Mary Lou McDonald accuses Dublin government parties of blocking moves to give northern MPs and MLAs roles on Oireachtas committees

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald. Picture by Brian Lawless
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald. Picture by Brian Lawless

SINN Féin has accused government parties in the Republic of blocking moves to give northern MPs and MLAs roles on special Oireachtas committees.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald has written to Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, alongside his Fine Gael and Greens counterparts, voicing disappointment at what she terms a "coordinated effort" to exclude Stormont and Westminster representatives from the north sitting on some committees in the Dublin parliament.

The Sinn Féin president's letter, seen by The Irish News, said that up until earlier this month there had been "positive engagement" by the government parties on issue.

Northern elected representatives currently have 'special invitees' status for the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, whereby they have speaking rights and access to papers.

It had been proposed to give MLAs and MPs similar rights on other special committees which do not vote on legislation.

Ms McDonald's correspondence says that giving the northern elected representatives a place on the committees would reflect the view of the recent National Economic & Social Council (NESC) Shared Island report, which she said "emphasised that a shared agenda and set of interests is a key enabler of cross-border collaboration".

"The council found ample evidence of this in its research, raising the profile and support for positive cross border action in many areas, including on climate change, mental health services, and social enterprise supports," she said.

"The report’s research also found that following the Good Friday Agreement co-operative cross border working relationships were steadily built up to the benefit of a conducive political environment."

The Sinn Féin leader said she was "at a loss" to understand why the government party members of the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform had "suddenly, proactively and in a coordinated fashion decided to block this proposal".

The committee is expected to vote today on the matter.

Sinn Féin chief whip Pádraig Mac Lochlainn told The Irish News that there had been "all party dialogue" on the issue for months, including discussions about how MPs and MLAs participation could be accommodated.

"It was understood that there was consensus to include those MPs and MLAs in the workings of special Oireachtas committees, similar to the very positive experience that we have had with the Good Friday Agreement Committee," he said.

"These special committees work on crucial issues which affect people across the island, such as the Autism Committee – given that the all-Ireland autism centre is based in Middletown in Armagh, it is illogical that northern representatives would be blocked from taking part in discussions with an important all-island dimension."

Mr Mac Lochlainn said he was "extremely disappointed" that the government parties had blocked the move.

"This flies in the face of the taoiseach’s commitments in his Shared Island Unit to support all-island collaboration," he said.