Wednesday, 7 February 1990
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Lanigan: It is intended to take Items Nos. 1 and 2 today, and Item No. 3 tomorrow, that on Item No. 15 we take No. 59 on the Supplementary Order Paper. Item No. 1 is purely a formal matter to allow the report of the Examiner of Private Bills to be laid before the Seanad and the Second Stage debate can take place on the matter in due course. It is intended that we take the Bord Glas Bill to 6.30 p.m., that we take Item No. 59 from 6.30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and that tomorrow we take the Appropriation Bill, Item No. 3.
Mr. Manning: I know I am speaking for my own group but I think I am speaking for all on the Opposition side when I say there is great dissatisfaction with the way in which the Order of Business in the House is being organised. We were given very solemn undertakings in the last session that there would be a new start made in this Seanad. We were told we would be back in January. That did not happen. We were told there would be regular meetings between the Whips held in an organised and structured way. That has not happened. In fact we, and I am sure the other groups, have had to chase after the Whip looking for information which should come to us in the normal course of events. It has been impossible to plan the work of Members on this side of the House in any sort of precise or proper way. We have not been given the programme of legislation in advance, as we were told would be the case.
I am saying at this stage, on the first day back, two or three weeks later than was intended, that we certainly do not want to fall into some of the bad habits which characterised the last Seanad. We want to see the promises which were made in the last session kept. We want to see business organised efficiently. On foot of that the only protest I can make today is that as I understand the Independent group will be moving that the Order of Business be amended to take the Bill dealing with abolition of the  death penalty, Item No. 12, we will certainly be supporting them in that. We feel this is a measure which is part of the Fianna Fáil-PD Programme for Government. It has the support of all parties in this House. We will be supporting that item today because it is worthwhile, and also as a protest against the way in which business is being organised.
Mr. O'Toole: We, in the Independent group, would like to underline and reemphasise all the points that were made by Senator Manning. It is quite clear to us in that, in the old phrase, organising a booze-up in a brewery would seem to be impossible to the organisers of the Government. We are working at the moment without a plan, without a structure, without direction, with no legislative programme whatsoever. It might come as a surprise to you, a Chathaoirligh, to know that in the past three weeks our group have had a notice each week from the Government Whip to say that the House would be resuming. This was on foot of commitments given before Christmas. However, without any explanation at any time, the decisions were changed. Thus, we are back today, three weeks later than originally planned. It is not acceptable; it is no way of doing business and it is a clear indication that we have fallen back into the worst way possible.
There has been no consultation about today's business. There has been no Whips meeting to organise the operation of today, tomorrow, this week or next week. There has been no legislative programme given to us by the Leader of the House. He gave us all sorts of commitments before Christmas that that would be availabe but it is quite clear we are moving into the old story of no order and no direction. We are demanding that we have proper consultation and agreement on the way matters should be dealt with. We should not need to have these rows on the Order of Business week in, week out, as we had in the old days. We had an agreement that meetings would take place. They have not taken place, there has been no consultation.
 One of the issues which we attempted to raise before Christmas in Private Members' time was the abolition of the death penalty, which is Item No. 12 on the Order Paper for today. At that stage the Leader of the House indicated he would not allow it to be taken in Private Members' time because it was going to be introduced by the Government. We have waited, but some months later it still has not been introduced. We are insisting that that matter be dealt with now. The abolition of the death penalty is something to which this Government and the Coalition Government have given full commitment and we are proposing that Item No. 12 on the Order Paper, namely, the Criminal Justice (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill, 1989 to be taken today. I propose that amendment to the Order of Business.
Mr. O'Reilly: In my view it is absolutely ahborrent that we have not had a major discussion on the health services in this House since the beginning of the year. Our disgrace is all the greater because we are three or four weeks late coming back at a time when the Dáil is debating a no confidence motion in the Minister. It is an appalling situation——
Mr. O'Reilly: We will be doing that but I wish to address a question to the Leader of the House. Would he agree that the appalling breakdown of our health services merits an immediate emergency discussion in the House?
Mr. Norris: On a technical matter, I am intrigued and perhaps the Cathaoirleach might be able to help me as to the order in which the matters for the Adjournment are read out. I am curious to know if there is any significance in this because the matter I had down is a matter I felt was of some urgency. It was one of two at the end of the last session. The other matter was taken and I had my request in immediately. I am wondering  for my own guidance if this indicates a pipeline starting, so that I will know what are the practicalities of putting it back in again. I do not know whether it is appropriate for the Cathaoirleach to comment at this point — I would be happy for some elucidation in one form or another.
