An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The House has agreed that for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency only, the rapporteur's report of the Order of Business shall not be read, but taken as read. There are three proposals to be put to the House today. First, is the proposal for dealing with the order of Tuesday's business agreed to?

I will take one speaker from each group.

As the Taoiseach has said, parliamentary democracy is precious and very important. Yesterday, the Government circulated a proposal that each party and group in the Opposition would have ten minutes to question the Tánaiste about matters of profound importance. As was seen on Leaders' Questions, there was a range of questions that the Taoiseach could not answer, but which he says the Tánaiste will answer later. However, he has only allocated ten minutes. I ask the Taoiseach again to make more time available. Yesterday, an email was sent to the Chief Whip with a proposal from Sinn Féin for extra time to be allocated to all Opposition parties and groups for what is an important matter in the interests of the people. I understand all the Opposition groups have supported that proposal, so I await the Taoiseach's response to it. I expect him to allocate more time for this important debate later.

Other Members are indicating that they wish to speak, but there might be a reply that could pre-empt wasting more time.

I appreciate the feedback from the Opposition parties and groups regarding more speaking time. We have listened to that and, in the interests of consensus and compromise, I propose an amendment to Tuesday's business in regard to the statements and questions and answers by the Tánaiste on the GP contract that: "The proceedings shall be brought to a conclusion after 120 minutes and shall consist of a statement by the Tánaiste which shall not exceed 20 minutes, followed by 16 minutes questions and answers for Sinn Féin and 14 minutes questions and answers for all the other party groups in opposition." I hope this can be agreed by the House.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am taking just one speaker from each group and Deputy McGrath has indicated as the speaker from that group.

I have a point I wish to make.

The Deputy should wait a moment. Is the proposal agreed?

It is not agreed.

Deputy McGrath is not agreeing to the proposal.

We are not agreeing to it. We are being told this in the middle of the Order of Business and the amount of time being provided is not adequate to have proper, meaningful questions and answers. The public needs this and we need this, because it could be far-reaching in its effects on other contracts and other important issues of State. The national children's hospital comes to mind, as does the broadband contract and God knows whatever else. The former Minister, Mr. Ross, tells us how the then Minister, Deputy Naughten, was undermined in the Cabinet with leaks.

No, we are not going into that now.

Fourteen minutes is not enough time, so I oppose the proposal.

The Deputy is not agreed to it. There is no need for a debate. There has been a proposal and it is not agreed to.

On a point of order, the Opposition groups are now being offered 14 minutes when they sought 15 minutes yesterday. In a two-hour debate they are arguing over one minute. Deputy McGrath just said 14 minutes is not enough. His group's submission yesterday sought 15 minutes. People are watching the proceedings at home. The Government is trying its best to compromise here.

The Government is trying to hide, not us.

They are arguing over one minute.

The Government is trying to cover up, not us.

The time Deputy McGrath has spent on his feet arguing was about one minute.

That is not a point of order.

That is how cynical the Opposition is.

That is not a point of order.

When the Opposition wrote to the Government-----

It does not matter what we write. The Government will not give us any more time. It bullies everyone.

Could we have a little co-operation, please? I thank Members. There is a proposal.

For the record, what was requested by email yesterday was an additional round. What was proposed by the Government was ten minutes. An additional round was proposed and, in fairness, I think that should be agreed to. We are talking about ten minutes of a difference in terms of yesterday's proposal. It should be agreed.

What the Government-----

No. Deputy Griffin, please resume your seat.

He does not respect the Chair.

Deputy Griffin, please resume your seat. This is not helpful.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle seems to-----

I am sorry, but I asked Members to co-operate. It is not helpful to behave in this way. It is a misuse of time. Does the Taoiseach want to come in?

I am sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but I had indicated.

That is okay. I have explained to Deputy Healy-Rae that I am taking one person from each group.

I had indicated. When you asked on the Order of Business if there was any objection, I said that I had. It is very-----

I thank Deputy Healy-Rae.

I believe I am entitled to speak. I indicated on the Order of Business. When you asked if there were any objections, I said I had something to say. If you will allow me to do so, I will make my point.

I thank the Deputy.

Can I make my point?

