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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 20 Nov 2001

Vol. 544 No. 3

Order of Business.

The Order of Business today shall be No. 22, Motion re: Ministerial Rota for Parliamentary Questions; No. 48, Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001 – Second Stage (Resumed)—

On a point of order, we are told that there is a second supplementary Order of Business that will be appearing but has not been circulated at this stage.

I understand that it will be ready shortly.

Is that what the Taoiseach is reading now?

Should we pass it before we hear it?

I understand that it does not have to be passed until 7.15 p.m. this evening.

A very good practice has arisen in recent times that this side of the House is not asked to agree to the Order of Business until we know what is actually proposed. I propose that we adjourn for a short while until the supplementary Order of Business becomes available.

What I am outlining is the Order of Business as it is now.

Deputy Quinn, my understanding is that it does not have any thing to do with the business of this House. It deals with Committee Stage.

We have to agree to what is proposed. We would like to see what is there before we agree.

We cannot all sign blank cheques.

Members will not be asked to agree to it now.

It might help if I finished outlining the original Order of Business. The issues that Deputies are concerned with are not on the Order of Business that I am about to read.

Why is the supplementary Order of Business not available now?

Because what I am outlining is the Order of Business. It is available now. It is not a supplementary order paper.

The Government is trying to ram this through the House.

For Heaven's sake.

I am just reading the Order of Business.


My understanding is that this is usually done by motion without coming before the House. On this occasion, it is being circulated as a courtesy to the House.

That is not true.

The difficulty of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is a different difficulty to ours. His difficulty is maintaining order in the House. Our difficulty is trying to find out what is proposed. The document should be in front of us.

If the Deputy sat down, he would hear what is proposed.

This is outrageous. The Government is trying to stifle debate on an issue that affects women's lives.

My understanding is that it will be circulated shortly.

I will continue reading the Order of Business from where I left off.

No. 1, Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Bill, 2001 [Seanad] – Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 22, shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 48, shall if not previously concluded be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 p.m. and the Order for Committee – which will be circulated on the second supplementary order paper – shall be taken immediately thereafter; Private Members' business, which shall be the motion relating to the Establishment of a Tribunal of Inquiry into the McBrearty Affair and Related matters, shall be taken for 90 minutes after the Order for Committee for the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001 has been disposed of; and the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. and business shall be interrupted on the adjournment of Private Members' business tonight.

There are four proposals to be put to the House.

Is there more?


Deputy McManus, I ask that you allow the leader of your party to make a point.

We have received contrary information. We are asked to agree the Order of Business. We are asked to accept that at 7 p.m. a motion outlining how it is proposed to take Committee Stage will have been circulated. Perhaps, before we agree to the Order of Business, the Taoiseach could indicate the content of that document. I accept that it is late.

My understanding is that it will be circulated shortly.

It is not here.

I have outlined the Order of Business. Deputy Quinn's question concerns what will happen at the end of Second Stage. At the end of Second Stage, the order will be that the Bill be sent to committee and there will be up to seven days to deal with it.

Do the proposals contain, like the Finance Bill, a series of internal guillotines?

Not as I understand it. I have not seen it.

It does not have to come before the House on the Order of Business.

I understand the Bill will be referred to committee for seven days and it will then come back to the House for Report Stage.

It is seldom that we have a debate on an amendment to the Constitution before the House. It is seldom that a debate on an amendment to the Constitution would involve a matter of life and death as this does. The Government has an obligation to present its procedures to the House in an orderly way, and explain now on the Order of Business whether it intends having a guillotine on Committee Stage. I understand the Taoiseach to have said that it will have to go through in seven days. We have not been informed of this.

Deputy Noonan, my understanding is—

Leas-Cheann Comhairle,—

We are not having a debate on the matter.

May I finish my point?

Deputy McManus should resume her seat. There are three Members speaking at the same time. They should resume their seats.

There is no obligation for the content of that motion to be before the House at this time. The normal procedure is that it is dealt with across the floor of the House. It does not arise on the Order of Business.

Why, then, is there a supplementary paper?

That is as a courtesy to the House, as I understand it.

On a point of order, the normal procedure would be that the Government Whips would have informed the Whips on the Opposition side as to how it was proposed to take the business. That has not yet been done and that is why we ask the question now.

The Taoiseach has read out the Order of Business. There are four proposals on the Order of Business. The first is for dealing with No. 22 without debate.

We are totally opposed to the Order of Business because of the unsatisfactory procedure to be adopted. The debate will conclude tonight on the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of the Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001. Second Stage debate on the Twenty Fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill will conclude tonight. It is unprecedented that Committee Stage of a Bill advocating a change to the Constitution is not taken in plenary before the House.