I would like to formally ask the Leader of the House the situation with regard to the Interpretation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill which is ordered for Second Stage on the Order Paper particularly because the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights have unanimously supported this Bill and we would all welcome a speedy passage. We would also welcome the generosity of the Government if they were prepared to allow it to pass through from the Independent benches. It would indicate that perestroika and glasnost and participatory democracy have arrived in Ireland as well as in eastern Europe.
I would also like to ask the Leader of the House if he would be able to seek a little information for me with regard to Item No. 13, namely, the response of the Government to this matter. I can make available to him a draft Bill. The reason I ask is because I have been contacted once more by a constituent who is personally involved in this situation. It regards adoption rights for citizens outside the State.
I would like to mention a couple of items from the supplementary list, in particular Item No. 30 which I will not press today. I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that there is a continuing contempt of the European Court judgment involved in this. During the coming session I certainly will be pushing this very hard indeed if we do not get any indication that the Government are moving to reform the law on homosexual activities.
Finally, I would like to draw the attention of the Leader of the House and the Cathaoirleach to Items Nos. 56, 57 and 58 which deal with completely different matters but they are linked. The first one deals with the——
Mr. Norris: I see. Perhaps I could have some guidance in that case because what I wished to ascertain was whether, in view of the fact that a particular position has been expressed by the Cathaoirleach in all these matters, he would give an indication to the House that he will vacate the Chair during their discussion.
Mr. Norris: In that case may I ask whether it is appropriate for me to question the regulations governing the conduct of debate in this House with a view to demonstrating the principle of impartiality?
Mr. Costello: I would like to thank the Leader of the House for facilitating myself and the Labour Party with Item No. 59 on the supplementary panel in the Labour Party Private Members' time, and to ask the Leader of the House if he can indicate to us the length of time that will be given to the debate on that item.
That being said, I must agree with the remarks made by the people on the Opposition benches in relation to the ordering of business, or the lack of ordering of business, and in relation to the late  resumption of the House. It is six months since we were appointed here and we have sat for less than two months in that period. It tends to undermine the authority of the House if the public see us as not conscientiously going about our duties, not to talk about our own position as legislators. It is a very serious matter for all of us considering the question mark that has been placed about the future of this House by certain members of the Government Coalition. It is extremely important that we are seen to be performing effectively, regularly and efficiently.
In relation to the ordering of business, we need to have a much more coherent ordering so that we know sufficiently long in advance what the Order of Business is to be. That should be organised by the Whips getting together on a very regular basis.
Finally, we will be supporting item No. 12 by the Independent group in relation to abolition of the death penalty. The Minister for Justice made a commitment that this would be dealt with urgently, indeed prior to the end of the Christmas session. Now it seems to have been postponed indefinitely. There has been a slack and lackadaisical approach to a matter of very considerable national importance.
Mr. B. Ryan: My colleague has said all the needs to be said about the shambles of the ordering of the business of this House and the way the House meets. May I ask the Leader of the House if he would consider allocating time, even a brief period, to discuss the outrageous behaviour of a major Irish bank in ignoring the entire Irish design industry when it was designing a new logo. It was a shameful insult to the whole of the artistic community of this country. It is disgraceful in its entirety and I believe it is a matter on which the entire House would be at one. Those major institutions——
Mr. B. Ryan: I would prefer to have an agreed motion rather than one of my unilateral efforts. May I say also, a Chathaoirligh, without wanting to be disorderly, that I would like you to assure the House you are satisfied that in a certain number of matters you are not in any way impinging on your obvious impartiality by taking public stances on them in recent times. I would appeal to the Cathaoirleach to clarify to the House the rules under which——
Mr. B. Ryan: I am not involving the Cathaoirleach in any matter on the Order of Business. I would not dream of doing that. I am considering the position of the Cathaoirleach as the spokesman for this House, not on the Order of Business and not on a matter on the Order of Business, and on the appropriateness of the Cathaoirleach taking stances on issues. As a fairly long-standing Member of the House, with a considerable respect for this House, and one who has defended it on many occasions, I am entitled to raise issues which I believe would impinge on the image of this House in the public mind.
