Wednesday, 2 May 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 48, Twenty-second Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001 (Judicial Conduct) – Committee and Remaining Stages; No. 23, motion re statement for information of voters in relation to the Twenty-second Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001 (Judicial Conduct); No. 24, motion re Referendum (Ballot Paper) (No. 2) Order, 2001; No. 49, Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001 (Nice Treaty) – Second Stage (resumed) and Remaining Stages; and No. 25, motion re statement for information of voters in relation to the Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001 (Nice Treaty). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. and business shall be interrupted not later than 10 p.m.; (2) the Second and Remaining Stages of No. 49 shall be taken today; and (i) the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m.; (ii) the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs; and (3) Nos. 23 and 24 shall be taken immediately upon the conclusion of No. 48, and Nos. 25 and 26 shall be taken immediately upon the conclusion of No. 49 and shall be decided without debate. Private Members' Business shall be No. 122, motion re  Stadium Ireland (resumed) to conclude at 8.30 p.m.
Mr. Noonan: On the proposal for the late sitting and the proposal that No. 48, Twenty-second Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001, be the first business today, to conclude at 1.30 p.m., circumstances have changed since the House discussed the matter yesterday. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform made a botch of the original proposal and introduced amendments that would have made matters worse in that they would have ensured that if there was another Sheedy affair, no procedure of the House would be available to alleviate the situation. He has now circulated 14 amendments in the two recognised constitutional languages. This was done late last night and the Opposition has not had time to consider them. While advance copies were sent to the party spokespersons, most Deputies have only now received the circulated amendments. This is no way to deal with the Constitution. We will not allow this arrogant Minister to drive a coach and four through procedures and insert something into the Constitution without proper scrutiny in this House. I formally advise the Taoiseach that we will not proceed with business this morning unless alternative arrangements are made to debate the issue.
Mr. Quinn: We are being asked to consider proposals to change the Constitution, the fundamental law of the country. Many on this side of the House have engaged in the drafting of constitutional amendments and are aware of the scrutiny and length of time required, including the many drafts that pass from the Cabinet to the Office of the Attorney General and back to the relevant Minister sponsoring the amendment. That has not happened in this instance to the point where issues were not resolved prior to introducing legislation to the House. The legislation is premature. It is not standard legislation; it is about a fundamental change, not just to the Constitution, but in the relationship between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. It is at the core of what western democracies are about and cannot be rushed through. The all-party constitutional review committee has recommended that 90 days should elapse between the publication of such a Bill and its consideration.
The amendments proposed by the Minister have not been circulated to Deputies. While they are available in the General Office, they have not been placed in Deputies' post boxes. They are in the two official languages. If there is a dispute over the interpretation of the Irish and English versions, under the law the Irish version prevails. Very few, if any of us, are in a position to arbitrate on such a possible dispute – I am not – and we have not had time for our advisers to look at the amendments.
We are opposed to proceeding with this business today. It is with sadness and reluctance that I inform the Taoiseach that we will not proceed. If he wants to introduce proposals to amend the Constitution in the House today, he will do so alone.
The Taoiseach: I am not certain what the Deputies are asking for. If they are seeking additional time, as they did yesterday, the Minister has tried to take account of the views and the work of the all-party constitutional review committee. Its work was done on a consensual basis. The All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution made its report, the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Ethics has made its report, and Ms Justice Susan Denham's committee has made its report. The Minister and the Government have examined and discussed it and we brought forward amendments last night. I accept Deputy Noonan's point that the amendments were only introduced last night. If Deputy Noonan is saying he sees merit in those amendments and if they satisfy the issues raised in the Second Stage debate, that is one thing, but if he is saying his party will not be able to support this constitutional Bill, then the Government will have to reflect on that. I note that Deputy Noonan says that given some extra time he may be able to support the Bill, so I must ask what is his position.
Mr. Noonan: Our position is that we were given a raft of amendments last night from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who as late as this morning on “Morning Ireland” has again expressed his disdain for the Opposition and its input into this debate. We have not had time to scrutinise the amendments and make up our minds on whether we will support them. We need time to scrutinise the amendments. We are not prepared to proceed with the debate this morning and if the Taoiseach by majority vote forces a debate this morning, we will leave the House and the Minister can continue on his own.
Mr. Quinn: We all want to see the Constitution changed in respect of the relationship between holding judges to account without interfering with the separation of powers. We are not in a position to proceed today. We are not obliged to proceed today. If the Government wishes to make progress on other aspects of business today, I respectfully suggest that the Taoiseach amends the Order of Business and withdraws this item to be taken on another day, and proceeds with the other items.
