Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil

The Chief Whip has an announcement to make in relation to tomorrow's business.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 15a, statements and questions and answers on the judicial appointments process, shall be taken tomorrow, immediately after the sos that will follow Questions on Promised Legislation, and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements and questions and answers shall be brought to a conclusion within two hours; a Minister and a representative of each party and group in opposition may each make a statement not exceeding ten minutes, and Members may share time; following the statements, each party and group in opposition shall have five minutes for questions and answers, and a Minister may make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes.

Deputies

No.

I will take a speaker from each group and I ask for Members' co-operation in this. I will give each group a chance to speak on the proposal, beginning with Deputy Mac Lochlainn for Sinn Féin.

The Opposition has made a collective stand on this matter in recent days. Yesterday, all of the Opposition Whips, on behalf of our parties and political groups, made a stand and said that the Minister for Justice must come before the democratically elected Dáil to take questions and answers. We have said this repeatedly. We told the Government that this issue would not go away and that respect must be given to the House. Whenever there is a matter of serious public concern, we expect the Minister of the day to come into the Dáil to make a statement and take questions and answers. We told the Government it had to happen and now it is happening. However, even now, the Government could not do it with good grace. The Minister of State came into the Business Committee meeting today and gave us a fait accompli which included five minutes of questions and answers, in real terms, for every group. He knows that, at best, each speaker might get to put one or two questions. We are proud of the Opposition for taking the stand it took in defence of democracy in this State.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

The Minister of State is fooling nobody with his bad grace. The public knows that the Government was forced to do the right thing. I am proud of the collective Opposition. I wish to be clear on this point and I urge the Government to take the warning. We will stand up for democracy and we will demand accountability. It is clear to us that Fine Gael has a huge problem with accountability. It had better get used to it because this is what the Opposition will look like from now on.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

The Government has made an attempt to pitch those of us on this side of the House as only offering opposition for opposition's sake. It claimed that we go to meetings of the Business Committee and just have a big row. At the meeting today, we spent 45 or 50 minutes putting forward alternative options and trying to make further compromises. We offered something we were not 100% happy with in an effort to get the Government to move from this fait accompli, as Deputy Mac Lochlainn described it. We got nothing in return, not one iota. The Government has been trying to box us into a particular position. It had the media briefed before the Business Committee meeting even happened today. We have operated in good faith, consistently asking the same thing in the same keen way for the past two weeks and more. This is not right, it is not democracy and it is not something we will stand for.

In terms of accountability, what we are getting is five minutes per group for questions and answers. If we went into this and there was good faith shown by the Government, that would be one thing. Instead, the question it raises for me is what it is that the Government is afraid of. What has the Government got to hide?

Deputies

Hear, hear.

That it is hiding something is the only conclusion one can come to from this very contained scenario that is being offered. What is wrong with a forward and backward exchange with sufficient time - ten minutes, say - to be used for questions and answers or statements, whichever one wishes to do? That is the way we have done things in the recent past. I do not understand why there is a difference on this occasion. It only opens the matter up to further questions and further doubt.

The Government has spent well over a week trying to shield the Minister for Justice from questioning over the process of selection of Mr. Justice Séamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court. As a result of the collective insistence of the Opposition that the Minister come into the House to face questions and be accountable to the Dáil, the Government was forced to put forward a proposal. That proposal will see the Minister coming in tomorrow, but the Government has attempted to arrange it in such a way that for three quarters of the debate, she will be shielded from any questions at all. That raises very serious questions about what the Government has to hide.

At the meeting of the Business Committee today, although we insisted that all of the time available to the Opposition should be given to direct questions and answers, we were willing to compromise on that. We proposed one compromise whereby we would have some time for statements and a slightly longer time for questions. The Government would not accept that proposal. There was then a proposal from the Ceann Comhairle, which we took up, to split the time in half between statements and questions. The Government would not accept that either because it wanted absolutely to minimise the time in which the Minister would be subject to direct questioning. The public needs to ask itself why the Government is doing this if it does not have something to hide.

I am very sad to see what is happening. Speaking on behalf of the Rural Independent Group, this is very bad politics. The Ceann Comhairle, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and everybody else who takes the Chair, including myself, knows that the separation of powers is sacrosanct. We are being warned that we cannot stray into certain areas. I understand that. However, by giving ten minutes for statements and only five for questions, it is giving more latitude for people to stray into areas they should not stray into. I do not know what the Government is hiding but something certainly is being hidden. It has been forced into this climbdown.

We all objected yesterday to what was proposed and said that we would not attend the meeting of the Business Committee. When the Taoiseach announced today that the Minister was going to come into the House, we agreed to go to the meeting. However, that meeting was just a case of take it or leave it. We had a five-five vote and there was one missing.

