Dáil Éireann - Volume 423 - 09 October, 1992

Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 6.

Mr. J. Bruton: There are two matters I wish to raise. It would be appropriate for the House to take some time to pay tribute to the contribution to Anglo-Irish relations of Lady Jane Ewart-Biggs, a member of the British-Irish parliamentary body until her death, and who, despite the tragic association she had with this country as a result of the death of her husband here, contributed very generously to promoting reconciliation between and within these islands. I am sure the Taoiseach will wish to pay tribute to her and I hope he will agree to make arrangements for the British-Irish parliamentary body to be formally represented, thereby representing this House, at the funeral of Lady Jane Ewart-Biggs. There is a matter I wish to raise otherwise but it might be best to deal with this issue first rather than to intersperse it between other political questions.

The Taoiseach: I take the opportunity to pay tribute and say how much this Government and successive Governments have appreciated the contribution of the late Lady Ewart-Biggs in [714] her efforts to find ways and means of bringing peace to this island. These were magnanimous efforts on her behalf because of the tragic death of her husband and the circumstances in which it occurred. The Government fully appreciate these efforts and the appropriate representation will be made at her funeral. I have already put that in train.

Mr. Spring: I certainly would wish, on behalf of the Labour Party, to be associated with the remarks made. I worked with Lady Ewart-Biggs on the British-Irish parliamentary tier. She certainly had a tremendous commitment to Ireland and to British-Irish relations and the establishment of peace in these islands.

I also think this House should pay its respects to the memory of Willy Brandt, a tremendous European statesman and a great leader of the socialist movement who has tragically passed from us as well.

Proinsias De Rossa: I certainly would like to be associated with the remarks made in relation to Lady Ewart-Biggs. It is always a wonder for us in Ireland that a woman whose husband was so appallingly murdered by the Provisional IRA in this State could take such a generous approach to the need for reconciliation in Ireland and between Ireland and Britain. She deserves to be remembered for that.

I would also wish to convey our sympathy on the death of Willy Brandt, who made an enormous contribution to the understanding of the division between north and south in the world today.

Mr. J. Bruton: I now wish to raise another matter concerning an apparen conflict of view, I make no comment as to whether the differences of interpretation as between what the Taoiseach has said and the Minister for Health ha said are actual conflicts. It would not be productive to go into that. In view of the fact that controversy has arisen, would the Taoiseach agree that it is important for all of us to take the necessary time to reach, in so far as possible, consensus and in all cases clear understanding as to [715] the meaning of what is intended? Would he accept that my party, in asking that a deadline of 6 p.m. on Tuesday next be not adhered to rigidly, only wish to take such time as is necessary to go as far as possible to reach a reasonable consensus on this matter? I would ask the Taoiseach to agree to a reasonable degree of flexibility in this matter. I can assure him that as far as we are concerned we will be approaching any discussions with him in the utmost good faith and in full recognition of the need for no unnecessary delay.

In the same context, when will the legislation envisaged in the Government's proposal in regard to information be made available? The proposed constitutional amendment will provide that such information will be made available subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law. When will the law in question be published? We do not want a situation such as happened last night when the Minister for Health was quoting from the Government's intentions as to legislation in that area but the legislation was not available to others. Will this legislation be available for consideration before 6 p.m. on Tuesday?

The Taoiseach: I doubt very much if the legislation will be available by 6 p.m. on Tuesday. It is being prepared on the basis of getting the broad parameters right and waiting for finalisation of the Government decision. I cannot see circumstances in which it would be available by Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. However, if that is possible it will be accelerated as fast as possible. On the question of time, I explained to all the party leaders when I met them what the timetable was in relation to publication of Bills and having them through both Houses to comply with the constitutional requirements in having a referendum on 3 December. That is still the position. Within that framework I will be as flexible as I can. That is why I said that 6 p.m. on Tuesday would allow the Government to finalise and proceed to publishing the Bill. Of course, during the debates in the House [716] there will be ample time, if somebody has a better idea or a better wording, to deal with that. However, I will approach this in an open manner. I think everybody is clear on what the intentions are in relation to the referenda on the three separate issues. There will always be people who will try to take different interpretations. I do not think we need to get into that. I have responded very generously to the party leaders as of now and will continue to do that provided we all know what the intentions are and where we are trying to go.

