Amendments to Standing Orders: Motion.

I move:

"That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business are hereby amended by–

Standing Order 26

(a) the adoption of the following in substitution for Standing Order 26 of the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business:

‘26. (1) Every sitting of the Dáil shall be governed by a printed Order Paper which shall be prepared under the direction of the Ceann Comhairle.

(2)(a) Subject to paragraph (b) the Taoiseach shall have the right to determine the order in which Government business shall appear on the Order Paper and, by announcement, the order in which it shall be taken each day; and may propose, on motion made without notice, arrangements for sittings and for the taking of such business until such business has been disposed of; save where any such proposal is opposed, the Ceann Comhairle shall permit a brief statement from a representative from each party in opposition and the Taoiseach before he or she puts the question thereon. Provided that where a second or subsequent division is demanded on any such proposals on the Order of Business, the period for which the division bells shall ring and the interval between the ringing of the bells and the locking of the doors shall be not less than two minutes and not less than one minute, respectively.

(b) Any announcement made by the Taoiseach under paragraph (a) shall be made:

(i) on Tuesdays, immediately following Leaders' Questions,

(ii) on Wednesdays, immediately following Oral Questions to the Taoiseach, and

(iii) on Thursdays, at the commencement of Public Business.

(3) Following the announcement by the Taoiseach and the disposal of any motion comprehended by paragraph (2), the Ceann Comhairle may permit, at his or her discretion, questions to the Taoiseach about business on the Order Paper; about the taking of business which has been promised, including legislation promised either within or outside the Dáil; about the making of secondary legislation; about arrangements for sittings; and as to when Bills or other documents on the Order Paper needed in the House will be circulated: Provided that, the Taoiseach may defer replying to a question relating to the making of secondary legislation to another day.

(4) For the purposes of this Standing Order, a member of the Government or the Government Chief Whip may on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and shall on Thursdays ordinarily exercise the powers conferred upon the Taoiseach.'

Standing Order 26A

(b) the adoption of the following as an additional Standing Order of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business:

‘26A.(a) At the commencement of Public Business on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the Ceann Comhairle may permit, at his or her discretion, a brief question not exceeding two minutes from each Leader in Opposition to the Taoiseach about a matter of topical public importance and in respect of which the following arrangements shall apply:

(i) the Taoiseach shall be called upon to reply for a period not exceeding three minutes,

(ii) the Leader in Opposition who asked the original question may then ask a brief supplementary question not exceeding one minute,

(iii) the Taoiseach shall then be called upon to reply in conclusion for a period not exceeding one minute.

(b) The total time allowed for Leaders' Questions on any given day under this Standing Order shall not exceed twenty-one minutes and the Taoiseach may nominate another member of the Government to take Leaders Questions in his or her absence.

(c) In this Standing Order, “Leader in Opposition” means the leader of a group as defined in Standing Order 114(1):

Provided that the Leader of a party which is a group under Standing Order 114(1)(a) shall have precedence over the designated Leader of a group recognised under paragraph (1)(b) of that Standing Order.'

Standing Order 31

(c) the deletion, in Standing Order 31(2), of ‘at the commencement of Public Business' and the substitution therefor of ‘immediately before the Order of Business'.

Standing Order 35

(d) the adoption of the following in substitution for Standing Order 35 of the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business:

‘35. (1) Unless the Dáil shall otherwise order on motion made by a member of the Government or Minister of State–

(a) Questions for oral answer to the Taoiseach shall be taken–

(i) from 2.30 p.m. to 3.15 p.m. on Tuesdays, and

(ii) following Leaders Questions on Wednesdays for a period not exceeding forty-five minutes.

(b) Questions for oral answer to other members of the Government shall be taken–

(i) from 3.15 p.m. to 4.15 p.m. on Tuesdays,

(ii) from 2.30 p.m. to 3.45 p.m. on Wednesdays, and

(iii) from 3.30 p.m. to 4.45 p.m. on Thursdays:

Provided that Questions asked on private notice may be taken by permission of the Ceann Comhairle and shall be asked immediately after the Order of Business on Tuesdays, immediately after other Questions have been taken on Wednesdays, and during the last thirty minutes of the time allowed for the taking of Questions on Thursdays (and the taking of Questions shall not resume thereafter).

(2) The time allowed for Questions, other than Questions to the Taoiseach [S.O. 36] and Questions nominated for priority [S.O. 38], shall not exceed thirty minutes on Tuesdays and forty-five minutes on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and the time allowed for Questions nominated for priority for any one day shall not exceed thirty minutes.'

