Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 43, Equal Status Bill, 1999 – Report and Final Stages (resumed); No. 1, Planning and Development Bill, 1999 [Seanad] – Second Stage, to be taken not later than immediately following the announcement of matters on the Adjournment under Standing Order 21 and the order shall not resume thereafter. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the opening speech of the Minister or Minister of State and the speeches of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party on the Second Stage of No. 1 shall not exceed one hour in each case. Private Members' Business shall be No. 94, motion re health services (resumed).

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 1 agreed to?

I have a problem agreeing to this proposal, given that the Taoiseach has declined to make a statement about his involvement since December in dealings with Deputy Foley and his position on the Committee of Public Accounts.

That matter was ruled out of order yesterday. Nothing has changed, therefore, I am again ruling it out of order.

Indeed nothing has changed. The Taoiseach has not made a statement.

The Deputy knows he is out of order.

I am aware of that, therefore, I do not want to continue out of order. I wish to indicate to the House that I am agreeing to this proposal, but under protest.

While the rest of the nation is agog at what has been revealed in Dublin Castle, is it in order, while agreeing to the Order of Business, to ask whether the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, particularly the Taoiseach, will at any stage prior to the conclusion of the report of the tribunal make a statement in this House about his transactions with Deputy Foley on this matter?

What is before the House is the proposal for dealing with No. 1. It is not in order to introduce any other matter while considering that proposal.

Perhaps the Chair will advise or assist me.

It is not the Chair's duty to advise or assist the Deputy.

I am not saying it is the duty of the Chair.

The Deputy can assist the Chair by resuming his seat. I call Deputy Sargent.

In dealing with No. 1, I am sure many Members wish to know whether it is in order for a Member to make a statement, even if he is the Taoiseach?

The Deputy is out of order. He cannot circumvent the issue.

May I make a submission on a point of order. I do not wish to get into conflict with the Ceann Comhairle. The House functions by agreement of the Opposition. If we were to adopt an obstructive tactic in regard to all Government business, the Government would not be able to do its business. What we want from the Government at this stage is for the Taoiseach to explain his personal dealings in the matter. I do not wish to take this issue any further.

I have ruled the matter out of order. There is a proposal before the House and I will now put the question. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 1 agreed? Agreed.

I will not continue with what I have already said. However, I hope the Taoiseach has heard what I said. He should understand that in the interests of the good functioning of this House he should do what the Opposition wants in this matter. When will the Dáil discuss the report of the sub-committee of the Committee of Public Accounts, of which Deputy Foley was a member? On the Standards in Public Office Bill which the former Minister for the Marine, Deputy Woods, promised would be available—

The Deputy is attempting to circumvent the ruling of the Chair.

I am asking about promised legislation. I am aware the Chair is trying to help me.

Yes, I am, and the Deputy should listen to the Chair.

I agree the Chair is going out of his way to help me to complete my sentences and so on, but perhaps he would allow me to put the question. In all good humour, this is probably the best way to proceed. I assure the Chair I will ask a question which is in order if he will allow me to do so. I assure the Chair my question is completely in order. The former Minister for the Marine, Deputy Woods, promised the Standards in Public Office Bill would be available in the summer or autumn of 1999. We are now told that it is not available. When will it be available in view of its relevance to current controversies?

On the first matter, I understand arrangements are being made to discuss the report of the Committee of Public Accounts on the DIRT issue during February. On the Standards in Public Office Bill, because consultation between the various committees of the House was requested, the legislation was delayed for almost nine months. The heads of the Bill were cleared last September and the legislation is due in early summer.

On the Order of Business, is it the Taoiseach's intention at any stage to make a statement on his conversation with Deputy Foley prior to Christmas?

That question is not in order on the Order of Business.

I ask the Chair to reflect on this. I have asked a question which has numerous precedents about if or when the Taoiseach—

I have ruled that the Deputy is not in order, therefore, he should resume his seat.

I am imploring you, Sir. This question is on the lips of everyone in the country. It is a farce if I am not allowed to ask the question.

The question is not in order as we are on the Order of Business.

When can it be put in order? This is outrageous.

(Interruptions).

I call Deputy Sargent.

Except those who have Ansbacher accounts.

This is outrageous.

The Aviation Regulation Bill, which will be dealt with by the Department of Public Enterprise, is in many ways a matter of life and death. I understand the Bill will not address competency training or aviation standards with regard to ground handling. Will the Ceann Comhairle bring to the attention of the Government the huge problem that will arise if the Bill does not deal with ground handling?

