Wednesday, 12 May 1982
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Shatter: Would the Minister for Justice make a statement in the House tomorrow on what steps he will take to deal with the dispute that has arisen involving District Court clerks who are refusing to implement the terms of the Courts Act, 1981, which has come into force? As a consequence, the family law jurisdiction of the District Court has ground to a halt.
Mr. Shatter: It is my understanding that on previous occasions when Ministers have been asked to make statements on the Order of Business they have been willing to rise to indicate voluntarily whether they agree to make such a statement. In the absence of the Minister for Justice, could I ask the Taoiseach if he would be agreeable to make such a statement on the basis that, if something is not done about this issue, there is going to be total chaos in our courts?
Dr. FitzGerald: On 21 July last the Taoiseach, then Deputy Haughey, asked me to make a statement on the Ballsbridge riot. You allowed him to do so.  On 23 July last, Deputy Haughey asked me to make a statement on the hunger strike, and I did so with no objection from you. On 11 November last, when Deputy Haughey asked me to make a further statement on the London talks, I did so and there was no objection from you. On 15 December last when the Tánaiste, Deputy MacSharry, asked for a statement to be made on a rescue package for farmers, not alone did you not object to such a statement being made, but when the Tánaiste was speaking in reply you called for order to enable him to continue to make his statement. In view of those rulings and permission given in those cases, would you reconsider the statement you made now?
An Ceann Comhairle: For the benefit of Deputy Garret FitzGerald and the rest of the Members of this House, when I took the position as Ceann Comhairle last July I said it was my intention not to muzzle Deputies in any way but to give every latitude with regard to questions. I tried, within the rules operating here, to allow latitude on this. I am afraid it got out of hand and, if I may recall a private conversation with Deputy FitzGerald, he told me I was perhaps too soft and I replied that I would try to observe the rules more stringently. When it is possible I will allow latitude and I would be delighted to allow more questions. The rules are too restrictive at present and they make it very difficult for Members and equally difficult for me to operate as Ceann Comhairle. I propose that the matter should be brought before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for you to change, not for me. I feel that would be in all your interests and especially in the interests of the Opposition. I as a Deputy know the problems, restrictions and frustrations that we all suffered. I hope this matter can be resolved and that there will be a successful outcome to the discussions on this so that matters such as Deputy FitzGerald and Deputy Alan Shatter have raised can be brought forward on the Order of Business to allow you all to have a chance to discuss problems.
Dr. FitzGerald: I ask you, with respect, to withdraw the suggestion that in a private conversation, to which you improperly referred, I made any reference to you being soft in relation to matters raised on the Order of Business. No such statement was made by me in relation to that subject.
Dr. FitzGerald: You made a suggestion that a discussion took place between us on the subject of matters being raised on the Order of Business and that I said you were unduly soft. I want to draw to your attention the fact that I made no such statement nor agreed with any such proposition relating to that matter.
Dr. FitzGerald: It was improper of you to refer to a private conversation and also to refer to it in a way in which you changed the subject matter, which related to the question of allowing supplementary questions. You suggested you were being too soft and I courteously agreed that you were being very generous in the matter. To use that against me by wrongly imputing it to me as a statement in regard to the matters on the Order of Business is quite improper and there is no precedent in the House for a Ceann Comhairle acting in that way. I ask you to withdraw that.
An Ceann Comhairle: Please be assured I am not trying to impute anything to you. I listened to you and I thought you were giving me proper advice. I understood that is what you said to me. If I misunderstood you, I apologise; but I honestly thought you said it to me. If I misunderstood you, I have no hesitation in withdrawing that remark without any qualification.
Dr. FitzGerald: Very well. It is evident from the fact that on many occasions  when matters were raised with me — I submitted 23 examples to you — and questions directed to me as Taoiseach, I was happy to respond with your permission and agreement and without any interference from you in most cases. That is clear evidence that I never thought you were too soft on the matter but that you were proceeding properly in allowing these matters to be raised. In view of the fact that the precedent which existed in this House previously was maintained by you on these occasions, I ask you to continue to abide by precedent.
