Thursday, 30 July 2020
Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil
I ask for a little co-operation on the next matter. It is very late and getting later and there is still a lot to be done. I call Deputy Catherine Murphy, who, I understand, is moving a motion with regard to speaking time arrangements.
I have a proposal from the Business Committee. I move:
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, or the Order of Business of Tuesday, 28 July that:
(a) on the conclusion of proceedings on the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020, the following motions be taken without debate today:
- motion re establishment of select committees;
- motion to instruct select committees re their work programmes;
- motion re instruction to the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, and
- motion re report of the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform entitled Rotas and arrangements for Leaders’ Questions, Private Members’ Time, and Parliamentary Questions,
(b) on the conclusion of proceedings on the motions listed in paragraph (a), the motion re report of the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform entitled, Speaking time arrangements on the first round of Second Stage of a Bill, and on fixed-time debates, be taken, and be brought to a conclusion within 40 minutes, with speeches confined to a single round of five minutes each for a Minister or Minister of State and all Opposition parties and groups, and
(c) the weekly division time shall be taken on the conclusion of the motion re the report on speaking time arrangements.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete paragraph (b) of the proposal and substitute the following:
"(b) on the conclusion of proceedings on the motions listed in paragraph (a), the motion re report of the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform entitled "Speaking time arrangements on the first round of Second Stage of a Bill, and on fixed-time debates" to be taken without debate, and".
The Business Committee sets the schedule. This all-party committee has put a proposal to us. When this proposal for a debate was raised at the committee's meeting, there was not a word of dissent from the Government.
This is a sabotage of the Business Committee, which is supposed to organise the business of this House on the basis of co-operation between parties. It is an abuse of the Government's majority. Sickeningly, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party are lining up to drive a coach and horses through the process of democratic reform. The Business Committee and the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform might as well disband now.
I have not finished making my point of order. This is absolutely shameful behaviour on the part of the Government. I absolutely cannot believe that the Green Party is a party to this.
They sabotaged democracy. This is-----
We are not putting up with this. These people want to wreck democracy. They want to silence these voices in one go. We are not putting up with it. I am sorry, but they want to disrupt democracy but we are not going to let them.
Could Members allow the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to speak? Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett should please listen. A number of people are indicating they wish to make a point of order. Could Members please let me speak? It is very late and we are tired. Deputy Boyd Barrett has made his point of order. Deputy Catherine Murphy is on her feet and Members should please let her speak.
I reiterate the point that there was no objection to this at the Business Committee. We are going to go into the autumn session and we will have a whole lot of different arrangements on which we will have to have good agreement between the parties. Essentially, Members will start in September with an outrageous proposal that changes-----
This is absolutely outrageous. The Tánaiste said today that they were reintroducing democracy. The first proposal to reintroduce democracy is to deny a debate on something that is about the nature of our democracy. This is not about stopping speaking time; this is about how the speaking time is organised. That is what it is about.
They are the ones who are trying to gag fellow Deputies. We were all elected here by the people of our constituencies. We are entitled to have our speaking time on behalf of the people who elected us. I will not take any lectures from the Opposition. It does not have a monopoly on moral authority in here. All of us have our mandates. All of us are elected by the people of our constituencies and we will not be denied our right to speak on behalf of the people that we represent.
I allowed Deputy Griffin in on a point of order. That was not a point of order. Please, let us have a little respect. Deputies should please resume their seats. We are going to have a little respect for the room of democracy. If Deputies want to make a point of order, I will hear them but please, let us have a little co-operation on all sides.
On a point of order, the amendments that have been put on the Order Paper here today do not deny anybody the right to speak in this House. However, it has always been about the order of speaking. What the Government is proposing to do is to put all their speaking time first and to put everybody else after. That is the problem. That is the reason for the point of order.
The Government controls the House and this is simply about it using its dominant position to control this House and to put its views across. That is what has happened. It is the first time in 70 or 80 years that this has happened. It is because the Government is frightened by the views that we can put across in this House.