This does not arise on the Order of Business. If I put the first proposal the Deputy can oppose it if he so wishes.

This issue does arise on the Order of Business.

The first proposal is for dealing with No. 22 without debate – motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions. Is this proposal agreed?

No. As I have said I am totally opposed to the Order of Business, including this proposal, because the Order of Business is unsatisfactory. I oppose the proposal for a number of reasons. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government can smirk at issues such as this—

The Deputy is a fair hand at smirking.

—but that is another display of the inanity which comes from the—

We are dealing with the rota for parliamentary questions.

No, we are dealing with the Order of Business.

Perhaps the Deputy could discuss this issue under the second proposal.

We are dealing with the Order of Business.

Yes, but the first proposal deals with the ministerial rota for parliamentary questions. The second proposal deals with the Twenty Fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill.

It is a proposal for an order, the text of which is before the House.

I will allow Deputy Noonan to speak on the second proposal.

That is a reasonable request and, because you wish to run the House in an orderly way, and it will be difficult to run an orderly House from the next proposal on—

I would not make such threats, Deputy.

I will defer to your wishes.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 22 agreed?

The matter you are putting to the House is an order – a motion to refer a matter. The text of that motion is before the House.

The text of the motion is before the House and we are being asked to accept another motion. What is the reason?

I do not see how this arises on the question I have put to the House which deals with the rota for parliamentary questions.

I wish to make the point that, contrary to what you said a few moments ago, it is the custom in the House that motions which we are required to pass are before the House and printed on the Order Paper so we do not have to wait for them.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 22 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 48 agreed?

No, for the following reasons. First, it purports, among other things, to refer Committee Stage of the debate on the twenty-fifth amendment of the Constitution Bill to a committee. That is unprecedented. The precedent regarding debates on amendments to the Constitution is that Committee Stage is taken in plenary session in the House.

Second, when he introduced the legislation the Taoiseach gave a commitment that there would be a full, open-ended debate without a guillotine, and that all Deputies who wished to contribute would be accommodated. He is now saying, contrary to the commitment he gave which is on the record of the House, that this Bill will be drummed into a committee so it can be debated on a Thursday and Friday when least attention will be paid to it in the House. I object to this proposal for that reason.

The Deputy is showing little respect for committees of the House.

One would think the Cabinet would at least take this issue seriously.

It is hard to take the Deputy seriously.

Please allow Deputy Noonan a brief comment on the reason he is opposing the proposal.

Third, there is a precedent and a commitment to the Opposition that two weeks will pass between the completion of Second Stage of any Bill and Committee Stage. We are faced with a situation in which the Taoiseach and the Government are not only ordering Committee Stage for a committee, but they insist the committee will begin its debate on Thursday. We need time to table amendments, but are being told that our amendments have to be in tomorrow morning. This is unacceptable. It is not only contrary to precedent in debating a referendum Bill, but to precedent in debating any Bill. We raised this matter on several occasions and received assurances from the Taoiseach—

The Deputy has made his point.

He is making his point.

With respect, I have not made my point.

The Deputy is supposed to make a brief comment. Standing Orders allow for a brief comment.

The Deputy does not wish to deal with the issue.

I am making a brief comment. I have stated three reasons I am opposing the Order of Business, but I have a fourth reason which I would like the opportunity to state. Not only is it contrary to precedent that Committee Stage is being taken before the two weeks between Second and Committee Stages have elapsed, which has always been the practice, but we now learn from the Taoiseach's aside that Committee Stage will be guillotined and that rather than having an open-ended Committee Stage debate, the Bill has to pass within seven days of being ordered. The notice given to Fine Gael is that the Bill will be taken this coming Thursday and Friday, and the following Thursday with a view to concluding that day. The arrangement is being put in place by the sponsoring Minister. This is unacceptable.

Of what is the Government afraid?

If this amendment is warranted then let us have it in the light of day. Let us debate it in plenary session and let Deputies state their positions.

What is the reason the Government is hiding?

What is the reason this is being put through by subterfuge?

Standing Orders allow for a brief comment and the Chair has been very lenient.

I am finishing. You have not been tolerant with me. I am concluding. I am not casting an aspersion on you, that is just a statement of fact.

The Chair has been more than lenient in accordance with Standing Orders.

I am not finished. Everyone knows the House is poorly attended on Thursdays because normally there is no vote, and it is not attended at all on Fridays, except by Deputies in reach of Dublin who use it for office purposes. Scheduling this Bill unexpectedly for next Thursday and Friday and the following Thursday, contrary to the commitments given in the House, is a deliberate ploy to close down debate and ensure that Deputies who have their diaries full will not be able to debate the matter. This is a disgrace and we oppose the Order of Business.

