Thursday, 6 December 1990
Seanad Éireann Debate
An Cathaoirleach: : Senator Norris has given me notice that he wishes to make a personal explanation to the House. Before I call on the Senator I want to make it clear that I will not allow a debate on this matter. Once the personal explanation has been given the matter is closed. It is also worth noting that the personal explanation should be brief, should be non-argumentative and strictly personal and should not be such as would give rise to any further debate or cause for further debate. I call on Senator Norris.
Mr. Norris: Yesterday, I was the subject of strong criticism from the Leader of the House, Senator Seán Fallon, for remarks I was alleged to have made on the “Pat Kenny Show” on 23 November. Let me say, first of all, that I am grateful to Senator Avril Doyle for providing Senator Fallon with the opportunity to  make these criticisms on the record of the House.
There were three comments in particular to which Senator Fallon took exception. The first was: “It seemed almost as if there was an attempt to vote this matter through without any sustained discussion at all, that it was to go through on the nod”. The second was: “It was introduced by leave of the Government and the Government intended to let it go through on the nod”. The third was: “It was felt by a few of us in the Seanad that we would be lax in our responsibility if we just connived at this Bill going through on the nod”.
Senator Fallon stated that I should apologise to the House but that he did not believe that I would and that he could refer this matter to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges but quite honestly could not be bothered. I requested an opportunity to explain my remarks and you, a Chathaoirligh, ruled this out of order but said that I would have another opportunity. Having discussed this matter with Members on the Government side, I have decided that the proper way to address the situation is to make a personal statement in explanation. I am grateful for the opportunity you have afforded me to do so.
I approached Senator Fallon and asked him for a copy of the transcript of the programme which he had in his possession. Although at first reluctant to oblige me in this matter, he eventually consented. I have read the transcript and am now in a position to state that I believe it is a fully accurate transcript of what I recall saying. Yesterday, Senator Fallon informed the House that his own integrity and that of many of the Members of the House had been put into question by my words in this interview. That was most certainly not my intention and I would sincerely regret it if I felt I had brought into question the integrity and dignity of either Senator Fallon or the House.
I am grateful to Senator Fallon for placing the introduction of the Alta-mount Bill in its proper and highly unusual context. He indicated yesterday that there is, for example, a separate set of Standing Orders for the Dáil and Seanad relative to Private Business which  provides for the promotion and conduct of a Private Bill through the Houses and that these Standing Orders are completely separate from the Standing Orders under which public business of the Seanad is usually conducted.
I may say that on election to Seanad Éireann I was provided with a copy of the Standing Orders of the House but not with a copy of these completely separate and different Standing Orders, nor was I made aware of their existence. I think few people also were aware of the existence and activities of a parliamentary agent by virtue of whose application a Private Bill is promoted for the particular benefit of any person or locality. I doubt if many people were aware that the Leas-Chathaoirleach, by virtue of his or her office, has a statutory responsibility formally to move such a Bill or, indeed, aware of the existence of an official with the Dickensian title of “The Examiner of Private Bills”. It is even stranger that, according to Senator Fallon, the Leas-Chathaoirleach is not in charge of the Bill in the same accepted sense that a Minister is in respect of a Public Bill.
In these circumstances I think it was a pity that the Bill was not circulated in advance to all Members of the House, although I understand that a note was sent round indicating that the proposed legislation could be inspected by appointment and that there was no provision of the usual explanatory memoranda. This strange concatenation of circumstances is certainly not my fault, nor, may I suggest respectfully, Sir, is it conducive to a full and informed debate, with which responsibility this House is most seriously charged. Yesterday Senator Fallon assured the House that he indicated to the Senators before they came in that if any one Senator on any side of the House queried or wanted information he would feel it his duty to stall and to ask for explanatory memoranda.
An Cathaoirleach: I do not wish to interrupt the Senator but he has been addressing the House for the last five minutes and I want to point out to him that what he is required to do by way of personal explanation is to deal with the substance of his radio interview and in  that context alone. The Senator is engaged in quite a different area, quite a separate matter, and it is important that he be brief.
Mr. Norris: In fact, you did offer me the opportunity to explain my remarks. I am attempting to do so. I have established the context and I intend to demonstrate to the House that what I said was not calculated to offend and is capable of a serious, responsible and mature interpretation. I would not think it a good idea if I were to be deprived of the opportunity to do so but if this does occur I will have simply to call a press conference and issue what I had intended to say. I know Senator Fallon to be a man of his word.
Mr. Norris: I assumed that Senators would welcome my saying that I know Senator Fallon to be a man of his word. Is there an objection on the Government side to my saying that? I have no doubt that he did say to some Senators on the way into the Chamber that it was his intention subsequently to ask for an explanatory memorandum. I have to say here that if by my contribution on this Bill, about which Senator Fallon permitted himself to engage in some patronising clichés, I have been responsible for Members receiving this information to which they are entitled, I cannot find this to be a matter for apology or reproach; in fact, quite the contrary. I think it would have been much better had the Bill been properly placed in context prior to its introduction.
