Today's Order of Business is items 1 and 2. With the agreement of the House, we will deal with Parts I, II and III of the Finance Bill from now until 1.30 p.m. We will sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2 p.m. Parts IV, V and VI will be taken from 2 p.m. and will conclude by 3.45 p.m. From 3.45 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. all other Parts will be concluded and the Bill will finish at that stage.
Order of Business.
We agree to the Order of Business. I would like to reflect the country's anguish at the recent murder in County Galway. This double tragedy of a mother and her unborn child coming so soon after the triple tragedy in White-gate, County Clare, frightens us and reflects the changing nature of Irish society.
I wish to comment on yesterday's time arrangement. We were clearly informed that the time allocated was 40 minutes per spokesperson and 20 minutes for each speaker thereafter. When the Leader of the House changed that at the Order of Business, we asked that it be corrected. In this Seanad we agree on the times for speakers and we accept that this should be the case. Those of us who experienced the last Seanad, where people went on for as much as three hours, can only highlight the sense in arranging times. The changing of these arrangements on the Order of Business is not conducive to us continuing with these arrangements, so we ask that any future agreements made by the Whips be carried right through on the Order of Business.
I am not quite sure what point Senator Neville is referring to there, but we have not had any negative experiences in dealing with the Government Whip. Where we have agreed, we have agreed; where we have differed, we have differed. My understanding yesterday was that the Leader conceded to go from 30 to 40 minutes at the request of the main Opposition parties, despite the fact that there had been agreement with the Whips that it was to be 30 minutes.
I proposed many times that there would be time limits on speeches. On the Independent benches we have always felt that in order to set up a diary and to do our business properly, it is more efficient to have clear time limits. We are very happy with that arrangement. I do not want it changed. It is easier that people can decide what the time limit is going to be, always allowing the Cathaoirleach to have some element of flexibility where that is required; but I do not want to go back.
In fairness to Senator Neville, he is not suggesting that at all. He is talking in particular about yesterday.
Fair enough. I am also concerned — this is something that has been adverted to on a number of occasions — that since the establishment of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, discussion of foreign affairs in this House has been somewhat restricted. I wonder whether there is a way in which we could repeat what we have done before, that is, have a general debate on developments in the foreign affairs area where people can talk about developments in different parts of the world. We have done this quite successfully before. At various times we have taken areas of the world, such as the Middle East, Africa or whatever, but we have also had a more open debate. I wonder whether it would be possible to have such a debate.
I also wonder, in terms of being able to allow distinguished visitors to address the House, if in the course of his duties as chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee, there could be an opportunity for the chairperson of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs to listen in an official way to the proceedings of this House and perhaps have right of audience to the House in order to hear the views of the Members on foreign affairs matters? It would allow all of us who are not members of the Foreign Affairs Committee to have an input into that area. I know it is somewhat different to the way we have done business in the past, but it is needed in order to give those of us who are not members of the committee some input into the committee. It would allow us to make statements in a situation where it is not always required to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Minister of State at the Department for Foreign Affairs present. It could be that it could be done in both ways. I ask whether there is a problem with proceeding in that general direction.
In relation to what Senator Neville said about yesterday, I understood we were going to have 20 minutes and then it was reduced to 15. When the party is not large enough to be allowed 40 minutes for the main spokesperson, it is very difficult to get through the entire Bill within 15 minutes. Senator Sherlock also had that difficulty yesterday, and I am sure he would say if he were here that he too was very upset about that. That was the only grievance I had. I do not mind time limits, I do not mind limits of 30 minutes and 20 minutes, but it is very difficult for the main speaker if he or she has only 15 minutes to cover the entire Bill.
