Tuesday, 3 February 2004
Order Of Business.
The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 14, European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2003 â Second Stage (resumed) and No. 14a, statements on the Third Interim Report of the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse, to be taken on the adjournment of Private Members' Business. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the DÃ¡il shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted on the conclusion of No. 14a. The proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 14 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7.30 p.m. Private Members' business, which shall be No. 32, motion re care of the elderly, shall be taken at 7.30 p.m. and shall adjourn at 9 p.m. The proceedings on No. 14a shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 80 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes, and the statement of the Minister for Education and Science and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case. Members may share time. Immediately following the statements, the Minister for Education and Science shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes.
Including Sinn FÃ©in. I thank the Deputy â I could not remember his name for a moment.
All Opposition parties have made a case on the use of the guillotine on legislation. This arose specifically with the Immigration Bill, which was struck down in part because there was insufficient debate in the Oireachtas. I feel very strongly that a drift in politics in recent years has removed it from the people and we are to blame for that in the way business is done here. I strongly object to the continual use of the guillotine and the Taoiseach should state that no guillotine should be applied for the duration of this session, with the exception of occasions when the Whips agree that legislation is not controversial and therefore debate should not be open-ended. We would then be in keeping with good governance and good democracy, as legislation would be debated properly by those who wished to raise points.
What is happening here, no more than Ministers being unavailable to answer questions, is bad for the DÃ¡il, for politics and for democracy. I oppose it on that basis.
I agree entirely with what Deputy Kenny has said. Apart from anything else, the issue being pushed into the night is the interim Laffoy report. We will come to that in due course, because this is absolutely disgraceful. After all the controversies and the Taoiseach's concern for people abused in these institutions, he is going to provide 60 minutes.
This is the beginning of the second formal week of the DÃ¡il's resumption, if one discounts the phoney week when the Government Whip had the Opposition in here talking to itself. Although it is only the beginning of the second week, the guillotine is already being used. It is proposed to guillotine Second Stage of the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill. We had 25 minutes of discussion on Thursday and it is intended to terminate discussion at 7.30 p.m..
I cannot conceive of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, for example, being on this side of the House and tolerating this denigration of Parliament. Yet, having tried to rush through all Stages of a Bill last week in one day, with no time provided between the end of Second Stage and Committee Stage, and not even being present for it, he will have his way tomorrow when he intends putting the Bill through with no provision for amendmentââ
When are we going to deal seriously with the question of reforming how we organise our business in this House? It is a disgraceful denigration and debasing of Parliament that the Government Whip already liberally uses the guillotine at the beginning of the second formal week of this term in the second year of the Government's life.
A case has already been struck down in the High Court because of the manner in which we scrutinise legislation in the House. For that reason and no other, I oppose the late sitting. It is especially reprehensible that the Government, under the cloak of darkness, is trying to conceal the debate on the Laffoy commission in 60 minutes at that hour of night.
The basic reason for opposing the late sitting is that the guillotine being used implies that the sitting is not late enough. As has already been stated, the report of the Laffoy commission needs more debating time. The gravity of the issue and the cost implications also warrant far more than an hour.
In regard to the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill, the possibility arises that insufficient time may be available for this party and other smaller parties to make contributions. I ask that the objections be noted and the sitting extended.
I join with other Opposition colleagues in opposing the first proposition regarding the late sitting, primarily for the reason, as already articulated, that the statements on the Laffoy report will be taken after media deadlines. That is the reality. The Government does not want the attention of the media or to allow it the opportunity to report what will be said on this important issue.
Confining it to that end of the evening is disrespectful to all that is involved in the issue to be addressed. It should have been given and can still be given, with the co-operation and agreement of the Taoiseach, prime time attention so that it can be properly aired before the public.
The Government tries its best to avoid guillotining legislation, but at times Bills become urgent for different reasons. At present, there are a few Bills which have deadlines for being moved forward procedurally.
The European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill, which is before the House, arises from the report of the independent Laffan commission. Everybody knows the result of the commission report. As far as I can recall, we have never amended a commission report. We can discuss it if we wish, but it will not change it.
This work was given to the independent commission precisely because of the view that politicians should not do it. We can discuss it. We can say Clare should be in Leinster and discuss it all night but Clareââ
If Deputy Rabbitte or anybody else wants another hour to discuss the commission report, we should be honest about it. We may say with great solemnity that this denigrates Parliament, but Parliament gave the power to the independent commission to decide on this issue, which it has done. I do not know why we discuss it because, whether it is an hour later or earlier, it is agreed.
I suggest that the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill be removed from today's Order Paper and that we discuss the Laffoy commission report now and through the evening for as long as Members wish to speak on it.
ââright through until 12 midnight and tomorrow, if necessary. It is a priority and it is important that Members can do so. We can deal with the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill another day. When is the deadline?
I am trying to be reasonable and sensible. As I understand, Deputy Kenny has asked that we take No. 14a for the time I set out. We will take No. 14 after that. We will deal with both of them tonight but take No. 14a first. I am not agreeing to an open-ended debate. I am offering to take No. 14a now, in the time I have set down, and take No. 14 at the end of that. If the House wants longer to discuss No. 14, it can do this.
