Knives Out Over Pairing Debacle

The political knives have been unsheathed over this week's political wrangling with the 'pairing' arrangement.

This morning, Fine Gael have accused the Labour Party of giving the Government "a political cuddle" after allowing a one-off pairing with one of its ministers so the Tanaiste could attend a trade mission in the US today.

Pairing allows ministers to be absent for Dáil votes by scheduling an absence with a member of the opposition, thereby cancelling out each other's missed votes.

Yesterday, Fine Gael caused uproar in the Dáil announcing the party would end the pairing arrangement and would only be offering pairing for Council of Europe and north-south meetings.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Batt O'Keeffe described the decision to end the agreement as short-sighted and unpatriotic as it would block a scheduled trade mission by Mary Coughlan in the US.

Today, Fine Gael's Alan Shatter has accused the Labour Party of being available when Fianna Fáil are under pressure and in need of a "political cuddle". The Fine Gael Justice Spokesman said Labour’s decision amounted to a "bail out" of the Education Minister Mary Coughlan from having to answer important questions on corruption in FAS before being able to attend a meeting in the US on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“Fianna Fail and the Labour Party are colluding in the staging of a political fantasy. Pretence is being made by both, that the presence of the Tánaiste and Minister for Education Mary Coughlan TD in the United States this week is essential to attract third level students to Ireland. The scheduled meetings in the US are essentially with student counsellors to talk about our Third level education system," Mr Shatter said.

He added: “In the last 24 hours it seems that both the Labour Party and some commentators have forgotten that the Tánaiste was until recently Minister for Enterprise at a time when she and her government colleagues presided an extra 250,000 people becoming an unemployment statistic and substantial emigration from this country recommencing."

However, defending the decision, Labour's Ruairi Quinn said Ms Coughlan had telephoned him yesterday evening and briefed him on her proposed visit to the United States which would result in her absence from the Dail on Wednesday when she was due to answer oral questions on education.

He said: "Having heard what the Tanaiste had to say and having spoken during the day to others who were involved in the planning of this trip I am satisfied that this is an important visit with significant job creation potential.

"I subsequently discussed the matter with the Labour Party Leader, Eamon Gilmore TD and the Party Whip, Emmet Stagg, and we have agreed on this occasion to facilitate the Tanaiste with a pair for Wednesday and Thursday."


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