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'I'm embarrassed to be a member of this chamber': Dáil business suspended twice on marathon final day

The late-night sitting saw business stopped twice and a minister vote against the government.

NEW TAOISEACH 303A9497 The Dáil's makeshift home at the Convention Centre Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

POLITICIANS WILL NOT return to work next week to debate the cancellation of some Pandemic Unemployment Payments, following a heated final sitting of the Dáil before its summer recess.

The late-night sitting at the Convention Centre saw a walkout by opposition TDs, parliamentary business suspended twice, and a government minister vote against the coalition on the final day of the new Dáil’s first term.

The first controversy of the day saw Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan vote against the government’s Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill early in the afternoon, when her colleague Joe O’Brien also abstained.

That was only the start of the political drama on what turned out to be a marathon day of proceedings.

Shortly after midnight, the government defeated a request by Sinn Féin to have Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys return for questions next week about why the PUP was cancelled for some people who travelled abroad.

Although the government won by 81 votes to 45, many opposition TDs were absent from the Dáil chamber after staging a walkout in a controversy over speaking rights.

Some opposition parties had sought a debate on changes to the order in which speakers will feature during the lifetime of this Dáil.

The government’s new rules mean that backbench TDs will get more prominent speaking times more often during Dáil debates. It also means that Sinn Féin, the largest non-government party, will get a significant portion of the opposition’s speaking time.

Smaller opposition parties complained that the government was attempting to stifle their speaking rights, and a number of TDs called for a 40-minute debate on the changes.

Source: VideoParliament Ireland/YouTube

“The aim of it is to ensure that smaller, left parties and groups and independent groups have less of a prominence in those debates,” Solidarity TD Mick Barry said.

“Why do they want to do this? Just look at what has happened in this house in the course of the last three to four weeks.

“If it wasn’t for the role of precisely those smaller left groups and independents…the government would not have been called to account in nearly as efficient a way.”

At one point, Leas Cheann Comhairle Catherine Connolly adjourned proceedings for ten minutes after Rise TD Paul Murphy refused to return to his seat.

When the Dáil returned, the government voted to stop the debate from taking place, although a number of points of order were raised by both coalition and opposition TDs.

Source: VideoParliament Ireland/YouTube

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar accused some TDs of “arrogance and nastiness”, claiming the  increasingly fractious scenes witnessed throughout the evening had been witnessed in the Dáil for too long.

“Very small parties, who get very few votes in the election [are] dominating this chamber, and members from government parties who get hundreds of thousands of votes, and larger parties, [are] not being allowed to speak,” the Tánaiste said.

“I’m embarrassed to be a member of this chamber tonight, quite frankly, because of what I’ve seen from some of the parties here…

“Any time anyone from government stands up, any time any minister tries to speak or any backbencher tries to make a point, you shout us down in the same way you bully people online.”

Later, the Dáil was suspended by Ceann Comhaire Seán Ó Fearghaíl again, after People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett refused to resume his seat.

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Boyd-Barrett had hit out at the lack of debate around speaking rights, saying the move exposed “the dishonesty of the argument” put forward by the government.

After losing the vote for a debate on the issue, a number of TDs from the Social Democrats, Labour, Solidarity-People Before Profit staged a walk-out in protest and did not vote on the new proposals.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The TDs did not return after midnight, when another vote was held to have Varadkar and Heather Humphreys return next week to face questions about the cancellation of the PUP for some people who had travelled abroad.

In a debate on that vote, Independent TD Mattie McGrath hit out at those who had staged the walkout, pointing to the group who remained audible outside the chamber despite their absence.

“The self-employed musicians and people at home won’t like the cheerleaders tonight up there,” he said, pointing in the direction of the group.

“If you had guitars you could play them. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

The government eventually defeated the motion to hold an emergency sitting next week, allowing Minister for Education Norma Foley to take questions about the reopening of schools and delays in providing Leaving Certificate students with their predicted grades.

After more than five months and a long final session, the Dáil finally adjourned for the summer shortly after 2.30am.

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