Tuesday, 5 November 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The business this week shall be as set out in the second revised report of the Business Committee, dated 5 November 2019.
Regarding today's business, it is proposed that No. a13, motion for financial resolution for the Finance Bill 2019, shall be taken without debate and any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately.
Regarding Wednesday's business, it is proposed that expressions of sympathy shall be taken after questions on promised legislation and shall be followed immediately by Taoiseach's questions. Contributions on the expressions of sympathy shall not exceed two minutes each. No. 34, statements on the potential of an early exit from peat for electricity generation, shall conclude within 85 minutes, if not previously concluded.
Statements shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons of parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, and shall not exceed ten minutes each, with a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time.
Regarding Thursday’s business, it is proposed that Nos. b13, c13, d13 and e13, motions re bye-elections for Dublin Mid-West, Cork North Central, Dublin Fingal and Wexford, shall be discussed together and shall conclude within 40 minutes. Contributions shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons of parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, and shall not exceed five minutes each. Any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately; and No. 35, Statements on the Report of the Implementation Group on Seanad Reform 2018, shall conclude within two hours, if not previously concluded. Statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons of parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes each, all other Members shall have ten minutes each, with a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time.
I thank the Deputy. There are three proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to?
The credibility of this House, and of politics generally, has been seriously called into question by the "votegate" and "fobgate" scandals. Something that gives rise to even more serious questions about the goings on in this House is that more than 50 Opposition Bills passed by a majority of Dáil Éireann, in some cases more than once, have been blocked, effectively sabotaged, by the use of the money message. People Before Profit and Solidarity have time to put forward motions. We have that time very rarely and the next occasion on which we will have it will be tomorrow. Some 11 days ago, we submitted a motion to change Standing Orders, the rules of this House, in order to remove this blockage in respect of all the Bills to which I refer and allow them to continue their passage through the House. Last night, however, we received a letter from the Ceann Comhairle in which it is stated that we would not even be allowed to have our motion put on the Order Paper, never mind having it debated or voted upon.
The Constitution states, "each House shall make its own rules and Standing Orders". We are allowed - and it is one of the few things it seems we are allowed to do in this House - to put forward motions to change our own rules. We have put forward a motion to change the rules regarding money messages. In that motion, we made it absolutely clear that we respect the constitutional provision that prevents Opposition Deputies, anybody but the Government, proposing a Bill seeking to appropriate or spend public money. That is stated in the motion. The motion also states that other Bills that do not involve the spending of public money or any attempt to seek to tax anybody should not be blocked by the money-message procedure and that the rules should be changed accordingly.
We believe that this is an unprecedented situation. It is suggested in the Ceann Comhairle's letter that we should change our motion. As an Opposition party, we have the right to put forward motions. We received a letter from the Ceann Comhairle in which he states that if we change the wording of the motion, it will be acceptable. I just cannot believe that. We have the right to put forward motions.
The Constitution states that we have the right to put forward motions regarding the rules of this House. We are most strongly objecting to sabotage of the democratic process in this regard.
That is fine. Deputy Boyd Barrett has made his point. I ask him to resume his seat. For the general information of the House, I have ruled that the motion submitted by Deputy Bríd Smith for Wednesday's Private Members' Business is not in order. This ruling is on the basis that the motion would allow certain Private Members' Bills that would constitutionally require a recommendation from Government to be passed by Dáil Éireann without such a recommendation. There is a fundamental difficulty in seeking to put in place rules of the House, in the form of Standing Orders, that could allow Bills to progress through the House in an unconstitutional manner.
My decision is fully in accordance with long-established rulings and parliamentary practice on the authority of the Chair to apply, interpret and rule on Standing Orders and matters of order generally. In doing so, I am advised by the Clerk of the Dáil, who has long experience in these matters, and he, in turn, is advised by the parliamentary legal advisers.
I am satisfied that the advice that I have been given in ruling the motion out of order is valid and sustainable advice to which I must have regard. I understand it causes great difficulty for the Deputies. I appreciate that, but the Deputies are also aware that the Dáil reform committee has negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the Government in respect of how money messages would be dealt with and that we are further examining how Standing Order 179 may be dealt with in a report that we are due to receive in the next number of days.
