Tuesday, 26 June 2007
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 4, motion re election of Leas-Cheann Comhairle; No. 5, motion re restoration of Bills to the Order Paper; and No. 2, Finance (No. 2) Bill 2007 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that all divisions demanded in the House this week shall be taken manually; that Nos. 4 and 5 shall be decided without debate; that the Second Stage of No. 2 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m.; the speeches of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for Fine Gael and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; and that the parliamentary questions next for answer by the Taoiseach on EU matters shall be taken on the same day as statements on the EU Council meeting in Brussels, which are scheduled to be taken on Wednesday, 27 June 2007, and shall be moved to be taken first as ordinary oral questions to the Taoiseach on that day. Private Members' business will be No. 7, motion re co-location hospital plans.
There are four proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal that all votes be taken manually agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 4, motion re election of Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and No. 5, motion re restoration of Bills to the Order Paper, without debate, agreed?
I wish to propose an amendment to No. 4, to provide that the motion be decided on after a debate not exceeding 30 minutes. The election of a Leas-Cheann Comhairle is a matter of considerable public importance. There should be a debate, not exceeding 30 minutes, on the manner in which the Government has gone about its business in this instance. Electoral mandates should be respected. Given that one third of the Members of this House are Fine Gael Deputies, we should be able to discuss and debate how this process has gone ahead. Since the Government was appointed some weeks ago, the Taoiseach has been prepared to reward parties with Cabinet seats in return for their support for him. Secret deals have been agreed with a number of Independent Members, involving unknown quantities of public moneys. It seems that the details of these political arrangements will not be published, which is confusing for the electorate and especially for taxpayers who are footing the bill without being told how their money is spent. The Taoiseach has publicly anointed his own successor. He has publicly praised and wooed a Deputy who was being pursued by a State agency for a considerable amount of money. He has promised that Deputy a Ministry.
The Taoiseach appointed the Ceann Comhairle to that position so he could make arrangements for others to be appointed to the Cabinet. If, as it seems, he is being extremely generous in allocating the position of Leas-Cheann Comhairle to the Opposition, he should have shown the courtesy of informing the leaders of the Opposition parties that he intended to allocate the position of Leas-Cheann Comhairle to a Member of one of those parties. He should have allowed us to discuss among ourselves the men and women who might have been suitable nominees as Leas-Cheann Comhairle. To do business in such an inappropriate way is to fail to respect the electoral mandates of the Opposition parties. The Taoiseach is now the new emperor of Ireland. L'état, c'est moi. Una duce, una voce. It appears that the Taoiseach can implement and do whatever the hell he likes from now on. My amendment proposes that No. 4, which relates to the appointment of the new Leas-Cheann Comhairle, should be the subject of a debate not exceeding 30 minutes.
I would like to propose an amendment to the Schedule to No. 5 on today's Order Paper, so that the reference to "Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005 — Order for Second Stage" is deleted. This motion is similar to motions tabled in the House after previous general elections, seeking to restore to the Order Paper Bills which had commenced progress or had been published in the previous Dáil. The list of Bills before the House is not controversial, with one exception — the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005, which would enable the Government, for stated reasons and following a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas, to suspend or dissolve a tribunal of inquiry. The Labour Party believes the Bill should not be restored to the Order Paper at this stage. The Bill was originally published in November 2005. Nothing was done with it and no effort was made to progress it until suddenly in October of last year in the immediate aftermath of the disclosure that the Mahon tribunal was investigating a range of payments received by the Taoiseach from wealthy businessmen when he was Minister for Finance in 1994, the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, decided that the Bill was urgent and should be taken. As a result of strong objections raised by the Labour Party and by the Green Party, the Government was forced to drop its plans to take the Bill last October. Nothing has been done with it since, but as it is included in the list of Bills to be restored to the Order Paper, it now appears that the new Government is determined to go ahead with it.