The Deputy is abusing the Standing Order.

Is Deputy Noonan suggesting that Deputies are not interested enough to be in the House on Thursday and Friday?

What happened to the tourism committee?

Please allow Deputy Quinn to speak without interruption.

Is that what the Deputy is suggesting?

Deputy Dempsey, please.


I ask Deputy Dempsey to desist from interrupting. I call Deputy Quinn. Order, please. Deputy Quinn is entitled to the same courtesy afforded Deputy Noonan.

This will be the fifth time an attempt has been made to amend the Constitution in respect of abortion. This issue has commanded a significant amount of attention and time and aroused much feeling throughout the country. When the Taoiseach proposed this fifth attempt following extensive consultation and debate, and the workings of the special committee, we were promised comprehensive debating time on the floor of this House. In a document circulated by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, the Attorney General expressed the view that it was envisaged that Committee Stage of the Bill would be taken by the entire House in both Dáil and Seanad so as to allow Members to contribute.

Deputy Noonan has indicated that not all Members will be present on Thursday and Friday, nor will the fourth estate give the debate in a committee room the kind of attention it would give it if it took place on the floor of the House. We all know this to be a fact.

We are asked to do two things today. We are asked to curtail Second Stage debate before every Member who wishes to speak has an opportunity to do so. We are also being asked to enact legislation which will enshrine in the Constitution legislation which can never be amended by this House. We can repeal it due to a technical flaw in the Bill, but we cannot amend it. That is a non sense in itself. For this, and many other reasons which could be made on Committee Stage, we wished to hold the debate on the floor of the House. I asked the Taoiseach to adjourn until we got the documentation. According to the information communicated by telephone to the Labour Party's Whips' office, there will be a technical breakdown of sections during the seven days on which Committee Stage will take place.

Our understanding of this is that, effectively, sections 1 to 3 will have to conclude by a certain time, which is an internal guillotine. Section 4 and so on will have to conclude by a certain time, which is another internal guillotine. For these reasons we are opposed to this proposal about which I am appealing to the Taoiseach. The Tánaiste is undecided as to whether there will be a referendum. While she is looking for consensus, she is not even here to try to get it.

Where are the Progressive Democrats?

A question please, Deputy Quinn.

No date has been fixed for the referendum. If the Taoiseach is serious about winning it – perhaps he is not – he is going down exactly the same rushed road that he followed with the Nice treaty referendum.

By common consent, in that case, there was not adequate time for a debate in the House or the country. The Taoiseach should reconsider his commitments and remember his pledges. He should remember the promise of the Minister for Health and Children that Committee Stage would take place on the floor of the House. That promise was made and I am asking the Taoiseach to honour it now.

Clearly, No. 48 will not be agreed to by the House. The Green Party objects to it given that not only has the Minister for Health and Children said all Stages would be taken in the Dáil, but that the Attorney General has also expressed this view. It is on the record of the relevant House committee. When the question was put as to where Committee Stage would be taken it was stated by the chairperson that it would be taken on the floor of the Dáil. I ask you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, not to make liars out of all the individuals mentioned. If we are looking for consensus, we should observe the precedent and the view expressed by all those esteemed individuals who all said Committee Stage should be taken in Dáil Éireann. That is one example of consensus. The Taoiseach should follow this up.

A number of Deputies are offering.

On a point of order—

I will not hear a point of order when I am on my feet.

I was on my feet before you rose.

There is a proposal before the House. I will hear the Deputy's point of order after I tell the House about the Standing Order. The Standing Order governing the Order of Business is quite specific. It states that where a proposal is opposed, the Chair shall permit a brief statement from a representative from each party in opposition and the Taoiseach if the Taoiseach wishes to intervene before he or she puts the question thereon. We cannot, therefore, have a debate on the matter. I will hear the Taoiseach and then put the question.

Can I ask for your guidance, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle?

No, because I have called the Taoiseach.

You said you would hear my point of order.

I will hear your point of order. Tell me where the procedure is wrong.

The Bill is entitled the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001. Where is the fire? What is the urgency?

That is not a point of order.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill was published on 2 October. I said at that stage that I wished it to be fully debated in the House and that I would do my utmost to deal with any questions raised. I have received correspondence from the Leader of the Opposition to which we went to great lengths to reply. Already, 30 amendments have been tabled. I said at that stage, and on every occasion on which I have been asked since, that the intention was to get all Stages of the Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas before Christmas. It is now 20 November and we have already spent 17 hours debating Second Stage, which is double the average time spent on a Bill. It is also far longer than we would normally spend on a Bill of this kind.

It is not a normal Bill.

