Dail representation: an old chestnut still roasting….

Gerry Adams keeps the flame lit under his party’s long term campaign to have Northern Irish representatives sitting in the Republic’s legislature. As Adams points out, it has effectively been kicked into the long grass by Bertie Ahern in the face of opposition from all other party leaders, bar Sinn Fein. Opposition to full Northern Irish representation has been consistent and residual within the Dail since the Seventh Progress Report of the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution. It rejected full participation in 2002:

The committee fears that the inclusion on equal terms of Northern representatives in the Dáil could be interpreted as a refusal on our part to accept the implications of the careful balance on constitutional issues achieved in the Good Friday Agreement. This would damage the prospect of durable crosscommunity support for the Agreement, and put at risk the enormous gains made in the Agreement. If the highest current national priority in relation to Northern Ireland remains the successful implementation and operation of the Agreement, as we believe it should, then it would be imprudent to contemplate such a step.

Thirdly, the committee believes that a constitutional amendment would be required to confer an unlimited right of audience on any person who is not elected to Dáil Éíreann.

The committee however did allow for the possibility of softer rights:

The committee acknowledges that the immediate emphasis of the Sinn Féin submission, in particular, is on the possibility that Northern Ireland Westminster MPs might have a limited right of audience within the Dáil. This would not require a constitutional amendment, and might technically be effected through the Dáil periodically forming itself into a Committee of the Whole House for the purposes of selected debates, most obviously for instance on Northern Ireland matters and on the operation of the Good Friday Agreement.

The frequency and organisation of such debates could easily be altered – as no constitutional amendment is required – over time, in the light of experience. We accept that any addition to the Dáil of participants, even if temporary and nonvoting, other than those elected from 51 constituencies within this state, could be held to be inconsistent with the thrust of our approach.

We also accept that any participation in the Dáil by Northern representatives might potentially run the risk of opening up basic constitutional issues settled in the Good Friday Agreement. However, we think that in this case those risks are relatively mild and should be kept in perspective.

The expertise and experience upon which Northern MPs could draw could certainly enhance the quality of certain important Dáil debates. Such an initiative would be strongly welcomed by certain Northern representatives and their supporters, and would address the continuing desire of many nationalists for further concrete expression of their Irish identity and their membership of the wider national family.

The Dáil could consider taking the necessary procedural steps to allow MPs elected for Northern Ireland constituencies to speak in periodic debates on Northern Ireland matters and on the operation of the Good Friday Agreement. The committee is of the view that any such participation should take place on a crosscommunity basis with parity of esteem for the different communities in Northern Ireland [my italics].

Ahern responded to a question, with a proposal to explore the Committee’s recommendations and initiate a wider consultation on the issue.

In the end it was rejected. The force of the argument against came from Liz McManus’ statement that the mandate was a cross community one. No one could realistically expect Unionists to pick up their end of that particular mandate.

As Brian Feeney noted at the time, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein could have clubbed together the necessary votes, but Bertie didn’t go with it because the PDs were opposed. Nothing substantive has changed since then.

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  • middle-class taig

    why is the SDLP nowhere to be seen on this?

  • Hidden Gem

    Gerry knows that this is the kind of item that , (in the absence of progress in the North), Republicans want to hear. Bertie has pretty much ruled it out for now and it sounds like Gerry is glory hunting on this one. I mean – President Gerry Adams – come on! You are left in no doubt where his head is when he can award himself such a grandiose title.

    I am left wondering if, in pushing the headline grabber of Northern Irish representation in the Dáil, is he trying to divert attention away from the negative publicity his party is getting over their inability to make progress at on the hill and in ‘Derry?

    A British agent from ‘Derry,
    Denied all his actions on telly,
    His tale –it was tall,
    And made no sense at all,
    And the only one to believe him was Gerry!

  • Henry94

    I mean – President Gerry Adams – come on! You are left in no doubt where his head is when he can award himself such a grandiose title.

    President of SF is an elected office. Nobody awards it to themselves.

    The issue will become major if the current negotiations for the restoration of the institutions fail.

    MCT

    Your question is a good one

  • Pete Baker

    “..it has effectively been kicked into the long grass by Bertie Ahern in the face of opposition from all other party leaders, bar Sinn Fein.”

