Deeper problems could already have been set in train by a combination of the loss of the whip by four members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party and the highly prescriptive nature of the current Fine Gael party rules. Reading over the rules this weekend, it would appear to me (and truth be told I’m no lawyer) that those members of the parliamentary party who break the party pledge (which is the reason given for their loss of the party whip) are in addition to losing the whip automatically suspended as members of the party.
It is that step which would make them martyrs in the eyes of many party members. And that suspension of ordinary membership appears to be an automatic outcome of any determination of the party’s Disciplinary Committee that the party pledge has been broken with no room for the application of discretion.
I would be of the view that the overreach in the past few years whereby the national executive and central party hierarchy have taken more and more power unto themselves is fundamentally not in the best interests of the party. While I happen on balance to agree with the party leadership on the matter of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill I don’t agree that dissension by party members whether ordinary members or elected representatives from government policy which has arrived at on foot of events and not as a result of a consultation with the wider party including the members should be sanctioned in this manner. However that sanction of the automatic suspension of membership of the party is what is required under the party rules.
Nor should be it be the case that any and all members of the party must act in a manner beholden to the leader of the day who can on a whim remove someone from an organisation that they have voluntarily given their time and energy too. That is a model for party discipline more commonly to be found in FF in the days of Charles J. Haughey.
The applicable rules re: the functioning of the party’s Discipline Committee are
44B.1 The Disciplinary Committee shall have the following powers:
(i) To adjudicate on and determine finally, subject to the appeal to the Executive Council provided for in Rule 44A. (xxiii) above, all complaints and matters of discipline within the Party, provided always that the Disciplinary Committee shall not be obliged to investigate a particular complaint or matter of discipline in circumstances where it determines it is not appropriate for it to do so.
(ii) To determine whether any member of the Party has been in breach of the Code of Conduct or the Party Pledge and in the event of such determination, such Member shall be suspended automatically and(where applicable) lose the Party Whip unless the Disciplinary Committee shall otherwise determine and in the event of such determination the provisions of paragraph (iv) of Section B of the Rule shall apply.
(iii) To determine notwithstanding paragraph (ii) of Section B of this Rule, whether any member who is or was a candidate for election at any Local Authority, Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann, Údarás na Gaeltachta or European Election has been in breach of the Code of Conduct or Party Pledge or has acted in a manner damaging to the interests of the Party in the course of an election campaign and in the event of such determination the Disciplinary Committee shall take such actions as it sees fit including (where appropriate) suspension or removal of the Fine Gael Whip in accordance with the provision of paragraph(iv) of Section B of this Rule. The Disciplinary Committee shall be entitled and is empowered to 31 exercise all of its powers, functions and jurisdiction under the provisions of this Rule in relation to every candidate contesting an election on behalf of Fine Gael whether that candidate is ultimately successful or not or whether that candidate was at the time of the calling of election or at the time of the making of the complaint or at the time of the hearing of that complaint or was not a member of the Parliamentary Party.
(iv) To hear and determine any complaint (whether made by a member of the Executive Council or any other Member or Unit of the Party) on matters of discipline within the Party that a member of the Party has acted in a manner seriously damaging to the interests of the Party and in the event of the Disciplinary Committee determining that a member has acted in a manner aforesaid the Disciplinary Committee may decide to expel the member from the Party and (where applicable) withdraw the Party Whip from the person concerned to take such other action as it shall consider appropriate provided however that the person or persons against whom the complaint is made shall, prior to such determination and decision be given adequate written notice of the nature of the complaint made and shall be afforded the opportunity of making written or oral submissions to the Disciplinary Committee and the opportunity to adduce such evidence as he/she wishes in relation to the said complaint.
(v) To hear and determine any question on appeal relating to matters of discipline from any Member,Unit or Organ of the Party made to the Disciplinary Committee under the provisions of the Constitution and Rules of the Party and to take any such action as to the Disciplinary Committee may seem appropriate.
(vi) To determine where any member of the Party has stood for election, while a member of the Party other than as a Party candidate and in the event of such determination, such member shall automatically cease to be a member of the Party unless the Disciplinary Committee otherwise determines.
(vii) To do all such other acts as are necessary to maintain and effect discipline within the Party.
44B.2 The Disciplinary Committee shall consist of five persons who shall be elected by and from the members of the Executive Council at the first meeting of the Executive Council convened after each Árd Fheis with at least one member from each European Constituency.