Tuesday, 22 March 2016
Business of Dáil
On 10 March, the House ordered the business for today's sitting. At the request of many Deputies, I propose a minor amendment to the Order of Business to provide more time for the statements on homelessness and housing and to enable non-aligned Members to participate in these debates. I, therefore, propose, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the order of the Dáil of 10 March be amended to provide as follows: a non-party Deputy may be included in the opening speeches on all statements today; the statements on European Council meetings, pursuant to Standing Order 111(2)(b), will be brought to a conclusion after one hour and 55 minutes; and the statements on housing and homelessness shall be brought to a conclusion after four hours, the opening speeches on those statements not to exceed ten minutes and a Minister or Minister of State to be called on to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes.
Regarding the second item to which the Taoiseach alluded, which is an important matter of constitutional business, and following the Taoiseach's announcement of his resignation, I invite the leaders or representatives of the other parties or groups to make brief comments in response.
On my own behalf and on behalf of my party, I extend our deepest sympathies to the entire McGrotty family, particularly to Louise on the loss of her partner, Seán, her sons, Mark and Evan, her mother, Ruth, and her sister, Jodie Lee. An unspeakable tragedy and trauma has befallen the family. This has been very eloquently articulated by the local parish priest, Fr. Paddy O'Kane, in recent days. The nation is truly shocked at the scale of this tragedy and its impact on the wider community in Donegal and Derry. Of course our deepest sympathies go to the families as well.
The unfolding situation in Brussels represents an attack on all of us and on the institutions we hold dear. Again, I send our deepest sympathies to the families of those who have already lost their lives and those who have been severely injured. Brussels is the centre of European democracy and the European institutions. These attacks strike at the very heart of the European people, the European Union and the whole sense of solidarity and community that we have consistently embraced in this country. They represent another appalling scaling up of the attack on people across the European Union and indeed further afield.
While we have no difficulty with the Taoiseach's proposals for amending Standing Orders, as a precedent we think there should be proper co-ordination and consultation with others in advance of such amendments to Standing Orders. I think the timeline for some Deputies who are speaking on housing will be very tight, particularly at the end of the debate. Time has been set aside for leaders and various spokespersons, but the timeline for the general debate is extremely tight. The last I heard was that two or three speakers will be sharing five-minute slots. This is hardly the best way to go about our business. The last day we looked at and put forward the idea that we were open to an extra day's sitting this week, if necessary, to accommodate other debate. We have no difficulty with the proposal that has been put before us, but we think as a precedent for how the Dáil should operate there should be more meaningful consultation in advance.
Ba mhaith liom cead a fháil caint faoi ghnó na Dála i ndiaidh an chúpla focal atá le rá agam faoin timpiste i dTír Chonaill. Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle, as ucht seans a thabhairt dom caint faoin mhéid a tharla ansin.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, I want to extend our sympathy and solidarity to the McGrotty and Daniels families on the tragic loss of Seán, Mark, Evan, Ruth and Jodie Lee, who so tragically lost their lives in Buncrana, County Donegal, this weekend. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha dílse. Lá millteanach brónach a bhí ann i saol an teaghlaigh seo agus fosta i saol mhuintir Dhoire Cholmcille agus Tír Chonaill. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of them at this time. We all hope the five month old baby will make a full and speedy recovery. I also want to pay tribute to the emergency services and all of those who bravely intervened, especially Davitt Walsh, who saved the child.
I also want to extend our deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of those killed and injured in Brussels this morning. I am sure all of us in the Dáil condemn these horrendous attacks in the strongest possible terms. There is a deep sense of shock at unfolding developments. News is still emerging about the extent of the attacks and the scale of the casualties and fatalities. On my own behalf and on behalf of Sinn Féin, I want to extend our solidarity to everyone involved at this difficult time.
Mar a dúirt mé, ba mhaith liom seans eile a fháil chun caint faoi ghnó na Dála. An labharfaidh mé faoi anois?
