FF struggle to chair influential committee
FIANNA FÁIL has been told it doesn’t have an automatic right to chair the powerful Public Accounts Committee, further highlighting the party’s humbled status in the Dáil.
Traditionally, the largest Opposition party has been entitled to nominate one of its TDs to chair the high-profile committee, which acts as public watchdog for State spending.
But uncertainty now hangs over the election of Fianna Fáil’s nominee John McGuinness arising from a row with the Dáil’s technical group of mostly independent TDs which wants to nominate Dublin South TD Shane Ross for the position.
Fianna Fáil may now have to lobby Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore to try to secure the post.
Fianna Fáil will have two members on the 13-strong committee, with Sinn Féin and the technical group having one member each. The remaining nine positions have been assigned to Fine Gael and Labour.
Though Sinn Féin has not formally declared its intentions, it is likely that it will join the technical group in voting against Mr McGuinness. That will leave the opposition members deadlocked two against two, a situation which may result in the nine Government TDs deciding on which Opposition TD becomes chair.
At a meeting of party whips last night, Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe and his Labour counterpart Emmet Stagg confirmed that under Dáil standing orders Fianna Fáil was entitled to two members. However, they pointed out that it did not prevent the technical group nominating Mr Ross as chair, if it so wished.
“If there are two names, each supported by two opposition Deputies, the Government members will have to make a decision,” said Mr Stagg. “We were not in a position to say how the Government assignees will vote. We advised both groups to lobby at the highest level. That means Micheál Martin and the technical group going to see the Taoiseach and Tánaiste,”Mr Stagg added.
Fianna Fáil whip Seán Ó Fearghaíl said there was not unanimity when the whips met.
“There is a well established precedent going way back in the PAC, that it has been chaired by the main opposition party,” he said. “The technical group is a group and not a political party. It’s rather ambitious of them to think they can take the spoils of the PAC.”
However, Catherine Murphy, whip for the 15-strong group of Independents and United Left Allliance members, said: “We believe there’s a certain immorality in holding that position given the history of the party.”