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After two months off, TDs return to the Dáil and here's what to expect

The Budget, property tax, abortion, bank debt, Luke Ming Flanagan’s t-shirts and James Reilly’s statements – some of what we can expect as the Dáil returns this week.

Independent TD Finian McGrath will be among those returning to the Dáil chamber this week.
Independent TD Finian McGrath will be among those returning to the Dáil chamber this week.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

THE DÁIL RESUMES this coming week after eight weeks of holidays constituency work for our 166 elected representatives in the lower house of the Oireachtas.

You probably won’t remember that that back in July there were rowdy scenes on the last day of school and Joe Higgins wore some sort of odd white cardigan…

Anyway, as TDs return this Tuesday we thought it would be worth refreshing your memory as to where we are at and what we can look forward to them debating and discussing in the coming weeks.

Now it is difficult to to ascertain exactly what legislation will be put before TDs in the coming months but we know roughly what kind of issues they will be discussing. As a brief aside it’s worth noting that the government had ambitions to publish 29 Bills during the last Dáil term and managed to do 17, with 4 due and 8 delayed.

The issues that will be discussed

So if we focus more on the issues and less on the legislation we know that the big thing facing our elected representatives this term will be the Budget in December which will be the subject of much debate in the lead-up to it as the government sets about implementing an adjustment of €3.5 billion including €2.25 billion in savings and €1.25 billion through taxation.

“What are ya taxin’, Michael?” (Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland)

Incorporated into the budget are likely to be a range of debates about the various measures that it will contain including the introduction of the property tax which we learned a bit more about this week but if last year is anything to go by there will be plenty of leaks and kite-flying about measures that could be introduced, despite the best intentions of cabinet ministers.

Though the government has committed to not changing the rates of social welfare it might adjust the bands and there could also be changes afoot for PRSI. There are sure to be changes in motor tax. Michael Noonan said this week that there will be a mix of direct and indirect taxation on the revenue raising side of the budget but we are none the wiser as to what exactly this will be.

Expect the opposition to hammer the government on the uncertainty that various talks and speculation around budget measures is creating for ordinary, working people. In response, the government, in the form of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste during Leaders’ Questions, will bat this away with a mixture of “Cabinet discussions are confidential”, “everything is on the table”, “this government must deal with the mess that you (Fianna Fáil) left behind”.

The Croke Park Agreement has been generating plenty of talk in recent days but the extent to which it will be debated in the Dáil chamber will be interesting to observe given that at least officially none of the major parties have a commitment to tearing it up. Most of the agitation comes from the Fine Gael backbenchers. Will they be standing up to deliver their criticisms to ministers who appear to have rowed in behind letting the agreement see out its course?

One of the more pressing matters is that of the children’s rights referendum which is due to be held in November and for which the word and legislation providing for the plebiscite is still to be worked through. Cabinet is likely to meet and agree on that this week and while politically there seems to be a consensus about guaranteeing the rights of the child in the constitution, don’t rule out some concerns being raised. Already Fianna Fáil has warned that the government about rushing the process, mindful of what happened when the referendum on Oireachtas inquiries was defeated last October because many were unsure about its consequences.

We’ll be seeing a lot of the Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald during the children’s referendum. (Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland)

Another big topic likely to come up for discussion will be the review of the expert group on the implications of the European Court of Human Rights ruling on Irish abortion laws following the A, B,C  v Ireland case.

As experience from previous referenda on the issue has told us these debates are fraught with controversy and often heated. Much will depend on what the expert group recommends and what the government decides to do with those recommendations.

But the report, when published, is sure to lead to plenty of frank exchanges of views in the Dáil chamber with it well-established at this stage that a number of Fine Gael TDs are against any sort of law change which results in abortion in a limited number of cases being made available in Ireland.

A deal on Ireland’s bank debt will also be a subject that is much discussed as the opposition no doubt criticise the government for not securing a deal by the October deadline as now appears likely. If it is eventually secured expect any deal on the bank debt – barring a total writing off of the €65 billion – to be heavily criticised by Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance. The government will defend any deal it will get and any Fianna Fáil criticism will be batted away with the “you got us into this mess” line.