It is a constitutional amendment Bill in respect of which the precedent for a full House dealing with Committee Stage is there in black and white. All Members of the House can attend Committee Stage. We have allowed—

This is absolute nonsense.

Please, Deputy, the Taoiseach is on his feet. I ask the Deputy to show some respect for the House.

The Taoiseach should have some respect for the House.

I ask the Deputy to resume her seat, or she will leave the House.

Why is the Taoiseach misleading the House?

The Minister for Health and Children said the Bill would be debated here.

The Taoiseach to continue without interruption.


Does Deputy McManus wish to leave the House?

Then allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

I have listened at length to the other speakers and wish to make a brief intervention. In order to have a decent debate on Committee Stage with whatever number of hours the House wants, it must be done in committee. We cannot fit those hours into a debate in the House. We all know that. The Finance Bill and all other major legislation during the year are dealt with in committee, usually at the request of the Opposition. We have seven or eight days in which to deal with the Bill. We can deal with Committee Stage if Members want to do so. We can schedule whatever number of hours is necessary to deal with the Bill on Committee Stage. This can be worked out with the Whips.


Deputy Harney is the queen.

It is being done to spare the blushes of the Attorney General and the Progressive Democrats.

The question is: "That the proposal for dealing with No. 48 be agreed to."

Question put.

Ahern, Bertie.Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Davern, Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Ellis, John.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.

Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael P.Kitt, Tom.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Kennedy, Michael.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Woods, Michael.Wright, G. V.


Allen, Bernard.Barnes, Monica.Belton, Louis J.Boylan, Andrew.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas P.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, John.Bruton, Richard.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.D'Arcy, Michael.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Enright, Thomas.Farrelly, John.Fitzgerald, Frances.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Michael.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.

McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Jim.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Sargent, Trevor.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Spring, Dick.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Briscoe; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.
Question declared carried.

Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed?

Since this House is being asked to engage in innovative procedures, before we agree to this I would like to clarify the document that is now being circulated. I can understand why it was not circulated earlier.

What we are dealing with is Private Members' business, whether it is agreed to or not.

Sir, please—

I will hear the Deputy.

It is not every day that an elected dictatorship rams through legislation in this House and we should be given some time to protest about it, however meekly. Am I correct in understanding that the procedures in this motion – I have not seen anything like it in my 25 years here – are such that no vote of any kind can be taken on any Opposition amendment in the course of Committee Stage? Is that the reason the Taoiseach wants to bury this in the committee.

That is wrong.


Read it.

It reads:

consider the provisions contained in the Second Schedule to the Bill section by section the question on each such section being ‘That the section (or the section, as amended) [which is talk for the Minister's amendment] stand part of the Schedule';

That is the only vote that can be taken. Is this what the Taoiseach is reduced to? Is this true?

I will hear the Taoiseach on that point.

On the same issue, the Taoiseach will recall we had difficulties on Finance Bill debates previously when a similar device was put through the House, where at the end of the day, while it was possible to voice vote amendments on Committee Stage, it was not possible to put substantive issues by way of vote. On the face of it, this Second Supplementary Order Paper which was not circulated in time seems to ensure that only section votes can take place and that votes on amendments cannot take place.

On the Order of Business the Taoiseach said this order would ensure that Committee Stage would have to be taken within seven days? Is that seven debating days or seven calendar days?

I understand this does not affect amendments or votes which can be taken in the normal way as in a committee dealing with the Finance Bill or any other committee. That is what it means. That is the interpretation, that is the clarification and that is what it is meant to do. I say that definitively now, whatever way it reads. I did not write it. We must be very clear about that.

That is not what it says.

I am telling the House what it means. It also means—

That is not what it says.

Please allow the Taoiseach to reply without interruption.

I am telling the House what it means. Stop playing games. What it means on the vote is that if people want to start tomorrow on Committee Stage and stay at it until 6 p.m. on Thursday, 29 November they can do so.

On a point of order.

Deputy Howlin on a point of order.

I want to address a point of order to you, Sir, one that I regard as extremely important. I understand, under standing orders of this House, that matters of the Constitution by way of constitutional amendment are taken in a committee of the full House so that all sections of the House and every Member can have his or her views represented. Is it not a fact, Sir, that a committee of this House does not represent all the parties of the House or all the Members and on a constitutional matter there has never been an occasion—

There is no rule about that in the House.

I have just asked a question of the clerk on another matter and, as important as rules, are precedents. Is it not—

That does not arise at this point in time on the Order of Business.

I am asking you to rule—

There is no such ruling in standing orders.

