Tuesday, 8 September 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The House has agreed that, for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency only, the rapporteur's report of the Order of Business shall not be read out but shall be taken as read. There are three proposals to put to the House in accordance with that recommendation. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to?
It is not agreed. I very rarely, if ever, miss a Business Committee meeting but I feel like saying that while the cat is away, the mice will play. Questions on Promised Legislation has disappeared from the normal schedule where we might, for example, ask the Taoiseach when the legislation to implement the Duffy-Cahill report will be brought forward. The Government, having knocked the smaller parties down the pecking order in an effort to gag them at the end of the summer recess, has now given itself extra time above and beyond the move to gag the smaller parties. It wants to have its cake and eat it and to dominate the debate in here completely. It is absolutely unbelievable.
The neck is extraordinary. Also, there was an agreement at the Business Committee two meetings ago to have a debate on the economic situation this week, particularly given the Government's plans to axe the pandemic unemployment payments, PUP, the week after that. On multiple grounds, therefore, I object to the Order of Business.
The Taoiseach might get away with that answer but he will not get away with it from me because he is trying to do the same thing to the Independents. It is not welcomed by us to think that he is trying to gag us at this time. What he, his Chief Whip and others have tried to do in recent weeks is to silence us. Not only is he putting us at the end of the pecking order; he would like to have us outside the door completely if he was able to do that.
Thanks to the electorate, so far the Taoiseach has not been able to do that.
I know the Ceann Comhairle will respect very much the sincerity of my next request. When will we have an opportunity to try to put our shoulders to the wheel in a sensible and meaningful way to support the airline industry, travel agents, the airports and that whole sector? They are suffering so much.
I take Deputy Boyd Barrett's point. At the meeting of the Business Committee, there was a full explanation as to why Questions on Promised Legislation were not included this week. They will be included next week. There have been meetings on the legislative programme, which is being prepared, yesterday and today and there is to be another tomorrow and we hope to bring it to the Cabinet next Tuesday in order that the Deputy can ask questions on promised legislation. The intention is to have a relevant publication so there can be a meaningful 30-minute slot. That will absolutely be in place as normal from next week.
On the question on the economy, the Deputy's concern was shared by the Government side and, in fairness, by all Deputies across the House. We tried to facilitate a full and wholesome debate on health, including the four pillars of healthcare - Covid and health, disability services, public healthcare, mental health services and older people's services. The plan is to have a proper debate on the economy next week instead of just trying to fit a debate on the economy into a small slot on health this week. The objective is to have a meaningful debate next week. That was agreed fully by all members of the Business Committee. It will be on the schedule for next week.
I am aware a meeting of the Business Committee is scheduled for this evening. I asked at a Business Committee meeting last week about our not being allowed to ask about promised legislation. I thought we were getting that and I supposed I was not alert enough to what happened Is there any chance that we can discuss promised legislation tomorrow and Thursday? We are to have a Business Committee meeting this evening. This is cutting out Deputies of all parties and intentions.
The Government did not respond to the point on additional time, above and beyond that associated with the manipulation of the speaking order executed at the end of summer term.
We believe there should be proportionality and plenty of time for every Deputy. I am a great believer in parliamentary democracy and I believe people of all parties and none should have an opportunity to speak and articulate their views.
I did not interrupt the Deputy. This is a plenary session, and people felt they were excluded. They made representations to the various parties. All parties, in negotiating future orders for this Dáil, arrived at conclusions, agreements and so on. I was not at the meeting of the Business Committee; I do not attend its meetings. My understanding is that an agreement was reached at a meeting of the committee on the sittings for last week, this week and next week, and that is the way it should be.
The Government is obviously concerned about every sector that has been affected by Covid-19, not least the aviation sector.
It is in a challenging situation, as are the hospitality and some other key sectors on which Covid-19 has had a devastating impact. I have no difficulty in working with or taking certain ideas from Deputies on how we collectively try to help industries that are in challenging circumstances because of the devastating impact of Covid on normal economic activity.
Cathal Berry, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Mary Butler, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Patrick Costello, Cathal Crowe, Alan Dillon, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Peter Fitzpatrick, Seán Haughey, Emer Higgins, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Josepha Madigan, Micheál Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Eoghan Murphy, Verona Murphy, Darragh O'Brien, James O'Connor, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Neale Richmond.
Chris Andrews, Richard Boyd Barrett, Pat Buckley, Matt Carthy, Joan Collins, David Cullinane, Michael Healy-Rae, Alan Kelly, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mary Lou McDonald, Mattie McGrath, Catherine Murphy, Cian O'Callaghan, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Patricia Ryan, Duncan Smith, Violet Wynne.
We object to the sitting on Thursday moving back to the Convention Centre. It undermines the credibility of the House that we cannot come up with a solution that allows us to do our business here. As parents send their children on school buses and people go back to work in meat factories and other settings, the suggestion that we cannot come up with a working proposal that protects public health but allows us to do our business in this place is absolutely ludicrous. Today, the Government produced guidelines that will allow more people to sit in the Dáil bar than can sit in the Dáil Chamber. It is a crazy situation that needs to end and I call on the Business Committee to reconvene and come up with a workable solution that allows us to do our business in this House.