The Taoiseach: We hope to have these amendments for the referenda in a few weeks time. There are time limitations. The amendments as I understand them have been a response to the  issues that have been raised here. The amendments are the Government's response to questions put by the Opposition—
The Taoiseach: The Deputy said it should be referred to a committee to spend the next few months examining it. It is not normal procedure to refer referenda to committees. That has not ever been the procedure. Referendum Bills have not been referred to committees—
Mr. Noonan: What I am saying this morning is that we are dealing with a very serious issue. The separation of powers is central to our democracy, it is the foundation stone on which many of our freedoms are built. There are proposals being put forward by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform this morning which will fundamentally alter that arrangement on the separation of powers. These amendments are not yet available to our Deputies. They were circulated late last night and they are quite detailed. We need time to consider them in advance of any arrangement made for a debate. We are not prepared to take the debate today. It is not a question of more time today, it is a question of having time to consider the position in advance of the debate. That is a reasonable request and if the Taoiseach is prepared to railroad it through the House, we will not participate at all and the Government can take its chances on 7 June.
The Taoiseach: No, we are not. We would like to have the referendum on 7 June. We have been discussing this and if it is a matter of deferring the debate for a number of hours, I have no difficulty with that or even with switching it to tomorrow. However, if the Opposition is just putting it on the long finger, then there is no point in changing. I am trying to find out if the Opposition is serious in facilitating the passage of the Bill or is it looking for a delaying device. It can be taken tomorrow at the latest but if that is not acceptable to the Opposition, then the situation is impossible.
Mr. Noonan: We are prepared to discuss any proposals put to us through the Whips, but the net point is that this is being railroaded through, there are a series of fundamental changes now being made and the Government expects us to simply wave the Minister on. We will not do that. There is nothing sacrosanct about 7 June. It is the Government's self-imposed timetable which was arranged without any discussion with us and we are not bound by any of the decisions made to date. We want time to consider this. The Government has used the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution as an excuse on a number of occasions when replying to us. That committee has recommended that there should be a 90-day consideration period between the publication of amendments to the Constitution and their passage through the House. We are not even being given 90 minutes.
The Taoiseach: I understand that is not a correct interpretation of the report of the all-party committee. There is not a 90-day consideration period. My last word on this is that I am not opposed to changing the times of the debate in order to ensure we hold a referendum in a few weeks time. I do not wish it to drift on into the summer when exams and other difficulties get in the way. We are either serious about this or not. If Deputy Noonan wishes, we can ask for a Whips' meeting to arrange some time to be given today. The amendments are straightforward. Most of them are in response to issues raised during the passage of the legislation in this House. If time is needed today to discuss those issues, I will make that available. The Minister or his officials will deal with those issues. If the Opposition is merely trying to put this on the long finger, then there is no point.
Mr. Quinn: Thank you, Sir, for facilitating us but we are discussing fundamental matters. I hope we are doing so in order on the Order of Business. So that there is no misunderstanding on the Taoiseach's part, he is proposing, without consulting with the Opposition, to have four separate items voted upon by the electorate of this Republic some time in June. We were not consulted. We do not like the idea of four items being taken together. Many people would wish the Nice Treaty to be taken separately. There is no necessity to take the four together if the referendum is to be in June. There is every necessity to get this right in light of our experience. We suggest that this matter be decoupled from the timetable that he understandably has which we do not necessarily support although we understand why he wants to proceed with it. The Nice Treaty should be dealt with in the autumn. So that there is no sense of misleading you, Sir, in the event of a Whips' meeting we are opposed to this item being taken. If his timetable is such that it has to be taken tomorrow or the next day, he will take it on his own without the support of the Labour Party.
An Ceann Comhairle: Could the Chair get a word in? I wish to point out there is an Order of the House from yesterday stating the Committee Stage must commence immediately after the Order of Business. That Order will have to be withdrawn by the House.
Mr. Noonan: We are not in a position to take this debate without considering the amendments that were published late last night. We will need time to scrutinise them. I do not expect we will be in a position to take the debate tomorrow either. I respect the Taoiseach's position as Leader of the House. It is his responsibility to order business in this House. We are prepared to participate in a Whips' meeting to discuss a reordering of business in this House which allows us time to scrutinise these amendments and debate them properly when we have done so.
The Taoiseach: I am happy enough on that basis and I appreciate what Deputy Noonan has said. I appreciate that Deputy Quinn's position will not change. The Government is anxious to get agreement on this matter. If not, it will have to reflect on this whole issue. We have to do that by tomorrow. The Government will have to decide what referenda it is holding on 7 June, which is the preferred date. We consider that holding a referendum at a later date in the summer would pose many difficulties. It would have to be in the autumn and we are not going into the autumn.