Will you let me put the question? If you feel the need to send for the Ceann Comhairle to answer the question, I invite you to do so. I am asking for a ruling on precedent. It is unprecedented for a constitutional amendment not to be debated in the Dáil so that it is the right of every Member and every party to table amendments, voice their opinions and have their vote recorded? Is not that, Sir, the unaltered precedent for every constitutional amendment?

That is matter for the Dáil itself to decide.

Can the Chair rule on that?

I have ruled on it.

I welcome the Taoiseach's commitment that amendments tabled by the Opposition will be debated separately and voted on separately on Committee Stage and that whatever other interpretation can be taken out of this text the Taoiseach will stand over that interpretation subsequently.

He is not standing over anything else.

It is difficult to take the Taoiseach at face value. We had an equally categoric commitment that Committee Stage of this Bill would be taken in this House.

Why did the Taoiseach change that?

We also had an equally categoric commitment that he would hold a referendum on Partnership for Peace, but his records on referenda are not great.

The Government should take its medicine.


Allow Deputy Noonan to make his points so that we can get on with the business of the House.

The Taoiseach spoke emphatically when I asked him what the seven days mean. If Deputies listened carefully, they would have noted he said that Committee Stage will start next Thursday and the committee can sit until the following Thursday if it wishes. He said it can sit on Saturday, Sunday and every day until midnight, but effectively he is saying there will not be seven days debate on this Bill in committee. The debate will take place only on Thursday, Friday and the following Thursday. That is three days of debate spread over seven calendar days. That is outrageous. It is a guillotine. This has never happened on Committee Stage. The Taoiseach is attempting to close debate on this Bill in the House.

The Deputy left out a few days.

It is seven calendar days from Thursday.

I wish as much energy was put into this last Thursday when we had fierce difficulty keeping the debate going.

The Taoiseach could not get his people to come in.

He could not get enough people to come in with prepared scripts.

Deputy Howlin, allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

I was asked two questions and I clarified the first one. If members of the committee—


Deputy Roche should put his foot back in his mouth.

Deputy Dukes, please desist.

I am trying to answer the question.

I ask Deputies to afford the same courtesy to the Taoiseach as the Leaders of Fine Gael and Labour received this afternoon.

Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Some 17 hours have been allocated for Second Stage. If Members genuinely need time on Committee Stage and this is not a filibuster, that can be worked out with the committee. The House is sitting on Friday and members of the committee can sit on Friday and next Monday. I have said that I want this Bill passed. Members of the committee can sit whenever they want, if the Members really want that. The Finance Bill—

Provided it is finished by Thursday week.

Allow the Taoiseach to continue.

Members might pretend to be serious even if they are not. The Finance Bill is the longest and most complicated Bill dealt with in a year and Committee Stage of it would take about three days, which would be 20 hours maximum. Committee Stage of the Social Welfare Bill would be shorter. There are, however, issues to be dealt with in this Bill.


Please listen. The committee can comprise Members of the House. Every Member can table a question on this. If Members genuinely want very long sessions on this, they can sit this week or sit on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week. Nobody is making this complicated. I want all Stages of this Bill to go through the House by Christmas.

Because I want to get on with it. It was issued at the start of October. We have spent four and a half—

The Government rushed Nice and if it rushes this, it will get the same result.


Allow the Taoiseach to continue.

I would like to answer Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. We spent four and a half years dealing with this—

The idea has been there for four and a half years.

—through every process and it is time we came to a conclusion and moved on. That is what we want to do.

Why can it not be discussed on the floor of the Dáil?

If people want hours to do that, they have them. We want to move on. Last week no one could be found to speak on this Bill.

Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' Business agreed to?

On a point of order?

We have debated this long enough. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' Business agreed to?

On a point of order—

The Standing Order is quite specific. The Chair is on its feet. If the Deputies resume their seats, we will hear their points of order. The Chair has been more than lenient. Because the document was laid before the House, the Leaders of the Opposition parties and Deputy Howlin were allowed, on a point of order, to raise it. In accordance with the Standing Order, I will allow one contribution from each party in Opposition to which the Taoiseach will respond and then I will put the question. We are dealing with Private Members' Business.

If these procedures had been signalled in advance, we might have been able to have some discussion.

They were circulated and the Deputy got his chance to make a contribution in accordance with the Standing Order. That is not a point of order. I will hear Deputy Noonan on his point of order.

There was no discussion at the Whips meeting.

The Taoiseach wants to get this through as quickly as possible. If he wants that to happen, we can meet early in January. This House is not scheduled to resume until the end of January 2002 and the budget will be before Christmas. There is no reason this House cannot resume on 10 January and deal with this issue on the floor of the House. If the Government is serious about democratic scrutiny, every Member, including some of the Taoiseach's female backbenchers, who must be ashamed of—

Deputy Quinn has made his point. I call Deputy Noonan.

