Seanad Éireann - Volume 84 - 26 May, 1976

Order of Business.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: It is proposed to take business in the following order: Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

Mr. Lenihan: I would like an explanation from the Leader of the House in regard to the reasons why there has been a change in the ordered progress of the business as it was adjourned last night.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: I will explain the matter fully when I move No. 1.

Mr. Yeats: On a point of order, this is an outrageous performance by the Leader of the House. He puts down an amendment to finish the debate after one day and he does not deign to give one single word of explanation to the House. We are asked to decide the Order of Business but how can we do that if we do not know what he is at? He displays a degree of arrogance that even this Government have never exceeded.

An Cathaoirleach: The question before the House is whether the Order of Business should or should not be the taking of items 1, 2 and 3. We are concerned with whether No. 1 should be discussed and not whether it should be agreed to.

Mr. Yeats: On a point of order, it is a bit more than that. The question is whether the Government are going to put an end to the debate on the Finance Bill, something which has never happened before. It is rather more than just an Order of Business.

Mr. Lenihan: As I indicated in my few initial remarks, this is the major [222] annual debate by the Seanad on the major piece of legislation that comes through the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Finance Bill. We have had one day at it and have not even completed Second Stage. We were proceeding in a very orderly manner yesterday and adjourned in a very orderly manner last night with a view to proceeding with the debate, hopefully in an orderly manner. today when without any indication— although indication was obviously given to some Senators—we find this morning a crude guillotine motion put down to end proceedings at 5 o'clock today.

I understand fully that finance legislation must be signed by the President within four months of the budget proposals——

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: On a point of order, I do not like interrupting Senator Lenihan but I was under the impression that the discussion on the Order of Business had concluded. I waited for other contributions and it would seem to me, with respect, that we can either discuss this on the Order of Business or we can discuss it on the motion. I suggest that we should not have a repetition of arguments both on the Order of Business and on the motion.

An Cathaoirleach: The point of order that Senator O'Higgins has raised is one that had begun to exercise the mind of the Chair. It must be quite clear that what is before us now is the question of what business will be taken today. If Senators exhaust the topic of the merits of Motion No. 1 now they may be in danger of precluding themselves from having a substantial debate on when it is ordered.

Mr. Lenihan: I take it that anything I say in regard to the Order of Business does not prejudice or preclude me or any of my colleagues from discussing subsequently the motion proper? We can have two debates then, a debate on the Order of Business and a debate on the motion. Is that quite clear?

An Cathaoirleach: Yes, provided the first debate is a debate on the Order of Business and does not concern itself with the merits of Motion No. 1.

[223] Mr. Lenihan: I appreciate that. On the issue of putting down the motion without investigating in any way the merits of the motion itself, I would like to suggest that we were, as I said, proceeding yesterday with an orderly debate.

An Cathaoirleach: If I might say, the Senator is perfectly entitled to discuss the appearance of Motion No. 1 on the Order Paper and the manner of its appearance on the Order Paper but should avoid the merits.

Mr. Lenihan: I will confine myself entirely to that aspect and we will discuss the merits of the motion and the reasons for it at a later stage. That is the area I was about to go into and I bow to the ruling of the Chair on that aspect being removed to a further debate. The actual appearance of the motion comes genuinely to Senators on this side of the House—and I hope to all Senators who believe in the democratic process—as something of a shock. It obviously is not a shock to the collected ranks of Senators on the other side who have been drummed in here this morning to function with their feet——

Senators: That is not true.

Mr. Lenihan: ——in what is a crude guillotine motion.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: Whatever about consultation over here, the other side were consulted.

Mr. Yeats: The word “guillotine” was never mentioned to me.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: It was mentioned by Senator Lenihan to me.

Mr. Lenihan: The fact of the matter is that we have here a crude guillotine motion which is designed, in effect, to chop debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas. This is a type of parliamentary device that is used only in the most exceptional circumstances.

The Finance Bill is the annual major debate in which the Dáil and Seanad have an opportunity to examine the entire economic progress. The Seanad spent yesterday discussing the Second Stage of the Bill and were preceding in an orderly fashion. Indeed, I had the [224] pleasure of a fruitful exchange of views between Senator Alexis FitzGerald and myself in which he made a very constructive contribution in reply to what I considered was a constructive contribution. The debate proceeded, with contributions from my colleague, Senator Yeats, and other Senators, in an orderly and responsible manner until the adjournment last night.

