Wednesday, 1 October 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: I thank my colleagues for their support while the House awaits legislation from the Dáil. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to suspend the sitting and resume at 11 p.m. to consider all Stages of the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Bill 2008.
Senator Maurice Cummins: As my colleagues have stated, there is no guarantee whatsoever that this Bill will have been passed by the Dáil at 11 p.m. We will be running around like eejits and come in here at 11 p.m. only to find that the Bill has not been passed by the Dáil. What is the urgency of it? A guarantee has been given. There is no need to rush the legislation. I suggest we deal with it as the first business in the morning. If we must meet earlier, even at 9.30 a.m. or before that, let us deal with it then. Let us be realistic about it, rather than resume at 11 p.m. only to find the Bill has not been concluded in the Dáil. It will not be concluded in the Dáil by 11 p.m. The Members there are still debating amendment No. 1. It is unrealistic to suggest that the Bill will be available for us to deal with it at 11 p.m. Let us be realistic and deal with the Bill in the morning. I suggest that the Leader accepts our viewpoint on this matter.
Senator Michael McCarthy: The former Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children said two weeks ago that realism is important in politics. I cannot see this Bill being debated in this House tonight. Given the amount of time the Dáil has spent on amendment No. 1 and as the debate has been adjourned until 8.30, I do not believe it will be passed by that House tonight.
The Leader of the House has been helpful and obliging in the past in terms of debates and facilitating various requests by Members. To be fair and to extend the co-operation and spirit of goodwill the Opposition has shown to the Government in the other House, the Leader needs to seriously consider the proposal put before him.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I will not repeat the arguments made by my two colleagues but I ask the Leader to consider this point. The same situation arose last night and we had people in place, if needed. Some of them had even cancelled appointments. They were willing to do so because this is a very serious issue. Will we debate the Bill at 11 p.m. after the Dáil has concluded its consideration of it? I do not believe we will and, I suspect, the Leader does not believe we will either.
Senator Shane Ross: I agree with my colleagues. I know the Leader’s hands are tied and that this is not a decision he makes. He has the difficult task of coming in here to tell us this because it is totally unreasonable. I would like him to answer a question. Could we be given a reason for this extraordinary request?
Senator Shane Ross: The Leader just stood up and said he proposed we adjourn until 11 p.m. Why? Why in the name of God can we not consider this Bill properly when we meet tomorrow morning, or we could meet earlier tomorrow, or on Friday or Saturday? To ask us to go away for five hours for no reason and to come back and debate this Bill, when it probably will not be ready in any event, is utterly unreasonable.
I wonder what is going on behind the scenes. I wonder is a bank in trouble? What is happening? Must this Bill be put through before tomorrow morning because the European Commission is kicking up an awful fuss and it will have us in the courts in the morning? We need a reason for this. This is very important and the Leader knows perfectly well that the Bill will not be properly considered, with due consideration, at 11 p.m. We will not table the amendments required and we will not be fit enough to consider it properly, but we would be tomorrow and the Bill may not even be ready by then.
We are being asked to adjourn for five hours and to sit late. This is emergency legislation and it was postponed until this morning. Why it cannot be considered properly by the Dáil and then considered by us, I do not know. I demand that we be given a reason for this. We will divide the House on this. We may divide the House on every amendment and section of the Bill if the Leader behaves like this. Two people can play this game. We deserve the respect we have earned in this House, if we are to give this proper consideration.
Senator Shane Ross: We should not be treated like cattle and told the House will be adjourned with no reason given, that we should just get on with it and that we will resume at 11 p.m. It is insulting.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I support what has been said by my colleagues. I, too, respect the Leader on this matter. He has come here on instructions, but sadly he has come here without reasoning, as Senator Ross has explained. All of us, as practical parliamentarians, know the position, given that the other House is still dealing with amendment No. 1 of section 1 of the Bill, to which the Minister for Finance has not yet responded, and given that debate on the Bill is to resume at 8.30 p.m. The Minister for Finance is taking advice on the potential challenge from the banks that it is proposed, as of now, to exclude and, presumably, they may have to be included. I have no doubt the Government will also have its own amendments in mind, which are being considered by officials and its Members, as we speak, and as, I suspect, the Leader knows.
