20 November 1997 Edition

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Parties combine to exclude Sinn Féin TD

DL discrimination aided by Government


Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin has said that the voters of Cavan and Monaghan are being disenfranchised by his exclusion from the group structure in Leinster House whereby members gain access to speaking time and other rights.

The comment came this week as Democratic Left confirmed publicly for the first time that they are blocking the formation of a `technical group' in Leinster House because they would not be part of any group which includes the Sinn Féin TD.

Under the Standing Orders of Leinster House eight of the 14 TDs who are not members of the Government parties, Fine Gael or Labour, are needed to form a `technical group'. Membership of such a group gives access to speaking time, the ability to put down motions, amend legislation and introduce bills. A technical group is not a political alliance of any kind and implies no common political views; it has been compared to sharing an elevator. Those outside such groups, TDs from the smaller parties and independents in Leinster House, are effectively disenfranchised.

Explaining the situation Deputy O Caoláin said: ``Clearly Democratic Left are engaged in the failed politics of the exclusion of Sinn Féin. And they are being helped by the Government.

``Democratic Left have blocked the formation of a technical group even though this would involve no political obligation on the part of the members of such a group. There would be no whip and no requirement for common voting on issues. It would be purely an arrangement of convenience to gain rights which individual TDs should be entitled to in any case.''

Democratic Left have said that they would not be part of group which inluded Sinn Féin or ex- Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry. But the citing of Michael Lowry is a smokescreen since Democratic Left were in government with him and his party and the North Tipperary TD plays little or no role in Leinster House now anyway.

Government Chief Whip Seamus Brennan and the other whips from Progressive Democrats, Labour and Fine Gael have allowed Pat Rabbite of Democratic Left to attend their whips meeting in Leinster House, even though he does not represent a group under Standing Orders. Whips control the business of the House. Whips also dole out places on Leinster House committees and several have already been established.

To comply with the rule that there should be representation from all sides of Leinster House the remaining places on committees, after the allocation of seats to the government, Fine Gael and Labour, are decided by drawing lots. Democratic Left are included in this lottery but they have also been given a second chance; in the case of the Public Accounts Commmittee they were unsuccessful in the lottery but then Fine Gael gave one of its seats to Pat Rabbite.

Caoimhghin O Caoláin said:''I am disappointed and frustrated with this situation. The exclusion of myself, my party, and most importantly, the citizens of Cavan and Monaghan who elected me, is being facilitated by the major parties who control Leinster House.''

O Caoláin vowed that he would be fighting the issue ``on the floor of the House and by every means possible until justice is done''.

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