And some of his Front Bench.

The Supplementary Order Paper provides information on the ordering of business in this House, which was not available to Deputies when they voted. The issue of the vote was that the Twenty Fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill would be referred to committee. The Supplementary Order Paper shows that the debate in Committee will have to be completed by 6 p.m. on Thursday 29 November. In explaining that this would provide adequate time to the committee to debate the matter in full, the Taoiseach called on the precedents of the Finance and Social Welfare Bills. There are rolled votes at the end of sections of those Bills where rafts of amendments are not debated, including amendments tabled by the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Social Welfare. The precedent is not that there is adequate time; the precedent proves that usually there is no time for the debate on many amendments. It is because the Opposition is forced to process the Finance Bill within a calendar period of set dates that it agrees to it. There is no such rush in debating this legislation. If the Taoiseach rushes this, he will regret it in February. The Taoiseach rushed the referendum on Nice and he lost it and he will lose this one too if he rams it through.

The Deputy has made his point.

On a point of order—

Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' Business agreed to?

Question: "That the proposal for dealing with Private Members' Business be agreed to". Put and declared carried.

On a point of order—

There is one final proposal. I will not hear a point of order now, as I am going through the proposals on the Order of Business.

I am entitled to raise a point of order.

Is the late sitting agreed to? Agreed. We will now move on to Leaders' questions.

Is a Member not entitled to raise a point of order?

Yes, but not when we are in the middle of other business, Deputy.

On a point of order, I ask for the ruling on the question I put to the Chair. What, Sir, is the precedent of the House—

I ruled on that, Deputy and I am not ruling on it again. We will move on to Leaders' questions.

What is the precedent?

I ruled on it, Deputy Howlin. I explained to the Deputy that it a matter for the House. I call Deputy Noonan on Leaders' questions.

What is the ruling?

There is no rule in Standing Orders if the matter is one for the House to decide.

I ask the Chair in a civil manner to send for the Ceann Comhairle.

If the Deputy has a problem with the Chair's ruling, he can call to the Office of the Ceann Comhairle. I call Deputy Noonan on Leaders' questions.

On a point of order, there is a book of precedents.

The Chair has ruled. I call Deputy Noonan on Leaders' questions.

Precedents has been thrown out.

The Chair has ruled that this is a matter for the Dáil. I call Deputy Noonan.

While we are discussing bad faith and broken promises, I remind the Taoiseach that this week almost half a million Eircom shareholders are receiving cheques through the post, which confirm that about one-third of their investment has gone down the drain. Taking into account that the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, seduced, coaxed and cajoled people to part with their savings, that they have now lost a third of those and that the PR firms, consultants and spin doctors made £74 million out of this flotation, will the Taoiseach take this opportunity, now that they are receiving their cheques through the post, to apologise to the Eircom shareholders?


Deputy Roche should put his foot back in his mouth.

There are some interesting angles of the Deputy too.

Deputy Noonan, without interruption.

As well as apologising to the small savers, will the Taoiseach indicate what action his Government will take to compensate them for the losses they were walked into, to traditional music and champagne, paid for at taxpayers' expense, and engineered by the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, with the full collusion of the Government?

In light of the disaster that has been the outcome and the fact that so many ordinary, innocent people were conned into borrowing money they did not have to purchase these shares, which they have now lost, can the Taoiseach give an undertaking for the duration of this Administration which, I hope, will be short, that there will be no further privatisation and no more conning of the people by this Government?

It is always regrettable when somebody who has made investments, whether they be bonds or shares—

Especially when they are cajoled into buying them.

—does not get back either the value they put in or the bonus they would expect. At all times the Government has been fair and up-front in this position.

They ripped off the public.

The Government is happy that in any of the State assets it has dealt with in a privatisation process or a joint venture, whether it be Irish Life, Greencore, B & I or Eircom, it has done so in a very up-front way. Unfortunately, it does not always work out to the benefit of the individuals concerned. I hope the decisions made in recent times will at least give the best return possible to the individuals concerned, and that is what the Government was determined to do in decisions made in the recent past.

Will the Taoiseach take up the shortfall?

First, will the Taoiseach agree it was very unfair to use so much public money to seduce people who had no experience of the stock market into using their life savings and borrowing money on the expectation of profit in purchasing these shares? Now that they have lost so much, will the Taoiseach at least acknowledge the lack of wisdom in what the Government has done? Second, the Taoiseach will be aware that persons who buy stocks and shares can, for capital gains purposes, offset a loss against a gain, but small shareholders do not have such an option because most of them never held any other shares and are unlikely to hold shares in the future. Will the Taoiseach consider introducing a measure in the Finance Bill to allow small savers to offset their losses against income tax rather than capital gains tax?

