Thursday, 8 October 2020
Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil
Notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders or the order of the Dáil of Tuesday, that:
(a) the Further Revised Estimate for public services for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media be taken now without debate; and
(b) the Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion of No. 12a, statements and questions and answers on Covid-19, which shall be taken this evening immediately following a 20-minute sanitisation sos following the Trade Union Representation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018. The statements and questions and answers shall be confined to a single round which shall not exceed 95 minutes, including ten-minute slots each for the Minister and parties and groups, and an additional five-minute slot for Sinn Féin, which shall immediately precede a ten-minute statement in reply by the Minister, and all Members may share time.
That proposal is not agreed.
We are to have a 100-minute debate on health tonight starting at 8 o'clock. If the Ceann Comhairle will recall, the Taoiseach here on Tuesday, disagreed with the way that debates were being shoehorned and crammed into the middle of the week. The Taoiseach said, "If we want a serious debate ... we should have it on Friday morning and I will take part in [that debate]." We are not having a serious debate. It is being crammed in here on Thursday and the Taoiseach is not taking part in it. We agreed here in the House on Tuesday that he would have a serious debate here on Friday morning to discuss the abject confusion there is across the country regarding level 3 and the chaos that has been caused by regulations. As I pointed out to him then, everyone in this country knows when and where they can get a pint, but what do I say to my constituent in her 80s who has an adult child with an intellectual disability and who does not know when the training centre for her son will open? We do not know the details. We want a proper debate.
We wrote to the Business Committee on Tuesday asking for a proper debate on Covid strategy. There has been much discussion and kerfuffle about the spat between the Tánaiste and the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET. Certainly, questions have to be asked and answered about all of that but there is a much more important issue, which is, how are we going to respond to what is an escalating crisis with Covid infections rising? We need a very serious discussion about strategy. We need to hear the options laid out. We need to hear what data are available and how we can make a mature decision where political game-playing is left aside.
We have set out our stall. We believe the public health advice should be followed because the situation is dire. Others disagree, but there has not been a proper debate. To have a debate on the graveyard shift tonight and not have the promised discussion tomorrow is wrong. There simply is not enough time tonight to consider, question and discuss the very serious situation we have facing us and the need for a mature, serious and urgent response that the public can buy into. I have a different view from Deputy Naughten about what we need to do but I absolutely agree we need a serious, rounded, full and extensive debate, and that should include sitting tomorrow.
I will say a few words on this proposal. On Tuesday, the matter was raised by a range of Members, including myself, and the Taoiseach stated that we would have statements on Friday and that he would be there. That is on the Dáil record.
On what is being offered tonight, I had proposed earlier that we would have statements similar to Thursday last where we would have ten minutes across the board with statements and questions. I will be fair and acknowledge that the Government has compromised to agree to that. However, what my colleagues said is also fair. Friday was originally agreed. If something is agreed here and we work on that basis, it should not be changed. If the Deputies wish to push this further, I will support them but here has been compromise. I acknowledge that there are statements and questions tonight, which is critically important.
I concur with all the other speakers. If one wants to have a proper debate, I question going late into the night with the debate when everyone is tired. The previous two sittings have been late. Members want a proper debate. The House should sit on Friday where everyone would have a night's sleep and we would have full discussions on this. Even with the way the structure is set out for debates at present, for the likes of the Rural Independents to get in, the structure is all wrong.
The Government parties all want to speak first. They will put people to sleep. People want us to ask questions of them and they want them to answer to us. They do not want to have to wait. Members ran into this Chamber last week and on RTÉ were shown to be winded and unable to speak because of their slots. This has to change. We need proper debate, proper dialogue and a proper timetable where everyone can come in and debate properly.
The Taoiseach might think that some of us are blind but, thankfully, we are not deaf. On Tuesday, he made a clear commitment. He said that he would have no problem in having a full and wholesome debate on Friday. He stated that he would partake of that debate. What has happened since? What has changed?
Considering the hundreds of thousands of people who have been impacted in such a devastating way, with their work taken from them and the rug pulled from under them, the courtesy we are showing them in debating their issues is to cram this debate in late on a Thursday night. Neither I nor my colleagues think that is proper behaviour. That is not dealing with people's issues and problems in a sincere and meaningful way. Where is the word the Taoiseach gave on Tuesday? What changed? We were to hold a Friday debate and we are cramming it in tonight.
For completeness, the Business Committee this morning discussed this proposal for 35 minutes. Whatever about tomorrow, next week or whenever else, the specific request for tonight was for questions and answers. The Government is now proposing to facilitate the request for questions and answers. The only proposal before us is the proposal for tonight's sitting. What we are talking about is whether that should go ahead or not? There is no other proposal before the House.
Yes, there was reference to a Friday sitting. We are here.This is Dáil Éireann and we have a specific proposal before us and it is only this proposal that we can deal with. Are Deputies happy to proceed with the Government's proposal to have a question and answer session this evening or not? It is as simple as that.
This is a serious discussion. Things have changed; everyone knows that. It is not just questions that need to be put to the Minister of Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, late at night. We need to hear from the Head of Government what will be the strategy from here and what are the impacts of taking particular strategic options. That cannot be squashed into the graveyard shift alone. We should have the debate tonight, but we have to have the Friday sitting.
In fairness, we are only looking at the proposal for this evening. Practically every day the House has sat since shortly after the general election, we have had discussions on Covid and, unfortunately, we will be required to continue to have more discussions on Covid. It ain't going away and nor will the requirement for discussions. Will the Chief Whip please explain the position?
As the Ceann Comhairle said, the Business Committee spent a considerable time today discussing this. The Minster for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, is willing to partake in statements and questions and answers this evening which is why we made the proposal. We sought to accommodate a discussion in this evening's debate and time was provided at the end of today. The Opposition requested a debate on Covid. Last week, all Government time was provided for a debate on Covid. As the Ceann Comhairle said, there will continue to be regular debates on this issue. It is unfortunate that much of the debate has involved the politicisation of the public health approach. Many Opposition Deputies are trying to undermine the bona fide attempts by the Government to suppress the virus and bring it under control. That is a serious issue in the context of public health messaging that many Opposition Deputies, although not all, are attacking the Government strategy of suppressing the virus and giving clear and concise information to the public on how we need to tackle it. The framework for that is very clear.
I accept that Deputy Boyd Barrett has a different view but other Members seem to want to go back to level 1 or 2. We are clear about what we have set out, how we want to proceed and how to ensure enforcement and compliance at level 3 to suppress the virus. The Minister for Health will be before the Dáil this evening. We are accommodating that in the schedule and I am sure there will be debate on this issue next week and the week after that. Deputies are not being genuine if they seek questions and answers at a private meeting of the Business Committee, which the Government has been willing to facilitate, and then come into the Chamber and try to move the goalposts by looking for something else.