Thursday, 20 September 1984
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mrs. McGuinness: I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms at the treatment of this House by the Minister for Justice in that not only was he not present last night, for which for all I know there may be a reasonable excuse, but that he was not present for virtually the whole of the debate in this House on the Criminal Justice Bill which is major legislation presided over by the Minister and for which this House might at least expect the courtesy of the Minister's presence. As a sign of my disgust at the Minister's behaviour I do not propose to stay in this House during the Minister's reply. I am now formally withdrawing.
Mr. Lanigan: I do not want to exacerbate the situation that arose here yesterday, but I think that a grave discourtesy was given to this House. We have fought to try to maintain democratic standards in this country for many years. I am afraid that if the House is to be ignored by the Government then democratic standards may be eroded further, particularly in the context of the Criminal Justice Bill which is major legislation with tremendous  consequences for so many people in our society. I ask the Minister to make a statement to give us the reasons why he was absent yesterday or why the Minister of State was not in the House yesterday. I do not want to say anything further on the matter.
Mr. Ross: I endorse what has been said here this morning. This is the most important legislation introduced by this Government, and the most controversial and sensitive, and this House was treated in a despicable way by the Government collectively — not just by the Minister — yesterday. I intend to withdraw, but I think it would be more approprate if the Minister or the Government would come to this House and be honest and propose that the Seanad itself be abolished, instead of treating it in this contemptible way as they have done continuously. However, I intend to come back to vote against the Minister's Bill later.
Mr. B. Ryan: I have spent the last six months campaigning outside this House about the Bill and I have told a large number of very disaffected people that there is a way to deal with our problems through the parliamentary process. Now I have been told quite clearly by the Government what they think of my naivete about the parliamentary process. I have no desire to be here to hear the Minister's reply, I have no desire to listen to it, but I have every intention of being here to make sure that this particularly obnoxious legislation will be put to a vote. That is the only reason I will be here, not because I have any interest in the Minister's secondhand reply to his secondhand version of what I said through officials who cannot even be relied upon to tell him whether there is or is not a hunger strike in Mountjoy Prison. I do not trust the Department of Justice to report what I have said. I do not think that they would even understand it, not to mention be able to report it to him properly. He should have been here to hear our views. I regret that he was not.  I object to that. I am afraid that the House is being treated quite despicably.
Mrs. Honan: I thank you, a Chathaoirleach, for allowing me to speak. I will not adopt the attitude that my colleagues have adopted. I have been here since 1977. In fairness to this whole debate, no politics whatsoever was played because we all realised the seriousness of this legislation, whether it be good or bad and whether we agreed or disagreed with it. What is important is that the real loser is the Minister. I understand that he had a genuine reason for not being here yesterday because he had to attend the funeral of another Minister's mother. He and I are from neighbouring constituencies. When he reads what each of us said he may think it was the do-gooders versus the responsible legislators, but that was not so. As a Senator said yesterday, I was not in the category of the do-gooders versus those who were responsible legislators in this House. That was not the tone of speeches and I was in the House for practically all the time.
For the record of the House I would like to point out that, as Leas-Chathaoirleach, I carried out my duties and I suspended the House twice yesterday. With respect to the Minister and the Government and to Senator O'Leary, the Acting Leader of the House — whom I thank for his kindness to the House yesterday in a very onerous situation — yesterday evening a Senator on the Government side of the House said that I had suspended the House when there were speakers left to speak on Second Stage. That is a lie. I had suspended the House after consultation as Leas-Chathaoirleach, with all parties. I suspended the House properly according to the rules of the House, having dealt with all the parties, having a clearance from the Acting Leader of the House and with the Minister of State, Deputy J. O'Keeffe  present. I carried out my duties as Leas-Chathaoirleach properly. Again, I say that the Minister, Deputy Noonan, a neighbour of mine, is the loser. When he reads the record it will not seem to him that I or others are out to protect the criminals and he will realise that other responsible Senators here who spoke want legislation brought in. I listened to all speeches and even in the short time I was out of the Chamber I listened on the recording receiver in my room. The debate was most responsible. I recognise the work that Senators have put into this and their attitude to this Bill. At no time did I see party politics played in this but that is not the way that it will seem to the Minister when he reads the record.
