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Seanad and Leas Ceann Comhairle election cause headache for government

More emergency legislation is expected to be needed next week.

Image: Sam Boal

THE DAIL WILL return tomorrow to pass further emergency legislation relating to the coronavirus outbreak. 

New laws relating to justice, housing, defence, health and social welfare will need to pass all stages of the Dáil in order to proceed onto the Seanad. 

The Dáil will return earlier than scheduled, at 10am, and debate the legislation for over four hours. The Dáil will sit until after 9pm in order to get the legislation over the line. 

The election of a temporary Leas Ceann Comhairle is also on the agenda for Thursday. 

Following Monday’s party leaders meeting with the Taoiseach, it is understood that Leo Varadkar approached Independent Roscommon TD Denis Naughten asking him if he would step into the role to get over the temporary “hump”. 

Naughten was the runner-up in the Ceann Comhairle election, where Sean O’Fhearghail was successfully elected for a second term. 

Varadkar is believed to have said it would pose a problem if the Ceann Comhairle becomes incapacitated and cannot attend the Dáil, and so asked Naughten to step up. 

The Roscommon TD told the Taoiseach that he would “reluctantly” take on the job,  but only if there was consent from the majority of the Dail. However, it is understood that other parties have already selected candidates they want to put forward. 

Fianna Fáil is understood to have selected Brendan Smith, while Sinn Fein has selected Aengus O’Snodaigh. 

It is understood that a roll call will elect the Leas Ceann Comhairle as the number of TDs in attendance will also be restricted. While a secret ballot is generally used in such an election, it may well be waived on Thursday, due to the limited numbers.

Once the emergency legislation passes in the Dáil, it will pass to the Seanad. 

Legislation

However, a big question mark hangs over the passing of any future emergency legislation after this weekend due to the outgoing Seanad being dissolved from Friday.

The Seanad general election is taking place over next weekend, meaning that no new legislation will be possible from next week until a new government is formed.

As if the care-taker government doesn’t have enough work in its hands, now there is also a constitutional issue at play.

There are 60 seats in the Seanad, but 11 of these are nominated by the Taoiseach.

An outgoing Taoiseach – namely Leo Varadkar – is not allowed to nominate new members. Why? Well, it is in the Constitution. 

Only the newly-elected Taoiseach, who has been elected by the Dáil after a general election, has the power to appoint 11 nominees.

Even if parties decided that they would divvy up the seats, it would not be allowed.

Earlier in the week, Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin said the prospect of a new Seanad being unable to meet – and therefore cutting off any prospect of emergency legislation being passed after this week- may result in the hastening of the formation of a new government.

“It may very well concentrate the minds,” he said. 

Speaking yesterday, Varadkar said the focus is very much on the Covid-19 emergency, but time is also being found for further negotiations. 

The Tánaiste, Business Minister Heather Humphreys, and Finance Minister Paschal Donohue will be involved in talks today with Fianna Fáil to see if both parties can agree a common paper on the way forward.

“We are open to talking to the Greens, Labour, the Social Democrats and other groups that may wish to speak to us, but the priority has to be on Covid-19,” said the Taoiseach.

Following yesterday’s major government announcement on new emergency measures, the focus might quickly move to the overall cost of such measures.

Donohoe told reporters yesterday that over a 12-week period the emergency measures will cost the State €3.7 billion. 

The spotlight is quickly moving onto whether an emergency budget will be needed in the summer months.

Sources have acknowledged that there will be a “massive deficit” in the government’s finances, but whether an emergency budget is needed will depend on how long this crisis continues, Donohoe said yesterday. 

Another source said all the contingency planning for a hard Brexit has proved to be beneficial in the planning of the emergency Covid-19 measures. 

However, with the need for such big budgetary measures to be taken, questions are now being asked about what mandate a caretaker government has during this time of crisis. 

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