Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl
Leinster House

Ceann Comhairle: 'No compelling need to intervene' after Sinn Féin TD used photo of man in Dáil

Seán Ó Fearghaíl also said he would prefer words like “scumbags” were not used in the Dáil.

CEANN COMHAIRLE SEÁN Ó Fearghaíl has said there was no reason to intervene yesterday when Sinn Féin held up an image of a man on Parnell Square in the Dáil because the individual and the location were not identifiable.

Under Oireachtas rules, using a photograph in the Dáil chamber is not permitted.

A heated exchange took place between the opposition and government benches yesterday in relation to the knife attack – in which three children and their carer were attacked – and subsequent riot in Dublin last week.

During the exchange between Justice Minister Helen McEntee and Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly, O’Reilly held up a photograph of a man sitting and drinking from a can near the school close to where the stabbing took place.

The image was also tweeted by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, with Sinn Féin saying last night that the photo and the comments from party members sought to highlight that “people do not feel safe in their communities”.

Using photographs or posters in the Dáil is contrary to the ‘Salient Rulings of the Chair’, but in practice such items have been displayed on many occasions.

After producing the photograph yesterday O’Reilly said: “Minister, this is what greeted those children six days after the traumatic and horrific event that happened to three of their classmates and one of their staff members.

“The school is terrified and traumatised. The school community wants answers and leadership and they are getting neither from you.

“This picture represents what Dublin city feels like to Dubliners on your watch, Minister. You should resign.”

Sinn Féin received criticism from the Minister and other TDs for O’Reilly’s use of the photograph in the chamber and for its use in a tweet by Mary Lou McDonald. 

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that everyone has a “role to be responsible in this House.

“I think you should consider that before you start waving pictures around.”

Her comments were met with “hear, hear” from the floor of the Dáil.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said the photo being shown in the Dáil was “outrageous”.

Speaking to The Journal, Ó Fearghaíl said today that he does not plan to take any action over the use of the photo.

“When it did happen and was displayed it couldn’t be undisplayed but I didn’t see any compelling need to intervene because neither the person or the location was identifiable,” he said.

He said however that if he receives any formal complaints from other Oireachtas members or members of the public then he would be required to refer it to the Committee of Procedures which would make a formal adjudication. 

“But as things stand, it would not be my personal intention to take any particular action on it,” Ó Fearghaíl said.

He added he would “most definitely” take action if the person or the location was identifiable.  

Inappropriate language

Meanwhile, the Ceann Comhairle also said he plans to raise concerns over an increase in the use of inappropriate language in the Dáil chamber.

Ó Fearghaíl said he has noticed an increase in unparliamentary language in the last couple of weeks in particular and will raise the issue with the Dáil Committee on Procedures. 

In particular, he said he would prefer words like “scumbags” were not used in the Dáil.

Yesterday, during Leaders’ Questions, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee referred to the rioters in Dublin last week as “thugs” and said some were “scumbags”. 

While it is not against the rules for a TD to use such words (although it is when they direct certain words against other members as per the ‘Salient Rulings of the Chair’ document), Ó Fearghaíl said he considered words like “scumbag” unparliamentary. 

“The use of terms like ‘scumbag’ may be terms that people grasp at as an illustration of their deep anger and frustration but it’s certainly not parliamentary language and I would prefer that type of language not to be used,” the Ceann Comhairle said.

Speaking to reporters today, the Minister for Justice said “scumbags” is not language she would normally use but that it was in relation to the actions seen on Thursday night and was used in “exceptional circumstances”.

“I am very much of the view and I’ve heard a lot of commentary since yesterday, that we need to make sure that we invest in our communities that we invest in individuals that we try and get to the root causes of crime,” she said.

With reporting by Christina Finn