Táimid ag caint faoi cheapachán an Taoisigh agus an moladh a tháinig ón Taoiseach. Tá dhá rud le plé againn. We have two things to discuss: the appointment of a Taoiseach and the amendment to the Order of Business. Maybe we could deal first at this point with the Taoiseach's proposal to return to the House on 6 April next.
Under Standing Order 170, I propose, as an urgent necessity, the suspension of Standing Orders to allow an urgent and meaningful debate to take place in the House today. The Government did not want us to meet this morning; that was not its initial plan. We now have a very superficial clár. This is only the second time we have met in 47 days and there are major issues, with which we are all familiar, that need to be discussed, including homelessness, health services, water charges and child care. Sinn Féin would like to debate a motion to scrap water charges and the High Court's decision on the development of a national monument on Moore Street and in its precincts. It should be remembered that if the judge had not made that decision, Moore Street would have been demolished. This happened on the Government's watch. Another issue worthy of discussion is the shocking reports of many deaths and casualties in Brussels. I am arguing that the Dáil should be allowed to order its own business; that Teachtaí Dála should be allowed to discuss whatever issues they want to discuss and that Standing Orders should be suspended to allow this to happen; and that the Order of 10 March 2016 should be amended to allow Sinn Féin's motion on Irish water to be taken instead of the business which has been scheduled to be taken.
On behalf of the Independent Alliance, I join previous speakers in expressing our condolences to the two families involved in the tragedy in Buncrana. The number of deaths is utterly devastating for the people of the area and the nation, although it should be noted that one or two heroes have emerged from the tragedy - the man who rescued the baby and the father whose last words were so tragic and poignant.
I also express my utter revulsion at what happened in Brussels today. Incidents such as this dwarf the differences in this Chamber and allow us to unite in condemnation, horror and expressing sympathy to those involved. As Deputy Micheál Martin said, it is not just Brussels or Europe that is under threat from a small number of people who are seeking to wreak havoc with the lives of innocent people but democracy throughout the world. It is welcome that all parties are able to send the message from this House that we are united in condemnation of this appalling incident.
I express the condolences of the Labour Party to the McGrotty family on the deaths of Seán and his two sons, Mark and Evan, and the boys' grandmother, Ruth Daniels, and her daughter, Jodie Lee. County Donegal is no stranger to very serious accidents in recent years involving the loss of life. It is sad that a pleasant spring day turned into such a tragedy for this family, the extended family and their friends in Derry. Anybody who heard Mr. Walsh who rescued the baby and his partner talk about what had happened could not but have been moved by the spectacle of both the tragedy and the courage he and his partner showed in rescuing the baby and the forlornness of the farewell by the father of the family as he returned to rescue his children. In terms of the level of grief and heartbreak, it was an appalling tragedy to befall the family. I extend my condolences, as well as my admiration, to Mr. Walsh for the part he played in rescuing the baby and to all of those working in the rescue and emergency services.
With regard to this morning's atrocities in Brussels, I again offer my condolences to people in Belgium. It is almost certain, given the cosmopolitan nature of the country, that the people who died and were injured came from countries around the world, from a range of different faiths and none or may just have been travelling through Brussels and Belgium. As I said when we spoke in the House before Christmas about the many young people who were murdered in the Bataclan and elsewhere in Paris, it appears, once again, that we are dealing this morning in Brussels with efforts to destroy what we cherish most and what the EU cherishes most, which is our freedom. The attacks last December in Paris were political in nature. Such attacks may at times fly under the flag of religion but they were political in nature and meant to strike at European ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. There will be opportunities to discuss this in greater detail but terrorism has visited again in the most awful forms and, on behalf of the Labour Party, I offer my sympathy to all those affected by this, particularly the relatives and friends of the people who have died.