Standing Order 38

(e) the addition of the following Proviso to paragraph (1)(iv) of Standing Order 38 of the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business–

‘Provided that a party which is a group under Standing Order 114(1)(a) shall have precedence over a group recognised under paragraph (1)(b) of that Standing Order.'

Standing Order 114

(f) the addition of the following Proviso to paragraph (5) of Standing Order 114 of the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business–

‘Provided that a party which is a group under paragraph (1)(a) shall have precedence over a group recognised under paragraph (1)(b).'

Standing Order 119

(g) the addition of the following Proviso to paragraph (3) of Standing Order 119 of the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business–

‘Provided that for the purposes of this Standing Order a party which is a group under Standing Order 114(1)(a) shall have precedence over a group recognised under paragraph (1)(b) of that Standing Order.'.”

In moving these motions today I am conscious that the development of our parliamentary democracy has grown and developed and led to the successful governance of countries through the growth of political parties. It is those political parties who go before the electorate with one voice, joint policies and an identified philosophy. The public know for whom they are voting and know the type of policies that will be implemented in Government.

Over the last hundred years democracy and the public have benefited from the fact that political parties, in a number of different countries, have grown and that is why they are so successful in the Dáil. Parties who presented themselves to the electorate in June this year were returned in strong numbers. The larger political parties have 81, 31 or 21 Members while smaller political parties have eight, six or five Members. The recognition of those parties is something that should survive in this Dáil. The public knew what it was voting for and voted for those groups and that those parties should be given priority. Of course every Member of the Dáil is entitled to his or her rights as is every one of the smaller groups.

The Government is making a fool of the electorate. It did not vote for that.

Naturally, a technical group coming together is entitled to and is getting its rights. There is a difference however between a Technical Group coming together and a parliamentary party group of one voice coming together. The Technical Group has come together for parliamentary benefits but agrees to disagree on all issues.

While we will continue with the process of a technical group which, although it does not speak with one voice and has rotating Leaders entitled to a Leader's question, will be entitled to speaking time and priority in opening statements, etc., we propose to restore the status and priority to the political parties that the public voted for and to whom they gave a mandate.

The public has a right to be represented in the House.

The public knew before the election who they voted for in voting for political parties. They also voted for individuals and for groups and the rights of each of those is recognised and will continue to be recognised in this House.

They have a right to be represented in the Chamber.

Their rights will continue to be recognised. It is a simple matter of giving precedence and priority to the political party system. There are 166 Members in the House. One of those Members is the Taoiseach, the Leader of the Government, who has been elected not just to be answerable to the Dáil but to the people. This Taoiseach spends more time in this House than any of his predecessors. Each Tuesday and Wednesday he answers oral and written parliamentary questions, which are notified in advance so they can be prepared, for an hour and a half. They are a valuable part of our democratic process. That is how previous Taoisigh did it and it will continue that way.

What makes this Taoiseach different is that over a year ago it was identified and recognised that for the benefit of democracy Leader's questions should be introduced. They would be unprepared, unseen, of a topical nature and would be raised by the Leaders of the main parties each day. That has happened, has been successful and is a central part of Dáil days. This was different from previous Taoisigh. It means that the Taoiseach has spent, and will continue to spend, three hours a week answering questions. That is at least a half an hour more than any of his predecessors. The reorganisation of that time will ensure that he will continue to take the Taoiseach's questions and questions of a topical nature.

Because of the development of a Technical Group the Taoiseach is now taking questions of a topical nature from three different groups. He will continue, as heretofore, taking 12 questions each day except that they will now be taken over two rather than three days. We now have quality time, extra time, quality questions and a greater engagement by the Members of the House.

We do not have quality answers, though.

Get them on the website.

This will continue. Not only is the Taoiseach spending more time in the House than any of his predecessors, he is spending more time in the House than any individual Prime Minister in Europe. This Taoiseach is more accountable and will continue to be. The changes will also ensure that he is not precluded from coming in on days when there are matters of major interest.

When he feels like it.

For example, when he is discussing debates on the European Summit or making contributions on any major reports.

Will we have to see him on the website now?

There is major work to be done on the Dáil reform package and we will continue to do it. We want to ensure that the business of this House is not confined to Taoiseach and Ministers and that it is not confined to Leaders but that each backbencher gets a chance to have a say too. We can use the time we have to ensure that every Member gets a say and that we are all accountable, not just to Dáil Éireann but to the public.

It is preposterous to presume the changes made this morning can be regarded as Dáil reform. They are far from it. It is sad that the Labour Party has been abused by the Government to bulldoze through something which the Government knows has nothing to do with democracy or Dáil reform. It is a retrograde step for which they will pay a high price.

