Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 12, Motion re Ministerial Rota for Parliamentary Questions; No. a34 on a second supplementary Order Paper, Statements Regarding Representations made on the Sheedy Case; No. 34, Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Bill, 1999 [Seanad] – Committee and Remaining Stages; and No. 4, Criminal Justice (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill, 1999 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage to be taken not later than 8.30 p.m. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.30 p.m.; (2) No. 12 shall be decided without debate; (3) the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. a34 on a second supplementary Order Paper: (i) the statements shall be confined to the Taoiseach and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party and shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; (ii) following statements, the Taoiseach shall take questions for a period not exceeding 30 minutes; (iii) the proceedings, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion after 75 minutes; (4) the Second Stage of No. 4 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 10.30 p.m. tonight; and (5) Private Members' Business shall be taken tomorrow directly after the Order of Business and shall be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes. Private Members' Business shall be No. 82, motion regarding Transport.

There is no agreement between Whips on time for No. 3. If a reasonable proposal is put, I will agree to it. I have no difficulty with answering questions.

There are five proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed?

No. A reasonable proposal was put to the Government about this very serious matter concerning the truthfulness of the Taoiseach. We did not get a satisfactory agreement from the Government so we are not agreeing to the Order of Business and this matter is not agreed.

That matter can be dealt with under No. 3.

We are not agreeing to this either as we are not agreeing to the Order of Business.

Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed?

As I understand it, two different proposals were put by the Whips. I am prepared to answer questions. I do not know what I am being asked to do.

That is the Taoiseach's problem – he never knows what he is being asked to do.

If I am asked to answer questions, I will be glad to do so.

We have no problem as regards the late sitting. However, I share the concern expressed by the Leader of Fine Gael. Reasonable proposals were put by my Whip in discussions with the Government Chief Whip. The time for questions which was being discussed, without commitment, was greater than what is now on the Order Paper.

(Dublin West): The Taoiseach should outline the alternative proposal. It is not in this document and those who are not Whips do not have telepathy to ascertain what it is. Does the alternative proposal allow time for the five or six Deputies who are not in Fine Gael or Labour to participate in the statements?

I understand the proposal put by Labour was one hour, with which I agree.

I wish to put the position of the Fine Gael Party on the record. We asked that business be suspended until 7 p.m. so we could have statements and questions. We also said that if questions were completed before 7 p.m. we would revert to normal business. We requested that so that Deputies such as Deputy Joe Higgins who want to ask questions will get the opportunity to do so. We all know that 30 minutes is not sufficient, given the seriousness of the matter and the number of people likely to ask questions. We agreed to statements and questions until 7 p.m. and reversion to normal business if questions ceased before then.

There is no difficulty with statements. I understand the Labour Party proposed an hour for questions and I agree with that.

Will the Taoiseach agree to take questions until the matter is disposed of?

It is helpful but somewhat unusual for the Taoiseach to vary the Order of Business during the Order of Business and I welcome that. However, we are now doing the Whips' business on the floor of the House. Is the Taoiseach offering an hour of questions, as distinct from the 30 minutes set out in the proposed Order of Business?

Does the Taoiseach accept the proposal from the Fine Gael Party that we should not necessarily constrain ourselves for one hour so as to enable whatever questions the Taoiseach wishes to answer to be posed and should we end before 7 p.m. we can then revert to normal business?

There have been many such debates in this House over the years and that has never happened. There have been far more extraordinary circumstances. An hour seems like a long time – if it goes beyond that I will not get excited.

The Chair will get excited because he has to observe the rules of the House.

The Chair will decide.

I am coming to the rescue of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle again. I would not like to see him lose his other job.

There will be statements and an hour of questions, which is far more than usual.

There should be no limit placed on questions. Is the Taoiseach satisfied he has all the answers?

Is an hour acceptable?

(Dublin West): Will the Taoiseach include six minutes in the time allocated for statements to be shared among Deputies who are not in the main groups?

The Taoiseach has offered an hour. Is that acceptable to the House?

The Taoiseach has offered an hour for questions. However, if it goes over that in order to clarify some questions which may arise, it is acceptable to him. If that can be incorporated in the Order of Business the Labour Party will accept it.

I will go along with that.

The point raised by Deputy Joe Higgins is valid. There was an incomplete Whips' meeting. There was no consultation with the smaller parties who would like an opportunity to contribute to a very important debate, not just by way of questions but statements also. We would like the Taoiseach to agree to that.

Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 12 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a34 agreed?

(Dublin West): The Taoiseach did not say whether he agrees to six minutes on No. a34 for Deputies who are not in the Fine Gael or Labour Parties.

Normal procedure is that they are allowed ask questions on these matters, they are not ever included in the time allocations for statements.

