It is proposed to take all Stages of item No. 3 — Public Hospitals (Amendment) Bill, 1990. There will be a sos from 6 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. followed by the Fine Gael motion on education and the amendments to that motion.
Order of Business.
On the Order of Business, I would like to ask the Leader of the House about two matters. The first question relates to the Companies Bill which, I understand, is finishing in the Dáil today. In the newspapers last Friday, the Minister for Industry and Commerce was reported as assuring a group of accountants that the Bill would be on the Statute Book by Christmas. If that is to be the case, with the large number of new amendments to the Bill, it would mean that we would have a very short time to debate it here. In effect, it would be rail-roaded through this House. That, I think, is not the intention of the Leader of the House. Can he inform us if he has given any thought to the points raised last week about the way in which that Bill, which is in many ways a new Bill, will be treated when it comes to this House?
Secondly, on motion 80 on the Order Paper — a matter which has been raised practically every day since the resumption of the House — my understanding is that the European Court of Human Rights reported over two years ago. The State was found to be in breach but we have not heard from the Government since then. I believe the case which has been made from the independent benches and elsewhere is a reasonable one. If there are difficulties, this House is where the Government should outline these difficulties and, at least, bring us up-to-date on what is happening in that case. I earnestly ask the Leader of the House if he would make time available for a debate before the recess — preferably next week — so that this matter can be fully debated and if there are difficulties they can be aired publicly. I strongly urge him to accede to that request.
I would like to raise a number of issues. First, will the Leader of the House outline to us the schedule for the next number of weeks? I asked him, through the Leas-Chathaoirleach, about the Appropriation Bill. Senator Manning has just referred to the Companies Bill. We raised the question last week as to the form in which that will be taken. The normal procedure would be for the Companies Bill to come back to this House on Report Stage. It would appear to be singularly inappropriate to try to deal with a Bill that has been amended almost 300 times since it left here, and which was amended almost as many times in this House. To try to deal with that without going back to Committee Stage would be an error. I would like the Leader of the House to offer a view on that and perhaps indicate whether it will be possible to debate that Bill in full.
Similarly, there is the matter of the Appropriation Bill which has to be, as I understand it, passed by the House before 31 December. On a number of occasions in recent years we have found ourselves trying to deal with the Appropriation Bill in a very rushed manner, and then coming back to a sort of non-debate in January on a matter which had already been disposed of by the House. I would prefer that we would have a full debate on the Appropriation Bill before Christmas. One of the values of an Appropriation Bill debate — and one of the reasons it is welcomed by Members of the House and would be welcomed greatly by our benches before Christmas — is that it is of its nature an Adjournment-type debate, where people can raise issues of substance or concern in any area. It is always a good debate. It allows people to raise almost every issue apart from income tax. It saves the need for an Adjournment-type debate. It would be well worth while to attempt to have that dealt with before Christmas.
In terms of motions, I would also ask the Leader of the House to consider the many varying statements and points of view that have been offered on the question of neutrality on all sides of the House by various parties and by leaders in many aspects of Irish life. If the Seanad has a role, it is approaching consensus in national policy and in attempting to create a certain understanding of concepts. There is no understanding of neutrality. I do not intend to make a speech on neutrality, a Chathaoirligh; I see you are getting a little concerned. There is a need for a definition of neutrality. There is a need for us all to establish our position. There is a need to find where the common ground is and at least establish where the differences exist. It is not threatening to the Government at this time. I ask that a debate on neutrality be allowed some time between now and Christmas.
First I would like to thank the Leader of the House for ordering the Public Hospitals (Amendment) Bill for this afternoon. Secondly, I would like to ask what progress has been made in relation to his efforts to get the Environmental Protection Agency Bill introduced in this House? Is it possible to have a debate on the prisons and in particular on the question of the suicide rate of young prisoners in Mountjoy? Finally, may I concur with the questions raised by Senator O'Toole in relation to asking the Leader to give us an outline of what he expects to be taken by way of legislation between now and the end of this session? Also, I would like to support Senator Manning in his request for a debate on motion 80.
