Leaders’ Questions.

The Government announced yesterday that it intends to hold a referendum on citizenship on 11 June. I recognise there is a problem of non-national persons arriving here, particularly late in pregnancy, and I understand it must be resolved. I have already committed Fine Gael to working constructively towards a solution of that problem. However, we can only do that if the Government enters into consultation on the basis of good faith. The Government's record to date does not instil confidence or belief in that. On 5 and 12 November 2002 the Taoiseach said his Government did not have any contact with the Real IRA. However, it had, which meant his statement was untrue. On 5 February the Tánaiste said there was no need for legislation on electronic voting. That was also untrue. On 17 February this year the Taoiseach answered questions in the House for 45 minutes and said there were no planned referenda other than the three speculated about, namely, property rights, reform of the Seanad and the EU constitution.

The Tánaiste is a signatory to the programme for Government which contains a specific commitment to enter into all-party discussions about matters relevant to the Constitution. However, there have not been any all-party discussions. There has not been any consultation with me, despite the fact that the Government decision allowed for consultation with the party leaders. Yesterday the Government announced that it intends to hold the referendum on 11 June. Can the Tánaiste explain to the House and the country why there is a rush to hold the referendum on 11 June? How can we be confident that the Government is genuine about putting in place an all-embracing solution to deal with the problem which we recognise? How can we be sure that we will have a meaningful debate about the Constitution on an all-party basis when the Government's record to date means we cannot believe a word out of its mouth?

I take grave exception to Deputy Kenny's suggestion that I misled this House. When I informed the House on 5 February of the position regarding electronic voting, it was prior to a court ruling on the power of Ministers to make orders in these important areas. That is what changed the situation. It was in order to bring legal certainty that the necessity for legislation became evident. I reject the Deputy's suggestion.

The Government is not rushing this referendum.

That is what it looks like.

The Good Friday Agreement was signed into law and the referendum was held 42 days later on the island of Ireland. That is probably the most important referendum we have had in this country since the 1920s and it was held within 42 days. It is 65 days to 11 June. As Deputy Kenny acknowledged, we committed ourselves in the programme for Government to examine this important area. I understand the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform had discussions with the Deputy's former spokesperson for justice. He intends to have further discussions today with all parties in the House, if they are available. I do not know what the problem is as regards bringing Irish law into line with what happens in every other European country. After the Government's proposals ——

It should be done in a decent and civilised way.

——we will have some of the most liberal laws on citizenship anywhere in Europe. It is important and timely that we plug the loophole in the law on citizenship as quickly as possible. It is better to do that on 11 June rather than wait for a presidential election which may or may not occur later this year.

We need a coherent policy on this matter. The Tánaiste has not explained the reason for the rush to amend the Constitution. The Taoiseach answered questions for 45 minutes on 17 February, but he did not mention this amendment to the Constitution. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who chaired the sixth all-party committee on the Constitution, made recommendations about how the Constitution should be amended and that every Deputy should have the right to speak fully and completely about the legislation and the issue involved. However, that cannot happen when we do not have any evidence or information and there has not been any consultation with us.

The Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Dea, recommended that this should not happen on 11 June and Senators from all parties also said it should not happen on that date. Why is the Government pressing ahead? Is it not obvious from past experience of previous Governments that rushing to amend the Constitution can lead to legal quagmires and that what the Government is doing by forcing this through on 11 June is debasing Bunreacht na hÉireann and dragging it down to the level of party political gain when it is facing an electoral process with difficulties on all fronts?

I recognise there is a problem and my party is committed to a resolution of that problem in a constructive, coherent and all-embracing manner. Will the Tánaiste explain why the Taoiseach did not refer to this referendum when he answered questions on 17 February? What is the necessity to go beyond what the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, recommended in changing the Constitution? The Government is getting support in recognising that there is a problem and that it should be dealt with constructively. Why the rush to judgment? How can we believe a word from the Tánaiste when the record proves the opposite?

We are usually criticised by the Opposition for not acting in a hasty fashion on many matters.

(Interruptions).

I find it hard to understand whether Deputy Kenny is simply opposed to the timing of 11 June or if he has more fundamental objections in this matter.

Is that not what he said?

We are well into the campaign now.