We cannot discuss the contents of the Bill.

Can the Bill include such amendments?

The Aviation Regulation Bill, which will establish the office of the director of aviation regulations, is due to be taken this session.

How can the Ceann Comhairle reconcile the situation where Deputy Foley is being investigated by five committees but the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment will not comment on their involvement in this affair?

That matter is not in order.

It makes a mockery of the Dáil when they cannot make a statement in the House.

He is making a mockery of it by his silence.

Is the Taoiseach aware of the serious position in the Defence Forces at present due to the contents of the leaked White Paper on Defence? Is he aware that the Minister for Defence's insulting remarks yesterday about the Defence Forces has made a bad situation worse?

That matter was discussed on the Adjournment last night. I call Deputy Stagg.

A potentially serious situation will emerge in terms of the important relationship between the Defence Forces and the Executive if the current position is allowed to spin out of control. It is a serious matter.

Deputy Fitzgerald should resume her seat. I call Deputy Stagg.

The Minister for Defence might need them yet.

The Deputy is not in order on the Order of Business. The matter was raised last night on the Adjournment.

The White Paper has been continually postponed. Is the Taoiseach aware of the seriousness of the situation? There is a White Paper—

The Deputy should resume her seat. She is completely out of order.

I am not out of order. On a point of order, there is a White Paper.

The Chair decides who is out of order. The Deputy should resume her seat.

A White Paper was promised.

The Deputy should resume her seat. Many other Deputies are anxious to ask questions. I have called Deputy Stagg.

On a point of order—

The Deputy should resume her seat.

A White Paper was promised but it has been postponed continually.

I will ask the Deputy to leave the House if she does not resume her seat.

I wish to seek the Ceann Comhairle's guidance on a procedural matter. It is normal practice on the Order of Business for leaders of parties to seek Government time to debate various issues. It is also normal practice for the Ceann Comhairle to suggest at that stage that matters should be referred to the Whips to ensure time is made available for them. An issue has been raised by the party leaders for the second consecutive day. They have asked that time be made available to debate it and to allow the Taoiseach to make a statement. This is normal practice and there is plenty of precedent for it. However, on this occasion, the Ceann Comhairle has said that it is out of order. Why is a new precedent being set where party leaders cannot ask on the Order of Business that Government time be made available to debate a particular issue?

The Deputy is always told it is a matter for the Whips. It is still a matter for the Whips. The Whips do not have to wait for the Chair to direct matters to them.

If the Taoiseach wishes to assist, he can do so.

A little bit of controlled disorderly remarks makes for order. That is the truth of the matter. That is the way it works. The Chair should not take too restrictive a view.

In such situations, regularly the Ceann Comhairle says that the Whips will deal with the matter and come back to the House.

The Whips are free to deal with whatever they decide to deal with it.

I presume the Ceann Comhairle is then suggesting that the Whips might examine this matter and come back to the House.

That is a matter for the Whips. It is not a matter for the Chair to suggest what the Whips should decide.

I need the Ceann Comhairle's assistance. Last week the Taoiseach changed some Ministers around and he appointed the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, as the Minister for Health and Children and we all hope he will do a better job than the previous incumbent. When the Minister, Deputy Martin, left the Department of Education and Science, some people could not reach high enough on the hyperbole scale in saying how wonderful he was. I wish to seek the Chair's help. Last week 115 questions were tabled to the Minister for Education and Science and 51 questions were not answered except to state that there was an industrial dispute.

That is not a matter for the Order of Business.

Why did the Minister not tell us that our right to ask parliamentary questions was to be denied?

The Deputy asked for the Chair's help.

I am asking what the Chair will do.

The Chair is telling the Deputy that she is out of order.

What will the Ceann Comhairle do?

The Deputy is out of order.

Members tabled questions but they were not answered.

The Deputy sought my advice. The Deputy is out of order and she should resume her seat.

Why did the Minister not tell us before he left the Department that, for at least two weeks before the House resumed, there was industrial action and our questions would not be answered?

I ask the Deputy to resume her seat. The Deputy sought my assistance and I have given her my advice. She is out of order. I call Deputy Gilmore.

The Ceann Comhairle is in charge of protecting our rights.

The Deputy should know that when the Chair is on his feet—

On a point of order—

No. The Deputy is being disorderly. She cannot ask a point of order when she is being disorderly.

Who is in charge of protecting our rights in the House?

The Deputy should resume her seat. She is not entitled to a point of order because she is out of order.

The Ceann Comhairle is in charge of protecting our rights.