No, not at the moment. I thank the Deputy but I have called the Taoiseach to speak. Perhaps it might be helpful if he wants to come in at this point.

We are endeavouring to be helpful. The Chief Whip's proposal is a genuine attempt, which I thought, to be fair, Sinn Féin was accepting until Deputy McGrath spoke. His contribution seems to have been a catalyst for Sinn Féin to harden its position. Two hours is a lengthy enough process. I think that is fair. The Chief Whip made the proposal in good faith and I hope the response to it will be in the same vein.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, you have allowed-----

No, I am only allowed to hear from one speaker from each group.

But you have taken two-----

That is okay. I have asked Deputies for their co-operation. Is Deputy Berry speaking for the Regional Group?

Yes, as an Independent Deputy, I think the Government's concession of 16 minutes for Sinn Féin and 14 minutes for the other groupings is reasonable.

That is a reasonable concession and compromise. We should run with that.

Does any other group wish to speak on this?

I just want to reiterate-----

The Deputy is not reiterating at this point.

We are being flexible.

There may be a solution. I am trying to be helpful.

In terms of what is being proposed by the Government, why do we not split it in half?

The Government is saying 16 minutes. What about splitting it two rounds of eight minutes for ourselves and two rounds of seven minutes for the other groups?

That is the longest ever round.

It is the same.

The Government proposed 16 minutes for Sinn Féin and 14 minutes for the other groups. I am proposing two rounds and splitting them in half. It is exactly the same thing in two rounds.

Why does Deputy Mac Lochlainn need two rounds?

That was what was proposed. Deputy Griffin has asked a question and I will respond to him. The Business Committee-----

Will the Deputy resume his seat?

The Members opposite have asked for clarification.

Will the Deputy resume his seat? He has made his point. We are not using the Dáil to negotiate times. This is a proposal which is either agreed or not.

It is not agreed but I am still going to be denied my opportunity to make my point. I believe it is very tidy and I would have made it long ago if I had been permitted.

I called for a speaker from each group. Deputy Mattie McGrath indicated. I listened to him.

And his point was very valid.

I am putting the question.

I had indicated before anybody else, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I want to know why you are victimising me now. Why do you think you are going to deny me my right to speak in this House?

Could the Deputy listen and resume his seat?

I indicated in a very fair fashion, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. All I wanted was an opportunity to speak. Are you denying me my right to speak?

Will the Deputy allow me to reply and will he resume his seat? It is a speaker from each group.

Except the Government.

Deputy Mattie McGrath indicated as the speaker from the Deputy's group and I allowed him in. At this point I am putting the question because there is no agreement.

My group has not spoken.

I asked and no Member from the Deputy's group indicated.

I am trying to be helpful.

I did ask and no Member from the Deputy's group indicated. If the Deputy wants to make a quick contribution, he can do so now.

To save time and, hopefully, for us not to be forced into a vote which would actually be a waste of time at this point, if it is only a minute in the difference, why will the Government not just agree to the original proposal, which was ten and five minutes?

With due respect to Deputy Mac Lochlainn, I do not agree with the splitting of seven and eight because it will just mess things up from our point of view and from some of the smaller groups' point of view. For the sake of a minute, will the Government just do the ten and the five which was originally proposed. The time difference is so small and we would be wasting it with a vote.

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 18; Staon, 0.

  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • Murphy, Verona.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Smith, Brendan.

Níl

  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Browne, Martin.
  • Clarke, Sorca.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Whitmore, Jennifer.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Mattie McGrath and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Question declared carried.

Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to?

It is not agreed. The Solidarity-People Before Profit group wrote to the Business Committee to state our view that time should have been made available this week to discuss the significant concerns regarding health and safety in schools, particularly in the context of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland ballot. It expressed concerns about the failure to apply the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control close contact protocols when it comes to positive Covid cases and raised other issues pertaining in particular to the health and safety of 800 teachers with underlying conditions. The Taoiseach may have seen the principal and deputy principal of a school in Luttrellstown who featured on a news programme last night. They pointed out that they did not understand the way in which the Covid-19 contact tracing and testing regime in schools was operating. These are serious matters to do with the public health effort and the health and safety of teachers, pupils, their families and the wider community which need to be discussed in detail and debated in the House.