I would like to refer to motion 80 also. I would like the Leader of the House to convey the concern of the Progressive Democrats on the delay on this matter, and to ask him to expedite the matter as soon as possible.
I would like to ask the Leader of the House when we may expect the Altamont Bill back in the House? We are also awaiting an explanatory memorandum which was to be circulated.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Leader of Fine Gael, Senator Manning, for raising motion 80. It is very important. I would like to say that what I am looking for with motion 80 is a debate on the issue. I am not expecting that the Government would rush proposals into this House but one of the most important functions of Seanad Éireann is to discuss important issues and outline the range of expertise we have in order to prepare the public. I emphasise the point that I am looking for a debate. I do not wish to be obstructive. Nevertheless, I am moving an amendment that motion 80 be taken first. I am formally proposing an amendment to the Order of Business, which I will consider not pressing in the light of what the Leader of the House is able to tell the House today. I emphasise it is merely a debate I am looking for and I am quite realistic as to what that debate may contain.
If I may make one further point, Sir; I note today on the Order Paper the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Bill, 1988 which I have been following very closely in the other House. The Minister for Justice, Deputy Burke, has demonstrated a capacity for vision and reform in this area, which is most impressive. We have an opportunity to do something better than the normal procedure of many years which is, when we are confronted with a controversial problem, we look for the nearest available British precedent. In some areas of criminal law we are ahead of the British. This is another opportunity.
One further item which I may raise is the question of Oireachtas envelopes. I realise this has been referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, but I brought it up several times here. We have also written and nothing has happened.
It does not arise in the Order of Business.
I have to accept your ruling, so I assume also the fact that most of the envelopes we receive are totally devoid of gum also does not arise, but it might perhaps be heard somewhere in the House.
I can arrange for Santa Claus to give Senator Norris some gum at Christmas. May I once again request the Leader of the House to convey to the Government the wishes of the vast majority of all decent-minded people for the immediate release of the Birmingham Six, and that this wish be conveyed by our Government to the new British Prime Minister — if you would allow me to finish — in order to regularise relationships between our two countries which have been severely ruptured by this——
I must point out it does not arise in the Order of Business.
I accept that, but I feel it is important that in this Chamber it is constantly and frequently brought before the Government, specially in the context of there being a new British Prime Minister.
You have made your point sufficiently, Senator.
I would like to raise the question of the payment by the Minister for Social Welfare of the Christmas bonus to those who are employed on the social employment schemes. Very briefly, we all appreciate, as public representatives, the excellent work being done throughout the country both in urban and rural areas. I would like to ask the Leader of the House if he would make time available on an all-Party basis to discuss this matter?
May I second Senator Norris' proposal of an amendment to the Order of Business. The fact that Senator Mooney has returned to believing in Santa Claus is an interesting reflection on the state of debate in Fianna Fáil at present.
I concur with what Senator Manning said about the Companies Bill. This House dealt with it with considerable diligence. We could do with further substantial legislation, which this House would then deal with with considerable diligence. Last week I asked the Leader if he could give me the name of one substantial piece of legislation which he expected to be introduced in this House in the immediate future. I would be very glad to have that.
I support the request by Senator Kennedy for a debate on the inadequacies of the social employment scheme. I would like to inform the House that the Independent group will be introducing a motion next week in our Private Members' time to deal with that and many other aspects of the treatment of the unemployed. I would be delighted with the support of Senator Kennedy and of Fine Gael on the issue.
It is necessary that we debate the issue of neutrality. There is an increasing list of important issues which are debated everywhere except in the Houses of the Oireachtas. Prisons, neutrality — the list gets longer and longer. On the issue of motion 80, I would ask the Leader not to tell us to take it in Private Members' time. We are talking about the failure of the Government to do something they are legally obliged to do. It is not a matter to be dealt with in our time. It is a matter for the Government to come in here in their own time and explain their own delays. Perhaps there is a good reason, but the solution is not to take up Private Members' time to talk about matters that are properly the concern of the Government. We would end up in a ludicrous situation if we are told that Government legislation has to be taken in Private Members' time.