Mr. Spring: First, I support the call for the legislation in relation to information to be made available as quickly as possible to give people an opportunity of considering it. Second, let me put it to the Taoiseach in as constructive a way as possible that, given the confusion that regrettably exists after the statements last night, the question of legislation should be considered again. The Taoiseach obviously wants to have an amendment to the Constitution but let me put it to him that it would be far better for everybody and for clarity in this State if this House had the opportunity of legislating for the constitutional provision and for the actual legislation that should be put in place. Otherwise the confusion that came out last night at the first attempt by Government Ministers to explain themselves will persist and these matters will be back in the court within a short period of time.

The Taoiseach: There is no need for any spreading of confusion. There will always be people who want to spread confusion for their own particular reasons.

Mr. Spring: That is not so.

Mr. Shatter: It is for your own benefit.

The Taoiseach: We will leave that as it stands. The question of a referendum has been decided by the Government. The approach and the objective of the referendum is to set aside the unacceptable [717] part of the Supreme Court decision which legalised abortion in this country in certain circumstances. The Government have decided that the people will respond in a referendum to that situation. I have made it clear that if the answer is “yes” the change in the Constitution that is presented will be inserted in the Constitution and if the answer is “no” the Government will have no option, in my opinion, but to proceed to legislate to curtail the Supreme Court decision as it now stands. As things now stand abortion is legal in Ireland in certain circumstances and that is not acceptable to the Government in which the circumstances have been defined.

Proinsias De Rossa: I am afraid the Taoiseach, rather than clarifying the situation this morning, is confusing it even further.

(Interruptions.)

Proinsias De Rossa: Who of the mice on the other side made that remark?

Mr. Callely: I did.

Proinsias De Rossa: Perhaps the Deputy might listen to what I have to say. Last night the Minister for Health totally turned around the advice which the Taoiseach gave to party leaders yesterday. On page 2 of the document entitled “Article 40.3.3” it clearly says:

The amendment accepts the test set out in the Supreme Court decision in every respect except suicide. It therefore sets out to negative the decision in respect of suicide but in no other respect.

The Taoiseach this morning says that what he intends to do is set aside the Supreme Court decision. We need to know, before Tuesday at 6 p.m. whether or not the wording which the Taoiseach has circulated for an amendment is the wording about which we are being consulted or is there some other form of wording which he is now working on. Last night the Minister for Health said [718] that the wording will be changed. Minister Harney also said last night that the wording can be changed. We need to know——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair has allowed relevant questions on this subject but it is not prepared to permit something tending towards debate.

Mr. Callely: The principle is the same.

An Ceann Comhairle: There will be ample time for debate. I have been liberal in the matter. Could we have questions on clarification?

Proinsias De Rossa: We need to know first the Government intention in the matter.

The Taoiseach: Deputy De Rossa would like to spread confusion. The question he has to ask himself, if he has not done so already, is whether or not he wants abortion on demand in Ireland.

Mrs. Owen: That is not fair.

Mr. Rabbitte: We heard that last night from your gurrier Minister.

The Taoiseach: To set out deliberately and mischievously to misrepresent the situation is not helpful.

Proinsias De Rossa: It is your document.

The Taoiseach: We all know that Deputy De Rossa does not want a referendum but legislation. That is his prerogative and he is entitled to look for that. I want a referendum; the Deputy wants legislation.

Proinsias De Rossa: If the Government are serious we need to know——

(Interruptions.)

Mr. McCartan: There is no courage, no political leadership.

[719] An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy De Rossa, I will brook no argument now.

Proinsias De Rossa: I am not arguing.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have allowed certain relevant questions. There is to be no debate now.

Proinsias De Rossa: I have not received an answer to the question I asked.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have no control over these matters.

Mr. Roche: On a point of order, Deputy Rabbitte has referred to the Minister for Health as a gurrier. That is unparliamentary language and I think he should withdraw the comment. It is certainly an unearned epithet and it is a scandal.

Mr. McCartan: Remind yourself of the epithets you used here yourself on occasions.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry we have started our proceedings on a sour note.

Proinsias De Rossa: I did not receive an answer to my question and I must insist on clarification.

An Ceann Comhairle: There is one thing I will make clear to you, Deputy. When the Chair is on his feet the Deputy resumes his seat. I have been asked to rule on another matter. Deputy Rabbitte used an unparliamentary remark in relation to a Member of this House. I now afford him an opportunity of withdrawing that remark, unreservedly.

Mr. Rabbitte: I withdraw that remark.

An Ceann Comhairle: Thank you.

Mr. Rabbitte: I apologise——

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy John Bruton——

[720] Mr. Rabbitte: May I just make my statement in one sentence?

An Ceann Comhairle: Please, Deputy Rabbitte, I said unreservedly. The Deputy may not compound the insult.

