Seanad Éireann - Volume 163 - 20 April, 2000

Order of Business.

Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business is Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 7. Nos. 2 and 3, motions re the moving of writs for the by-elections to be taken without debate; No. 4, motion re establishment of the Joint Committee on the Constitution, to be taken without debate; No. 5, motion re referral of issues relating to the management of the Shannon River to the Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport, to be taken without debate; No. 6, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Bill, 2000 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken today; No. 8, Local Government (Financial Provisions) Bill, 2000 – all Stages, to be taken today; No. 9, earlier signature motion to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 8; No. 7, Containment of Nuclear Weapons Bill, 2000 – Second Stage, to be taken today with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes.

Mr. Manning: Is the Leader looking for some kind of productivity-based increase? The schedule issued late last Friday listed one item as ordered for today but the Leader comes into the House today with nine items on the agenda. I have no difficulty with Nos. 2 and 3 which are relatively straightforward. On No. 4, however, I strongly object to an item appearing on the Order Paper this morning which runs to almost two pages. It may be a very harmless item but we are at least due some explanation. I think that item can wait until the next session and I do not see any reason to take it today, unless the Leader is prepared to give us an explanation. Perhaps Senator Dardis, who is on that committee, might be able to do so. We should be told what it is all about.

[178] With regard to No. 5, is the Leader joking?

Mr. O'Toole: He can forget it.

Mr. Manning: That item has come out of the blue and we are being asked to refer it to the Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport. I absolutely object to that as we should be given the opportunity to have a debate on it. I propose that No. 5 should be deferred until the next session if the Leader is not prepared to give us time to have a debate on it today.

Nos. 6 and 7 are fine and there is no problem with them. We are happy to co-operate with the Leader on No. 8 because we know it is important to conclude all Stages of that Bill today. However, we are exactly where we were at the end of the last session where a raft of items has been imposed on the Leader at the last minute. We will not be a party to making life easier for Departments that cannot get their act together in time and that arrive with matters on the last sitting day of the session.

The Leader should take steps to have an urgent debate on the Registration of Lobbyists' Bill, which he and his colleagues in Government voted down when Senator Costello introduced it in the House last year. Will the Leader also provide an answer today, if he has one, concerning the Government's plans on libel and defamation legislation?

Mr. O'Toole: I concur with 99% of what Senator Manning has said concerning the way we do our business. It is the wrong way and the wrong day for people to try to pull political tricks here. Politics has had a bad press this morning and it is something that should be discussed because it is of relevance to all of us. The way we do our business is what determines how people judge us.

As regards the items on the Order of Business, I will be opposing No. 5 because I am not in favour of taking it without debate. There has been no Whips' agreement or any other agreement on it. If the Leader wanted to pick a day to make a bad call for a political decision, this was the day on which to do so. The Leaders should cop themselves on a little bit and get their act together on how we do our business because it is not acceptable.

We should, if necessary, decide how the Order of Business is to be done today, but the manner in which it has been proposed is not on. Therefore, I will be opposing the Order of Business in addition to each item as it arises. The business of the House is not going to be conducted in this way. Years ago, a similar situation arose when the then Government introduced two major Bills without prior notice and tried to push them through the House in one day. On that occasion, the Opposition Senators, including the Independents, withdrew from the House. That is how I feel about today's Order of Business, if we are to be treated in this way. There is no point in having [179] Whips or co-ordinators to organise the business of the House if we cannot get our act together and know what we are going to do.

If everyone is discussing a single issue in party politics today, then we should be doing the same thing. People talk about the relevance and coverage of the House and what politicians are doing, but it is amazing that if there is such a lacuna in the business of the House, with nine additional items on the Order of Business, we cannot deal in any way with what everybody else in every media outlet, pub and living room is discussing – in other words, sleaze in political life. That is what we should be discussing today and it is on that I would like to hear the Leader outline his plans.

Mr. Costello: I disagree with the Order of Business as outlined by the Leader of the House. If this is the appropriate time, however, I wish to move No. 2, the motion in my name in relation to the vacancy in the membership of Seanad Éireann. Is it the appropriate time?

An Cathaoirleach: No, Senator. We will dispose of the Order of Business first and we will come to that item in due course.

Mr. Costello: There are nine items on the Order of Business, two of which were referred to us earlier, and there has been no discussion about the others. The Whips have not been consulted and it is absolutely outrageous that the Leader should bring these items before us on the last sitting day of this session with no explanation as to their importance. I do not know what the implications are regarding the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution. It may be appropriate but we have not received an explanation. Why should the River Shannon Bill be put back without some explanation and some discussion by the Leader?

