Thursday, 25 March 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
An Ceann Comhairle: Before coming to the Order of Business, I propose to deal with a number of related notices of motion under Standing Order 31 from Deputies Quinn and De Rossa and Deputy Joe Higgins. I propose to call on the Deputies in the order in which they submitted their notices to my office. I call first on Deputy De Rossa to state the matter of which he has given notice to me.
Proinsias De Rossa: I request leave to move the adjournment of the Dáil to discuss the following specific matter of public interest: the decision by NATO to launch a series of air and missile attacks on targets in Serbia and Kosovo; and the need for the Government to urge a suspension of the attacks and for renewed efforts, through political and diplomatic means, to secure a peaceful settlement to the crisis in Kosovo. I hope in view of the seriousness of the matter, A Cheann Comhairle, that you will grant the request.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): I seek leave to have the Dáil adjourned to discuss the following matter of extreme public importance: the position which the State should adopt regarding the bombing of Serbia by NATO forces; the political consequences of the bombing for the people of the Balkans and the rest of Europe; and the extreme danger of loss of life of innocent civilians.
An Ceann Comhairle: The House had over an hour's discussion yesterday afternoon and I will  allow brief comments from either the party leaders or the foreign affairs spokespersons on the Order of Business in view of the seriousness of the matter.
The Tánaiste: I share the view expressed by Deputy Quinn. The Government would be prepared to provide time to have statements on this matter and perhaps the Whips could discuss that. Perhaps we could sit later to facilitate it.
An Ceann Comhairle: I want to make it quite clear that on the Order of Business it will be a contribution from either a party leader or alternatively a spokesperson on foreign affairs. We could not have a prolonged discussion on the Order of Business. It would be brief. Is that acceptable?
Mr. M. Higgins: I welcome the attitude being taken by you, a Cheann Comhairle, and by the Tánaiste and others to try to facilitate a debate. However, statements confined to the party leaders or spokespersons on foreign affairs might not meet the genuine interest of those in this House who are opposed to the indiscriminate and unauthorised actions of NATO and their consequences.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair is trying to facilitate the House. Obviously we cannot have a long discussion on the Order of Business, but the Tánaiste has offered to allow time later today for fuller statements.
Mr. M. Higgins: My point is that it should be a matter for the Whips to decide on the length of the debate. I am not interested in disrupting the Order of Business – the matter is too serious. Equally, it is too serious to be confined to short set pieces. That would be unacceptable to me.
The Tánaiste: I am in your hands. Obviously, you can allow Private Notice Questions, as you did yesterday. The Government is prepared to facilitate statements in the House in whatever way possible. The Whips can discuss this matter.
Mr. Quinn: I thank the Tánaiste for the offer. As far as the Labour Party is concerned, given the logistics the matter should be discussed by the Whips. We should try to accommodate the scheduled business for today and perhaps consider extending the sitting this evening.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): The statements on Telecom Éireann will conclude at approximately 11.30 a.m. and between then and 1.30 p.m. the Sea Pollution (Amendment) Bill, 1998, will be debated. I suggest that is the time to take statements on the war in the Balkans. That means statements on the genetic modification of food can also take place.
The Tánaiste: Because we have not come to the Order of Business I find myself in an awkward position. It is not impossible. Everybody is trying to be helpful. In my view, we should have a debate today. The most satisfactory way to deal with the matter is for the Whips to meet after the Order of Business and to agree the schedule of that debate.
Mr. J. Bruton: I do not agree. This matter is extremely urgent and the House should express its view on it. We should not wait and I will be surprised if the Tánaiste will not be able to express the Government's view on this matter this morning and is not ready to do so now. It is not appropriate to wait until this afternoon to debate this matter. The Opposition is ready to debate it now.
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