On behalf of the Independent Members, I extend my sympathies to the McGrotty and Daniels families on the terrible tragedy that unfolded in Buncrana on Sunday evening. It is dreadful to think that such a terrible thing could happen on such a fine spring evening and that there could be such a loss of life to devastate a family that was simply out enjoying a drive on a good evening. I also pay tribute to Mr. Davitt Walsh and Mr. Francis Crawford for the efforts they made in trying to save members of the family.
I also extend our sympathies to the victims of the Brussels bombings. It is terrible that there has been such a large loss of life and our sympathies go to the families of the victims as well.
With regard to the amendment to the Order of Business, I would like to-----
That is grand. There is also a need to have motions taken as well today because there are important motions on the Order Paper, in particular, the motion relating to SI 125 of 2016 and the penalty points system. There is a time limit regarding this motion in terms of how the Dáil can deal with it before the statutory instrument is enacted and it is vital, therefore, that time be made available to discuss motions such as this either today or on 6 April.
I join others in extending my sympathies to the families in Derry. Both communities in Derry and Donegal have been traumatised by this unspeakable event. It is always especially tragic when young children are involved and the totality of what has happened to an individual family is something that unites people in grief and puts things in perspective.
I would also like to condemn what is unfolding in Brussels. Most of us know Brussels Airport and the train station near the European Parliament and will be aware of just what an international city is Brussels. We are thinking about people from various parts of the world who have family in that location and who are worried. That will obviously be on all our minds.
On the Order of Business, I ask that we find a mechanism to be as inclusive as possible until a more normal pattern emerges.
We should start as we mean to go on in relation to being inclusive as to how the Order of Business is framed. All sides of the House would be willing to play a role in doing that to permit urgent matters to be debated and solutions suggested as to how we might proceed.
On behalf of the Green Party, I extend our sympathies to the McGrotty family as we reflect on how life can go from a lovely family occasion and slip into unspeakable and unimaginable tragedy. Our thoughts are with that family. While the circumstances are different, it is similarly the case for those caught up in the explosions in Brussels where people have gone from the pleasurable moment of flying out on holidays to seeing their lives or those of loved ones torn apart. Our thoughts go out to those who have lost their lives or are injured in the tragedy there. It is an attack on our European values. As Deputy Burton said, it is an attack on our core democratic beliefs on our European Continent. It is regrettable that we do not have more time to debate the bigger international picture because there is a connection with the wider issues of what is happening between the Middle East and Europe and it is something we need to spend our time and attention on as a Dáil. At a moment when an attack on our democratic way of life, our basic freedoms and our constitutional approach is happening, it is a pity there is still such uncertainty within the Dáil as to the future configuration of the Government. Hopefully, that is something we can all address in the coming weeks. We have a role as this is one of the 28 countries which must respond to that international environment. It is important we, as a House, do that in an effective way and stand up for our constitutional, democratic freedoms.
On behalf of the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit, I add our voice of sympathy to and express our solidarity with the families of the victims of the Buncrana tragedy, the McGrotty and Daniels families, and with their relatives, friends and everyone affected in the communities in Donegal and Derry. In relation to what is happening in Brussels at the moment, we add our voice of condemnation to what appear to be ongoing terrorist attacks. The purpose of the attacks seems at this very early stage to be to strike terror into the hearts of people and to divide them. It is to create an environment of hatred, division and racism which is the kind of environment where very right-wing reactionary forces can benefit and grow. At this stage, we must say clearly that there is solidarity and sympathy with all those affected by the attacks and that we are opposed to terror, division, racism and war. People should stand together fighting for a very different sort of society and a peaceful society.
In terms of the Order of Business, the statements today are fine. While will discuss important topics, including the EU-Turkey agreement and the housing and homelessness crisis, the Dáil should not be sitting just waiting for whoever is going to form the Government to do so. In effect, it is reducing itself to a debating Chamber which does not believe it has the power to pass anything. The Dáil exists and we have a mandate. We were elected on the basis of the positions we put forward. As such, the Dáil should be discussing motions today. There are a number of motions on the Order Paper and we in the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit have three motions down which we consider are vital. One is on the abolition of water charges and Irish Water, another is on a series of measures to deal with the housing crisis, but the most urgent, which will be reflected in a protest today and in the Dáil discussion later, is the urgent situation of people facing eviction in Tyrrelstown and in Blackrock, Cork.
