A decision on a complaint that Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell abused Dáil privilege by suggesting two Sinn Féin TDs might have information about the murder of prison officer Brian Stack will be made in the new year. The Dáil's standards body, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, met to discuss the case yesterday. It heard advice from the parliamentary legal adviser who outlined the standing orders of the House.
However, it will not make a decision until the new year when it meets to discuss a number of other alleged breaches of privilege. If the committee finds Mr Farrell abused privilege, he will be required to make a personal explanation to the House and withdraw his comments without qualification. If he refuses to do so, the Ceann Comhairle will be in a position to “reprimand the member in his or her place”.
It is understood the committee is seeking to discuss whether further sanctions can be put in place for TDs who abuse privilege. The options being examined include financial penalties and ensuring TDs are suspended from the House for a number of days.
Mr Farrell has insisted he did not make any allegations against Dublin North West TD Dessie Ellis and Kerry TD Martin Ferris. He claims he gave them the opportunity to address claims they had been named in correspondence between Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and the Garda Commissioner in relation to the murder of Mr Stack in 1983. In a letter to the Ceann Comhairle, they strongly criticised Mr Farrell's decision to use Dáil privilege to link them to the killing. They claim they have subsequently received death threats.
In their letter, they allege Mr Farrell was wrong and defamed the two of them by associating them with the murder. Mr Farrell has denied any wrongdoing on his part. Mr Ellis and Mr Ferris say the remarks may also have undermined the ongoing Garda investigation into what happened to Mr Stack.
The letter alleges Mr Farrell’s comments were “politically opportunistic and a cynical attempt to exploit the business of the House”. “Not only have we been defamed by Deputy Farrell’s comments, we have, in the wake of his remarks, endured death threats and abuse,” they write. “We ask therefore, that urgent consideration be given to the points raised herein and that appropriate action is taken against Deputy Farrell.”
This controversy arose after Mr Adams was given speaking time to address issues related to Mr Stack's murder. Mr Farrell made his comments on the floor of the House immediately after Mr Adams's statement. He said Mr Adams failed to answer some outstanding questions. Mr Farrell said he wanted the matter to receive "a proper airing" and the reason for his move was due to "frustration at the lack of usage of the opportunity to clarify matters, but also to disassociate the politics of this".
Mr Ellis and Mr Ferris, who deny having knowledge about the killing, are requesting that Mr Farrell withdraw his comments without qualification.