Restoring the Bill to the Order Paper at this stage would send out all the wrong messages to the public. It will rightly ask why the Bill is being taken now at a time when the Taoiseach is about to give evidence before the Mahon tribunal. The Bill must also be seen against repeated complaints by the Taoiseach and his supporters of unfair treatment at the hands of the tribunal. Last year, Fianna Fáil Ministers made totally unfounded allegations that the tribunal was involved in the leaking of documents relating to the Taoiseach's finances to The Irish Times. Some people might also see the restoration of the Bill at this point as an attempt to influence or even intimidate the tribunals and those working for them and the Bill will be seen as a sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the tribunals.
Public confidence in politics and political standards is already low. At this point, we do not need the pressure in respect of this measure. The Labour Party strongly recommends to the Government that the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005 be deleted from the list of Bills to be restored. I will move my amendment.
Deputy Burton's amendment relates to No. 5. I understand why she would have moved it now as the proposal concerns Nos. 4 and 5 being dealt with without debate. I will deal with the amendment in the name of Deputy Kenny in respect of No. 4. Is that amendment being pressed?
Despite the cackle earlier when I made the point about Leaders' Questions and the Taoiseach hoovering up all the prospects of forming a Technical Group — well done — let us hope there will be enough common sense and fair play prevailing to see that Standing Order being revisited. When Deputy Kenny talks about respect for mandates, I hope that will be a universal respect here and that the Sinn Féin mandate and that of Deputy Tony Gregory will also be respected. In respect of whether a debate should be held, I have no issue with Deputy Kenny's proposal, but I wish to record at this point that I have no issue either with the nominee for the position and wish him well.
In respect of the second proposition from Deputy Burton, on behalf of the Sinn Féin Deputies, I absolutely concur with the proposal before us. Looking at the list of Bills to be restored to the Dáil Order Paper, the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005 stands out and absolutely jumps off the page. This Bill should not be restored to the Dáil Order Paper. We in Sinn Féin are calling again for it to be withdrawn by Government. We recognise — and it is important to say so — the need for spiralling costs to be tackled, but no legislation should be introduced that would hinder the work of tribunals in terms of limiting their abilities to uncover the truth. This Bill has many serious shortcomings. We have already put on record in the House repeatedly our concerns in respect of this legislation.
We have pointed out the similarities between the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005 and the British Inquiries Act. The Taoiseach will recall that during Question Time we both addressed this issue in the context of the murder of Pat Finucane. The British Inquiries Act is standing in the way of the Finucane family's quest for justice. We believe the proposals contained in the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill are equally flawed. There will be a difference of opinion on that matter but there is no question that the similarities are stark. There is no way that Bill should be restored to the Order Paper at this time, as has been indicated, or in this form at any time.
I fully concur with Deputy Burton's amendment on behalf of the Labour Party and the Sinn Féin Deputies will support it. I call on the Taoiseach to accede to the request to have that obnoxious legislation removed from the list of those Bills to be restored to the Order Paper.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 54 (Bernard Allen, James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Pat Breen, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Tony Gregory, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Phil Hogan, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Joe McHugh, Olivia Mitchell, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, John Perry, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Leo Varadkar)
Against the motion: 85 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Joe Behan, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, Séamus Brennan, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Pat Gallagher, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Martin Mansergh, Micheál Martin, Jim McDaid, Tom McEllistrim, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Dan Neville; Níl, Deputies Tom Kitt and John Curran.
Question declared lost.
Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 4 and 5, motions dealing with the election of Leas-Cheann Comhairle and restoration of Bills to the Order Paper, without debate, agreed? Agreed.
Is the proposal for dealing with No. 2, Finance (No. 2) Bill 2007, agreed?
It is not agreed. I have already made it perfectly clear in the previous Dáil and at the start of this Dáil that we will not stand for the Government, off the top of its head, declaring that the guillotine will be used on every one of these Bills. The time should be open-ended. This matter is to do with stamp duty, in respect of which the Fianna Fáil party had no interest for the past ten years. It was provoked by the then leader of the Progressive Democrats who stated that the billions of euro collected in stamp duty were not required at all. The Green Party and others were very vociferous about these matters. The Government proposed relief for first-time buyers and this is supportable but a whole range of other areas need to be dealt with. For this reason and because of the number of Members who want to speak on this Bill, I object to a guillotine being proposed.