Hold on. People need to know this. Salient ruling 258 states, "It is not a function of Chair to interpret Bills, Acts or the Constitution". Salient Ruling 259 states, "Chair does not rule on the constitutionality of any measure coming before the House — this is a matter for the courts". That could not be clearer. What the Ceann Comhairle has stated in his letter is that he is choosing to interpret our motion as possibly infringing on the Constitution, when in fact our motion explicitly states it respects the constitutional provision the Ceann Comhairle refers to that seeks to change the Standing Orders of the House, which the Constitution allows us to do.
We are now in uncharted territory because the Ceann Comhairle is now saying that a motion, which we submitted 11 days ago, which the Ceann Comhairle now will not allow on the Order Paper, and which is due to be debated in the Dáil tomorrow, cannot be moved by us, debated or voted upon. That is absolutely sabotaging the right of Deputies to put forward motions in this House. That is totally unacceptable.
First, I do not intend to query the Ceann Comhairle's ruling, or to undermine it, but I would have to say that I share considerable sympathy with what Deputy Boyd Barrett has said and with the fact that an entire Private Members' motion on a subject that has been a matter of debate here for quite some time is being ruled out. The case is that the Government has not treated the House with respect in terms of the money message. The Government consistently abuses the money message to prevent good legislation from being debated and progressed through the House. For example, the Shared Maternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2018, tabled by Deputies Lisa Chambers and O'Loughlin, involves no additional cost to the Exchequer. It simply shares out an existing resource in terms of the benefit in that situation to men. The comment by Government is it might effect a change in the administrative mechanisms of the Department of Justice and Equality and it is ruled out because of a money message.
That was never the intent of the money message. The Ceann Comhairle referenced the report of the reform committee. This has been going on for quite some time. I would have thought that would have been published a long time ago. I believe the best way to change Standing Orders is through the various parties working together to try to get consensus on Standing Orders, not by mere resolution in itself.
The money message has been abused. Of that, there is no doubt. The reason we are at this current impasse is because of the Government's abuse of the money message and the failure to bring forward earlier the recommendations from the reform commission.
I agree with and respect the Ceann Comhairle's ruling. My understanding from the Business Committee was that we are awaiting the report by the Clerk of the Dáil on the issue of money messages, and this was what I understood to be agreed at the Business Committee.
The Deputy referred to 54 Bills that he states have been blocked. Government has yet to receive a request for a money message for 29 of these Bills. We have issued reasoned responses under the memorandum of understanding for ten Bills and issued money messages for three. There are currently ten Bills under consideration by Government. These will be dealt with in the coming weeks.
It should also be noted that 13 Private Members' Bills have been enacted in the lifetime of this Dáil.
I too support the concept. I accept the Ceann Comhairle's ruling but I believe the Government is using the money message as a measure to stop many good Bills, which is very unfair. I request that the clock be stopped while we have this debate. Many Deputies want to raise issues on promised legislation and the time for doing so is being consumed.
I have to be frank and say I am not in a position to make a judgment on the quality or otherwise of the Ceann Comhairle's ruling. I accept it is made in good faith but I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett that this is a very troubling set of circumstances. We all accept that the Ceann Comhairle has a function to discharge but the ruling raises a very serious question mark over the rights and discretion of Members of the Oireachtas, specifically members of the Opposition. All of us know that this money message provision has been used as an alibi by the Government to block legislation. That is an established fact. That leaves us with the question as to what we can do about it. I believe we have the discretion to change Standing Orders. The Ceann Comhairle says there is a constitutional dilemma in that. The Members presenting the motion say that is not the case. Why did Solidarity-People Before Profit Deputies receive notice of this only yesterday?
The disregard shown by that in and of itself strikes me as astonishing. Eleven days ago, Deputies presented for consideration by the Members of this House a motion in respect of the proper functioning of this place to address a matter that has been a cause of grave frustration for all of us. The Ceann Comhairle says there is a problem with the motion and the Deputies were told of this yesterday, at the 11th hour. At a minimum, that is very bad practice and it speaks again to the dilemma we have here. Are we totally and inappropriately hemmed in by interpretations of Standing Orders, rules and the Constitution such that we can give out and complain but we cannot get any resolution of this matter? What is the remedy for the Deputies? That is what I would like to know. It is not acceptable to tell them they should simply forget about their motion because they will not get to bring it forward. I want to know when we will see a motion before the House and get to exercise our authority to change Standing Orders.
We are not hemmed in by the Constitution. We must have respect for the Constitution. Everyone here is charged with respecting Articles 17.2 and 28.4 of the Constitution, which guide how we act and are the basis of the advice we received. I take the Deputy's point. I do not find it particularly satisfactory that this advice has come to us late. The reality is that the legal advice on these matters was received by the Clerk of the Dáil on Thursday or Friday and needed further consideration. I received my advice on this on Monday morning.