Mr. Loughrey: I want to put on the record that if the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Honan, thought there was any inference from me yesterday of her acting in a wrong manner, then I regret that that inference was taken. What I was referring to yesterday was this. At the time two speakers on this side of the House were offering. When she suspended the House I was not present, because I was preparing my contribution on the Bill and I had expected that the House would continue until such time as I would be prepared to speak. There was no inference of her acting wrongly when she suspended the House. However, I inferred that crocodile tears were being shed by Opposition Members who were protesting at the absence of the Minister and that they were not able to get the Minister's views on their contributions, yet they, through their contributions on the adjournment debate, deprived Senator McMahon and myself of putting our views to the House and themselves of listening to these views, although they were not in charge of the House.
An Cathaoirleach: I might point out that the Leas-Chathaoirleach called on the Minister to reply. Nobody must have offered. She would not have done that if anybody was offering. I must point that out in fairness. I was not here at the time.
Mr. Loughrey: Members on the other side of the House acted discourteously towards Senators McMahon and me. They were putting on record their views that they did not want to listen to what we had to say on the Bill, nor did they want to listen to the Minister — they wanted the House to rise before the Minister came. The Minister can explain his reasons for being absent——
Mr. Lanigan: I agree that yesterday afternoon's sitting was not properly terminated. The debate broke down and it does not make any difference whether the Minister was in Timbuctu making a speech. He was not making it in this House and that is the simple reason why the sitting was suspended.
Mrs. Robinson: Yesterday morning and afternoon I was given an opportunity to protest about the way in which the debate here had been treated. There was an absence of any Minister at the beginning of yesterday's debate and of the Minister in charge of the Bill when the Second Stage had concluded and when he was called on to reply. I commend both the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the way in which, in very difficult circumstances, you ordered the business. The Leas-Chathaoirleach suspended the House twice, first of all to ensure that a Minister would be present and later to facilitate the Minister for Justice, in the hope that he might have been able to come in to reply to the Second Stage debate. I rise now simply to join with those Senators who have drawn attention to the seriousness of the issue.
This is not a minor Bill. It is not a non-controversial measure; it is a deeply serious piece of legislation. I regret what happened yesterday because I think it  runs counter to the way in which the Bill was considered, debated and handled by the Minister in the Dáil. We see a stark contrast between the full and serious and constructive debate in the Dáil on Second and subsequent Stages of the Bill. Therefore, it is very important that we have been given an opportunity here to register the seriousness of the issue.
From the start of business yesterday it was clear that the Second Stage would be concluded. Therefore, the Minister should have given it priority over any other engagements. I await the Minister's explanation. I regard the matter as being very sensitive and the role of this House in examining legislation of this kind as being very important, but that role has been undermined. This Bill to many people poses threats to a balance we have in our society, and the proper place in which to argue this and to examine the values of the Bill is in this House. That can be done only if the Senators feel that their views are being listened to, preferably by the Minister for Justice but directly by a Minister in a responsible way. At the conclusion of the debate the Minister would be in a position to get to his feet and respond to those views. That could not have happened yesterday afternoon, and did not happen, and that is a serious issue. I hope the Minister will give the House a very full explanation and that he will accept our concern.
At no stage yesterday was this a party political issue. I deliberately make that point. It was a serious moment for the Seanad, particularly so because of the nature of the Bill, particularly serious because of the concern outside this House. I repeat that I hope the Minister will give us a very full explanation and take into consideration the views expressed by Senators.
Mr. Lynch: The House considered this piece of legislation with the seriousness it deserved. The standard of the debate was very high and I agree with Senator Honan that the Minister, by his absence, was the loser — he should have been here throughout the entire debate. What worries me is whether the attitude of the  Minister yesterday is indicative of the attitude of the present Government to the democratic process. There seemed to have been a last minute stroke by the Government side of the House to put in extra speakers when the debate had been concluded officially. If that is the Government's attitude it is about time the Government would abandon ship and hand over to a party that can run the country.