Mr. O'Keeffe: On a point of order, pending any discussions before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, you should merely continue the practice which you have had to date, otherwise certain suspicions undoubtedly will lie on this side of the House that an alteration in such practice may be related to the change of Government, and that is something we would prefer not to have suspicions about. Such suspicions will not lie if the practice continues as heretofore.
An Ceann Comhairle: When possible, I will endeavour to allow the greatest latitude to Deputies to raise matters on the Order of Business. Please, Deputy FitzGerald, there is no need to get annoyed: I am only trying to operate the rules.
Mr. Shatter: On a point of order in reference to the matter of statements, may I invite the Taoiseach, who I know is very concerned about the proper administration of justice, to make a statement to the House, or to confer with the Minister for Justice who might make a statement tomorrow, concerning the position of court clerks? Because Members may not be aware of it, the point should be made that not only are there problems in the District Court, but there is no documentation, or ministerial  statutory instruments produced, to enable proceedings to go to the Circuit Court. Unless this matter is dealt with this week, the whole administration of justice will grind to a halt. This is a valid point of order to make because the problems I am now pointing to I anticipated in an Adjournment Debate on 1 April this year, during which the Minister for Justice did not have the courtesy to appear and in which, by way of April fool——
An Ceann Comhairle: I have allowed this. I am caught in a serious predicament until the matter comes before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Because I allowed this matter previously when you, Sir, were in Opposition I feel obliged to operate the same rules as I did then. If the Taoiseach would reply to Deputy Shatter we might get order restored in the House.
The Taoiseach: Of course I would be anxious to facilitate the Chair in any way. I will consider the point put by Deputy Shatter. I will discuss it with the Minister for Justice to see if he will be in a position to make a statement tomorrow. While I am on my feet, I should like to say that a great deal of the trouble we are having could be avoided if members of the Opposition would indicate to me and to you that they would wish to raise a matter. In that way I would be prepared and I would always be happy to oblige members  of the Opposition in any way I could because I would have some notice.
Mr. Fitzpatrick: (Cavan-Monaghan): I hope I will not be misunderstood when I refer to your suggestion, which I welcome, that pending a change in Standing Orders of the rules, you intend liberally to interpret both Standing Orders and precedents. One difficulty may flow from that, that is that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is inclined to operate a very rigid interpretation of the rules and Standing Orders. Might I respectfully suggest that it is necessary that both of you be on the same wave-length? Otherwise, Members of the House will not know where they stand, when they are in order or when they are out of order. Far be it from me to adjudicate on that delicate subject but I suggest that common sense demands that both of you will operate on the same wavelength.
Dr. FitzGerald: I am sure the Taoiseach will accept from me that there is some urgency about it. The Finance Bill will be quite complex, and that is the reason it will take time to draft. That is also the reason why it will require time  to go through both Houses. If it will not be circulated before early June the time limit for its adoption would leave very little time for an adequate debate. It will be a difficult and complex measure and therefore the time for its debate in this House should take precedence over the time of draftsmen. They should be diverted to this task and leave ample time for this House and the other to debate it.
The Taoiseach: I thought we had relapsed into an atmosphere of helpful constructiveness. Now we appear to be back making contentious remarks again. I assure the House that as soon as the Bill has been drafted it will be circulated irrespective of any other consideration.
Mr. Fitzpatrick: (Cavan-Monaghan): In fairness to the people of Dublin-West, the Bill should be produced before the by-election so that they will not be asked to vote in blinkers, in particular in regard to where the £45 million will come from.
The Taoiseach: I am on my feet. If the Deputy cannot be constructive would he at least have some sense of good manners? What will be in the Finance Bill is well known because it is in the budget and in the Financial Resolutions passed by the Dáil——
The Taoiseach: It is quite immaterial to me whether the Opposition accept what I am saying. I have made the statement that as soon as the Finance Bill has been drafted it will be circulated. The Government are as much aware as anybody else of the necessity to give as much time as possible to the debate on the Finance Bill and we will endeavour to facilitate the Opposition in every way in that regard.
Dr. FitzGerald: The statement that what will be in the Finance Bill is known because it was in the budget no longer has validity in view of the Government's decisions on expenditure subsequent to the budget, over and above the budget. One item alone amounted to £45 million, and as the Finance Bill must make provision for these——
An Ceann Comhairle: That is more relevant to the debate on the budget and there is a budget debate on at present. Deputy L'Estrange and other Deputies can discuss that matter when it arises on the budget.
