Wednesday, 19 September 1984
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Lanigan: Today, this House has been treated with total contempt. This morning, there was no Minister or Minister of State available to take the Criminal Justice Bill. We were told that this Bill was needed, that it was necessary, that it was of vital importance to the nation, but here we were without a Minister or Junior Minister available in the morning. We adjourned the House to give the Minister or the Junior Minister an opportunity to be present. This House cannot stand for that type of ignorance on the part of whoever is responsible for not having a Minister here. It is now 5.35 but there is no sign of the Minister. I do not think we can continue. Senators have made very valid points. The Minister has not been in the House since the Bill was introduced; he is not here this evening and I do not know what we can do. I am asking the advice of the Chair on procedure. On  this side we cannot continue to debate this Bill in the absence of the Minister for Justice.
Mr. B. Ryan: I have spent the last six months speaking outside the House about this Bill in anticipation that at some stage I would have an opportunity to address the remarks I made outside to the Minister in the House and in the rather naive assumption that the Minister would have some interest in what I and other Senators had to say. Many of us have different experiences in this matter which the Minister does not have. Many Members contribute carefully prepared speeches into which months of work have gone but the entire Government apparatus has treated the whole operation in a casual way.
Mr. O'Leary: It is not getting a bit complicated. At the commencement of business this morning when a difficulty arose I did not attempt to hide the displeasure I felt concerning the non-availability of the Minister — of a Minister. The non-availability of a Minister on that occasion was discourteous to the House and I think the expressions of disappointment and regret which many Members of the House voiced at that time were reflected on this side and in my own views on the matter. We decided to suspend the sitting. We did so, and from then on we had ministerial presence.
I do not think quite the same position applied at 4.30. As most Members are aware, earlier today the Minister was not available to conclude the Second Stage, and at the request of his Department we  sought to ensure that the business of the House would be so ordered that the Second Stage would not be resumed earlier than 5.30. I do not think the adjournment of the House or the suspension of the sitting at that time was out of order — it was perfectly natural, the House having sat continuously from 10.30. I am not informed as to why the Minister is not available now. All I can do is say that he is not available. I do not speak for the Minister — I speak for the House. I regret the Minister is not available and that is the reality of the situation in which I find myself.
Mr. Lanigan: As a matter of courtesy we adjourned this morning. My information is that we should not have adjourned then just because the Minister was not present. It is the first time in the history of the House that a Minister has totally ignored this House of Parliament. It is a disgrace. For many years we have been told that this is an important House of the Legislature but we are being totally ignored. I accept what the Acting Leader of the House has said, that he does not know. It is a disgrace that we should be here now having been told by the Acting Leader of the House that he does not know why the Minister is not available. We cannot continue this debate without the Minister.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I will have to stop this because it is turning into another debate. Would the Acting Leader of the House indicate to me what action he now intends to take because he has not got a Minister present?
Mr. O'Leary: Obviously the intention at the conclusion of the session which ended shortly after 4 p.m. was that the Minister would immediately conclude the debate on resumption. Since that time a number of Senators indicated their desire to make a contribution on Second Stage. In those circumstances the Second Stage debate should be continued and concluded with the Minister's address as soon as the other Members have completed their contributions. As the House is  aware, 31 Members have contributed to the debate so far and I understand that there are other Members anxious to contribute.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Before I call on Senator Hussey, I should like to make my stand on this clear. I happened to be in the Chair and I suspended the House directly on the instructions of the Leader of the House on the understanding that Second Stage of the Bill would be concluded on resumption and that the Minister would be next to speak. I should like a ruling from the House as to whether we are going back over a decision taken when I suspended the House.
Mr. T. Hussey: We have reached a ridiculous situation when the Acting Leader of the House expects us to go back and continue the Second Stage debate. It was understood that the Second Stage debate had concluded and we are now waiting for the Minister's reply to it. If the Minister does not arrive the House should be suspended until such time as the Minister arrives whether that is this week or next week. There is no point in prolonging the Second Stage debate.