This debate would have proceeded in an orderly fashion, as is the custom with this House, with Committee and Report Stages today in time for the President's signature on Thursday evening or Friday, whichever is the appropriate day. The debate could have continued today and tomorrow and when the House was given a firm indication as to time-limit, having regard to the exigencies of the four-months' deadline for the Presidential signature, this side would not have been found wanting in reaching a constructive solution to the problem. As the debate was finishing last night there was no indication that anything other than a responsible attitude by all Senators towards the Bill was being adopted last night. Yet, the debate on this major Finance Bill is curtailed to two half day sittings.

An Cathaoirleach: I would ask the Senator to keep to the point that there is a proposition to curtail and not to stray into the area of the merits.

Mr. Lenihan: The proposition is to curtail the debate in this manner. The point I wish to make is that we commenced this debate yesterday at 2.30 p.m. and we finished last night at 8.30 p.m. This represented one half-day's debate. It is now proposed to start at 10.30 a.m. and to finish at 5 o'clock. Therefore, two half-day's debate are proposed for this major financial measure.

The reason for this curtailment escapes me. Everybody who has participated in parliamentary proceedings will be aware that a guillotine motion such as this is only brought in when there is an absolute need for the Government to get a measure through to beat a deadline and when the Opposition are behaving in an irresponsible manner and preventing the deadline being [225] reached. There was no such indication last evening. The Senators opposite are aware that, although we may be small in number, we have always sought to act in a co-operative manner in this House.

In the interest of order, procedure and the democratic process of the House, I submit that this motion be withdrawn. It is an insult to the whole parliamentary process and to democracy. It is an insult to those people who have interests, directly or indirectly, in the debate. It is an insult to the people who have sent us here to legislate on their behalf. The Government are not just throwing this in the face of the Opposition; they are regarding the Oireachtas as a charade and are telling the people that is what they think of them. That is the contemptuous view of one of the House of Parliament as held by the Government. We have an obligation to the people to ensure that this House carries out its constitutional function in a constructive and democratic manner. The Government are not insulting the Opposition, they are insulting themselves and are trying to insult the people, but the people will not respond to that type of treatment. Instead they will respond by voting against the Government when the opportunity occurs, whether in a by-election or in the coming general election. This type of treatment by the leader of the House on behalf of the Government will result in a demand for the Government to get out and make way for those who will govern in a responsible manner.

Mr. Yeats: In discussing this question of whether the unprecedented guillotine of the Finance Bill is to go through, one of the problems we are faced with is that the Leader of the House has so far refused, in spite of being asked, to give any explanation for the guillotine. The President must sign this Bill not later than four months after the passage of the General Resolution in the Dáil. That resolution was passed at approximately 7 p.m. on the 28th of January. This would appear to mean and I think it is the position that the President could sign this Bill within the legal regulations up to 7 p.m. on Friday next. Therefore, there is no reason in the wide world why [226] we could not spend all day today, if necessary, debating the Finance Bill and again all day tomorrow.

I would put to the Leader of the House that he should make some effort to be reasonable on this matter. There are certain minor technical problems involved in presenting a Bill to the President for signature. He must be presented with six vellum copies and so on, but I hardly think that anyone, least of all the Leader of the House, imagines this House is going to pass any recommendations in the course of this debate. Indeed, we have already said on this side that we do not propose to put down any recommendations and therefore I should have thought that any intelligent civil servant would already be preparing the vellum copies needed.

I propose, therefore, to put down an amendment to this Order of Business. The amendment being in regard to the guillotine motion——

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator is foreshadowing an amendment to Motion No. 1 and this should be moved after the Order of Business has been agreed.

Mr. Yeats: I will put it this way: would he accept an amendment in line 7 to take out the word “today” and put in the word “tomorrow” so that we could debate this in the ordinary way until 5 p.m. tomorrow—I do not know whether it would run that long—but this would give as much time as one can expect under the circumstances.

I would put it to the Leader of the House that this is a sensible suggestion and if he is willing to accept it we can just get on with the business now. Is he willing to accept it? Apparently, he is not so willing. We have then the position that the Leader of the House comes in here this morning, proposes this unprecedented motion on the Finance Bill and in spite of requests from this side of the House he refuses point blank to give any explanation. He said he would give an explanation at the end when everybody else has spoken and nobody else can deal with the matter. He refuses point blank to give any explanation. One can only describe this as a complete display of heedless arrogance. It is a display of contempt for [227] the House, contempt for the Parliamentary process, contempt indeed for his own colleagues on that side of the House. They tell us that they did not expect to see this motion on the Order Paper. Does Senator FitzGerald know why this motion is being put down? Does he consider it necessary? Does he know why it is necessary? Has he or any other Senator on that side of the House any idea?

