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That big row which led to the Dáil walkout is getting bigger (and now Shatter's involved)

Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett has defended his decision not have a debate on an inquiry into Garda malpractice last Wednesday.
Jan 30th 2015, 11:09 PM 37,748 102

Updated 1.42pm

8/5/2013. Joint Irish Prison Service Reports He hasn't gone away you know: Alan Shatter Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

CEANN COMHAIRLE SEÁN Barrett has insisted he was not influenced by a letter from former justice minister Alan Shatter in his decision not to have a Dáil debate on establishing a commission to investigate Garda malpractice this week.

Barrett gave a rare and emotional interview to Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke programme this morning.

He insisted a letter from Shatter did not influence his decision to not have a debate on the terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation last Wednesday.

That decision prompted opposition TDs to walkout of the Dáil, claiming proceedings had descended into “a farce”.

This morning, Barrett claimed that opposition parties were seeking to undermine him, prompting Fianna Fáil to threaten a withdrawal of confidence in the Ceann Comhairle:

Shatter letter

The commission will examine allegations of malpractice in the Cavan-Monaghan Division of An Garda Síochána following the findings of a report by barrister Seán Guerin into claims made by the garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

Guerin’s damning report led to Shatter’s resignation last May. The Fine Gael TD has since lodged a High Court action to overturn some of the Guerin report’s findings.

The Irish Times reports today that Shatter wrote a letter to Barrett asking that he rule out his (Shatter’s) handling of the garda malpractice claims out of the inquiry as they are currently the subject of court proceedings.

Barrett claimed there had been “a total misunderstanding” of the situation and insisted did he “did not bow to pressure from anybody”.

The chairman of the Dáil said that legal advice to him was that there was a danger of a debate on the terms of reference prejudicing Shatter’s case in the High Court and the TD could seek an injunction.

“I took the decision, based on the advice given to me, that the best thing to do was to have the motion put to the house without debate so that the Guerin investigation could be set up immediately,” Barrett explained.

He insisted that the letter to him from Shatter was not personal, as stated in the Irish Times report, saying it was received in his role as the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil.

Alan Kelly ‘doesn’t know the facts’

He said the reporting of the story “was obviously designed to put me in a bad light”, saying: “There’s an implication that I was influenced by some letter. I was not influenced by any letter.”

On Environment Minister Alan Kelly’s criticism of him for denying any debate during a private meeting with Labour TDs this week, Barrett said:

Alan Kelly has no business saying what he said because he doesn’t know the facts.

Responding to Barrett’s remarks, a spokesperson for Kelly said the minister ”does not comment or speculate on matters discussed at private Labour party meetings”.

On his decision to give an interview to RTÉ, Barrett said he wanted to let the people know “what the true position” is and the reasons why he took the decision.

He said he had never seen a Ceann Comhairle dragged into matters such as this and insisted: “I will not be influenced by anything or anybody”.

barrett Seán Barrett Source: Oireachtas TV

Reaction

On the same programme, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he was disappointed with the “tone and tenor” of Barrett’s comments to RTÉ.

He said that Barrett was “wrong, absolutely wrong” to suggest that the terms of reference for the commission were technical and said it was “reprehensible” that Shatter would “initiate a process designed to stifle debate”.

He said that Barrett’s decision had set a precedent whereby the Dáil “could be silenced” when writs are issued. Martin described the controversy as “a very serious development for how the Dáil operates”. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s News At One, Sinn Féin TD Padraig MacLochlainn said what the Ceann Comhairle has done had set a dangerous precedent for future Dáil debates.

He said that politicians had entered “very dangerous territory” when a member of the Oireachtas could prevent debate on a matter of “serious importance”.

“The person who is most to blame in this scenario is the former minister Alan Shatter,” MacLochlainn said.

First published 10.55am 

Read: Here’s why all of the opposition TDs walked out of the Dáil today…

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Hugh O'Connell

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