Was this week’s Dáil debate the longest to date?

The abortion debate, which ran into the early hours on two consecutive days, must have been the longest debate in Dáil history – or was it ?

The Dáil bar’s conviviality and liberal opening hours are the one constant in the short history of all-night debates.

They have been few enough.

The House has been more noteworthy for long summer, Christmas and Easter breaks, and its quaint tradition of not returning to work until the Wednesday, rather than the Tuesday, after a bank holiday weekend. That has changed somewhat under the current Government, with shortened holidays and the introduction of Friday sittings.

Late night to early morning sittings are usually held to pass emergency legislation or a controversial Bill with many amendments. In recent years, they have related to the economic collapse.


The 2008 bank guarantee had then minister for finance Brian Lenihan pilot through the necessary legislation, assuring TDs it was a liquidity and not a solvency issue. A melancholic Fianna Fáil TD stared at his pint in the bar and predicted bitter electoral retribution for the party.

The liquidation of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, formerly Anglo Irish Bank, saw TDs sitting until just after 3am. The legislation then went to the Seanad, where two members of the House, who had earlier sought nourishment in the bar, traded insults off-microphone.

But the longest and most infamous marathon Dáil session was in the aftermath of the 1970 arms crisis, when Fianna Fáil taoiseach Jack Lynch sacked ministers Charlie Haughey and Neil Blaney.

The sackings, announced at 2.50am on May 8th, 1970, shocked the country and led to a marathon 36-hour debate in the Dáil, which continued until 10pm on May 9th. Scuffles broke out in the lobby during a vote. A couple of pictures were knocked off the wall and a bust of one of the 1916 leaders was toppled.

In the bar, Fianna Fáil factions traded insults. Civil War tensions resurfaced between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs. A minister had to be physically restrained from attacking a Labour TD in the corridor.

But that was long before the Dáil was televised, so the kind of footage which would have put this week’s events in the shade does not exist.

What a pity.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times