This is a very bad start to the guillotine season as normally we do not see it in use until well into the life of a parliament. This is the second guillotine proposed today. The purpose and reason for our presence in this House is to hold the Executive to account. If debate is stultified to the degree proposed here, only one of the 20 Labour Party Deputies will be allowed speak, and that will be for a short and curtailed time of 15 minutes. This is a very short speaking time on this type of issue. We are opposed to the use of the guillotine as a routine parliamentary measure. We accept it may be required and necessary on occasion but not as a routine measure where every debate would simply stop when the Government decided it should.
I ask that Standing Orders be examined under the chairmanship of the Ceann Comhairle in committee to see how the Government can be prevented from abusing the House in this manner.
I concur with the previous speakers. The proposal is to guillotine Second Stage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill at 7 p.m. but when is the debate to commence? There will be very little time for debate. While other parties can refer to limited opportunities, as this is ordered, the Sinn Féin Deputies will have no opportunity. This is fundamentally wrong as we have the right to participate and to offer our opinions and suggestions as to how this Bill could be better formulated and moulded to suit the needs of those who need the supports most. Sinn Féin will oppose the proposition that Second Stage be guillotined at 7 p.m. I question whether there is any precedent for the guillotine being utilised on the first sitting day following a general election.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 85 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Joe Behan, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, Séamus Brennan, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Pat Gallagher, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Martin Mansergh, Micheál Martin, Jim McDaid, Tom McEllistrim, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)
Against the motion: 71 (Bernard Allen, James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Tony Gregory, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Dinny McGinley, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Tom Kitt and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.
Question declared carried.
I note that the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, introduced so cynically by the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the dying days of the last Dáil, does not appear on the restoration motion. Can the Taoiseach clarify the Government's intentions on the legislation and state whether the new Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, will revise it to remove the many odious provisions highlighted by the Immigrant Council of Ireland and other NGOs in the migration and human rights sectors?
I am sure the Taoiseach agrees the Government and House should extend sympathy to the Spanish Government on the loss of six of Spain's members of the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in the Lebanon. The tragic event occurred not far from Irish positions.
In the revised legislative programme to appear after the recess will the Taoiseach indicate those outstanding international conventions the Government proposes to ratify? In particular, is it the intention of the incoming Government to ratify the United Nations convention against corruption, given the previous Government's decision that there were no circumstances in which it intended to ratify the convention? Will the Taoiseach indicate when and if the UN convention against corruption will be ratified as indicated in the Government's white paper on overseas development aid?
I wish to raise two issues. The first relates to the Order of Business today. Yesterday, people protested against the M3 motorway outside the office of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. A spokesperson on the Minister's behalf stated he could not meet them because he was preparing for parliamentary questions today. Did they fall off the schedule? I do not believe he is due to answer until October.
The second matter concerns the Bill to increase the number of people who may serve as Ministers of State. I notice an explanatory memorandum was not circulated with the Bill. According to the Cabinet handbook, an explanatory and financial memorandum is not only necessary in the case of major Bills but is a mandatory requirement in the case of Government Bills other than consolidation Bills.
This Bill is listed for tomorrow and there is no explanatory memorandum or commentary as regards the cost of this measure which seeks to increase the number of Ministers of State. When one adds chairpersons of committees, anybody in Fianna Fáil who does not get one or the other will need counselling given the number of positions we will create. Before we start the debate I wish to know whether an explanatory memorandum will be circulated.
It is less complicated than most Bills. The explanatory memorandum states the purpose of the Bill is to increase from 17 to 20 the statutory limit on the number of Ministers of State the Government can appoint. The office of Minister of State was first set out in the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1977 which provided for a maximum number of ten Ministers of State. This number was increased to 15 under section 2 of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1980. It was further increased to 17 under section 1 of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1995.
If we are to deal with this promised legislation in an orderly and reasonable fashion we must have an opportunity for Deputies with mandates from their constituencies to be able to deal with it. It is something of a hodgepodge at present whereby one Deputy constitutes a party for party leaders' fund, two party members is a sufficient quota for committee members and the recognition of a whip and it takes seven party members to obtain speaking rights in debates and Leaders' Questions in the House. Will the Taoiseach alter Standing Orders to facilitate Members to have an opportunity to represent those people who sent them here?