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Ceann Comhairle tells TDs legal advice says virtual Dáil sittings would be 'unconstitutional'

Seán Ó Fearhaíl said that a number of members had asked if virtual Dáil sittings could be possible.

Image: Laura Hutton/Rollingnews.ie

THE CEANN COMHAIRLE has told TDs that legal advice sought over the potential for the Dáil to sit virtually has said that doing so would be unconstitutional.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl said in a letter to his fellow Oireachtas members that a number of them had been in contact to see if it was possible for the Dáil or Oireachtas committees to meet virtually, via the internet from their homes, their offices or other locations outside the physical confines of the Houses of the Oireachtas. 

In the UK, the House of Commons was set to meet virtually after an agreement was reached last week, the Financial Times reported. In Spain, its parliament has the technology to allow remote voting with members not in the house.

The Business Committee at Leinster House considered the legal advice from chief parliamentary legal advisor Shane Murphy SC.

His advice was that a virtual parliament “would not conform with the requirements of Article 15 of the Constitution”. 

Within that article, it says: “The Houses of the Oireachtas shall sit in or near the City of Dublin or in such other place as they may from time to time determine.”

The Ceann Comhairle said that the legal advice said that the terms of this article require that public sittings of the Houses of the Oireachtas must be conducted in an identified “place”. 

“The notion of ‘place’ as envisaged by the Constitution requires an assembly of a group of people gathered together in one place for a common purpose,” Ó Fearghaíl said. “And the members of a ‘virtual Parliament’ would not be gathered together or sitting publicly in the same place.”

This would also apply to Oireachtas Committees.

Murphy said: “The conduct of parliamentary business in the same physical place permits the constitutionally authorised parliamentary privileges to be protected and ensures that the balance of rights between the exercise of parliamentary power and the power of extra parliamentary individual rights can be defined with precision.”

He also advised that there were considerable powers within the constitution to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, with “considerable latitude” to enable physical distancing or to move parliamentary sittings to a safer location.

The Convention Centre was recently selected by the Business Committee to be used for sittings where all 160 TDs should be present. It will cost €50,000 each day the Dáil sits at the Convention Centre.

In the meantime, Leinster House will continue to be used for sittings with “restricted” attendance, Ó Fearghaíl added.

With reporting from Christina Finn

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