Northern Ireland

Dail looks north to the assembly to control its TDs

Dail interior
Image caption TDs at the Dail are going to have to be on their best behaviour under Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett

It may come in for criticism at times but the Northern Ireland Assembly has now found an unlikely fan.

The Speaker in the Irish Republic's Dail - Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett - has said that he sees the assembly as a shining example of how a parliament should behave.

But he's not talking about the quality of political debate or the amount of successful legislation passed. Mr Barrett is instead focusing on a completely different set of standards.

The Ceann Comhairle told the Irish Times that he plans to introduce a new dress code and tighten up on the language used in the Dail by the end of the year.

And this is where the assembly comes in. Mr Barrett cited the Stormont parliament as an example of best practice.

"In most parliaments there is a certain dress code and it is accepted," he said.

"If you look at the assembly in Northern Ireland, they have the dress code - everybody abides by it."

But the dress code in the Dail will not go as far as that north of the border. TDs will be expected, however, to dress a little more formally than some of them are used to. Denim is out for a start.

Members of the Dail will not be expected to wear ties, as Mr Barrett has judged a jacket and shirt with a collar to be sufficiently neat for political debate.

And the words used in political debate are also likely to come under closer scrutiny. There was controversy in Dublin recently when Tipperary Independent TD Mattie McGrath used the word "sh**e" in a debate on sceptic tanks.

Mr Barrett said that sort of language "demeans the house".

The Dail currently has a list of words that are deemed unparliamentary. They include: buffoon, chancer, coward, fascist, guttersnipe, hypocrite, scumbag and yahoo.

The Ceann Comhairle may admire the standards set in Northern Ireland but his contemporary in Belfast, Speaker Willie Hay, has had to face his own challenges.

In 2007 the DUP's Iris Robinson became the first MLA to be ordered out of the assembly when she was suspended for making "unparliamentary" comments about the then Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.

Her party colleague Nelson McCausland was suspended in 2008 for failing to retract allegations he made against Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams.

Image caption The Speaker Willie Hay said the majority of MLAs show respect to the assembly

And just last September, TUV leader Jim Allister was told he would not be called to speak in the assembly for a week. At the time Mr Hay said the MLA "wanted to be a martyr".

But the Speaker believes this all to be part of healthy political debate.

"I think we have generally a well behaved assembly," he said.

"There is always going to be heated debate around issues. We have no problem with that as long as members show respect to the Standing Orders and the integrity of the assembly.

"It is all about showing that wee bit of respect to the assembly."

And the Speaker feels that is also reflected in the dress code that Mr Barrett admires.

"It is an unwritten rule that members present themselves like they do," he said.

"Mr Barrett has spoken to me about this. He was impressed that the assembly does adhere to the dress code.

"I think elected members should set an example and they all do so in a very mature manner."

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