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Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution debate -
Wednesday, 8 Nov 2017

Business of Joint Committee

We must now attend to a housekeeping matter. I return to an issue which was raised with me earlier. Letters may be read into the record in limited circumstances only, as, for example, in the case of Ms Cora Sherlock where clarification was necessary. I am reliably informed that it is a matter for the Chair, rather than individual members, to decide how correspondence is handled. I have proposed that the correspondence in question be placed on the committee's website. That is my decision and it is one on which I will not be challenged. Individual members may not demand a decision or question the decision of the Chair. This applies to the Dáil, the Seanad and all committees. If any member wishes to table a substantive motion in respect of a ruling of the Chair, he or she is free to do so, provided he or she gives adequate notice to the committee. That is the position. My sincerely held view is that if someone is scheduled to attend and subsequently decides not to do so, it is not appropriate to read statements from him or her into the record. If we were to allow this, many people would not attend meetings. I have made my final decision on the matter.

May I seek clarification?

The Chair gave us her sincerely held view that my request would not make sense. She then gave a ruling that it was a matter for the Chair to decide and said that she had been reliably informed that it was only done in certain circumstances. What is the source of her authority in this matter?

As Chair of the committee, I have decided that letters sent to the committee by persons who were due to attend will not be read into the record. I am happy to read into the record clarification. It would also be reasonable to do so if an issue arose subsequent to a person's appearance. It would not set a good precedent to allow individuals who were due to attend but did not do so to write to the committee and have their statement placed on the record. We could spend all day doing so.

I am clear on the Chair's personal view on what is the appropriate approach to take and that she believes it is her right, as Chair, to make a decision on the matter. What is the source of her authority to make this ruling now, as opposed to expressing this view as a member who happens to be Chair? I am merely seeking clarification on a couple of points.

It is not incumbent on the Chair to quote Standing Orders or precedents or give a reason for a ruling.

From what is the Chair reading?

I am reading from the handbook, Salient Rulings of the Chair, fourth edition, Dáil Éireann. I can provide the Senator with a copy. It sets out accepted precedent.

The Chair is relying on precedent and stating a written set of precedents allows the Chair to make a decision.

The Senator is questioning me. I have made a ruling on the matter.

I am seeking information. I am not questioning the merits of the Chair's decision.

It is not appropriate.

I am exercising my right to find out from exactly where the Chair sources her authority in this matter. This is in everyone's interests. Perhaps we should all know that this authority is provided for in what the Chair referred to as the salient rulings of the Chair. Can I also establish that while she stated she was relying on the salient rulings of the Chair to make this, as it were, extempore and ad hoc decision, certain letters can be read out and certain letters may not?

It is not an ad hoc decision.

It is because the Chair stated she had relied on the salient rulings of the Chair in advising members that she had formed the view that in certain cases, it could be-----

The Senator-----

I am not questioning the Chair's authority. I am seeking clarification and following the matter to a conclusion.

The Senator is trying to undermine me.

No, I am not. If the Chair regards seeking clarity on the source of her authority and seeking to understand the logical basis of her explanation as undermining her, she does not understand democracy.

Now it seems I do not understand democracy.

I am entitled to seek full particulars in this matter because where I am leading is that the Chair has conceded that, on notice, a motion can be tabled to seek to overturn the ruling of the Chair and have letters read into the record. Is that what she said?

If there is a problem with a particular ruling that I make, a member is free to table a motion. The Senator should do so, if he wishes.

In that case, the Chairman accepts the point.

I will table a motion.

I am an extremely patient person, but I find this inappropriate at this point. I made a ruling on the matter and set out in detail my rationale in respect of the letters in question. It is only fair that we leave the matter at that, unless an additional point needs to be made.

The same set of rulings applies to all committees.

It applies to the committees and the Houses.

The same practice applies and there has been no deviation from it. Is such a deviation being sought?

I am allowing too much discussion on this issue.

I agree. The discussion should conclude at this point.

I have seen this happen in the Seanad on numerous occasions. I have been generous and patient in allowing this discussion.

We do not owe the Chairman any gratitude for doing her job.

I am not looking for thanks.

We are entitled to clarification on the source of the Chair's authority. For the Chair to regard as a concession a period devoted to debate on the source is a completely unacceptable approach to her role.

To be honest, I find the Senator's approach unacceptable.

The letter was read out at approximately 3.30 p.m. This is a joke and I am starting to lose my temper.

That is the end of the matter.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien would not be the first person to lose his temper. We are the only members who do not lose their tempers and who try to maintain logic.

At 3.30 p.m., while the committee was sitting, the Senator went outside to speak to the media about this issue. He undermines the Chair at every opportunity.

If this is not intimidation, I do not know what is. May I speak, please?

No, not unless the Deputy has something different to say.

I indicated that I wished to speak. We are not disrespecting the Chair's ruling. We waited all day for her to obtain advice, which is fair enough and which we accept, but for her to take umbrage at us questioning the reasons behind-----

I am not taking umbrage.

I am adjourning the meeting.

Someone threatened to lose his temper. Will we be intimidated? Will we be kneecapped or something? That is disgraceful.

The joint committee adjourned at 8.20 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 15 November 2017.