Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Have the Greens lost the plot?

On Tuesday the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon visited Leinster House. He met with myself and other members of the Foreign Affairs Committee for about 40 minutes. He gave a wide-ranging address, outlining the major geo-political issues as he sees them.

Picture 260
UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon with members of the Oireachtas

I used the occassion to bring up the issue of Aung San Suu Kyi's ongoing captivity in Myanmar, and also of the Karen people on the Myanmar / Thai border area. I stayed with a Karen hill tribe on the Thai side of the border earlier on in the decade, so I am aware of the hardship that they are enduring. The Secretary General answered that for democracy to have any credibility in Myanmar the junta there must free all political priosoners and engage in meaningful dialogue with the ethnic groups.

I spoke on several debates last week, including the Defamation Bill - the Blasphemy sections were particulary contentious. When it came to the vote the members in the House entered the Chamber, the doors were locked and the vote was taken.

The opposition won 22 - 21. However, the government whip, Diarmaid Wilson, then asked for a "walk through vote". This means that each Senator has to walk through the lobby, as opposed to the normal electronic vote from the member's seat. When a walk through vote is called the doors to the chamber are reunlocked. This allows any members who missed the original vote to enter the chamber.

With the doors opened I went out into the chamber ante-room to see if the government whips were having any success in raising the absent members. While there I noticed that a Cabinet member had come along. I overheard some of his language, which was certainly not very parliamentary. It appeared that he was less than happy with the lost vote!

Of course the inevitable happened and along came a Green knight to save the day. Senator Deirdre de Burca had missed the original vote but entered the chamber once the doors were opened and voted with the government to include Blasphemy in the Bill.

With the vote tied at 22-22 the Cathaoirleach cast his deciding vote for the government and hence the Bill now contains the Blasphemy section.

I still haven't got my head around the reasoning behind having a walk-through vote. I asked several senior members of the House for a rationale but no-one was able to provide a coherent answer. I couldn't find anything in Standing Orders. It's something we should think about getting rid of during the Seanad reform process.

It was a bit much though to see the Greens come riding to the rescue on this of all things. It's not exactly core party policy for them. Senator Dan Boyle mentioned that he thought that the section should be reviewed in the short to medium term, something that Minister Ahern ruled out straight away. I don't see why they went along with this.

I know that a lot of rank and file Green members are upset at this latest turn of events. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if many of them start to have a serious think about the performance of their party in government. I share a hell of a lot of their agenda on green issues, but a line in the sand has to be drawn when it comes to core principles and their parliamentary members seem unable, or unwilling, to see that.

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