Mr. Lanigan: I agree with Senator Hussey. The Second Stage debate on the Criminal Justice Bill has concluded. There is no point in saying now that speakers have been resurrected to contribute who were not present earlier for the debate and that they are willing to continue contributing until such time as the Minister is available. If the Second Stage debate has been concluded, then it has been concluded. The Minister is not present and nobody else should be allowed to debate this matter.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I will now make a ruling from the Chair that the House stand over a decision that I was given a direction from the floor of the House to suspend the House until the Minister for Justice was present.
Mr. McMahon: With due respect, I do not think the Chair had permission to make the ruling. I wanted to contribute to the Second Stage debate. The understanding was that Fianna Fáil would be putting in some other speakers and I was not present in the House when the debate concluded at 4.30 p.m.
Mr. O'Leary: I am but I would be disorderly in standing when another Member is standing. The Leas-Chathaoirleach decided that the Second Stage debate had concluded and I accept that ruling. I am fully aware of the circumstances in which the Chair took that decision and it is a very reasonable one. In the circumstances I ask the Chair to suspend the House for a further period of time. I am in the unfortunate position that I cannot recommend to the Chair that the House should be suspended for a half hour or three-quarters of an hour because I do not want to find myself in a similarly embarrassing position. The House can be adjourned until 10.30 a.m. tomorrow which, in all the circumstances, might be the correct thing to do.
Séamus de Brún: The discussion should not be allowed to descend to a farcial degree. The House was suspended this evening at 4.20 p.m. because the debate on the Second Stage of the Bill had concluded. The House agreed on that. When the House was suspended we were told that the Minister would be present in the House at 5.30 p.m. to reply to the debate.  The Minister is not present. We cannot resume that debate now. I propose that the House be suspended sine die because the Minister is not here.
Mr. Loughrey: On a point of order, while I am not au fait with the rules of the House it appears to me that due to the fact that the Minister for Justice is not present he could not have been called to reply. If he cannot be called other speakers should be allowed to contribute.
Mr. Loughrey: Can he be called in his absence? The point of order I am making is that the Minister was not present and therefore he could not have been called on to speak. In the circumstances the Second Stage of the Bill is not concluded.
Mr. Lanigan: It is not agreed. Obviously, the Acting Leader of the House does not know where the Minister for Justice is. He does not know where the Minister of State at the Department of Justice is and he is suggesting that the House meet tomorrow in case the Minister for Justice might be available. Is there any indication that he will? The Minister was not available this morning and there was no junior Minister available this  morning. Can the Acting Leader of the House give us a guarantee that, if the House meets in the morning for the conclusion of the debate, which is the Minister's reply, the Minister will be present? If the Minister is present what will the Order of Business be tomorrow? The House will not go into Committee Stage because the Opposition will not allow that to happen.
Mr. Loughrey: I should like to make a point of order, which is that the Minister could not be called in his absence. The Leas-Chathaoirleach may have indicated that the Minister was due to speak but he could not have been called in his absence. There are two speakers from this side of the House offering. I cannot explain Senator McMahon's reason for not contributing earlier but my reason is that I simply was not ready. I expected the debate to continue. I am now offering to speak and I wish to speak. I ask the Members of the Opposition to facilitate me. If they want to listen to the views of all the Members of this House they should be prepared to listen to my views.
Mr. Ellis: I did not interrupt Senator McMahon or other Government Senators. I wanted to raise a point of order. Is it not a fact that the Chair ruled that  the debate had concluded and called on the Minister to reply to the Second Stage?
Mr. Ellis: It was agreed yesterday that the House would meet today to take the Criminal Justice Bill. In that event and as there is no Minister present to reply to the Second Stage debate, the proposition of Senator de Brún should be accepted by the Chair.
Mr. McMahon: It is not a habit of mine to interrupt speakers on the opposite side of the House and they should at least afford me the courtesy of allowing me to give an explanation why I would prefer that this debate should continue this evening.
Mr. McMahon: It is not the first time that the Fianna Fáil Party have attempted to muzzle people on this side of the House. The reason I was not here today was that I was on other business in Portlaoise which was successful. That is why  I was not here, and indeed many Members on the opposite side of the House were on the same business.