Mr. McMahon: At no stage yesterday did I find fault with the ruling of the Leas-Chathaoirleach, or of the Cathaoirleach while he was here, but a word of explanation is necessary. At no stage was there an attempt by the Government side to put in extra speakers. I was in as much trouble with my party for offering to speak as I was with the other side of the House. I was on other business in another place yesterday while the debate was taking place because I had estimated that the debate would go on until about tea-time. Yesterday afternoon when I returned to the House there were indications that Fianna Fáil would put in another speaker while Senator McDonald was speaking. In so far as one can check these things I checked this and I went to my office, which is a long way from this Chamber, to do some research — we should be looking for offices more adjacent to the Chamber——
Mr. McMahon: Senator McDonald told me he would speak for a considerable time, which he did, and I understood that there would be at least another speaker from the Fianna Fáil benches. I decided to be in the Chamber by the time Senator McDonald would conclude, but to my dismay when I looked at the monitor in my office I found the House had adjourned until 5.30 p.m. When the House reassembled at 5.30 I thought I would be given an opportunity to speak. Indeed, from some of the contributions here today I thought——
Mr. Lanigan: This is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The debate finished yesterday in a proper manner and there is no point in coming in here this morning to make apologies for where you were or where anybody else was yesterday afternoon. The debate finished and under our rules there is no opportunity to go right back and dwell on things which are totally irrelevant.
An Cathaoirleach: I have told Senator McMahon what happened yesterday. The Leas-Chathaoirleach called on the Minister to reply. The Minister was not there and the House was adjourned. She would not have done that if Senator McMahon or anybody else had offered to speak. I was not here, and I think Senator McMahon had better leave this alone. It has nothing to do with what we are discussing.
Mr. McMahon: That is as it happened. I am not disputing it. I was not here when the sitting was suspended, but I was here at 5.30 when we discovered that the Minister was not available to reply. I am sure he had a very good reason for not being available.
An Cathaoirleach: The Leas-Chathaoirleach could not have re-opened the debate at 5.30 p.m. She had closed the debate when she called on the Minister, and that should be the end of it. There is no use blaming the Opposition or anyone else for it.
Mr. Harte: On a point of order, we have been talking about the Minister bringing the House into disrepute. We are not debating something that is not in order. We are totally out of order and we are bringing the House into disrepute. As I pointed out yesterday had I been in the Chair and the same circumstances obtained I would have called on the Minister because procedurally that would have been the correct thing to do. In fact the day before it was very much touch and go as to whether he would be called then or not. There is no way Fianna Fáil, or anyone else, stopped the debate.
Mr. McMahon: I want to make it clear that at no stage yesterday was it thought that the ruling of the Chair, when the Leas-Chathaoirleach was in the Chair, was wrong. I have accepted the ruling of the Chair at all times in this and in the other House, but I fault the contributions being made this morning. Some Members have said they consider this to be an important piece of legislation but they denied one or more Members the opportunity to make their views known to the House in the Minister's presence or absence. It is most insincere of them to blame the Minister for not being present for this very important piece of legislation when they do not give everybody the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Senator Loughrey and myself, without hurting anybody, could have made our contributions between 5.30 and 6 o'clock yesterday but we were denied that opportunity. I am asking the Chair to give us the opportunity this morning to make a contribution for, say ten or 15 minutes.
Mr. Lynch: On a point of order, Senator McMahon has accused this side of the House of denying them the right to speak. We did not deny them the right to speak. They denied themselves that right by the fact that they were not here to speak when the should have been.
An Cathaoirleach: I have said that several times and I should like to tell Senator McMahon there is no way we can open the debate again. Some Members of the House asked me to discuss this matter with the Minister. I did so this morning and the Minister is prepared to make a statement to the House.
Mr. Fitzsimons: May I say one thing before he does so? It is important to point out that the debate on the Second Stage would have collapsed on Tuesday were it not for Members on this side of the House. Three Members on this side contributed, one after another, without a contribution from a Member on the other side. I went in on short notice late in the evening although I was not ready to go in. It is important to get that on the record of the House.
Minister for Justice (Mr. Noonan,: Limerick East): First of all, I should like to re-affirm what I said here in July, that I have the utmost respect for the workings of this House and the utmost respect for Parliament and the contributions made by every Senator and Deputy. The Criminal Justice Bill debate was one of the longest debates in Dáil Éireann and I sat through all Stages consistently. The level of substitution was very small indeed in Dáil Éireann and I was there right through most of Second Stage and all of Committee Stage, Report and Fifth Stages.