Are we agreeing that a minimum of an hour will be given for questions but if there are further questions to be asked we will continue, if necessary to 7 p.m? I do not want any disputes later.

The Whips have not been able to agree to a reasonable proposal. However, I said the statements will take as long as necessary, followed by an hour's question time. Deputy Quinn said there might be a few other questions to tidy matters up. I do not think Deputy Barrett is saying the same thing. Deputy Barrett is requesting open-ended questions.

What is a few questions?

We have never had an open-ended discussion.

This is more logistic ignorance.

Is the Deputy interested in the allocation of time or throwing abuse? We have never had open-ended question time.

Can we reach agreement on the period of time?

I am concerned that the Chair is in an impossible position. How many is a few more questions? Will we continue until 7 p.m. if necessary if all the questions have not been answered?

Will the House accept an hour of questions and allow the Whips to meet to try to reach agreement? Is that agreed?

A Deputy:

Is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle adjourning the House?

No. The Whips can meet but we will agree now that there will be statements from the three parties and an hour of questions.

The Taoiseach agreed to more than an hour.

We have already agreed to an hour. My understanding is that the Taoiseach initially agreed, when Deputy Quinn originally referred to it, there would be flexibility at the end of the hour to allow it to be extended for whatever length is necessary to deal with the questions which arise. You are now putting forward a formula that is strictly for no more than an hour, which is not agreed.

As I understand it, the Taoiseach agreed to an hour of question time and to answer whatever few questions remained to be tidied up.

For a minimum of one hour.

I suggest the Whips agree to put a time on that.

There is no need for that.

The Government had two days to organise this.

Are we agreeing that it will be for a minimum of an hour but it must conclude at 7 p.m.?

It must have some framework.

Has the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, been released? Is he on bail or remand?

Is the proposal for dealing with item a34 agreed? Agreed.

(Dublin West): Does the Taoiseach agree with the very reasonable proposal I made, which would ensure all Members would have a democratic voice in the Dáil?

We have moved on from that; it has been dealt with. Is the proposal for dealing with item 4 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' Business tomorrow agreed? Agreed. Are there any matters arising on the Order of Business?

Let us get on with it.

(Dublin West): In regard to promised legislation, in recent days the Tánaiste has made several statements on the privatisation of semi-State companies and has virtually promised every bridge, road and water reservoir to private enterprise. What is the legislative programme encompassing all this privatisation, not just of the family silver but also the family home? What is the timescale for the introduction of this legislation in the Dáil?

Is legislation promised?

There are different timescales. The privatisation of Telecom has already been brought forward. Participation of any other semi-State body in the private sector will also require legislation. They will all require separate legislation.

(Dublin West): In relation to Aer Lingus, in particular, when is it proposed to bring forward the legislation which the Tánaiste implied would be needed, by saying that Aer Lingus would be entirely sold off to private enterprise? This fine State asset will be thrown into the hands of the millionaires and multinationals.

The Deputy must ask a question on legislation.

(Dublin West): When will we have that legislation?

The reports and examinations are ongoing. It will be some considerable time before that question arises.

Would legislation be required if we were to have local and European elections and a general election on the same day, which seems likely according to newspaper reports?

No such legislation is promised.

Will the broadcasting legislation be enacted before a final decision is taken on the offers for Cablelink, which might prejudice the proposals for the Government's stated intentions in regard to legislation for digital television?

The broadcasting Bill will be published shortly. The sale of Cablelink is a separate matter.

That is the very point. The Government announced some time ago decisions taken at a Cabinet meeting on the matters to be dealt with in the broadcasting legislation. These included the establishment of Digico.

We cannot have a debate on the content of legislation.

My question on the legislation is on its timing. It is a very simple question. When will the final decision be taken on Cablelink and broadband transmission, which would prejudice the announced Government intentions in regard to the broadcasting Bill?.

That is not appropriate to the Order of Business. I call Deputy Jim Higgins.

Of course it is appropriate, it is the very essence of the Bill.

It is important but it is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

The broadcasting legislation will be redundant by the time it is introduced.

We cannot discuss the content of legislation on the Order of Business.

(Mayo): Is legislation required to deal with the situation where the European Court had before it the case of Flattery v. Ireland?

No such legislation is promised. It is not appropriate to ask about—

(Mayo): In view of the fact that the State will have to pay damages in this case of £2 million, will legislation be required to deal with this unprecedented situation?

That is not a matter for the Order of Business. We will now move on to—

(Mayo): On a point of order, we are talking about £2 million of taxpayers' money.

It is not appropriate to the Order of Business to ask about legislation that is not promised.

(Mayo): This is an unprecedented situation, arising from a six year delay in handing down a judgment.

This matter was dealt with during Question Time.

(Mayo): Will legislation be required?

Deputy Higgins is out of order.