I call Deputy Costello to announce the Order of Business for the week.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The business for today shall be as set out in the second revised Report of the Business Committee dated 12 May 2020. In relation to the business for today and tomorrow, it is proposed that, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the only business to be taken shall be the business as set out in the second revised Report of the Business Committee dated 12 May 2020, with no Questions on Promised Legislation; between each set of statements and questions and answers on each sitting day this week, the House shall suspend for a period not exceeding 20 minutes; regarding Nos. 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10, each set of statements and questions and answers shall consist of an opening statement by a Minister or Minister of State of ten minutes, followed by questions and answers not exceeding 110 minutes. Questions and answers by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin shall not exceed 15 minutes each, with all other parties and groups having ten minutes each.
In relation to Thursday's business, it is proposed that, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the Dáil shall sit at 12 noon on Thursday and shall sit later than 8.03 p.m. The Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion of the statement by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and questions and answers on Covid-19 as it relates to arts; No. 3a, motion re withdrawal of report by Seán Guerin, senior counsel, dated 6 May 2014, shall be taken without debate and any division demanded shall be taken immediately; No. 7, statements and questions and answers to the Taoiseach, shall not exceed 100 minutes, with each party or group having ten minutes; and the Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion of statement by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and questions and answers on Covid-19 as it relates to arts until 12 noon on Wednesday, 20 May 2020.
There are two matters to be decided by the House. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed?
I raised a point at the Business Committee concerning the report by Seán Guerin SC. I do not have a problem with the court judgment regarding this report. People might recall that this judgment was a vindication of the former Deputy, Alan Shatter, and parts of the report were questioned by Mr. Justice Donal O'Donnell. What is being suggested here is a brand new procedure that has never happened before. The Business Committee has not had legal advice and there does not seem to be any justification or reason why we are being asked to take this at this specific time. The proposal is to withdraw a report, that was laid before the House and to which people had no objection at the time, from the Oireachtas Library. This procedure has never happened before. It will also require the involvement of the Seanad, which does not exist in the format that would allow it to have any say on this, so I think we are being previous on this.
Second, any changes relating to privileges normally go before the Committee on Procedure, formerly the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. This did not happen in this instance and since this was first mooted, I continuously asked the Business Committee the reason for it. The only reason that was given was that the Taoiseach was anxious to have this passed. The other question was whether this had ever happened before. I am still not sure if it has but from what was mooted yesterday, I think the answer is that this has not happened before and is a brand new procedure. We should be very careful. What was indicated yesterday is that this has been in gestation since last August so why has it taken this length of time? There is a whole range of questions around this. Obviously a promise was made that the Taoiseach is trying to keep but at this juncture given the current impasse in this Chamber, this should not proceed until a new Government is formed and possibly another better way of dealing with this than withdrawing a report from the Oireachtas Library could be found as we have done before in the Committee on Procedure. We changed our Standing Orders last year to allow for notes or comments to be attached to the Dáil record. This would probably be more appropriate so that the record still stands. It is a very dangerous precedent to be doing it in this format and without any debate, which is why I have argued that we should not proceed.
I understand that the Fianna Fáil Whip has informed the Government Whip that we would like to have this motion deferred. We feel there has not been enough discussion. There are other issues in the Guerin report that are not simply related to the matters of concern in this case and we do not believe this should be dealt with as expeditiously as is proposed; that it is unnecessary to do so. It can be done when Members have had sufficient time to consider what is before them and what we are doing. That has been communicated from Fianna Fáil to the Fine Gael Whip.
Most of us were taken by surprise when we saw this on the Order Paper to be taken without debate.
Those of us who lived through the period when this report was commissioned and so on understand how fraught an era that was. It would be useful to have a more considered period before the report is withdrawn.
Perhaps the Ceann Comhairle could inform the House, from a procedural point of view, how a report that has been formally laid before the House can be unlaid. One lawyer has suggested that one can no more unlay a report than a hen can unlay an egg. The report is there, has been promulgated and is accessible. This probably merits some more considered debate than simply removing it. I support that proposal.
Our legal advice is that the motion before the House can unlay the laid report. I know that an egg cannot be put back after it has been laid.
There is the specific and the general, and on the specific I do not think most of us would have an issue. It is the consequences or the unintended consequences that could follow on from doing this that is the net point about which there is concern. Until we are satisfied with that, it will be problematic and for that reason we think this motion should be deferred.
Is Deputy Peter Burke, as the Government Whip, in a position to advise us?
This issue was discussed at the Business Committee and has been in gestation for a while. It is very important to point out to Members that no current parliamentary record exists to link the Guerin report with the O'Higgins commission or the Supreme Court decision. It is important that, as Members of the House, we do not deny natural justice to any former Member. In this instance, it is very clear that the only mechanism we have is to withdraw the report from the Oireachtas Library by means of a motion from the House.
