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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 6 Apr 1982

Vol. 97 No. 5

Business of Seanad

I must apologise to my fellow Senators for not having had the opportunity to give them any formal notice of what is now about to transpire. I am invoking Standing Order No. 29 to request permission that a specific important matter of public interest be debated by the Seanad as is provided under the Standing Order. The matter in question, as I have specified in the Private Notice to the Chair, concerns the publication yesterday of the document on Northern Ireland concerning devolution issued by Mr. Prior, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

My case for stating the motion is that the matter concerns the prospect of an elected Assembly in Northern Ireland and, furthermore, the possibility of devolved Government. These matters are of the most critical importance for Northern Ireland and for Ireland as a whole. I should like to point out that the Seanad has pre-eminently been the Chamber which has discussed these matters. The urgent consideration aspect which is referred to in the Standing Order arises, I suggest, from the fact that this is very likely to be the last sitting of the Seanad and that it would be opportune and responsible for the House, before its dissolution, to draw attention to a matter of paramount and pressing public interest.

Finally, I should like to say that I am reinforced in my view that it is a matter of urgent consideration because of what would seem to be prima facie the dismissive attitude of the present Government in respect of the document. I am requesting that leave to debate the matter be given.

The document to which the Senator referred is a publication of the United Kingdom Government which was published yesterday. I understand that copies of the document are not available to Members. Indeed, from informal inquiries which I have made I gather that supplies are obtainable only from the United Kingdom Stationery Office. I am, of course, fully aware of the great importance of the matter. However, since copies of the document are not available to Members, I do not see how it would be possible to have it discussed fully today. To attempt to do so, in my opinion, would be a futile proceeding and in the circumstances I do not have any option but to rule that the matter is not one contemplated by the Standing Order to which Senator Murphy refers. I cannot allow any discussion on the ruling.

I was going to intervene in support of Senator Murphy. It had been my intention to point out that the full text of that document is carried in The Irish Times today. Indeed the reaction and the rather dismissive, preemptive reaction of the Taoiseach, which Senator Murphy referred to, is also contained in that and the other daily newspapers. So it is a situation in which although Senators may not have the official publication of the United Kingdom, we would have the text available. I support Senator Murphy in this. It would be appropriate, perhaps not this afternoon, but that we meet either tomorrow if we have a Committee Stage of this Bill to deal with or next week.

We cannot have a discussion on the ruling as you know. The Chair has no option but to ask the Minister to continue.

You have always been a very fair Chairman of this House and I think the basis on which you gave your ruling is one which I was seeking to say is not really a problem for us. You said it would be difficult for us because we would not have the text. In fact, we have the text. It was in the light of that that I wondered whether you would reconsider your ruling on the matter.

It is not possible for the Chair. Indeed, I was very sympathetic to Senator Murphy's request. I have considered it fully for the full time since he handed it into my office and I think Members will recall that on any occasion on which a Minister of any Government was making a Second Reading speech and came into the House without the documentation or the Bill, it was not acceptable to the House. That is my experience and it has coloured my decision in making the ruling which I give and on which we cannot have a discussion. I now call on the Minister to continue.