Seanad Éireann - Volume 115 - 03 April, 1987

Order of Business.

Mr. Lanigan: It is intended to take items Nos. 1, 2, 3, 3a on the supplementary Order Paper and Nos. 4 and 5 today.

Professor Dooge: On the Order of Business, I wish to say on behalf of the Fine Gael group in this House that we accept this Order of Business. I would like in doing so to make a comment in regard to the position of the House in meeting today. It does happen because of the provisions of the Constitution, that the Seanad may meet after the election of a new Dáil. I want to emphasise today, as has been emphasised both in word and in action in the past, that the powers of this Seanad are in no way diminished by the fact that a new Dáil has been elected. In the past we have had the case of a Seanad whose time was almost spent amending legislation coming from a new Dáil and indeed has shown its wisdom in doing so in that the new Dáil accepted such an amendment.

[2055] Accordingly, our attitude in regard to the business today will be on the merits of what is proposed. In no way will we consider ourselves as being inhibited by the fact that at the end of next week a new Seanad will be in being. Of course, in regard to ordinary legislation this is a proper attitude for the Seanad, that if a new Dáil proposes legislation and a subsisting Seanad which is about to pass into history disagrees, then it is entirely appropriate that that Seanad should ask the new Dáil to think again, as has happened in the past.

In regard to the question of Money Bills, there is perhaps less force in this argument. What we have on the Order Paper today are a number of Bills and a number of orders arising from the budget and, therefore, arising in a financial context. I just wish to indicate on behalf of the Fine Gael group that in this regard we will express our opinions on these matters which will be the opinions we held before the recent election, and we will reserve our position in regard to any variations from the economic and budgetary programme that we put before the electorate during the last election. It is not our wish in any way to obstruct the new Government but, because these matters come before us now rather than coming before us in two weeks time, they cannot possibly be allowed to inhibit our free discussion in regard to them.

Mr. Ferris: Before coming to the Order of Business, let me take the opportunity to congratulate the new Leader of the House. Before the election has taken place he has moved to the right of me. I wish him luck and hope that he will have not just this week in that position but many years in the future. We have always worked well together in the past.

On the Order of Business, Senator Cassidy obviously is not here. If he was here, he would be asking why Item No. 12 is not included. He asked me over a period of two or three years why that item was not being taken. I asked the new Leader of the House to further our [2056] interests in this legislation, the Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, 1985.

Seriously, there is another Bill I ask the new Leader of the House to consider, that is Item No. 13 which had my personal commitment under another Government. Senator Ross will, I am sure, join me in trying to ensure that that legislation is brought forward as quickly as possible by the new Government. I hope we will have a good, constructive debate in this House and that the vast majority of Members will support it. The Criminal Justice (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill, 1984, as it stands on the Order Paper now is a Private Members' Bill and was previously a Government Bill.

The members of the Labour Party in this House, in this outgoing Seanad, will also adopt a constructive attitude to any legislation that comes before us. However, there are items ordered for today which we will be opposing. I refer to the question of increasing health contributions and amending the Health Act, 1970, to take account of new hospital charges. These matters are fundamental to the Labour Party and have always been so. For that reason I want to tell the Leader of the House that we will be opposing the Second Stage of each of these Bills and will be calling for votes on the various sections. The Leader of the House would expect nothing less from the Labour Party. We take a different view on disease eradication levies. We will not necessarily be opposing that measure but we will be putting our views forward.

I assure you, Sir, and the Leader of the House that we will be constructive today in dealing with the Order of Business. We do not want to obstruct the new Government in whatever programme they have to put before the people, but it is our duty to point out what we see as anomalies in the Order of Business as they will affect the ordinary people we represent.

Mr. Ross: I also welcome the new Leader of the House. I have not the same [2057] scruples about obstructing the Government's business as Senator Ferris has. I would be perfectly happy to obstruct it if I thought it was necessary or a good idea this afternoon.

(Interruptions.)

An Cathaoirleach: Silence.

Mr. Ross: May I continue without interruption? On a more serious note, in this anomalous situation where an old Seanad sits with a new Dáil, let me ask the Leader of the House if, before the votes are cast in the Seanad election, he will give us an outline of what the plans are for the next Seanad——

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Ross: ——and whether he sees the Seanad as in need of reform or whether it should be of a more vocational nature. Before I cast my vote in the Seanad election I should be interested to know this and I am sure the rest of the House would also be interested. On a serious note, I wish to ascertain whether he would see Independent Members getting time to discuss items like No. 13 on the Order Paper which is the Bill dealing with the abolition of hanging which Senator Ferris has mentioned. Does he see the House in need of any reform at all, does he see himself as following in Senator Dooge's footsteps and having 78 meetings a year and what does he see as the role of the Seanad?

