Reduced number of TDs to attend next Dáil sitting

Ceann Comhairle proposes vote on electing a new taoiseach to be postponed

The next Dáil sitting will be for three hours, and the agenda is likely to be restricted to just the legislation which is necessary to extend sick pay.  Photograph: Alan Betson

The next Dáil sitting will be for three hours, and the agenda is likely to be restricted to just the legislation which is necessary to extend sick pay. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A reduced number of TDs will attend next week’s sitting of the Dáil in order to pass emergency legislation to deal with the coronavirus crisis, and there should be no vote on electing a new taoiseach, the Ceann Comhairle has advised party leaders.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl wrote to party leaders on Friday evening proposing that just 30 per cent of TDs – 48 of them – should attend the sitting next Thursday, with attendance “calculated proportionately on the basis of overall membership”.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin will be asked to limit their TDs attending to 11 each, the Greens to four, the regional independent group to three members, and all other parties and groups to two each. The sitting will be for three hours, and the agenda is likely to be restricted to just the legislation which is necessary to extend sick pay.

Mr Ó Fearghaíl will also ask that members not sit beside one another in order to preserve an appropriate distance in line with public health guidelines. He also proposes that the vote for a new taoiseach – already agreed by the Dáil’s business committee for that date – should be postponed.

TDs will also be asked to suspend parliamentary questions until the end of March.

Coalition talks

But talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil representatives on a potential coalition government are scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of next week and are expected to go ahead. Senior political sources say they expect the talks on a new government to attain added urgency now because of the coronavirus. However, the Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar has yet to obtain formal approval from his parliamentary party to enter negotiations on a new government. That is expected to be forthcoming next week.

Senior figures in both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil say there have been informal discussions in recent days and believe a new government could be formed without a lengthy programme for government being concluded between the two parties. Both say the agenda of any new government will be initially confined to dealing with the outbreak of Covid-19 and the economic consequences of the containment measures.

“We’re not going to be discussing anything except health, social protection and jobs,” said one person involved in the process.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said he had been in contact with Fianna Fáil representatives in recent days.

“The work that is under way at the moment in assisting the country to respond back to this public health crisis, and making sure that the right economic measures are in place, is taking priority across this day and tomorrow. I would anticipate, however, there will be further contact over the coming days between different parties in relation to government formation, particularly as we approach next Thursday when currently the Dáil is planned to sit again,” he said.

Government sources are increasingly concerned at the economic fallout from the virus outbreak, as news of businesses putting their staff on protective notice began to arrive in Government Buildings on Friday. One source warned about a rash of business closures next week.