Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001: Motion to Recommit.

I move: "That, having regard to the inability of the Committee on Health and Children to consider all amendments before it because of time constraints, the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001 be recommitted in full."

Does the Minister oppose the motion?

May I speak?

No. Only the Member moving the motion may speak.

In terms of the arrangements, I do not believe I am allowed to speak other than to say I oppose the motion put forward by Deputy McManus.

On the grounds that we have given more time, both in the House and in committee, to this constitutional amendment than any other previous constitutional amendment.

What has that got to do with it?

The Minister had not finished taking questions on Committee Stage.

What is the hurry?

A Cheann Comhairle, I have moved a motion—

The Deputy has moved a motion and spoken. The question must now be put. We cannot make up the rules as we go along.

I understand from examining the rules, which I have done, that I am entitled—

The Deputy moved the motion and said a few words of support. There has been an indication that it will be opposed.

—to give an explanation as to the reason I am moving this motion, and I would like to do that now.

It is most unusual. I will allow the Deputy a few minutes.

No, it is not. It is in the rules.

The Deputy should be allowed to make her case.

On a point of order—

Ministers do not make points of order.

No, it is important because the rules of engagement should be known beforehand. What is the precedent for this ruling?

Is the Minister afraid the facts will come out about the way this Bill has been discussed?

The Minister is out of order.

Standing Order 120—

That is the Government approach to this Bill.

The Minister should take his iodine tablets.

Order, please. I will hear a brief statement from Deputy McManus and I will then allow the Minister to reply.

Thank you.

On a point of order, I want to know the arrangements. I was informed there would not be any debate on—

The arrangement is that when the motion to recommit is moved, only the Member moving the motion is allowed to speak. An opportunity is then given to someone to speak in opposition to the motion. The Minister has indicated he is opposing the motion to recommit the Bill. We should now vote on the matter if it is being contested.

No. Deputy McManus did not speak to the motion.

I am entitled, under Standing Orders, to speak—

I told the Deputy to make a brief statement.

She is trying to do that. The Minister is interrupting her.

Will the Deputy now make a statement?

I would be delighted to do so, and I understand that under Standing Orders I have a right to make an explanatory statement. I am moving this motion because Members of this House who have not had a chance to debate the Bill, because it was referred to a committee of the House, should understand the importance of this amendment to the Constitution. It is unique and unprecedented in that what is being proposed by the Government is, in effect, to put legislation in the Constitution. It is being done in a way that is legally and constitutionally suspect, and it is being done with an approach that is impossible to understand. The Taoiseach made it clear that it is unlikely that the referendum will be held prior to February, yet the Government is determined to steam-roll this legislation through the House. I do not know if it is to make sure that the Bill is completed before the bishops meet in the next ten days to two weeks, but something is putting tremendous pressure on the Government to make it insist on guillotining the Bill on Second Stage, even though not all Members of the House had an opportunity to speak on it.

When Committee Stage was taken by the Committee on Health and Children a guillotine was again imposed by the Government, even though less than half the amendments tabled had been debated. A raft of amendments was not discussed in any shape or form on Committee Stage. Now a further guillotine is being imposed on Report Stage, the only opportunity Members have to debate a very important amendment to the Constitution. The Government has adopted an extraordinary and unnecessary position. There is no good reason for its approach.

We need to be aware – A Cheann Comhairle this will interest you – that there is a real and pressing danger that what we are doing may damage the Constitution. We should also be concerned that the issue the amendment deals with relates to a matter of life or death for Irish women. In effect, what it proposes to do is remove the right to life which Irish women currently enjoy under the Constitution. We are, therefore, addressing a deeply important issue.

The approach also flies in the face of the recommendations of the all-party committee on the Constitution which recently produced a report on how referendums should be managed and processed both in terms of this House and of informing the public. We all know the last referendum was, as described in the research attendant to the report, an unhappy experience for Irish people. People were not fully informed and went to the polls in a very confused state. This was shown by all the research related to the Nice treaty referendum.

