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Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe
Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Government chief whip will look at allowing free votes after next election

Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe has hinted at possible changes to the strict party whip system as the coalition will today launch its plans for Dáil reform.
Sep 12th 2013, 6:15 AM 3,743 43

GOVERNMENT CHIEF WHIP Paul Kehoe will look at the possibility of relaxing the strict party whip system that Fine Gael currently operates in the Dáil and Seanad after the next election.

His comments, in an interview with TheJournal.ie, come as the Cabinet yesterday signed off on a series of Dáil reforms that will be announced today.

A relaxation of the whip system to allow TDs in Fine Gael a free vote on certain legislation has been widely called for particularly in relation to the abortion bill but will not happen in this term, Kehoe insisted. However he did say he will look at it if Fine Gael is re-elected.

He said: “What I would like to do is that if Fine Gael are in power after the next general election it is something that I would like to see changes [to].

“I won’t say changed but just looking at the whole area of the whip system and seeing are there areas [where] we can relax it. I don’t know, but it’s something that I am looking at.”

One of the major changes to be announced today will be that more legislation will follow the same approach as the one taken to the abortion bill earlier this year where there were extensive Oireachtas committee hearings.

Other plans include Friday sittings (but not every week), that the Dáil will sit earlier and for longer, and more time will be devoted to a backlog of Private Members’ Bills.

‘Dictatorship’

The reforms being outlined today are not contingent on the Seanad being abolished.

“They will happen either way. I think it’s a very important part of the package of reforms that we are bringing forward,” Kehoe said.

The Fine Gael TD for Wexford said that one of the most important reforms would be to “give the general public more ownership of lawmaking and involving them in the legislative process”.

This would follow the template of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill where there were Oireachtas hearings both before and after the draft Heads of Bill were published.

Kehoe’s comments on possible changes to the whip system come in the wake of Fine Gael losing five TDs and two senators who were expelled from the parliamentary party over their vote against the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill in July.

Kehoe did say it was his view that a whip system was neccessary for government and said he had been studying other parliaments where, he claimed, the whip system is even stronger than in Ireland.

“We don’t want to run a dictatorship but every modern parliament right across the world operates under the whip system, or some form of whip system,” he added.

Read: Government rules out Fine Gael rebels’ bid to form second Dáil technical group

More: Fianna Fáil proposes referendum to reduce government control of Dáil agenda

More: Free vote for TDs among radical proposals for Dáil reform

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Hugh O'Connell

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