When the debate was on in this House in July I spent some time here. We had three Bills in July, the Second Stage of the Criminal Justice Bill commenced, a ground rents Bill and the Funds of Suitors Bill. Again, the House will recall that I spent most of the time here and I carried those Bills personally. When the Leader of the House, Senator Dooge, was discussing with me the sittings for the autumn and asking me when I would be available in the autumn I told him I would not be available this week. I told him that if the debate was going on this week it would be carried by Ministers of State. My office, and the Whips' office, made  arrangements to cover the debate with Ministers of State. I am sorry the arrangements for covering the debate yesterday morning broke down. I was in Dungarvan attending the funeral of the mother of the Minister for Agriculture. I got a message in Dungarvan, communicated through the Garda, that there was not a Minister in the House. I discussed that with the Whip who was also at the funeral. He rang his office and he told me, at approximately 12.30, that the debate was covered by a Minister and was proceeding. I got no indication that the debate was concluding yesterday and I came back at my leisure from Dungargan. I got back here for an appointment in the Taoiseach's office at 6.15. It was later than that when I heard that the debate on Second Stage was to conclude yesterday and that I had not been available to conclude the debate. I am sorry that I was not here. I did not know the Seanad was concluding the debate yesterday. Had I known, I would have rushed back even though I had told Senator Dooge I was not going to be available this week. I am sorry if I have given offence; the offence is totally unintended. Certainly, I will be here all next week for the Committee Stage and the other Stages of the Bill.
I intended to take the remainder of Second Stage next week because that is what I thought was going to happen when I spoke to Senator Dooge. I intend to take all the remaining Stages myself. I thought I was absenting myself from the initial stages of the Second Stage debate and that that would be acceptable. I apologise to the Senators collectively and apologise to the individual Members who contributed and were offended because I was not here. I am sorry about that. Obviously, I am the Minister in charge of the legislation and because I am the Minister in charge I take responsibility for what has happened but in the light of what I said I hope Senators will accept that it is not as black and white a situation as was presented here either yesterday or this morning when Senators contributed.
Mr. O'Leary: First of all, I should like to make a number of points arising out of the discussion on the Order of Business. I feel that on behalf of the House I must vigorously deny the suggestion being made by Senator McMahon that he was in any way ill-treated or abused by any Member, or any side, or by any party in the House. He was not. All Members of the House have the experience from time to time of misjudging the date, the time, of the conclusion of a debate and missing making a contribution which they had prepared in respect of that debate. We have all had that experience. I happened to me. I do not think there is any Member of the House that it has not happened to. I can think of other things that happened during the course of this debate when people, for procedural reasons, were unable to conclude the contribution which they had started. We must accept these things. There is no point in blaming the House, the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, or the Fianna Fáil Party, for what is just one of the things that happens during the course of Parliamentary life.
I was in the House at that period of time and there was clearly nobody offering. Not only was there nobody offering but the discussion between Senator Honan and myself as to what we should do next lasted for a number of minutes. It was not that there was nobody offering for 20 seconds. The discussion as to the exact procedure to be followed lasted for a number of minutes. At that time anybody offering during that period would have been taken. It is only fair that I should put that on the record of the House.
It is also fair that I should put on the record of the House that my information with regard to the availability of the Minister does not concur with what he has now told the House. I recognise that the Minister indicated that he was not going to be available last week but I do not accept that this House was ever told that the Minister would not be available this week. I do not accept that. Secondly, in case there would be any misapprehension, let me repeat what I said in the  House yesterday. Right through yesterday I was told successively, and repeatedly, by the Minister's representatives in this House that he was on his way back from Dungarvan and would be available any time from 4.30 p.m. on to reply to the Second Stage of this Bill. That is what I was told. The Minister said he was not informed of that. We can only accept that he was not informed but I want to put it on the record of the House that his officials told me that anytime after 4.30 p.m. he would be available to reply to the Second Stage, but that they would request that he would not be called before 5.30 p.m. to allow him the opportunity of bringing his notes into order on his return to the capital. That is why the sitting was suspended from the conclusion of the debate at 4.20 p.m. until 5.30 p.m. I do not have anything further to say on that.
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