I believe this is a very reasonable proposal. It does not deny anyone speaking rights, but it is just about the sequence and where it comes in and where it goes out. Deputy Griffin accused some people here of spreading lies. I ask you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, to make him withdraw the word "lie". We have the heavy boot boys back again in Fine Gael. We had them between 1973 and 1977. Are they back again? Is Deputy Griffin from Kerry the new heavy gang? Is he the new bully who is going to bully us? They might silence us here but they will not silence the people out there who are outraged at what is going on in this House and at the shambolic Bill that was passed here this evening. It is an outrage. It is a reasonable proposal. It is not taking time from anybody; it only relates to the sequences of time and that should be respected.
Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. To be clear on what is being proposed here, the Government is trying to push through without debate a major organisational change in the way in which this Dáil organises its business, namely, to change the order of speaking time in Dáil debates. The aim of it is to ensure that smaller left parties and groups and Independent groups have less prominence in those debates. Why do they want to do this? Just look at what has happened in this House over the course of the past three to four weeks. If it was not for the role-----
If it was not for the role of precisely those smaller left groups and Independents over the past few weeks, the Government would not have been called to account in nearly as efficient a way as it was on the issue of the pay increases for the junior Ministers.
They would not have been called to account in nearly as effective a way on the issue of their scandalous attempt to try to deny the pandemic unemployment payment to unemployed people who are travelling. I will conclude on this point, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
For the last time Deputies, we do not want to abandon the Dáil in this manner. I am asking you all for a little patience and strictly on a point of order. Many Members have put their hands up. If Members could co-operate, it would be helpful. Deputy Flanagan put his hand up but does not wish to speak. I call Deputy Paul Murphy on a point of order.
The point of order is as follows: we have a proposal from the Business Committee about the order for the rest of this evening's session. Members may correct me if I am wrong but it is probably the first time in the history of the Business Committee that the Government is opposing the proposal from the Business Committee and has its own amendment. The reason for that is that it is not enough for the Government-----
I thank Deputy Murphy. You have made your point. I have been more than flexible. You have made your point of order. There is no offence taken. I thank Deputy Murphy.
There was one last speaker and then I am going to put the amendment.
Please, bear with me. We do not want to make mistakes. I am not putting the question yet. I am explaining what we are going to do. The proposal, as amended, will be the next question to the Dáil.
I ask Deputy McNamara to take his seat. That is what we are doing next.
People are watching this. I ask Members to stop this. I am going through a procedure. I ask Members again for their co-operation. Tá a gcuid tacaíochta á lorg agam. I will check the Standing Order in response to the question that has been put.
I ask Members to resume their seats while the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is speaking. I will clarify which Standing Order it is. The next step in the procedure is to put the motion, as amended. I have not done that yet. To answer Deputy Paul Murphy's question, it is Standing Order 82.
I ask Deputy Paul Murphy to resume his seat. I am told, and I accept, that the relevant Standing Order is Standing Order 82 of this year, 2020. I ask Deputy Murphy to resume his seat. I will proceed with the motion. The next part is that-----
I will take no more points of order. I ask Deputies to give up this sense of consternation. The proposal, as amended, which I have not put, I will put formally. If parties wish to make brief contributions, I will allow that.
I am making a ruling as Chair rather than trying to dance on the tip of a needle with points of order. If each group wishes to make a contribution on the amended motion, I will allow that. Does Deputy Bríd Smith wish to make a contribution on behalf of her group?
I wish to make a point on the record, on behalf of Solidarity-People Before Profit. The fact that we are putting these motions and amendments to the House is reminiscent of a dictatorship of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-----
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle herself said the people of Ireland are watching this. It will be watched over and over again and will be seen for the shambolic process it is, whereby a majority Government is trying to silence the Opposition. The Opposition has bent over backwards at the Dáil reform committee and Business Committee meetings to make compromises and propose amendments and compromise motions, and at every hand's turn they were rejected. That is why this will appear to the people of Ireland to be the worst outcome of the general election of 2020. They have the Blueshirts and Fianna Fáil in a dictatorship.
