Majority of Fine Gael TDs want whip relaxed, survey finds

Report commisioned by Enda Kenny in research on Dáil reform found 74% sought change

Eoghan Murphy TD: carried out a survey of Fine Gael TDs, both backbenchers and Ministers, on various possible changes to how the Dáil chamber is run.     Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Eoghan Murphy TD: carried out a survey of Fine Gael TDs, both backbenchers and Ministers, on various possible changes to how the Dáil chamber is run. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

A survey of Fine Gael TDs, carried out as part of research on Dáil reform commissioned by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, has found that three out of every four deputies favour loosening the whip system. Mr Kenny asked one of his TDs, Eoghan Murphy (Dublin South East), to examine and investigate areas of possible reform of the Dáil, further to the measures already implemented by the Government.

As part of the research, Mr Murphy carried out a survey of Fine Gael TDs, both backbenchers and Ministers, on various possible changes to how the chamber is run. Mr Murphy has now submitted his results – which found that 74 per cent “indicated a need to loosen the party whip in some form” – to his Fine Gael colleagues. However, it does not specify under what circumstances the whip should be relaxed.

Former party TD Lucinda Creighton has indicated her new party will adopt a more relaxed approach to the whip system, allowing a free vote on issues of conscience such as abortion. Ms Creighton lost the Fine Gael whip along with other colleagues after voting against the Government on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. Last month Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett also said he believed there should be a free vote on issues of conscience.

Some senior Government sources have suggested there may be loosening of the whip in the coming months, but no concrete proposals have emerged. Others in Government have warned that the current system is likely to stay as it is.

Mr Murphy’s survey was circulated to deputies “in an attempt to identify those reforms supported by both a significant number of Fine Gael TDs and the Constitutional Convention”.

Out of 69 TDs, 44 completed and returned the survey. Senators were excluded because of the focus on the Dáil. The information was collected anonymously. The same number of TDs who said the whip system needed to be relaxed – 74 per cent – also said the Dáil could be organised more efficiently, with changes such as allowing backbenchers to ask questions of the Taoiseach during Leaders’ Questions, as is the case with the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions in Westminster.

More than half also supported the election of the Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot, as recommended by the Constitutional Convention. Of those who responded, 58 per cent also that believed speaking time in the Dáil should be divided equally between all TDs and not split up among political parties and groups, as is currently the case.