Daly worried about ongoing parliamentary battles

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Senior Counsel Martin Daly –

ATTORNEY Martin Daly, SC, a former independent senator, is concerned that ongoing hostilities between parliamentarians arising from the extraordinary sitting of the House of Representatives and the subsequent meeting of the Electoral College on October 21 could could prevent them from working together in the best interest of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. He expressed this concern during a television interview on Wednesday, referring to events since October 21, such as Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s verbal attack on independent senators at a virtual UNC meeting on Monday.

He welcomed comments in the media by Independent Senators Dr Varma Deyalsingh and Dr Maria Dillon-Remy “reaffirming the primacy of their individual consciences.”

On October 21, the House and the Electoral College met separately to deal with a motion filed by Persad-Bissessarr which called for the establishment of a tribunal, in accordance with Section 36 of the Constitution, to determine whether President Paula-Mae Weekes should be removed from office.

Persad-Bissessar’s motion was in relation to events that led to the collapse of the Police Service Commission (PSC) last month and the failure to send a merit list of candidates for a commissioner of police (CoP) to the House for consideration.

The motion was defeated in the Electoral College by a vote of 47 against to 25 for.

When the nine Independent Senators voted against the motion, the 25 UNC parliamentarians (19 MPs, six senators) present all cried, “Shame.”

On October 23, Opposition Senator David Nakhid continued the UNC’s attack on the Independent Senators, criticising comments made after the vote by Independent Senators Paul Richards and Anthony Vieira.

The two made their comments in separate media interviews on October 22. Vieira rejected the UNC’s claims against Independent Senator Charrise Seepersad participating in the Electoral College meeting. She is the sister of former PSC chairman Bliss Seepersad, who resigned as a result of the PSC/CoP issue.

Vieira observed that Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial, who also participated in the meeting, was part of the legal team in one lawsuit related to the PSC/CoP matter.

Richards said he had no problem with political disagreements, but felt the events of October 21 brought the entire Parliament into disrepute.

On Monday, Persad-Bissessar accused independent senators of “stepping out of their crease and into the political gayelle” on October 21.

Daly served as an independent senator from January 13,1992- October 6, 1995; November 27,1995- November 3, 2000; and January 12,2001-October 9, 2001.

Referring to the events in Parliament on October 21, Persad-Bissessar’s subsequent verbal attack on independent senators and related events, he said, “There is tremendous bitterness and the…I don’t like to call it a war, but the hostilities – whatever you want to call it – are not over.”

Referring to a report alleging that an independent senator may take action against opposition senators over the events of October 21, Daly said such a step would be ill-advised.

“It will further fan the flames and the hostilities in the Parliament. I don’t know how these people are going to be able to sit down and do anything together.”

He said parliamentary debates, which the public sees, are a minuscule portion of the Parliament’s real work, and the remainder of that work includes caucusing literally behind the presiding officer’s chair and a plethora of joint select committees, comprising government, opposition and independent members.

“People have to work together. This is like a long and bitter strike…molotov cocktail…and strike camp and all of this…then the employer and the employees and the union have to work together again. This is very much akin to that except it’s a lot worse than that.”

He added that Parliament “is a national institution where these people have to heal these wounds. I don’t know how it’s going to be done.

“How do we heal the huge wounds that have been opened up in the Parliament…and the relationships between various persons?”

He was concerned some of the independent senators may want to get involved in the fight between Government and the Opposition.

“That’s not their (independent senators’) fight. If the Government and the Opposition have hostilities, the Speaker (Bridgid Annisette-George) is there to sort it out as best she can. That to me is a big ‘what next’ problem.”

On Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein’s statement that the UNC was considering legal action against Annisette-George over the guidelines for the extraordinary sitting of the House on October 21, Daly said he was not giving anyone free legal advice. But he said, “One of my personal philosophies is, don’t drink your tea while it is still hot.

“To go and launch legal proceedings against the Speaker, there are a number of difficulties about that, because of how the court regards what goes on in Parliament as more or less the exclusive providence of the Parliament.

“There are some very limited exceptions. I don’t know how far we will get with that.”

But he said, “That’s a lot better than hurling insults at each other and having more contentious debates…privilege motions and all these things…that is really going to make things worse.”

Daly said if the courts have something to sort out, they will do so.

“Let’s make no mistake. When the chips are down in this country and the courts have to sort something out…they have done us proud from 1970 come forward.”

He said he didn’t see a contest in the courts causing the hostilities to increase.

“That’s a different atmosphere. There is a judge in the middle of the room. People have to behave in a certain way.”

He said independent senators should not be intimidated by the robust language directed at them from either the Government or the Opposition.

“You make not like it, it may hurt you, but I’m not sure that robust language requires that you necessarily respond, particularly if you are part of an institution…a constitutional institution…the independent bench…that is supposed to stand slightly away…it has nothing to do with snobbery,” he said, responding to accusations by Persad-Bissessar.

Daly’s view was, “You have nine individuals who vote their consciences. They are not a caucus. They are supposed to stand back and make individual decisions, unfettered by party discipline.

“I don’t know how many of the nine (independent senators) want to get back at the Opposition for calling them names. We simply don’t know.”

He advised the media to refrain “from saying that the independent senators as a group have resolved to do this,” reiterating, “We don’t know this. There are nine individuals. If one decides to go in a certain direction…which I think will increase the hostilities…I am not prepared to say the others are necessarily part of it. We have to wait and see.”

Repeating that the independent senators should stay out of any fight between Government and the Opposition, Daly said, “If they were called names, nothing is wrong with that.”

He recalled being among a group of independent senators years earlier being called sell-outs by the Opposition in a debate.

“But you have to take those things. That’s what part of it is. The next day, you pick yourself up and you get on with the job.”