Chief whip says Dáil too busy for byelection

 

IT IS inappropriate for the Dublin South byelection to go ahead now because the Dáil “is in the middle of an extremely busy legislative programme”, Government Chief Whip John Curran has said.

The Labour Party’s attempt to move the writ for the byelection to fill the vacancy following the resignation of Fine Gael TD George Lee was defeated by 71 votes to 66.

However, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore told the Government Chief Whip that “if the writ is moved today the byelection will be held during the recess and will disrupt nothing”.

Mr Curran said “legislation before the House, along with legislation that will enter the House in the coming weeks, is important and we must not avert our attention from the work at hand”.

He questioned the party’s motivation in moving the writ, saying Labour had “become used to political opportunism and soundbite politics”.

Mr Curran, who sat alone on the Government benches for the 20-minute debate, criticised the Labour leader for moving the writ when “the last time his party had the opportunity when a vacancy arose in Dublin South Central it chose not to move the writ for a considerable period”.

Attempts have already been made to move the writs for Donegal South West, vacant since May last year when sitting TD Pat “the Cope” Gallagher was elected to the European Parliament, and Waterford, following the retirement on health grounds of former minister Martin Cullen.

Mr Gilmore said it “may only be a matter of time before some aggrieved voters in one of these constituencies resorts to the courts”.

In 1994 the High Court gave leave for a judicial review for the failure to hold a byelection in Dublin South Central and judged that there was an “arguable case” that the government had a constitutional obligation to hold the election within a reasonable time. The full hearing never went ahead because the election took place in the meantime, the Labour leader said.

In Britain byelections were held “within a matter of weeks” of a vacancy. “In 1927 Kevin O’Higgins was assassinated on July 10th, and the consequent byelection was held on August 24th.” In the last Dáil two vacancies occurred, and the byelections were held within three months.

Mr Gilmore said if the Government was so confident the economy had turned a corner and it was doing such a good job it would have no “fear of facing the electorate” but “they are whistling past their political graveyard”.

Fine Gael Dublin South TD Alan Shatter believed there was a “constitutional obligation” to ensure the vacancy was filled within a reasonable time.

He added that “a government which fears the electorate will see the electorate reap a whirlwind of revenge” when finally forced to “go to the country”.

Fine Gael Dublin South TD Olivia Mitchell said there was a good reason for a Fine Gael Bill published last month requiring byelections to be held within six months. If she was in government and “enjoyed the level of support the Government enjoys, I would not rush to the electorate either”.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (SF, Dublin South Central) asked why Minister for Communications and Dublin South Green Party TD Eamon Ryan was not in the House for the debate. “In the past the Green Party position was to hold byelections within a very short period of time.”

He also asked if Fine Gael was “afraid of the electorate in Dublin South”. It was “very strange” that Fine Gael did not move the writ when it was the party’s seat.