We should discuss these issues as motions today. The Dáil should have the ability to pass motions instructing the caretaker Government to take action.
I thank the Deputy. By way of response to the points raised by Deputies Adams, Pringle and Paul Murphy, there are a couple of matters to take into account. As we meet today, we are bound by the current Standing Orders of the House. Tomorrow, we will convene the first meeting of the Dáil reform committee. Having read all 22 submissions, it appears that there is a substantial amount of commonality in the proposals that Members are making for change. I hope that, at our first meeting on Wednesday, we will quickly agree a number of substantial reforms that could be brought to the House for agreement on 6 April but as we meet today, we are bound by the current Standing Orders. The idea that they could be suspended is not possible under the existing Standing Orders, specifically Standing Order 200(3), which precludes a Member other than during Private Members' business from setting aside Standing Orders. We must proceed with the business that is before us and agree to it or disagree with it, whichever the case may be.
I wish to make two points. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his remarks. First, I appeal to the Taoiseach. This is within his gift. He has ordered the business of the Dáil. He said we should go away for 15 days but we do not believe we should. I appeal, through the Chair, to the Taoiseach to allow us to discuss these matters.
I spoke to the Ceann Comhairle about my second point this morning. Any association, group, Parliament or Dáil that comes together has the right, if it so wishes, to order its own business. Any Teachta Dála has the right to propose that Standing Orders be suspended. The Dáil might not agree with or support the proposal and it might fall, which is fair enough. Will the Ceann Comhairle, through his good offices, ask the Taoiseach to consider the points we have made? Will the Ceann Comhairle allow me to move a motion to suspend Standing Orders?
I appreciate the Deputy's points and it is open to the Taoiseach to consider the first of those but it is not open to me at all to allow the Deputy to move the suspension of Standing Orders, as we are operating under them and they preclude him from doing what he is proposing. The rules as they stand are explicit at Standing Order 177(3) and do not allow him to do what he is attempting. As such, further debate on the matter is pointless. What we must now decide is whether to accept the Taoiseach's proposal that he return to the House on 6 April to raise the issue of the nomination for the appointment of a Taoiseach. Are we in favour of that or are we not?
I will deal with that point in a minute. The proposal involves a change to an order that was made at the last sitting, which suggests that the House can alter the arrangements for today or 6 April.
If the Ceann Comhairle is putting the Taoiseach's proposal, the House can move amendments to the effect of returning earlier or later than 6 April or ordering the business for the rest of that day. That would be open.
Can we call on the Taoiseach to agree that as well as discussing the election of Taoiseach on 6 April, and presuming that none is elected, we might at least discuss water charges and Irish Water?
This was the issue we discussed at length in the debate on the Order of Business on the last occasion. At least in theory, Fianna Fáil should not be against discussing Irish Water and water charges. There should be a majority in this House in favour of discussing that issue. Could we at least agree to discuss it? We are discussing housing and homelessness today. Can we discuss Irish Water and water charges?
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his kind deliberations. We need to bring some commonsense to the House today. Today we are to discuss the issue of housing, homelessness and migration within the European context. We have spent the past two years discussing these issues. We need ideas to come from the House. We need motions on which we can deliberate and vote so decisions can be made. I know of a couple that will lose their house within the next week and who will be added to the list of homeless in Waterford or Ireland. We cannot wait until 6 April to discuss and deliberate on these issues, bring them into some context and vote on them. Are we seriously telling people who voted for this Dáil that the next decision on whether we will elect a Taoiseach will not be until 6 April and that we will allow this House to close until 6 April while critical issues are affecting people who voted for us? We might as well give up if that is the case. What is the point in being here at all if we are just going to talk about homelessness, unemployment, agriculture and migration and do nothing about them, and not even be in a position to vote on them or make a decision on them? What is the point? That is not why I was elected. I was elected to come here and make decisions, even decisions with which I might not agree, and pass them on to the people. I was elected here to see democracy working within this House. I do not believe any of us should be prepared to walk home from here today and not come back until 6 April and still not make any decisions on the issues affecting very many citizens, including people who are living on the street or in hotels. People will be walking the streets with their children until 6 o’clock this evening before they can go into a bed and breakfast. Hundreds of thousands of people are locked in Turkey in crisis and in terrible conditions. That we are to debate these issues again rather than make a decision is disgraceful.
