Don’t-Turn-Up Thursdays all the rage

The Ceann Comhairle is unhappy about disregard shown to voters and the Dáil

Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett:  “We cannot continue with deferrals being sought – particularly on a Thursday.” Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett: “We cannot continue with deferrals being sought – particularly on a Thursday.” Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fri, Jun 27, 2014, 01:00

Forget Dress Down Friday. That’s for the little people. For the people in power, Cabinet members and Ministers of State, it’s Don’t-Turn-Up Thursday that’s all the rage.

It’s certainly causing more than a little rage for Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett, who let fly in the Dáil yesterday at Ministers who have turned Don’t-Turn-Up Thursday into something of an art form.

“I wish to let it be known how disappointing it is that week in, week out for the last number of weeks there have been requests for the deferral of topical issue debates because of the unavailability of Ministers,” he said.

Part of their job, many would say their primary responsibility, is to be accountable to the Dáil. And part of that accountability is answering questions asked by TDs on topical issues of the day.

Funnily enough, the slot happens to be called topical issues. Or tropicals, as they are affectionately known.

But the Ministers are not turning up for this particular work. And Thursdays are particularly bad for the no-shows.

Tropicals were intended to be part of the Government’s fabulous Dáil reform package. They replaced “matters on the adjournment” when usually local issues of interest to TDs were raised at the end of a long day’s business, with little hope of coverage.

And any passing, usually junior, and usually the most junior Minister got stuck with replying to all questions asked, no matter how varied.

But no more would that happen under the new Government’s sweeping broom of political reform.

Tropicals would be taken during the day with optimum chance of media coverage and the relevant Cabinet Minister would attend and, if they weren’t available, the Minister of State.

Reform

Not only that, but as part of the reform, what certainly looks now like a hostage to fortune, the TD has the option of deferring the issue if the relevant Minister is not available.

And a lot of Ministers are not available. Nor are their Ministers of State.

And the Ceann Comhairle is not happy about the disregard shown for the Dáil, to the TDs they are accountable to and to the little people who vote for those TDs.

The Ceann Comhairle, or Ceann as some TDs call him, said he had received 19 requests for topical issue debates yesterday. Four is the maximum allowed and Government and Opposition get a fairly balanced chance to have their say.

He said that if a TD seeks a deferral because a Minister is unavailable on the day only three issues are taken and the deferred one taken the next day. “If we are to take these matters seriously, I ask that arrangements be made so that Ministers can be available for topical issues on a daily basis. If the main Minister is not available, Ministers of State should be,” he warned.

‘Cannot continue’

“We cannot continue with deferrals being sought – particularly on a Thursday. For practically the past three Thursdays deferrals have been request,” the Ceann said.

“It’s just not good enough,” he added, warning that it would diminish the importance of Tropicals.

And to prove his point, Independent TD Denis Naughten asked for a deferral on his issue, the operation of the acute psychiatric unit at University Hospital Galway. “The Minister is not available to discuss this complex issue,” the TD said.

And sure what could the worn out Ceann reply only “okay”.