Citizens' Assembly: Motion

I move:

That the Resolution of Dáil Éireann of 13th July, 2016, as amended by the Resolution of the Dáil of 3rd October, 2017, regarding the Citizens' Assembly is amended by the deletion of 'but in any event not later than 29th March, 2018' and the substitution therefor of 'but in any event not later than 27th April, 2018'."

Ceadaíodh Tithe an Oireachtais Tionól Saoránach a bhunú faoi réiteach i Mhí Iúil 2016 le rith i gcomhair bliain amháin ón dáta a bhí an chéad cruinniú aige.

The assembly was asked to consider five topics and to report back to the Houses on each one when it had completed its deliberations.

(Interruptions).

Allow the Minister of State, please.

I ndiaidh an síneadh i Mhí Mheán Fómhair a chuaigh thart, bheadh an t-am suas ar 29 Márta i mbliana. Following an extension last October, the assembly's term is due to expire on 29 March 2018. The assembly has now considered four of the five topics listed in the resolution. The final meeting to consider the remaining item, that of fixed-term parliaments, was scheduled for the weekend of 3-4 March. However, due to the adverse weather conditions caused by Storm Emma, it was deemed necessary to cancel the meeting in the interest of safety concerns for assembly members, suppliers and staff. Rescheduling the meeting before the assembly's term expires has not proven possible due to the unavailability of members, with the St. Patrick's Day holiday, the approach of the Easter holidays and the difficulty in securing suppliers and a venue. The chair of the assembly, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, has therefore requested a further extension of the assembly's term to the end of April to allow for the completion of its work programme. Under the circumstances, I consider this request reasonable.

The Citizens' Assembly and the Constitutional Convention before it have been bold and innovative exercises in deliberative democracy. Their work has helped inform and shape our political decisions. Tá siad tar éis léargas fiúntach a thabhairt dúinn maidir leis na rudaí atá tábhachtach do dhaoine agus na torthaí a bhainfeadh siad amach dá mbeadh na sonraí agus an t-am acu.

The 99 citizens of the assembly have given a significant amount of personal time to considering the diverse and demanding topics put before it. The assembly's sessions are streamed live. Anyone who has listened in will realise the complexities involved and how thoroughly each topic to date has been considered. Gabhaim buíochas le baill an tionóil agus leis an gcathaoirleach fá choinne an sár-obair atá déanta acu agus an díograis a chur siad isteach. Tá an tionól neamhspleach den Rialtas.

The assembly operates independently of the Government and decides on all matters relating to its operation, including its rules of procedure, arrangements relating to its membership, the timing of its meetings and, subject to the resolution passed by the Houses, the prioritisation of its work programme. Recognising the importance of the eighth amendment of the Constitution, the assembly devoted five weekends to consideration of this topic and submitted its report to the Oireachtas, which referred it to a committee of both Houses, as detailed in the resolution. Two weekends were accorded to consideration of how best we respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population and the report and recommendations have been submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas. The assembly considered over the course of two weekends how the State could make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change and a further weekend was devoted to considering the manner in which referenda were held.

The work of the assembly to date has helped to inform and shape our political decisions. With one more topic to consider, the assembly is nearing completion of the work that we in the Oireachtas asked it to do. The assembly proposes that the final weekend meeting to consider fixed-term parliaments will take place before the end of April, subject to this short extension being approved by both Houses. Tá sé tábhachtach, fá choinne an tionóil, go mbeadh mí breise aige chun a chuid oibre a chur i bhfeidhm. Gabhaim buíochas fá choinne labhairt sa díospóireacht.

I commend the motion to the House.

I support this motion on behalf of my party and commend the Citizens' Assembly on its fantastic work. It has been a good exercise in citizen democracy and seen the engagement of a diverse range of citizens from across the country. They should be commended on taking time out of their lives and work. They travel from all over the country to meet and discuss important issues. I understand that they still have some time left to deal with the issue of fixed-term parliaments.

With Storm Emma, we in this House had no problem closing up shop on the Wednesday and not sitting on the Thursday. We facilitated ourselves and the House's staff by rescheduling the work of that half day and Thursday for the week we returned. As such, why would we not facilitate the Citizens' Assembly doing the same? If we are happy to reschedule our own work due to an adverse and extreme weather event, why would we not extend the same courtesy to the members of the Citizens' Assembly and its staff, who have been asked to do a job of work and, through no fault of their own, were not in a position to complete that work due to this unforeseen event, which put people's lives at risk? Thankfully, we came through it as a nation. The request to extend the time for a brief period so as to allow the assembly to finish the work that it started - the work that it has been requested to do - is only reasonable and fair.

The assembly's work to date has shown it to be a worthwhile endeavour. It has produced some opinions for discussion across the board. It has certainly raised eyebrows, engaged in debate in its meeting room and generated debate further afield. In that vein, I wholeheartedly support the time extension motion. We in this House had no problem rescheduling our own work to deal with Storm Emma. How then could we not extend the time for the Citizens' Assembly to do the same?

I ask that the Government give no more time to these people. They were elected by no one and several counties were not included in the assembly. I appeal to the Government not to allow the assembly to go any further. It has done too much harm. Please, do not let it do anymore. I am not supporting an extension of time. Blow the assembly out of it.

