Dáil sitting moves from Leinster House to Convention Centre after sharp exchanges

Government, Opposition accuse each other of responsibility for extra €25,000 cost

Under the current arrangement in Leinster House, a maximum of 45 of the 160 TDs can cast their ballot. Photograph: Alan Betson

Under the current arrangement in Leinster House, a maximum of 45 of the 160 TDs can cast their ballot. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The sitting of the Dáil has moved from Leinster House to the Convention Centre to allow for a debate on a Sinn Féin motion of no confidence in Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

After a row in Dáil in Leinster House, the sitting was suspended for the move across the River Liffey ahead of a re-start at 4pm for opposition leaders’ questions.

The Government and Opposition accused each other of being responsible for the sitting of the Dáil having to move.

The Opposition claimed the debate on the motion and the Government’s counter-motion of confidence in Mr Varadkar could have been dealt with on Wednesday during a scheduled Convention Centre sitting.

Amid sharp exchanges and accusations of spite and “heavy-handed bully boy tactics” over the move, Sinn Féin whip Pádraig Mac Lochlainn accused the Government of doubling its speaking time and cutting opposition speaking time in the debate.

Government Chief Whip Jack Chambers accused Sinn Féin of creating the problem because “they slipped in the motion of no confidence” after this week’s business had been agreed. He added that under the rules of the “divisions must be taken immediately and not deferred”.

He acknowledged that “we do need to conduct business in a more family friendly manner” but said it require cooperation from all sides.

The move across the river is to comply with social distancing guidelines and ensure all TDs can vote on the motion of confidence.

Under the current arrangement in Leinster House, a maximum of 45 of the 160 TDs can cast their ballot.

Sinn Féin’s motion follows revelations of the Tánaiste’s disclosure of a confidential contract document agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation to a rival GP group last year when he was taoiseach.

The Government, as is standard practice when such an opposition motion is taken, introduced a counter-motion of confidence in Mr Varadkar.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle said the debate could be dealt with in the Convention Centre on Wednesday and he claimed “it’s only an excuse by the Government to make it look like we’re causing them problems”.

Fine Gael assistant Government whip Brendan Griffin said Sinn Féin waited until after this week’s Dáil business had been agreed last week before changing their motion on social protection to a motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste.

He said the Opposition could not expect a Minister to come into the Dáil and carryon business as normal which such a motion was pending and it was “a shame the Opposition are costing the House €25,000 to sit in the Convention Centre”, the additional estimated daily cost for a Dáil session there.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said moving the session was an “exercise of the most cynical game playing”.

He told the Government “the real agenda is you want to do away with the business committee and any cross-party co-operation because you want to steam roll” the Coalition’s proposals through the House.

The House was also told that work was ongoing to make sittings of the Dáil more “family friendly” in the wake of some recent sessions lasting up to 2am.

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae said it was wrong that every usher and worker in Leinster House had to work an extra hour after proceedings finished, sometimes at 2am and were then expected to start again at 10am.

Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl said “that point is well made and every extra minute we spend here” is adding to that working time.

Mr Mac Lochlainn said the Dáil business committee was working to change sitting times and he hoped they would soon not be sitting beyond 10pm on Tuesday and Wednesdays.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath accused the Government of attempting to shut down the business committee and claimed it was engaged in “pure heavy-handed and bully boy tactics to crush the Opposition and I object in the strongest manner”.