The Whips' meeting is the place to organise business. The Taoiseach is now offering to extend the time spent debating the report of the Laffoy Commission to about an hour and three quarters, at best, by the time the Order of Business has concluded. This is not adequate to discuss a report of this significance. The Minister for Education and Science can smile all he likes, but he is the one who made the mess of it.
The Minister should read the comments Ms Justice Laffoy made about the Minister and his predecessor. The Taoiseach came to the House and shed crocodile tears about the unfortunate people who were abused and the Minister responsible thinks it is a laughing matter. The Taoiseach has accused me of jumping off the religious. I am not sure what it means but it sounds naughty.
I am only trying to be helpful. I will leave it as it is if it is helpful. I suggested that we should take No. 14a for the time period I have set out and that we should take No. 14 at the conclusion of that. If extra time is required on No. 14, over the time I have set out, we can go on a bit later.
I oppose this. The idea that the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2003 is to be taken in the absence of substantive legislation on the proposal to apply universally electronic voting is simply not acceptable. The two are absolutely related. This is the first time the electorate throughout the jurisdiction will have the opportunity to participate in an election under an imposed electronic system. The electronic system has no checking procedure or accountability in the form of votes cast. There are no paper records and there is no opportunity for proper scrutiny. The matter should have been substantively addressed by the House rather than being introduced as a ministerial order. We should have had the opportunity to discuss it and tease out all the elements involved.
This is a serious and important issue that has identified itself as a cause of concern arising from previous experiences in the past two elections. It is not acceptable that we proceed in this vacuum. Accordingly, I object to the proposal on No. 14.
In that case, this is not good enough for the Labour Party. This is an unprecedented criticism of a Department that has still refused to give the necessary resources to inquire into child abuse. In the context of this unprecedented episode in Irish history, it is farcical for the Taoiseach to say that the Government is great for giving the apology.
The Taoiseach has made an alternative proposal to swap them. However, he is not giving extra time to discuss the report of the child abuse commission. It is entirely inadequate for dealing with such a serious issue, as is the response of the Minister for Education and Science who seems to be laughing at the request for more debating time on such a serious issue.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 80 (Bertie Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Liam Aylward, Niall Blaney, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, Séamus Brennan, John Browne, Joe Callanan, Ivor Callely, Pat Carey, John Carty, Beverley Flynn, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Síle de Valera, Noel Dempsey, Tony Dempsey, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Pat Gallagher, Jim Glennon, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Máire Hoctor, Joe Jacob, Cecilia Keaveney, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Charlie McCreevy, Jim McDaid, Michael McDowell, Tom McEllistrim, John McGuinness, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Donal Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Liz O'Donnell, John O'Donoghue, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Tom Parlon, Peter Power, Dick Roche, Eoin Ryan, Mae Sexton, Brendan Smith, Michael Smith, Noel Treacy, Dan Wallace, Joe Walsh, Ollie Wilkinson, Michael Woods, G V Wright)
Against the motion: 59 (Bernard Allen, Dan Boyle, James Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Joan Burton, Paul Connaughton, Paudge Connolly, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Seán Crowe, Ciarán Cuffe, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Martin Ferris, Eamon Gilmore, John Gormley, Marian Harkin, Tom Hayes, Séamus Healy, Joe Higgins, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Dinny McGinley, Paul McGrath, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, Gerard Murphy, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, Jan O'Sullivan, Séamus Pattison, Willie Penrose, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Seán Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Liam Twomey, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
No. I indicate again that I object to taking the Bill in this format, to the total exclusion of any attempt by the House to address the proposal to apply universally electronic voting in the June local and European elections.
I wish to raise a matter on the Order of Business arising from the double vote on the expulsion of a Deputy, which occurred earlier. My point refers to the way in which we do business in the House. On 21 January the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform published the provisional crime statistics for 2003. He attributed the 2% fall in crime statistics to the enactment of two Acts â the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act and the Intoxicating Liquor Act. The Fine Gael spokesman on justice, Deputy Deasy, asked two questions last week.
Deputy Deasy sought the statistics that backed up the Minister's public comments. On 28 January, in a written reply, the Minister informed Deputy Deasy that the Garda SÃochÃ¡na had no statistics on the number of prosecutions secured under the Intoxicating Liquor Act. In a priority question last week, Deputy Deasy asked about the number of orders made under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act. However, that question was disallowed by you, Sir, on the basis that the Minister had no responsibility to the House. That is what is fundamentally wrong with the way we do business here.
The late Mr. Justice Liam Hamilton stated clearly that if questions had been answered properly in the DÃ¡il, there might not have been a need for as many tribunals as we have seen in recent years. The issue raised by Deputy Rabbitte earlier concerning effective DÃ¡il reform is fundamental to the way we do our business and to the way people perceive politicians going about their work in the public interest.
I dislike intensely the situation that arises here continually whereby Ministers are absent or refuse to answer questions and the House is told that certain questions are not the responsibility of Ministers.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform knew he would be in London last week so he should have made an order for a change in the questions rota, instead of sending in the Ministers of State, Deputies O'Dea and Brian Lenihan. With respect to them, they are not senior Ministers.