A very important issue of great concern has been arising in this House in recent weeks. For instance, yesterday evening it was announced that the House will sit an hour and a half later than planned tonight. This is a continuing trend. I am speaking on behalf of people who work in this House and have voiced concerns. These hard-working staff will be in Leinster House until 12.30 a.m., 1.30 a.m. or 2 a.m., locking up the premises when the House has finished sitting tonight. It makes no sense in the world that the Dáil could not start until 2 p.m. today but will keep going until 12.30 a.m. It does not make common sense. Why can Dáil Éireann not function like any normal place of work where people start at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. and finish at a normal time in the evening? I do not care if Deputies have to stay here until 12 midnight, 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. That is my business. I am speaking on behalf of the permanent Oireachtas staff who will be here when the Taoiseach and I will be long gone from the House. It is their job. I think it is wrong because it is unnecessary. Why can the House not start its business at a normal time of the day?

Are any other groups indicating on the proposal for dealing with tomorrow's business? That is the topic we are discussing.

I point out to Deputy Boyd Barrett that the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, and her Department have been in constant engagement with the partners in education, including the trade unions, regarding the continued opening of schools to ensure that children do not fall as long-term victims of this virus and that we protect them in every way possible. The best way to do that is to have an enhanced learning environment. Obviously, schools must be safe for all those working in them. Public health teams, working with education bodies and the Government, have been established to try to enhance that protection and engagement in order that there is a proper mutual understanding of the criteria the public health teams will be setting down in that regard.

On the issue raised by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, I fully understand and empathise with him regarding the impact on staff of the late sitting hours into the early hours of the morning.

I believe a good ten hours are scheduled today, about an hour of which is strictly Government time. If Deputies keep looking for a debate on this and a debate on that, the logical outcome will be sitting until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.

I was asking about Wednesday. Wednesday is what we are talking about.

I do not mean that in any disparaging way; it is just where we are. The Business Committee could usefully look at that. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae has made a reasonable argument in asking if we can get more reasonable timelines into this. I take his point in that regard.

I asked specifically about Wednesday and a debate which is of considerable public health importance.

The question is that the business on-----

The Taoiseach did not answer me.

The Deputy has put something regarding the Order of Business for tomorrow. The Taoiseach has answered it and that is the answer.

He did not give an answer.

I will now put the question-----

The Government is not allowing a debate on that at any point, is it?

-----regarding the Order of Business.

We are sticking with the existing order as agreed.

Question: "That the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business be agreed to" put and declared carried.

Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to?

It is not agreed. Same point.

I thank the Deputy for his brevity.

Again, there is a lengthy session, but at the end of the session we will have an hour and a half to debate a Private Members' Bill, the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill. Generally, with Bills like that, people can raise issues that broadly apply to education.

That has nothing to do with it.

The Finance Bill will be taken on Thursday. We have Leaders' Questions, Questions to the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Questions on Promised Legislation, the Finance Bill and the Topical Issue debate, which Deputies feel is very important. Then we will have the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill. It is due to finish at about 7.30 p.m., which will probably be 8 o'clock on Thursday.

Question: "That the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business be agreed to" put and declared carried.

We come to Questions on Promised Legislation. Seven speakers have indicated after the leaders. I again ask for Deputy's co-operation.

I call Deputy McDonald, who has one minute.

Earlier the Taoiseach issued a heartfelt apology to Patricia Carrick and her family. I want to raise the issue of the tribunal on CervicalCheck. I understand that today the 221+ group has written to the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, a detailed letter setting out again the asks of this group, which I think are entirely reasonable, for a tribunal process that is non-adversarial, for the State to settle rather than contest claims where matters are clear-cut and for the labs to be pursued separately by the State rather than using the survivors to do that work for it. We also need to ensure that no survivor is statute barred from making a claim due to the delays in setting up the tribunal.

