From Irish Political Review—October 2005

Storm In A Rubber Stamp

In its editorial (August 10th., 2005) attacking the heretical notion of Northern representatives having a right to speak in Dáil Éireann debates on matters which concern the lives and livelihoods of their constituents The Irish Times failed to mention, not even once in an off-hand kind of way 'for the record don't you know', let alone quote, the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution whose 2002 Report is the core and context of the whole issue.

Nonetheless it claimed, "It is difficult to understand why Mr Adams misrepresented the situation…". In fact all the misrepresentation was all its own (as explained in Do You Speak Dáil).

Not too surprising then that when, three days later, it carried a leading article attacking the heretical notion, that leading article also failed entirely to mention let alone quote the All-Party Committee Report. Entitled Adams In Dáil Could Have The Status Of A British Peer this leading article was written by Jim Duffy of whom I know nothing whatsoever except that he is probably not misrepresented by his employer which describes him as "a historian and political commentator".

Quite what that description entails is anyone's guess, and anyway who really cares? A historian and political commentator who either doesn't know about, or is careful to suppress any knowledge he might have about the central fact of his subject, is probably not capable of bearing much further scrutiny.

According to Mr. Duffy there is no need for Northern representatives to have seats and voting rights in the Dáil for them to immediately acquire overwhelming influence in that assembly:

"In reality, actually holding a seat and so a vote is not that important. The Dáil is rarely little more than a rubber stamp" (Irish Times,13.8.05).

Northern representatives will immediately dominate the proceedings because of who they are:

"Send the big guns of Gerry Adams MP, Martin McGuinness MP and others into Leinster House and their Oireachtas parliamentary party would jump from Division Three to Premier Division overnight."

Those northerners are pezzo novanti to be sure, ninety calibre big-shots to beat the band. So keep them out for goodness sake. Spare us our mediocrity and save the rubber stamp!

Oh well, as reasons for setting claustrophobic bounds to the march of a nation go, that's as good as any the anti-national Irish Times and its stable of historians and political commentators have come up with yet. And there's more:

"Giving a right to participate in the Irish parliament to people who hold offices not recognised in Bunreacht na hÉireann, who weren't elected in elections regulated by Irish law, and who were chosen to belong to an entirely different parliament by people not registered to vote in elections in the Republic, would be a constitutional revolution."

Actually it wouldn't be a constitutional revolution. The constitutional revolution is the set of proposals which will sooner rather than later be put to a constitutional referendum if the All-Party Committee's recommendation is set aside. Jim Duffy can't recognise that or has to mask his recognition of it because he either hasn't read or has had to forget the All-Party Committee's 2002 Report.

The point is that a modest right of audience exercised before a Dáil which has constituted itself into a committee of the whole House is the least the Southern political establishment feels it can get away with; precisely because, extraordinary and all as it is, it does not require a referendum to allow it to be enacted. And Sinn Féin will, at the moment at least, accept it.

If what Sinn Féin will currently accept is denied it, it will immediately up the ante and a constitutional amendment to allow full membership for representatives of Northern constituencies will be tabled. If the Southern forty-five calibre droop-shots didn't think such an amendment would be carried, we wouldn't be hearing about the lesser, extraordinarily awkward, proposal. Face it Jim Duffy, Bertie is trying to avert a constitutional revolution! Can you really imagine him entertaining the Committee's recommendation otherwise?

But there's more:

"It would raise other practical issues…If they wish to participate in debates they would need office facilities in Leinster House, and secretarial facilities, all of which would have to be paid for by taxpayers who would find themselves paying for politicians they did not elect and could not fire."

Jim Duffy should really have added that the Southern taxpayers, God Bless Them Every One, have enough to put up with paying compensation to various groups of victims of the current administration. Mac MickDowell's vendetta against the McBreartys is going to cost a pretty penny (should that be a cute cent in these Eurodays?) when all the eighty-odd cases have been heard and the awards totted up. And then there's the Tribunals, notorious monuments to good government that they are. Bequeathed to future generations by the holier than thou and not ashamed to shout about it in bygone days PDs. Comment on the cost of that, why don't you, Jim?

And wouldn't you know there'd be more:

"Giving speaking rights would also affect the Belfast Agreement. For one party, for its own benefit, and to further its own agenda, unilaterally to demand a right for some of its members to participate in a parliament they had not been elected to, would hardly embody the cross-party, cross-community consensus that is supposed to be at the heart of the agreement. Saying that other parties' MPs could if they wish do the same, when it knows on principle they would not want to, would be no excuse."

Unilateral is a fine word which is not in the least undermined by using it in its most obscure sense of multilateral. Parse those two sentences and this is what you get. Sinn Féin is demanding that it alone of all the northern parties along with all the other northern parties should have a right of audience in Dáil Éireann. I mean really! Jim Duffy, you should be ashamed of yourself.

The DUP and UUP will not currently avail themselves of speaking rights in the Dáil. I don't know that the unionist Alliance Party has committed itself one way or the other. Perhaps it would agree with the notion and maybe that would enable it to get an MP elected one of these days. And the SDLP is still a party that is not Sinn Féin and that has MPs who will certainly not commit political suicide by staying out of Leinster House. For Shame, Jim Duffy, For Shame!

There is still more, but if you want to see how Jim Duffy figures Gerry Adams will somehow follow in the footsteps of the late Lord Fitt by way of entering Leinster House you'll have to check The Irish Times, It's Website and the Archives thereof.

Jim Duffy is a historian and political commentator.

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