Seanad Éireann - Volume 118 - 25 February, 1988

Order of Business.

Mr. Lanigan: Before I move to the Order of Business of the day, I should like to ask the House to express a motion of sympathy to the family of the late Noel Conway. Noel was a man who served this House in the journalistic sense for many, many years. He was a man who had a great respect for this House and, indeed, both Houses of the Oireachtas. He was a man of great courtesy and great strength in his reportage. I express my sympathy to his family on their bereavement.

It is intended to take Items Nos. 1 and 2 today. I wish to state that, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the debate on Item No. 2 shall be brought to a conclusion not later than 4.30 p.m., that the speech of each Senator shall not exceed 30 minutes, and that the provisions of Standing Orders 28 and 29 in regard to the matter and the motion of the Adjournment, respectively, shall not be invoked on today's business.

Mr. Manning: At the outset, I, too, should like to be associated with the expression of sympathy on the death of Noel Conway. He was, indeed, a very well known figure in this House, very much of the old school of journalism, [1814] always courteous, accurate, concerned. He had a great respect for the institutions he served so well, the Fourth Estate and the Houses of the Oireachtas over so many years.

On the Order of Business, yesterday I raised a question about the possibility of a debate on the recent developments in Anglo-Irish affairs. I do so again this morning, not because I want to get involved in the litany of daily happenings and in the increasing misunderstanding which now bedevils Anglo-Irish relations, but because I want this House to emphasise the tragedy of what is now happening to the spirit of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, to the generosity out of which it was born and to the very great, imaginative possibilities it offered us for tackling old problems in new ways.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Manning, we must decide to have the debate first and then you can make that excellent speech.

Mr. Manning: If you could wait for just one further moment, you would see the way in which I would like this debate to be cast and there are special reasons for my asking for it. I believe that this House has a unique opportunity to focus the public mind back on the central themes and hopes of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, to get away from the obsession on Britain's part with security matters and seeing it only in that way and with the unfortunate reactions on us in this country. I ask the House, if at all possible, to have a special debate on Anglo-Irish relations, to give us the opportunity to focus back on the central issues and the possibilities of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Mr. B. Ryan: Let me associate myself with the vote of sympathy on the death of Noel Conway. I knew him quite well. He was both a servant of this House in the journalistic sense and also quite an admirer of the House. As he was quite happy to tell anybody, he always found the quality of debate in this House most interesting and enjoyable. He was a man [1815] who carried on a very active journalistic career until very late in his life. I would like to associate myself, and I am sure the Independent group, with the tribute to him. We shall miss him because he was good company as well as being a fine journalist.

Mr. Norris: I should like to take this opportunity to ask the Leader of the House to inform us if and when there will be the establishment of An Oireachtas joint committee in the area of foreign affairs and of law reform. This is a question I asked before, but it actually managed to get lost on the Order of Business so I am specifically asking it now. I should also like to ask the Leader of the House when the report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which I understand has been very largely agreed in principle, will come back to the House. Whereas we are guided by your courteous, gracious and clear rulings in these matters, because of the inflexibility there is a temptation for many of us to indulge in speeches. I myself should dearly love this morning to make a speech about the destruction of the houses in Eccles Street, but I know I shall not be allowed to do so. I shall simply confine myself to looking to see if it is possible that this report will be brought to the House as soon as possible.

Mr. J. O'Toole: At the outset, the fact that we are, this afternoon discussing AIDS and last week discussed the Constitution, is carrying on a fine tradition of this House of being first into the fray, of being able, willing and prepared to discuss motions of topicality and, in many cases, of controversy which go right back to issues such as divorce, contraception and many others.

Mr. Norris: Hear, hear.

Mr. J. O'Toole: In saying that, I should like to express the point of view of the Independent group. We are delighted that this significant move towards all-party motions to allow discussions on [1816] issues is developing. I look forward to the debate today. This will be the first debate at this level concerning AIDS. Moving on from the position of the House, its profile and image, I should like to put on the record my sense of outrage at what I consider to be the downgrading of this House concerning the visit of President Mitterrand.

I refer in particular to the fact that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of this House made a request to the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges that representation from this House would at least include the Leader of this House. I speak as an Independent and, therefore I am in a better position to make this point than others. It is of irrelevance to me which party happen to be in power or have the leadership of the House but I do not consider it acceptable that the Leader of the House should not be invited, in the sense of representing all of us; I am not talking about his representing his own party. It is unacceptable and downgrades this House and is something about which there should be a protest in the strongest possible terms.