A Deputy

We are willing victims, unfortunately.

We have heard many lectures about the primacy of parliament over the years. We have heard how important it is to have the Taoiseach and relevant Ministers in the House to be accountable. This is the first step in removing the senior Member of the executive of the House from accountability. It reduces the number of hours he is expected to attend the House and the times he might attend. Are we talking about some emperor who might descend on the House and honour us with his presence sometime? I am amazed that the Minister can submit such a suggestion.

We have listened before to lectures about how important it is that people have a right to speak in parliament. It is the right of the Opposition to ask questions of the Taoiseach at any time. The Taoiseach has always been facilitated with a pair whenever he wanted to go anywhere.

Usually every Thursday.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well as on many occasions. It has never been suggested that he would not be facilitated. It is arrogance to try to do a deal which involves the Taoiseach absenting himself arbitrarily from the House during the ordinary business day. It is a retrograde step. The Minister mentioned Dáil reform. This is one of the issues that was presented to me when I, fortunately or unfortunately, was given the job of party Whip. One of the first items I read on Dáil reform was that the Taoiseach would be out of the House more often roaming around the country at will doing what Taoisigh would want to do on occasions such as this.

Governing the country.

He has never been refused a pair and the Minister of State knows well that no Taoiseach or Minister has ever been refused a pair provided they are abroad or out of the House on official Government business. This is not about official Government business but about putting the House down a step. It is about treating it with contempt and refusing to be present to answer questions when the Taoiseach and Ministers are expected to do so. This arrogance has manifested itself in more than one way.

One aspect the Minister of State did not mention and which was intended in the package of Dáil reform was that the commencement of business following the summer recess would be marked by a parliamentary parade where the Ceann Comhairle and people of rank would parade down the steps, the Ceann Comhairle would assume the Chair and the others would bow and move into their respective positions. It did not entail someone walking ahead with a mace over his shoulder but I am sure that would have been introduced at a later stage. Neither did it entail someone entering in a powdered wig and silk pantaloons to present the mace or orders of Parliament. However, I know it was only a short step from the imperial trappings envisaged by the people who devised those Standing Orders.

The Minister of State spoke about Dáil reform. The Chamber when it was first instituted worked better than it does now. Every change that has been implemented in the past ten years has been to remove the right of the individual to participate in Parliament.

Let us change it.

An example is priority questions. All they do is exclude backbenchers from their right to ask a question of the Taoiseach or Ministers in Parliament. They should never have been introduced and my proposal was to remove them to let everyone have their questions answered.

This reform will be regretted and I hope the Government will see the light of day before Christmas and change these Standing Orders again. The presidential style of the Taoiseach is not compatible with the workings of Parliament. It is a sad day for democracy, openness, transparency and accountability. This is the issue. Ministers will take their cue from the Taoiseach and some have done so, treating the House with contempt.

The Deputy should conclude.

It is difficult to conclude on a subject such as this, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, because I could go on for a long time. I have seen the evidence of Ministers treating the House with contempt in the manner in which they reply to questions and in their refusal to answer them. Now they have been given a further cue by the Taoiseach who wants to absent himself from the House. Some morning soon we will find the Taoiseach will no longer come to the House and will have microphones rigged up outside his home from which he will address the nation, as is done in countries more senior to ours, as some would say.

I regret the bulldozing of this order through the House this morning. I have said to the Minister of State privately that she will regret it, as will the Taoiseach. Everyone will be sorry within five to six weeks for making this decision.

I move amendment No. 1:

In Standing Order 26(2)(a), after “Taoiseach”, where it firstly occurs to insert “with the agreement of the House”.

I am not sure the Labour Party wants to take advantage of its desire to go ahead of us or if it accepts the order as it stands.

Its members should object.

They can go first if they want.

The Technical Group can go first.

I am not sure if that is a change of heart on the part of the Labour Party or if it is just waiting in the long grass, as its members would say.

We can share time, if the Deputy wishes.

I am intoxicated by the graciousness of the Labour Party on this occasion.

There will be no time left if the Deputy does not begin soon.

Ba mhaith liom a rá gur brónach an scéal é anseo nach gá don Taoiseach a bheith i láthair ach amháin tráthnóna Dé Máirt agus maidin Dé Céadaoin roimh meán lae. If one were to conduct a vox pop, one would find that, for many people, it represents a gross disimprovement of the accountability of the House and brings us one step closer to making this place irrelevant.

