Standing Orders 21 and 22: Motion

No. 3c is a motion regarding the quorum. The proposal is to reduce the quorum for these special sittings from 20 to ten. I call the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, to move the motion.

I move:

That, with effect from 5th May, 2020, where Standing Orders 21 and 22 require a quorum of 20, that quorum shall at all times be reduced to ten, until further notice in the 33rd Dáil.

On a point of order-----

The Ceann Comhairle and I have corresponded about this matter.

I am sure we will have more correspondence.

Without a doubt.

We are not going to have to a debate about it now.

No, but in the interests of the many Members who have not found their position such that they have been allocated speaking time since the emergency-----

Take that up with your party.

It is not just for my party. I speak on behalf of the 140-odd Members who are not currently here. I think that those arrangements are a matter that needs to be discussed, for every Member to have an opportunity to speak on them. I respectfully suggest that on the basis that all of us have individual offices here, and with the benefit, as with this debate, of allocated speaking times that are specific to Members, there is no reason, with the imagination and will, that we cannot provide each of the 160 Members equal speaking time on such an important matter as, arguably, altering the intention of the Constitution itself.

The Deputy is right that we have had correspondence and I look forward to us having more correspondence.

I am glad to have some of it on the record.

Let me make it very clear that the decisions about reduced attendances here have been agreed by all of the parties. When the proposal was brought to the House, nobody objected to it. It has the support of all the party leaders. I understand that some individual Members are very frustrated at not getting the opportunity to come here regularly. I put it to the Deputy that they should take that up with their party leaders or whoever selects the people who come here. I am well aware that many people share Deputy MacSharry's view that we could in some way reorder and restructure our business here, and we could all come in a reordered fashion and transact our business with 160 Members. Just as the State is taking the advice of the medical experts, we are having regard to the medical experts and to the health and safety experts who have been requested to come in here to look at how the House is operating. I made arrangements this morning for a copy of the report of the health and safety experts to be circulated so that Members can understand the reasons we are operating as we are. We are operating in this way by agreement.

Just to conclude-----

No, we are not having any further-----

Just to conclude-----

We are having no further debate on it. Please resume your seat.

It is only a point of order.

I will hear the Deputy's point of order.

It is a point of order because we are seeking to change the Order of Business for the future of the House.

The Order of Business is already agreed.

I ask the Ceann Comhairle to allow a bit of latitude. I sympathise with the situation and have no doubt that individual Members and expert groups are doing their absolute best. Surely it is in the interests of democracy and the upholding of the Constitution itself that all 160 Members might have an opportunity to examine, rather than just accept and comment upon, such experts' advice so that the House as a whole and those who are represented in pre-election party groupings or those who formed post-election technical groups can best----

Bring forward a proposal, Deputy.

I do not want to delay the House.

Bring forward a proposal, Deputy.

I do not want to delay the House. I would most respectfully ask that the Ceann Comhairle might consider my points in the same spirit in which they are being given, which is in the interests of democracy and the functioning of this House. I would never want to undermine whatever is in the best interests of health and safety for Members and staff.

I think, however, we have a growing and legitimate point of view, outside of this bubble and indeed from many inside this bubble, those of us lucky enough to be able to crawl inside and say a few words in recent weeks, that the current arrangements, regardless of what expert advice might underpin the decision taken by the few on behalf of the many, are somewhat flawed and require the participation and the debate-----

No, what is implicit in what the Deputy is saying is that somebody is enforcing a decision on a House. Any decisions arrived at here, in this instance, are arrived at by consensus and otherwise by agreement. Deputies McGuinness and Niall Collins want to come in on the same matter. I call Deputy Niall Collins.

I will be brief as I know the Ceann Comhairle does not want to have a debate on this issue. Regarding our business, we are long past the point by which Deputies should be allowed to avail of the option to submit written parliamentary questions. It is an integral part of our work. I respect the restrictions and constraints that the Ceann Comhairle, the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas and all of us have to adhere to and that are necessary to try to run the Parliament and our democracy. It is, however, a huge issue for me, and I am sure for plenty of other Deputies, and we are long past this point. We are being shut out from tabling written parliamentary questions and that issue needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

A decision was made yesterday to begin the process of reintroducing conventional parliamentary questions and a finalised report on that will be available next week. I call Deputy McGuinness.

I will be brief. I agree with my colleagues, Deputies MacSharry and Niall Collins. A significant number of us are not being given the opportunity to contribute inside the new rules and regulations of the House to any of the debates. I have sat here for hours in every sitting and have had no opportunity to ask the questions I wished to ask. I believe the people I represent in Carlow-Kilkenny are being deprived of an input into the democratic process. I wrote to the Ceann Comhairle regarding the formation of a Government and I believe we should be having a debate here. I cannot see any reason why the three main parties, if they put the country first, cannot have a Government to take us through this crisis. I am serious. Members have a right to have an input and, with respect, I look to the Ceann Comhairle to protect the rights of Members. Members' rights are being largely trampled upon, not by the Ceann Comhairle or anybody else, and we are not having the opportunity I referred to previously. I ask the Ceann Comhairle please to review the requests made to discuss the issues of the day and to give as much opportunity as possible to those of us who have been locked out.

Question put and agreed to.