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Cowley is top talker

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Cowley is top talker

Áine Ryan


FINE GAEL’s Michael Ring may be the second most frequent question poser in the Dáil, but his constituency rival, Dr Jerry Cowley, pips the loquacious Westport man on the amount of time spent addressing the lower house of the country’s parliament.
Over the four and a half years of this Dáil, the Independent Mulranny-based deputy has talked for three hours and eleven minutes more than Deputy Ring. While Dr Cowley spoke for over 26 hours,  Deputy Ring addressed the chamber for just over 23.
Last week The Sunday Times revealed that Deputy Ring had tabled the second highest number of (written) questions,  4,727, since the inception of the 29th Dáil in 2002. First place went to his party colleague, Mr Bernard Durkan, with 10,000 questions.
Due to party leader privilege, Fine Gael’s Deputy Enda Kenny challenged the Government for twice the time as Deputy Ring, speaking for over 48 hours, or two full days.
However, the county’s two TDs from the Fianna Fáil stable, east Mayo man, Deputy John Carty, and ex-Soldiers of Destiny stalwart, Ms Beverley Flynn, both trailed dramatically behind their constituency colleagues. While Ms Flynn addressed her colleagues for a total of five hours, Deputy Carty only spent one hour and 40 minutes engaging verbally.
It is not surprising that Deputies Cowley and Ring strongly disagree as to the efficacy of the two types of approach. Dr Cowley told The Mayo News that challenging ministers directly in the Dáil, viva voce, without officials dictating every word of the response – as is the case in written answers – provides the best results.
“Okay, the officials will try and prompt and whisper to them during Question Time, but you can still grill them, back them into a corner, and ask supplementary questions,” stated Dr Cowley.
He claimed the written question procedure facilitated a ‘Yes Minister’ style regime to prevail among civil servants, who could effectively ‘spin’ an answer to everything.
However, Deputy Michael Ring rubbished this claim. He told The Mayo News he found the facility for the written questions very useful. He cited an example of a letter he wrote directly to Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche on behalf of a constituent who was making a serious complaint about a local authority. Fifteen months later he had still not received a reply.
When he redirected the letter through the Dáil’s system, he received a reply within two days. Deputy Ring argued that his speaking record was excellent, in light of the fact he was not a front bench spokesman.
“No wonder Jerry Cowley has a higher time talking. Every morning he asks the Ceann Comhairle to suspend ordinary business, under [the] Section 31 [provision], to discuss matters of national importance. That, along with the fact he is a member of the Technical Group, gives him more air time,” said Deputy Ring.
Meanwhile, Deputy Kenny told The Mayo News that due to his heavy schedule he did not have a chance to attend Question Time.
“All politics is local to an extent. And so I ensure I am in my constituency office in Castlebar every Monday, and, of course, I have excellent staff here [in Mayo],” said Deputy Kenny, adding that the main concerns of constituents were health, education and agriculture.
He said the answers to Dáil questions, whether oral or written, are enunciated public policy. However, he added that many questions would not need to be posed if administration was more efficient.
The county’s only Fianna Fáil TD, Deputy John Carty strongly defended his low input to debate.
“When you’re a Government TD, normally you don’t ask questions of ministers. Instead you have the added advantage of accessing them through their offices,” said Deputy Carty.
He told The Mayo News he had an excellent record of facilitating deputations from Mayo on numerous issues, such as sewerage and agriculture.
A spokesman for Ms Beverley Flynn contended that time spent speaking was not an indicator of the quality of a debate or a deputy’s constructive input to an issue.
“The whole BMW underspend was initiated by her. It directly led to a more widespread debate due to a motion put down by her. However, because of her status as a backbencher she was not in a position to engage as much as the front bench,” he said.
According to him, Ms Flynn has a policy of making representations directly to Ministers on behalf of constituents rather than tabling questions. He also highlighted the deputy’s very vigorous commitment to her role on the Dáil Committee on Health and Children.