Senator, you have made your point sufficiently.
This House has always paid attention to the cultural affairs of our nation. Therefore, I am delighted to see motion 89 on the Order Paper, a motion which states "That Seanad Éireann welcomes the designation of Dublin by the EC as European City for Culture for 1991". It is a great honour for Dublin that we have been designated by our colleagues in the EC as European City of Culture. I would like to ask the Leader of the House if we could take this motion early in the New Year, if not in this session, before the festivities get under way. Many Senators would be interested in the motion and in contributing to the debate.
I would like to support Senator Upton in his request for a debate on the situation in the prison service. I would like to ask the Leader of the House if he will make time available for motion 87 because of the dramatic increase in rural crime in 1989 and we hear now from the Minister for Justice that we are going to have an increase in the crime figures for 1990.
I would like to refer to an item which I raised in the past few weeks and in which the Leader of the House is not giving us much information. It is on the question of when the legislation on the reform of local government will come before this House. We now know that the special expert committee which is sitting is to deliver its report on 15 December and I would like to ask the Leader of the House two questions. Will that report be made available to Members of the Seanad and, secondly, what is the timescale envisaged? Now that you know that is coming on 15 December, what is the timescale from that to June 1991 when the elections are expected to be held? If we wait and do not press this issue now, those of us who want the elections held and who believe in local democracy will find ourselves in the position that we are pressing to have the elections held but the reform package will not be in place. It is important that we have information on the timescale.
Senator, you have made your point.
I would like to support the proposal that Motion 80 be discussed, and I would like the Leader of the House to take note that this can no longer be regarded as the expression of some eccentric opinion. It now has the explicit support of Fine Gael, Labour and the Progressive Democrats. What is being asked for is not the introduction of legislation but the airing of the subject.
I support what Senator O'Toole said about neutrality. There is intense public interest in the country at the moment as we approach the Intergovernmental Conference. People are totally confused about what terms like "security", "defence" and "neutrality" mean, and in what direction our foreign policy is heading. In view of the fact that the Assises have just been held in Rome — and Senator Hussey was a member of the delegation — it seems to me that the impression given in the press reports is of total confusion. We need clarification very urgently indeed.
As it is the festive season, and I see there are a number of young children in the Gallery, may I take this opportunity of thanking Gay Byrne for his very successful campaign in having the gnomes restored to the windows in Switzers. May I ask the Leader of the House if he has any suggestions as to whether any Members of this House might care to join the gnomes in Switzers?
It is not appropriate to refer to persons in the Gallery in the course of the business of the House.
I would like to ask the Leader of the House if he can confirm that the televising of proceedings of the House will commence next Wednesday?
The Companies Bill was mentioned by Senator Manning and, indeed, by other Senators also. The Senators know that the other House debated this matter and it took them roughly three days or thereabouts. It is concluding in that House today. As the Dáil has amended the Bill, although it was originally a Seanad Bill it is now deemed to be a Dáil-initiated Bill. In the normal course, this means that the Bill is set down on Report Stage in the Seanad, and the amendments made by the Dáil to the Bill are treated collectively in one debate. This type of arrangement works very well. However, in this case, because of the large number of amendments, which I understand is close to 300, I feel the Whips should work out a convenient way for dealing with that Bill, which could lean towards the wishes of Members to see the Bill adequately debated while, at the same time, not delaying the passage of the Bill unduly.
For the benefit of the Members, as I am sure many of them know, the amendments break down, conveniently, into the 13 Parts of the Bill. When the Whips meet, it may well be that these Parts can be takenseriatim with appropriate time limits that should be agreed. For the benefit of Senators, I would point out that a list of the amendments made by the Dáil will be published and they will be available early next week.
On Report Stage the debate is confined to the content of the amendments made by the Dáil, but technically these amendments are not required to be agreed by the Seanad, as they have already been made to the text of the Bill by the Dáil. This would allow the Bill to be taken in the 13 Parts of the Billseriatim as set out in the amendments. Whether this should be considered on Report Stage or Committee Stage is something that the Whips will decide. I stress that they do so in conjunction with the appropriate time limits.