The last point raised by Deputy Noonan is something that can be examined in the Finance Bill and should be put in that format. It is never nice to see somebody put their investment into an asset, share or bond on which they do not win, but we should also be mindful that many of the small shareholders sold their shares quickly and made a gain. Many of them got in and got out very quickly. When Eircom first came up for sale, I recall clearly that the argument in the public domain, and it was well argued in this House, was that we should not allow all the shares to go to the banks, the investors or the pension funds and that it was the right of the ordinary small saver to have access to those shares.

That was the trick.

I subscribed to that, but so did everybody else in this House who spoke at that time. If we were in that position today people would say we should leave it to the financial institutions, but the hullabaloo at that time was to ensure that the small investors got an adequate share.

Only the one hullabaloo.

That was the debate. Unfortunately, it was not lucrative for many of the people who borrowed money, but many others sold their shares in the early months. Many advisers at that time suggested to people that they should sell. The finance issue can be taken up in the Finance Bill.

It was a professional con job.

I call Deputy Quinn on Leaders' questions.

When the matter I am about to raise was first raised, the Tánaiste took Leaders' questions but she was not briefed at the time and did not appear to be aware of the decision CIE had taken. At a time when 15 of the 20 cyclists who lost their lives over the past six years in this city alone were the victims of heavy goods vehicles trying to make their way through the city, and in light of the decision by CIE to reduce its rail freight traffic by 46%, displacing the approximately 1.25 million tonnes it currently carries, and, assuming freight would be carried on a 40 tonnes truck, that as many as 35,000 additional truck journeys would be made on our roads, and given the current underdeveloped state of our infrastructure and the tragic accident that took place yesterday in Monasterboice the constituency of the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, will the Taoiseach agree that this is a retrograde decision by CIE? Since this matter was first raised, and having regard to the desperate number of lives being lost on our roads, particularly involving heavy vehicles, has the Government had time to consider the position of CIE and the decision it took on behalf of the stake holder and shareholder? Has the Taoiseach any comment on whether the Government will reverse this decision so as to return some degree of safety to our roads system until such time as it is fully upgraded?

I sympathise with all the relatives and friends of the bereaved in yesterday's tragic accident at Monasterboice, and with the relatives of all the young people who have been slaughtered on our roads in recent months. Against that background, and taking into account that three out of every four fatalities on our roads involving cyclists over the past six years have involved an articulated truck, and that one out of every five fatalities on our roads involved an articulated truck, will the Taoiseach accept that it is extremely unwise of the Government to endorse the policy of CIE to transfer so much freight from rail on to articulated trucks on a roads structure which is still totally inadequate? To put it bluntly, will the Taoiseach take steps to reverse this decision?

I join Deputy Quinn and Deputy Noonan in sympathising with the families and relatives of Fiona O'Neill and Dominic Wogan who were killed in the terrible tragedy yesterday, and the four or five families who were bereaved over the weekend as a result of road fatalities. As I understand it, the Department of Public Enterprise has not got a proposal. There have been reports about Irish Rail pulling back on its freight service because it wishes to devote its service to commuting, but the Minister for Public Enterprise has not received any formal proposals from Iarnród Éireann about changes in the future direction of rail freight, so we cannot withdraw a proposal or be condemned for sanctioning a proposal when one has not been put forward in the first place. If it did put forward such a proposal, the points made by Deputy Quinn have been debated by my colleagues. Rather than pulling back totally on freight, there are many innovative ideas that could help to move freight by rail out of the city, which would not only help Iarnród Éireann but reduce the number of heavy trucks in the city. That point has been made, and I am aware that the Dublin Port Authority has been looking at proposals to move some of their heavy vehicles out of the city. This applies equally in other parts of the country, although I am aware the Deputy's fears about cyclists relate to the Dublin area. The position is that Iarnród Éireann has not made any proposals to the Department, the Minister or the Government about changes in rail freight.

As the representative of the shareholders, I ask the Taoiseach, through the Minister for Public Enterprise, to raise this matter directly with the board. We are reliably informed the proposal is before the board and that one of the reasons for this is the necessity for the freight section of CIE to reduce its expenditure. The company's intention to reduce freight along the lines just suggested – I will not repeat the figures in the interests of brevity – shows it is, in effect, following what it interprets to be Government policy. It is not acting unilaterally, but in a manner it understands to be Government policy and in compliance with the financial framework within which it must operate. There will be more accidents in the short-term if this freight comes on to our roads.

