Row over appointment of clerk of Dáil

Ceann Comhairle clashes with senior official over how his successor should be chosen

Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett in row over appointment to Dáil post. Photograph: Frank Miller

Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett in row over appointment to Dáil post. Photograph: Frank Miller


A furious row has broken out between Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett and the senior official in the Oireachtas, Kieran Coughlan, who is due to retire next month.

The row concerns how Mr Coughlan’s successor as clerk of the Dáil and secretary general of the Oireachtas Commission is to be chosen.

The minutes of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission for May 28th reveal that Mr Barrett moved to have an important letter on the matter from Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin withdrawn.

The letter, dealing with the recommendations of a review group on how the post should be filled, had been circulated to the members of the commission by Mr Coughlan, to the obvious annoyance of Mr Barrett.

The following exchange is recorded in the minutes: “The Ceann Comhairle sought agreement for a letter from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (PER) which was circulated to Commission members by the Secretary General to be withdrawn.

Personal letter
“The Ceann Comhairle stated the letter was a personal letter to him and was addressed to him as Ceann Comhairle and not as Chairman of the Commission; he had not given his approval for it to be circulated and it did not form part of the Commission’s papers for this meeting.

“The Secretary General stated that he had sought the letter from the Department when he had heard it had issued as it is relevant to this discussion of the Parliamentary Services Review Group’s (PSRG) report.

“He stated that he had circulated the letter as he is obliged to ensure the Commission is fully informed, he believed it not to be a personal letter and he requested his dissention to the letter’s withdrawal be recorded.”

The PSRG report, which was discussed by the Oireachtas Commission as far back as last November, looked at the amending legislation that would be required to enable the post to be filled in an open and transparent matter. Under the 1959 legislation that governs the appointment, the Ceann Comhairle is empowered to nominate an individual to the Taoiseach for appointment to the post of clerk of the Dáil.

Haughey controversy
There was a controversy in the early 1980s when then taoiseach Charles Haughey was reported to have taken a direct hand in the appointment of Mr Coughlan’s predecessor.

When the position became vacant in 1990 the Top Level Appointments Commission (TLAC) was involved in the process to ensure there was no further controversy and Mr Coughlan was appointed to the position.

Mr Coughlan is due to retire on August 5th and, according to the minutes of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, efforts have been going on over the past year to devise a proper system for the appointment of his successor but the required legislation has not yet emerged.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said that because of the volume of legislation coming from the department the Minister had not been able to process the legislation governing the appointment before the summer recess.

She added that Mr Howlin had been in discussions with the Ceann Comhairle on the issue and the legislation would be produced as soon as possible.

The spokeswoman said that when Mr Coughlan retires on August 5th an interim acting clerk of the Dáil will be appointed pending the legislation.