Wednesday, 6 April 2016
Business of Dáil
The first item of business is the nomination of a Taoiseach. Before receiving nominations, I call the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Paul Kehoe, to propose arrangements for the rest of the day's sitting.
Paul Kehoe (Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Wexford, Fine Gael)
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It is proposed to take No. 1, nomination of Taoiseach (resumed), and No. 4, statements on Dáil reform. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the arrangements for nomination of Taoiseach shall be as follows: the speech of each proposer and seconder shall not exceed five minutes in each case; the Chair shall allow contributions for a period not exceeding 30 minutes whereupon the Chair shall put the question on any motion made in the order in which such motions were received; on conclusion of the votes of nominations for Taoiseach, the Ceann Comhairle will call on all nominees for a five-minute statement in each case; and conclusion of statements by nominees, statements are to be made by the main spokespersons for Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, AAA-PBP, Independents 4 Change, the Social Democrats, the Green Party and a non-party Deputy or a Member nominated in their stead which shall not exceed five minutes in each case. Any such Members may share their time provided that a Member has not already spoken.
The proceedings on statements on Dáil reform shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 tonight and the following arrangements shall apply: the statement of each member and substitute member of the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform, who shall be called upon in alphabetical order, shall not exceed five minutes in each case; the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed five minutes in each case; and upon rising today, the Dáil shall adjourn until Thursday, 14 April 2016 at 2.30 p.m., there shall be no Order of Business within the meaning of Standing Order 28, and accordingly the only business to be transacted on that day shall be as follows: nomination of Taoiseach, resumed if not previously concluded, and statements on progress on Dáil reform.
My colleagues and I have submitted a motion proposing the establishment of a committee to deal with the homelessness and housing crisis. The motion mimics and echoes the motion which formed the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform. Given the political uncertainty, hiatus and delay and the fact that no credible proposition for Taoiseach, much less for a Government, has been established, it is not acceptable that Deputies are frustrated in their work. It brings this House and the Oireachtas into public disrepute when the impression is that Members are elected but are not carrying out their democratic functions. I do not think the issue of homelessness and the housing crisis is contested by anybody on these benches. We may have different ideas as to how to sort out the problem, but I am sure none of us is in denial about it. I have been in touch with the Office of the Ceann Comhairle today seeking an opportunity not just to speak about this motion but to move it and get the approval of this House for a representative group of Deputies from across all political parties and none to come together and start to get to grips with a catastrophe for families throughout the State. I do not accept the Order of Business as set out. It is critical that we are allowed the space and opportunity to get some work done. That is why we are here. I am asking that we be allowed to move this motion and I hope that the formation of such a committee would enjoy support from every Member of the Dáil.
While the main parties of the political establishment in particular have been engaged in an elaborate political charade, an escalating social emergency exists in housing and homelessness that simply cannot wait to be dealt with. We have tabled a specific motion, although I acknowledge the wider points made by Deputy McDonald and others, on the need for urgent, comprehensive and radical action to deal with a crisis that is getting worse every day and that is inflicting appalling hardship on families and, worst of all, children.
We simply cannot wait for the game that is being played by the main political parties to deal with this issue. We have specifically put down a motion asking for one practical measure that the Minister for Finance could take straight away, which is to instruct the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, to immediately stop any sales of land or property to vulture funds, real estate investment trusts, REITs, or private equity funds, and to change its mandate-----
The remit of NAMA must be changed so that it can immediately bend all of its resources and energy towards the direct provision of council and affordable housing. This has to happen immediately and we must cease allowing NAMA to do things that are worsening that crisis. These issues have to be addressed as an absolute matter of urgency. They are of far more importance and interest to the public than the game-playing that is going on around the formation of a government.
I thank the Deputy. Nobody in the House disputes the absolute importance of the issues that he raises. I appreciate that Deputy McDonald was in touch with my office on this particular matter earlier. However, what is before us is a proposal to deal with the election of the Taoiseach. It is a constitutional imperative for this House to address that particular issue and we must deal with constitutional business before we can consider other matters.
When it falls to us to consider the other matters, I am afraid we are still in a situation in which Standing Order 200(3) prevails. It is the direction under which this House must operate and therefore the motion the Deputy is attempting to move is not in order today. I think her party Whip will understand that and will be able to explain it to her.
I understand absolutely, as does everybody else, the constitutional imperative of electing a Taoiseach and forming a government. That is not a matter of dispute. Equally, however, it is true to say - we see it unfolding before us - there is a real crisis in the real world. There is a constitutional obligation on us to be permitted to carry out our tasks.
