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Explainer: What was the argument on Dáil speaking time all about?

Before last night, speaking rights were assigned equally during the first round of a debate after Dáil reform in 2016.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett
Image: Oireachtas TV

LAST NIGHT, ARGUMENTS simmered over in the Dáil as the government put forward motions which would change how speaking time is allocated to parties within the chamber.

This came during a marathon final sitting of the Dáil before it was adjourned for its summer recess.

Before last night, speaking rights were assigned equally during the first round of a debate, after Dáil reform in 2016. 

Fianna Fáil had previously suggested in 2017 that speaking time be changed to reflect the popular support that each party had received during the general election.

Leader of the Green Party Eamon Ryan was opposed to the move at the time, saying that Fianna Fáil wanted less speaking for smaller parties. “They want to go further now and basically silence us,” said Ryan at the time.

Before last night, the government and all other parties would receive 12.5% each of speaking time during a debate.

The new changes passed last night will see the government receive 26% of speaking time and Sinn Féin receiving 16.7% as the main opposition party, while all other parties and independents would receive the remaining 57.2%. 

For example, in a three-hour debate, the government would receive 47 minutes of speaking time, Sinn Féin would get 30 minutes, while all remaining parties and groupings would get 103 minutes between them.

Probably the biggest impact of this change is that both the government and Sinn Féin would be permitted to use small amounts of this speaking time (3.3% and 1.4% respectively) to respond after each of the smaller parties have spoken. 

An example of this would be Labour gets to speak for 17 minutes, and after they have finished, the government could speak for 6 minutes, while Sinn Féin would get 2.5 minutes. 

This is half of the speaking time allocated to Labour for the entire debate.

For opposition parties, their issue is not with the allocation of speaking time itself but in how it is sequenced, allowing the government and Sinn Féin to speak multiple times before smaller parties and independents get to. 

Speaking in the Dáil last night, Independent TD Thomas Pringle said that this would benefit the government more than it would other parties or political groupings.  

“There’s not an attempt by anybody to deny any member time in this house. The attempt is by the government to make sure that they get all the speaking time first, so they can put across their message,” said Pringle.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy called the move “outrageous”.

“The Tánaiste said today that they were reintroducing democracy. The first proposal to reintroduce democracy is to deny a debate on something that is about the nature of our democracy,” said Murphy.

This is not about stopping speaking time; this is about how the speaking time is organised.

Yesterday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar defended the move to change how speaking rights will work, noting that government backbenchers were not getting as much time to speak as independents and representatives for smaller parties.

“What we are endeavouring to have in this Dáil, which is entirely appropriate, is that speaking time should be proportionate. Every Deputy elected to the Dáil has a mandate, and every mandate is equal,” said Varadkar.

After the motion was carried, TDs from Labour, Social Democrats and Solidarity/People Before Profit alongside several independent TDs walked out of the chamber in protest at the changes.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

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Amendments

Proposed amendments to the motion were put forward by Sinn Féin and a cross-party group of Labour, Social Democrats, Sol/PBP and independents.

The Sinn Féin amendment suggested the government would get a total of 45 minutes speaking time, with Sinn Féin getting 35 minutes. All other parties and groupings would receive 20 minutes each, split into two segments.

The government’s 45 minutes would be split into increments of 20, 20 and five, while Sinn Féins 35 minutes would be divided into 20 and 15.

A key aspect of this amendment is that it would split the time to allow the government to speak first, followed by Sinn Féin and finally allowing all other groups to speak. This would then be repeated once, before the government could speak one final time.

This amendment would have only applied to debates on the second stage of a bill, and not fixed time debates. However, it failed to pass.

The cross-party amendment would have provided for all parties to speak at least once during the beginning of a debate. Speaking time would be slightly less for the smaller parties.

CrossPartyAmendment The amendment proposed by Labour, Social Democrats, Sol/PBP and independents

Once all parties have finished, there would be time allocated for back and forth debate between Sinn Féin and the government.

The cross-party amendment was defeated with 75 no votes to 61 yes votes. The Sinn Féin motion was defeated with 105 no votes to 38 yes votes, with 3 abstentions. 

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