Mr. Rabbitte: I apologise to the Minister for using that remark but I think it was unworthy of the Deputy to repeat it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Bruton, I want you to know now that I am going on to other business. I said earlier that I allowed questions in a rather liberal manner on this subject because of its importance for elucidation purposes. It is tending to become unruly and, in any event, we may not debate this matter now.

Proinsias De Rossa: I have asked a specific question which has not been answered. I ask the Taoiseach again does he or does he not stand over a document which he circulated to me yesterday?

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy De Rossa, please resume your seat. I hope Deputy Bruton will appreciate the Chair's position in this matter.

Mr. J. Bruton: And I hope the Chair will appreciate mine. Let me say to the Taoiseach and to all sides of this House that it would be best if we would withhold the comments that we wish to make until the legislation comes before the House and that in the meantime we should seek consensus in so far as that is possible, and it may not be possible. For that reason let me ask the Taoiseach if he would indicate that there is flexibility in regard to the 6 p.m. deadline on Tuesday and if he would be prepared to consider suggestions in regard to legislation to accompany any referendum so that any doubts that can be clarified as to the meaning of particular concepts is done in the fullest fashion possible so as to avoid any debate on the subject that is based on misunderstanding as distinct from disagreement?

[721] An Ceann Comhairle: I appeal for brevity.

Mr. J. Bruton: That is really all I wish to say. You have a habit, a Cheann Comhairle, of interrupting me just as I am about to finish a sentence and making me appear disorderly when I do not intend to be. I do not wish to find myself in conflict with the Chair.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have given the Deputy the utmost latitude this morning and the House knows that.

Mr. J. Bruton: I am very conscious of that and appreciative of it but at the same time I do not want to be placed in a position where I appear to be disorderly when I am not.

An Ceann Comhairle: The rules of this House ordain that we cannot have a debate now.

Mr. J. Bruton: I think I have made my views clear and I hope the Taoiseach will respond to them.

The Taoiseach: I have listened to what the Deputy said. I have explained exactly the deadlines that have to be met under the Constitution in relation to the timing of the referendum and under the timetable for publication of the Bills after the Government have finalised the wording. Both leaders asked for more time. I stretched it to the limit of 6 o'clock on Tuesday. That does not exclude constructive dialogue taking place between now and then. If we succeed in arriving at a reasonable consensus on the matter, that is fine; but, if not, dialogue can continue during the passage of the Bills through the House. We will always approach this in a constructive manner, but at the end of the day this issue has been around since last February and we have spent a lot of time examining the position, as I am sure other parties have done. It is time for a decision. I had to take all this complicated documentation, [722] go through it and make up my own mind——

Mr. J. Bruton: You had six months.

The Taoiseach: I had to do it in one and a half days after the sub-committee did their work.

Mr. Spring: That is why we have the confusion, with all due respects.

The Taoiseach: I am sure Opposition Deputies spent time researching and defining their approach to this. It is now decision time. I will be as constructive as I can be in relation to it. At the end of the day I have a programme to fulfil and I must fulfil it. We are to have a referendum on 3 December.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: I am proceeding now to Item No. 6. This cannot continue.

Proinsias De Rossa: In order that consultation can proceed we need to know——

An Ceann Comhairle: I am proceeding now to item No. 6.

Proinsias De Rossa: On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle——

Mr. J. Bruton: Sir, please——

Proinsias De Rossa: I am on my feet seeking to get clarification from the Taoiseach as to whether the consultation which he is offering proceeds on the basis of the wording which he circulated earlier this week.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have allowed over 20 minutes for clarification and elucidation——

Proinsias De Rossa: Is that the case or is it not the case?

[723] An Ceann Comhairle: ——and that should be adequate.

Mr. J. Bruton: Sir.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is the Deputy on the same subject? I must now insist that the Deputy bring the matter to finality.

Proinsias De Rossa: Is that the position?

Mr. J. Bruton: We have seen an example today of how consensus is driven further away once the matter comes into the House. Will the Taoiseach please reconsider this idea of 6 p.m. on Tuesday, so that there is a reasonable opportunity for discussion?

An Ceann Comhairle: That has been mentioned on many occasions this morning.

The Taoiseach: I am available today and tonight and every day and night until 6 p.m. on Tuesday. I will be as constructive as possible. I agree with Deputy Bruton that this is not the place to try to deal with the complex problem. I set up dialogue to get away from that, but others seem to want to drive us into that situation.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. J. Bruton: I lead a parliamentary party of 71 Members. There must be an opportunity for them to discuss the matter. This 6 p.m. deadline does not allow that.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Hillery to move item No. 6.