We had an extra person from the Government today with a vote and I want to ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, if she or the Secretary General can tell me how come another Deputy was there who had never been at a Business Committee meeting before in my time. He was there when he was Whip and Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh. They had an extra vote. It was massing the troops to keep the Opposition down all the time.

This parlance looks to me like - I wish the Minister well and no disrespect - the youngest child in a big family, and the newest girl, and everybody else gathers around her to mind her and keep her safe. That is what it is. It is totally avoiding the responsibility.

I believe the former Minister, Deputy Flanagan, did the work here and the Minister was only just sent in then with the note. It was a case of "Off you go with that now". The business was done long before that Cabinet meeting on 5 July. It is an unsavoury, distasteful situation. It is shameful.

Deputy Pringle, of the Independent Group.

I was going to say, "Unfortunately, I could not make the meeting today", but maybe it was fortunate because it sounds like it was a load of bunkum anyway. It justifies me in my decision to not attend the Business Committee. I had another meeting already arranged and that is why I did not make it today.

It is clear that the Government, in its gyrations to make sure the Minister is not accountable to the Dáil, is hiding something. What it is doing is pointing even more to the fact that it is hiding something by the way it is going around it. It is nonsensical and ridiculous. It makes a mockery of the Business Committee.

I hope the media will report this properly and show what the Government is doing. If Fianna Fáil was on this side of the House, it would be pushing and leading the charge on this and because it is on the Government side now, it wants to shut it down. That is the reality of the situation.

The Government, in its proposal, has put forward the exact formula and format that was agreed by the Business Committee in 2017 when Ms Justice Máire Whelan's appointment was questioned. At that time, there was agreement from the Business Committee, from the minority Government and from many Deputies who are now trying to construct this fake anger towards the constructive compromise proposal the Government has put forward. This format was agreed and approved. Many of the parties here who are opposing this proposal agreed with this format in 2017.

The Minister has agreed to come before the Dáil and has agreed to answer any of the questions Members are putting forward, and to make any other suggestion is unfair.

In relation to the Business Committee meeting to which Deputy Mattie McGrath and others made reference, it was five votes on each side. There was quite a balanced view at the Business Committee on this. It is also important to note that each time the Government comes up with a compromise and tries to propose something, the Opposition shouts and roars. It is Sinn Féin competing against the far left. We have had many examples where we have tried to provide compromise and it has been voted down.

We have a situation right now where we are proposing questions and answers, we are proposing statements with those questions and answers and we have an Opposition opposing the very thing it sought. In the spirit of what we are trying to do with the Business Committee, it is regrettable. It goes to show that with the minority trying to shout and roar at the Business Committee every week, as well as here in the Dáil, there has to be more of a constructive approach from Opposition and it must stop trying to promote an inaccurate representation of what the Minister has agreed to do-----

That is seriously disingenuous.

-----which is to take questions and answers. That is happening tomorrow. That is the proposal that has been put forward. They can ask any questions they like and the Minister will answer them.

We will be asking questions in the first ten minutes.

That is the factual position and to say otherwise is untrue. It is the exact same format that was agreed in 2017 and is the precedence of the House in relation to the answering of questions relating to the appointment of judges.

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with No. 15a be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 88; Níl, 63; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Donnelly, Stephen.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frankie.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Foley, Norma.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Verona.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noonan, Malcolm.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Joe.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Gorman, Roderic.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Shanahan, Matt.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Smyth, Ossian.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Varadkar, Leo.

Níl

  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Browne, Martin.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Cairns, Holly.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Clarke, Sorca.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Farrell, Mairéad.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Gould, Thomas.
  • Guirke, Johnny.
  • Harkin, Marian.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Mythen, Johnny.
  • Nash, Ged.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • O'Donoghue, Richard.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Rourke, Darren.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Tully, Pauline.
  • Ward, Mark.
  • Whitmore, Jennifer.
  • Wynne, Violet-Anne.

Staon

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

I do not wish to delay proceedings. Now that there is no votable business on the Order Paper for tomorrow, would it be in order for us to move back to Leinster House and the Dáil Chamber for tomorrow's business? It is something the Labour Party would support. I hope the Government would be agreeable to that.

My difficulty is the arrangements have been made and the House is agreed that the Dáil will sit in the convention centre tomorrow.

I support that proposal that we go back to the Dáil Chamber. For example, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will recall we had the issue around the confidence vote in the Tánaiste and we were able to bilocate when it was the Government that was requesting it. It is a reasonable request and I support it.

I have allowed the point of order. I understand that arrangements have been made. The Seanad is sitting in the Dáil Chamber tomorrow, as I understand it, and we cannot undo arrangements at this late stage. I am sorry. What the Deputies are asking for seems reasonable but that is the situation.