It will be very difficult to respond in one minute. The CervicalCheck Tribunal Bill was passed by this House in July 2019. It was welcomed by all parties in the House. The specifics of the Bill were to help all the women who have been impacted by CervicalCheck to have their claims heard and determined in the most timely and sensitive way possible. It is a far better alternative than the courts in the collective view of the House. There have been meetings with the 221+ group and its issues are being considered in great detail by the Minister for Health and his Department. Many issues have been raised over the workings of the tribunal. The Minister remains committed to addressing those concerns. It was due to start earlier this year but was delayed due to the Covid pandemic. The Minister was contacted during the summer urging him to proceed. To be fair to him, he moved very quickly to try to get things developed. There will be continuing engagement to get this right.

On 20 September 1997, the Taoiseach attended the wedding of Deirdre Langford and John Wall. The Taoiseach knows John Wall. He knows that the report on the provision of a medical card for those who are terminally ill will be brought to a meeting tomorrow. That report will not recommend such a card. The Taoiseach is on record as supporting this on 4 February. The Minister, Deputy Harris, did so on 12 December last year and the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, God knows how many times. This is a policy decision and not about the clinical group. Will the Taoiseach in the next 24 hours sit down with the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, to ensure that when they meet John Wall tomorrow via Zoom the medical card will be made available to all those who are terminally ill? I believe everybody in the House and the country supports this. The Taoiseach should not let this report see the light of day.

I am aware of the situation. Historically, as the Deputy knows, people with terminal illnesses received medical cards.

That is why this is so ridiculous.

There was a change to that in more recent years.

A couple of hundred thousand euro-----

Then there was what I thought was a reversion back to the practice as we understood it in the past. I will certainly deal with this and will be talking to the Minister for Health on the issue.

The collaborative forum of survivors from the mother and baby homes was established by the then Minister, Katherine Zappone, in July 2018, primarily to act as a consultation and engagement group for the mother and baby home issue. Recent weeks have been very difficult for the group. It was not consulted at all during the preparation of the mother and baby home legislation. It has written to all Members of the Dáil today to express its frustration and anger at that. Survivors have said that they feel that trust has completely broken down with officials. They say that someone in the office of the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, pointed them to Twitter to find out what was happening with that legislation. I certainly feel that is unacceptable. Does the Taoiseach accept there were major failings when it came to consultation on that legislation with the survivor groups? They have also asked for the forum to be reconvened. Will the Taoiseach ensure that forum is reconvened as soon as possible?

I had a number of consultations with different groups last week on the overall issues. The Government has issued a very comprehensive statement on its approach to the mother and baby homes issue more generally. The Minister has received the report from the commission of inquiry. There is the idea of creating more than just an archival repository centre, but a centre that would tell the story of what happened, revealing dark chapters of our past in terms of not just mother and baby homes but the wider issues.

Despite what some are saying, it is very clear that the records would have been destroyed if the legislation that was passed two weeks ago had not been passed and vital records would have been made redundant, which would have been in nobody's interest. Therefore, it was important that the legislation was passed. That said, I accept consultation should happen. I will talk to the Minister about the consultation forum. The idea of consulting with as many groups as possible is one I will work with.

The questions are awfully important for everyone. If I keep allowing people to run over time, other people will not get in.

Last week the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, sent a flood of letters to dozens of immigrants in this country who are being refused leave to remain. It is outrageous to threaten them with deportation in the middle of a pandemic. I am particularly concerned that a number of them are care workers. Today I spoke to one who worked right through the pandemic, looking after elderly people in a care home in Kildare.

Her boss spoke of how she gowned up, was at the front line, entered rooms in which people were Covid-positive and barried up with nursing like the rest of them. We are threatening to deport this woman, other care workers and a slew of other immigrants in the middle of a pandemic. How outrageous is that? The Minister has powers under the Immigration Act to revoke those deportation orders. I am asking that the Taoiseach instruct her to do so, that we do not deport anyone during the pandemic and in particular that we do not throw out people who have worked hard to save our lives and protect us.

I do not have the specific details of the particular cases. If the Deputy sends them to me and to my office, we will see what we can do to engage with the Minister on that.

The Minister has the specifics. I thank the Taoiseach.