I, therefore, respectfully ask the Leader, if he can, to take some further immediate instruction. What is proposed does not make sense because, as Senator Cummins pointed out, the guarantee is in place. The public, the banks and everyone knows that both Houses are dealing with the matter as expeditiously as possible, giving it all due care and attention. Many amendments will be also tabled by Members in this House. Therefore, deferring consideration of it until 8.30 a.m. or 9.30 a.m. tomorrow, with all due respect, would not make any difference to the outside world who know of our overall intentions. The Government has given a clear lead on the matter, and we have responded wisely. I ask the Leader, with respect, that rather than divide the House — if he requires a sos for a few minutes, I am sure he would have the Cathaoirleach’s indulgence — to defer the taking of this Bill until tomorrow morning and we will all be back here with fresh minds to deal with it more expeditiously.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I concur with what all my colleagues have said. I wish to put forward a brief and practical suggestion. The time of the House tomorrow has been set aside to consider the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008, which is detailed administrative legislation covering the implementation of a policy that was brought forward in 2005. There is no reason that Bill cannot be taken next week or next month as there is no urgency about it. The Leader might consider deferring the taking of that Bill and use the time available to deal with this far more important legislation.
Senator Eugene Regan: The Leader may be taken aback by the strength of feeling on this side of the House on the issue and perhaps he might suspend the sitting for 15 minutes to afford him some time to reconsider the matter. The suggestions that have been made are valid. As has been said on numerous occasions in the past 48 hours, we are anxious to get this right and to be constructive. In the context, I ask the Leader to take on board what has been suggested.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I again thank Members for their co-operation. As they are aware, I am obliged to take instruction from the Government Chief Whip in respect of matters relating to Government business. In that context, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to suspend the sitting until 10 p.m. We can review the situation at that stage but I hope the Bill will be available by then.
Senator Maurice Cummins: I must question the wisdom of asking Members to return to the House at 10 p.m. Why is it necessary to pass the Bill by tomorrow morning? Many Members have asked that question and, at this stage, we deserve an answer.
Senator Alex White: I agree with Senator Cummins. This Bill started out as emergency legislation but it is quickly losing its tenor as such given what happened yesterday. It is no longer emergency legislation. The Government has made a decision and is now looking to both Houses to pass the legislation.
On the 10 p.m. issue, Committee Stage of the Bill will resume in the other House at 8.30 p.m. and there are 28 amendments. I venture to suggest that the chances of the Bill being ready at 10 p.m. are zero.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: The Government’s timetable on this legislation has been chaotic from the start and this is another example of it. It is very clear the Bill will not be finished in the Dáil by 10 p.m. so I do not know why this House is being recalled at that time. What is the reason for the rush? This looks quite chaotic and that sends a much worse message than the Government saying it wants the legislation through by the end of the week which would be a much more coherent message to send instead of all this stopping and starting.
Senator Shane Ross: I repeat what I said earlier that I would be very happy to extend goodwill to, and to co-operate with, the Leader and the Government on this issue if I was given the simple reason this is happening and why we cannot consider the Bill tomorrow, the day after that or whenever. We have been given no reason and we are being insulted by this rush. If we do not get a reason for the rush, we must be suspicious that something is happening about which we are not being told, which is possibly true. I oppose this suggestion and suggest we adjourn until tomorrow and consider the Bill then when it has gone through the Dáil.
Senator Liam Twomey: The way in which this legislation is being brought through the Houses of the Oireachtas is making Members look like incompetent idiots in the eyes of the public, which is looking at what we are doing. There are 27 amendments left in the Dáil. If they spent five minutes on each of those amendments, it would take until midnight. It has been on amendment No. 1 for four hours, so the chance of that legislation being finished in the Dáil by midnight is next to impossible because there is no guillotine.
We are deluding ourselves into thinking that we will be debating the Bill an hour and a half after the Committee Stage debate resumes in the Dáil. The 9 o’clock news will indicate that we cannot make up our minds when we want to start or finish the legislation which is considered so vital to the banking sector of this country. Let us be realistic, stop fooling ourselves and making eejits of ourselves in the eyes of the pubic and postpone the debate until the morning.
Senator Michael McCarthy: There are 28 amendments to the emergency Bill being debated in the Dáil which will not deal with it again until 8.30 p.m. Even if the Dáil rushed through amendments Nos. 1 to 28, it is highly unlikely that the Bill will be here before midnight. The Ceann Comhairle is a Deputy of 21 years’ standing and if he announced on the national airwaves that it is unlikely that the Bill will be completed in the Dáil before midnight, it is pointless bringing us back at 10 p.m. and even more pointless bringing us back at 11 p.m. because, realistically, it will be tomorrow morning before we get to the Bill.
