Thursday, February 23, 2006


Thursday Thoughts: Clown Comhairle

The Ceann Comhairle has been a joke The man pictured to your left is the Ceann Comhairle, Dr Rory O'Hanlon TD.

Dr O'Hanlon is a Fianna Fáil politician representing Cavan-Monaghan.

To those of you who are not well-versed on the politics of the Irish Republic, the Ceann Comhairle is essentially the Chairman of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish parliament.

As Wikipedia explains:

"The Ceann Comhairle is expected to observe strict impartiality. Despite this, a government usually tries to select one of its own for the position, if its numbers allow. In order to protect the neutrality of the chair, the Irish constitution provides that an incumbent Ceann Comhairle does not seek re-election as a TD (member of the Dáil) but rather is deemed automatically to have been re-elected by their constitutuency at a general election, unless they are retiring. As a consequence, the constituency that an incumbent Ceann Comhairle theoretically represents returns one less TD in a general election than its usual entitlement. The Ceann Comhairle does not vote except in the event of a tie."

Now you're all probably wondering why I am discussing the Ceann Comhairle here on United Irelander. Well, the reason I'm discussing him is because far from being impartial, it is my opinion that the Ceann Comhairle is very much in the pocket of the party he was elected to represent and that in recent weeks he has been most unfair in his chairing of the Dáil. I put it to you all that he has consistently attempted to stifle debate and to protect Fianna Fáil. Permit me to highlight 5 points to support my claims.

1. Yesterday I made this post in relation to the latest corruption scandal to hit the Dáil and how Green Party leader Trevor Sargent had taken the Taoiseach to task over it, but most of you might not have picked up on this seemingly insignificant bit:

"Ceann Comhairle Rory O’Hanlon earlier advised Mr Sargent these matters were currently under investigation by a Tribunal of Inquiry and should not be debated in the Dáil chamber.

"Mr Sargent said that the 2000 internal Fianna Fáil inquiry into illegal payments to party members did not fall under the remit of the Tribunal."

Interesting, no? Permit me to outline further evidence:

2. There is another small but significant incident, which I picked up from this Slugger thread, regarding the furore over Willie O'Dea when he was photographed holding a gun:

"Greens leader Trevor Sargent also asked if there would be any ministerial accountability for the photographs, but Ceann Comhairle Rory O’Hanlon ruled the matter out of order." (Quelle surprise!)

3. There is this embarrassing incident from last year, reported in the Irish Independent (registration required), when the Ceann Comhairle Rory O'Hanlon refused to attend the Inquiry of the Joint Committee on Health and Children into the nursing home charges scandal:

"The Committee is anxious to investigate why John Boland's proposals to legislate for the charges which would have saved the Exchequer up to €1bn were dropped by O'Hanlon "after discussion on the matter between the then Taoiseach [Charles Haughey] and Ray McSharry".

"Since there are no records of why this volte face occurred, O'Hanlon is a key witness.

"Opposition figures have been less than convinced by O'Hanlon's position.

"Labour leader Pat Rabbitte claimed that the "most appropriate precedent was provided by the Ceann Comhairle's voluntary appearance at the Lindsay tribunal", which was inquiring into his role in the haemophilia blood scandal.

"Rabbitte said an examination of the legislation on Dail committees suggested the Ceann Comhairle was looking for a higher level of privilege than a Supreme Court judge or the President.

"Rabbitte also dismissed the claim that appearing at a Parliamentary Inquiry was the same as taking an active role in parliamentary proceedings.

"The Labour leader warned that O'Hanlon "was not bringing any credit to the reputation of the Chair by ducking his civic responsibilities"."

Pat Rabbitte is by far the most notorious critic of the Ceann Comhairle. They clashed in October 2003, which you can read about in full here. Quote:

"To be honest, sir," the Labour leader told the Ceann Comhairle last week during a typically acrimonious exchange, "I have never been harassed by any of your predecessors in the same fashion that you harass me."

"I wouldn't go too far in casting aspersions on the chair if I were you," O'Hanlon pointedly responded.

4. The Labour leader and the Ceann Comhairle clashed again in 2004 when O'Hanlon ruled a question in relation to the closure of Garda stations out of order (Sound familiar?):

"You are the most partisan chair we have ever had in this house," said Deputy Rabbitte.

"Time after time you intervene to protect the Government and I am sick of it. I am sick of your partisan approach.

"You are congenitally incapable of being fair. I asked one question about garda stations and I got no answer.

"I was merely pointing out the conflict of closing rural Garda stations and post offices with the professed commitment to decentralisation.

"With all due respect I’ll explain what I’m asking without any help from you."

When asked to withdraw the accusation, Rabbitte refused.

"I will not withdraw the remark because you are unfair," he shouted.

The Dáil was suspended for five minutes. When it returned, Rabbitte was again asked to withdraw his accusation but again refused.

"I am sorry that my remarks led to the disruption of the house but I regret I cannot withdraw them," he said.

"I will withdraw from the house rather than withdraw them."

5. Things came to a head in November 2005 when Labour Party Pat Rabbitte threatened the Ceann Comhairle with a motion of no confidence after an attempt to raise the winter fuel allowance was ruled out of order:

Pat Rabbitte said if the Ceann Comhairle continued in this way into next year (I personally think it's fair to say that he has!), he would be inviting a motion of no confidence. Mr Rabbitte said that while he may get the votes of his own party, he would have lost the confidence of the Opposition side of the House. He claimed there had never been a situation in his time in the Dáil where a party leader had not been allowed to raise such issues on the Order of Business. However, the Ceann Comhairle, Dr Rory O'Hanlon, insisted the matter was not in order.

I am not aware of anyone in the media tackling the conduct of the Ceann Comhairle and I am certainly not aware of any Irish bloggers scrutinising Dr O'Hanlon - I might be the first - but it seems to me that the Ceann Comhairle is quite clearly not impartial. On the contrary, he has been very partisan and he seems more than willing to step in and protect the Government when things get a bit too uncomfortable for Bertie and the boys.

This cannot be tolerated any longer.

I therefore submit to you and to the Opposition parties that in the interests of Irish democracy, a motion of no confidence be called on Ceann Comhairle Rory O'Hanlon.

Dr O'Hanlon loves to label the Opposition out of order. In reality, the only thing out of order is his own attitude.

It's time to send Dr O'Hanlon out of the chamber. Permanently.


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