The all-party committee on the Constitution recommended there should be a change in Standing Orders. With regard to drawing up legislation to propose an amendment to the Constitution, the report proposes to amend the Standing Orders of each House to embody a presumption that every TD and Senator will have sufficient opportunity to make whatever contribution he or she wishes to make. The consensus of the committee, which met under the excellent chairmanship of Deputy Brian Lenihan, was that this process is particularly important when a constitutional amendment is being dealt with and that a referendum is something exceptional.

A referendum is not ordinary legislation because it deals with matters of life and death. It is most extraordinary that the Government is trying to incorporate the amendment into the Constitution to ensure that, no matter how flawed it might be, it can only be changed by a vote of the people. We will lose our right as legislators to exercise influence or deal with these flaws.

We have a Minister who is objecting to a recommital of the Bill which would ensure all amendments are dealt with and all Members of the House can speak. I was impressed that so many members of the Opposition spoke forcefully and eloquently about the deficiencies of this Bill on Committee Stage, even though the meeting took place in the bowels of this building. The same cannot be said of the Government. The silence of the vast majority of Fianna Fáil Deputies and all the Progressive Democrats' Deputies was notable.

We have to ensure that a Bill of this type is fully scrutinised in this House so that when it is put to the people no one can argue that due process was not carried through. We clearly have a problem. Rather than allowing due parliamentary process, the Government is mindlessly and ruthlessly driving this through the House as if the devils in hell were pursuing it. What is the urgency? Surely amendments to change the Constitution should be subject to full scrutiny to ensure it is good, sound legislation.

If we can no longer feel secure that we can do the work for which we are paid, there is a serious threat to the way in which the Constitution is protected, the way this House deals with legislation and, most particularly, the way in which the lives of women are protected. This is the reason I tabled the motion, not to delay, but to take the correct approach to ensure we have prepared the ground, in line with recommendations of the all-party committee on the Constitution, for whatever referendum proposal emerges at the end of the process.

I reject any assertion that the proposal is constitutionally suspect.

A Cheann Comhairle, I thought you said the Minister is not entitled to speak.

It is a constitutionally sound proposal. Many of the arguments articulated by Deputy McManus have been heard on Second Stage and on Committee Stage. This is not the first referendum on changing the Constitution, nor is it the first time proposals have proceeded through the House in this manner.

Without Committee Stage amendments being heard?

The length of time and the process are very similar to both the divorce referendum introduced by the Opposition—

What is the precedent?

The divorce referendum introduced by the Opposition was a clear precedent which followed exactly the same procedure.

The Minister was running out the door—

Order, please.

It moved from Committee Stage to Report Stage. This was also the case with the 1992 abortion referendum. There is nothing different in terms of the manner in which this proposal is being processed. The legislation will enjoy constitutional protection because we want to consult the people on this issue.

Why does the Minister not put the question—

Order, please.

Legislators in the future can revisit this matter – with the people if they so wish. I oppose the amendment.

Question put.

Allen, Bernard.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Bradford, Paul.

Broughan, Thomas P.Bruton, John.Bruton, Richard. Burke, Ulick.

Tá–continued

Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Coveney, Simon.Creed, Michael.D'Arcy, Michael.Deenihan, Jimmy.Durkan, Bernard.Farrelly, John.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gregory, Tony.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.McCormack, Pádraic.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.

Mitchell, Jim.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Noonan, Michael.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.O'Sullivan, Jan.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Spring, Dick.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.

Níl

Ahern, Bertie.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, David.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Séamus.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Daly, Brendan.Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.

Healy-Rae, Jackie.Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kitt, Michael P.Kitt, Tom.Lenihan, Brian.McDaid, James.McGuinness, John J.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Rourke, Mary.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Stagg and Bradford; Níl, Deputies S. Brennan and Power.
Question declared lost.