Mr. McMahon: It is my explanation why I was not present in the House to make the contribution which I wished to make on the Second Stage of the Bill. That is why I rose to offer myself now that the opportunity was given when the Minister was not present. I am giving the House the opportunity to continue the debate for half an hour or an hour if other Members wish to offer. I understand Senator Loughrey is also offering to speak on Second Stage of the Bill. Both of us, and anyone else who was not given the opportunity, should now be given the opportunity to make their contributions.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: To answer Senator McMahon, we cannot change the rules of this House and extend a debate on any piece of legislation just to suit the time that he could come in on Second Stage. I ruled on this, with the direction of the Leader of the House, that we would conclude Second Stage because there were no further speakers and the next stage would be the Minister to reply to the Second Stage debate. This rule was made. We now have a proposal from the Acting Leader of the House to adjourn the House until tomorrow morning. I ask Senator McMahon to please resume his seat. This House has rules. I suspended the House, having finished the Second Stage debate on the direction of the Leader of the House an hour ago. You cannot come in here and just because you and your colleague were missing earlier on, start again a Second Stage speech.
Mr. McMahon: I have no intention of breaking any rules. The opportunity to speak has now presented itself. My understanding is that the Second Stage debate is not concluded until the Minister rises to reply. The Minister has not yet risen to reply.
Mr. Harte: Yes. I want to put an amendment that we do not meet tomorrow morning but that we meet on Tuesday and the Minister to reply on Tuesday. There is no point in arguing about the position. The position is quite clear. If I had been in the Chair today and no further speaker was offering, whether the Minister was present or not, the fact that the Minister was called meant that the Second Stage debate had concluded. We are now talking about whether we are meeting tomorrow morning and there is great uncertainty about that. As someone who is in favour of the Bill I would like to hear the Minister's reply to the whole debate. The best way to ensure that is to make sure that we  give him plenty of time. We know he will make himself available next Tuesday and we should start Tuesday afternoon's proceedings with the Minister replying to the debate.
Mrs. Robinson: I should like to second the proposal of Senator Harte that we amend the proposal that we adjourn and substitute next Tuesday for tomorrow morning. In speaking to the motion for the Adjournment I would like to say that this House has been very badly treated all day. It has been badly treated in relation to one of the most important pieces of legislation that has come before us, or that is likely to come before us, in the coming months. That should be put on record by all of us, as it has been put by the Acting Leader of the House. We should not at great inconvenience meet tomorrow morning for the convenience of the Minister who was not here when he should have been here. It is not a matter of him being here five minutes before he gets up to reply to the debate on Second Stage on a Bill of this significance. Either he or his Minister of State should have been here consistently throughout the debate. It should have taken priority over other matters. As a Member of this House for a considerable number of years I would like to place on record my disgust at the way this House has been treated. It is very serious. I hope it will be taken further with the Minister and that the matter will not be let rest.
Mrs. McGuinness: I wish to support the amendment put by Senator Harte and seconded by Senator Robinson. This amendment is now properly before the House and it should be voted on. We cannot just vote on Senator O'Leary's original proposition without the amendment now that the amendment has been properly put and seconded.
Mr. M. Higgins: I support the amendment for this reason. When the Minister spoke on 11 July in a relatively comprehensive speech he referred to how this Bill had been amended as it went through the other House. There is no way in which his introductory speech on Second Stage could be regarded as anticipating the arguments that were offered in this House by a number of speakers on Second Stage. I favour a lengthy comprehensive reply by the Minister to all the points raised. It is for that reason that I support my Labour Party colleague regarding the proposal of the Leader of the House, who I accept has had a difficult time, in facilitating such an extensive reply from the Minister.
Mr. B. Ryan: I have very mixed views about this proposal and the amendment. My instinctive reaction, when we have a major piece of business and when the person who is responsible for that business either cannot or will not be present, is to tell the person that if his business is so unimportant that he cannot be here then he should take his business away with him. My suggestion — I know it is unrealistic and will not be listened to — is that we should do with this Bill what deserves to be done, considering the way the Minister has treated this House, and send it back to the Dáil. The concerted view of the Members of this House should be that if we will not be treated seriously we will not pass legislation for Ministers who will not take this House seriously. I respectfully suggest to the House that the simple thing to do is to defeat this Bill on Second Stage, send it back to the Dáil and let the Minister explain himself to the Dáil as to why it is back again. We are in a flurry of confusion and I will simply say that the sort of confusion that has been foisted upon this House by governmental messing brings the institutions of the State into disrepute far more rapidly than many of those groups who are lectured particularly by Ministers for Justice.