I cannot call Deputy Bríd Smith. In dealing with the Order of Business, I can call one spokesperson from each party or group. We heard Deputy Boyd Barrett.
I welcomed the indication that there was to be a motion on this issue. It is a frustration for everybody in this House. The notion that this is a new type of Dáil with new politics, that resolutions, motions and legislation from the Opposition benches would be welcomed and that everybody would be treated in like manner has not been the fact. I am a member of the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform which has struggled to get around this impasse or blockage that we all know exists.
The memorandum of understanding is a welcome development, but it is a cumbersome process that was dragged from the Government on the basis of there having to be some mechanism to resolve the frustration rather than having a constant row in the House.
The heart of the matter is the view of the Government that the constitutional provision, which exists in most parliaments, that the main job of the Government to enact the budget for the year cannot be undermined by constant Bills or motions to dismantle the budget. However, that has been extended, as Deputy Micheál Martin said, to any indication of a potential cost that might arise barring the progress of legislation that Members consider sound. We must find a mechanism to resolve this issue.
To add to Deputy Howlin's comments, it is not just a cumbersome process. The Government, in the way it has abused this provision in the Constitution, is in a sense going against the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution. A Cheann Comhairle, will you share with other Members the legal advice you received last Friday? It would help to inform us. I agree with others that we should be debating this. A debate would be helped if you were willing to share the legal advice the parliamentary legal office shared with you as to why it thinks it might possibly be unconstitutional.
In fairness to the Government, I do not believe it is at fault for all of this. As the Chief Whip said, the number of Bills it has counted does not meet the number of Bills that have been held up. There is a problem with how this is being interpreted. There is a tendency on the part of your office, a Cheann Comhairle, to act as gatekeeper. That is certainly my belief. There was an instance in recent weeks when I put forward an amendment to the Social Welfare Bill 2019. The Government was outlining four or five items that it intended to check and I sought to add one, but it was ruled out of order as being a cost on the State. That is ridiculous given that the Government was outlining all the costs it was going to deal with itself, but one extra item was going to be too prohibitive. There is a problem with this, so I was looking forward to debating it in the House because I believe we must act on it.
Possibly the only way to resolve this would be to let it go to the courts so they can give clarity on it. I can get legal opinion to say that we can do this and you, a Cheann Comhairle, can get legal opinion to say that we cannot. All of that is opinion. We need the courts to adjudicate on it, and perhaps the way to do that is to pass this motion.
I will call Deputy Bríd Smith, but before I do so, I wish to advise the House that the avenue available to the Deputy, which we have advised, is that she may recast the motion to bring it into order. This would involve redrafting it as a motion to refer the draft Standing Order to the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform for its consideration. This option remains open to the Deputy. Having regard to the concerns expressed by all Members, I will convene a meeting of the Dáil reform committee this afternoon and I will ask the legal advisers to come to it with the Clerk of the Dáil and give us an explanation of why we are where we are today.
First, I wish to record the total disregard of this motion and our group, which has precious little Private Members' time. Your office received this motion 11 days ago, a Cheann Comhairle, and at 9 last night we were notified in writing that you were not allowing it to proceed.
Second, your offer to put a preamble to the motion that would refer it to the Dáil reform committee does nothing other than refer to that committee a motion that you say conflicts with the scheme of the separation of powers as set out in Bunreacht na hÉireann. That is set out in your writing.
Third, we have repeatedly asked for the legal opinion and it has been refused to us, other than to say it was verbal, not written. This is at least shoddy and at worst undemocratic. We are not going to sit here and take it. There will be no preamble and no referral to the Dáil reform committee. We have a right to put the motion. We submitted it 11 days ago. My office put a great deal of work into it, yet we were told "end of" at 9 last night. I do not accept that. I was elected by the people of Dublin South-Central to represent their interests and I am going to stand here until I am allowed to do that. I do not accept being pushed around in this shoddy way. It is not me you are insulting, but the people of Ballyfermot, Drimnagh, Walkinstown and elsewhere. How dare this House do that.
Deputy Smith, I admire your passion for the particular issue, but I am afraid you are a little bit misguided. This is a constitutional assembly. We must have regard to the Constitution. When I signed the pledge here-----
Resume your seat, please. When I signed the pledge here I committed to be the Members' servant, not a slave to the system. We have reformed many aspects of how business is transacted here. However, we cannot unilaterally reform the provisions of the Constitution, which require a referendum to be changed.
