Miriam Lord’s week: Healy-Rae makes stand over seating

Kerry TD refuses to give up seat in dispute delaying return of electronic voting in Dáil

Michael Healy-Rae: “I’ve been in B29 since February of 2011 and that’s where I’ll stay until somebody tells me I have to leave. But no somebody from Fianna Fáil is going to do it.” Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

Michael Healy-Rae: “I’ve been in B29 since February of 2011 and that’s where I’ll stay until somebody tells me I have to leave. But no somebody from Fianna Fáil is going to do it.” Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

It’s been two months since the Government was formed but deputies are still unable to vote electronically due to a dispute over seating arrangements.

Instead, TDs are using the old-style walk through method – a process which takes an age to complete as they saunter up the stairs and around the chamber to pass through the lobbies, and then amble down again chatting as they go. The disputed territory is in the final block of seats to the right of the Ceann Comhairle in the horseshoe shaped chamber.

Independent TDs who sat in this area during the last Dáil are saying they have no intention of upping sticks to make way for an enlarged Fianna Fáil contingent. But Fianna Fáil backbenchersare claiming territorial rights.

They want members of the Rural Independent Group to vacate their seats in the first few rows at the front and members of Independents 4 Change, Claire Daly and Mick Wallace, to move from their lofty perch in the back row to join colleagues billeted in a different part of the chamber.

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The seven strong Rural Independent Group – Michael Lowry popped up surprisingly at Leaders’ Questions on Thursday as one of their speakers – counts Mattie McGrath and the Healy-Raes among its membership. (Interestingly, in a Dáil full of mini-alliances offering the chance of precious speaking time to Independents, rural TD Michael Fitzmaurice is yet to join one.)

Michael Healy-Rae has no intention of giving up his seat. “I’ve been in B29 since February of 2011 and that’s where I’ll stay until somebody tells me I have to leave. But no somebody from Fianna Fáil is going to do it,” he says.

“Fine Gael are in government, we all know that. Fianna Fáil, however, is running the country, but I don’t think they are entitled to take my seat off me. If the big problem in Fianna Fáil at the moment is where I sit, I’m really glad that’s all they have to worry about.”

The Kerry deputy insists he is not the one holding up the seat assignments, and by extension, the electronic voting. “That’s Fianna Fáil’s problem” he insists. “The Ceann Comhairle told me, in no uncertain terms: ‘You will stay in the seat that you had’, and as far as I know, the Ceann Comhairle is the boss of the House.”

During the week, some Fianna Fáil TDs were quietly insisting that Healy-Rae had presented a medical certificate to the Ceann Comhairle to show why he needs his seat, which is very close to the ground floor exit. “He’s saying he has claustrophobia and needs to be close to the doors in case he has to run out all of a sudden.”

But Michael angrily denies this. “That is factually and completely incorrect. It is blatantly wrong and an absolute lie. I never produced a cert on anything to anybody and I stake my reputation on it.”

He’s not for moving. And as for those walk-through votes? “Maybe it’ll do them good. They can close the Dáil gym and keep all the TDs running up and down the stairs.” ***** Any coup they can do we can coup better? Perhaps not.

What happened in the Seanad this week is extremely mild compared to the compellingly vicious cutting down of reputation and careers in the Palace of Westminster after the Brexit result.

As the Mother of Parliaments struggled to come to terms with its mother of all cock-ups, the Father of our Upper House graciously accepted his ousting from the position of leader of the Seanad’s largest group of Independents with a rueful speech in the chamber, followed by a jaunty exit.

“Le roi est mort, vive la reine!” He was referring to Queen Marie-Louise of the O’Donnells, who triumphed in Tuesday’s in-out vote among nine Independent Senators. Three candidates were on the ticket – Gerry Craughwell got one vote (presumably his own), Norris pulled in two and Marie-Louise, with six, won by a comfortable margin.

The other group members are Ronán Mullen, Michael McDowell, Victor Boyhan, Joan Freeman, Billy Lawless and Pádraig Ó’Céidigh. Following the defeat of his Remain side, Norris congratulated O’Donnell before making a quick exit from the meeting.

He said he had to take the result as a vote of no confidence in him and, accordingly, was leaving the alliance altogether. It seems there had been “a groundswell of opinion” among members that the veteran Senator had been monopolising Seanad speaking slots when they expected speakers to be rotated.

“There are only so many mentions of North Great Georges Street you can take,” remarked one.

David was a lucky leader. He resolved the knotty issue over which of them would get the first right to move a Private Members’ Bill by holding a draw in his office, which he was fortunate enough to win. His fellow Independents were understandably delighted when he told them the result.

“What we have is a purely facilitatory arrangement,” explained one of the Independents. “Everything is rotational and everything is shared. That includes representation on committees and speaking rights.” And in this most civilised of coups, we hear Norris is welcome to return to the fold at any time he wants. ***** The Oireachtas Ireland Football Supporters Club has been revived by Senators Frankie Feighan (FG) and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (Lab).

At its first meeting in the Members’ Bar on Wednesday night, Frankie and Aodhán were joined by a small number of cross-party colleagues, all of whom were immediately given jobs on the committee.

Ó Ríordáin is club chairman and his deputy is Fine Gael TD for Sligo Tony McLoughlin. Feighan is secretary and senator Neale Richmond (FG) is assistant secretary.

In an email to Oireachtas members, Ó Ríordáin wrote that the intention of the club “is to promote the various international teams representing Ireland and also to use whatever influence we have to supports clubs in the League of Ireland and the Women’s National League”.

Feighan, who is attending this weekend’s meeting of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Malahide, hopes he might be able to set up some future matches between the Oireachtas team and teams from Westminster, the Scottish parliament, the Northern Ireland and Welsh assemblies, the High Court of Tynwald (Isle of Man) and the states of Guernsey and Jersey.

The Roscommon Senator, who lost his Dáil seat in the last election, remembers when Leinster House played the British Houses of Parliament in 2003 at Old Trafford. The match was refereed by Scottish soccer great Pat Crerand and the Irish visitors lost 2 -1.

“It was a very heated physical and robust match,” he recalls.

In his email, Ó Ríordáin tells prospective members that the club will be organising matches. “(Important to note here that I scored the only goal in our 4-1 loss to the media a couple of years ago)” he modestly adds.

*****

Even though he hails from the posh end of Dublin 4, keeping up appearances is not high on the priority list for Minister of State at the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure Eoghan Murphy.

Since his promotion in May, Murphy is entitled to a driver to convey him to his various meetings and functions. However, when he answered Enda’s call to serve, Eoghan had one immediate problem – no car.

Happily, his great-aunt rode to the rescue, giving her nephew the Minister an indefinite loan of her car.

But despite holding high office and two drivers to boot, people keep refusing to let him into events at which he is supposed be a special guest. “It happens nearly every time. Somebody comes over and tries to stop us.”

It could be because people don’t expect Government Ministers – senior or junior – to be travelling around in a seven-year-old Micra.

Murphy is now under pressure to replace his great-aunt’s runaround with a more substantial vehicle. His colleagues refer to his vehicle as the “Ministerial Micra”.

Last weekend, it broke down on Mount Street when he was on his way to join colleagues at the annual Pride festival. Two stewards from the parade had to help push the Ministerial Micra around the Pepper Canister until he managed to get it started again. Unlike his junior ministerial namesake from Cork, Dara Murphy, we understand Eoghan resisted the urge to summon a Garda escort to chauffeur him to the parade on time.

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