Senators: Hear hear.

Mr. J. O'Toole: It is not that I want to take in any sense from the——

An Cathaoirleach: The only thing we can do is to take it back again at this stage to the Committee on Procedures and Privileges because in fairness I do not think we can do anything about it today.

Mr. J. O'Toole: I recognise that it is quite a sensitive matter. I thought long before raising it on the day of the French Presidential visit. One does not want to enter any kind of negative note. I am unhappy with the way the Dáil Committee on Procedures and Privileges responded to this House. It was insulting and unacceptable. On that general matter I would hope that the sense of outrage we feel would be felt by other groups and might be articulated as such.

Eamon de Buitléar: At a time when this [1817] House is being severely criticised from many different quarters and by many different people, including politicians, I would like to congratulate Senator Brendan Ryan on a letter that was read out on RTE radio during the week putting before the public the importance of the Seanad and why we should have a second Chamber. I would just like to put that on record.

Ní duine mise a chreideann gur fíor i gcónaí an abairt sin, “binn béal in a thost”, agus sin an fáth go ndúirt mé an méid sin.

Mr. Lanigan: Senator Manning raised the matter of a debate on Anglo-Irish affairs. I agree that we should have a debate on Anglo-Irish affairs. I said yesterday that we would have this debate as soon as possible. I did indicate that there are a number of reasons it might not be right to have such a debate until at least next week. We would wish before discussing this issue to have a full report of this week's meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference and have the benefit of the statement by the Taoiseach on next Tuesday and decide then whether the debate should take place on Thursday of next week or on Thursday of the following week. As to his suggestions on the parameters of the debate I do not agree with him that we should confine ourselves to the parameters as suggested by Senator Manning nor do I agree with him that the debate should be a narrow one but should embrace the totality of Anglo-Irish affairs.

In reply to Senator Norris, the Oireachtas Joint Committees were set up at the beginning of the present Oireachtas term. Some of the old committees were not re-established for very good reasons. There has been an effort made to re-establish some committees and to set up some new ones. I have no control over the setting up of committees; that is the duty of the Government. However, he mentioned two specific ones, Foreign Affairs and——

Mr. Norris: Law reform.

[1818] Mr. Lanigan: ——Law reform. I will convey that suggestion to the Government and I will report back to the House. We shall have the report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges before the House very shortly.

On the matter raised by Senator O'Toole, I concur with his views that the proper procedures in protocol were not adhered to. The visit of President Mitterrand and his address to both Houses of the Oireachtas are historic events. The President was invited to address both Houses of the Oireachtas but the protocol for this event seems to have been handled by the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges without consultation with the Seanad CPP. This should not happen and I do feel that there was a downgrading of this House of the Oireachtas on this occasion. Protocol demands that when both Houses are involved in any event both CPPs should meet and arrange details. I do agree that the position of Leader of the Seanad has not got due recognition in this instance and I would hope that the matter would be raised in the appropriate place. I do not speak here for myself but on behalf of the position of the Leader of the House.

I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Éamon de Buitléar regarding the letter sent by Senator Brendan Ryan to the “Gay Byrne Show”. We should take every opportunity allowed us to promote and if necessary defend the role of the Seanad which is under threat from both inside and outside forces and I congratulate the media who cover the Seanad so effectively. It is important for democracy that adequate coverage be given to both Houses of the Oireachtas. In this regard may I repeat that unfortunately The Irish Press Group continues to ignore this House of the Oireachtas.

Mr. Manning: Might I put on record the fact that this group on this side of the House strongly and emphatically support the line taken by the Leader of the House in relation to the protocols governing the visit of President Mitterrand. I would ask you, a Chathaoirligh, perhaps to convene [1819] a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges after the Order of Business this morning to ascertain whether the matter can be taken further.

Order of Business agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: Before continuing our business I should say I would like to be associated with the vote of sympathy to the family of Noel Conway. I knew Noel since I came to this House in 1977. I would single him out as one of the great supporters of the Seanad. I join wholeheartedly in a vote of sympathy to a family who saw this House as it should be seen and who supported it as such. I would like personally, because he was a gracious man to me, as a Senator and as Cathaoirleach, to add my condolences to those of all my colleagues to Noel's family.