Wednesday, 26 November 1975
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: It is proposed to take No. 1 only and that we should break for tea from 5.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. Might I mention that in connection with the tea break and lunch break on appropriate days when we are sitting through the day, I understand that, for the convenience of the restaurant, it is desirable that the lunch break, when we are sitting for a full day on days on which the Dáil is also sitting, might be from 12.30 p.m. to 2 p.m. slightly earlier than usual, and that the tea break should be from 5.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.
Mrs. Robinson: I should like to put two questions to the Leader of the House in relation to the Order of Business. The first relates to fixing a date for the Second Reading of the Family Planning Bill, 1974, which has been presented by Senator Horgan, Senator West and myself. This Bill received its First Reading on 17th December, 1974, which is practically a full year ago, and the Bill has been pressed by its sponsors for debate.
Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: Yes, I do not think anyone would object to that, but it should be made clear that we are merely here to fix a time. It is not mandatory on the House to go on with the discussion on that date and a certain amount obviously will depend on whether or not the Minister is available.
Therefore, when the date was fixed for last February, there was an understanding that it would depend perhaps  on the pressure of business at that particular time and also on the availability of the Minister. Since then it has transpired that the Minister for Health, the Tánaiste, is prepared to come into this House for a debate on the Bill. I should like to ask the Leader of the House for a specific commitment, for a specific date when the Second Reading of this Bill may be taken.
My second question to the Leader of the House relates to the general business of this House and indeed, to his own role as Leader of the House. It is my understanding that in months when the House is sitting time will be given for the taking of motions which have been tabled by individual Senators. The present Order Paper contains many motions put down quite a number of months or years ago by various Senators and which have not been taken. I have checked back and have found that the last motion debated in this House was on 15th May on agriculture. The House sat in June, July and early August and no time was given to debating motions. In previous years the Seanad performed an extremely important function in debating motions on our National Museum, the National Library, the Arts Council, matters of public interest and concern, matters such as agriculture and so on. We have a particular function and role to fulfil. I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that this time is set apart in months when the House is sitting.
I wish to ask the Leader of the House if more attempts will be made to take Government business in this House. For example, it is provided in section 5 of the European Communities Act, 1972, that the Government shall report twice a year to each House of the Oireachtas. We await the Fifth Report on Developments in the European Communities. This House has not debated the fourth and fifth reports. This House is failing to exercise a proper scrutiny over the development of the Community, despite the obvious statutory intention that we would.
I also wish to ask if any attempt  has been made to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs to debate the report on the development of the Community. It is remarkable that although a lot of discussion has taken place about the workload undertaken by the Seanad this year and the extra number of days we sat for Government business than has been the custom in previous years, nevertheless we rose on 8th August and——
An Cathaoirleach: I must intervene. The Senator rose to speak on the Order of Business for today. She has now broadened her contribution to the extent that this would be a contribution more suitable on a motion relating to the manner in which the business of the House is being ordered rather than a simple motion that No. 1 be taken today.
Mrs. Robinson: I regret I cannot wait five years for my motion to be taken in order to make my point. The point I am making relates to the ordering of business. Specifically it relates to a question whether from this year at least we may have more time for motions and Government matters such as the report on the Communities. I would be grateful if the Leader of the House would indicate the specific date for the Second Reading of the Family Planning Bill and also indicate his attitude to the other matters raised.
Mr. Horgan: I should like to associate myself with the Senator's requests, more particularly with the first one. I am a sponsor of that Bill. I should like to assure Senator Robinson and Senator West that my movement from the less populated to the more populated side of the House has not changed my views on this Bill or on any of the other matters with which I have been associated while on the other side of the House. In common with other Members of this party I have been subjected to something which is close to intimidation of Members of this House in the pursuit of their duties in the form of a campaign of letter-writing on the Family Planning Bill. This campaign has been quite extraordinary——
Mr. Horgan: I bow to the Cathaoirleach's ruling. I would simply say the writers of these letters are so ignorant that they do not know that I am a sponsor of the Bill. I suspect their ignorance also extends to the facts of life in Ireland which prompted me and other people to introduce the Bill.
Professor Quinlan: I should like to ask the Leader of the House if he will confine the House to Government business and motions that are relevant to the highly difficult times of today, with high unemployment and high inflation. I would remind the two previous speakers that these considerations are more relevant than making capital out of the Family Planning Bill. Let us discuss and debate motions dealing with increasing employment rather than allow some Members to indulge in their hobby horses.
Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: I would commend and convey Senator Quinlan's remarks to Senator Robinson and Senator Horgan. It was quite unnecessary for Senator Robinson to inquire in public on the Order of Business regarding her Family Planning Bill. I had already communicated to her the position, namely, that the Tánaiste is prepared to come here to deal with the Bill as soon as the Dáil Special Committee on the Misuse of Drugs Bill has concluded. I am not in a position to enter into any specific commitment as to date and time as the Senator requested. I do not intend to enter into a debate as to my role as Leader of the House. It is true that this House sat throughout June, July and into August. It is correct and should be noted that Senators supporting the Government and Senators of the Fianna Fáil Party attended assiduously throughout those long hot months. The attendance of Fianna Fáil Senators and Senators supporting the Government contrasted favourably with the attendance of some other Senators not attached to any of the political parties and I am not referring to Senator Quinlan.
An Cathaoirleach: I should like to point out to the Leader of the House and to the Seanad that it has been repeatedly said from this Chair that references to the presence or the absence of other Senators is deprecated by the Chair.
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