Senator Manning also asked about Motion 80. I am aware that up to now there have been votes on the Order of Business on that matter. The proper manner in which to have debates is to have discussions across the board with all Senators. I am not impressed by votes on the Order of Business, particularly when there is no chance of them being successful. However, I understand and appreciate the across-the-board support for this matter today in particular and certainly on the basis that we are not going to have another element of, if you like, bully-boy tactics. It should not happen. I am certainly prepared, where I see consensus, to press for a debate. I can assure the House that if that consensus is there, I will arrange for a debate on Motion 80 next week.
Senator O'Toole referred to the Companies Bill. I have given a reply on that. He also asked what other legislation we will have before us in the House before Christmas. I can say for certain we will have the Appropriations Bill. Personally, I always loved the Appropriation Bill. I saw it as an Adjournment debate and I can understand totally the point the Senator made. As he rightly said, it must be passed, before December. We always came back and debated it for a day or two in January. If we can, I certainly would not mind doing what the Senator is saying, if that is possible. However, we have a fairly long programme before us.
The Companies Bill will certainly take up a long time. I have no doubt on that. We also have the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Bill, which was amended in the Dáil, and which was referred to by Senator Norris. Incidentally, that is being taken here next Wednesday.
I have noted Senator O'Toole's point about the Appropriation Bill and I have also noted what he said regarding neutrality. Again, I agree it is an issue that is causing quite a lot of debate. It is something we should discuss. I cannot say for certain, in view of the large volume of business we have before Christmas, whether we will have a debate on that matter before Christmas. Certainly it is something I will examine.
Senator Upton referred to the Environmental Protection Agency Bill, as did Senator Brendan Ryan. I can tell Senator Ryan, who was asking for major legislation, and I can tell the House, that that Bill will be initiated in the Seanad. My understanding is that it will be published fairly soon, probably early next week. Because it is a major piece of legislation, when the Senators receive it they might like to think about it, go through it and analyse it. Perhaps when we come back after Christmas we will have it as one of the first items on the Order Paper.
Senator Upton also referred to motion 80, as did Senator Helen Keogh. Senator Doyle referred to the Altamont Bill. I can tell her that the law agent is at present dealing with that. I would like to refer to comments that were made by Senator David Norris in relation to this Bill in an interview on "The Pat Kenny Show" on radio on 23 November. In the course of that interview Senator Norris made the following comments:
It seemed almost as if there was an attempt to vote this matter through without any sustained discussion at all, that it was to go through on the nod.
It was introduced by leave of the Government and the Government intended to let it go through on the nod.
On a point of order, will I have an opportunity to reply to these comments?
In that case, it is a little unfair. The Leader referred to bully-boy tactics and this is a clear example of bully-boy tactics.
I want to point out that the Leader of the House is replying. He is free to give whatever information he considers appropriate to the business of this House. In the context of his reply to Senator Avril Doyle he is giving additional views and information, which I think the House should listen to.
Senator Norris further said on that programme.
It was felt by a few of us in the Seanad that we would be lax in our responsibility if we just connived at this Bill going through on the nod.
It is to clear misunderstandings that I want to put the following facts on the record. There is a separate set of Standing Orders of the Dáil and Seanad relative to Private Business which provide for the promotion and the conduct of a Private Bill through the Houses. These Standing Orders are completely separate from the Standing Orders under which public business of the Seanad is conducted on a daily basis. A Private Bill is promoted for the particular interest or benefit of any person or locality and is introduced, not at the behest of the Government, but by virtue of an application made by a parliamentary agent on behalf of an individual or a group. In this case the parliamentary agent is Mr. Michael Egan, a solicitor in Castlebar.
The first Stage of a Private Bill takes the form of an examination of the Bill by the Examiner of Private Bills, who is a civil servant and who reports to the House. The motion to take Second Stage was moved by Senator Liam Naughten, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, and not by Senator Avril Doyle, as you suggested, who by virtue of his office as Leas-Chathaoirleach has a formal supervisory role in moving the Stages of each Private Bill as it comes before the Seanad. The Leas-Chathaoirleach is not in charge of the Bill in the same accepted sense that a Minister is in respect of a public Bill. Accordingly, if any Stage of the Bill is opposed, the proceedings are adjourned to another sitting day to allow the agent to brief the Leas-Chathaoirleach, or other Members as the case may be.
