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New Agriculture Minister, golfgate and pub closure laws: Busy agenda as Dáil returns early from summer holidays

The Dáil was recalled early this year to deal with Covid-19 and the reopening of the country.

It has been a disastrous beginning to this government. The Taoiseach will be hoping for calmer seas for the second half of this year.
It has been a disastrous beginning to this government. The Taoiseach will be hoping for calmer seas for the second half of this year.
Image: Sam Boal

A NEW AGRICULTURE minister, Garda powers to close pubs, school reopenings and golfgate are on the agenda for the first day back of the Dáil today.

The Dáil is resuming after being recalled early to deal with the response to the coronavirus crisis.

While politicians were due to return to work on 16 September, last week the three party leaders of the coalition government agreed the Dáil should come back early.

Calls for the House to resume its business came in the wake of 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.

Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary – who sat at the Cabinet table as the new measures were decided – was 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. 

Fine Gael’s Phil Hogan was also forced to step down as EU Trade Commissioner. A report is being compiled into the attendance of former Attorney General Seamus Woulfe at the event.

While many speculated the controversy could spell the beginning of the end for the three-party coalition just eight weeks after Micheál Martin’s election as Taoiseach, the party leaders are anxious to draw a line under matters and focus on the reopening of Irish schools around the country this week.

However, expect to hear lots of words on the matter today as the Opposition gets its opportunity to be heard during Leaders’ Questions today.

New minister to be appointed

There is also the small matter of replacing Dara Calleary as Agriculture Minister.

This is the second time the Taoiseach has embarrassingly had to replace someone in that position.

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen resigned as Agriculture Minister during the summer following revelations over a drink-driving incident a number of years ago.

Following Leaders’ Quetions today, the Taoiseach will nominate the new Agriculture Minister, which is tipped to be Donegal TD and farmer Charlie McConalogue.

He is seen as the most likely choice, primarily on geographical grounds. Martin was previously criticised for ignoring the west when drawing up his Cabinet choices.

The Dáil will also be debating the new legislation which gives gardaí the power to close pubs or sanction them for not complying with the public health guidelines. 

Getting pubs reopened is understood to be the next big hurdle for this government, in light of Ireland being the only country in Europe where pubs still remain closed.

School reopenings will also be highlighted this week with the Dáil Covid Committee hearing from teachers’ unions and groups, as well as the Education Minister Norma Foley on the preparations put in place, as well as the protocols.

The issue will also be discussed in the Dáil tomorrow. 

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With the Dáil returning, and committees due to be established this month, the focus will be put back on whether the House should continue to sit in the Convention Centre.

A number of politicians have been critical about the venue, as well as the cost, and questioned why Dáil business does not return to Leinster House.

For now, the Dáil will sit in the Convention Centre this week.

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