    Kicked into the long grass, quite rightly Mick, because it would be unconstitutional.

    And some people think that the West Lothian question is a source of controversy in the UK…

  • Alan

    The SDLP know that for now at least, this is a non starter. Maybe at some point in the future but not just now as the will just sn’t there in the South. They want SF/DUP to get there act together. As Voltaire pointed out :-

    “That is well said,” replied Candide, “but we must cultivate our garden.”

  • Mick Fealty

    MCT, you have to dig deeper for the SDLP (http://tinyurl.com/j5gje). They made several presentations on the wider issue of representation, in the Seanad for instance. But I didn’t want to burden people with too much outside the core SF issue.

  • Hidden Gem

    Henry94

    President of SF is an elected office. Nobody awards it to themselves.

    So… my question should read what kind of party awards it’s party leader such a grandiose title? Big difference! I suppose you’d have to go to one of those South America countries before you’d find a party leader with such a sickeningly grandiose title.

    nice one darth rumsfeld! 10/10 for style and composition

    The SDLP is right to stay clear of this one at present because people want to see the folks back up on the hill. All-Ireland representation in the Dail has a nice ring to it but it’s clearly done now for party benefit. He knows Bertie has ruled it out for now so I think Gerry must be doing it to shine the spot light away from the in-house unrest he is experiencing.

  • Crataegus

    This is an unconstitutional and irrelevant distraction from the main arena. Mind you not a lot happening, or likely to happen on stage 1.

    In fullness of time ideas that achieve closer cooperation should be examined and ‘workable solutions’ found.

  • darth rumsfeld

    ..er, have I been censored, Mick? I’m so proud :0)

  • harpo

    ‘Gerry knows that this is the kind of item that , (in the absence of progress in the North), Republicans want to hear.’

    I don’t think proper republicans care about having representation in the parliament of the partitionist 26 county political entity.

    But then the Provos aren’t proper republicans are they? They use the institutions of the partitionist 26 county political entity when it suits them, whether it’s the parliament of it, or supporting its football team.

    The more they go on, the more the Provos are shown to be nothing more than plain old nationalists.

    This ongoing stunt may impress Provo supporters (who want any and all links to the ROI institutionalized) , but true republicans would have nothing to do with it.

  • Hidden Gem

    The more they go on, the more the Provos are shown to be nothing more than plain old nationalists.

    Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that Gerry is trying to turn the party in to a new SDLP. But just as they, the SDLP, would never and could never out green SF then likewise, SF would never and could never convince anyone but there loyal unquestioning sycophants that they are more moderate in their view than the SDLP.

    SF is strong on sound-bite but weak on substance. In fact trying to find a party document to download from their website is almost impossible and when you do, it is nearly almost all aspirational and lacking sound, well thought out and workable proposals. Now I know the SFS (Sinn Fein Sycophants) will disagree with this but anyone can go to the SF website and you will see what I mean.

    Just at this moment in time, the will of the people in the South for Northern representation in the South is preoccupied with other things. If Bertie wanted to push this matter he couldn’t as there is too much opposition at present and that’s not to mention the constitutional questions raised by such a proposal. The Irish Times on Saturday editorial summed up this point when it read:-.

    “the overwhelming democratic imperative is that the institutions of this State should represent and serve the people of the State.”

    Gerry’s SF spin machine, sorry “SF Press Office” will have gauged this feeling. Why then, would Gerry push ahead with this if he knew the time wasn’t right? Answer? To divert attention away from the SF in-house fighting that is taking place in South Armagh, South Down, up in ‘Derry and I am lead to believe in Belfast too. There is certainly a lot riding on whether or not Gerry can get the folks back on the hill and he knows it!

  • George

    I assume then that Gerry will have no problems with the idea that if there is a united Ireland that unionists have continued representation in Westminster?

    And what does he mean by representation? This is a huge constitutional nightmare. You can’t just grant people representation in your national parliament you know. Bertie isn’t Louis XIV.

    Convince the majority north of the border of the merits of unification and everyone can get representation. He should spend his time doing that.

  • Nathan

    I would like to see a northern dimension in the political life of the Irish nation, but through other means.