Allow the Tánaiste to speak without interruption.

One cannot have it both ways.

Deputy Durkan is not the leader of his party.

Has the Tánaiste consulted the Progressive Democrats?

I am more than happy to talk to the Progressive Democrats and I will take no lectures from Deputy Howlin or anybody else in this matter.

I would prefer if the Tánaiste did not answer questions that come through interruptions. This is a Fine Gael question, not a Labour Party question.

The insolent rebuttal.

The Government has decided that since there will be an election and people will be voting on 11 June, it is the appropriate time to put this matter to the people and let them decide.

The Government wants to win votes. It is all about votes.

Despite our political differences I have always regarded the Tánaiste as a decent person in politics and an honourable colleague in the constituency. It makes my stomach sick to see her lend her party as cover to Fianna Fáil in a transparent ploy to exploit the immigration issue in an election atmosphere.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

The handling of this matter has been dishonest and underhand right from the beginning on 17 February, when the Taoiseach said there would be no referendum this year, up to the battle Deputy Higgins and I fought yesterday to extract from the Taoiseach, against obfuscation and obstruction, including from the Chair, the statement that there would be a referendum on 11 June.

When I asked the Tánaiste if it was the case that the House would be reconvened a week early to take this Bill and that the imported guru from America had identified this issue as being of potential electoral advantage to Fianna Fáil, she denied it. Now the House is being reconvened and Deputy Costello tells me he was contacted this morning by the Minister's secretary and told that the Bill will be published on Thursday. That was the intention. As the House retired for the Easter recess, the Government intended to release the Bill under the cover of a holiday weekend, when there would be no opportunity to raise it in the House. It is disgraceful.

Where is the Des O'Malley who said he would stand by the Republic? What does Deputy O'Donnell think about this? What does Deputy Fiona O'Malley think about it? What does Senator Minihan think about it? He would be a Member of this House were it not for the fact that this issue was disgracefully exploited in Cork by some of the guys behind the Tánaiste. She knows it will happen again. If there is a problem and, as Deputy Kenny said, there might well be one, we do not know its extent because we have received no figures from the Tánaiste's ministerial colleague, who is drunk with power.

I still have not received a reply to my parliamentary question.

He would do anything to keep his feet under the Cabinet table. I am disappointed with the Tánaiste. It is a new low in Irish politics that she would collude in using an election atmosphere for an issue such as this.

Deputy Rabbitte intends to have the debate start on this note and I regret that very much. This issue was not put to the people at the last election but that did not stop certain individuals in Cork and elsewhere——

——from playing the race card.

It was from the Fianna Fáil side.

——and a former——

(Interruptions).

We can name them.

Deputy Ryan will have to leave the House if he does not keep quiet.

That is right — put them out.

Where is the Republic now?

Did the Tánaiste condone those actions?

This is an extremely important issue.

Of course it is.

It behoves us all to conduct the debate, even from this moment, in a fair and calm fashion.

The Government should give it the time it needs.

I am aware the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform had discussions with Deputy Rabbitte about this matter some time ago so it is not the case that this came as a great surprise. When I told Deputy Rabbitte last week that we had not made a decision on the date, that was true. We only made that decision yesterday after a great deal of consultation and discussion.

With whom?

I strongly resent any suggestion that it was known a week or two weeks ago——

The Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin, knew about it.

——or that some guru came from the United States to inform us that this was an issue.

Of course they did. It has been borne out to be right.

I am sorry, Deputy Rabbitte, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform——

The Tánaiste should address her remarks through the Chair.

——discussed this item with the Deputy months ago, and the Deputy knows that.

First, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform came up to me when I was having coffee in the Members' bar to tell me that he was thinking about this and that he would consult with me and send me documents. He did neither and he did not even say as much to Deputy Kenny. Second, there is no point in the Tánaiste seeking to compare this to the Good Friday Agreement. Everybody knew what would happen for months in advance if an agreement was reached.

There is no point in the Tánaiste seeking to impugn anybody on this side of the House for ever having used this issue in an election atmosphere. Already, the suggestion is that this is coming from this side of the House. The Tánaiste knows that outside this House the Noel O'Flynn phenomenon will be multiplied 100 times around the country. There has been dishonesty and underhand handling of this from day one, including by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who misrepresented the masters of the maternity hospitals and gave us the wrong date.

