Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett claims Sinn Fein used him as pawn

Barrett claims criticism meant to deflect attention from Maíria Cahill controversy

Sean Barrett: “Nobody likes taking abuse, but some of that abuse has been grossly and utterly unfair.” Photograph: The Irish Times

Sean Barrett: “Nobody likes taking abuse, but some of that abuse has been grossly and utterly unfair.” Photograph: The Irish Times

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Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett has accused Sinn Féin of using him as a “pawn to deflect attention” from their own political difficulties, such as the Maíria Cahill controversy.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Barrett also said Sinn Féin have written to him “accusing me of all sorts of different things”, even though he wasn’t chairing the Dáil on one occasion about which they complained.

In recent months, Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou-McDonald staged a Dáil sit-in, with the party claiming Mr Barrett was “unfair” and “continually deferential” to Ministers.

The sit-in, which led to the early suspension of the House for the weekend, came the day after the Dáil debated allegations of IRA sexual abuse and subsequent cover-up.

Sinn Féin said it was caused by the refusal of Tánaiste Joan Burton to answer questions about water charges.

Mr Barrett said the party had called him biased, an allegation he rejects.

“If there is one thing I take grave exception to, (it is) accusing me in the wrong and . . . briefing people outside. Morally, it’s wrong.”

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He said the position of Ceann Comhairle can often be lonely.

“Nobody likes taking abuse, but some of that abuse has been grossly and utterly unfair. And allegations have been made; on one occasion I wasn’t even in the chair and they accused me of being biased and all sorts of things. It has only happened in the last two or three months.

“And I’m not stupid, I know why it is being done – because it deflects attention,” he said, adding it was a diversion from issues like Maíria Cahill.

On another occasion, Mr Barrett suspended the Dáil three times in one day over a row concerning comments made by Ms Burton.

Mr Adams wrote to Mr Barrett earlier this month complaining that the Ceann Comhairle “failed to intervene” when Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney and Minister for Health Leo Varadkar accused Sinn Féin of protecting “rapists and child abusers” and trafficking “child abusers throughout the country”.

Mr Barrett replied: “Both you and Mary Lou-McDonald were present for the contribution from each Minister. It is also abundantly clear from the video file that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle was occupying the chair for the duration of that section of the debate.

“You accuse me of something I had no hand, act or part in, in a most disgraceful way. I invite you to withdraw the accusations without reservation.”

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