    Bunreacht na hÉireann empowers the Taoiseach of the next Dail to appoint two ministers who are not members of the Seanad. There are 2 precedents for this occuring – in the 16th Dail when Sean Moylan lost his seat and where the Taoiseach responded by nominating him for the Seanad (i.e. to get him back into a Cabinet position) – and in the 22nd Dail where Professor James Dooge was nominated for the Seanad, so that he could become Minister for Foreign Affairs.

    Therefore, it is possible through the aformentioned constitutional mechanism to parachute northerners into the political life of the nation at the say-so of the Taoiseach. This has been achieved to some degree in the past (e.g. Gordon Wilson and Seamus Mallon) and all we need now is a further push so that willing and capable northerners can occupy a prized Cabinet position in the political heart of the Irish nation. If Sinn Fein lose their military wing altogether then I’d like to see capable individuals such as Davy Hyland and John O’Dowd holding a ministerial position through this mechanism in my lifetime.

  • pith

    If there is any money in it, it could help prevent potential financial problems for the DUP’s alleged policy unit.

  • Rory

    Harpo speaks of “proper Republicans”.

    I do wish someone would tell me what a “proper” Republican is. Is it one that is always neatly turned out, sports a fainne, never drinks or swears, helps old ladies across the road and is married to a “proper” schoolmarm?

    At the beginning of the Western film The Magnificient Seven, Steve McQueen says to Yul Brynner “They won’t bury him ’cause he’s an Indian? I thought the only thing you had to be to get into Boot Hill was a corpse”.

    By the same token surely a declared belief in republicanism qualifies one to be a Republican. I just had to be born into my family to be a member thereof. We all fall out and quarrel from time to time. Doesn’t stop us from being real brothers and sisters.

    Anyway, who in the hell is the Big Chief Proper Republican that decides the “proper” merits of all the other Republicans? And where do I send the application?

  • lib2016

    ‘harpo’ is usually used by a unionist poster. Obviously this is an imposter.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    George

    “I assume then that Gerry will have no problems with the idea that if there is a united Ireland that unionists have continued representation in Westminster?”

    To be honest George, that’s a case for unionists to argue if and when the issue arises. In the meantime it’s irrelevant. The relevant issue is about northern representation in the parliament of Ireland. Now, nationalists DO send representatives to the British parliament, despite preferring to send them to our own capital. Let’s talk about that, and avoid unhelpful distractions.

    “And what does he mean by representation?”

    To be honest I don’t know what Gerry Adams means, but I’m strongly in favour of northern representation in Dail Eireann, so I’ll tell you what I mean. I’m in favour of the 18 northern MPs and three MEPs being entitled to take seats in plenary sessions, and to be entitled to speak in ALL debates, according to the same rules and procedures as other TDs. They would not, however, be entitled to vote, thereby ensuring that there is no dilution of the Republic’s legislative integrity. Dail Eireann’s legal jurisdiction is only over the Republic, therefore only representatives elected by people in the Republic should legislate

    Decision-making should remain a matter exclusively for those of the state and its representatives, but an institution calling itself Dail Eireann, and purporting to be the national parliament of Ireland, should be just that – and that means that it should be a truly national forum.

    “Convince the majority north of the border of the merits of unification and everyone can get representation. He should spend his time doing that.”

    “This is a huge constitutional nightmare. You can’t just grant people representation in your national parliament you know. Bertie isn’t Louis XIV.”

    I don’t see how this causes constitutional problems unless the northern representatives have voting rights and thereby take a role in legislating for the Republic – which no-one is calling for. Furthermore, this isn’t an issue of “just granting” seats in Dail Eireann. The people of, say, South Belfast, are Irish citizens. Furthermore, they are people with whom reunification is the “firm will” of the people of the Republic. So if Alasdair McDonnell was to take his seat in Dail Eireann, it would be as an Irishman, representing Irish people in the national parliament of Ireland.

    Now, I take seriously the findings of the Dail committee on this issue. The committee has addressed the issue of constitutionality, and found that it need not necessarily require an amendment. Fair enough.

    Which leaves me with the suspicion that constitutional questions are a red herring on this issue. Kinda like: “You know, I’d just love to, but I just can’t, because…”

    It leaves me with the suspicion that the major stumbling block to northern representation in the national parliament is a lack of will among our southern countrymen. I completely understand that my compatriots to the south have things pretty good, and they richly deserve their success, which exists on many levels. Indeed I’m very proud, as you are when a family member does something extraordinary.