Senator Paul Coghlan: There are 28 amendments to the Bill and the Dáil is still on amendment No. 1 to section 1 and the Minister has not yet responded. Unless, as Senator Ross said, the Leader knows something and an amendment to the Order of Business will be proposed in the Dáil at 8.30 p.m. to introduce a guillotine, I think what the Ceann Comhairle said on the national airwaves is right. We understand the debate is open-ended in the other House. Unless the Leader knows something we do not know in that regard, he is making us look ridiculous. He came into the House a quarter of an hour ago and proposed that we adjourn until 11 p.m. He has now amended that and has proposed we adjourn until 10 p.m. It makes no sense.
The Government has given a guarantee and the banks and the public know we are dealing with the matter as expeditiously as possible. We should stick to our guns and adjourn until tomorrow morning and come in as early as the Leader wishes.
Senator Eugene Regan: I would like the Leader to know that we are not trying to make life difficult for him but are trying to be constructive. Clearly, the legislation will not be dealt with in the Seanad before 12 a.m., so we are into tomorrow in any event. That is why it makes sense to leave it until tomorrow. As Senator Ross said, we should be given a reason the Leader chose this time. Perhaps that would clear up the matter.
Senator David Norris: I support what my colleagues said. This seems to be a fairly chaotic proceeding. I am not sure why the Bill must be dealt with this evening. If this is a really serious matter, then it deserves serious consideration, which we should give it.
As Senator Ross apparently said, and I am sorry I was not present to hear him, no good reason has been produced as to why this cannot wait until morning when we can consider it. The matter is unfolding all the time.
I was just having a cup a coffee and saw someone on British television say that there are fears that this could be breaching competition law, and perhaps other Members have averted to that. That is nonsense. I have said many times in the House that we in Ireland, in addition to people in Europe, have in many ways made a little tin god out of competition, the market and all these other shibboleths to the disadvantage of the ordinary citizen. As representatives of the ordinary citizens of Ireland, we should have an opportunity properly to discuss this important legislation.
The only way the Bill will be completed is by guillotining it. Perhaps we will see it at 12 a.m. but what type of reasonable discussion is there likely to be in this House at midnight or after midnight when the Bill has been already been guillotined in the Dáil?
Senator Jim Walsh: I have been impressed that most of the contributions in the Dáil have maintained a semblance of unity of purpose. Members of this House have been very responsible as well. Reference was made to the situation being chaotic but we must admit that we are living in really chaotic and turbulent times financially. No Seanad or Dáil in the history of the State has been confronted with the situation with which we are confronted. The Wall Street crash was confined to America. Looking at what is happening in America, its President and members of Congress have said their whole business and financial structure is at stake and it has come up with a rescue package.
I would prefer not to be here at 10 p.m. but we agreed to resume at 10.30 p.m. last night. I understand people saying they would like a reason but if there is a really good reason, I would expect we would not be told it, nor should we be.
Senator Jim Walsh: We are dealing with a sensitive area which goes to the core of the future commercial and business life of this country. If those in authority, who obviously have access to all the necessary information, are making a judgment call, we should not try to second-guess that purely to hold the debate tomorrow rather than tonight. I appeal to Members that if that call is made——
Senator Jim Walsh: If it subsequently transpires that there was no good reason for this, Members can make complaints, which would be valid. However, as of now, we do not know the reason. We must trust those who are in positions of responsibility. The last thing one needs on an aeroplane if there is an engine problem is the person at the back dictating what should happen. We have pilots on the aeroplane, so let us trust them and move forward.
A reasonable suggestion has been made and perhaps at 10 p.m., the Leader will come back with some other information, depending on the update from the Dáil at that stage. Whether we come back at 10 p.m. is not an issue on which we should divide. The problem is far too serious.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I deliberately avoided getting involved in this debate but Senator Walsh’s contribution and the Leader’s proposal are fast eroding the consensus on this side of the House which has behaved impeccably over the past 48 hours. It is time we received leadership on this issue from the Government side of the House because the problem is very simple. No information has been forthcoming and no reason has been given by Government as to why this Bill must be completed today rather than tomorrow. When we come here at 11 p.m. or midnight to debate the Bill, the Government will have the votes to carry it through, no matter what happens. I would not like to see the consensus eroded, but the behaviour of Government yesterday and thus far today is leaving a very poor taste on the Opposition side of the House. We are trying to be co-operative and not to be obstructionist, but we are not getting any help from the Government side. The Ceann Comhairle has expressed a different view from that given to us by the Leader. What are we at? The Leader is a much more experienced parliamentarian than I am, but I can do mathematics. It does not add up in terms of the timeframe. Will the Leader explain why the legislation has to be passed tonight?
