Retiring Sinn Féin TD urges radical reform of procedures

Thu, Dec 30, 2010, 00:00

DEPARTING THE DÁIL:ARTHUR MORGAN wants to “shake off the shackles and the bloody dust of the Dáil”.

The Sinn Féin Louth TD is looking forward to returning part time to the family seafood- processing business when he stands down at the general election, after eight years in Leinster House.

The man who played a central role in the campaign to end Sinn Féin’s policy of abstentionism, says: “If I had suspected for a moment that I would be a victim of it and end up in the Dáil I might have gone with the others. I say that with a light heart.”

However he is frustrated with the system. “I found the Dáil to be restrictive and old-fashioned.”

Morgan (54) criticises procedures where he cannot raise issues on the Order of Business when the Dáil’s agenda for the day is set. “The Ceann Comhairle keeps saying ‘Deputy Morgan, there are long-standing traditions’.”

“Long-standing traditions have us where we are at Garvaghy Road,” he says, referring to the Drumcree controversy about a loyalist parade route.

Calling for radical reform of Dáil procedures, he believes there should be a three-hour period each day starting at 7.30am, where a Minister would answer questions for at least 15 minutes “in relation to whatever their real responsibility is” on issues raised by individual TDs.

He questions whether TDs should be in the job “if anyone is in their beds beyond what is a reasonable hour of 7.30”.

He is outraged by the National Roads Authority and the Health Service Executive, which he says are not accountable to the Dáil.

The former IRA man, who in 1975 helped establish a Sinn Féin cumann in Omeath on the Cooley peninsula, spent 7½ years in prison from 1977 for possession of weapons and explosives. He was in the Maze during the H-Block protests when the 1981 hunger strike resulted in the deaths of 10 IRA prisoners.

“The thing about Bobby Sands [elected as a Westminster MP before he died on hunger strike] really proved to me that if we wanted to do things – to popularise the whole struggle for Irish freedom and internationalise it – we had to go the electoral route.”

He had plenty of electoral experience by the time he made it to the Dáil in 2002, standing in local, general and European elections. He was appointed the party’s environment spokesman.

“The first five years could best be described as a slog, because we had the incineration legislation going through. And the e-voting machines. That was quite a sport.”

After his first term, he didn’t want to contest the 2007 election “because I was going to do other things”, he says, but he knew the party would lose the seat if he didn’t stand.

He said he had been speaking to party president Gerry Adams “and it was a good time for transition”. The Sinn Féin vote in Louth “is very solid. . . around 8,000 and it doesn’t need to go up to retain the seat”.

The second Dáil term has been “a hard slog” but a very interesting period for him.

“We were never able to lay back even for a second. There were overnights” and “two drawn votes in late February/March when the Ceann Comhairle had to give the casting vote. That set the tone and showed how tense the Dáil is. That’s the irony, that it’s still going”.

He also notes increasing political awareness. “Society has become massively politically aware because of the economic crisis. Northern people tended to be very politically aware because of the British soldiers. Here politics was undoubtedly based on a civil war hangover and, at long last, that is diminishing.”

He says he will miss having a go at Brian Cowen or his successor, and will probably miss being thrown out of the chamber. “I’ve been thrown out probably half a dozen times. Usually it revolved around having something to say about my constituents.”

Now though, “I’m at a time of life where I need to be doing something else”. He wants to shake off the shackles of the Dáil and “get rid of that mentality – its bureaucracy . . . and lack of accountability”.