    And I understand that most people down south baulk at the idea of northern representation, simply because they have a nice, comfortable and undramatic parliament and they’d like to keep it that way. I’d probably feel the same way if I’d grown up a few miles south of where I did. But though such a sentiment might be understandable, it’s not exactly impressive. I can’t say I blame southerners for withholding generosity, solidarity and patriotic loyalty from their countrymen on this issue, as on others, but it is nevertheless disappointing and, I must say, unimpressive.

    What do you think George? Northern nationalism as the nagging conscience of the Irish state? Northern nationalists as living reminders of the “original sin” of the Republic? Discuss.

  • harpo

    ‘I would like to see a northern dimension in the political life of the Irish nation’

    Nathan:

    What do you mean by this? The Irish nation is a bunch of people in the ROI and NI and elsewhere. There is no single political institution that represents all of them, even though the Irish constitution warbles on in meaningless fashion about them having such an institution.

    Did you mean ‘the political life of the Irish state’? ie the ROI.

    If you did, then why should members of the Irish nation who don’t actually live in the Irish state have any say in the running of the Irish state? They don’t live there, don’t pay taxes there, don’t consume services there. So why should they have any say in what goes on in the ROI?

    ‘to parachute northerners into the political life of the nation at the say-so of the Taoiseach’

    Now that you’ve said it again, I take it that you see the state and the nation as being the same thing.

  • middle-class taig

    Billy

    My thoughts exactly.

    Mick

    As you’ll note, I said “nowhere TO BE SEEN”

    Pete Baker

    Unconstitutional? No, try again!

    Alan

    Nice quote, but it would be a hell of a lot more of a starter if the SDLP supported the SF position on this.

    By the way, where are the “we’re very cross-community, you know” Alliance on this? I had assumed that they’d done their usual “it-doesn’t-have-NornIron-in-the-title-so-we’re-not-interested” routine.

  • harpo

    ‘I do wish someone would tell me what a “proper” Republican is.’

    Rory:

    It’s quite simple.

    A proper Irish Republican is someone who wants to see the Irish Republic as declared in 1916 and endorsed by the first Dail in 1919 come into actual being. A 32 county entity that is not simply the sum of the current partitionist entities, the ROI and NI.

    Nationalists want any old united Ireland, and would be satisfied with the most likely method of achieving that – a border poll in NI confirming that a majority of the people want NI to join the current ROI. But that would just be a bigger ROI, and since the current ROI doesn’t satisy the demands of proper republicans, I don’t see how a bigger one would.

    Part of the complaint of proper republicans is that the current ROI was set up according to a plan forced on the Irish by the British, and that it is thus ran by people who gave in at the time to British force, and has always been run by those who have British sympathies. Thus the use of terms like west-Brits etc.

    Proper republicans want the whole thing dismantled, and that 1916 Irish republic installed in its place. According to them this is the minimum that the Irish people deserve.

    At the moment, Provo SF are working on a simple ‘get rid of the border’ agenda. Any old united Ireland will do. That’s nationalism, not Irish republicanism.

    Any questions?

    If you see yourself as a nationalist and/republican you are maybe too close to this issue to understand it. As a unionist I am far enough away from the issue to see what it what. The word ‘republican’ is used by many different people in many different ways, and frankly I see the Provo use of it as simply a branding exercise, to distinguish them from their fellow nationalists, the SDLP.

  • harpo

    ‘ ’harpo’ is usually used by a unionist poster. Obviously this is an imposter.”

    lib2016:

    I’m not an imposter. That post was by me – harpo. Admin could confirm it if you ask them to.

    I am a unionist, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t know my onions when it comes to understanding Irish nationalism and Irish republicanism.

    As an outsider to the whole thing I think that the RSF/CIRA republicans have it right. The Provos may use the word republican to describe themselves, but they have long ago abandoned the principles that make an organization an Irish Republican one.

    Having said that I don’t like either the Provos or RSF/CIRA. Understanding something clearly isn’t the same as endorsing or liking it.

    BTW
    Provos usually don’t like a unionist being clear on this issue, as they want to sell themselves as republicans. That’s why I get called an imposter here.