It is not appropriate to use the word "dishonest" about Members of the House.

How can you describe it, a Cheann Comhairle? Give us some helpful descriptions.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform misrepresented the masters of the maternity hospitals. He said he met them in October 2003 and it turned out to be 2002. We have no figures for this phenomenon. The all-party committee on the Constitution, chaired by Deputy Brian Lenihan, set out a process by which we should handle any issue relating to amending the Constitution. The Tánaiste is throwing that out the window. The Government has spent seven years sitting on the land issue and it will receive a report today which states that the reason the Taoiseach delayed this for the last three or four years is that there was a putative necessity to amend the Constitution, which turns out not to be true. Will the Government rush legislation through to control the price of building land before Easter or before the summer?

Will we have that on the 11th?

We are still waiting for the disability Bill.

Deputy Rabbitte's time has concluded.

The Tánaiste has come a long way from standing by the Republic and I regret it more than anybody.

Obviously, Deputy Rabbitte seems to have a wider problem with this than the timing issue. If that is the case, we should discuss it. If it is more than timing, let us hear it. I wish to clarify the circumstances surrounding the meeting with the masters of the maternity hospitals. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform met the masters at the request of the Department of Health and Children. I read a letter from somebody who attended that meeting.

That is a new one.

What is a new one?

The Tánaiste should address her remarks through the Chair and ignore interruptions.

Originally it was at their request.

Yes, at the request of the masters through the Department of Health and Children, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform met with them. I have read a note of that meeting and a letter from somebody who attended it, who confirms everything the Minister has said. At that meeting the masters said something simple: if what is happening in Dublin continues, with 22% of the births being to non-nationals, we will quickly need another maternity hospital in Dublin.

Many have work permits.

They came to express——

The Tánaiste invited them into the country.

We are not talking about those people.

The Tánaiste will give them work permits but not allow them to have children.

Every country in Europe has residency requirements. Many of them require the person to be resident for ten years; the average is five years. Even after the Government's proposals, Ireland will have one of the most liberal regimes in Europe for citizenship. I cannot understand why that is not acceptable to the people of this country who are represented in this House.

(Interruptions).

I call Deputy Sargent.

On a point of order——

There can be no points of order on Leaders' Questions except from the leaders.

Three weeks ago——

The Chair has ruled on this repeatedly. I have called Deputy Sargent.

——I asked a parliamentary question.

That is not a point of order.

Why is the Chair not protecting my rights?

Deputy Mitchell should resume his seat.

Three weeks ago I asked——

Deputy Mitchell will leave the House if he does not resume his seat. It is his choice.

I asked a question——

The Deputy will have to leave the House.

——about the number of immigrant children——

The Deputy will leave the House.

On a point of order——

There is no point of order.

I leave in protest. I asked a question three weeks ago.

The Deputy raised a valid point and he is entitled to do so.

I move: "That Deputy Gay Mitchell be suspended from the service of the Dáil." Is that agreed?

It is not agreed.

In accordance with Standing Orders, the division will take place before tomorrow's business.

Deputy G. Mitchell withdrew from the Chamber.

That is a disgrace.

Standing Orders are there for everybody.

On a point of order, the Chair has thrown out the Deputy——

That is not a point of order. I have called Deputy Sargent.

——for standing up for his rights.

That is not a point of order. The Deputy was asked to leave because he disobeyed the Standing Orders of the House.

He was standing up for his rights.

He knows how to stand up for his rights.

The Government stands accused of misleading the House——

To what Standing Order is the Chair referring?

The Chair will not discuss the matter on the floor of the House. If Deputies have a problem——

There is no such Standing Order. The Chair is making it up.

——they can come to the Office of the Ceann Comhairle.

Quote the Standing Order.

What is the Standing Order?

I have called Deputy Sargent.

Can the Chair quote the Standing Order?

The Standing Order is——

Which one is it? Read it out.

The Chair will not discuss its rulings.

Can the Chair quote the Standing Order?

I ask the Chair——

I ask Deputies to resume their seats.

Will the Chair quote the Standing Order?

