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"One cannot have instability": Taoiseach rules out loosening the party whip

Fine Gael backbenchers quizzed the Taoiseach on political reform in the Dáil last night.

Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY has ruled out any prospect of loosening the strict party whip system that the government applies to votes in the Dáil and Seanad, warning of the instability it would cause politically and economically.

In an unusual move, the Taoiseach was present on behalf of the government to take questions from his own backbenchers on Dáil reform as part of a Topical Issues debate yesterday evening.

Eight backbench Fine Gael TDs, who are part of the so-called ‘five-a-side club’, called on the Taoiseach to implement reforms including loosening the party whip, having a week solely dedicated to committee work and allowing backbenchers more time to question the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.

Kenny appeared open to some of the ideas saying the deputies raised “valid points” but was firm on the party whip system and not changing it.

He said: “I have been in governments where there was a minority situation, or very close to it. One cannot have instability. What might be one person’s crisis of conscience is another’s political crisis.”

Kenny did say that there would be an opportunity in the pre-legislative stages of bills for TDs to give their views “irrespective of whether it is in accordance with government philosophy or not”.

But he said the issue of stability is important for international investors and there needs to be certainty about the government being able to continue in office.

He continued: “In a tight future election outcome, for example, people may ask whether the Government will be able to continue in office. Without stability, one cannot have investment.”

Dublin South-East TD Eoghan Murphy said that he did not necessarily agree with the Taoiseach and said it was about the principle of parliament being able to hold the government to account.

He said: “I believe we should have a non-whip vote on the Order of Business in regard to the taking of legislation and the amount of time allocated in that regard.”

But Kenny responded: “A country in which there is instability loses that trust in terms of growing its economy. These are issues about which we must be, and will be, serious in the time ahead.”

Murphy along with Fine Gael backbenchers Sean Kyne, Paul Connnaughton, Brendan Griffin, Pat Deering, Noel Harrington, Anthony Lawlor, and Sean Conlan had raised the matter at Topical Issues.

They have previously been outspoken on a number of matters including Dáil reform, public sector pay and increments, and the need to continue austerity and implement the full €3.1 billion adjustment in next week’s Budget. They have been labelled ‘austerity hawks’ by Labour backbenchers.

In a statement last night, Fianna Fáil criticised the debate involving the Taoiseach and his own backbenchers as “farcical”.

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

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

‘Not fit for purpose?’ Why the Dáil’s party whip system may need reform

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Hugh O'Connell

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