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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 5 May 1993

Vol. 136 No. 1

Order of Business.

Today's Order of Business will be Items 3 and 20. Item 20 will be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. For the information of the House, I propose to withdraw Item 2, Criminal Law (Suicide) Bill, 1993.

That is bad.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business: that the Order of Business be Items 2,3 and 20.

Item 1 should be taken as soon as possible. I am concerned that the so-called reform of the Oireachtas is going ahead without any reference to this House which has been excluded from most of the newly formed committees. That, combined with what is happening with the Criminal Law (Suicide) Bill, sends a clear signal that this House is being treated as a political backwater, to be used at the whim of the Government.

This House has been treated disgracefully with regard to the Criminal Law (Suicide) Bill, which would not have seen the light of day if it had not been for the sustained pressure from this House over a long period. The Criminal Law (Suicide) Bill introduced by the Government is similar in wording to a Fine Gael Private Members' Bill. Last week the private secretary to the Minister for Justice telephoned "Morning Ireland" to give a public commitment that the Bill would be taken in the Seanad in the next two weeks. It has now been withdrawn, not on a question of principle or because it would be dealt with better in the other House, but because the Government Chief Whip did not have enough business for the Dáil this week. We offered to cooperate and make business available to the Dáil. However, that offer was not accepted. This House is being treated disgracefully. We are told that the convenience of the Government Chief Whip is more important than the rights, duties and standing of this House. I know that Members opposite feel as strongly as we do about this matter. For that reason, we have no option but to propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Order of Business be Items 2, 3 and 20.

The Senator made a lengthy contribution which, perhaps, should not be allowed on the Order of Business. He wanted to explain his case and I allowed him to do so.

I second the proposal that an amendment be made to the Order of Business. Senator Neville has been treated disgracefully and the House has been treated badly. This fact does not need any further articulation. We were led to believe that the Bill would be taken in this House. Therefore, we acted honourably. Last week I congratulated Senator Neville on a good day's work and this is not an acceptable way to do business.

I thought that the Committee Stage of the Unfair Dismissals (Amendment) Bill would be taken this week but I understand there may be difficulties with it. I would like a commitment from the Leader of the House that it will be taken next week. It is a long Bill and I realise it may not be possible to deal with it in one day. Will the Leader of the House allocate a number of hours to this Bill next week as it is important legislation?

I support the amendment to the Order of Business. It is two years since we introduced a motion in the Seanad to decriminalise suicide. Since then, we have introduced a Private Members' Bill on two occasions. We had the support of all parties in this House. It is disappointing, indeed disgraceful, to hear that this Bill is being withdrawn. During my time in this House a Bill has not been withdrawn from the Order Paper. I am disappointed that this issue should have been withdrawn at the behest of the Government. It is a bad day for the dignity and role of this House and for Senators. My party and I, and indeed the House, have made this a Seanad issue. It was judicious and fair that the Bill was promised to this House last week. The Minister stated that the Whips would meet immediately to discuss the issue. I withdrew the Fine Gael Private Members' Bill on the understanding that the Whips would introduce it to this House. I am now informed that the Bill is being withdrawn. I believe that I am being chastised for promoting forward thinking legislation to the House. This proposal, because it is still only a proposal, is an affront to the dignity and role of this House.

I support the remarks of Senator Manning and Senator Neville. We have reached a point where everything will be decided by the Executive. The Houses of the Oireachtas are becoming irrelevant. There was broad agreement in relation to the proposed legislation. Although time must be regulated in the Houses of the Oireachtas, it does not make sense to act in this way. Furthermore, I have seen a document which suggests that this House will be used on Tuesdays and Fridays for committee meetings.

That is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

On what basis has that document been circulated? The Committee on Procedure and Priviliges has not ruled on this matter, to the best of my knowledge.

The Committee on Procedure and Privileges will meet this evening to consider this matter.

We have attempted, over several weeks, to reach a decision. However, how can such a document, outlining what is to happen to this House, be circulated? Will we have a say in how we conduct our business and regulate our affairs? Will the Leader of the House state whether there will be a debate on the Government report on selected aspects of the Culliton report?

For the information of the House, the document referred to by Senator Dardis was not circulated by me or by the Seanad office.

Last week I said that because of the importance of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Bill, it was of no consequence whether it was introduced to the House by Senator Neville or in the Dáil. I justified introducing the Bill in the Seanad by saying that under the Constitution it has the power to initiate legislation. It is a poor reflection on this assembly that the Leader of the House stated that this legislation would be introduced this week and that it was then withdrawn. Perhaps the Leader of the House will justify his reason for withdrawing the Bill?