Please, Deputy. For as long as the Constitution states what is set out in Articles 17.2 and I think it is 28.4, we are constrained. The Deputies might wish we were not, but we must deal with the reality.
Many of the comments made today are a bit external to the point. The point here is that you, a Cheann Comhairle, have not given a reason based on Standing Orders as to why you have ruled our motion out of order. You did not do it in a letter or in oral form today. Instead, you have referred to the Constitution. You have given a constitutional reason for our motion being out of order. That is unconstitutional, a Cheann Comhairle. You do not have the right. It is not your role to determine the Constitution. You are acting outside of your powers.
You are acting outside of the Standing Orders. It is clear in what is interpreted by the salient rulings of the Chair. You do not rule on the constitutionality of any measure coming before the House, but that is what you are doing.
It is also the case, as the House is well aware, that rulings of the Chair, as from all of my predecessors, must be accepted and cannot be challenged and debated on the floor of the House. In fact, we have given more than 20 minutes to a debate I probably should not have allowed-----
A Cheann Comhairle, can you please explain to me how your ruling is not conflicting with Article 15.10 of the Constitution that states: "Each House shall make its own rules and standing orders"?
Are the Members willing to accept that we would convene this afternoon a meeting of the Dáil reform committee to hear the arguments on this, which we will do? We will ask for the legal advice to be provided through the Clerk of the Dáil to that meeting. Will you accept that?
That meeting should happen and the advice should be shared, but that does not resolve the issue. Members have brought forward a motion. I did not realise, by the way, that the advice, apparently, was verbal. Have you received written advice?
It leaves us in a situation where, at the eleventh hour, this motion has been ruled out of order. That is strongly contested by Members of the House.
This is a very difficult situation. I would like to see the motion taken. The rights and prerogatives of Members have to count for something.
Of course the Constitution and Standing Orders count for something. Nobody is contesting the contrary. What we are hearing, however, is an interpretation without the benefit of any information before us. With all due respect, all of this has been very last minute on the part of the system. That is not the fault of the Members.
I will offer a further small piece of advice with regard to how the system works. The parliamentary legal advisers advise the Clerk of the Dáil. The Clerk of the Dáil advises me. That has been the process down through the years.
No, we are voting on the arrangements. What Solidarity-People Before Profit includes in the arrangements is its own business. It may be impacted upon by the meeting of the Dáil group.
That is a disgraceful thing to say to us. The Ceann Comhairle wrote to me at 9 p.m. last night. It is outrageous to tell us that it is our own business. The Ceann Comhairle is blocking it.
Maria Bailey, John Brassil, Declan Breathnach, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Joan Burton, Mary Butler, Catherine Byrne, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Jack Chambers, Lisa Chambers, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, John Curran, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Timmy Dooley, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Pat Gallagher, Seán Haughey, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Martin Heydon, Brendan Howlin, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Seán Kyne, John Lahart, James Lawless, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Micheál Martin, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Kevin Moran, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Dara Murphy, Eoghan Murphy, Eugene Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Carol Nolan, Darragh O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, Kate O'Connell, Willie O'Dea, Kevin O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Loughlin, Jan O'Sullivan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Willie Penrose, John Paul Phelan, Anne Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Eamon Scanlon, Seán Sherlock, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar, Katherine Zappone.
Gerry Adams, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Tommy Broughan, Pat Buckley, Joan Collins, Catherine Connolly, Ruth Coppinger, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pearse Doherty, Dessie Ellis, Martin Ferris, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Séamus Healy, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Catherine Martin, Mary Lou McDonald, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Louise O'Reilly, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Eamon Ryan, Bríd Smith, Brian Stanley.
As the question is carried, Wednesday's business is agreed to. Notwithstanding that we will have a meeting of the reform committee at 5 p.m. in committee room No. 2 to consider the concerns that Members have expressed.
We can put forward Bills that are passed on Second Stage and then blocked. Now, when we try to amend Standing Orders, the Ceann Comhairle simply rules that out of order and our motion is being deleted.
The meeting at 5 p.m. will achieve nothing because whether the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform passes the motion, the Ceann Comhairle will deem it unconstitutional, which he has no right to do.
Resume your seat, Deputy Murphy. Deputy Murphy, I am asking you to resume your seat. This is a democratic forum within which no Member is allowed to shout down his or her colleagues.