The regulations for level 5 are full of inconsistencies. Two weeks ago the coursing industry received a hammer blow which stopped coursing even though clubs were in the middle of it. Today I raise a diktat issued last Thursday evening in relation to the pheasant shooting season, which was due to open on 1 November. People are not allowed go out with their guns and dogs, out into the wilds. Many clubs, such as my own club, the Ardfinnan, Ballybacon, Grange and Newcastle Gun Club, and huntsmen do huge work for preservation. They are only interested in going out for a day's exercise with their guns and dogs, but they are not allowed. What Department or Minister issued this diktat that they cannot go out to do their game shooting on 1 November, like every other year?

Two other Deputies are indicating. I will ask them to comment briefly, if they could.

This is a nonsensical decision. How could anyone say that there is anything prejudicial to anyone's health or safety by going out shooting? Perhaps that might be true if a person goes out with somebody else but in most cases, one person goes out with a dog, predominantly shooting land that person has been shooting on for many years. The date of 1 November is a very special day for those people. They do it in a responsible way.

On behalf of those clubs, I ask the Taoiseach to please exercise common sense. He has failed the farmers, the publicans and many people at this stage. If he is trying to alienate himself from everyone in Ireland, he should keep going the way he is going.

I call Deputy Danny Healy-Rae.

I am asking the Taoiseach to please listen to common sense on this subject.

Many people live for different reasons and look forward to different things. Gun clubs and individuals who operate game shooting live for the three winter months of November, December and January for hunting and game shooting pheasants, woodcock and so on. It makes no sense to stop a man and his dog going up a lonely slieve, bog or wide open territory. If the Taoiseach is to continue with these rules and regulations, he will lose the people. It is fine when it makes sense to the people-----

Thank you, Deputy.

-----but when it is not making common sense, he will have to stop because he is losing the people.

In light of the issues around the return to sport and the lack of clarity for many sporting organisations and gyms, will the Taoiseach consider additional members on the expert group on the return to sport to include non-contact sports such as athletics, golf and badminton?

The entire issue is around moving to level 5. That means reducing congregation and travelling outside 5 km for anything.

They are staying within 5 km.

How does the Deputy know they are staying within 5 km?

How does the Taoiseach know that?

You made your point. You made a very pertinent comment.

Through the Chair.

Through the Chair, Deputy Michael Healy-Rae made a very pertinent comment. He said that if I am to go on making myself unpopular with all these groups, I should continue. This is not a perpetual popularity contest that I am engaged in.

He would not win it anyway.

Covid is not popular and Covid-19 restrictions are not popular but Deputy Healy-Rae has been against every restriction from the get go.

You have and you are not playing your fair share on this. You stand up here every week objecting to this, that and the other.

NPHET advised that we go to level 5.

Withdraw that. The Taoiseach said this a couple of weeks ago.

I understand the challenges that people face-----

You cannot say that, it is a lie.

I thank the Taoiseach. I am moving on.

-----in relation to level 5.

If the Taoiseach says something and it is a lie, he should take it back. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, is the Taoiseach allowed to say something that is a lie?

I want to move on.

We are advised by NPHET on level 5. The restrictions apply to a range of sectors and groups. It is difficult for people but if one concedes one thing, then one concedes two, three, four, five or six things and then there is no level 5 and we do not reduce the case numbers down to where we would like. It is not something we want to do-----

(Interruptions).

-----but the numbers are down. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae knows everything about climate change and public health and has an abiding antipathy towards experts or people who offer advice. It is unfair. The Deputy is just playing the game all the time.

The people know and the Taoiseach knows-----

He is playing a popularity contest all the time. On Deputy Andrews' question, Sport Ireland is the body that advises on this------

I want to know when the Taoiseach is going to withdraw the untruth that he put on the record of the Dáil. The Taoiseach said that I was totally opposed to every restriction under level 5. Will he withdraw it? It is untrue. It is a lie. Is he going to withdraw it, "yes" or "no"?

Through the Chair----

Are you going to withdraw the remark?

In the parliamentary Chamber, I am entitled to make comments. I make them in the best of good faith. The Deputy has opposed everything as far as I can see.

Are you standing over a lie?

The Deputy has opposed every single thing.

No. One cannot do that to somebody, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Stop shouting, please.

Could the Taoiseach please-----

I am asking that the Taoiseach withdraw what he said from the record of the Dáil.

