FG accused of ‘gerrymandering’ in Leas Ceann Comhairle row

Michael Healy-Rae criticises ‘disgraceful’ deadline extension in heated exchanges

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald was forced to correct the Dáil record after claiming the Ceann Comhairle had allowed a deadline extension for the nomination of Leas Ceann Comhairle. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald was forced to correct the Dáil record after claiming the Ceann Comhairle had allowed a deadline extension for the nomination of Leas Ceann Comhairle. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

A row has erupted in the Dáil over the extension of the deadline for the nomination of the Leas Cheann Comhairle for the House.

Michael Healy-Rae claimed in an angry outburst that the Government was engaged in “gerrymandering of the lowest type” because it missed the deadline to nominate a TD for the position and wanted to facilitate itself.

The Kerry TD warned the Government “that if I see ye putting in a nominee it will be a dirty start to this Government’s work”.

During the row, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald was forced to correct the record of the Dáil after she said it was her understanding that Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl had agreed to the standing.

Mr Ó Fearghaíl insisted “I had no discussions with anybody about the extension of the time. I had no discussions whatsoever.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin first raised the issue when he noted the deadline had been extended and sought an explanation. His view was echoed by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.

But Mr Healy-Rae, who slapped the bench in front of him in anger, said three nominations had been made when the deadline was reached and Fine Gael had not entered a nominee for the position.

It had been understood that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had reached an agreement that Fianna Fáil Donegal TD Pat Gallagher would be given the role.

There are currently three nominees, Mr Gallagher, Independent Mattie McGrath and Sinn Féin’s Sean Crowe.

It has now been suggested however that Fine Gael’s Bernard Durkan may be nominated.

The Tánaiste told the House that the issue had not been on the order paper, had not been discussed at the whips’ meeting and that she understood the Government Chief Whip “asked for an extension and it was granted by the Ceann Comhairle”.

“That’s not true,” Mr Healy-Rae roared as he slapped the bench.

The Ceann Comhairle immediately intervened and said “I had no discussions with anybody about the extension of the time. I had no discussions whatsoever.”

Ms Fitzgerald said “I understand that your office was contacted that and was agreed”.

The Ceann Comhairle said “let’s seek to get absolute clarity” after the end of the Order of Business. but said “you are mistaken in both respects, I would put it to you”.

Mr Healy-Rae intervened and said a deadline had been set and asked how could the Government justify extending it.

“Is this to allow further nominations to be put in?” he asked the Tánaiste. “Is it to facilitate yourselves and your own party and you missed the deadline?”

He said: “This is not a good way to start politics. This is gerrymandering of the worst type.”

If a farmer in Kerry missed a deadline for an application an extension would not be allowed, he said.

“This is a disgrace what you’re doing,” he said.

Mr O Fearghaíl then intervened and told the Tánaiste it was not a matter for the Ceann Comhairle to decide when or how the Government elected a Leas Cheann Comhairle.

Ms Fitzgerald replied: “I totally correct what I said in relation to the Ceann Comhairle’s office.”