If I may turn, as the Cathaoirleach has invited me, to the actual substance of the words which gave offence, there is a common element between all three, that is, the phrase about the Bill going through on the nod. I would like to state categorically that I did not believe at the time of the debate, nor when I spoke on the “Pat Kenny Show”, that the Government side or any Members of this House were engaged in trickery or deceit in an attempt to foist this item upon a gullible Legislature. However, there is no doubt at all that what was contemplated was that the legislation should go through on  the nod, at least as I understand this phrase. My feeling and interpretation is entirely confirmed by what Senator Fallon said.
An Cathaoirleach: Again, I must remind the Senator that the substance of what he is saying is giving rise to further debate and it is not part of the personal explanation that he is only required to give.
An Cathaoirleach: The very point I made to the Senator initially, I want to make quite clear again, that I do not want  in any way to constrain the Senator or prevent him from giving a personal explanation; but I must point out again that the personal explanation should be brief, should be non-argumentative, strictly personal and should not be such as would cause debate or give rise to further explanation.
Mr. Norris: All I can say is that this is a personal explanation. It is a personal explanation in the only way it is possible to explain what was said on the radio. I believe that, if you will allow me to conclude this explanation, you, Sir, will also be satisfied that there was no malign intention on my part or no attempt to blacken the reputation of people in this House but in order to demonstrate that I have to be allowed to show that the words I used were properly used and that I was acting responsibly. After all, Sir, you permitted an attack upon me yesterday.
An Cathaoirleach: As of now the Senator is certainly going into very dangerous waters when he has made a suggestion such as he has made. I explained yesterday that the Leader of the House had a right of reply. He was exercising that right and in the context of exercising that right he was replying to matters raised by Senator Avril Doyle and he considered it appropriate to make the references that he made and that is within his discretion. I allowed for that. Shortly afterwards I informed the Senator that if he came and spoke with me I would make arrangements for the facility to make a personal explanation available to him. He did that this morning. I afforded the Senator that opportunity. I spelled out very clearly the circumstances in which that personal explanation must be made. Any departure from that, I must inform the Senator, he will be ruled out.
Mr. Norris: I understand what the Cathaoirleach is saying to me. May I just say that I will attempt to conclude the matter as quickly as possible, but I believe that if we had not got engaged in this discussion, I would already have concluded.
An Cathaoirleach: I am bound to observe the rules of the House as they are set down. If there are circumstances in which they are not adequately providing for what the Senator wants to do, then it is a matter for the House to make decisions in that area.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Ross, with great personal respect to you, I cannot allow you to raise any matter on a point of order or otherwise. This is an opportunity to make a personal explanation that is being afforded to Senator Norris. He must take the opportunity in the context of the rules of the House and failure to do that will have the consequences of which I have informed him. There can be no other participants in the personal explanation.
An Cathaoirleach: I am quite satisfied he is sufficiently. The only thing I must remind him of is that there are certain guidelines and rules laid down and these must be observed in pursuit of the giving of a personal explanation. Failure to do that, I have to point out, would mean that he would be ruled out of order.
Mr. Norris: I think it was all right for me to demonstrate that the words I used were used without malice and are capable of being sustained by the evidence. I am sure you will agree that this is proper.
Mr. Norris: I am in the process of doing it, with your assistance. My interpretation of this is fully confirmed by  what Senator Fallon said. There is no real reason for disagreement between us.
An Cathaoirleach: ——and to ensure that the business of this House is carried out in accordance with the rules. As far as I am concerned, the Senator has given a personal explanation; he said a few moments ago that there is no real disagreement between himself and Senator Seán Fallon. In that case, what more has to be said?
Mr. Norris: On a particular point but there were a number of points, Senator Fallon said that he indicated that if there was objection the Bill would be withdrawn from Second Stage and referred to Committee. In other words, if it did not receive a nod from the House which, by his own admission, was inadequately prepared or briefed to discuss the matter, it would then be referred to a committee but if there was no objection raised — and none was raised — by the Government benches, it would then glide surreptitiously on past Second Stage. In the lengthy castigation to which I was subjected yesterday, Senator Fallon said that the motion to take Second Stage was moved by Senator Liam Naughten, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, and not by Senator Avril Doyle——
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Norris, you are seriously out of order and there is not any point in my continuing to advise you as to the situation that is going to develop if you are going to ignore what I have said. You are engaging in an area that is not, as far as I am concerned, comprising a personal explanation, which you are  very restricted to in this situation, and you must again observe the rules in which you give that explanation.
An Cathaoirleach: We are 15 minutes into a situation now where either the Senator has satisfied himself that he has made a personal explanation or he has not. The Senator will resume his seat unless he has something very specific to say that is strictly in accordance with the rules of the House. Otherwise, I am going to rule him out of order. I believe I have been fair and lenient. I wanted to be that way, but the Senator has been in breach already and what he is saying is argumentative and is developing a new debate. I must remind him again that he will have to stay within the rules or else conclude.
An Cathaoirleach: I am going to ensure that there will be order. I have pointed out to you, Senator Norris, what constitutes a personal explanation. I have also pointed out to you the circumstances in which that personal explanation can be given. You have departed from that and I am now satisfied there is nothing further to be contributed in view of the line you  have been taking up to now. I am concluding this debate. We will continue with the business of the House.
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