On the Nice Treaty, all the countries seeking enlargement are asking us to ensure there is clarity so that they can get on with their accession discussions. I am not going to hold up half of central and eastern Europe on this issue. We can either do business on this issue or the Govern ment will have to reflect on it. If we cannot have the discussion today we will have to include it tomorrow and then the Government will have to make its decision. We can move on to other items. The Whips will have a short meeting to agree it and try to include it tomorrow. If not, the Government will consider what to do next week and what referenda it should hold. We will make that decision. There is an opportunity to deal with this matter which has been discussed by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution and by the Denham committee. We have been offering to deal with this issue and to push it into the autumn or next year does not seem like a good idea.
The Taoiseach: All I am doing at this stage is withdrawing them. The Whips can decide the time allotments and come back with them in half an hour. They can interrupt the Business of the House and we can proceed with the Order of Business..
Mr. Quinn: I want to be absolutely clear what my party is agreeing to. If the Taoiseach is saying that Nos. 48, 23 and 24 are not being moved now  but could possibly be moved in another form later today, following a meeting of the Whips, and that the Order we are being asked—
An Ceann Comhairle: There may be proposals to take other business. It is a proposal before the House so we must make a decision on it. Is the late sitting agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with item 49 – Second and Remaining Stages of the Twenth-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001 – agreed?
Mr. Sargent: Item No. 49 on the Nice Treaty seems to suggest that about an hour is sufficient to deal with the Committee and Remaining Stages. For a treaty that is due a considerable amount of debate and involves not only enlargement, as the Taoiseach is well aware, but the integration of the Western European Union into an economic entity and the militarisation of Europe, it is amazing that neither we nor the people will have the opportunity to partake, through this House, in a discussion—
Mr. Sargent: I am trying to explain that it is not acceptable in any reasonable democracy, particularly one that values its membership of the European Union, to pass such a complex and detailed treaty as the Nice Treaty without more consideration. We cannot accept that Committee and Remaining Stages be taken today. The Dáil divided: Tá, 71; Níl, 61.
| Kitt, Michael P.
McGuinness, John J.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Wright, G. V.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Burke, Ulick.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Taoiseach has withdrawn Nos. 23 and 24 so the question is: “That the proposal for dealing with Nos. 25 and 26, motions in relation to the proposed referendum on the Nice Treaty be agreed to”.
Mr. Noonan: The Taoiseach needs to clear up the confusion caused by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation about the status of the evaluation of Stadium Ireland. On radio this morning the Minister seemed to suggest that the independent evaluation of the project was, in effect, a public relations arrangement to assuage public concern about the cost of the project and that the outline bidding process would proceed regardless. The Taoiseach is probably aware that yesterday evening the British Government decided not to support Wembley Stadium, which is on the verge of bankruptcy, to the tune of £700 million. Private sector involvement in Wembley is being withdrawn because in a city ten times the size of Dublin a stadium that will attract far more international matches than Stadium Ireland could possibly attract is considered not to be viable on an ongoing basis at a cost of £700 million.
Taking all that into account, will the Taoiseach confirm that the evaluation of the costs of the project is a real evaluation and not a public relations gesture? Will he give a commitment today that all activity in the Abbotstown process, including the bidding process, will be halted immediately pending the outcome of the evaluation?
Mr. Quinn: I propose a way that would be satisfactory to us and to all Members and that is to take up the observation made by the Comptroller and Auditor General on pages 86 and 87 of his final report on the DIRT inquiry. He would be in a position to conduct a value for money audit on proposals emanating from Government but which  have not yet been put in place. I propose this because, as the Taoiseach knows, consultants are for hire in this city and the conclusion of their investigation is often agreed in advance with the client. If consultants want to get repeat work they will not aggravate the hand that feeds them so generously. This does not apply to the Comptroller and Auditor General as his integrity is beyond reproach, as would be his report. Taxpayers' money would be saved as the Comptroller and Auditor General is already in the public service and when questioned, he was quite clear about his ability to conduct such a study. His conclusions would presumably have the confidence of the junior Government partners, if they are still there, as well as every other Member of this House.
The Taoiseach: The terms of reference for the consultants will be for an independent overview. They will have to conduct a wide investigation. The bid phase will conclude on 21 June and figures will then be available, so we will have to wait to see what happens when the process is finished. The only exception to this is the swimming pool, which will I hope go ahead as there does not seem to be any argument about it.
I am aware of what has happened as regards Wembley, but it is not comparing like with like. Deputy Noonan is as aware as I am that London, with a population of ten million people, has about ten excellent stadia including those at Highbury, White Hart Lane and Upton Park which hold in excess of 50,000 people. I take Deputy Quinn's point that people discussing this issue refer to the money involved rather than the value, which is a pity. If one was to assess the value rather than the money involved, perhaps some people would have a different view of the project.