When the Taoiseach is present, he is unable to answer questions. How much less he is able to answer questions when he is not present. In a recent Question Time, the Taoiseach took 36 questions together and his reply amounted to two pages of double spaced large print. This indicates the level of disdain and disrespect the Government has for Parliament.

This would be bad enough if it was just about the workings of the Dáil but it also involves lessons and, I hope, avoiding mistakes in future. As I stated earlier, running in parallel with the Dáil are a number of tribunals. Although I take Deputy Quinn's point that it is not always the Taoiseach who does not answer questions, there are occasions when the answering of questions by a Taoiseach is critical in the holding to account of a Government. An example Deputy Quinn will remember is when Albert Reynolds was Taoiseach. There will be such situations in future when this will be the case. I am sure Mr. Reynolds would have been happy at the time to have been excused from the Dáil and to be about business elsewhere and not to have had to take questions here. I hope we are not seeing preparation for that scenario with these changes.

The Dáil is becoming less relevant. Where is the real agenda? Where are decisions being made? We realise there has been a diminution of sovereignty and the people have voted for that, but we also realise that decisions are made in places other than in Brussels or the European Commission. Some decisions are certainly made with private interests at heart. If those of us with experience of local authorities wish to make a parallel comparison, there is no doubt that, when local developers want to get work done, the priority is to try to meet the planner or the manager, not the local representatives. A similar pattern is developing in the national Parliament. Less decisions are being made here. For that reason it is important we look again and cry a halt to this disimprovement.

The party structure has not been enhanced by the goings on of some of the parties to which the Minister of State referred. An example is the promised referendum on Partnership for Peace. It has done nothing for party politics to have promised something before a general election and to have thrown it aside afterwards. It does nothing to bring out a manifesto which sets down projects to be completed only to claim after the general election that they were only possible if money were available and that, now that it is not, the projects will not proceed. These are issues on which people judge the credibility of the party political structure.

For my party and others in the Technical Group, the pecking order is not the issue. We could have worked out some arrangement with the Labour Party if it was so important to it that its members would be able to speak after those of the Fine Gael Party. What is at issue is the way the Opposition co-operates in terms of doing its job and that has not been helped by the carry on here. It is also about giving smaller parties and independent Members the recognition their mandate deserves and it is no more or less than that. The Northern Assembly has at least given us that to be going on with as an example. Two members of a party there are recognised in proportion to their size and have full rights. We need to move on from the old days of trying to close off any minority opinion that might upset the apple cart and the establishment. Standing Order 114 could have been changed to allow the six TDs in the Green Party, the five in Sinn Féin and the independent Deputies to have group status. Now we realise it was not such a big deal to change the standing order, but it is being changed for the most petty of reasons.

The Labour Party supports the rights of parties, groups and Members to speak and to be heard in this House. Today's proposed changes will not remove one minute of time from any party, group or Member but will enhance opportunities for Members to raise questions with Ministers. There will be an additional 45 minutes of such time.

The Labour Party does not support an interpretation of the rules that gives Sinn Féin, with five Members, or the Green Party with six Members, precedence over the Labour Party with 21 Members. We do not support an interpretation that would give Deputy Lowry or Deputy Joe Higgins a higher ranking in debate than the leader of the Labour Party.

It was never an issue.

As Labour Party Whip I welcome the Government's proposals to amend Standing Orders to restore the primacy of political parties in procedural matters in the Dáil and regard the criticism of the proposals as hysterical and ill-founded. We regard the criticism made of the proposals by the technical, Michael Lowry, group as being particularly hypocritical. I regard the comments made in the Dáil yesterday morning by Deputy Dan Boyle on behalf of the technical group regarding Members of the House being corruptible as being particularly offensive and I call on him to withdraw the comments without further delay.

On a point of order, to what group is Deputy Stagg referring? I know of no group that is referred to in the standing order?

That is not a point of order.

The comment from Deputy Boyle is all the more astonishing and hypocritical, given that the technical group has restored the party whip to the disgraced Deputy Michael Lowry.

There is no party whip and the Deputy knows it.

Since he resigned the Fine Gael whip in 1997, Deputy Lowry has been ostracised by all parties in the House. Deputy Lowry misled this House, was strongly criticised in the report of the McCracken Tribunal and still has many questions to answer before the Moriarty Tribunal.

On a point of order, I would ask that Members not prevent the legal process taking its course.

Deputy Stagg, without interruption.

I would remind the Green Party, Sinn Féin and—

He is going to give Deputy Lowry an out in court, just as the Tánaiste did for Charles Haughey.

I would ask Deputies not to be disorderly.