The Local Government (Financial Provisions Bill), 2000, is highly important and very controversial legislation. We are expected to deal with all Stages of a Bill which has huge implications in legal and political terms. We need to tease out its contents very carefully. It is an insult to this House that the Leader should expect us to deal with all Stages now without giving us even the courtesy of prior consultation relating to this matter. We will be opposing the Bill, the Order of Business and each of these items on which we have not been consulted.

I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 18, that Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to introduce a register of political lobbyists, be taken prior to any other items. The entire country is agog with the scandal now emanating from the evidence given at the Flood tribunal and this is the mechanism for us to discuss it. It is appropriate when everybody else is discussing this and it is the subject of all the news items that we should have the opportunity of doing so. I suggest that all the other business of [180] the House be left aside so that this House would have an opportunity today to discuss the full ramifications of the political fallout from the corruption and sleaze in politics.

Mr. Dardis: While the Leader is proposing a large number of items on the Order of Business, the time that the House will take to dispose of them will not be any greater than on an ordinary day. Senator Manning asked about No. 4 and I am in a position to clarify that. As a member of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, along with Senators O'Donovan, O'Dowd and O'Meara, the background to this is that it is an all-party Oireachtas committee. To avail of the facilities of the House, it needs temporarily to become a committee of the House. The Cathaoirleach and Committee on Procedure and Privileges very kindly allowed the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution to use the Seanad Chamber over the recess so that we can hear all the presentations regarding some of the submissions made to the committee on the issue of abortion.

The motion needs to be taken today because otherwise the committee would not be able to avail of the facilities of the House over the Easter recess, which is what we wish to do. That is to clarify that point for Senator Manning and I hope, on the basis of that clarification, it will be possible to take this issue today.

Mr. Quinn: With regard to No. 4, we have a difficulty in this part of the House because while that may be an all-party group, the Independents, to the best of my knowledge, are not represented. They have made a case to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges but that has not been accepted. We have difficulty with that. I have looked at it and I do not see the Independents recognised.

The point made by Senator Manning was one I made only last week. On 23 January, the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Seamus Brennan, announced something like 19 Bills which the Government intended to publish before Easter. To the best of my knowledge, about half of them have been published. I am not concerned about that but what is happening today happens every year in June. I entered a website recently that gives a link into other Bills and I was amazed, when I looked back on Bills since 1997, at the number of Bills passed in the last days of June before the recess. This seems to be happening again here and it certainly is not the example to set today to suddenly introduce seven items on today's agenda on the last day before this recess.

This is exactly the point I was trying to make last week about the end of June being the time when we suddenly have a pile of Bills to pass. We have often heard the example of the person waiting at the bus stop who says that they all come at the one time. This is happening here. I am not complaining at the lack of productivity on [181] the Government's part in not introducing the Bills. It is introducing them, but at the last minute. They are all coming along at the same time, just as happens when one is waiting at a bus stop – all the buses come at once. We cannot give them enough attention.

I second Senator Costello's proposal to debate the Bill on lobbyists today. It is the event of the day and it has the attention of the country. It is the wrong day to debate these other items.

Mr. Ryan: I am nearly a senior citizen in the House at this stage and I am continually amazed at the way we manage to deal with what the public is not interested in while not talking about the issues of the day. We should be talking about the way all of us have been besmirched and about how we can ensure it never happens again rather than talking about issues that have been landed on us with no prior notice or discussion. That is not the way to do business. It is not the way many of the Leader's predecessors did business and I do not know whether he is being bullied by Government or this is his own style, but it does him no credit to land this much business on the House. We are being loaded with other issues when there is only one issue politicians should be talking about, that is an issue that affects me as much as anyone else. I have been almost 20 years in the House and I am tired of being told I am only here for the money. I am horrified when I discover how many people were in it for the money, and that is what we should be talking about.

An Cathaoirleach: We cannot debate the matter now. Senator Costello has moved an amendment to the Order of Business which has been seconded. If agreed, that will provide Members with the opportunity to make the points the Senator is making.

Mr. Ryan: I am sorry. I was trying to emphasise my concern that we should change the Order of Business.

Mr. Coghlan: I share the views of Senators Manning, Costello and others on both sides of the House regarding the urgent need for a Bill to deal with lobbyists. We will not be taken seriously but will be regarded as irrelevant until this issue is addressed by the Houses of the Oireachtas. There is no doubt that there is an urgent need for control and regulation in this area.

An Cathaoirleach: Those are points that can be made during the debate which is the subject of Senator Costello's amendment.

Mr. Coghlan: As ever, the Chair is anticipating my final sentence and I am grateful to him.