  • harpo

    ‘So if Alasdair McDonnell was to take his seat in Dail Eireann, it would be as an Irishman, representing Irish people in the national parliament of Ireland.’

    Billy:

    Wrong wrong wrong. Even if he did have such a position, he would be in the state parliament of the state that is known as the Republic of Ireland.

    It is NOT the national parliament of the island of Ireland. It is not even the national parliament of the people who make up the Irish nation (as defined in the Irish constitution). It is the state parliament of the state called Ireland (or Eire in the Irish language).

    In terms of this Irish nation thing, you have to remember that the constitution makes it clear that it is the entitlement and the right of everyone born on the island to be part of the Irish nation. But people are of course free to not take up this entitlement. Most unionists in NI don’t, so they are not part of the Irish nation, no matter how much you want to see them as part of it. So if you don’t take up your entitlement you are not Irish. And in reality that is exactly the position most unionists see themselves in – they are British, not Irish.

    As for me, born and raised in NI, I never took up that entitlement. I am not part of this Irish nation, and thus not Irish. I was British.

  • Gum

    “one of those South America countries”

    Nice, HiddenGem, way to undermine your argument.

  • harpo

    ‘By the same token surely a declared belief in republicanism qualifies one to be a Republican. I just had to be born into my family to be a member thereof.’

    lib2016:

    That’s contradictory. If you have to declare your belief in republicanism in order to qualify as a republican, then simply being born doesn’t make you one. At the age of 1 day, 1 month or 1 year you hadn’t declared anything about your beliefs, so you weren’t (according to your first statement) a republican.

    But I know what you mean, and it gives away a lot about exactly what I have been saying. Just as many people will nominally declare themselves to be a Christian simply because they were born into a Christian family, or a nominally Christian one, that doesn’t mean that they necessarily actually believe in God and that Christ died for our sins. Or have ever declared so.

    The same goes for Irish Republicanism. I’d say that most people who actually call themselves republicans haven’t made that declaration of their belief in republicanism that you mention. Most probably haven’t even thought about what it means. They were probably just born into a nominally republican family and it started there. No thought required.

    I’d say if it came down to it, most of those people think republicanism means ‘Brits out now/soon, using whatever means are necessary at the time’ as opposed to nationalism which is ‘Ireland should be united at some unspecified time in the future, but only using peaceful means’. It’s the badass ‘get it done now via agitation or violence or whatever’ versus the peaceful crowd who accept it will take time.

    But even by that criteria, the Provos have definitely stepped over the line into nationalism. Waiting for a vote in a border poll isn’t republicanism. That’s nationalism.

    Proper republicans are those nerds/fanatics who spend all of their time arguing about which of their movements was blessed by some old guy who is now dead, on the basis that he was in the 2nd Dail and didn’t sell out and so his word goes as to who the true inheritors of the Irish Republic of 1916 are. They still want that specific constitutional model put back in place and that’s what they are fighting for.

    Again, on that basis, the Provos aren’t into that any longer. If you are strugling for any old united Ireland you are a nationalis, and only those who are struggling to bring this Irish Republic of 1916 back are proper republicans.

    It’s all very simple when you look at it objectively.

    Now I know that many Provos will argue that things change and that republicanism has changed, and that they represent the modern version of it. But surely there are underlying principles to any belief system, and if you betray those, you aren’t part of that belief system any longer.

    If someone said ‘I don’t believe in God, or in heaven and hell, or that Christ died on the cross, but I’m a Christian’ not too many would take them seriously. So why should the Provos be taken seriously when they call themselves republicans but don’t actually believe in the core principles of Irish Republicanism any longer? They may have believed at one point but they certainly don’t now. It isn’t Irish Republicanism that has changed, it’s the Provos who have changed. Or maybe they never did believe in it, and they were just armed nationalists all along.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Harpo

    “Wrong wrong wrong. Even if he did have such a position, he would be in the state parliament of the state that is known as the Republic of Ireland.”

    He IS an Irishman elected by Irish people. Dail Eireann, as the name suggests, DOES present itself as the national parliament of Ireland. In fact, Dail Eireann was founded in 1919 by representatives from all over the island of Ireland. Indeed the first and second Dails were dominated by the MP for Armagh. (ie Michael Collins) So not only does Dail Eireann style itself as the national parliament of Ireland, those are its origins. There IS a precedent for northern representation in Dail Eireann, albeit pre-partition.