Will the Taoiseach inform himself as to exactly what is happening and take charge of the matter? The Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, is not capable of doing so. If it is a question of money, will he ensure that, at least for the next couple of years until some sections of the infrastructure are completed, CIE will not be forced to disgorge on to our inadequate road structure lethal cargoes as a result of which people may be killed, as we have tragically seen already? He has the power to do this. On behalf of people, who are still alive, I ask him to do it, please.

A number of the proposals on how Iarnród Éireann could alleviate the dangers of freight on the streets make a great deal of sense. The operators of a considerable number of the heavy vehicles burdened with the job of moving freight into the city would be glad if Iarnród Éireann moved it out. I do not see how it would negatively affect the company's commercial man date to do this. I checked with the Minister what these proposals were about in recent days and will raise the matter again. The proposals may be before the board, but they are certainly not with the Minister.

Is the Taoiseach aware of concerns being expressed about a pyramid selling scheme, Women Empowering Women, which is giving rise to great confusion about whether it breaks the law? Will the Taoiseach tell us when the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill on the Order Paper will be introduced and will he ask the Minister of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, to check out this scheme?

The first part of the question is in order.

I listened to my colleague, Deputy Upton, talk about this matter yesterday. There is much concern that women are borrowing money to put into a scheme that will collapse here and has collapsed in the UK and the Isle of Wight. Will the Taoiseach inform the House about the circumstances surrounding this scheme and the plans for the Gaming and Lottery (Amendment) Bill?

The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill is to give effect to the review group's report. Progress is being made and the legislation should be introduced next year.

Could he clarify the—

The content of legislation does not arise on the Order of Business.

I notice the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, and the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Molloy, have both left the House before the Order of Business has concluded. Did they leave to write their letters of resignation?

The matter does not arise on the Order of Business.

Has the memorandum been circulated about the Housing (Private Rented Sector) Bill which must be approved by Government before Christmas?

The heads of the Housing (Private Rented Sector) Bill to give effect to the report of the commission on the private rented sector are expected before Christmas.

Tragically, there have been 16 deaths of young children over the past 20 months due to family violence. I raised this matter at a committee today and welcome the Minister's announcement that the area will be prioritised.

Does Deputy Fitzgerald have a question appropriate to the Order of Business.

In view of these statistics and others, when will the Ombudsman for Children Bill be passed? It is one thing to have a national children's strategy, but it is very important to have legislation which could make a difference.

The Deputy may make a statement when the legislation is before the House.

The Bill is due this session.

The Taoiseach would be better taking this one.

Against the background of the terrible state of the tourism industry and the news that Tourism Ireland is up and running, we received promises from the Minister that legislation would be introduced shortly to amalgamate Bord Fáilte and CERT. When will this urgent legislation be introduced?

I understand proposals on this issue have been made and talks are ongoing. Legislation has not been agreed yet, but the intention is to amalgamate the two bodies and talks will continue.

What legislation is envisaged in the lifetime of the Government on broadcasting, particularly to protect the right of citizens to a diversity of editorial opinion and given the Broadcasting Corporation of Ireland's recent decision to allow one individual to purchase 100% of a radio station and 28% of the totality? The Taoiseach, at one stage of the Government programme, suggested there might be legislation on cross-ownership of the media. Is legislation proposed to protect the right of citizens to communicate or is everything up for sale?

There is no legislation envisaged on broadcasting. A competition Bill is due, but I am not sure if it will effect the area referred to by the Deputy.

Can I assume the competition Bill will deal with issues of cross-ownership in the media, print and radio?

The Deputy may not ask a question on the content of legislation on the Order of Business.

Will the Government look favourably at extending the rural renewable scheme in the upcoming finance Bill?

Is it intended to introduce the Adoption Information (Post Adoption Contact and Associated Issues) Bill during the lifetime of this Government?

The heads of the Adoption Information (Post Adoption Contact and Associated Issues) Bill were approved in the summer. The Bill is being drafted and is probably in the list of legislation to be dealt with. The Bill has 25 heads, so I hope it is not too long.

The answer indicates it will be introduced in 2002. Will that be before the election? The Taoiseach is not keeping his promise.

In connection with the Coastal Zone Management Bill, on a visit to the north side a couple of years ago, the Taoiseach promised funding in the region of £2 million for an Irish seal sanctuary. We are the only coastal nation which does not have such a sanctuary. Given that the last budget of the Government is approaching, is it possible—

The matter does not arise.

I am just reminding the Taoiseach on behalf of my constituents in Donabate.

I do not believe the Bill covers that issue. The Deputy is reminding me of another matter. The heads of the Coastal Zone Management Bill are expected early in the new year.

Have the heads of the Bill to convert the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds into a commercial semi-State body, the Land Registration Bill, been agreed yet?

The general scheme of the Land Registration Bill has been approved and it is being drafted.