As we meet today, we are bound by the Standing Orders this House has adopted. The House has spoken about reform for 40 years. Tomorrow we are going to meet and, I hope, begin the process of reform. I hope some of the reforms can be enacted, by consensus, on 6 April. However, until 6 April there will be no facility to stray beyond the terms of the Standing Orders we have. The question now is-----
We had agreed on the last occasion that the Dáil would meet today and again on 6 April. In respect of recognising the changed circumstances that apply, I proposed two amendments to what was agreed on the last occasion. The first was to extend the period for discussion, ideas and issues surrounding housing and homelessness and the second concerned the very important matter of giving recognition to those elected Members who are not aligned to any grouping, affiliation or party such that their contributions may be heard in these debates. For those reasons, I proposed those two minor changes to what was agreed on the last occasion. It is an indication from many Deputies who look to the new Dáil to be able to have greater engagement and responsibility in respect of how it goes about its business.
Three things have happened with the commencement of this Dáil. The first is the election of the Ceann Comhairle by secret ballot of the Members of the Dáil. The second is that when a Government is formed, the committees of the House will be constituted according to the d’Hondt system. The third is that the Taoiseach of the day will have to attend committees on a number of occasions each year.
The Ceann Comhairle will be conducting a meeting tomorrow, which will be very important in respect of the issues parties and individuals have brought forward on Dáil reform. I agree with him that it is important that a measure of agreement on some of these issues is arrived at tomorrow to be implemented, as intended, on 6 April to make the workings of the House more effective and engaging and have a greater degree of responsibility and accountability for all Members who are elected by the people.
Please, Deputy. We are perfectly clear, as is the Deputy, on what the position is. We have a proposal before us that the House consider nominations for Taoiseach on 6 April in accordance with the proposal from the acting Taoiseach. That is very clear and there is not a person in the Chamber who does not understand it. I will, therefore, put the proposal and Members may agree or disagree with it. We will then move on-----
I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I am clear on the issue on which the Ceann Comhairle stated every Member was clear. However, the point on which I am seeking clarity from him or the Taoiseach - if the Ceann Comhairle allows me to make it, he can then answer me or ask the Taoiseach to do so - is whether it is the intention, under the amendment the Taoiseach has introduced for the sitting on 6 April, that the only matter that will be discussed on that day is the appointment of a Taoiseach and changes to Standing Orders.
There has been considerable discussion of how the House does its business and how all sides co-operate in dealing with major issues. A number of motions are before the House and we are asking the Taoiseach, in proposing an amendment to the order for the sitting on 6 April, to consider other voices outside his party and allow some of the issues these voices have been mandated to raise in the House to be accepted on 6 April. I am asking for clarity from the Taoiseach on whether the nomination of Taoiseach and the adoption of amended Standing Orders will be the only matters to be discussed on 6 April and, if not, whether he is willing to entertain some of the motions that have been placed before the House so far.
While the Fianna Fáil Party fully accepts the Ceann Comhairle's ruling in the context of existing Standing Orders, we simply have to put down a marker. This is the second day on which we are witnessing procedural wrangling with political motivation.
