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Bríd Smith accuses Taoiseach of 'untruths' in fiery debate on lobbying and climate bill

The Dáil was also temporarily suspended following questioning from TD Paul Murphy.

Bríd Smith and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar clashed during leaders' questions.
Bríd Smith and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar clashed during leaders' questions.
Image: Oireachtas TV

BRÍD SMITH AND Taoiseach Leo Varadkar clashed in the Dáil this afternoon, with Smith repeatedly accusing Varadkar of lying and of telling “untruths” during a fiery back-and-forth on lobbying and climate legislation. 

The Dáil was also suspended for several minutes this afternoon after Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy repeatedly refused to take his seat after being instructed to by Leas Ceann Comhairle Pat The Cope Gallagher.

Murphy was criticising the government’s use of money messages to block legislation ahead of a protest that was set to take place outside the Dáil this evening.  “Effectively, the government has been using the money message as US-style presidential veto, which it is not designed for,” Murphy said in a statement. 

Smith had earlier criticised the government’s recent blocking of the Climate Emergency Measures Bill, which was halted from progressing to the next stage after Fine Gael put down a money message, which claims the new legislation would be too costly. 

During leaders’ questions, Solidarity-People Before Profit’s Smith said that the government had been lobbied by the fossil fuel industry and that no record was kept of a meeting between John Carroll, the head of policy in the Department of the Taoiseach, and Feargal Purcell, a former government official, regarding oil and gas drilling in Irish waters. 

Over the weekend, The Sunday Business Post reported that while the meeting was recorded on the lobbying register, the Department of the Taoiseach said that it had no record of the meeting. 

After being interrupted and reprimanded by Gallagher, Smith withdrew comments accusing Varadkar of lying but said he had told “untruths” in relation to the need for a money message regarding the Climate Emergency Measures Bill. 

Smith questioned the links between this meeting and the government’s blocking of the Climate Emergency Measures Bill. 

“Your office kept no record of that lobbying. When did the meeting between Mr Purcell and Mr Carroll take place, what was discussed, because the timing of that is important,” Smith said. 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

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In response, Varadkar defended the government’s use of money messages: “The decision on whether or not the money message is required is one for the Ceann Comhairle. And the Ceann Comhairle can listen to the case made by the sponsor and the case made by the government. And I respect the Ceann Comhairle’s ability to listen to both sides of the argument and make a decision.”

Varadkar also rejected the claim he had been untruthful in relation to lobbying. “Lobbying is not a nefarious activity. It is a part of democracy. We are all lobbied all the time, whether it’s been by trade unions or whether it’s by the IFA or IBEC or business organisations,” he said. 

“There is no record of the meeting because there was no meeting in the Department of the Taoiseach between two people you mentioned. What happened, Deputy, was that the lobbyist in question asked my advisor to meet him for a coffee. He didn’t tell him what the reason was. Over the coffee, he raised this issue and he declared it in the lobby register,” he added. 

In her response, Smith rejected Varadkar’s explanation. “Clearly, someone is telling something that is not correct,” she said. “There was a deliberate thwarting and blocking of this bill in order to do the bidding of the fossil fuel industry.”

Varadkar said that the meeting, which he said took place on 2 May, did not need to be recorded because there is no obligation on the person being lobbied to record meetings. 

Smith shouted back at Varadkar, with Gallagher accusing her of being “totally disorderly”. 

“I’m totally angry,” she responded.   

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