Posted by Eoin O’Malley
In the political calculations made last week on the removal of John O’Donoghue and selection of a new Ceann Comhairle, two things seemed to be most important in the Taoiseach’s calculations. One was the FF/ Green majority – so getting a Fine Gael or Labour TD would have eased the pressure on the government’s tight Dáil arithmetic. The other was Brian Cowen’s position within the Fianna Fáil party – apparently giving just a plum job to a Blueshirt would have caused him more problems than he could afford.
It’s a pity (and rather stupid) that the Government did not indicate a change in the manner of the Ceann Comhairle’s election. The Greens surely would have wanted to strengthen the power of the Dáil by making the chairman independent of the government. This could have been achieved if Cowen had, instead of nominating and indicating who his party were to vote for, said that the Dáil should have chosen the Ceann Comhairle. He should have suggested that there should be an open nomination process, say with seven TDs required to sign one’s nomination papers. There could have been a debate (or hustings as the UK has it), and a free vote of the TDs by secret ballot to elect their chairman. We might have seen five or six people nominated for this very important job, which is also very well paid. A multi-round election could have seen the weakest eliminated.
The Ceann Comhairle and all aspiring and future holders of that office would know that they owed their position to the House rather than the government. (It would be very difficult for any future government to revert to the old way of doing things.) A CC’s attitude toward government tactics would be to defend the rights Dáil rather than protect the Government. Over time we would see a cultural shift in the operation of Dáil business.
And the political logic would have been appealing. The Greens would have been overjoyed at anything that smacked of reform and democracy (why didn’t they think of it?); Cowen might have got an opposition TD into the chair (with a secret ballot Cowen could have voted for him); but no blame from his party that he delivered a plum job to a Fine Gaeler. And if he’s going to be spending some time in opposition, he might at least like to have a Dáil chairman who allows the opposition to question the government.