Sinn Féin, the Greens and Deputy Joe Higgins have effectively provided political rehabilitation for Deputy Michael Lowry. The Labour Party was accused of entering into a sordid little deal by Sinn Féin.

On a point of order, to cut across this attempt at a smear against us by Deputy Stagg, would you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, clarify for the nation that the rules of the Dáil mean that anybody who is not in a party is entitled to be in a technical group and that we cannot stop them. If the people of Tipperary North send a Deputy here—

Deputy Stagg, without interruption.

This smear campaign cannot be allowed to continue. You must protect our rights.

Deputy Higgins should resume his seat.

Deputy Boyle and his Green Party colleagues, who love the high moral ground, are now exposed on that very bleak terrain. Labour was accused of a sordid little deal by Sinn Féin. The sordid little deal was the rehabilitation here in this House of Michael Lowry by Sinn Féin, the Green Party and Deputy Joe Higgins.

We cannot refuse membership to anyone. Deputy Stagg should stop digging and sit down while he is ahead.

I will take no lessons on democracy from Sinn Féin. I welcome Sinn Féin into the democratic system here, but they are still in the kindergarten of democracy. I have first-hand personal experience of their thuggery. I know it was not the IRA but Sinn Féin that was involved. I respect the mandate they have got, but it does not exceed the Labour Party mandate – five does not equal 21.

The issue at the core of this debate is whether a coherent political party with 21 Members can be replaced or superseded by three smaller political parties and ten independents. The rules of the House never intended such. The Lowry group, Sinn Glas, the technical group, whatever one likes to call it, has full rights arising from the rules of this House and its full rights are not affected by the changes being made today.

Why is Deputy Rabbitte not supporting this motion? Where is Deputy Rabbitte today?

The demands of the technical group today are made only on high-profile occasions. If it wants accountability, the best way of doing it is by hard graft in this House—

As we have been doing.

—not just on high-profile speaking occasions. Let it put down parliamentary questions to the range of Ministers here. The Green Party, after the whole summer recess, could not find one question to ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government.

Not true.

Of 50 questions on the clár today, there are three from the 22 Deputies in the technical group.

There were far more than that.

It is entitled to 44 questions. The best way to ensure political accountability is by asking parliamentary questions. However, that is not high-profile so it is not interested. It should go and do some parliamentary work.

The time permitted for this debate has expired. I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Dáil of this day. The question is: "That the amendments set down to the motion are hereby negatived and the motion is hereby agreed to."

Question put: "That the amendments set down to the motion are hereby negatived and the motion is hereby agreed to."

Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Brady, Martin.Broughan, Thomas P.Browne, John.Callanan, Joe.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Carty, John.Coughlan, Mary.Cregan, John.Curran, John.Davern, Noel.Dempsey, Noel.Dempsey, Tony.Dennehy, John.Devins, Jimmy.Ellis, John.Finneran, Michael.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Fleming, Seán.Gilmore, Eamon.Glennon, Jim.Grealish, Noel.Hanafin, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Higgins, Michael D.Hoctor, Máire.Howlin, Brendan.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kelly, Peter.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Seamus.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.

Lynch, Kathleen.McCreevy, Charlie.McGuinness, John.McManus, Liz.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Michael.Mulcahy, Michael.Nolan, M. J.Ó Cuív, Éamon.Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.O'Connor, Charlie.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donovan, Denis.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Malley, Fiona.O'Malley, Tim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Parlon, Tom.Pattison, Seamus.Penrose, Willie.Quinn, Ruairi.Rabbitte, Pat.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Ryan, Seán.Sexton, Mae.Shortall, Róisín.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Stagg, Emmet.Treacy, Noel.Upton, Mary.Wilkinson, Ollie.Woods, Michael.

Níl

Allen, Bernard.Boyle, Dan.Breen, James.Breen, Pat.Connolly, Paudge.Coveney, Simon.Cowley, Jerry.Crawford, Seymour.Crowe, Seán.Deasy, John.Durkan, Bernard J.Enright, Olwyn.Ferris, Martin.Fox, Mildred.Gogarty, Paul.

Gormley, John.Gregory, Tony.Harkin, Marian.Hayes, Tom.Healy, Seamus.Higgins, Joe.Hogan, Phil.Kenny, Enda.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McHugh, Paddy.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Olivia.Morgan, Arthur. Murphy, Gerard.

Níl–continued

Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghin.Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.O'Dowd, Fergus.Ring, Michael.

Ryan, Eamon.Sargent, Trevor.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and B. O'Keeffe; Níl, Deputies Boyle and Durkan.
Question declared carried.