Miriam Lord: FG and FF agree to synchronise their clocks

Nothing like a procedural row, but maybe it’s less not more time they need in Dáil Éireann

While Michael Healy-Rae was fit to be tied, Simon Coveney eyed the middle way but Gerry Adams favoured the back-seat drive. Photographs: The Irish Times

While Michael Healy-Rae was fit to be tied, Simon Coveney eyed the middle way but Gerry Adams favoured the back-seat drive. Photographs: The Irish Times

 

Michael Healy-Rae was fit to eat his cap.

“What’s wrong with the mornings?”

The Independent TD for Kerry repeatedly asked the question, but he got the deaf ear. Nobody wanted to take him up on his outrageous suggestion that the Dáil might consider an 8am start, seeing as its members can’t find enough time in their normal routine to get all their work done.

Things are so bad that the House is sitting until midnight twice this week.

It’s not an ideal situation.

Healy-Rae tried again. “What’s wrong with eight o’clock?” he roared.

No reaction from midnight’s children, on any side of the chamber.

Thank God.

TDs are always up for a good procedural row because it’s all about them.

Yesterday, it centred on their shining example of the New Politics – the Subcommittee on Dáil Reform, and its multiparented child, the Dáil Business Committee, which is under the equal guardianship of all parties and Independent groups.

The two committees try to run the House in a grown-up manner and in a way that might give all TDs a say in how business is conducted. Members, despite their differing political leanings, do their best to adopt a consensus approach to decisions. The business committee agreed and recommended the two midnight sittings.

People might wonder if it might not be more sensible for the Dáil to begin proceedings in the morning, thus ensuring an earlier finish. Yesterday’s session began at 2pm.

The Fianna Fáil leader was deeply concerned about TDs having to stop out until all hours in order to debate the Government’s annual financial statement. These midnight shenanigans can’t be good for the budget’s reputation, Micheál Martin argued. Such carry-on casts a slur on Dáil Éireann’s spotless virtue.

‘Graveyard slot’

“I think it’s demeaning the budget, it’s demeaning the House to say you can only discuss the budget in the graveyard slot between 10pm and 12pm,” he wailed.

It’s also way past Brendan Howlin’s bedtime. “As a matter of commentary, it is neither a useful allocation of resources nor is it respectful to members to expect people to make their contribution on the budget at midnight,” sighed the Labour leader. But Gerry Adams was smiling. Two very late sittings can only mean one thing – equally late sittings in the Dáil bar.

When it comes to the bar, the Sinn Féin leader is the equivalent of a parish priest with a blackthorn stick. When darkness falls and politicians fall prey to the wanton charm of a postprandial pint, he is the man to alert them to the error of their ways.

With any luck, he’ll find a few miscreants before the week is out and bag the usual hatful of headlines with his calls for the Dáil bar to be closed.

All this palaver might have been avoided had it not been for this enthusiastic drive to implement the New Politics. It’s all very fine to have different views accommodated in parliament – that’s the mature thing to do – but some voices have to be more powerful than others, even if everyone agreed to this parliamentary parity of esteem in the matter of ordering day-to-day activities.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are realising this now. “It’s not democratic that political parties with two, five or seven members get exactly the same amount of time to speak as political parties with 23, 44, 50 or 57 members. Time must be allocated proportionately,” insisted Martin.

Simon Coveney, across the floor, vigorously voiced his Fine Gael approval.

And it will be. Micheál said that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – the intersecting parties in our Venn Government – have put a motion down with the Subcommittee on Dáil Reform to “to establish the new practice that time is allocated proportionately.”

“So much for new politics,” snorted a voice from one of the smaller groupings not in the Enda and Micheál overlap.

The Ceann Comhairle attempted to end the wrangling by suggesting that the whole question of late sittings and morning sittings be referred to the main committee, which can then refer to the business committee and then the argument can come back to the Dáil.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh of Sinn Féin, who is reporting to the Dáil on behalf of the business committee this week (members take turn to announce the agenda they have agreed) was a bit miffed.

He, among others, had suggested the midnight sitting because backbenchers from all sides were dead against coming in on Friday. It was no skin off his nose one way or the other.Then they all agreed to have a debate tomorrow, for two hours, on the crisis in Aleppo.

Syria, ” corrected Richard Boyd Barrett.

“You don’t want to condemn Russia in Aleppo. That’s your problem,” snapped Micheál, in argumentative mood. “You’d never condemn Russia.”

Boyd Barrett wondered if the Fianna Fáil leader would be joining him at today’s protest over what’s happening in Syria.

“You guys are incapable of condemning Russia,” said Micheál.

“The French are also bombing Syria,” countered Bríd Smith.

“Absolutely. Always dilute the Russian contribution to the slaughter and genocide in Aleppo,” sniffed Micheál.

Move on

The Ceann Comhairle asked him to move on.

“I’m glad I’ve excited some bloody activity on it.”

“You’re quite excited yourself,” chimed in Gerry Adams.

Boyd Barrett: “It is one-sided humanitarianism.”

Micheál sighing: “There you go again.”

The chair urged him not to “be provoked” .

“I’m doing my best not to be provoked by the pro-Russia alliance on my right, extending right across to Sinn Féin, which has been a consistent theme of this Dáil.”

Maybe it’s less, not more time they need in the Dáil.