It is not good enough for this House of Parliament. It denigrates our democracy and the way people view politics. It does not do any good for the effective running of the House. It was on that basis that I raised my objections to the way in which Deputy Deasy was expelled from the House when seeking legitimate answers to legitimate questions. It is your responsibility, Sir, to see that the rights of every Member are upheld here. After all, the Government has said on more than one occasion that it has nothing to hide or be ashamed of. If that is the case, questions should be answered by Ministers with responsibility for Government policy in respect of their own Departments and agencies.
In recent times the House has attracted increasingly denigratory coverage. One of the main reasons for this is, undoubtedly, the manner in which we organise our affairs, which is dictated by the Government. Most of the parties in Opposition have prepared extensive proposals for DÃ¡il reform. My party submitted an 80-page document on DÃ¡il reform to the Government Chief Whip. Notwithstanding that, however, we are proceeding as before.
There is a time-honoured convention in the House that if a Minister cannot take his or her rota of questions, he or she will seek to change it. After only two weeks of this session, we have facilitated that twice already. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform did not do that in the particular instance that Deputy Kenny raised in respect of Deputy Deasy.
It is disappointing that the Minister, who was most active when on this side of the House for fair parliamentary conduct, has become the greatest abuser of it in office. Now, as we have 15 presidents of Europe, the Government has grown more remote from the people and Parliament and become more smugââ
ââand disinterested in the image of this House outside. We have made our proposals to the Government Chief Whip. While these Ministers have outriders across the cities of Europe, they should think about the damage they are doing to the practice of democracy at home.
I remind the Ceann Comhairle that there is a further body of DÃ¡il reform proposals from the Green Party. The constructive proposals of all the parties should be taken on board. The Government needs to sit down and work out the changes. One of the major flaws, which this incident demonstrates, is the freedom given to Ministers not just to roam geographically but to roam in their answers. They deliberately evade giving the salient information requested. In so doing we are provided with a flawed parliamentary procedure. They do not answer the questions they are asked. This is particularly galling for the Green Party which may ask priority questions only on every third day. This type of incident means we lose the opportunity to ask our priority question, which we did with an ordinary question that should have been answered also. We are not talking about victimless crimes here. The impact on parliamentary life is not just about credibility, it is also about effectiveness. We are not able to put the questions when the business of the DÃ¡il is interrupted by this type of disruption.
I make a little correction of Deputy Rabbitte's earlier remark when he mentioned 15 presidents of the EU. He forgot to include the Minister of State, Deputy Callely, who last week declared himself the overall president. He is busy writing to us all.
From watching proceedings this afternoon, nothing is more evident than the need for DÃ¡il reform. This type of proceeding has been replicated time and again. No real substantive business has been addressed for a considerable period. We are toing and froing in this constant drama, which amounts to nothing at the end of the day.
There is no substance to it. We need to see DÃ¡il reform brought forward urgently, and we will all participate in that. That is what needs to be done and I hope the Taoiseach will facilitate it at the earliest opportunity.
He did not do other than report the figures as they should have been reported. It was done properly and correctly. He did not seek to give misleading information. The Minister had to attend an important meeting which made it impossible for him to be here.
We have had many debates and suggestions in this House on the matter of DÃ¡il reform. Some years ago when Deputy Brennan presented a document on DÃ¡il reform, I agreed reform on one item. I agreed to bring in a new procedure, Leaders' Questions. I agreed that on the understanding that other reforms would follow, but they have never followed. On an honourable basis I moved a significant reform in the House but I have received nothing in return yet.
With regard to the matter raised by Deputy Kenny on the question by Deputy Deasy being turned down by the Office of the Ceann Comhairle, it related to an issue that was the responsibility of the Courts Service. I remind the House that the Houses of the Oireachtas enacted the Courts Service Bill, which made the administration of the Courts Service independent of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. As chairperson, the Chair is obliged to deal with the Standing Order.
No, Deputy. The Deputy wrote to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and the matter will be dealt with there tomorrow. That is the appropriate place to deal with it. The Chair will move now to the next business.
I allowed the party leader to make his comment. I ask Deputies to resume their seats when the Chair is on its feet. The Chair intends to move to the next business at 6.10 p.m. Eighty minutes were allocated to No. 14a, and any time we use beyond 6.10 p.m. will come out of that allocated time. I request the co-operation of Deputies in order that we may move on to that issue.
I take it the Ceann Comhairle's judgment on a Standing Order is implemented here. If the Ceann Comhairle thought last week, as we believe he did, that Deputy Deasy was asking a fair question, what could he have done about it? Could he have made the Minister of State answer the question properly?
On a point of order, I want to make one point and I will leave it to the Ceann Comhairle to judge it. The Chair has set before the House a point on the relevance of a question and the Minister's obligation to be accountable to the House. Over the last years, I have submitted a number of questions. In recent times, it has become increasingly obvious that a number of them were being refused by different Ministers.
Ministers refer to the Ceann Comhairle's office as unwilling to allow the questions. It appears that the only time Ministers are anxious to respond to anything is when they are called to Ãras an UachtarÃ¡in to receive their seals of office.