    Dail Eireann was founded as an all-Ireland institution. Partition changed the realpolitik, and northern nationalists accept this without further complaint – so we do not expect (nor would I personally support) northerners having voting rights or legislative power in a parliament that, for better or worse, only presently has juridiction over part of Ireland, and not the whole. But this does not mean that the door should be bolted and the right to speak in the national parliament be denied to the people of, for example, Tyrone or Derry Belfast – many of whom did as much as those of Longford or Galway or Waterford to secure Ireland’s partial independence.

    “It is NOT the national parliament of the island of Ireland. It is not even the national parliament of the people who make up the Irish nation (as defined in the Irish constitution). It is the state parliament of the state called Ireland (or Eire in the Irish language).”

    It’s both, really. Or at least that’s what’s at stake here. Northerners are NOT asking for a role in legislating for the Republic of Ireland. What we ARE saying is that we should be entitled to participate in the discourses of the Irish nation, at the national parliament – which we helped create. We accept that TDs would have seniority over northern MPs. That’s fine.

    But what practical objections do our southern brothers and sisters really have to welcoming the northerners into the national parliament? (I mean, it’s not like northern nationalists ever CHOSE to be separated from the rest of the nation – in fact they have suffered long and hard as a result of that separation. Why not offer succour to countrymen who have suffered historical misfortune?)

    “In terms of this Irish nation thing, you have to remember that the constitution makes it clear that it is the entitlement and the right of everyone born on the island to be part of the Irish nation. But people are of course free to not take up this entitlement.”

    Equally the right to sit in Dail Eireann should be offered to all northern MPs and MEPs, and those representatives would be entitled to take up their entitlement, or not. Presumably in the short to medium term, unionists would not sit in Leinster House. That should be their right, of course. But their choice not to exercise a right is not a reason why others should not have it. The MPs for West Belfast should not be denied a right, on the grounds that the MP for North Antrim would choose not to exercise it.

    “Most unionists in NI don’t, so they are not part of the Irish nation, no matter how much you want to see them as part of it. So if you don’t take up your entitlement you are not Irish. And in reality that is exactly the position most unionists see themselves in – they are British, not Irish.”

    That’s fair enough, and parties can stand before the electorate with that position and see how they fare. If the DUP promised not to take their seats in Dail Eireann and received a mandate on that basis, then fair enough. But that’s not an argument against northern representation in Dail Eireann. If people vote for abstentionist parties, fair enough. But the existence of abstentionist parties isn’t a reason why the people of, say, North Belfast, shouldn’t still have a chance to send their MP to Dublin.

    “As for me, born and raised in NI, I never took up that entitlement. I am not part of this Irish nation, and thus not Irish. I was British.”

    Fair enough, but that’s not what’s at stake here. If you choose not to exercise your entitlement, fair enough. But that’s not a reason why others shouldn’t have an entitlement.

  • Nathan

    “What do you mean by this? The Irish nation is a bunch of people in the ROI and NI and elsewhere.“
    “There is no single political institution that represents all of them, even though the Irish constitution warbles on in meaningless fashion about them having such an institution. “

    I’m perfectly aware of that – I don’t necessarily support northern representation in the Dail unless and until the majority in NI are convinced of the merits of a united ireland, as it would cause constitutional chaos. What I would like to see, however, is for northerners to occupy some of the highest political offices in the Irish state (yes, I should mince my words better in future) in my lifetime. Realistically, this will only happen when Sinn Fein end their extra-curricular activities, so as to become an acceptable partner in government.

    Although it may not be feasible at present, I would ideally like to see a broad coalition comprising of southern Sinn Fein, Labour and the Irish Greens in Irish government. If southern Sinn Fein were ever to form a lasting bond with another political party, then its only natural that future Sinn Fein TD’s to-be would wish to have some cabinet posts surrendered to the more respectable face of Sinn Fein in the North (e.g. Eoin O’Brion, John O’Dowd et al). I believe this to be constitutionally workable agreement which is why I do support northern ministers in government via the Seanad. Although it would not amount to full representation, it would certainly bring a northern dimension to the political life of the Irish state. Hope this clarifies matters.