Vigorous opposition to Cullen plan at FF meeting

 

Fianna Fáil backbenchers yesterday expressed vigorous opposition to proposals from the Minister for the Environment, Mr Cullen, to ban TDs and senators from holding seats on local councils.

The vast majority of the 24 backbenchers who spoke on the issue at a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party said that the move could lose the party seats at the next election.

It is understood that there is growing opposition to a dual mandate ban also within Fine Gael and the Labour Party, which initially supported the move.

The Labour Party whip, Mr Emmet Stagg, confirmed to The Irish Times last night that the matter would be discussed at a meeting of its parliamentary party next week. Party policy on the issue would then be decided.

Fine Gael TDs have also expressed concern.

Many of the TDs who spoke at yesterday's Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting were newly-elected. They said that they would not have won a Dáil seat in May if they had not been members of local authorities.

Cork North-Central TD Mr Noel O'Flynn said that it would be wrong to change the rules in advance of the 2004 local elections. He suggested that the roles be separated after the next general election in 2007.

Carlow/Kilkenny TD Mr John McGuinness was strongly critical of the proposals put forward by the Minister. He accused Mr Cullen of "poking at a political molehill" and of ignoring a mountain of complaints about inefficiency and expense in local government.

Other Fianna Fáil Oireachtas members who spoke against banning the dual mandate were Senator John Hanafin, Senator Michael Brennan and Mr John Curran TD.

The chairman of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, Mr Seamus Kirk, said after the meeting that Mr Cullen had "listened and learned" and would come back to the parliamentary party when he had given further consideration to the issues which had been raised.