Calm resumes in Dáil after technical group row over Lucinda Creighton and Peter Mathews

Group refused to give Creighton and Mathews speaking time even though extra time had been allocated

Lucinda Creighton: says her main focus is  on getting the right to do her job and speak in the chamber. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Lucinda Creighton: says her main focus is on getting the right to do her job and speak in the chamber. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Normal Dáil business resumed yesterday after the unruly scenes that led Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett to abandon Wednesday’s sitting following repeated protests by members of the technical group.

Three members of the technical group were suspended from the House in a row that stemmed from the Ceann Comhairle’s decision to allocate speaking time to former Fine Gael TDs Lucinda Creighton and Peter Mathews.

The row has its origins in the refusal of the technical group to acknowledge the right of Ms Creighton and Mr Mathews to join it and avail of the speaking time allocated to the politically diverse group. Conflicting demands for money and extra resources also fuelled the row, which led to the suspension of technical group whip Catherine Murphy, along with John Halligan and Thomas Pringle.

Seeking membership

Both TDs understood they would gain automatic admission to the group and obtain speaking rights and potential access to Oireachtas committees and priority questions.

However, the technical group refused to admit them to their meetings or to give them speaking time even though extra time had been allocated to the group.

The issue came to a head this week when, in response to complaints from Ms Creighton and Mr Mathews, the Ceann Comhairle decided to intervene.

On Wednesday, the clerk of the Dáil wrote to Ms Creighton on behalf of the Ceann Comhairle to say that following the receipt of her letter of September 16th she had automatically become a member of the technical group in accordance with standing order 120 of the Dáil.

“As a member of that group you have the same access to privileges as other members.

“On the specific issue of speaking time, the Ceann Comhairle has asked me to inform you that, to ensure equality of participation in the proceedings of the House, he would exercise his right under standing orders to call upon you to speak from time to time during the slot allocated to the technical group if the group does not include your name on their list of speakers.”

A copy of the letter was sent to Ms Murphy, who later that morning raised the issue in the Dáil, objecting strongly to the Ceann Comhairle’s decision.

She was suspended, followed by the suspension of her two colleagues and ultimately the abandonment of the day’s sitting.

“The Ceann Comhairle was simply doing his job, and the issue should be easily resolved outside the Dáil chamber,” Ms Creighton said yesterday.

The issue is complicated by questions of resources and money. The technical group employs two staff members on top of the two paid staff members provided to each of its TDs.

Members pay €280 a month each to fund the group’s activities, but Ms Creighton and Mr Mathews have declined to pay this sum on the basis that they do not get the leader’s allowance of €37,000 a year on top of their salaries that is provided to the existing members.

State funding

Ms Creighton said her main focus was on getting the right to do her job and speak in the chamber, but she pointed to the anomaly that applies to TDs who have left the parties for which they were elected.

Apart from former Fine Gael TDs, there are former Labour TDs Róisín Shortall and Tommy Broughan, and Joan Collins, who split from her leader in the Dáil, Richard Boyd Barrett. Clare Daly would have been in a similar position had not Joe Higgins decided to no longer accept the portion of his party’s allowance that accrued to her.

Yesterday’s session passed off calmly. Ms Murphy said she had received legal advice which contradicted that given to the Ceann Comhairle so the issue could resurface when the Dáil resumes.