An Cathaoirleach: You are completely out of order.

Mr. Ross: It has been a matter of great public debate in the past three months and I should be delighted to hear views of the new Leader of the House.

Mrs. Robinson: If we could return to the serious and quite onerous Order of Business as indicated by the Leader of the House, I am concerned that the Seanad will be afforded a proper opportunity to discuss the two Bills which, as I understand it, the Leader of the House [2058] wants to have passed through all Stages today and also the motions which are listed for discussion today. In particular, the Social Welfare Bill and the Health (Amendment) Bill have very serious implications for people.

Everybody in this House understands the constraints under which we are considering these Bills and the fact that we have been recalled on a Friday, but I would ask the Leader of the House, when he is responding to this debate, to indicate the proposed sitting hours. I would assume that the House will be afforded an opportunity, between Second Stage and Committee Stage, to consider the question of tabling any recommendations to these Bills. The issues are of extreme importance. We must have an opportunity to consider fully what is proposed in these measures.

Mrs. McGuinness: I would concur with Senator Robinson in what she says. Certain other matters on the Order Paper have been mentioned and I should like to draw attention to item No. 14, the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, 1983, which, as the Leader of the House will know, has been waiting around for a very long time and on which action by the previous Government was promised on many occasions. Any actions to be carried out by that Government obviously have fallen and I should be most interested to know whether this matter will be dealt with rapidly by the incoming Government. I should like to ask the Leader of the House about this.

On the Order Paper there is that Bill, there is the Social Welfare (Appeals Tribunals) Bill and the Freedom of Information Bill. All three of those Bills were put forward by Independent Senators, and it is necessary to carry on with them. The Social Welfare (Appeals Tribunals) Bill was already started on Second Stage. I should be interested to know how soon we may expect time to be given to these matters but, in particular, the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, 1983 which has been before this House for a very long time. The fact that it is not being dealt with is rapidly becoming a scandal.

[2059] Mr. O'Leary: One of the advantages of having a new Leader of the House like Senator Lanigan is that he has expressed over the past few years a commitment to discuss in Seanad Éireann matters of current interest. He has pressed very strongly for time to discuss matters when they were relevant in the outside world. Bearing in mind that commitment, which no doubt he carries across to the other side of the House, would the Leader of the House consider taking up the suggestion of Senator Robinson with regard to allowing a little time between Second Stage and Committee Stage? It would allow time for the discussion of the widespread concern at the unfair methods by which the new Government introduced the changes in the housing grants.

Senators: Hear, hear.

Mr. O'Leary: Of course we cannot change those things but the purpose would be to give the Government, in the consideration of that matter, the opportunity of hearing our views on it. I am sure the views of Members on all sides of the House would be very interesting on the method by which this was done and the effect on those people who are in mid-contract——

An Cathaoirleach: I do not think we should be discussing housing grants at this stage.

Mr. O'Leary: I would assume — correct me if I am wrong — that if the Leader of the House were to make time available or if the House decided to make time available to discuss housing grants or anything else, we would be in order in doing so. I am merely suggesting, knowing the commitment of the Leader of the House to discussing matters of relevance, that he give that matter consideration. No doubt in replying he will give it consideration and I am confident that he will give it favourable consideration because of the views he has expressed over the past few years. Of course I understand that it can be done only with the approval of the House. I am not discussing the [2060] merits of it at all. I am merely saying that there is widespread concern and that Senator Lanigan is famous for his commitment to discuss in the Seanad matters of immediate relevance to the general public.

Mr. Lanigan: The Senator worked on that.

Mr. O'Leary: I can assure Senator Lanigan that I am not working half as well as I would if I were here for another few years, given the opportunity. In those circumstances I should like to ask Senator Lanigan to facilitate the Members on his side of the House who have very strong views on this matter, as well as the Members on this side of the House.

An Cathaoirleach: We are discussing housing now.

Mr. O'Leary: I am not discussing housing, I am discussing the commitment of the new Leader of the Seanad to discussing matters of extreme relevance. There are about ten other matters of extreme relevance on which I could elaborate if I had enough time, but that would be disorderly of me and so I shall not endeavour to do so.

An Cathaoirleach: Good.

Mr. Loughrey: More seriously, I should like to support the last speaker in asking the Leader of the House to make time available to discuss this matter because the Government of the day did not consider the full implications of their acts when they suspended the grants.

An Cathaoirleach: The point has already been made and it is out of order.

Mr. Loughrey: The Government did not see the far reaching effects of the suspension of the grants.