The Taoiseach: Maybe that could be looked at in order to prepare the report sooner than in three months time. The work involved should be done in a short space of time. It has been agreed that a steering group made up of officials will look at the terms of reference in an independent way, without input from me or another member of the Government.
Mr. Noonan: Is the Taoiseach saying a contract will not be entered into until the result of the evaluation is available and a binding agreement will not be made with a third party in respect of the stadium in advance of the publication of the evaluation? I put it to the Taoiseach that Wembley is relevant to this debate as no other stadium in London hosts international competition. The Taoiseach's pitch on Stadium Ireland is that it will  host international games across the codes. Far more international games are held in London than will ever be in Dublin and the new Wembley Stadium is the proposed location for them.
Private financiers consider that the cost of £700 million means that Wembley is not a viable project as insufficient games will be played there. How can the Taoiseach maintain that there will be a sufficient flow of international games, along with the odd GAA game, to justify spending £1 billion?
The Taoiseach: In response to Deputy Noonan's question, two contracts are moving through the system. The first of these is for the swimming pool, with which I do not think there is any difficulty. It has a tight time scale and it has to be moved on. The other contract is for veterinary laboratories and has already been advertised in a journal of the EU. A tender or a contract for the stadium cannot be given until the review has been completed.
Mr. Quinn: I raise a separate matter which has been debated considerably in this House and  elsewhere and on which the Taoiseach wrote in The Irish Times last December. About a year has passed since the House first considered the Labour Party's Bill prohibiting corporate donations to political parties and reforming the method of financing political parties and the conduct of elections. On a number of occasions the Taoiseach has indicated that the Government will make proposals.
I understand the Minister for the Environment and Local Government was to bring forward amendments following the completion of Second Stage of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2000, which is still parked in the Seanad. We do not yet know what the amendments might be, although a fairly authoritative article in Magill indicated the precise numbers being considered by the Government. The article suggested that the Cabinet has considered and perhaps signed off on these matters. In view of the possibility of an election this year, could the Taoiseach indicate—
Mr. Noonan: My party, Fine Gael, has also published a Bill which would ban corporate donations and overlaps in part with the proposals in the Labour Party's Bill, which is irretrievably stuck on Committee Stage as a result of a vote by Fianna Fáil members of the committee. We will advance our Bill unless the Taoiseach makes proposals soon and informs the House of the Government's position on this issue.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Quinn is correct when he says I outlined certain proposals. Five of the seven Bills I mentioned have been before the House. The sixth Bill will be Deputy Rabbitte's whistle-blowers Bill which the Government will accept with amendments and the seventh will be the lobbyists Bill which is being drafted. By the end of this year all seven Bills will have been to the House as they are needed to correct the aspects of the system which need correcting. I have given priority to the legislation and I hope that all of it will be on the Statute Book by the end of the Christmas session, well in advance of the next general election. The Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2000, is on Committee Stage in the Seanad and amendments to it will be published shortly, I hope next week.
Mr. Quinn: There is an extraordinary amount of Government legislation on the Order Paper, resulting in unprecedented delays which reflect  the volume of work this House has to deal with, irrespective of who is in Government. One can interpret the Government's reluctance to put its precise thinking in relation to these matters into the public domain as a desire to get to the other side of an election without having changed the rules. That is the Government's real intention, as, if it was to apply to this area of reform, the zeal and dedication it has brought to Campus and Stadium Ireland, this matter would be done and dusted. The Government's reluctance has to be interpreted in a machiavellian way. It does not want to change the rules and prefers to proceed in the manner that has been set out.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Quinn knows that he is incorrect. I announced seven Bills in this area. I know he did not think that we would move on with them but we will have all seven of them through this year, in spite of the fact that this House is passing more legislation now than it ever did. I know there is a considerable amount of legislation on Committee Stage but there is still an enormous amount of legislation in the system. However, this Bill will be passed in this session.
Mr. G. Mitchell: Will the Taoiseach allow my motion seeking at least monthly meetings of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in view of the fact that the Minister for Health and Children has not answered questions which I tabled to him weeks ago?
Mr. G. Mitchell: I have not received that information. I am glad to receive it, a Cheann Comhairle, because if I continue to receive replies like that from the Minister for Health and Children, I will ask this House to question its confidence in this Minister. He is abusing this House.
Mr. Gormley: I would like to raise a question on the Stadium Ireland Bill. I could not help but notice that the Taoiseach is limping today. I was wondering had the Tánaiste anything to do with his injury? Are things really that bad in Cabinet because of Stadium Ireland?
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