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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 22 May 1986

Vol. 112 No. 14

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 1. It is proposed to suspend the sitting from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch and to continue to 12 midnight. I propose also that we repeat those sitting hours tomorrow to try to facilitate everybody. I would like to tell the House that if the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1986 is passed in the Dáil today we will discuss it in this House tomorrow. This is the electoral process to set up the referendum. The House also intends to sit next week on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday. On Tuesday afternoon we will be taking No. 6 on today's Order Paper, the Second Stage of the Control of Clinical Trials Bill. This is just to give the Members an opportunity to know what is happening because we have long extended sittings over a number of days.

The Deputy Leader has just said that he is facilitating the Members by sitting until midnight tonight and tomorrow. I do not think that is facilitating the Members. This side of the House protest strongly against the rushing through of this Bill. One would think it was an emergency Bill and that we rush Bills of that nature through. We do not think this is an emergency Bill. It is something that has been very much on the cards for quite a while. It has been mentioned on numerous occasions that there should be an amendment. Suddenly it has come upon us and we are now expected to sit today and tomorrow until midnight.

The reason we are sitting until midnight is because we are not prepared to finish this Bill in two days. On that account the Government side of the House have put three days sitting into two days. We understand then that we are sitting on Saturday for the final Stages of this Bill. In my time here in this House — I have been here for 25 years — only once did this House sit on Saturday. It was an emergency on that occasion because Criminal Justice legislation had to be rushed through at very short notice. In my opinion and in the opinion of most people here there is no need for us to take this Bill on two days. We could sit for two days this week and two days next week discussing the Bill. I am protesting strongly on behalf of my party at the manner in which this Bill is being put before this House.

Would it be possible to have from the Opposition a reasonable debate on the merits of the argument before us rather than what I witnessed in the other House where they have taken political opportunism to the fore and left the real issue to the rearguard?

This is not relevant.

I want to set the tone because I would prefer that this would be debated properly without any monsters stalking this House as they stalked the other House, without any scaremongering——

If the Senator continues, the tone set will be very wrong.

He is not the one to set the tone anyway.

I want to appeal to the Opposition not to be political opportunists about people's lives but to be reasonable in their approach to the debate.

I do not understand what is going on. I wish someone would explain it to me very, very slowly and very, very clearly. It has not been explained what will happen if we do not finish tomorrow night at midnight. Are we going straight through into Saturday on it and Sunday and Monday? That is quite acceptable and I do not see any problem in that for the Government or for the Opposition.

I urge the acting Leader of the House to give the reason for the late sittings. There are clear issues involved and we should address ourselves to them and they affect the Order of Business. If we do not complete our business by a certain day the referendum will be pushed into the month of July with all the related effects that might have on participation by voters in the referendum. People know that and should acknowledge that that is one of the effects that a delayed debate might have. I hope the acting Leader of the House will address himself to this in his reply.

It is very important that this House has a full opportunity to discuss the important issues of this Bill. I welcome the fact that the acting Leader of the House has indicated that we will be sitting for long hours. Indeed, we are starting a half an hour earlier which is relevant to having adequate time. I would like clarification on one point. The acting Leader of the House said that the House will sit until midnight today. If the debate on Second Stage concluded earlier this evening — it is difficult to say how long it will take — I take it that the House would not proceed to Committee Stage this evening but that there would be an opportunity to table amendments and that Committee Stage would be taken tomorrow or certainly affording a break between Second Stage and Committee Stage for that purpose.

It appears now that we are beginning a 14 hour sitting followed by another one tomorrow and the uncertainty about Saturday. It is the view of a number of Senators that we should endeavour to utilise every moment available to us, certainly today and tomorrow, to reduce the time we may have to spend here on Saturday. The suggestion of the acting Leader is that we forego our tea break this evening. I suggest we should also forego the lunch break. There are obviously divided views on that but the Senators who have spoken to me feel that with relays and the likely length of Second Stage speeches we should forego our lunch break. I understand one of the reasons why a lunch break is suggested is in consideration of the staff of the House but there is a relay system in operation there and there is also a relay system in operation for the Chair. It is the opinion of quite a number of people that we should utilise to the full every moment that is available to us and we should accept that suggestion now.