The motion very specifically follows the same pattern and design as that which established the committee on Dáil reform. Surely if we can work collectively on the matter of Dáil reform in this hiatus we can work collectively on the issue of housing and homelessness. I wish to record our deep dissatisfaction with that decision.
Can we at least be allowed to proceed at this juncture with the constitutional business that is before us? If later in the day the Deputy wants to raise that particular matter again, then by all means she can raise it and we will consider it. However, no matter how many times she raises it, the reality is that Standing Order 200 is the order under which the House must currently operate.
Later in the proceedings the Ceann Comhairle might advise me and other Members how, procedurally and in accordance with Standing Orders, we can get the chance to do the job that we are elected here to do.
There is nothing in Standing Orders that prevents the Dáil from meeting on other occasions, as we did for the second meeting of this Dáil, which discussed housing, Europe and other business. While it is important that a Taoiseach is found and elected, the Dáil should meet next week. We have to discuss the growing housing crisis. Evictions are increasing at an unbelievable pace. There are many burning social issues. When are we going to take some of the motions that parties have put on the Order Paper and that have been sitting there for a week, including motions in respect of housing, which everybody has mentioned, but also our motion on the urgent need to repeal the eighth amendment to the Constitution? Following the sentencing of a woman in Northern Ireland, it is critical that this issue is addressed. When will the Dáil meet to deal with those motions? There is nothing preventing it from doing that.
I do not want to miss this opportunity. I did, on the last occasion we were here, raise the matter of accountability of Ministers in whatever capacity - outgoing, caretaker, describe them as one chooses. If we read the first publication of 2016 from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, we see that it is all about parliamentary scrutiny of the Government's performance.
Its executive summary states:
One of the main functions of the Houses of the Oireachtas is to provide oversight of government activities and hold the government to account ...
Parliaments have a number of tools at their disposal for the scrutiny and oversight of government policy and performance. The main tool is monitoring and reporting requirements i.e. the government gives information on its performance to parliament which monitors it and can highlight areas of poor performance ...
To provide effective oversight parliament needs to have access to information on government performance.
That is simply not happening, a Cheann Comhairle. I note the Clerk of the Dáil speaking to you and in advance of putting forward my name to contest for the position of Ceann Comhairle, I had a series of meetings with officials here. In the lead-up to the election for Ceann Comhairle, I established definitively that it is within the power of this House to determine what measures it wishes to employ and what it wishes to address. That opportunity has not been afforded to us.
It is absolutely imperative that we be in a position, as Members of this House, to put Ministers under question here, not just by written parliamentary question but by oral parliamentary question whereby we can tease out the detail.
-----the Ceann Comhaile, in his role as the protector of the right of Members of the House - the individual parliamentarians - to afford us the opportunity to perform the task we were elected to perform, and that is-----
-----to hold the existing holders of Executive office to account in line with what was outlined in the first publication of the Library and Research Service for 2016. Will the Ceann Comhairle afford Members that opportunity this week or in the coming week? I have no doubt it is not beyond the gift of our officials to structure an opportunity to put Ministers under direct question in this Chamber.
I wish to make a suggestion regarding what can be done until we reach the point where we can change these Standing Orders. A way to set up the sub-committee on homelessness is for the Taoiseach and his Government to propose it. I appeal to him to do that. That would involve all our parties and Independents dealing with this emergency.
It is vital that this Dáil be able to hold the Government and its various Ministers to account. I want to address the suggestion that we adjourn until 14 April. It is absolutely urgent that the Dáil should reconvene tomorrow and again on Tuesday next because, as we speak, there is a crisis at South Tipperary General Hospital and at many other hospitals. Figures issued today show a 100% increase in the number of people on trolleys at South Tipperary General Hospital. In March, 552 people were on trolleys. This is an increase of 319 on the position which obtained last March.
However, before we can do anything regarding housing or health, let us attempt to elect a Government. That is what we have come here for.
Both parties are essentially right. I believe the Dáil should sit again to discuss the serious issues of housing and so forth. The preferred option of the people of Ireland would be that a Government would be elected to deal with the problems the country is facing in health, education and so on. We cannot do that without electing a Government. If we cannot elect a Government, go back to the country and try again. However, that is what we should do first of all, namely, attempt to elect a Government.
In light of the points made, will the Whips meet as a matter of urgency to come up with a proposal around how we will deal with the issues which have been raised on the floor of the House? Is that agreed? Agreed.
There are three items before the House. First, is it agreed that the House proceeds with the nominations for Taoiseach? Agreed.
Second, are the arrangements for speaking on the matter of Dáil reform agreed to? Agreed.
Is the proposal, as it stands, for the House to adjourn until 14 April agreed to?
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