Anti-abortion parliamentarians avoid debate by hiding at the back of the room

Last night The Dáil (Irish parliament) had to cut short a debate on abortion — for a second time — due to quorum issues. According to parliamentary rules, at least twenty TDs (house members) must be in attendance for a debate to be held. Otherwise the speaker can be called upon to shut down proceedings.

Most TDs in attendance were known to be pro-choice, so it was obvious that their pro-choice arguments were about to be broadcast on TV and entered into the public record of parliamentary proceedings.

But all this was cut short when anti-abortion TD Mattie McGrath (non-party) sought to have the debate abandoned.

Debate on abortion in the Dáil was cut short for a second night running after it proved impossible to reach a quorum of 20 TDs.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath called the quorum, requiring that a minimum of 20 TDs be in the chamber to allow the debate to continue.

It turns out there were actually enough TDs in the room to proceed with the debate, however. It’s just that a number of them of decided to stand outside the boundary of the chamber itself, and instead occupy places in the public viewing gallery.

Mr McGrath, Independent Danny Healy-Rae and Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív stood in the gallery at the back of the chamber so they could not be included in the attendance.

All those named are known to be opposed to repealing the ban on abortion written into the Irish constitution. There will be a referendum on whether to change the constitution to permit abortion later in 2018.

Notably, it seems McGrath himself — after calling for the debate to be abandoned — left the speaking chamber mid-proceedings in order to join those in the public gallery, further undermining the quorum.

This is something of a pity, given that the night before McGrath had bemoaned the cancellation of a previous abortion debate due to insufficient numbers.

On Tuesday night, the debate was also cut short after the requisite number of TDs could not be reached. Mr McGrath said on Tuesday that it was “disgraceful” that people did not attend for such an important debate.

As it happens, the speaker — one Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher — whose job it is to enforce quorum rules and decide whether or not to proceed with debates — happens himself to be anti-abortion.

Quorum rules are designed to ensure there is sufficient representation of parliamentarians’ views in Dáil debates. It seems undemocratic — even perverse — for TDs to blatantly game the system by stepping into the public gallery merely to avoid being counted as ‘present’.


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