Sinn Féin likely to opt for chair of PAC role in committee allocations

Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Féin looks set to take the chair of the Dáil's most prestigious committee, but must wait until the Government decides the shape of the system.

As the largest party in opposition, Sinn Féin is likely to receive the first choice on committee chairships, with sources saying their selection will be the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The PAC has, in recent years, been central to bringing a number of issues to the Oireachtas including the FAI's finances; the increasing budget at the National Children's Hospital; and last year's controversy on the spending of €1.6 million on a new printer at the Houses of the Oireachtas. The PAC is seen as the Dáil's most powerful and high-profile committee and its chair would represent a position of considerable prestige within the Oireachtas.

The chairs of committees are assigned on the D'Hondt system — a formula which converts the number of seats which a party has won into committee chairs. With the Government now formed, Sinn Féin will be allowed the first and fifth choice of chair.

Sources in the party say that it is increasingly likely that party leader, Mary Lou McDonald, will choose the Public Accounts Committee. However, the Government will have to first decide the makeup of the Oireachtas committees, though some may not sit for some months. The Dáil Reform Committee will meet on Wednesday to decide the timeline of the process.

Ms McDonald is expected to announce her front bench on Thursday, with sources saying that she has not yet finalised her team, but is "close".

Waterford TD, David Cullinane, is considered the frontrunner for the chairmanship of the PAC, having spent many years as a member of the committee. But he told The Irish Examiner that he has not made representations to his party leader one way or the other:

I haven't pushed for any role or indicated a preference. Mary Lou has indicated that she will appoint her front bench and committee chairs this week and while I would like a front bench slot because I feel I could be effective, I am happy to serve in whatever role she decides.

"But Sinn Féin will have strong people in whatever roles they're in, that is the advantage of having a larger team and we will have a strong team behind whoever is appointed as committee chairs."

Mr Cullinane said the Sinn Féin team will have a regional and gender balance.

The Waterford deputy said the region's lack of ministerial representation was somewhat surprising: "There was a bit of shock. We're all aware that you can't have senior ministers for every county but this was coupled with the Programme for Government being light on detail for the South East. We have no plan, no strategy and no minister."

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