On behalf of the Labour Senators, I express our disappointment that this Bill is being introduced in the Dáil instead of in the Seanad. None of us doubts Senator Neville's sincerity and persistence in regard to this issue.

It was indicated that this Bill would be introduced in the Seanad and Senator Magner and I raised this issue with the Labour Party Whip in the Dáil. The reason given was that there would not be sufficient time to introduce the Bill in the Seanad and that more time would be available in the Dáil. While I do not accept this we must ensure that the legislation is enacted as soon as possible in order to abolish the offence of suicide. I express our disappointment that this Bill is being introduced in the Dáil. I am not sure if we can do anything about it now because it is on the Dáil Order Paper.

I echo the sentiments expressed by Senator Manning and I am sure they are shared by the Cathaoirleach, a supporter of this House as an institution. I believe those on the Government side feel it is important to maintain the dignity of this House which has been subjected to a series of insults. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs is persistently referred to as the Dáil Committee on Foreign Affairs and I support what Senator Manning said about the necessity to implement Item 1 on the Order Paper today. What is happening to the Criminal (Suicide) Bill is piracy, a form of carpet-bagging. However, it is appropriate that it is a suicide Bill because if we do not dig our heels in now we are aiding and abetting the suicide of the House as a serious legislative Chamber.

It is extraordinary that there was a commitment to introduce this Bill in the Seanad, a point argued by Senator Neville, and that then, to provide justification for the operation of the other House, it was simply snatched away without any justification. I deplore this and I am sure the Cathaoirleach, although it would not be proper for him to express a personal opinion because of his loyalty and devotion to the highest principle of this House, must also deplore this. Decent people on the Government benches feel the same. This is not just an Opposition matter.

I refer to Item 15 on the Order Paper in the name of the Independent Senators and Item 21 in the name of Senator Henry and myself. Unless there is some amelioration of the conditions under which we work I will, in succeeding weeks, move an amendment to the Order of Business. It is not tolerable to work in an office the size of a shoebox with eight telephones and seven or eight people——

It is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and is on the agenda for this evening's meeting.

I am glad although I heard this on several occasions. The situation is critical. It is impossible for my colleagues and myself to work and I link this to Item 21. I, and I am sure other Members, hope the Cathaoirleach will be responsible for this. We receive unjustified bad press because of misunderstanding in the media about the way in which both Houses of the Oireachtas operate. It is time to appoint a press officer to handle relations with the media and explain how this House operates. We do not want to hear nonsense about the lack of Senators in the Chamber. We work in our offices where we have television monitors to follow proceedings. I am tired of unjustified criticism of professional politicians.

You are making a speech.

As the House is being constructive and sincere about its business, will the Leader make time available to discuss insurance companies? One insurance company is the cause of considerable hardship to a widow and this must not be allowed to continue. It is important to discuss such an important issue and seen to be more constructive than the other House.

The points made by the Fine Gael Leader in the Seanad are valid because there are times when one is criticised by one's own side. The person who is criticised most is the Leader of the House, for whom I have great sympathy.

Why does the Senator not rebel?

It is easy to rebel, Senator Norris, when one is an Independent Senator; it is one of the luxuries of being an Independent. When one accepts the Whip the only thing to do is to walk the plank.

At the beginning of this session all sides agreed that we would make this House work and this is still the case. We meant what we said. The Government Chief Whip has had his bite of the cherry and he would be silly to return for another bite.

I also express my sympathies to the Opposition and to the Members of the House on this side. Senator Norris said that there are decent people here. I believe that all the people on this side are decent and I am peeved with the whole situation.

Regarding Structural Funding I call on the Leader to arrange a debate. This funding was ably negotiated by our Taoiseach but the House should debate how the moneys will be apportioned to alleviate long term unemployment through expenditure on a job orientation programme, which is vitally important.

You are making a speech, Senator Kelleher.

Is the reason bypasses are built around places like Cork and Tallaght that people do not see the poverty and deprivation in these areas? Will the Leader have this discussed immediately?

Is the Leader of the House prepared to allow time next week to discuss the infamous integrated administrative and control system which is now being introduced by the Department of Agriculture? D-day is 14 May 1993 in respect of these presentations. They are vital to the national interest as the 175,000 farmers involved cannot comply with the regulations.