An Ceann Comhairle: I am asking the Deputy to resume his seat. We must have order in the House. I will facilitate Deputies, but we cannot have a debate on it. The matter is more appropriate to the debate on the budget and you can raise that matter on the debate on the budget. I am calling on Deputy Gay Mitchell.
Mr. G. Mitchell: I have been most orderly. I have been waiting about ten minutes to raise this matter on the Order of Business. Will the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs make a statement on the information which is circulating regarding the non-payment of increases awarded to employees of his Department in December 1981 and which have still not been paid? Will the Minister confirm if that is the case and, if so, why. I would ask that the Minister make a statement in regard to that at the earliest possible time. Will he confirm that he will make such a statement?
Dr. FitzGerald: On a point of order, I think we should have order and I regret that we are not having order. This arose because, when a question was being courteously put to the Minister in accordance with what you proved was the proper procedure some minutes ago, he proceeded to ignore it and started dealing with another item of business which had not been called.
Mr. Wilson: Deputy FitzGerald is being most unjust and most disorderly. I was called on Item No. 9 more than five minutes ago and I think that Deputy FitzGerald should withdraw the remark that I was disorderly having been called on Item No. 9 about five minutes ago. I think it is disgraceful.
Dr. FitzGerald: When business is called sometimes other matters are raised and the Chair permits them to be raised, leaving over the question of business. In these circumstances the appropriate procedure is that, when these matters have been dealt with, the Chair recalls the item. In this instance the Chair has not done so and the Minister attempted to use his earlier call in order to avoid answering the question put to him and he was acting in a disorderly manner in abusing  the position in that way and I feel that the Chair should have looked to him and not to Deputy Mitchell.
An Ceann Comhairle: I am not responsible for whether or not the Minister replies. If the Minister does not choose to reply, I cannot force him to do so. I allowed Deputy Gay Mitchell to put his question. I am not responsible if there is no reply. The Taoiseach did say that if advance notice were given about some of these matters Deputies would be facilitated. I understood that when the question was not replied to it was because there was no notice. I had got then to Item No. 9 and I would hope that we might proceed with the Order of Business, with your co-operation.
Mr. G. Mitchell: On a point of order, I want to ask the Chair for assistance. First of all, I do not want to have any dispute with the Chair, not only out of respect for the Chair but certainly because of the association we have in a constituency, an association which I feel is a very warm and special one. Nevertheless, having been elected here for a constituency in which a number of people are affected by this information which has been given to me, I have sought in an orderly way — and I waited while a number of other people spoke on other matters — to ask the Minister for a statement. I am asking the Chair to tell me, if it is orderly and if there is a precedent for asking for a statement, what recourse I  have other than being disorderly if the Minister chooses to ignore the question?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy can raise the matter on the Adjournment; he can put it down by way of Private Notice Question if it is relevant; or he can put it down as an ordinary question. I cannot be of more assistance than that. We must proceed with the next business.
An Ceann Comhairle: No, I am not making that statement. Deputy FitzGerald is quoting me out of context. I said it would be considered. I did not say I would allow it and it would be grossly unfair to suggest I said that. I said the matter could be but that it would have to be considered. The Deputy has procedures available to him and that is one of them. The procedures are that he can raise the matter on the Adjournment, he can raise it by way of Private Notice Question, or as an ordinary question.
Mr. Taylor: On the Order of Business, could I ask the Taoiseach if he would request the Minister for Transport to make a statement to the House tomorrow regarding the unfortunate situation as a result of the apparently injudicious decision of the Minister for Transport in granting a licence to a private bus firm to operate a bus shuttle service between Dublin Airport and Dublin hotels as a result of which now, at the commencement of the tourist season, the Taxi Federation  have withdrawn services to an appreciable extent from Dublin Airport and if the Minister for Transport would indicate in his statement tomorrow morning — giving notice of the subject — what his proposals would be to resolve this impasse which is a serious matter at the beginning of the tourist season? I ask the Taoiseach if he would so request the Minister.
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