I had something else to raise but again this is hypocrisy from Sinn Féin. I proposed at the Business Committee meeting last Thursday, which the Ceann Comhairle chaired, that we would sit here every day and I got no seconder from Sinn Féin so this is grandstanding in the extreme. I was told by the party's representative that it might support me the next day. As the Ceann Comhairle knows, I have proposed at every Business Committee meeting that we do not sit in the Convention Centre because of the cost and all of the reasons outlined by Deputy Carthy. This is brass hypocrisy. Sinn Féin did not support it last week. It is shocking. I object to the business today and I ask again whether questions on promised legislation will be discussed at the meeting of the Business Committee this evening. Perhaps this evening Sinn Féin will support me when I ask that we move back here full time. I hope I will get another chance to do so at the meeting of the Business Committee.
Protecting public health is a priority but we have to face the fact there is a shocking contradiction. I raised this at the Covid committee so I am not grandstanding. We are spending approximately 50 times more on ensuring adherence to public health guidelines per Deputy than we are spending per pupil in school. That is shocking. The money given to schools to ensure physical distancing is approximately 50 times less per pupil than the amount of money we are spending on ensuring adherence to the public health guidelines in the Dáil. That will not fly with people. We have to address it without compromising public health. We have to focus on finding a solution to this.
For the information of Members generally, on the day of the summer recess, the Business Committee convened a special meeting that went on for a number of hours, where we heard submissions from a variety of experts in this particular field. It was open to any group to propose that we ignore the advice we were being given and return here. In fairness, with the exception of Deputy Mattie McGrath-----
-----who has consistently been of the view that we should be here all the time, everybody else saw merit in the expert advice we were being given. If we need to go back and get more expert advice in light of the points that have been made, I for one am certainly very willing to do that.
Nobody is suggesting that we ignore the public health advice. As has been the case with the pubs today, for example, the public health advice can be reflective of what is a requirement. In our case, this House is required to meet in this place. In my view, public opinion demands it. This has been Sinn Féin's consistent position. I hope it can be clarified to the House that when the suggestion was made that the Dáil would vote in the manner in which we have just voted on a reduced basis, something that Sinn Féin proposes, Deputy Mattie McGrath was one of those who refused to give the imprimatur of his group to adhere to it.
This is not a Government matter in the sense that it is a matter for the Oireachtas. The Ceann Comhairle has put it very clearly. He said there was a special meeting at the end of July. No one suggested or proposed to the Ceann Comhairle, bar one Deputy, Deputy Mattie McGrath, that we ignore or go against advice. It seems the situation has to do with voting. The Government is very open to whatever the Oireachtas agrees to consider. It does not serve the Oireachtas very well to be going for the cheap soundbites all the time and comparing this to the Dáil bar and all this type of nonsense.
It has been closed for a long time. It is a great line but it does not help us deal with the situation. It is a great old line but that is about it. It is a nice line to shout out but it does not advance the argument.
The issue seems to be whether we can organise votes here that everybody will observe. I am not an expert on this and I was not a part of the public health expert advice or the secretariat to the Oireachtas with regard to voting. It seems that voting is the major challenge to the authorities in the House with regard to organising it safely within public health guidelines. We are all agreed it is far more amenable for us to be here and it is more efficient timewise to be in this Chamber rather than having to go down to the Convention Centre. That seems to be the general view that most Deputies have. Certainly the Government is open and we will be constructive in working with the Oireachtas. The Business Committee met again last week. It seems that every second decision of the Business Committee is now being challenged, even though everyone seems to have been at the meetings. Notwithstanding everyone agreeing with a particular position, within 24 or 48 hours it is disagreed with. We will work with the Ceann Comhairle.
I make an official request of the Ceann Comhairle that he call a special meeting of the Business Committee within seven days. Deputy Carthy said it would meet tonight but all groups need a few days to put their proposals forward. There is no point in having a shortened version of the meeting we had at the end of July. Each group should have a few days to put forward proposals to return to this House. I ask the Ceann Comhairle to call this meeting within a week to discuss this issue on its own.
We have a meeting tonight and I hope we can at least discuss it then. We will wait for the proposals certainly but, for the record of the House, I have been making proposals at each meeting and the Sinn Féin Whip was there the last day and he did not support me. He said he might support me. That is a fact and the records are there to prove it. Hypocrisy goes on.
Everybody wants to be back here in this House but I do not see the point in having another special meeting. We had a meeting before the recess when all of the experts were in. They basically said that maintaining a 2 m distance cannot be done in this House. We cannot have everybody in this House to vote. That is the reality of the situation. I do not see that changing through having a special meeting next week but if it does, we will participate in it. Unless we can go down to 1 m distancing, there will not be full meetings here, unfortunately, and we will have to continue to go to the Convention Centre. That is the reality and it needs to be put out there. That is the position. What is the point in having another meeting to discuss that unless a decision will be made that we go down to 1 m.
Cathal Berry, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Mary Butler, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Patrick Costello, Cathal Crowe, Alan Dillon, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Peter Fitzpatrick, Seán Haughey, Emer Higgins, Alan Kelly, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Josepha Madigan, Micheál Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Eoghan Murphy, Verona Murphy, Darragh O'Brien, James O'Connor, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Neale Richmond, Duncan Smith.
Chris Andrews, Richard Boyd Barrett, Pat Buckley, Matt Carthy, Joan Collins, David Cullinane, Michael Healy-Rae, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mary Lou McDonald, Mattie McGrath, Catherine Murphy, Cian O'Callaghan, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Patricia Ryan, Violet Wynne.