Heffernan silenced in Senate while O’Donovan does all talking in Dail

Aine Fitzgerald

Reporter:

Aine Fitzgerald

Independent senator James Heffernan is 'very frustrated' that he isn't afforded the opportunity to speak more in the Senate. Below, big talker: Patrick O'Donovan has highest speaking record for Limerick TDs
INDEPENDENT senator James Heffernan whose speaking record in the Senate has been calculated to be “well below average among senators” has defended his position saying “the reason is I don’t have speaking rights or speaking entitlements since I lost the whip.”

INDEPENDENT senator James Heffernan whose speaking record in the Senate has been calculated to be “well below average among senators” has defended his position saying “the reason is I don’t have speaking rights or speaking entitlements since I lost the whip.”

The Kilfinane man says he is “very frustrated” by the lack of speaking time afforded to him since he lost the Labour party whip on “a point of principle” after he voted against the government on the Social Welfare Bill in 2012.

Senator Heffernan has spoken in 23 committee discussions and Senate debates in the last year according to information compiled by website KildareStreet.com, which they say is “well below average among senators”.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Senator Heffernan this Wednesday.

“I lost the party whip on a point of principle. I didn’t think I had done anything wrong. I don’t think it’s democratic to silence members in that fashion but that is the procedure that is there at the moment. I have been chatting to a group of three other Independents but we were told that we would have to have a group of six in order to get proper speaking rights.”

The times he does get to speak, he said, are when there are statements in the Senate.

“For instance, today I spoke on the order of business and I was able to speak when Jan O’Sullivan was in, on statements on early education but it’s limited for Independents. I have been making representations to the cathaoirleach and he gives me some indulgence sometimes but if I’m allowed get in on a debate it will always be at the very end of a debate.”

“I can speak on the order of business if I want but it’s a mismatch of this, that and the other. I find that if I do bring up things on the order of business that’s as far as it’s goes - it doesn’t go any further.

“On topics that I wish to be able to contribute on, I find it very difficult to get time to speak on them. We have made representations to the Oireachtas Commission and to the Committee on Procedures and Privileges to try and get that changed. There has been some changes to the Senate procedure since after Christmas and I am hoping that they will be able to look towards speaking rights for senators as well.”

KildareStreet.com is an independently-run website which collates information uploaded by the Houses of the Oireachtas and makes it available to the public free of charge.

Patrick O’Donovan TD is shown to have the best speaking record among Limerick TDs having spoken in 148 committee discussions and Dáil debates in the last year — “well above average among TDs”.

“What I normally do is I look at the schedule for the week ahead and if there is an issue that I am interested in then I will look for speaking time,” the Newcastle West man explained.

“I’m very lucky that I’m a member of the Public Accounts Committee as well and it’s probably one of the committees where you get an opportunity to have a lot of input into it. I just feel if there is an area that is relevant to the things I’m interested in I use my speaking time to speak on behalf of the constituency in County Limerick. I normally try and speak about the constituency and I’ll make no apologies for it,” continued the Fine Gael TD.

“And I also ask an awful lot of questions. It’s every bit as important for me to get information for the people who I represent regardless of whether I am in government or an opposition backbencher. I take the role very seriously,” he added.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has spoken in 82 committee discussions and Dáil debates in the last year — above average among TDs while Fianna Fail’s Willie O’Dea has spoken in 91 committee discussions and Dáil debates in the last year — also above average among TDs.

Fine Gael’s Kieran O’Donnell has spoken in 74 committee discussions and Dáil debates, again average among TDs while Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has spoken in 69 committee discussions and Dáil debates which is deemed to be average among TDs.

Fianna Fail’s Niall Collins has spoken in 84 committee discussions and Dáil debates in the last year — above average among TDs and Fine Gael’s Dan Neville has spoken in 47 committee discussions and Dáil debates in the last year which was deemed to be below average.