A Minister of State ended up effectively talking to herself in the Dáil yesterday.
Ann Phelan was front and centre stage in the House with not a single other Government or Opposition TD to listen to her words – speaking on a Bill not linked to her departmental responsibilities.
Ms Phelan is Minister of State at the Departments of Agriculture, Food and Marine and of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
But in the Dáil yesterday she was dealing with Department of Justice legislation, the Prisons Bill, which facilitates the complete closure of St Patrick’s Institution, a detention centre for offenders under 21.
At committee and final stages of the debate, where amendments are introduced, she was on her own.
Usually at least one member of each of the Opposition parties, the technical group and some Independents are present for such debate.
With no other TDs present, the Minister of State moved amendments and when Leas Cheann Comhairle Micheál Kitt asked was that agreed, the Minister responded “agreed”, to her own amendments.
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins afterwards defended his party's absence and said he was there for the entire second-stage debate and made a full contribution, outlining the party's position and policy.
His party has persistently criticised the Government for showing disdain and a lack of respect for the Dáil.
Pressed on this, Mr Collins said if they were going to have a "silly buggers debate" about who was there for the second stage and who was not, he was present and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald was not. When she introduced the Bill, Ms Phelan said the Minister for Justice was "unavoidably detained on other important business".
The Bill, originally passed in the Seanad, will have to go back to the Upper House because two new amendments, not linked to St Patrick’s Institution, were introduced, one of which may prove controversial in the Seanad.