During the previous sitting we all witnessed the degree of serial misleading that took place in what actually transpired in the House when there was simply one vote on the order, as proposed by the Government. Last time out there was, for example, no motion on water charges proposed, yet it was sold and spun that somehow people had voted for or against a motion on water charges. We understand what is going on. I am fully committed to Dáil reform. I initiated it, put it on the table and want it to happen. I want the amendment to Standing Orders to be made before the next Government is formed. However, I am putting down a marker that, under no circumstances, will we stand around and watch the amended Standing Orders or new Dáil reforms being exploited for political show-boating in the House-----
-----or in an attempt to promote one party over another. All parties have been tabling motions for a long time and all of them know that, under existing Standing Orders, they are taken in Private Members' time. Let us not try to pretend to the nation that somehow the motions of one party, as opposed to those of another, are being denied an airing. One simple solution has been put before the House and it relates to Standing Orders for today. It is correct that this is a debating Chamber, but it is also a legislative Chamber which can pass laws or have legislation put to it. However, if the procedural wrangling continues today along the lines of what took place the last day, we will not even get to discuss what we asked and agreed to discuss some weeks ago, namely, the issues of housing and homelessness. We will not get to discuss the issues, given the time that is elapsing as the procedural wrangling and political show-boating continues.
The position is clear; an amendment has been proposed to the Order of Business. The order on 6 April was agreed to by the House on 10 March.
The Taoiseach has brought a proposal before us today. That is what we have to decide on now and nothing else. Therefore, I am putting the question.
The next item to be put to the House is the proposal from the Taoiseach that, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, a non-party Deputy may be included in the opening speeches on all statements, and, second, that the statements on housing and homelessness be brought to a conclusion after four hours. That is a two-hour extension. Is the proposal, as circulated to Members, agreed to?
There was a proposal earlier by my leader that the Order for today be changed. You said that the only person who could make that change was the Taoiseach and that the Dáil could then agree to it.
There is a proposal before us and we have suggested an amendment to it. The amendment is that the business set down the last day, 10 March, not be taken today and that a motion on water charges that is currently on the Order Paper be taken in its stead. That is an amendment. I am respectfully asking that the amendment be taken and put to the House prior to the proposal from the Taoiseach, as is the current tradition.
Equally respectfully I am responding to you by saying that as a Member of longer standing than me you know very well that Standing Order 200(3) precludes me from taking that proposal from you. It is not possible under the Standing Orders. However, tomorrow, when the sub-committee on Dáil reform meets, if you want to change all those Standing Orders, you can change them, provided we can build consensus around that. While we sit today, that is not possible and I cannot take the proposal. The proposal we have to agree on is whether we accept that non-party Deputies should be able to contribute today and whether there will be two hours additional speaking time on the issue of housing.
We are going to have the same debate again when we come back in April. As Deputy Doherty said, the only two items on the agenda will be the possibility of electing a taoiseach and amendments to Standing Orders. With respect, we have no wish to come back again in a couple of weeks' time. We want to sit and do our job. We have no wish to come back again and have the same exchanges about motions we want to discuss.
I am putting a question, with respect, to An Taoiseach. Will he consider the issues which have been expressed by many Members? This is not show-boating, as someone said. These are genuine and sincere issues that we want to debate as soon as possible. Unless the Taoiseach gives us clarification, we do not know what issues we will or will not be discussing when we come back in two weeks' time. That is not good enough.
Can you resume your seat, Deputy Cullinane? Your leader has adequately addressed those issues. The sub-committee on Dáil reform meets tomorrow. Sinn Féin will be very well represented on the sub-committee. Many of the proposals your party has put forward, Deputy Cullinane, are solid, sustainable proposals which, I imagine, Members on all sides of the House will be able to agree on. As chairman of that committee, I am determined that we can come out of tomorrow's meeting with a series of proposals to put to the House for immediate change on 6 April. However, it is a matter for the House to change the Standing Orders.
Question,"That the proposal from the Taoiseach that, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, a non-party Deputy may be included in the opening speeches on all statements and, second, that the statements on housing and homelessness be brought to a conclusion after four hours," put and declared carried.