Mr. Alexis FitzGerald: I said I was not drummed in here. That was my only intervention.

Mr. Yeats: He came in avidly, willingly and enthusiastically to prevent any further debate on this Bill. I should have thought that he of all people would recognise the enormity of this step.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator is wandering now into what should be a second debate and his own words are betraying him. He is talking about voting on the motion to do so and so. The motion before the House is that the Order of Business be items 1, 2 and 3.

Mr. Yeats: On this motion, I am perfectly entitled to comment on the attitude of the Leader of the House and, of course, of the Government and the Senators opposite bringing in a motion of this kind without any explanation of any sort.

An Cathaoirleach: I must warn Senators against straying. The fundamental question here is that there cannot be two debates of what is essentially the same matter. If there are to be two debates there must be a distinction made between what is the fundamental matter of the first debate and what is the fundamental matter of the second. The Senator has been talking quite properly on the question of the appearance on the Order Paper of Motion No. 1, but he should beware of the dangers of crossing over into the discussion of the merits of Motion No. 1.

Mr. Yeats: I appreciate that point.

An Cathaoirleach: And I appreciate the difficulty the Senator has but I must urge him to be careful.

[228] Mr. Yeats: But I do think I am perfectly in order in discussing the attitude of the Leader of the House in refusing to explain why he has brought in this motion—a motion which after all, is unprecedented, because in 50 years of Irish political and constitutional history there has never been a motion to guillotine debate on the Finance Bill in either House. It is, in other words, an unprecedented unique occasion. For this reason it seems incredible that it should be done in this way without any single word of explanation, with an explanation actually refused by the Leader of the House. When I suggested that what we propose is a very reasonable compromise with regard to the timing of this debate, the Leader of the House refused point blank to react in any way.

Now one wonders what is the point of the parliamentary process. What point is there in even discussing the Order of Business under these circumstances. The proposal I made was a reasonable one. It has been refused. We will therefore in due course have to discuss this motion in full. Senators will come in determined to be used as cannon fodder to push this motion through. We will perhaps get an explanation from the Leader of the House at the end of this discussion, but the discussion must take place in the absence of any kind of explanation. One can only regret that the Leader of this House should have behaved in this fashion, a fashion which can only damage the reputation of the House. It certainly will not happen under a Fianna Fáil Government and one can only hope that, even under this Government, it will never happen again.

Professor Quinlan: As one of the two longest serving Members in this House, having been here for almost 20 years, I regret very much the situation that has arisen in regard to the Finance Bill this year. In the circumstances I suggest that the amendment proposed by Senator Yeats be considered seriously. I will have a further amendment requesting an adjournment debate at the end of this Seanad session to make up for the lack of debate on the central issues that we have had in this session. It would be regrettable that this occasion should [229] degenerate into a political football across the House. I suggest that we pass the motion for the Order of Business as it is but since we have not been given proper time to discuss the Bill let us make the maximum use of the time available before the Bill must be signed. Let us, too, have an adequate adjournment debate before the summer recess. With those reservations I suggest we proceed to deal with the Order of Business.

Mr. Yeats: I move: “That No. 1 be deleted from the Order of Business.”

An Cathaoirleach: Senator O'Higgins to conclude.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: I am not quite sure what I am replying to. If I am to follow Senator Lenihan, it would be probably to a final rally at a by-election. I do not intend to follow Senator Lenihan, nor do I resent Senator Yeats' charges. On reflection the Senator will probably regret having made them— whatever reflection he is capable of—in the heat of the moment and he will begin to appreciate that the sole reason I did not give any full explanation as regards No. 1 was the reason which I tendered to the Chair. I understood that I was concluding the discussion on the Order of Business on the previous occasion I was on my feet and I explained I would go fully into the question of the motion when it was being moved.

I do not think there is any point in following all the hares that have been raised. Senator Lenihan referred to a charade. Anything more resembling a charade than the performance we have witnessed in the last half hour would be difficult to find. We are all conscious of the fact that there is a limited time available to us for discussion. Senators opposite deliberately chose—acquit Senator Quinlan from this—to further reduce that time by the performance we have witnessed in the last half hour. I fully sympathise with Senator Quinlan's view on this. I do not know whether it will be possible to arrange that additional time might be provided to the Seanad for a debate of a general nature by way of an adjournment [230] debate. If that could be done it would be an excellent idea.

