Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 8 October 2020
Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
Election of Vice Chairman
No. 1 is the election of a Vice Chairman. I propose we now commence with the nomination and appointment of a Vice Chairman. I understand the clerk to the committee has received two nominations. The first is Deputy James Lawless, nominated by Deputy Brendan Smith. The second is Seanadóir Niall Ó Donnghaile, nominated by Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn. As there is more than one nomination for the position of Vice Chairman, Standing Orders state I must deal with them in the order in which I received them. We can take the vote now and everyone can stay in the room for the vote. The first nomination received by the clerk to the committee was that of Deputy Lawless. I will put the question, each members' name will be called and then members say "Yes"or "No". Is that clear to everybody?
I nominate Deputy James Lawless. He has been a colleague in the Dáil since 2016 and he has always taken a particular interest in Border and Northern Ireland issues. I know from my own interaction with him and work within our own parliamentary party that he has a particular interest in all-Ireland issues. He is a competent, very hard-working and diligent Member of the Dáil and would fill this role admirably. In the event of a substitute being needed for you, a Chathaoirligh, he would do so in a very committed and diligent manner so it is my pleasure to nominate Deputy Lawless as Vice Chairman.
My understanding is that it has become customary in the Oireachtas that if a Cathaoirleach is from the Government then the Vice Chairman will be from the Opposition and vice versa. In this case, it would be customary that the Vice Chairman would be from the Opposition, in order to have a committee that is a collective and consensual. It is good practice. This is the first argument.
I have great respect for Deputy Lawless and I have no objection to his nomination. He is a very capable parliamentarian. I have worked with him on other committees and I have no problem with the man's capacity to do the job. I just think it would be better to have Government and Opposition members in the roles of Chairman and Vice Chairman. Senator Ó Donnghaile served with great distinction on this committee in the previous Oireachtas. He is very passionate about pulling together all perspectives and persuasions throughout the island. He is a former mayor of Belfast. I have watched him at close chambers. I ask people to consider the issue of a cross-party Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach, more so than pitting the track record of Deputy Lawless, which is immense, against the track record of Senator Ó Donnghaile, which is also immense.
I am on the Committee of Selection in the Seanad and we have written to the Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad. The Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges also dealt with this issue yesterday. I am very much of the view, and I made this point yesterday at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, that the chairmanship will always go to a Member of the Dáil because of the nature of the-----
It is rare to find a Senator. In fairness, and for parity of esteem for both Houses, and I hope Deputy Lawless understands my position today, I believe a Senator should be considered for the position of Vice Chairman.
Before we take the vote I want to make it clear that as I understand it the Chairman is nominated through the d'Hondt system in order that it is proportionate to membership of the Oireachtas. There is no preference in the appointment of the Chairman over and above any other party. It depends on the number-----
With regard to the Senator, of course we would love to have him as Chairman.
We will now go to a vote and the only people who can vote are Members of the Oireachtas. This is no reflection on people who are not Members, it is just the constitution of the committee.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus na daoine uaisle. Is onóir an domhain é a bheith ainmnithe mar Leas-Chathaoirleach. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Brendan Smith for the nomination agus gach duine ar an gcommittee who supported me. It is a great honour to be elected Vice Chairman of this committee. I look forward to working with the Chairman, with other members of the committee and with all stakeholders across the island and indeed across the Celtic nations and other islands as we move forward. I look forward to the job ahead. I want to pay tribute to Senator Ó Donnghaile who was unsuccessful on this occasion but is no doubt a huge asset to the committee and who indeed has more experience on it than I do myself so I am sure we will all be working together, agus ní neart go cur le chéile.
I obviously was not involved in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement. I was a student at the time but I paid very careful attention and I remember well going to my local post office when the text was made available to the nation. I studied it line by line and detail by detail and through Ógra Fianna Fáil got involved in campaigning for it at that time. One of my first outings as a young politician was going across the Border to Stormont to meet the youth wings of the other parties and that was the start. Twenty years on, I still have many connections across the Border and indeed across the Celtic nations with Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party, SNP, as well. I am no stranger to all sides of the island and hope to bring some of that to bear and to look forward making new relationships in working with the committee and with all sides to advance a shared island, a united Ireland and all of those goals which are so important to all of us on this committee.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Mac Lochlainn as ucht mé a ainmniú agus gabhaim comhghairdeas leis an Teachta Lawless. I wish him every success and look forward to working with him. I promise the committee I am not staging a walk-out but I have to speak on a Private Members' Bill.
I am not taking the huff with anyone and want to make that clear for the record.
In all sincerity, I have a great deal of investment in this committee and in the Agreement and its institutions. As such, I look forward to supporting Deputy Lawless in his role, as well as the Chairman and all of our colleagues going forward because, as was rightly acknowledged last week, this is a really important time for the Agreement, for what flows from it, and for this committee's work. That being the case, if there is any way we can assist, enable and embolden this committee's work then my colleagues and I will enable that as best we can.
I have an item on the work plan on which I hope to get back in but if I do not, Deputy Conway-Walsh will cover it for me. Comhghairdeas arís.
Just make sure that colleagues who may be outside have the opportunity to come back in, Senator.
With the consent of the committee, we will now go into private session until the end of our meeting to discuss our work programme. Is that agreed? Agreed.