SPEAKING RIGHTS IN THE DAIL

 


A chara, - Please allow me to set the record straight regarding theformation of a Technical Group in the Dáil. Mr Emmet Stagg, LabourParty Whip, is misleading in a number of respects (November 2nd). I amnot the "political and ideological leader of the group", either "in theDáil chamber", or outside it. The group is exactly what it says on thetin - a Technical Group and not a political/ideological alliance. Itwas formed solely for the technical purpose of securing a mechanismunder Dáil rules to allow three of the main political strands ofopinion elected by the people - the Green Party, Sinn Féin and theIndependents - to be properly represented.

Prior to the formation of the group, these strands of opinion,comprising 22 TDs, were excluded from full participation in key Dáilbusiness such as Priority Questions to Ministers, Leader's Questions tothe Taoiseach and Private Members' (i.e. Opposition) time. We had toborrow the speaking time of other parties.

The best way to achieve fairness would be for the Government toagree to change standing orders to give Sinn Féin, the Greens andIndependents recognition as groups in their own right. This is what wehave been demanding since the general election. The Government dug inits heels and left us with no option but to form a Technical Group. Ifwe were simply interested in leap-frogging Labour in the order ofspeakers we would have formed the group soon after the election insteadof pressing for rule changes which would, for example, place Sinn Féinsixth on the list of speakers. Our concern was not pecking order butproper access to all Dáil business as outlined above.

The deal brokered between the Labour Party and the Government doesnot give Labour one extra minute of time nor deprive the TechnicalGroup of a minute. Labour merely regains third place in speaking order.For this dubious advantage Labour consented to allow the Taoiseach toabsent himself from the Dáil from noon on Wednesday onwards (the Dáilnormally sits from 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday to about 5.30 p.m. on Thursday.So much for accountability.

I regret that Mr Stagg has misrepresented the conversations betweenus on these matters. He is quite correct to state that Labour supportedthe demand for the Government to change Standing Orders. It was wellknown that if the Government remained intransigent, the formation of agroup was inevitable. But at no time did Mr Stagg indicate to me thatLabour was prepared to do such a deal with the Government if aTechnical Group were established.

Instead, when the group was formed, his members in the chamber, inan unprecedented move, were instructed to object to the sharing of timeby Technical Group speakers. This was the subject of my meeting with MrStagg, a meeting that I requested. I made clear to him that I waswilling, as leader of the Sinn Féin team in the Dáil, to explore withLabour, and with my Technical Group colleagues, what options we couldcollectively agree that would allow all Opposition deputies toconcentrate on their primary function in the House - providing aneffective Opposition to this most ineffective and disgracefulGovernment. I told Mr Stagg that I had not discussed the possibility ofsuch an agreement with any of the Technical Group members and wouldrequire first of all an indication from the Labour Party that theywould be interested in reaching an accommodation with the TechnicalGroup. No follow-up contact was made by Mr Stagg. The Labour Partyclearly rejected my sincere approach. Their answer was, as I describedit in the Dáil, their "shoddy little deal" with the Government partners.

I am sure the details of all this are boring to many readers but itis important that the record is correct. I agree with Mr Stagg that thefocus needs to be on a Government that is preparing to impose furthercutbacks, having failed over five years to harness wealth to create afairer economy and society. The formation of the Technical Group meansthat the full extent of Opposition to the Government can be properlyrepresented in the Dáil. And that is how I and my colleagues intend toproceed. - Is mise,

CAOIMHGHÍN Ó CAOLÁIN, TD,

Ceannaire, Grúpa Sinn Féin,

Teach Laighean,

Baile Átha Cliath 2.