An Cathaoirleach: If this continues, you would not know where it would stop. We would be into a housing debate, so I [2061] suggest to you that you resume your seat, or talk about the Order of Business.

Mr. Loughrey: May I suggest that where it might stop is at item No. 14, the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, 1983, which would become our more immediate concern in view of the number of people who would become homeless as a result of the withdrawal of the grants. The only comment I should like to make is that we should also be able to discuss where the Government are now proposing to spend the £500 million they had proposed to spend on the construction industry.

Mr. Killilea: On a point of order, it is rather serious that we have in here today Senators O'Leary and Loughrey making those nonsensical points. They come from the party of total honesty, allegedly, but why did they and their Government not provide in the budget £186 million to pay the bills that were there instead of providing just £100 million? Why not ask that question? I am tired of all this rubbish.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. O'Leary: Senator Killilea is reinforcing the need for a debate like this.

An Cathaoirleach: The Leader of the House to reply.

Mr. Lanigan: There are a number of people here who seem to be trying to get their names on the record for the last day. Some of them were not too busy in the last session — I am not referring to Senator O'Leary. Before I get to the Order of Business, I should like to say that it is intended to take items Nos. 1 and 2 together. So as far as the points that have been made are concerned, I should like to give everybody the opportunity to discuss matters of current interest here today, but let us be quite straight about it, there is nobody here who can be sure of being in the new Seanad. I am Leader for the day and I accept what has been said, by Senator [2062] Dooge in particular, as to the need for a responsible attitude to be taken in relation to legislation that it is necessary to put through. It is not my intention and never will be if I become Leader of the House — that we should rush through anything. This House has relevance despite some people outside thinking otherwise.

If I am returned here and become Leader of the House I will ensure that adequate time will be allocated to all legislation coming before the House. The position today is that the Dáil passed the Social Welfare Bill on 2 April and we must take all Stages today so that the Bill can be signed on 6 April.

Senator O'Leary mentioned the tardiness of the Office of Public Works regarding the refurbishment of the Seanad Chamber proper. Probably we will see a little more action on that now. It appears that the problems that arose in the building occupied by the Seanad have now been found in the Library and that that area will have to be vacated. Since it has taken over 13 months to assess the problems in the Seanad area — and after 13 months the Office of Public Works feel things have gone out of control — it will be interesting to see how far the whole structure of this House is affected by dry rot. The Library and its facilities will have to be moved elsewhere. When the Library is moved it may transpire that this room will have to be vacated. The occasion should not be allowed pass without an expression of a motion of no confidence in the assessors of the damage to this building. We should not allow this opportunity to pass. They were tardy about the matter and should now act hastily.

We shall sit until business is completed. This does not suit many of us who have quite a number of counties to cover in being re-elected. I can assure Senators who wish to make points that there will be plenty of time afforded them and that we will sit until business is concluded. As far as breaking between the Second and Final Stages of the Bills, we will leave that open until we see what way the discussion [2063] progresses. The Whips can meet and when we see how long the Second Stage will take.

As far as matters of current interest are concerned, whereas I take the points made we will leave it to the incoming Seanad to discuss how best we can bring forward those matters. I do not think we should get involved in that today. The points made will be taken into account by the incoming Seanad.

As far as the items that have been mentioned are concerned the — Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, 1983, the abolition of the death penalty and Item No. 12 — Broadcasting and Wireless Telegraphy Bill, 1985 — perhaps Members would be lenient with us today. I will endeavour to see that these matters will be brought forward as soon as possible.

As a pro tem Leader I should like to thank the outgoing Leader of the House, Senator Dooge, for the courtesy and consideration he showed me as Leader of the Opposition. Equally I should like to compliment Senator Ferris, when in the Chair, for the courtesy he afforded our side of the House. On numerous occasions when problems arose they were discussed in an open manner and the House benefited therefrom. Since it is the Cathaoirleach's last day in the Chair I should like to thank him for the enormous amount of work he put into the smooth running of the outgoing Seanad. I wish him a very happy retirement and, without plugging any particular body, I sincerely hope that the family name continues to adorn this House. I should like to thank Mr. Jack Tobin who will be retiring. He has given many years of service to this House. I wish him well in his retirement. I know that he will be missed, fatherly figure that he is he made himself available to all of us. Without mentioning all the other members of the staff I should like to thank them — ushers, official reporters and the press. I can guarantee that The Irish Press will continue to be slated by me if they continue to ignore this House. I am not talking about the press generally, I am taking about The Irish Press group, which might not help me on [2064] Sunday if I am looking for a plug for my re-election campaign. Having made that rather long statement, the Order of Business, is as, it stands.

An Cathaoirleach: Is the Order of Business agreed? Agreed.

Order of Business agreed to.