Wednesday, 20 April 2016
Business of Dáil
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, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the following business shall be transacted today: No. 4, statements on health, and No. 5, statements on insurance costs.
The proceedings in relation to No. 4 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3 p.m. today and the following arrangements shall apply: the statement of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, AAA-PBP, Independents 4 Change, the Social Democrats and the Green Party, or a Member nominated in their stead, and a non-party Deputy shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, and such Members may share their time; the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes. The proceedings in relation to No. 5 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 6.30 p.m. today and the following arrangements shall apply: the statement of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, AAA-PBP, Independents 4 Change, the Social Democrats and the Green Party, or a Member nominated in their stead, and a non-party Deputy shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, and such Members may share their time; the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes.
Tomorrow, the Dáil shall sit at 10.30 a.m., and the only business to be transacted is No. 6, statements on EU-UK relations. The proceedings in relation to No. 6 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 6.30 p.m., and the following arrangements shall apply: the statement of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, and the leaders of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, AAA-PBP, Independents 4 Change, the Social Democrats and the Green Party, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, and such Members may share their time; the statement of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, AAA-PBP, Independents 4 Change, the Social Democrats and the Green Party, or a Member nominated in their stead, and a non-party Deputy shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case, and such Members may share their time; the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes. The Dáil on its rising tomorrow shall adjourn until Tuesday, 26 April 2016 at 2.30 p.m., and there shall be no Order of Business within the meaning of Standing Order 28; accordingly, the only business to be transacted shall be, by order, agreed on that day.
Not agreed. I want to move a motion to allow our business to be reordered today. For the past eight weeks we as legislators have been prevented by the caretaker Government from fulfilling our mandate. Despite the recent conversion to Dáil reform, we have been prevented from debating legislation. The Dáil, this Chamber, is not an arm of the Government; it is an independent legislator. Yet we can only debate matters at the whim of an acting Government that has no mandate but that controls completely the way we do our business, or, as has been the case, the way we do not do our business.
A motion calling for the scrapping of water charges which is supported by 33 Deputies is listed on the Order Paper and has been cleared for debate, yet the Government has prevented this, despite direct appeals and requests from us to the Government to allow it to go ahead. I propose that motion No. 29 on the abolition of household water charges be debated and voted on today once the other business already scheduled has concluded. This Dáil has the right to pass laws and so can the current Seanad, which is in place until next week. There is nothing to prevent the Oireachtas from also debating and voting on emergency legislation to deal with the result of the High Court judgment yesterday on suspended sentences. We are being denied our right to debate matters that have been properly scheduled and cleared for debate but that the Government is preventing from being put on the schedule.
I also think it is unacceptable that, as the whole country is aware, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are currently debating the issue of water charges as part of the discussions on the formation of the Government because they fully understand that this is one of the key issues that produced the election result we just had. It is also one of the defining issues informing the discussions on the formation of the Government, but this House is not being allowed to discuss it.
As Deputy Adams mentioned, we have also signed the motion calling for a debate on water charges. The Government should allow this House to debate that issue particularly as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are now debating it. There are already some signs of the U-turn being the first issue on the agenda when it comes to water charges. This House should have the opportunity to put forward its views. While many issues are up for discussion on the formation of the Government, one thing seems to be absolutely not up for discussion. This House was mandated to get rid of water charges because more than 90 Deputies sitting here today are present because their manifestoes opposed water charges.
Indeed, but we have a clear mandate and at the very least we should be allowed to discuss it. Of course, it was very deliberate that the Government prevented us from discussing it. Even though it was requested at the Whips meeting, the Government does not want to discuss this issue. However, this is the place where that discussion should happen. That is what democracy means. Democracy requires that a debate on the matter take place this week while the two main parties are cooking up a plan behind the scenes.
I am afraid the motion as proposed is not in order. It is not in compliance with the terms of Standing Orders. There is only one proposal before us and that is the proposal for dealing with statements on health. Is the proposal agreed to?
It is not agreed. I speak on the same basis as Deputy Adams just addressed the Dáil. It was interesting that the caretaker Government did not respond to the calls, not only prior to this sitting but also in this Chamber this morning, for a change to the order that has been put to allow for a debate on water charges.
On the event that occurred yesterday, the striking down by the courts of the current practice on sentencing, there has been no response and no indication whether today or tomorrow this Dáil will alter the current sequence. The only option we have is to oppose each of the proposals for debate. We are not saying we should not have these debates, but that we should extend the sitting to allow us to have a debate on the water charges and also the very serious issue that emerged in the courts yesterday.
That is why we are opposed to the arrangements for this sitting. Deputy Dooley might not be aware of what happens in the courts because he lives in a bubble. If he kept quiet for a few minutes, however, he might understand what is going on in the world.
We are dealing here with whether Members are for or against the proposal dealing with statements on insurance costs. It is my understanding, right or wrong, that these matters were agreed by the Whips as topics for discussion.
I sought to have this item, insurance costs, placed on the Dáil agenda today because, obviously, it is having a very big impact on people.
There are other pieces of business which are going to be critical in terms of timing. For example, there is an extension for the Cregan inquiry to the end of this month. I am told there can be no progress on the legislation concerning the issue of privilege and confidentiality until a Government is formed. I do not understand why that would be the case for exactly the same reasons as have been put. While we are waiting for that legislation, the cost of the Cregan inquiry is not on hold. In fact, it is adding to the cost every week. It just demonstrates another reason there is work that could be done here by the Dáil. For that reason, I think the points that have been made are very valid.
