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Recall: Coalition leaders agree Dáil should return early but opposition demands it comes back sooner

TDs are expected to return two weeks ahead of schedule on 1 September.

Image: Sam Boal

Updated Aug 23rd 2020, 11:48 AM

THE DÁIL IS to be recalled at the start of September following opposition demands for the house to return to deal with the response to the coronavirus crisis.

Those calls intensified on Friday and over the weekend in the wake of mounting public fury over revelations that around 80 guests, including serving and former politicians, attended a golf dinner in a Co Galway hotel just a day after the government had announced strict new measures in order to stem the continuing spike in Covid-19 cases to protect the vulnerable and save lives. 

Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary – who sat at the Cabinet table as the new measures were decided – has been forced to resign his position as Agriculture Minister after he attended the function. Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer also quit his role as deputy chairman of the Seanad. Six serving senators – three each from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, including Buttimer – have been thrown out of their parliamentary parties. 

The controversy tipped an already calamitous week into political crisis territory for the government and led to speculation it could spell the beginning of the end for the three-party coalition just eight weeks after Micheál Martin’s election as Taoiseach. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One news on Friday Martin said he had no plans to bring TDs back early to the Dáil and that it was not a decision for him but for government as a whole. 

“The government is increasingly chaotic, confused, with no direction. They must be held to account,” Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald tweeted on Friday night. Labour leader Alan Kelly also called for the Dáil to return on Friday – as did a raft of other opposition politicians. 

In a further statement on Friday night Kelly pointed out that the Taoiseach could, indeed, recall TDs if he wished to do so. 

“The Taoiseach said tonight it was not for him to recall the Dáil but he specifically has that power under Dáil rules. That is Standing Order 26: ‘Special Summons for earlier sitting’. On the request of the Taoiseach, the Ceann Comhairle may summon the Dáil for an earlier sitting than that set on the adjournment.”

A statement issued on Saturday night by the government said the Taoiseach, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and the Green Party leader, Minister Eamon Ryan, “have agreed that the Dáil should be recalled following the reopening of schools”.

“The Taoiseach will make this request to the Ceann Comhairle on Monday.”

It’s expected the Dáil will return the week after next – with Tuesday 1 September pencilled in as the most likely date. TDs had been due back on Tuesday 15 September. 

However, opposition TDs have said there’s an urgent need for the Dáil to return sooner than 1 September.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said today: “Announcing in the middle of the night a recall of the Dáil that won’t happen for over a week sums up the chaos at the heart of this government. A delayed return of the Dáil is not acceptable, and it should come back this Tuesday 25 August.

We have too much to discuss. There is a serious crisis of confidence in the institutions of the State and the Government’s ability to handle this pandemic after so many high-profile public figures acted with impunity.
It makes no sense that the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister Ryan are prepared to wait over a week in the hope this storm will pass.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy, meanwhile, said there’s “too much at stake for the government to be waiting around”. 

“Schools will start opening this week; students are very anxiously awaiting exam results; businesses in lockdown in Kildare are in crisis; other businesses are trying to rebuild. Getting through these complex issues needs good leadership, significant resources and information, transparency and honesty around decisions,” she said.

“The Dáil is the place where this needs to happen and it should be recalled immediately.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald echoed these calls on Twitter, saying that “politics needs to get ahead of the big challenges of school returns, healthcare capacity, protecting jobs and workers”. 

Golfgate

The fallout from the Golfgate controversy continued last night meanwhile as the government confirmed that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste had called on EU Commissioner Phil Hogan to consider his position in the wake of the former Fine Gael minister’s attendance at the dinner and the tenor of his response to criticism on Friday. 

As apologies, whip-removals and resignations came thick-and-fast on Friday morning, Hogan at first only offered a perfunctory statement through a spokesperson insisting that he had complied with all HSE guidelines to restrict his movements after arriving back in Ireland some weeks before the golf event.

The statement also blamed the hotel for any potential breach of public health rules. 

Martin, speaking on Six One on Friday, called for Hogan to apologise properly and said he “would like a meaningful response to the mood of the public and the anger of the public towards this issue”.

A spokesperson for Hogan said after the broadcast that the Trade Commissioner “regretted and apologises” for attending the event. 

In a statement last night a government spokesperson confirmed that:

“The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste did speak with Commissioner Hogan today and asked him to consider his position.

They both believe that the event should never have been held, that the Commissioner’s apology came late and that he still needs to give a full account and explanations of his actions.

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A spokesperson for Hogan did not initially respond to queries from TheJournal.ie but told RTÉ: 

“There will be no response this evening to the call from the Taoiseach and Tánaiste that he consider his position.

“We will reflect on that.”

With reporting from Sean Murray

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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