He cannot come in here-----

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae-----

-----and say something like that and he thinks he will get away with it.

Taoiseach, please. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is standing. It is rare but it is my second time doing so today. The time for Questions on Promised Legislation is over. That is it. We are moving on to the next item.

No, I clearly object to the Taoiseach telling a lie about me. He clearly said that I opposed everything contained in the level 5 restrictions and that is not true.

Could the Deputy-----

I ask him if he is going to withdraw it.

Will the Deputy please resume his seat?

I am asking the Taoiseach if he is seriously going to leave it on the record of the Dáil that I told lies and that he is telling a lie about me.

Could the Deputy please resume his seat and show a little respect for the Leas-Cheann Comhairle?

No. Hold on now, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, this is totally unfair. The Taoiseach cannot do that to somebody. I am asking him to withdraw it.

I am asking the Deputy for the last time to please sit down and show a little respect.

I am asking the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is she going to step in and ask the Taoiseach if he will withdraw his remarks.

I am asking the Deputy to sit down and show a little-----

He cannot come in here and make a blanket statement like that. I will not let him get away with it. It is not true.

Deputy Healy-Rae------

One cannot tell a lie about somebody in here and leave it on the record. The Taoiseach is here long enough to know that.

Will Deputy Healy-Rae please resume his seat?

I am trying to defend myself. That is all I am trying to do, and there is no need for the Deputy to be so smart either.

Okay. Members must speak through the chair. I am asking for the last time. I will suspend the Dáil.

Please. Out of respect for the seat of democracy, I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

It is extremely unfair of the Taoiseach to do that.

I am going to suspend the Dáil. That is it.

Sitting suspended at 3.48 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.

We will move on to the next item of business.

Before we do so, I wish to raise a point of order. I ask the Taoiseach to withdraw the wrong and untruthful allegation he made about me on the record of the House. It is extremely unfair. I want to afford him, out of courtesy, as a man of extensive ministerial experience and now the Taoiseach of this country, the chance to do so. I am appealing to him to withdraw what he said. When there was a massive lockdown imposed many months ago, I came out publicly and in every other way in support of the then Government.

The Deputy has made his point.

All I am saying is that what the Taoiseach said was unfair. As a basic courtesy from one human being to another, I ask him to withdraw his comment. I am being very fair in asking him to do so and I am being very straight about it. I am asking him, as Taoiseach, and, more important, as a person, to take back what he said about me, which was unfair, untruthful and not correct.

I will allow the Taoiseach to respond to the Deputy if he wants to, but I am not allowing any further debate on this matter. What has happened here is unacceptable. I have suspended the Dáil and now we are going to resume our business. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae has made his point and I hear what he is saying. If the Taoiseach wants to respond briefly at this point, he is more than welcome to do so. Deputy Healy-Rae has asked a specific question, namely, that the Taoiseach would withdraw his comment.

I do not think that is the basis on which I should respond.

I would like to make a final point, if I may. We all enjoy, and engage in, the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate. There was nothing untoward or unparliamentary in what I said. I made a debating point and it was an important point from a policy perspective.

We are not going to repeat what was said.

People say things about me and I accept them in the full spirit in which they are given in parliamentary exchange and debate. What I said was not a slur, smear or aspersion on anybody's character. My comment was about policy. I was speaking to the policy of this issue.

Thank you, a Thaoisigh.

I do not think the Deputy's overly melodramatic response is sincere.

We are not going to repeat what was said. The matter stands as it stands. If Deputy Michael Healy-Rae is unhappy with it, there are procedures by way of which he can take his complaint further.

I will have to take it up with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I asked the Taoiseach, as a human being, to make it clear on the record of the Dáil that what he said was wrong.

If he will not do that, then he is not much of a man after it. It is as simple as that. He had an opportunity to withdraw what he said but he would not man up and set the record straight.

Deputy, we must move on.

It is a bad reflection on the Taoiseach. It is a very bad reflection on his character that he would not take back an untruth about another person. That is very wrong and very unfair. The only person who will look bad out of this is the Taoiseach because what he did was wrong.

I have been more than lenient in allowing the Deputy to make his point. That is where the matter stands.