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Westminster gives politicians all-clear to tweet from Commons

Members of the British parliament will now be allowed to tweet in the chamber – but what are the rules for Ireland’s TDs?

Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

THE UK’S MPs have been given the all-clear to use Twitter while on the floor of the House of Commons – breaking a decades-old tradition that barred them from bringing non-work related materials into the chamber.

The new rules, devised by the Commons’ Procedure Committee, has given its firm permission to the UK’s 650 members of parliament to use the microblogging site while in the Commons chamber.

It’s also approved the usage of iPads, laptop computers and smartphones – with the committee agreeing that with “those who argue that [using Twitter] brings Parliament to a whole new audience.”

On the topic of tablet computers like iPads, the committee found that using electronic notes as a memory aid should be no different to the old-fashioned paper notes.

“It is illogical to prevent Members from using electronic devices in the way that they would use paper notes and documents for speaking notes… nor would we wish to prevent Members from checking facts or consulting material by means of an internet search in the course of proceedings in the Chamber,” the committee found.

It did express its fears, however, that excessive use of “direct interference in proceedings should not be permitted” – fearing that open question-and-answer sessions like Prime Ministers’ Questions could be massively hindered by politicians taking submissions from advisers about the best quip to use.

“However, at present notes are passed from officials to Ministers during debates and Members may choose to consult others in the margins of committees. We see no reason why such messages should not equally be transmitted electronically as by hand,” the committee acknowledged.

In Ireland, mobile phones are theoretically banned from use in the Dáil chamber, according to the code of conduct by which TDs are expected to abide – though this rule has become so openly flouted in the modern era that it is almost never enforced.

“Interference from mobile phones is a discourtesy to other Members, a distraction from debate and potentially interferes with the recording of proceedings,” an Oireachtas spokesman said.

“Accordingly, mobile phones, if brought into the Chamber, should either be switched off or placed so as to avoid any possibility of interference. Members who are speaking and those who are sitting in close proximity to them should ensure that their mobile phones are switched off.”

Laptops are permitted for use in the chamber, however – with former Green Party deputy Paul Gogarty regularly using one at his seat. Current transport minister Leo Varadkar, meanwhile, was often seen using an iPad while on the opposition benches.

Indeed, current Taoiseach Enda Kenny was often interrupted in the last Dáil by his colleagues having to move his mobile phone away from his microphone.

In 2003, Oireachtas authorities tried to clamp down on the use of mobile phones in Leinster House after a tabloid newspaper was able to publish photographs of the members’ bar in Leinster House following a major refurbishment.

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About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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