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Dáil Éireann

By-elections will happen 'in first quarter of 2011' - Curran

The government wins three Dáil votes defeating by-elections – but admits it will try to hold them in early 2011.

THE GOVERNMENT Chief Whip, John Curran, has said the government hopes to hold the by-elections to fill the three vacant Dáil seats in the first quarter of 2011.

Speaking in the Dáil on motions by Fine Gael which, if passed, would have led to by-elections in the constituencies of Donegal South West, Dublin South and Waterford being held, Curran said it was wrong to suggest that people in the three constituencies still without a Dáil TD were not being represented at a national level.

The three motions were defeated by 81 votes to 77, with Noel Grealish voting against the government but Mattie McGrath and independent TD Joe Behan supporting it.

Curran indicated, however, that the government hoped to be able to move the writ for the vacancies in the first quarter of 2011 – an admission made while Taoiseach Brian Cowen was speaking on RTÉ’s Six One news where he himself was unwilling to offer even an approximate date.

Curran said the government was occupied by focussing on the country’s financial challenges, and added that he wished the opposition would ditch “the endless point-scoring” by trying to distract it from the task at hand.

Explaining the government’s failure to move the writ itself, Curran said the economic recovery was “underway but could not be taken for granted” and national legislators had to concentrate on the problems of job creation.

“To divert attention to the holding of three by-elections would be detrimental to the economy,” he said. “Holding the by-elections could only serve to jeopardise our economic recovery.”

“We must clear the upcoming major economic hurdles” before calling the by-elections, he said.

‘Any gumption, any courage, any guts’

Moving the motion, Enda Kenny said the people of the three affected constituencies were waiting “with a vengeance” for the right to elect new TDs, and accused the government of deliberately “running away from the voters”.

If the government had “any gumption, any courage, any guts”, it would allow itself be judged by the electorates of the three constituencies.

Eamon Gilmore complained that no previous government had allowed any previous Dáil vacancies to lie empty for such a long time, and said it was “simply not acceptable” for the current government to allow them remain so.

It was “fundamentally undemocratic” of the government to allow the by-elections to proceed, he said, and the only implication that could be brought from the government’s delaying was that the democratic process did not matter.

If the by-elections were held in March, as had been reported, the seat in Donegal South West vacated by Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher when elected to the European Parliament in June 2009 would have lay vacant for 21 months.

The practice in other countries was to hold by-elections within weeks of the seats becoming available, Gilmore said, adding that he expected the government to appeal Pearse Doherty’s current High Court case to the Supreme Court if it lost, maintaining the vacancy even further.

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that the three constituencies without their full compliment of TDs had borne the brunt of job losses as a result of the economic downturn, and appealed to the government to set the date for the by-elections at the earliest opportunity.