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'Like he slept in his clothes for a week' - no punches pulled in Dáil dress code complaints

TheJournal.ie has gained access to all public complaints to the Ceann Comhairle regarding the standard of dress in Dáil Éireann.

repeal Solidarity/PBP TDs wearing Repeal jumpers in Dáil Éireann last September

THE ISSUE OF a Dáil dress code is one that moved some members of the public enough to bring it up with the Ceann Comhairle of Leinster House, newly-released correspondence shows.

Last October, Dáil Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl of Fianna Fáil told the Dáil Committee on Procedure that the attire of parliamentarians was a source of constant complaint to him personally from members of the public.

Those complaints, which have now been released to TheJournal.ie under Freedom of Information, suggest a broad dissatisfaction with the lack of a specific code in the Dáil on one hand, and an unhappiness at TDs using their clothing for political statements, specifically about the Eighth Amendment, on the other.

At present, Dáil rules specify merely that deputies attending should “dress in a manner which reflects the dignity and decorum of the House”.

Of the seven missives delivered directly to Ó Fearghaíl on the subject between June 2016 and March 2017 six came from members of the public, and one from an elected representative – Fine Gael TD for Dublin Fingal Alan Farrell.

“In light of media reports regarding the implementation of a dress code for members of the Oireachtas, I would like to support your reported position on this matter,” Farrell wrote on 14 October last.

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In line with the Dáil rules stating the members should be dressed ‘in a manner that reflects the dignity of the House’, I believe that the implementation of a dress code would uphold this principle in showing respect for the House in which the electorate have given us the honour of serving as their public representatives and working as national legislators on their behalf.

The decision of six members of the then AAA (now Solidarity)/PBP to wear Repeal jumpers in the Dáil chamber last September, regarding the Eighth Amendment, dominates two of the letters delivered to the Ceann Comhairle.

“Shame on all the TDs who dishonoured our government chambers… by wearing t-shirts espousing their demands for ‘abortion’ on demand,” wrote one Mayo citizen in late September.

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Dáil Éireann is for all the people of Ireland not for ‘lobby groups’ with nefarious agendas.

Another writer emailed the Ceann Comhairle to decry the TDs’ statement.

“Just when I thought the tone of the Dáil couldn’t be lowered any further, I see the PBP/AAA are now wearing t-shirts in the chamber,” they wrote on 27 September.

For the record, I am pro-choice but the ‘Repeal’ t-shirts they are wearing today have no place in the Dáil chamber and it is high time you brought some dignity back to our parliament.

This might be considered to be slightly harsh given Ó Fearghaíl had only been in his role for about six months at that stage, for almost a third of which the Dáil was at rest given no government had been formed.

“A dress code needs to be introduced now, and adhered to. The parliament over which you preside is a disgrace,” the writer added.

‘Slept in his clothes’

While the remainder of the letters written to the Ceann Comhairle are focused on the need for a dress code in order to preserve the ‘dignity’ of the Dáil chamber, they nevertheless focus on those TDs who generally choose to attend Leinster House in casual dress.

“Surely there must be a dress code for our elected members when they sit discussing parliamentary business in the Dáil,” wrote one impassioned correspondent last October.

This same writer makes a point that will likely have members of the press corps nodding in agreement:

“I have heard that the press reporters have to wear jacket and tie, and are reprimanded when they do not do so,” they said.

Do the same standards or even better not apply to our elected representatives?

“A small group of TDs seem to control the Dáil on this matter,” they add. “I thought that in a democracy the majority rule holds sway. What a bad example they are to young people, who, when they take up employment are told to dress neatly and appropriately.”

Alan Farrell TD, Calls For Enda Kenny To Step Down. End. Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell Source: Laura Hutton

TDs Mick Wallace, Richard Boyd Barrett and Clare Daly meanwhile come in for a deal of criticism for their casual approach from one emailer last July.

“Deputies Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, and Richard Boyd Barrett appear to have no respect for your office or don’t care that their dress code which can be beamed all over the world is an embarrassment to the people of Ireland, and the other deputies wear a suit and tie and the female TDs put a lot of effort in to look well. And in fairness both Healy-Rae brothers take their caps off during all sittings of the Dáil they attend,” they wrote.

I am sure if you walked into the Dáil without your ceremonial robes and wore a pink t-shirt and did not groom yourself you would be lambasted by all leaders of each party so can you please stop this blatant disregard by some deputies to you the Ceann Comhairle, to the House, and the citizens of Ireland.

The fact that Ó Fearghaíl has to wear a gown while dispensing his duties as Ceann Comhairle is likewise not lost on yet another correspondent.

“I’m sure that someone like you who has to wear a gown in the course of your job must find it galling to have certain people so shabbily dressed while they receive a big salary,” they wrote.

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The same person does not mince his words in, rather uncharitably, suggesting that Wexford Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace is “someone who looks like he slept in his clothes for a week”.

“I was also horrified to see Ming Flanagan dressed in a cartoon t-shirt while representing Ireland in the European Parliament,” they added.

So what solutions are offered by those objecting to what they consider to be slovenly dress habits within Leinster House? Only one is proffered:

“May I suggest a rule, that to be recognised to speak in debate, on points of order or during the question period, tradition and practice should be required that all members, male or female, be required to dress in contemporary business attire.”

The closest a dress code came to actually being implemented in Dáil Éireann was in 2011 when a proposal was drafted to request TDs and Senators to wear appropriate business attire, but the proposal was rejected.

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