Pól Ó Foighil: Tá dhá mhí eile imithe ó bhíomar anseo cheana agus tá ceist shimplí agam ort, agus tá mé ag iarraidh freagra shimplí. Cén uair a mbeidh mo chearta bunreachtúla le fáil agamsa sa Teach seo? Cén uair a gcuirfidh tú ar fáil an córas áistriúcháin anseo sa chaoi is go mbeidh gach duine timpeall orm in ann mé a thuiscint go soiléir? De réir an Bhunreachta tá an ceart bunúsach agamsa mo chuid cainte a dhéanamh i nGaeilge agus níl aon duine anseo a shéanfadh sin. Ach leis sin a chur i gcrích  níl aon deis agam mo chuid cainte a dhéanamh sa chomhthuiscint go bhfuil gach duine sa Teach in ann mé a thuiscint
Mura bhfuil an Teach seo sásta mo chearta bhunreachtúla a thabhairt domsa mar Sheanadóir ón Ghaeltacht, nó mar Sheanadóir ó áit ar bith sa tír, go bhfuil fonn air nó uirthi Gaeilge a labhairt sa Teach seo, caithfidh mé rud éigin eile a dhéanamh le mo chearta a bhaint amach. Níl mé ag dul a chur suas leis níos faide. Tá mé sé mhí anseo agus tá mé ag labhairt anseo ag iarraidh an Ghaeilge a labhairt mar bhunteanga agam féin agus níl duine ar bith ag tabhairt cúnaimh dom. Is scannalach an rud é freisin nach bhfuil aon chaint cheart déanta againn faoi staid shláinte na tíre seo mar atá ráite ag an Seanadóir O'Reilly ar ball.
Professor Murphy: In supporting other Senators' comments on the inept Order of Business I should like to regret particularly the long delay in dealing with the Marine Institute Bill, a Bill of great importance and on whose expeditious passage depends substantial EC funding from various sources. I hope there will be no further delay in that.
I welcome as a fairly sensible measure the division of the Order Paper into a main list and a supplementary list except that I hope it does not encourage the undisciplined habit of putting everything down on the Order Paper, frequently for no other purpose than to express the policies of a particular party but without any serious intention ever of getting them discussed. That discredits the Order Paper, if it does not make a mockery of it. I hope that tendency will not be encouraged by the new business.
Finally, I wish to express solidarity with my colleague, Senator Norris. It is perfectly appropriate that he should raise any item he likes on the Order Paper and I support his concern as expressed in item Nos. 56 and 57 to which my name is  added also. I hope he is not going to be deterred by veiled threats such as taking a particular line. I believe we are all too grown up for that kind of thing.
An Cathaoirleach: I will exercise my function in accordance with Standing Orders and any other rulings that have already been established or new rulings that I make. I want to assure the Senator of that.
Mrs. Jackman: I, too, would like to register my disapproval and disappointment at the late reconvening of the Seanad and I would like clarification on one point from the Leader of the House. When we went into recess on Christmas week we were given the date of 10 January for resumption. I would like to know why we did not resume on that day? What happened between 10 January and 7 February? Obviously, we had the budget; I suppose I am answering my own question. Is there any reason for the long delay? The whole business of Seanad Éireann will be totally undermined in the general public's view if we are paid to work but are not given an opportunity to do so while having pages and pages of motions which will take until the 20th century to go through judging by what has happened since 1 November. If we are here and wish to work we should be given that opportunity. Was it the Leader of the House who decided on the date of resumption? Was it the Leader of the House in consultation with the Taoiseach or was it the fact that any budget debate was stymied before we could return?
Mr. Ross: I would like to second the amendment to the Order of Business made by Senator Joe O'Toole on the Criminal Justice (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Bill. The Government had promised the Bill and there are reports — it is difficult to judge their authenticity or otherwise — that the Garda and prison  officers are causing the Minister for Justice to delay it. This Bill has been on the Order Paper now for five or six years and it seems to be unreasonable, both of the Progressive Democrats and of the Fianna Fáil Party, to refuse to take a Bill which must be mainly acceptable to them according to their declared public stances. I would like to ask the Leader of the House to take this Bill today and to accept amendments from his own benches, if they have any. Otherwise perhaps we should have an assurance that the Bill will be introduced during this session. I also assume in the light of recent reports that we will get the support of the Progressive Democrats for taking a Bill which they publicly support in principle.
I am slightly fed up with the false starts this session has had. I was not the only person in this House who did not know whether we were resuming on 16 January, 23 January, 30 January, this week or any other week. It should be reasonably easy to organise the time the Seanad sits and the legislation. I cannot understand why the House has not been sitting before now. We have been given no reason for the delay.
Finally, a Chathaoirligh, it appears necessary that you, Sir, issue a statement as an assurance to the House that you will not in future be taking political stances on matters which affect this House.
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