I am happy to be able to speak this evening. I understand the point about Storm Emma and ensuring health and safety in the House. I am on the Business Committee and I supported the closure. However, I have a major issue with the Citizens' Assembly. This House is the citizens' assembly. Is é seo an top line, mar a deirtear, an Dáil agus an Seanad, and the people elect us.

The Citizens' Assembly was a contrived setup from day one in order for the Government to slip around an issue that it could not deal with upfront. Set up the Citizens' Assembly and call in 99 people. The Government has been found out. There is a housing crisis. If someone builds a house on bad foundations, it will crack and fall. Eleven counties were left out of it, including mine, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's and many other rural counties. How could that be fair? Surely the basic prerequisite for RED C was to have one person - not even two people - from each county, yet it did not do that. The first day the assembly met, a person who was invited had to resign from it because of his political connections and canvassing on many issues, including repeal of the eighth amendment.

Why were so many substitutes needed? I am not saying anything about the people who joined the assembly. They were hand-picked. I am talking about the system. RED C was then caught with its pants down around its knees because it had failed in its duty to have a proper selection process. Thousands of people contacted me and the Minister of State seeking an independent inquiry. Instead, RED C is inquiring into itself and the mistakes it made. By its own admission, 99 people would never be representative of the voting populace. It was never going to happen, so that was a farce from day one.

The assembly is considering other issues, but it was mainly set up for one reason, that being, the first one that it dealt with so zealously and with so much haste. It then passed that issue on to a contrived Oireachtas committee, but we are dealing with the assembly now. I have a reply to a parliamentary question on my person that states that it cost €1.8 million to service the assembly up to the end of 2017. How much more will it cost and why do we bother having elections to elect people? Like Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and others, I have the privilege for the moment to have been elected by the people of my county, but not to be ignored by a cabal that was wrongly formed in order to arrive at a contrived answer. When I met Deputy Enda Kenny the night before he was elected Taoiseach, he told me not to worry about the eighth amendment. I discussed it with him. I told him that I could not support his Government. He said we would have a citizens' assembly, then an Oireachtas committee and a free vote and everything would be hunky-dory, but the people can see what is going on.

This extension of time is just another part of that. This is the second time.

The prerequisite was honesty and that the integrity of the process should be upheld. RED C got found out on the question of the substitutes. I have asked why we needed so many substitutes. Why did people desert it after a certain time? Was it because they dealt with the issue they wanted to deal with which was the eighth amendment? One gets what one wishes for in this game. When there is a contrived and poor foundation and poor set-up, this is what we end up with - a kind of a mess, which is what it is. I have no gripe with any of the people on it - I do not know who or what they are - but I have a gripe with the way it was established and with the way they were contacted and the way they presented so zealously and enthusiastically. We needed so many substitutes. I want to find out. The Minister might tell me how many substitutes were required and why RED C could not even get that many - picking the 12 substitutes or whatever. Why could they not get them right and have a fair, honest, transparent, decent and workmanlike arrangement to get the people required? There are plenty of people out there who I am sure would be willing if they were asked.

It is like the so-called Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, which could not get a pro-life doctor yet one of them addressed 100,000 people last Saturday week in Dublin and she said she was not asked. Neither were countless others. It was contrived and it was a cabal as I call it.

It is not democratic. This is a democratically elected House. Na hAirí Stáit might want to be laughing and joking away. They should laugh away if they want to and be disrespectful. The people are waiting.

We are not laughing at Deputy McGrath.

I am talking to the Ministers of State so I would appreciate if they would be ag éisteacht. They should listen to what I am going to say.

Bím ag éisteacht i gconaí.

They might not like what I am saying but it is a fact. It fell down around their ears. The Government was caught napping and the people are out there waiting for it to deal with it when it comes back to the people. This is the Oireachtas and people are elected to it to deal with these issues. The legislation will decide whether we take away the last vestiges of humanity and respect that unborn people have through the eighth amendment. People will have a say in that. The Government cannot cod the people.

I support the proposal to extend the time to give the Citizens' Assembly what it has asked for. It would be disrespectful to do anything other than that given its members have given up their time and there has been a great deal of preparation for the final piece of work they have to do. I also thank them for the work they have done and for giving their time freely and listening to all sides on the particular aspects they were asked to deal with.

I was a member of the constitutional convention. It is onerous to spend a weekend every month dealing with issues and listening intently to all sides. The only criticism I have of that process is that the reports were not followed through on. It was a worthwhile exercise in advance of the all-party Oireachtas committee.

There is nothing contrived about an all-party Oireachtas committee. It represents the shades of opinion in the House. I resent the label that has been put on it that it is in some way contrived. It is no such thing. It is made up of elected Members of the House who were nominated by their various groups. That is exactly what it was. Had the Citizen's Assembly delivered a result that Deputy McGrath liked, he would have had no problem with it.

I am talking about the process.

He does not like the result of its deliberations. That is the reason he wants to criticise it. It is the reason he wants to criticise the all-party Oireachtas committee-----

-----which put a great deal of time and effort into that work. That is why he wants to criticise the Dáil for the process we are undergoing. Let us be respectful to Ms Justice Laffoy. Let us be respectful to people who have given their time and effort and let us thank them for that work and stop this criticism of a process that is not complete and which requires time to become complete.

Question put and declared carried.