Mr. Lanigan: At this stage I propose that the Second Stage be put to the House and we either pass or do not pass it. If the Minister does not want to reply to the debate, that is his prerogative.
Mr. T. Hussey: I am seconding Senator Lanigan's motion that the Second Stage be now put in view of the fact that the Minister has shown no interest in the Bill or in this debate. It is imperative that we get this disposed of now. The question should be put. The Second Stage debate is over and there should be no further discussion on it.
Mr. O'Leary: I can understand the frustration of Members in this regard. It makes little or no personal difference to me whether we adjourn until 10.30 tomorrow morning or whether we adjourn until 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday or, indeed, whether we proceed to decide on the Second Stage of the Bill as appears to be in the mind of the Leader of the Opposition at present. Which one of those three options is chosen by the House gives me no problem. I want to point out to the House the significance of adjourning the House until 2.30 next Tuesday. If, having listened to what I have to say, Senators decide to adjourn until 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday, as far as I am concerned that is grand.
The problem is that it is recognised that a period of time must be allowed to  elapse in the case of a technical Bill like this between the conclusion of Second Stage and the taking of Committee Stage. In those circumstances there is normally a period of at least from Thursday to Tuesday. That is the minimum period acceptable on a Bill of this type. If we conclude the Second Stage of this Bill next Tuesday, and if we go beyond that normal precedent, we will not discuss the Committee Stage of the Bill until the week commencing 1 October. Let us assume that with people believing it is a Committee Stage Bill it will take three or possibly more days to conclude. That would be Tuesday, 2 October, Wednesday, 3 October, and Thursday, 4 October for the Committee Stage of the Bill. Let us assume again that it is concluded. The Report Stage would then be taken on the following week. I would like to point out to the House at that stage that we will have exceeded the time allowed to us under the Constitution for the consideration of this legislation. I just want to bring that to Senators' attention.
If we follow the timetable which will be the inevitable consequence of the amendment which is put to my motion, we will exceed the timetable allocated for the consideration of this Bill under the Constitution. That is why I suggested the adjournment of the House until 10.30 tomorrow morning. It had nothing to do with whether 10.30 tomorrow was more or less embarrassing to the Minister. It has nothing to do with any other consideration except the desire, which I think was accepted on all sides of the House, to conclude the Second Stage of this Bill this week to enable us to give as much time as possible to the consideration of the Bill on Committee and Report Stages later on.
Normally the Report Stage of Bills coming to this House is a formality. Normally we take the Report Stage immediately after Committee Stage and deal with it like that. On this occasion, if the precedent of the other House is to be followed, there may well be arising out of the Committee Stage ministerial or  other amendments of a significant nature to be considered on Report Stage. It would be unreasonable to assume that we will not have these substantial amendments after Committee Stage.
That is why I am asking the House to adjourn until 10.30 tomorrow morning. It has nothing to do with the convenience of the Minister. It has nothing to do with any personal embarrassment which I might suffer myself. It has nothing to do with the Government. In order to convenience this House I suggest that we should meet at 10.30 tomorrow morning. It is for the convenience of the Members of this House that I am suggesting it, and not for the convenience of anybody else. Nobody will fight more strongly for the rights of this House than I will. In those circumstances I am asking Senators to agree to adjourn the House until 10.30 tomorrow.
Mr. Lanigan: I propose that we vote on the Second Stage of the Bill now. The fact that the Minister is not here has absolutely nothing to do with the organisation of this House. It is as a matter of courtesy that the Minister comes in, but the fact is that the debate on the Second Stage has concluded.
FitzGerald, Alexis J.G.
Higgins, Michael D.
Hourigan, Richard V.
Robinson, Mary T.W.
de Brún, Séamus.
Robb, John D.A.
Ross, Shane P.N.
Mr. Lanigan: Before moving to the matter on the Adjournment, I would like to say that I hope the discourtesy that was shown to the House today will never again be witnessed by Members of this House. I hope that you, as Cathaoirleach, will express your opinion very strongly to the Minister and to the Government on the discourtesy that was shown to Members of this House, to the public at large and to the Parliamentary situation in general. I sincerely hope that you will pass that word on to the Government.
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