Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Whip it!

One of my best memories of watching Beavis and Butthead in the early 90's was when Devo's Whip It came on. The poor lads didn't know what to make of the song or the video and the term bumsnoidial buttsnoid was invented. Anyway the relevance of that useful snippet of nostalgia to this blog is the aftermath of the stag hunting bill last week.

The bill, which to my non-expert eye didn't really do that much, ended up being passed in the Dáil despite defections from various quarters. Mattie McGrath (FF) from South Tipperary voted against the bill in the electronic vote and then abstained from the walkthrough that was called. Tommy Broughan (Lab) from Dublin North-East refused to attend the session for either vote and Arthur Morgan (SF) from Louth managed to get himself suspended from the chamber so as not to have to vote against the bill. Then in the Seanad, Labour Senator Ivana Bacik also abstained from the vote on the bill.

After these events, both McGrath and Broughan lost the whip of their respective parties and Bacik found a strongly worded letter in her mail warning her of the consequences of any further non compliance with PLP wishes. Add to these the existing FF outcasts (Butler and Callely in the Seanad with Devins, Scanlon and McDaid in the Dáil) and potential future rebels (Máire Hoctor and Christy O'Sullivan downstairs and Senators Walsh, Hanafin and Ó Murchú upstairs) and all of a sudden there are quite a number of public reps operating outside the party system.

Having lost the whip, these members have to relocate their office to the independents penthouse floor and must resign any seats on committees that they held on behalf of the party. Most importantly, under the D´il Standing Orders they lose speaking rights in the Dáil as they are not a member of a party or technical group with 7 or more members. The goverment will not share time with its own rebels, but at the same time whipless FF TDs are unlikely to join forces with the "real" independents such as Jackie Healy Rae, Finian McGrath or Maureen O'Sullivan and give them a platform from which to attack their erstwhile colleagues in goverment.

The real problem stems from the strict enforcement of the whip system in the Dáil, due to our preference for a minimal sized coalition and lack of large majorities. In the UK there are three levels of whip along with free votes on certain issues. In the Dáil there is always a two line whip in operation with a three line enforced for votes of confidence, finance bills etc. This leads to the daft situation that occurred with the Stag Hunting bill where at least six FF back benchers spoke against the bill but only McGrath followed through on the threat of not supporting. For a bill of this nature that would not collapse the government, surely those who oppose it, whether for moral or political pressures, should be allowed to go with their conscience.

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