What is disgraceful is the behaviour in the Chamber. I now call Deputy Shortall. I have indicated and have given a ruling that I will take a brief contribution from each group. Then I will proceed to put the motion to a vote.
It is a well-established convention of the House that all parties have an opportunity, in order of their size, to speak on legislation or statements in the first round. We are merely seeking to ensure that that convention be continued. It is very disappointing to see the new Government, in one of its earliest moves regarding the business of the House, seek to dispense with that convention. This is not about denying Government backbenchers time to speak. They can have all the time they want to speak on legislation and statements. All we are asking is that we retain the order in which all parties have an opportunity to come in on the first round. It is a reasonable request that we stick with that convention, and there is no basis for the Government to deny that. It is fundamentally undemocratic to do so. What the Government is proposing is that the Social Democrats and the Labour Party, for example, which have exactly the same number of seats each, should be split in terms of that entitlement. Under the Government's proposals, the Labour Party can continue in its position in this regard but, for some unknown reason, the Social Democrats must drop down further in the queue. There is no logic to that. There is no defence for it. We have the same number of seats as the Labour Party and we should be treated equally. All we are requesting is that we continue with what was a very successful and harmonious system from the previous Dáil. That is all.
I have asked repeatedly for Members' co-operation. I have made a ruling. I have asked for one speaker from each group, and that is what I am attempting to facilitate now, with the House's co-operation. I ask Members to show a little respect. I ask Deputy Smith to be brief and to the point.
Speaking on behalf of the Labour Party, which with the vagaries of this proposal from Government would benefit more than the smaller parties, we opposed this at the Dáil reform committee meeting. We spent nearly three hours in the Business Committee coming up with composite proposals, which all came from this side of the House. They were very reasonable proposals. I ask the Government at this very late stage to withdraw this proposal. Not only will it create the rancour we are seeing tonight, but this will happen every single day because of what the Government is doing tonight. We have a Business Committee that has worked very well for four years. It has worked on the basis of consensus. We have had good politics because of it. We can continue with that. There is no reason for this proposal. There are very sensible, very reasonable proposals coming from this side of the House. Proportionality would be maintained and the scheduling would be according to the regular convention we have always had. This is absolutely outrageous. The Business Committee may as well not exist, Dáil reform may as well not exist, and we will go back 20 years because of this.
Accountability is an extremely important part of any democracy. If this country has suffered in the past, it is because of lack of accountability. The Government has all the cards in its hands. It has its offices and the human resources to be able to push through so much of its political agenda. One of the major elements of accountability is the ability of Opposition parties, especially smaller ones operating on fresh air in most cases, to hold the Government to account. Pushing our voices into the graveyard shift simply reduces our ability to hold the Government to account. This is simply about accountability, and it is absolutely ridiculous that the Government is looking to push our voices later and later in debates.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing somebody from the Government to speak. What we have seen for the past hour or two is exactly what has been wrong for too long: very small parties that get very few votes in elections dominating the Chamber, and members of Government parties and other larger parties that get hundreds of thousands of votes not being allowed even to speak, or being expected to wait until the very end until they are allowed to speak. I do not usually intervene on procedural issues such as this but I know this will be heard-----
I am embarrassed to be a Member of this Chamber tonight because of the behaviour from some of the parties here. I want people at home to listen to the number of times I am going to be interrupted when I try to say a few words in this Chamber because of the arrogance, nastiness and abusiveness of some of the smaller parties and the far left parties in this House who try to dominate this Chamber. Anytime anyone from Government stands up, a Minister tries to speak or a backbencher tries to make a point, they shout us down in the same way they bully people online.
