to co-operate with, or even consider, the opposition.

So much so that many have questioned whether the business committee should even exist when the Government is just going to ram through whatever legislation it wants and refuses to schedule time for discussion on topics if it simply feels it doesn't  want to.

This week it could be argued that the opposition's fury was warranted. 

Labour's Duncan Smith, Sinn Féin's Padraig Mac Lochlainn, and Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett all hit out at the fact that the Covid committee will not meet tomorrow, as had been planned, and so, TDs will have no opportunity to discuss the Dublin restrictions.

However, the Government has agreed to set aside next week to debate the level-three restrictions.

In the interest of public health, it has been decided that the rapporteur's report on the order of business shall not be read out in the Dáil, as had been the norm, but shall be taken as read for the duration of this pandemic.

And so it was particularly ironic that after the Ceann Comhairle announced this, the Dáil went on to have an extended discussion followed by two votes on the order of business.

TDs should use their socially distanced time more wisely.

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