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Filibustering: Here's why a decision to deploy a little-used Dáil rule caused ructions this week

TDs such as Mattie McGrath, Danny and Michael Healy Rae were accused of filibustering this week. / YouTube

FILIBUSTERING. It’s a term that has been used a lot in the Dáil in the last week.

TDs such as Mattie McGrath, Danny and Michael Healy Rae have been accused of it recently during a debate on drink driving legislation.

The deputies deny the claim, with Healy-Rae telling Minister Shane Ross during the week:

I completely refute that and I won’t stop talking until the people who elect me tell me to stop.

The TDs are against the proposed new law that will see an automatic driving ban for anyone caught for drink driving with blood alcohol levels of between 50 mg/100 ml and 80 mg/100 ml.

The Bill also seeks to allow gardaí to seize a car driven by an unaccompanied learner driver.

So what is a filibuster?

That’s the exact question Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy asked on Wednesday night.

Her face during the debate said it all. She had been sitting through the Dáil debate for close on six hours.

“I am hearing a great deal of repetition. I think I have been here for about six hours. What is a filibuster?” she asked.

The Cambridge dictionary’s definition is that filibustering “making a long speech in order to delay or prevent a new law being made”.

During the week, Leas-Cheann Comhairle Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher wouldn’t provide that definition to the deputy.

Instead, he said: “It is not for me to say that.”

But he did plead with the deputies to get on with it and stop repeating themselves.

The deputy has been here for a lot of the debate. I have been here for all of the debate and I have kept warning the deputies [McGrath and the Healy Raes]…
I keep pleading with him… I am depending on the goodwill of deputies to have respect for the House. I believe Deputy Mattie McGrath does not have to repeat himself all the time. We have given this a fair hearing. I ask him, please, not to repeat and perhaps – it is a matter for him – to bring his remarks to conclusion.

Eventually at 10.12pm on Wednesday night, enough was enough.

Over the two nights of debate, McGrath had spoken about the controversial legislation for more than two hours.

Murphy made a proposal under Standing Order 68 of the House which ends a debate on the legislation.

Heated exchanges followed, but the rule was used to end the “filibustering” in the debate, and the Leas Ceann Comhairle invoked the rarely used rule.

“So that there is no ambiguity. Deputy Catherine Murphy made a proposal under Standing Order 68 … Standing Order 68 gives the right to any deputy to propose that the question be put. After that, there is no debate. This is exactly what I am doing,” the Leas Ceann Comhairle told the Dáil.

Chaos descended in the House, as he tried to calm the deputies.

TD Danny Healy-Rae interjected: “I am coming in here.”

“Sorry, no,” shouted the Leas Ceann Comhairle.

Fine Gael’s Maria Bailey then spoke, but was shouted over by the male deputies.

Mary Mitchell O’Connor piped in: “There is a woman speaking.”

“If Deputy Healy-Rae would like to have a bit of respect,” said Bailey.

With the Leas Ceann Comhairle ringing the bell loudly he shouted: “The Dáil adjourned at 10.13pm until 10.30am.”

It looks like filibustering, a tactic deployed regularly in other jurisdictions, could be seen on a more regular basis on the Dáil floor in the future.

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