Above all the issue of jobs and unemployment in Ireland is likely to provide the most ammunition for the opposition and is sure to be raised in the various guises of young people, emigration, people in negative equity and those who are long-term unemployed.

Simply put the government’s actions so far – chiefly through the much-heralded and over-capitalised Action Plan on Jobs - have had minimal impact on the unemployment rate in Ireland and in various IMF reports it has been cited that the number of people out of work is quite simply unacceptable.

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton might be reading a few negative headlines about himself if the employment situation doesn’t improve. (Photo: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

All sides of the house will hammer the government on this and the response will likely involve detailing the various measures that the government has introduced in an attempt to get people back to work and of the unprecedented mess that they had to come in and clear up. But how long will that wash for if the unemployment rate stays as it is or, worse, rises.

The things to watch out for

Rowdiness

Will the Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett get the rowdy TDs under control? As the Dáil adjourned in July, Barret remarked: “All I have to say is, schoolchildren leaving sixth class would be behaving better than what’s happening here.”

With the arrival of Oireachtas TV on UPC and with proceedings readily available to watch online and watch back, TDs are being viewed in the course of their parliamentary duties more than ever before and some are keen to either make a point or a name for themselves. Deputies are only too happy to fire insults at each across the chamber much to the annoyance of the Ceann Comhairle and the general head-shaking of everyone else watching.

Pat Rabbitte might be switching on but Gay Byrne will be switching off if TDs continue their rowdiness in the Dáil chamber. (Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

Friday sittings

In July we reported that the government chief whip Paul Kehoe was looking to ensure that the new Friday sittings are enhanced by the introduction of not one but two private members’ bills on sitting Fridays this term. The Dáil sits on the first Friday of everything month but there has been criticism of the level of debate that takes place on those days.

Will the bipartisanship continue?

One of those private members bills – Fianna Fáil’s proposal on widening the scope of Freedom of Information legislation – had the rare success of being supported by the government in a move of bipartisanship that was welcomed by all. But it remains to be seen as to whether any other bills get similar support. Notable private members’ bills struck down by the government last term included legislation on abortion introduced by Clare Daly.

Labour backbenchers

Last year’s Budget and the closure of a military barracks saw the Labour whip removed or resigned from by Willie Penrose, Patrick Nulty and Tommy Broughan as the pressure of austerity was too much to bare for these deputies who were mindful of those who elected them. Will more jump ship in the term ahead and vote against the Budget?

Already the agitation over health cuts and the performance of James Reilly as a minister has some Labour rank-and-file expressing concerns. It is something to be closely watched in the months ahead and of course when it comes to the nitty gritty of voting for the Budget.

The real burning questions

  • Where will Clare Daly sit following her departure from the Socialist Party and her self-appointment as a United Left Alliance TD?
  • How many decibels will Richard Boyd-Barrett’s rants reach?
  • Will Fine Gael’s Michelle Mulherin turn up to the Dáil in a tracksuit?

Michelle Mulherin not wearing a tracksuit. (Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)

  • Will James Reilly need to make another personal statement?
  • Will a Sinn Féin TD have to explain their printing habits?

Anything else…

Let’s not forget the Seanad. The what, you say? You know that other chamber which is less slanted and all the seats look dead comfy and where David Norris and the Superquinn fella are. Oh and that doctor who’s always on the radio. Remember? No?

Senator Feargal Quinn is all about the jobs. (Photo Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland)

Yes indeed the Seanad, prime for abolition although not as quickly as the government had perhaps intended. The upper house provides an important place for politicians to get some exercise as well as put forward whacky ideas like motions not to abolish it.

Okay we’re being unfair here. But it will be interesting to observe if Fianna Fáil senators table any more motions which call for the Seanad NOT to be abolished putting Labour and Fine Gael senators – many of whom are wary of abolition – in the position of having to vote against government policy as three already did last June.

All very interesting stuff for those who are interested in this sort of thing and TheJournal.ie will continue to provide the coverage of the things you need to know that are emanating from Leinster House.

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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