I support the amendment to the Order of Business. We are discussing a future role for this House and whether the public perceives it as important. The Labour Party Members in this House can indicate that they are not prepared to accept the Government's proposals but we must remind ourselves that the people who elected the majority of Members to this House were informed four, five or six months ago that they will be allowed to hold only a certain number of meetings in any one year. It would appear that the same policy is being pursued——

You are making a speech, Senator.

——by the Government on the way we run our affairs in this House. I believe in democracy, having been elected on many occasions in different elections. However, if we are not prepared to stand up and be counted in this House the Government will decide when we sit and when our Chamber will be used for other business. We will have no say in the matter.

I support Senator Kelleher's proposal vis-a-vis the Structural Funds. There is an ongoing debate in Cabinet at present and we should also debate how these funds will be used to the best advantage for unemployed people.

I also support Senator D'Arcy's proposal. There is mayhem across the length and breadth of the country regarding the forms issued by the Department of Agriculture which must be returned by 14 May 1993. Time should be made available early next week — let us sit a day earlier if necessary — to discuss this matter and to alleviate the problems and fears of farmers in relation to these forms.

I support Senator Cregan's call for a debate on insurance companies. We had a debate on insurance — in which the Cathaoirleach was involved — particularly on motor insurance because great anomalies and injustices are perpetrated by insurance companies, which should be highlighted. Many changes have been introduced designed to reduce premiums, but they continue to increase. In addition, many categories of people are effectively debarred from getting insurance because of their occupation. It is discrimination and I highlighted this in the previous debate. It is time to again highlight it and have another debate to try — to use an old Mayo phrase — to shake the marrow in the bones of some of the insurance companies.

And the Government.

I am disappointed that the next stage of the suicide Bill will not be taken in this House as the Minister gave a commitment last week that it would.

The pious platitudes from the Opposition are difficult to accept because at one stage last week there were only two speakers in this House while the Bill was being discussed. Furthermore, half an hour was lost because there were no speakers.


In view of the widespread public concern at present following recent disclosures in the building societies, is it possible to discuss such disclosures in this House?

I also support the amendment to the Order of Business. This House is part and parcel of our Constitution. All these bodies are set up under our Constitution and must be treated with dignity and respect. Elected Members to the House must not allow it to be trampled on. There is sadness among Labour Party Members at what is happening. The excuse proffered that there would not be sufficient time to process legislation in this House is unacceptable. The House is available and we are prepared to sit at whatever time deemed necessary. I ask Labour Party Members, many of whom have shown great courage in the past, to put down a marker in this regard to the Government. It is not simply a matter about the freedom of an Independent, as Senator Magner suggested. The people voted in the last election for change and will be deprived of this if the Labour Party Members do not stand by their principles.

You are making a speech, Senator Enright.

I agree with the views expressed in regard to how the Suicide Bill should proceed. The proposed delay is not one that rests easily on my shoulders. All the Party Whips in the other House agreed to proceed in the Dáil. I remind the House that we made progress on legislation initiated in this House. I am confident that in the coming weeks important legislation will be introduced and dealt with in the House.

Item 1 will be agreed with the Whips tomorrow. Unfair dismissals will be dealt with next week and the necessary time will be given. The Minister, having dealt with Second Stage, would like to contribute on Committee Stage and will be available next week.

Senator Dardis mentioned the Culliton report. I will have news on that shortly for the House. Regarding the other issues, ranging from insurance to Structural Funds to area aid, we will be dealing with Common Agricultural Policy tomorrow, which will give the Senators a chance to make their views known to the Minister. On Senator Daly's comments on the building societies, I am sure the Whips will be able to agree a Thursday afternoon debate on this issue over the coming weeks.

Senator Manning has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That Item 2 be taken before Item 3."

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 25.

  • Belton, Louis J.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Cregan, Denis (Dino).
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Enright, Thomas W.
  • Farrelly, John V.
  • Henry, Mary.
  • Honan, Cathy.
  • McDonagh, Jarlath.
  • Manning, Maurice.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Neville, Daniel.
  • Norris, David.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Ross, Shane P.N.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.


  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Byrne, Seán.
  • Cashin, Bill.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Tom.
  • Gallagher, Ann.
  • Hillery, Brian.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lanigan, Mick.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • McGowan, Paddy.
  • Magner, Pat.
  • Maloney, Sean.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Townsend, Jim.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Wright, G.V.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Cosgrave and Neville; Níl, Senators Mullooly and Magner.
Amendment declared lost.
Order of Business agreed to.