I am concerned that we are putting the question of Northern Ireland on the long finger. The reason I am concerned is that I was reminded, when Senator Neville spoke this morning of that terrible death in Athlone, that two young men from the townland in Northern Ireland where my mother came from were gunned down yesterday. It is only when we have a close association with a place that we are reminded of how close it is to us and how disastrous such tragedies are to the families involved. I use this occasion to remind us of this and to ask the Leader of the House to support a debate on Northern Ireland in the near future as he has promised. We are in danger of becoming immune to the situation in Northern Ireland because it is so close to us. That would be sinful. It is a reminder to us to ensure that we get it on the agenda in the near future.
I support what Senator Quinn said. The country is in a terrible state when even murders are not making the front pages of the papers.
In regard to what Senator Neville said, we have had a very good working relationship here with the Leader of the House and the Whips and we hope that that will continue. However, if agreements are made they should be adhered to. We do not want people rambling on for hours in here. We are trying to get everybody in on the various items and we need to have streamlined debates. Most people would agree that if in 20, 30 or 40 minutes people cannot say what they want to say, they should not really be here. The Leader has taken my point.
Could the Leader tell us, if not now maybe later in the day, roughly what legislation is going to come in here in the forthcoming weeks so that we will be enabled to prepare for it. We do not want this unseemly rush of legislation which at times comes toward the end of sessions. There are still some weeks to go in this session, but perhaps we could have a list of the legislation.
In view of the horrifying events in the past week in Northern Ireland, I ask the Leader of the House to give the House an opportunity to condemn the terrible atrocities and offer our heartfelt sympathy to the grieving relatives in light of the killing of a young Keady student in such a callous and brutal manner in Armagh yesterday and the serious injuries inflicted on his friend. We are all very well aware of the serious situation in Northern Ireland and we must therefore unite in our attempts to promote peace in whatever way we can and have the courage to do so. I call for a full debate in this House on the complex situation in Northern Ireland.
Yesterday I asked whether it would be possible for us to debate a decision taken by the VHI in relation to women who have contracted Hepatitis C and specifically the VHI decision to exclude them from VHI cover. This is a scandalous decision by a State-sponsored body. I ask the Leader of the House in this context whether it would be possible for us in this House to discuss the whole future direction of the commercial State enterprises. On only one occasion since the State enterprises were created back in 1927 has there been a full debate in either House on this subject. There is a whole range of issues, ranging from privatisation right across to how they are controlled and how they do or do not integrate into the State sector. It is about time that one House or the other — and it strikes me that this would be the better of the two Houses to do it — had a long look at the direction which our commercial State enterprises are taking. Would it be possible for us to set time aside for a thoughtful debate on that issue? It is important to many people who are employed in the State sector and it is important to the taxpayers and all the citizens of this State.
I wish to join with the other speakers in regard to the debate on the North of Ireland. When this matter came up on the last occasion we were assured that there would be a continuous debate and that we would have a further debate in the not too distant future. That was my understanding. Given that events change continuously, we should have an immediate debate on this important issue. Any life lost, North or South, should not be lost and we should make every effort to ensure that all means at our disposal should be used to prevent death.
Before replying to the matters raised, I would clarify that we will deal with the remaining Stages of the Bill at 5.30 p.m. If my efforts yesterday to be flexible on timings caused problems to some Members of the Opposition, I apologise. I am an avid supporter of time limits; they have ensured some of the best debates in the House by focusing Member's minds in the 15 or 20 minutes they have to speak. I do not want to return to the days of individual speeches of two or three hours. If my desire to be flexible — as I am on most occasions — caused problems yesterday, I apologise.
The Leader was flexible yesterday in removing five minutes.
With regard to a debate on foreign affairs, we are actively pursuing some themes for debates and we will have some information for the House next week. I agree with Senator O'Toole that it is important that the House is afforded the opportunity to speak on international issues. I have already given a commitment that we will have a debate on Northern Ireland as soon as possible. The record of this Seanad in having debates on Northern Ireland stands up to that of any other Seanad. I am as keen as other Members that the House will have an opportunity of making its views clear to those still pursuing violence.
I will give a list of future legislation next week to the Opposition. In regard to Senator Roche's request to have a debate on State bodies, I am sure that we can agree to that before the summer.