I understand that the Government want An tUachtarán to sign this Bill on a certain date and I accept what Senator M. Higgins has said. Why did the Government not bring this Bill to us before today? This House is on record as debating all legislation in a much better and cooler atmosphere than the other House, with all due respect to Senator Loughrey's remarks. While I am concerned about people who in the weekend to come will try to abolish this House, I do not care if we sat every day for 12 hours a day. I know that some Senators agree with me on that.

I would like to support Senator Howard's suggestion that we sit through lunch hour because of the limited time we might have and this would give us two extra hours. It will not affect anybody in the House because this will be an opportunity for the Members who are anxious to contribute to the debate. The Members who do not agree with the views of the speakers can go and have their lunch. In that way it will not affect anybody.

I would support that view also.

I want to protest that we have to debate this Bill in a limited time. I agree with Senator Honan that that should have been foreseen. I have no objection to sitting every day if necessary but it is unfortunate that we should have to do this. I cannot see any problem in continuing the debate next week and postponing the referendum date until July. If the reason for that is that it would inconvenience some people then it is totally unforgiveable.

The Second Stage of Bills in this House has become a farce where people can speak forever. Quality should take precedence over quantity.

There is an element of speed being introduced into this Bill. There is nothing sacrosanct about 26 June and I do not see why the referendum has to take place on that date. If we are serious about this issue we should not be rushing this Bill through in three, four, five or six days. The Bill should be properly debated and sufficient time should be given to it. Having said that, I feel we should break for lunch each day.

Break for Mass on Sunday?

With all due respect to the Leader of the Opposition, we should call a spade a spade. There is a very good reason for having the referendum on 26 June as against 26 July. Most people will be on holiday on 26 July and I am sure that Fianna Fáil would like the majority of people to have an opportunity to vote on this issue.

There are over 70,000 people who will have no holidays.

We have already lost the half hour we were to have gained by starting at 10 a.m. so maybe we should go on until 12.30 a.m. to make up for that.

Senator Ferris to conclude on the Order of Business.

I sympathise with all the views that have been expressed. Over the last few days I have been trying to get a consensus without imposing my view or, indeed, the view of the House on this. There is an element of truth in what everybody has said. There is an element of truth in what Senator M. Higgins has said. It is important, if we are going to have a referendum on this issue, that it would be held at the end of June. This is the proposed date and we should try to facilitate that if possible. Arising from trying to facilitate that, Senator Ross asked a most pertinent question at the beginning of this week's sitting. He asked if there would be a curtailment on the debate, would speakers be limited in the debate. In fairness, I felt that this was a very important subject, that nobody should be curtailed or limited on it and the only way to give an opportunity to every Member was to have extended sittings so that nobody would be curtailed and that there would not be a guillotine and if somebody wanted to filibuster we would be able to accommodate that.

My object is to give everybody an opportunity. There will be some major speeches, there will be some minor speeches but anybody who wishes to speak should be facilitated. In the other House — I should not pass comment on it — agreement was reached to start and complete the debate over a certain period. It transpired at the end of the day that the Minister could not reply because they ran out of time. I do not want that to happen here. I want everybody, including the Opposition, to have the fullest opportunity possible to make their contributions, to listen to the ministerial reply and, as Senator Robinson said, have a short adjournment between Second Stage and Committee Stage to allow Members to put down amendments. We have always run our business that way and we should continue to do so. This House will give more time debating this issue than the other House.

That is a tribute to this House and I hope a tribute to the Members. I consider all their contributions are important and I want to facilitate them. I thought I had reached agreement last night, whether it was to be 11 p.m. or midnight. Senator Lanigan made a point which was covered in the reply. I suggested last night that we would sit from 10 a.m. until midnight. There was no disagreement but we said we would review it this morning. I am putting it to the House. I am not trying to rush it through. I am trying to give all the time in the world. If Senators can facilitate the House by not being long-winded and if we are finished quite early on Friday they will have all the time they want after that. I do not want to stop anyone.

What is the position as regards lunch hour?

I consulted most people on the lunch hour. Many people felt if we are sitting for 14 hours, the least the Members were entitled to was a break and that the same should apply to the staff who will have to serve this House. I appealed last night that if this happened tomorrow that the full facilities of the House would be available to all the Members, that they would not have to be rushing in and out wondering if they could get a cup of tea. If this House is doing its business, we should have the facilities of all the staff and of the House available to us, even if Saturday is included.

Order of Business agreed to.