Day in and day out they bully people in the Chamber because they come from a larger party or a Government party. I want the people at home tonight and the people who will listen to this on the radio tomorrow morning to know that what we have here is a new set of procedures, which will still give the Opposition parties 74% of the speaking time, even though they have less than half the seats. If there is anyone who should be complaining, it is the Government parties. We have more than half of the votes, we have more than half of the seats and we are only getting about 25% of the speaking time. They are getting a disproportionate share of the speaking time. We are the ones who should be grandstanding, not them. In terms of the order in which people speak, surely it makes sense that the largest parties that got hundreds of thousands of votes, should come in before those that got one, two or three percent. Surely that is fairness and democracy and that is all we are trying to restore here.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I remind the Tánaiste that he is depending on a small party who were in opposition recently to stay in government. He has 11 of that party now - one gone and more to go. That is the way it is now, sadly. We take no lecturing from the Tánaiste about that.
There was a convention that worked well in the previous Dáil. We have had 32 meetings of the Business Committee in this Dáil so far and they have all been civil and they have worked very well. We have always worked things out without ever having a vote of the Business Committee, I think. What we see here is - and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows - that the Government backbenchers do not turn up for their time and they collapse the debates. This is a three-card trick. Put them all in first, they will not turn up for the debates and the legislation will fall and be closed down.
This is an attempt to muzzle the Opposition. I am not from a far left party at all or anything like it. We want fairness and equality. We represent the people of rural Ireland and they need to be heard. The Government pushed through a Bill here earlier to report the vulture funds. That is who the Government represents. We represent the ordinary people.
For weeks the various political parties and groupings on the Dáil reform committee and Business Committee have debated the issue of proportional speaking, dealt with the issue of committee formation and a range of other issues to try to make this place work for everybody and be fair to everybody. The secretariat brought forward proposals a number of weeks ago relating to modelling for proportionality to be fair to everybody. Those proposals were not accepted and we had Government proposals as we come to the end of this Dáil term.
What has happened here tonight is deeply regrettable. Our party put forward a proposal to the Business Committee today to try to find a compromise between the legitimate requests for all of the Deputies to have an equal opportunity to speak in this Chamber. No matter what party one comes from, as a Teachta Dála for one's constituency, one has an equal right to have a say in this Chamber. We put forward a proposal that sought to strike a balance between that legitimate view and the current running order in place for Second Stage and Statements. We put that compromise proposal to the Business Committee today and, unfortunately, we have come to this.
What I was trying to do earlier was make a point of order to point that we have tabled an amendment to this motion, which is the compromise proposal from earlier. The smaller parties, in fairness, have also come forward with compromise proposals in their amendments. What has happened here tonight is deeply regrettable and it does not reflect well on any of us. We could have resolved it today at the Business Committee. I am sorry to be in this place and I hope that, when we come back in September, we can reflect on the need for all voices to be heard and for proportional speaking opportunities. I make the appeal at the eleventh hour to the Government to consider the amendments to the motion and to allow us to proceed on that basis.
Standing Order 67, states: "A motion to rescind or amend a Resolution, other than a Resolution relating to an adjournment of the Dáil or to Standing Orders, can only be made on notice that shall specify the Resolution to be rescinded or amended." Is this a resolution to amend Standing Orders and, if it is, is it not clear from the Standing Orders that it does not require to be on notice? I have also asked if I can put an amendment.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. It is very straightforward. The people of Ireland elected 160 Deputies to Dáil Éireann some months ago. Every one of us comes in with an equal mandate. Can the democratically elected Members please be allowed to vote?
I thank the Deputy. I think everybody has had a contribution. I apologise to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae but we allowed one speaker from each group. At this point, having made a decision on that, I am obliged once again to put the question.
Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, Joe McHugh, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Verona Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.
Chris Andrews, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Michael Collins, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Johnny Guirke, Marian Harkin, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mary Lou McDonald, Mattie McGrath, Michael McNamara, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.