Friday, 17 May 1991
Seanad Éireann Debate
The purpose of this amendment is to clarify the intention and the functions of this Bill. If it is accepted, section 1 (1) would read: “This Act may be cited as the Local Government (Enabling Provision) Act, 1991”. We do not want the public to get the wrong impression, that this Bill is the totality of Government reorganisation in this area. The Minister stated that this is only part of the overall intent which includes financial provisions and a reorganisation of local authority structures which will come about in subsequent legislation so it is, effectively, an enabling provision. Because of the absence, particularly of funding, it is only a framework or a formulation and I should like in this amendment to emphasise that point so that it clarifies, defines and specifies more clearly the intention of this Bill.
Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn): The words proposed for addition to the Long Title and Short Title are unnecessary. This is a Local Government Bill. There have been well over 20 Local Government Acts and the Long Title “an Act to amend and extend the law relating to local government” describes what this Bill does. I hope the Senator will not press the point because it is not a substantial one. Considerable time has already been spent in the other House dealing with this matter and it was agreed there that it was not a substantial one.
The Bill contains provisions which are not enabling ones and which have effect directly on the Act, the Short Title is meant to be exactly as it is, short; introducing the words “enabling provisions” would be a misnomer. It also begs the question why other descriptions should not be added. This is an enabling Bill and confers certain other matters which would require the Title to be as it is now stated. It is totally adequate, and proper and should be agreed by all.
Mr. Costello: Does the Minister intend to accept any of these amendments? Are we totally bound by the timescale indicated by the Minister in his speech? Is this a charade? Will the Minister state his overall intention in relation to this Bill?
Mr. Flynn: The intention is to discuss the amendments put down by the Senators in any detail they wish but the  first amendment is not substantial. As it is factually incorrect and has no substance, the Minister is not obliged to recommend its acceptance.
Mrs. Doyle: Further to the Minister's reply to Senator Costello, is it a correct interpretation that the Minister will be in a position to accept some of the amendments tabled this afternoon? There would appear to be logistical difficulties about this if the President must sign this Bill into law before 22 May — in other words by this weekend — because any amendments accepted here would mean the Bill going back to the Dáil. Logistically I am not sure how that can fit in. Perhaps the Minister could just expand whether — apart from amendment No. 1 which we are not supporting — the principle of amendments is acceptable to him and whether he is in a position to take amendments from this House?
Mr. Flynn: I do not want at this stage to pre-empt the discussion which might take place on any of the amendments, but I will be happy to respond to those which are proposed and supported. It will be a matter for the House to decide whether they should be incorporated into the legislation.
An Cathaoirleach: It is worth pointing out at this stage that a time allocation motion has been agreed to by the House. This means that the Bill must be passed by the House by 8 p.m. this evening. Therefore, we must do our business within that time frame. It is not fair to expect the Minister to answer for something in the House which up to now has been the responsibility of the House.
Mr. Costello: We are well aware that the time allocation motion has been agreed to, even though we are reluctant to be bound by it, but what we would like to know is if the Minister is in a position to tell us, in the event of any amendment being accepted, that the Dáil would be reconvened to discuss any amendments  passed here. We should not simply rubber stamp what is before us.
Mr. Flynn: I do not know why the matter is being pursued in this way. I cannot predict what may happen here this evening and I doubt if the Senator can either. I think we are wasting time discussing the matter at this time. We should press on and discuss the amendment which have been tabled.
An Cathaoirleach: We must get back to the amendment and I invite the Senators to deal with the amendments put down. Any other questions are not relevant on Committee Stage. We must progress and deal with whatever arises.
Mrs. Doyle: We are bound by your ruling but the way this issue is resolved might determine the way this afternoon's proceedings are dealt with. I am anxious that the House is not abused in any way and that our constitutional role is fully respected. I do not think the Minister is in a position to accept any amendment. You rightly spoke about the need not to waste time but most of us in the House could find better things to do this afternoon. We do not want to act as a rubber stamp no matter how good legislation is. We have been charged with the responsibility under the Constitution to tease it out properly. It is a matter of regret that this House has been brought into disrepute through the use of these tactics.
An Cathaoirleach: The House has not been brought into disrepute. The Minister is not responsible for the decision taken by the House yesterday. The House decided to agree to a particular time allocation motion. It is the House which made the decision. Consequently, the House is responsible for its own actions and that decision must now govern the way in which we do our business for the rest of the day. Let me add further that it is a serious breach of Standing Order of the House to engage in further discussion on the time allocation motion which has been decided upon by  the House. That is what we are doing in effect.
Mr. Harte: Since the House has decided on the time allocation motion, although we may not like it, I would urge all concerned to get on with Committee Stage debate. We may find, when we come to deal with amendment No. 50, that a further 100 amendments will not be discussed. We are not happy with the Bill but we are caught in a trap.
An Cathaoirleach: I do not like that description. The House has decided to deal with the Bill in a certain way. If that means that the House will rubber stamp the legislation, then the House has agreed to so do.
Mr. Costello: ——at which the discussion on this legislation will be terminated. I requested the Minister to give an indication of the time the Bill must be passed so that the President can sign it in time for the local elections. I want to  know if we are wasting our time debating amendments which, if accepted, cannot be discussed by the Dáil or does time allow the other House to be recalled——
Mr. Flynn: May I be of some assistance to the House in this matter? It is not for the Minister to decide if amendments should be taken or passed by the House but rather a matter for the House itself. The House will decide if amendments will succeed or not.
Mr. McMahon: I do not think anyone on this side of the House is questioning the time allocation motion but it is the responsibility of the Minister to see to it that this legislation passes into law by a certain time. What will happen in the event of the House accepting any of these amendments this afternoon? It is all very well for the Minister to say that it is not his responsibility——
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator is wise enough to know that we will not deal with hypothetical questions here. We will get on with the business of Committee Stage. It will be another ball game if the Bill is amended but for the moment that question does not arise.
An Cathaoirleach: There is no question of the Senator getting an answer to a hypothetical question. As far as I am concerned we are going back to the Committee Stage debate. We have strayed from amendment No. 1. Is amendment No. 1 being pressed?
Mr. Flynn: I want to put on record — in response to what Senator McMahon said — that the Minister has not spoken to the Senators on this side of the House  on what their attitude to any amendment might or should be.
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