Taoiseach Simon Harris unavailable for Leaders’ Questions due to phone calls with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Ukraine premier Zelensky

Simon Harris became Taoiseach on Tuesday.

Taoiseach Simon Harris leaving Aras an Uachtarain
Taoiseach Simon Harris leaving Aras an Uachtarain (Damien Storan/PA)

It is “wholly unacceptable” that new Taoiseach Simon Harris did not attend the resumption of the Dail following his appointment, Sinn Fein has said.

Opposition parties criticised the Government for voting through changes to the Dail order of business for Wednesday which meant that Leaders’ Questions was among the items dropped from the schedule.

Government chief whip Hildegarde Naughton said Mr Harris was unable to take Leaders’ Questions as he has to conduct phone calls with Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as well as Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly.

She said he is also preparing to travel to Brussels and Warsaw on Thursday.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald described the new Taoiseach as a “no-show”, and noted that he had ended a contribution on Tuesday with the words: “Let’s get to work.”

Ms McDonald said: “We have a lot of work to do, the Government has a lot of questions to answer, and yet the Taoiseach has not shown up – this is wholly unacceptable.”

She added: “That is an absolute disgrace.”

Ms McDonald added: “We’ve shown up to do our job. We are here, we’ve shown in for work; where is the Taoiseach? He ought to be here taking questions and dealing with the issues that matter to the people.”

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (Damien Storan/PA)

Ms Naughton replied: “The Taoiseach is not available to take Leaders’ Questions today because he’s speaking with the UK Prime Minister.

“He also has calls with the Northern Ireland First Minister, the deputy First Minister, and also the President of Ukraine today.

“Tomorrow, he’s in Brussels as well as Warsaw and he will be back to take Leaders’ Questions next week.”

Labour leader Ivana Bacik expressed “disappointment” with the changes to the schedule for Wednesday.

“It is simply unacceptable that we have business not ordered properly and what looks – if I may say – somewhat like made-up business over the next two days when there’s so much important work to be done.”

Social Democrats TD Catherine Martin said the Business Committee, which decides the Dail schedule, had become a “facade”.

Government chief whip Hildegarde Naughton
Government chief whip Hildegarde Naughton (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ms Martin said: “This is the business of the Dail, not the business of the Government exclusively.”

Independent TD Mattie McGrath described this week’s running order as a “shambles” and an “absolute insult”.

Noting the absence of the Taoiseach and Tanaiste, Mr McGrath said: “This is total disrespect for the house. We should go over to the wax museum and get a model made.”

Independent TD Thomas Pringle said the Business Committee was “fake”.

He said: “The Business Committee is a joke and a waste of time, I believe, because the Government doesn’t pay any attention to it.”

The Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail, who chairs the Business Committee, rejected the characterisation that it was a “charade”.

He said: “The truth of the matter is, the Business Committee is far from perfect, but it has worked pretty effectively.”

Mr O Fearghail also said Ms Naughton was the best Government whip he had seen.

“She continuously takes on board points that are raised by people on the opposition and tries to work them into the business programme.

“So it is not the case that the Business Committee is a charade.”

Ms Naughton said she will “continue to endeavour” to work with opposition parties on Dail business.

“We in Government have to set the agenda – the legislation.

“But we have always – and I have and I will continue to do so – to listen to your suggestions around other statements or whatever you might want to discuss into the future.”

The Government won a vote on the proposed changes to the Dail business. Mr Harris did not attend the vote.

Leaders’ Questions are often taken by Tanaiste Micheal Martin, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan or other Cabinet ministers.