In respect of what Deputy Adams raised about the High Court judgment of 19 April and a constitutional challenge to section 99 - the power to suspend sentences - of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, as amended, this morning, the Department of Justice and Equality is in consultation with the Attorney General's office on the implications of yesterday's decision of the High Court. The High Court judgment delivered yesterday on a number of judicial review cases challenging the provision of section 99 has found subsections of that section to be unconstitutional. The implications of the judgment need to be carefully considered to ensure we can respond effectively. The necessary action will be taken quickly to address the issues raised by Mr. Justice Michael Moriarty’s judgment. If necessary, amending legislation can be introduced into the House very quickly, if necessary within days, despite the fact we do not have the endorsement of a new Government.
Section 99 of the Criminal Justice Act, which enshrined in statute the power to suspend sentences for the first time, had a positive impact when it was introduced in 2006 by ensuring suspended sentences would be served in the event that a second triggering offence was committed. Prior to the introduction of the legislation, suspended sentences were handed down but were seldom reactivated and did not, therefore, act as a deterrent to repeat offenders. While indications are that this judgment will potentially have an impact on a limited number of cases where a suspended sentence was recently activated, it is important that the difficulties identified by the courts are addressed. I am confident this can be done. I have spoken to the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Attorney General. The Department of Justice and Equality is in consultation this morning. If necessary, that matter can be dealt with effectively here in a number of days.
I welcome the Taoiseach's statement that the necessary action will be taken to deal with yesterday's High Court judgment and its implications. However, does that not prove the case I have been making that we can deal with these issues? What is preventing us dealing with issues we want to deal with is the will of this caretaker Government which is preventing us from doing our job.
Maybe the Ceann Comhairle can clarify matters. The Taoiseach has just said that in the case of amending legislation, it is quite possible for it to be done in the Dáil. By the very same token, it would be equally possible to amend the legislation around water services and abolish water charges.
The Deputy is making a point that has already been made. Is the proposal for the dealing with No. 4, statements on insurance costs, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with statements on EU-UK relations tomorrow agreed to?
No. I am going to make a last stab at this argument. Originally, on tomorrow’s schedule, there were to be statements on agriculture. For reasons to do with a Government decision, this item was taken off. Accordingly, there clearly is space tomorrow to have a discussion on water. It was requested at the Whips’ meeting but the Government was not up for including it.
While the Brexit discussion is an important one for the country and should be held tomorrow, originally, two items were to be on the schedule so there is no reason we could not have the debate on water charges tomorrow afternoon. I urge the Government-----
I am saying that, originally, statements on agriculture were agreed. It was on the schedule for tomorrow. It was then taken off it, I presume as a result of a Government decision, so there is time available tomorrow. We do not need to discuss Brexit all day.
If we are to extend this or bring in new issues, and we should be working more effectively here even in this interim period, parties in the House should support a debate on the type of budgetary process we want. We need to start debating now what we will do in the autumn and I would add that to the list. Other parties may have particular issues they want to address but we should start the debate on the budgetary process here and now.
He has not spoken on the issue I wish to raise. We have already dealt with that matter and it has been dispensed with in the Dáil. This issue concerns item 3a and I ask for the Ceann Comhairle's guidance. Motions have been tabled by the Sinn Féin Party on annulling a statutory instrument on penalty points, which was overturned by the courts and found to be unconstitutional in two cases in January. The Ceann Comhairle will understand more than most of us that statutory legislation can be annulled by a simple majority of this House, but that can only be done within a certain timeframe. When will this House allow Deputies to fulfil their legal responsibility to table a motion to annul a statutory instrument and have it debated and voted upon?
I wish to make it clear that if we continue with this situation where we meet time and again without being allowed to debate the motions that are before us, our legal entitlement to place a motion to annul a statutory instrument will be denied by the House and we will have to seek recourse in the courts to address that if we are not facilitated in so doing. The Ceann Comhairle understands that unless we allow a debate on this issue within the timeframe set down by law, this Parliament will be acting illegally by preventing elected Members who have tabled such a motion from having it discussed and voted upon. This is third time I have raised this issue. It is supported by Independents, the Fianna Fáil Party and others and the matter should be discussed. There is space in the business ordered for tomorrow for it to be discussed. Will the Ceann Comhairle outline to the Deputies who have tabled such a motion how the Dáil will act legally by allowing those Members who disagree with the statutory instrument, which was brought in on 1 March by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to have it debated and potentially annulled if the Dáil so wishes?
I thank the Deputy for his contribution, which is noted. He is very well aware of the fact that I have no role in fixing the schedule of debates that take place here. He has a highly competent Whip sitting beside him and I am sure the Whip, as part of the meetings of Whips and that general process, can come to an agreement as to when the vital business to which he referred can be dealt with.
One speaker at a time please. Can Deputy Ó Snodaigh resume his seat? I request, and all I can do is request, that the Whips meet as a matter of urgency to address the important issues that have been raised.
-----which will become law within 21 sitting days, can be annulled by a Deputy or the Opposition when such matters are not allowed to be discussed. There is an issue regarding legal clarification on how we make our rules-----
-----because this Parliament is acting unlawfully unless we allow and facilitate that debate within the 21 days that are set down.
You should not allow a Minister to introduce secondary legislation and then prevent the Dáil having a debate and voting against it if it so wishes, which it is entitled to do, under legal statute. It is simply not acceptable and this Dáil-----
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