There were stormy scenes in the Seanad in the wake of the Government’s decision to add two extra Government Senators to the banking inquiry committee to ensure it has a majority.
Fine Gael’s Michael D’Arcy and Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe are named in this morning’s Seanad order paper, meaning the committee’s membership will now increase from nine to 11 and restore the Government majority.
Fianna Fáil’s Paschal Mooney accused the Government of skulduggery and of completely undermining the inquiry and the democratic process by the move and said the move overturned the Government’s pledge for democratic reform.
Party colleague Denis O’Donovan described it as “political engineering of the most cynical form”.
The Opposition erupted when Labour Seanad leader Ivana Bacik claimed the committee of selection was “ambushed”, a remark she withdrew after Mr Mooney expressed outrage.
Ms Bacik said the additional nominees were a positive development because the Seanad would now have four Senators on the 11-member committee and she also welcomed the fact that there would now be a woman on the committee.
She criticised the Dáil for picking an all male line-up.
Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane accused the Government of “gerrymandering the banking inquiry”.
The move to add Ms O’Keeffe and Mr D’Arcy follows the decision by the Seanad’s committee of selection to pick Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry and Independent Sean Barrett.
The Government had expected to have a majority on the committee but just one of three Labour senators on the committee attended the meeting and members voted for two Opposition senators.
Mr Barrett said the move “must be music to the ears of the bankers. It could have done the job but it’s been held up to ridicule by the kind of speech made by Senator Bacik.”
He said Britain’s chancellor was calling for tougher sanctions but the Government took its eye off the ball to have personal row over whether it was Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael was on the committee.
He added that the banks have been putting pressure on the Taoiseach and the Government side “have done the State no service”.
Mr Cullinane said the move was an “absolute disgrace” and Government senators should hold their heads in shame.
He claimed Taoiseach Enda Kenny was pulling the strings and it was about the Taoiseach gerrymandering the committee.
But Labour’s Aideen Hayden dismissed his comments and said the committee’s job was to establish the terms of reference for the banking inquiry, not the inquiry itself.
She reminded the House that the committee might not even be the committee to conduct the inquiry, that the finance committee might actually do so.
Fianna Fail’s Averil Power said it was an “absolute farce”. She said the Government’s move was about the “narrow petty political interests of Fine Gael and Labour ahead of the next generation”.
She told the Government side “you have no interest in what actually went on here you just want to play politics”.
Independent John Crown said he was “conflicted” because he believed the inquiry would be served by extra members. But he said “what happened was that some people missed the meeting” for whatever reason. As a result the outcome was not of the Government’s preferred membership.
He added; “And the first strategy was to discredit one of the people who had been selected.” Prof Crown was referring to calls, later withdrawn, by Seanad Leader Maurice Cummins to refer the selection of Marc MacSharry to the committee of procedure and privileges because of a potential conflict of interest. He declined to state what the conflict was and later withdrew the allegation.
Independent Paul Bradford who said he was the first to call for Seanad representation on the committee, told the House today’s move showed the “moral authority of the Government has completely disappeared”. He said the committee of selection had an opposition majority six to five, so the outcome should not have been unexpected.
The four Government members selected are chairman and Labour TD Ciarán Lynch and Fine Gael TDs Eoghan Murphy, Kieran O’Donnell and John Paul Phelan.
Five Oireachtas members represent the Opposition. They are Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath; Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty and Independent Stephen Donnelly from the Dáil.
In the Seanad, Marc Mac Sharry of Fianna Fáil and Independent Sean Barrett have been nominated.
In a statement, the committee said once the terms of reference resolution was passed setting out the subject matter of the proposed inquiry, the banking committee would have a role in determining whether a perception of bias arose in relation to an individual member.
Ms O’Keeffe has responded angrily to the negative reaction she said she received following her non-attendance at the meeting which left the Government without a majority on the inquiry. Ms O’Keeffe said she was in Sligo supporting her daughter who was starting the Leaving Cert and had asked for a pair.
Under pairing arrangements, a Senator from one party agrees with a Senator of an opposing party not to vote in a particular division, giving both Senators the opportunity to be elsewhere.
However, such substitutions are not permissible under the rules of the committee involved in selecting personnel for the inquiry.
Others were also absent.
Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins said she was on a break following the European election campaign, which she contested unsuccessfully, and had been granted a pair by the whip.