The points have been made. From the little bit I have read, I understand a motion by both the Seanad and the Dáil is needed. There is no Seanad, so it does not make sense to put the motion before the Dáil today in a piecemeal fashion. Even if we were to pass the motion today, the report would remain in the Oireachtas Library, as I understand it. Are we going to withdraw half of the report until the Seanad sits? I would like clarification on that point.
As I understand it both Houses would need to move a motion but each House is individually responsible for its own business.
It is important that the Ceann Comhairle, as guardian of Members' interests in this House, makes clear that what is being proposed is in order, is legal and in compliance with Standing Orders.
I take exception to Deputy Catherine Murphy saying that there may be intended or unintended consequences. What we are doing today in this House is as a result of misrepresentation, innuendo and debate of some years ago which, if handled properly on that occasion, would not have given rise to the motion that is now before the House. It is unacceptable for Deputy Catherine Murphy and the Social Democrats to be making further allegations and saying that they are, in effect, unfounded.
I do not think it is helpful for us-----
I cannot let the Minister's response stand because it is a misinterpretation of what I said. The point I was making was that we have no issue with the specific case of the removal of the Guerin report. The unintended consequences could be that it would lead to a call for other reports being, or a request-----
What are the unintended consequences? Everything is a conspiracy according to the Deputy. There is a daily conspiracy.
This is about doing things right from a legal perspective so that there are no unintended consequences. That is the point I was making and it was also the point that others were making.
There is a daily conspiracy.
In response to the point that has been raised legitimately as to whether there is precedent for this, we have not been able to establish that there is such a precedent. Is there any reason we cannot do it? We have legal advice to suggest that the device being proposed is legitimate. I put the question at yesterday's meeting of the Business Committee, "Are we safe to proceed as outlined?" The answer to that, from the Oireachtas service, was "Yes, we are safe, moving forward, as proposed by the Government."
However, at the end of the day, it is a matter for this House. There is a proposal before us for taking the business on Thursday. I note that we have no amendment, so if Members vote down the arrangements for the taking of business, then we will have no business at all on Thursday.
Might we agree to have this matter deferred to another day?
There is a difficulty with that because, as the Deputy well knows, it is the business of Government to order business in Government time. The House might amend the Government arrangements, but the Government is the determiner of what is transacted in Government time so we cannot tell the Government to take this matter away. Members could move that there be a debate on the motion and that it be taken subject to debate. I am in Members' hands. The proposal is whether we are agreed on the schedule of business outlined for Thursday.
Could the Business Committee not reconvene to discuss this matter?
We still have to decide now on Thursday's business. The Business Committee has discussed this on several occasions.
Has the Business Committee agreed that this matter be taken today?
It has agreed so, with Deputy Ó Snodaigh's dissent, it is fair to say, from the very outset, but no dissent from anybody else. The Government is proposing to proceed and there is no amendment proposed. Are the arrangements for Thursday's business agreed to?
A division has been called and the Covid provisions that have been agreed by all Members are in play. Forty-five Members will vote in accordance with the informal agreement which exists in the House. Every party and group have indicated who their voting Members will be.
- Burke, Peter.
- Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- Farrell, Alan.
- Feighan, Frankie.
- Flanagan, Charles.
- Heydon, Martin.
- Higgins, Emer.
- McHugh, Joe.
- Stanton, David.
- Boyd Barrett, Richard.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Carthy, Matt.
- Clarke, Sorca.
- Collins, Niall.
- Connolly, Catherine.
- Costello, Patrick.
- Cronin, Réada.
- Crowe, Cathal.
- Devlin, Cormac.
- Foley, Norma.
- Gannon, Gary.
- Healy-Rae, Danny.
- Healy-Rae, Michael.
- Hourigan, Neasa.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Kenny, Martin.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Martin, Catherine.
- Moynihan, Aindrias.
- Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
- Murphy, Catherine.
- O'Callaghan, Jim.
- O'Rourke, Darren.
- O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
- Ó Broin, Eoin.
- Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- Tóibín, Peadar.
- Tully, Pauline.
- Wynne, Violet-Anne.
That effectively means the Members have voted down the proposals for the business to be transacted on Thursday. In order to deal with that, since I assume people want to be here on Thursday, I propose that the Business committee should meet at 4.15 p.m. to look at a schedule for Thursday. Does that meet with the Members' agreement?
That is a very poor reflection on our parliamentary process. The Business Committee needs to have a look at itself and its relationship with the parties opposite.
I thank the Minister. His advice is appreciated. We will convene at 4.15 p.m.