These few facts will, I trust, clarify the situation for all concerned. They will also bear out the propriety of the decision taken by the Cathaoirleach in postponing the Second Stage debate to a later date to allow further information to be made available to Senators, particularly in view of the reservations expressed by many as to the effect of the passing of Second Stage of this Bill. I understand that this information will be circulated either through the Leas-Chathaoirleach or through the office fairly soon.
I want again to stress to Senators that they should appreciate that the Government had no hand, act or part in promoting the Bill or no vested interest in restricting the debate of any Stage of the Bill, and allegations to the contrary leave a lot to be desired. I indicated to the Senators before they came in that if any one Senator on any side of the House queried or wanted information I made it quite clear that I would — that it was my duty — to stall and to ask for an explanatory memorandum, precisely what the Cathaoirleach did as the debate moved on when Senator Joe O'Toole expressed concern. I remember that debate. Senator Doyle and Senator Lydon basically supported the thrust of it. Senator Norris, as I can remember, was a bit like Allanah Machree's old dog — he went a bit off the road with everybody. Senator O'Toole expressed his concern and at that stage the Cathaoirleach moved in wisely and well.
I have to say to Senator Norris that I am appalled at the mischievous, opportunistic and almost hypocritical approach the Senator has to some matters in this House. I want to make it clear——
This is not factual information; this is an attack on Senator Norris.
Senator Norris will have another opportunity to deal with this matter if he wishes to take that opportunity.
I understand what Senator Ryan has said. I am appalled that my integrity and that of many of the Members of this House has been put into question by Senator Norris in this interview. The suggestion that integrity abounds in the backbenches on the other side is not true at all.
I dissociate myself from that. You are perfectly right.
Integrity abounds throughout the House and everybody knows that. Senator Norris should apologise to the House, but I do not believe he will. I could refer this matter to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges but, quite honestly, I could not be bothered. I ask Senator Norris at this point — he is a long time here — to seriously consider amending his attitude to the House and the very decent Members we have in the House on this matter and indeed on other matters.
Senator Norris went on in his query to me about motion 80 on the Order Paper. I have given my reply on that. I think it is unfair that I should be pressured. I think the way it is being handled today is beautiful. I have no objection to it and certainly, as I have said, that debate is on stream. Senator Norris also asked about the Criminal Law (Rape) Bill and I have replied to that.
Senator Mooney briefly raised a matter on the Order of Business. Senator Kennedy referred to the payment of social welfare and a debate on that. I have no plans at this time for that. I accept Senator Kennedy's point; it is an important matter. Senator Brendan Ryan referred to the Companies Bill, one piece of substantial legislation which I am very happy we are getting. He also asked for a debate on the Social Employment Scheme and neutrality. Senator Seán Haughey asked for a debate on motion 89 on the Order Paper. I think that is important and we will look at it after Christmas. Senator Neville asked about the prison service, as indeed did Senator Upton. I have no plans for this matter at this time and I could not guarantee a debate on it before Christmas.
On Senator Hederman's question regarding reform of local government, I do not know when the legislation will come through and I am sure at this time I am quite right in saying neither does the Minister for the Environment know when the legislation will be forthcoming. I know reports are still coming on.
Senator John A. Murphy supported a debate on motion 80, as he did on the question of neutrality. Senator McKenna asked about the problem in Grafton Street. All I will say is that I am happy about it. Senator Cassidy referred to the televising of the Seanad. I understand they will be on stream as quickly as possible.
I am saying that, if there is no problem with the gnomes in Grafton Street, I am happy; somebody else may be Grumpy, but I am Happy.
Senator David Norris has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That item No. 14, motion 80, be inserted before item 3." Is the amendment being passed?
In the light of the Leader's helpful remarks I am content to withdraw the amendment.