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Absent TDs and unanswered questions leave Micheál Martin criticising Dáil reforms

Changes to the question time have been criticised but the government chief whip has defended the new format following near-farcical scenes in the chamber on Thursday.

FIANNA FÁIL LEADER Micheál Martin has criticised the government’s Dáil reforms in the wake of near-farcical scenes in the chamber this week as over 20 oral questions to the Environment Minister went unanswered as the TDs who asked them weren’t present.

Under Dáil reforms that came into effect last month deputies who submit questions that are selected for answering must be in the chamber when the question is reached.

However questions to Phil Hogan and junior minister Fergus O’Dowd didn’t work out as planned on Thursday morning with the debate getting off to a confused start:

Then as question time progressed, nearly two dozen queries were not answered orally because the deputies were not in the chamber:

Martin said yesterday at Leinster House that he thought the new rules for oral questions were “a bad change” which Fianna Fáil had been opposed to.

“I think it’s reducing the capacity of the opposition to get answers on a whole range of issues, and that’s a move that the government took, in terms of changing the Standing Orders, which actually diminishes the role and the capacity of the opposition to table as many questions as they could have tabled in the previous scenario,” he said.

Martin defended the fact that he and other deputies in his party were not present for certain questions, saying: “I am not going to be in the Dáil all-day long, every minute of the day, obviously going for every question, and I’d a very hectic day yesterday. As a party leader there is many dimensions to one’s functions and so on.”

But government chief whip Paul Kehoe defended the changes yesterday and said they would remain in place.

“The reason for this change was to have more interaction with the Minister, that the person who is putting down the question would have more of an interest in the question, and would not be tabling questions for the sake of tabling questions.

“The only people to complain about this are Fianna Fáil themselves and they are the only party, aside from a small number of other cases, who have regularly missed their questions when it came to theirs.”

Kehoe also pointed out that there was nothing to stop opposition spokespersons from tabling extra questions in their name – they can submit up to five – and said that deputies are given notice beforehand that their questions will come up for answering.

“So it’s not the government’s fault if the Fianna Fáil spokespersons are not effective in being able to table questions to make government accountable,” he added.

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Read: Government pledges that TDs will sit earlier and for longer

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