The Standing Order is there and there has been precedent since the foundation of the State that the Chair is responsible for order in the House. If a Member disobeys the Chair——

Where is the Standing Order?

I ask the Deputy to resume his seat and show some respect for the Chair. He is the leader of a party and should show some respect for the Chair. I have called Deputy Sargent.

Deputy Mitchell raised a valid point.

He did not raise a valid point.

He did. He asked a question in the House and was not given any information. That information——

I have called Deputy Sargent.

Will the Chair allow Deputy Mitchell back into the House?

I do not want to have to deal with this.

The Chair can throw everybody out if he wishes.

I sympathise with the Chair's situation, but he is trying to maintain order when the Government is being disorderly.

Will the Chair——

The Chair ruled that Deputy Mitchell was out of order.

——allow Deputy Mitchell back into the House?

The Chair could rule that the Government is out of order also.

The Chair is reducing the Opposition to——

The Deputy knows there are long-standing rulings in the House.

On what basis did the Chair remove Deputy Mitchell from the House?

The Chair is not prepared to discuss rulings on the floor of the House, nor have any of my predecessors.

The Chair cannot make up Standing Orders as he goes along. This is disgraceful.

Allow Deputy Sargent speak without interruption.

It is difficult to have an orderly Dáil when the Government shows such disorder. The Chair should bear that in mind.

I raise a matter that is related in that it is tied to corruption, namely, the lack of affordable housing. This is an issue which requires a clear plan of action. Housing costs hang an unmanageable debt around the necks of many people, represent the legacy of corruption and bad planning, and sentence many people to a life without health facilities, schools and public transport.

Yesterday on "Prime Time", we had two different Government views. Which is the Tánaiste's view? The chairman of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, Deputy O'Donovan, advocated the Kenny report and stated that there are major problems, referring to the hoarding of land by a few super-rich developers. He said the situation is like the oil fields of Iraq, with land as the oil field of Ireland. He also said 13 Governments have hidden behind the threat of legislation being challenged in the courts and that the matter is now in the lap of the Government, with the committee calling for legislation, not a referendum.

On the other hand, we had the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, saying he thinks we need to proceed carefully because the Constitution protects property rights. Is he not confusing the rights of ownership with the rights of development? Is the Minister of State correct in saying that individuals who own land are entitled to get the full market price?

Does the Tánaiste agree there is a need to clarify this? Is it not ironic that the Taoiseach is absent today because of matters arising from corruption in the planning process, matters which caused the Mahon tribunal to be established? Of the two views expressed, which is the Tánaiste's? When will we have legislation on the matter?

As the Deputy is aware, the report is to be published today. I did not see "Prime Time" last night which I understand covered the matter extensively. Like others in the House, I have had the opportunity to read the report because it was given to party leaders. It is an excellent one and I hope we can act on it quickly.

Clearly, all rights are subject to the common good in this area. I respect property rights, as do most people in the country. Ownership is important, but we must also act in the common good. The Kenny report has been in existence for some time and the committee has made recommendations, on an all-party basis, on a way forward. I hope we can act collectively to carry those through sooner rather than later.

It is a long time back to 1973 if we are talking about sooner rather than later with the Kenny report. As someone who talks about the need to counter cartels and have competition, does the Tánaiste agree that it is normal for anti-trust measures to operate against cartels? Should measures not be introduced forthwith to prevent development plans being monopolised? The Tánaiste will know of a situation where one developer had 1,500 acres of housing sites and paid €105 million for 208 acres in Belcamp recently. Will there be legislation in this area before the Government rushes an infrastructure Bill through, given the close connection between corruption in planning and the possibility of further corruption if there is legislation which does not take the committee's recommendations into consideration? Will such legislation take precedence over the infrastructure Bill? Is it acceptable that the planning system facilitates hoarding? This situation is at least as urgent as the immigration referendum which the Government is trying to rush through in advance of everything else.

The infrastructure Bill is a separate matter and relates to expediting the planning process, which everyone would favour. One does not need long periods of time to get the right decision. That Bill is being acted upon. It will go to Cabinet shortly and will be advanced by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. On the other matter, the report is being published today and I hope we can consider it quickly.

The Tánaiste is a shadow of her former self.