Seamus Mallon, Austin Currie, and Ian Marshall are just three examples of how the Seanad has often been used as a means by successive Irish governments to give a platform to political voices from the North. However, whether at committee level or in the chambers of the Seanad or the Dáil, politicians elected in Northern Ireland are not granted any formal speaking rights in the Oireachtas.
The Committee for Dáil Reform voted down a motion which would have granted MPs and MLAs from Northern Ireland speaking rights in special committees in the Oireachtas.
Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, who hails from east Belfast, expressed his disappointment after a vote in June 2022 which failed to attract sufficient support to allow politicians from Northern Ireland to take part in special committees in the Oireachtas, stating in the Seanad that, “a shared island has to mean a shared Oireachtas”.
The former Lord Mayor of Belfast was calling for politicians elected in Northern Ireland to be given a right to speak and sit in committees which do not vote on legislation.
“Let us look at what special committees do. Autism is an issue that is very important to many of us in the house and we raise it regularly. It is an issue that affects families throughout Ireland. The all-Ireland autism centre is based in Armagh,” he emphasised.
This is not the first time a motion to invite Northern politicians has been struck down by the Oireachtas.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern proposed a motion which would have allowed northern MPs and MLAs the right to speak in the Dáil back in 2005, only for the motion to be defeated amid opposition from Fine Gael, Labour, the Green Party, the Progressive Democrats, the Socialist Party, and some of his Fianna Fáil backbenchers. The former Taoiseach did succeed in ensuring that northern politicians could partake in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, albeit as guests. Indeed, Sinn Féin MPs Mickey Brady and Michelle Gildernew, and Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry recently took part in a debate in this committee.
Sinn Féin and the SDLP have both consistently supported introducing speaking rights for Northern MLAs and MPs in the Oireachtas, in both chambers as well at committee level. Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD has also expressed support.