Mr. R. Kiely: The Senator is learning fast.

Mr. Coghlan: We must be concerned with best practice, not malpractice.

[182] Mr. Cassidy: In reply to Senators Manning, O'Toole and Costello who called for a debate on lobbyists, we have a long list of business today, though most of it is to be taken without debate. No. 6 is Committee and Remaining Stages of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Bill, 2000, and No. 8, Local Government (Financial Provisions) Bill, 2000, is emergency legislation, as the House knows, which was taken in the Dáil yesterday. No. 7 is the Containment of Nuclear Weapons Bill, 2000, Second Stage. In light of the requests made this morning, I propose to take statements on lobbyists from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and I look forward to contributions of Senators on this matter. I will be proposing an amendment to the Order of Business.

Senator Manning asked about reform of the libel laws and I understand that a Bill dealing with this is to be published in late 2000. Senator Quinn pointed out that the Independents have no Member on the all-party committee, but the Committee on Procedure and Privileges has addressed this through the good offices of the Cathaoirleach and we will add our weight to ensure the matter is addressed. Senator O'Toole has been assured of this.

Mr. Manning: The Leader did not address No. 5.

Mr. Cassidy: To clarify this, I understood that it is of the utmost importance that something is done to address the dreadful flooding of the Shannon and the terrible circumstances in which people find themselves.

Mr. O'Toole: Fianna Fáil is going to drain the Shannon.

An Cathaoirleach: The Leader, without interruption.

Mr. O'Toole: Seventy years later.

Mr. Cassidy: As a Senator living in the catchment area of the Shannon—

Mr. O'Toole: That is the quote of the day. Fianna Fáil is back to draining the Shannon.

An Cathaoirleach: We must have order for the Leader's reply.

Mr. Cassidy: I understand this committee will start its work next Tuesday, which I welcome.

An Cathaoirleach: There are two amendments to the Order of Business and I will deal with them in the order in which they were proposed. Senator Manning moved an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 5 be deleted. This amendment was not seconded in debate and consequently it falls. Senator Costello moved an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 22, motion 18, be [183] taken before No. 2. Is the amendment being pressed?

Mr. Costello: Yes, because the Leader is retaining the nine items on the Order of Business and [184] by the time we get to the discussion on the lobbyists register, Members will have scattered.

(Interruptions).

Amendment put.

Burke, Paddy.

Caffrey, Ernie.

Coghlan, Paul.

Coogan, Fintan.

Cosgrave, Liam T.

Costello, Joe.

Cregan, Denis (Dino).

Doyle, Joe.

Hayes, Tom.

Jackman, Mary.

Manning, Maurice.

O'Toole, Joe.

Quinn, Feargal.

Ryan, Brendan.

Níl

Bonner, Enda.

Callanan, Peter.

Cassidy, Donie.

Chambers, Frank.

Cregan, John

Dardis, John.

Farrell, Willie.

Finneran, Michael.

Fitzgerald, Tom.

Fitzpatrick, Dermot.

Gibbons, Jim.

Glynn, Camillus.

Kett, Tony.

Kiely, Daniel.

Kiely, Rory.

Lanigan, Mick.

Leonard, Ann.

Lydon, Don.

Mooney, Paschal.

Moylan, Pat.

O'Brien, Francis.

Ó Murchú, Labhrás.

Walsh, Jim.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Costello and Quinn; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons.

Question put: “That the Order of Business be agreed to.”

Bonner, Enda.

Callanan, Peter.

Cassidy, Donie.

Chambers, Frank.

Cregan, John

Dardis, John.

Farrell, Willie.

Finneran, Michael.

Fitzgerald, Tom.

Fitzpatrick, Dermot.

Gibbons, Jim.

Glynn, Camillus.

Kett, Tony.

Kiely, Daniel.

Kiely, Rory.

Lanigan, Mick.

Leonard, Ann.

Lydon, Don.

Mooney, Paschal.

Moylan, Pat.

O'Brien, Francis.

Ó Murchú, Labhrás.

Walsh, Jim.

Níl

Burke, Paddy.

Caffrey, Ernie.

Coghlan, Paul.

Coogan, Fintan.

Cosgrave, Liam T.

Costello, Joe.

Cregan, Denis (Dino).

Doyle, Joe.

Hayes, Tom.

Jackman, Mary.

Manning, Maurice.

O'Toole, Joe.

Quinn, Feargal.

Ridge, Thérèse.

Ryan, Brendan.

Tellers: Tá, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons; Níl, Senators O'Toole and Quinn.

Question declared carried.