Senator Alex White: On a point of order, if the debate in this House is to occur tonight, is there a rule or convention in place in respect of the timescale applying to the moving of amendments? I wish to signal now to colleagues that the Labour Party intends to move the 12 or 13 amendments that are being moved in the Dáil on Committee Stage in this House.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I assure the House that I am and have been doing everything I can to get consensus. I will do all I can in that regard. I want the House to accept that I have been honest and truthful on this issue in the House. I have discussed Second Stage with leaders of the groups and we propose to have a three-hour Second Stage and then have a break to facilitate the tabling of amendments. We intend then to go through the various Stages as is normally the case in the House. As all colleagues know, I have never guillotined discussion on a Bill, neither during my time as Leader from 1997 to 2002 nor since I was privileged to be reappointed as Leader on 24 June last year. I am doing all I can to retain the consensus and harmonious working relationship we enjoy here together in as much as that is possible as parliamentarians. That is the reason I got agreement to bring forward by one hour the hour at which we shall reconvene.
Senator Joe O’Toole: The Leader will confirm that this side of the House has offered co-operation throughout this debate. I asked last night, this morning and possibly again this afternoon why the legislation has to go through in such a rush. We found out last night there was no need for it to go through last night and now, 24 hours later, we are asking the same question. If there is a reason in the national interest the Bill must go through tonight, no one on this side of the House will walk away.
In terms of the Leader’s good offices, we have had our arguments in the past but if he stands up and hand on heart says he cannot tell us the reason but he has been assured there is an important reason in the national interest for the Bill to go through tonight, we will discuss that. I have not heard that. It seems as if the Government just wants to get this pesky legislation out of the way and get it through the Seanad tonight. That is the message coming across to us.
I understand the Leader has been in contact with Government and that the Government is irritated by what is going on in the other House. I have listened to the debate there all afternoon and understand that Committee Stage is a series of Second Stage speeches there. That is their business. However, I get the impression from what the Leader has said that the Government intends to bring the legislation to a speedy conclusion in the other House. If that is the case, that is its business.
The question for us, and this is a fair question for the Leader to ask the Government, is whether there is a reason in the national interest for this Bill to go through at 2 a.m. as opposed to 11 a.m. or midday tomorrow? The same date will be on the stamp. The Leader has indicated to the groups there is a motion for earlier signature, but that will make no difference. It can all be done on the same day, whether 2 a.m. or 2 p.m. tomorrow. I can see no gain in pushing it through tonight.
We must be logical in this regard. Let us assume we are offering co-operation, that we all want to get it right despite our difficulties with aspects of it, and that we are all prepared to sit for as long as it takes. However, all we want to know is why it needs to go through tonight. I asked that question this morning and I think the Leader may have asked it himself but dared not say so publicly. If it has to go through tonight, that is the end of the argument. If the Government does not impose a guillotine in the other House, it will not even be out of it at 2 a.m.
There are many variables to the question. If there is a real reason the Bill must go through, let us do it. If there is not, it is just nonsense to be hanging about. That is what it all boils down to.
Senator Geraldine Feeney: I support the Leader who is not an unreasonable man. He has been very reasonable throughout the past year and I am sure he wishes to continue that way. He gets support from the Opposition benches.
As Senator Walsh said, this is an uncertain time for us economically. Most of us have never known a time like this in global markets or in the State from an economic point of view. Whether or not the Bill comes to the House this evening, it is not much to ask us as Senators, public representatives and elected and appointed Members of the House to come back at 10 p.m. as the Leader has——
Senator Geraldine Feeney: Senator Buttimer, you spoke several times today, but I did not interrupt you. There were times when I might have interrupted, but I did not. I ask you to have manners now. Perhaps if you stopped mouthing off so often, you might learn something.
Senator Geraldine Feeney: It is the point, Senator. Fine Gael is on the record as supporting the Government on this legislation and we are pleased about that. However, Fine Gael Members are more or less speaking out of both sides of their mouths now and do not want to be here at 10 p.m.