I do not want to fall into the error of justifying by detailed argument the appearance of Motion No. 1 on the Order Paper. I may say in general at this stage that we are all conscious of the fact that we are up against a time limit. We are conscious of the fact, if we have done any research into it, that the time provided for discussion of the Finance Bill this year is the average time that has been permitted to the Seanad for many years past. The usual time taken in the Seanad for the Finance Bill is two days. That is what we were aiming at this year. I do not want to be charged with breaking confidences, but in view of Senator Lenihan's remarks and the remarks of Senator Yeats, I am entitled to say that I discussed the timing of this debate with the Leader of the Opposition. I made every effort to secure agreement from the Opposition both as regards the conclusion of the Second Stage of the debate and as regards finalising the debate in this House. I did not get it from them and I did not get any return from Senator Lenihan—

Mr. Lenihan: We had all morning to discuss it.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: Take your medicine. The Senator is well able to give it out. I am sure he can take it just as well. That is the position. As far as I was concerned I sought to get agreement. I failed to get agreement and it is because of that and only because of that that I felt it was necessary to proceed in this way in order to bring matters to a conclusion.

Mr. Lenihan: We have all day today.

Mr. Yeats: On a point of order, to this moment we have no explanation as to why 5 p.m. today is the deadline. To this moment the Leader of the House has not condescended to say why he wants this by 5 p.m. today, about two days earlier than necessary.

An Cathaoirleach: I am sure the Senator realises that is not a genuine point of order.

Mr. Yeats: With all respects to the Cathaoirleach, I am sure you, as [231] Cathaoirleach, have some responsibility for the good order of the proceedings of this Houses. Is it not misuse of the proceedings to push through a Bill without any explanation as to why it is necessary?

An Cathaoirleach: The Chair is satisfied that Standing Orders are being complied with. The debate on the Order of Business has, strictly speaking, concluded. It is not in order to make a substantial contribution.

Mr. Brennan: One would imagine, listening to the debate this morning, that there were only a few Senators in the House, namely the Leader of the House and the few gentlemen sitting in front of me. I am sure I am entitled to speak here as equally as any of those three. I know quite well that the Cathaoirleach does not want to hear me. I am prepared to accept that. Even to the point of my being put out of the House, I will make my views known. Last evening when we were finishing at 8.30 o'clock, there were two Senators on the Government side of the House and the Leader of the House inquired how many more wished to speak on this side of the House. Senator Uí Eachthéirn was speaking, Senator Cowan offered, Senator Garrett offered and I offered. But when we come in here this morning we find that instead of having Senator Uí Eachthéirn continuing the debate the Order Paper has been changed.

[232] An Cathaoirleach: Will the Senator listen to the Chair?

Mr. Brennan: It is stultifying the discussion. There were two Senators on the Government side.

An Cathaoirleach: I would ask the Senator to listen to the Chair.

Mr. Brennan: I will finish on these words: it drives one to the conclusion that the Government side, including the Leader of the House, have not manners, modesty, scruple or discretion.

An Cathaoirleach: I should like to point out to Senator Brennan that contributions of Senators on the Order of Business are always welcome but the contributions should be made before the Leader of the House is called on to conclude the debate. The Chair is always careful to look in all directions in the House to make sure no Senator is offering. Even if someone rises simultaneously with the Leader of the House the custom is to allow the Senator to contribute. It is not in order to make a contribution after the Leader of the House has concluded the debate. It has been proposed that the Order of Business be Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive. An amendment has been moved that No. 1 be deleted. The question before the House is: “That No. 1 stand part.”

Question put.

The Seanad divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 10.

Barrett, Jack.

Blennerhassett, John.

Butler, Pierce.

Codd, Patrick.

Connolly, Roderic.

Daly, Jack.

Deasy, Austin.

Ferris, Michael.

FitzGerald, Alexis.

Horgan, John S.

Kerrigan, Patrick.

Kilbride, Thomas.

McAuliffe, Timothy.

McCartin, John Joseph.

Mannion, John M.

Markey, Bernard.

O'Brien, Andy.

O'Brien, William.

O'Higgins, Michael J.

O'Toole, Patrick.

Owens, Evelyn.

Prendergast, Micheál A.

Russell, George Edward.

Sanfey, James W.

Walsh, Mary.

Whyte, Liam.

Níl

[233]Brennan, John J.

Cowen, Bernard.

Dolan, Séamus.

Eachthéirn, Cáit Uí

Garrett, Jack

[234]Hanafin, Des.

Keegan, Seán.

Lenihan, Brian.

Ryan, Eoin.

Yeats, Michael B.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Sanfey and Kerrigan; Níl, Senators Hanafin and Garret.

Question declared carried.

Question “That items Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, be the Order of the Day”, put and agreed to.