Wednesday, 13 October 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 8 – Motion re: Fourth Protocol to the Treaty of Amsterdam (A Proposal for a Council Regulation (EC) regarding the establishment of “Eurodac”); No. 27 – the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Bill, 1999, Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; No. 9 – Motion re: Partnership for Peace and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.
It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the proceedings on No. 8, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion after two hours and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the opening speech of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case; (ii) the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (iii) Members may share time; and (iv) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; and (2) the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 9; (i) the opening speech of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party shall not exceed 30 minutes in each case; (ii) the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; (iii) Members may share time; and (iv) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed 15 minutes.
Mr. Quinn: Before we agree to that, is the Taoiseach in a position to indicate whether it is  the intention of the Minister for Health and Children to give the House some details tomorrow on the emergency arrangements?
Mr. Quinn: A Cheann Comhairle, I am trying to be helpful. We are ordering the business of the House and I want to know in that context, of which this is just one part to which we have to give our explicit agreement, will the Minister for Health and Children at some stage between today and tomorrow afternoon indicate to the public, through this House, what standby arrangements there are to provide—
Mr. J. Bruton: I understand Deputy Noonan has already proposed, on behalf of Fine Gael, and I suggest here, that the Standing Orders be amended to allow people to speak for up to 40 minutes on this subject. This is an issue upon which a referendum was promised to the people. We believe that since the Government is denying such a referendum, which it is legally entitled to do, the least it should do is allow a more full debate in the House than would occur on another issue. For that reason, I suggest the current time limit of 15 minutes per speaker should be amended to allow people to speak for up to 40 minutes on this subject.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): The key point here is the amount of time that is provided for the overall debate so that there is adequate time for Members to contribute on this crucial subject. Will the Government say it is not intended to put a guillotine on the debate tomorrow evening and  that it will continue next week and for as long as is necessary?
Mr. J. Bruton: I have to oppose this then because, if the Government promised a referendum, it is unreasonable, that it should force the debate through here without adequate time being allowed to individual speakers.
Mr. Quinn: —for No. 9, I understand the time allocation arrangements are the standard and the norm. However, everybody in the House would agree this is not a normal debate, bearing in mind the promise of a referendum and the U-turn that has taken place. In those circumstances, the suggestion by the leader of Fine Gael to reverse the normal time allocations in this debate without reference to any future debate, should be followed. I can understand why the Government Whip's office has tabled these time constraints. I am asking, in the light of the controversy surrounding the handling of this entire issue, that these normal time constraints should not prevail and that the Whips be asked to construct an alternative form based on the Fine Gael Party's suggestion or any other suggestion that might be made by the Taoiseach's Department and the Chief Whip.
Mr. Gormley: The parties that are most opposed to PfP will have 15 minutes under these Standing Orders. That is not adequate. That is  why I support Deputy Bruton. We need at least 40 minutes to explore the issues involved. It is an extremely important issue. The Taoiseach has, unfortunately, done a U-turn on this issue. I ask him, on that account, to make provision for us to have a real debate.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: A Cheann Comhairle, I share the views of Deputy Gormley that the core argument here is to ensure that those who genuinely wish to present the alternative to the proposal to join PfP are afforded that chance here in this Chamber. I do not know the real agenda behind the proposition for giving speakers 40 minutes across the board in an open-ended debate. Certainly I would not be interested in participating in a filibuster. It is very important Members in the House recognise that there is a fundamental flaw in determining time on such debates. It is either—
The Taoiseach: I was asked yesterday not to impose a guillotine or a fixed time to complete this debate and I accepted that. I was also asked that there be no time limit on the vote and I accepted that. Deputy John Bruton then asked that as many Members as possible be allowed to speak and I have accepted that. It is now being asked that Members should have a longer time to speak. I do not see the necessity for that. Every Member can speak on the debate. If some of the smaller parties are concerned because they have fewer members they can put their case to the Whips and perhaps arrangements could be agreed tonight. I see the sense in that, but I am not prepared to make other changes.
Brady, Johnny. Brady, Martin.
Browne, John (Wexford).
de Valera, Síle.
| Kitt, Michael.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Wright, G. V.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Mr. J. Bruton: Is the Taoiseach aware that the disaster of the nurses' strike has already happened in that chemotherapy is being cancelled for cancer patients, that brain tumour operations are also being cancelled in Beaumont Hospital and that this disaster is already present this week.
Mr. Quinn: I am trying to ask the Taoiseach a question. Will he make time available to enable the Minister for Health and Children to come to this House some time between now and tomorrow afternoon to inform the public what contingency arrangements have been put in place in the hospital services following the negotiations that are ongoing today between the relevant parties in the interests of some sense of understanding of what is going to happen? I suggest there is a precedent for this and I ask the Taoiseach if he is in a position to inform the House that such time will be availed of between now and the end of business tomorrow to enable the Minister for Health and Children to make that announcement? That is not related to the Private Members' motion.
The Taoiseach: Discussions are taking place today. When the outcome of these discussions are known, procedures of the House will allow Members to raise the matter tomorrow. We will then see what the position is.
Mr. Quinn: Obviously the discussions must continue but will the Taoiseach give an indication in principle that if the Minister for Health and Children is in a position tomorrow afternoon to make a statement that such an opportunity will be availed of, that a statement will be issued and that we will not have to ask the same question on the Order of Business tomorrow?
Mr. J. Bruton: I support what Deputy Quinn has said about getting clear agreement on the emergency situation. However, even if this is obtained, chemotherapy treatments and brain tumour operations will still be cancelled and this will result in deaths. It is important that the Government and nursing unions, who have joint and shared responsibility in this area, should get together not just on the emergency plan, but to ensure an agreement is reached which will avoid this strike taking place.
The Taoiseach: Discussions are going ahead today. Hopefully the emergency proposals which the Minister and his representatives in the Health Service Employers Agency have requested will be agreed. There are provisions under Standing Orders if people wish to raise the matter tomorrow and we will see what happens then. We know the proposals and what the Minister is seeking and we will know today whether they are agreed.
An Ceann Comhairle: Yes, because he wanted to continue a discussion that has been ruled out of order. The Chair allowed the leaders a brief question and answer session. Deputy Shatter had his opportunity last night and will have an opportunity tonight.
Ms McManus: The Taoiseach has said that there is provision available to us to raise this matter tomorrow to ensure this vital information is transmitted to the public. What provision is there, Sir, because I am not aware that a provision is available to us to ensure that emergency cover—
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