Senator Geraldine Feeney: It is not asking a lot for us to come back at 10 p.m. That is what we are paid to do here. I remember during the most recent Seanad being here until 3.45 a.m. I remember walking out of here at 4 a.m. on a night we discussed a Freedom of Information Bill. That was an important Bill but it does not approach in importance the Bill we are trying to deal with today.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: What we are saying is we do not want an unrealistic timetable being put to us now that asks us to come in at 10 p.m., when we know the Bill will continue to be debated in the Dáil until midnight or 1 a.m. The point is that this is what has happened during the course of the past two days with regard to the legislation. I suggest that we adjourn the sitting until 7.30 p.m. for the leaders of the various groups to meet and review the situation. We should see if we can get more information on the likely conclusion of the Dáil debate and come back then with a more realistic timetable. In the meantime, the Leader should tell us if there is a court case pending in the morning and if the European Commissioner intends to make a statement. If the Government is seriously concerned about the national interest and we need to have the legislation passed, let us deal with it.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I remind the House that this Bill has been in the national interest from the time it became known to us. In the national interest, I ask Senators to resume the sitting at 10 p.m.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I will do everything I can to preserve the harmonious working relationship which we have enjoyed in this House and to continue the progress we have always made collectively. I am not saying anything further. I am asking for an adjournment until 10 p.m. and I will endeavour to communicate with the leaders of the various groups as soon as I receive alternative instructions to those which the Chief Whip has issued to me.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I accept the proposal in the interest of this issue and in light of its importance nationally. I would like the Leader to communicate with the leaders of the groups in the meantime. I hope we can arrange a more realistic timetable at that point so that this farce will not continue.
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Cannon, Ciaran.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|Daly, Mark.||de Búrca, Déirdre.|
|Ellis, John.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Hanafin, John.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||McDonald, Lisa.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Sullivan, Ned.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Phelan, Kieran.|
|Walsh, Jim.||White, Mary M.|
|Mullen, Rónán.||Norris, David.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Quinn, Feargal.|
Senator Donie Cassidy: I wish to inform the House that I propose to have a further suspension of the House until 1 a.m. at which time we can expect to be in receipt of the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Bill 2008. It is proposed to commence Second and Subsequent Stages of the Bill at that time.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I understand the Dáil has agreed to sit late in order to conclude the legislation this evening and that it is considered important that this legislation be passed tonight, and as a result the Seanad will sit late to discuss its detail and pass the legislation. I support what the Leader is saying.
Senator Donie Cassidy: If the leaders of the groups are available after this I would appreciate a meeting with them to agree on the timeframe for Second Stage, the sos between Second Stage and Committee Stage to allow amendments, and then the timeframe for Committee and Remaining Stages.
Senator Jim Walsh: I understand the Whips in the Dáil have agreed to group the amendments and perhaps it might be an idea if we could agree the same here. I understand they put a time limit on each of the groups so that it will be finished in the Dáil by 12.30.
Senator Pearse Doherty: Is the Leader aware whether the Minister will accept amendments in the Lower House? I understand he may not accept amendments because the Bill would then need to be reprinted and there would be printing difficulties before it came to the Seanad. I understand he may accept amendments here, which would mean it would need to go back to the Lower House to be passed. That would mean that House would need to deal with the Bill in the morning. Is the Leader aware whether that is the case?
Senator Donie Cassidy: I have informed the House what I have been told. I have been told there has been agreement among the Whips that the business will be concluded at 12.30 and we are to order the business here for 1 o’clock and to conclude the Bill tonight. When I meet the group leaders I intend to propose that we meet tomorrow at noon. I understand the dreadfully late hour in the evening that it is and I really appreciate the efforts, patience and co-operation of every Member of this House, the group leaders, the Whips and everybody concerned, you, a Chathaoirligh, and most importantly of all the staff who are staying with us right through the night to assist in passing this important legislation.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I apologise for the ongoing delay in bringing the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Bill 2008 to the House. I understand we will not be in a position to receive the Bill until 2.15 a.m.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: This is the way the legislation has been handled in the Dáil as well as in this House, and it could have been handled in a better way. However, we now have no choice but to meet again at 2.30 a.m. to consider——
Senator Donie Cassidy: I wish to inform the House, with the permission of the Cathaoirleach, that the time will be 2.30 a.m. by agreement of the leaders. The Minister will address the House at that time, and on conclusion of the Minister’s address we will have two hours for Second Stage. At the conclusion of Second Stage we will have a sos for 15 minutes to allow for the placing of amendments.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business. It is proposed to take No. 3a on the supplementary Order Paper, the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Bill 2008, all Stages, with the contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and on which Members may share time by agreement of the House. It is proposed that Second Stage will conclude not later than 4.40 a.m. if not previously concluded, and that Committee and Remaining Stages will be taken 15 minutes after the conclusion of Second Stage to allow for amendments.
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