Yes, and I am glad the Deputy recognises that fact.

Questions have not been answered because of a dispute in the Department. Deputies did not receive answers and Ministers—

I will close the Order of Business. I call Deputy Gilmore on the Order of Business. I have ruled that Deputy Owen is out of order and she should resume her seat.

I must protest, a Cheann Comhairle, at your lack of protection of my rights in the House.

The Deputy should not make charges against the Chair. The Deputy is completely out of order.

Have Deputies no rights?

I will close the Order of Business. Will the Deputy please resume her seat?

One of the supreme rights of Deputies is to ask parliamentary questions. I have no problem—

In view of the Deputy's behaviour, I suspend the sitting for 15 minutes.

Sitting suspended at 10.47 a.m. and resumed at 11.02 a.m.

I wish to ask about two items of legislation, the water services Bill and the environment protection agency Bill, both of which are promised for late 2000 and 2001. Is the Taoiseach aware the European Union is taking legal action against Ireland for breaches of nine different EU directives on the environment which relate to this legislation? As a consequence, has the Government any plans to speed up the publication of these Bills?

The environment protection agency (amendment) Bill will be published towards the end of the year. The water services Bill is substantial, having over 180 heads, and will consolidate and update all the water services legislation. The heads of the Bill are expected late this year but the legislation will not be ready until next year. I will pass on the Deputy's comments.

I have three questions for the Taoiseach. Under the Protection of Architectural Heritage Act, will the Taoiseach intervene in the proposal to demolish the house owned by William Butler Yeats, Riversdale House in Rathfarnham, on which a decision is due later this month? Under the Údarás na Gaeltachta (Elections) Act, elections were held on 4 December. As there are still two appointments to be made by Government, will the Taoiseach indicate when he expects to finalise that legislation by making those appointments? Has he read and noted the speech given by Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, recently when he said Fianna Fáil is now a party that stands for no values being led by the Taoiseach?

That question is not in order on the Order of Business. The Taoiseach on promised legislation.

The legislation is already passed but the appointments have to be made shortly.

(Dublin West): The State sold off important telecommunications franchise so that private businessmen could speculate and walk away with hundreds of millions of pounds profit that should belong to the Irish people. The consultants report on the future on Aer Rianta was presented to the Cabinet yesterday and discussed. The Minister has promised she will be acting on it. Is it proposed to bring forward legislation to privatise a significant section of Aer Rianta and, if so, when? Also will legislation be brought forward to privatise the Great Southern Hotel Group? Is the Taoiseach aware that the Minister for Public Enterprise is beginning to make Margaret Thatcher look like a liberal and a moderate—

I would not be allowed get away with that. The Chair is very easy on Deputy Higgins.

(Dublin West):—with her programmes of privatisation of property that belongs to the Irish people?

The report was published yesterday and the Minister is to bring forward proposals. At this stage there is no legislation.

The Taoiseach has promised the House on a number of occasions that a White Paper on defence would be published before Christmas. In view of our inability to meet our Partnership for Peace commitments, the Petersberg Tasks and even our UNIFIL commitments and the uproar in the Army, when will the White Paper be published?

As stated last week it will be published this month.

In light of your ruling, which I do not challenge, that prevented party leaders from seeking to establish whether Government time might be given to discuss a particular matter, having regard to the fact that a Member was frustrated from having her questions answered because of an industrial dispute which you refused to allow to be discussed here, and, further, having regard to the fact that a Private Members' motion from my party was ruled out of order on the grounds that it constituted an administrative charge, a precedent for which we cannot find, with all due respect I ask you to facilitate an emergency meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges today to discuss these apparent changes in the rules which you are administering in this House.

The Deputy's request will be considered but I cannot give any—

Thank you for hearing me out – it is in marked contrast to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I give notice that the Labour Party Whip will be raising formally with the Government Whip at a meeting tonight our request for time for the Taoiseach to discuss this tomorrow. We will expect a report on the Order of Business tomorrow.

I should point out to the Deputy that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges is not an appellate body.

I wish to raise again the future of Aer Rianta. Given that a significant report was published yesterday, will there be an opportunity for a frank debate on it? It is vital to the interests of Dublin, Cork and Shannon. The two Marys are at odds again on this issue. Can the Whips arrange for a Dáil debate before the Government makes a decision on Tuesday week? I see the Minister nodding.

Who is going to win this one?

It is a matter for the Whips.

(Mayo): Last week the Government published its legislative programme which contained a list of Bills enacted by the House since the Government took office. Given that court proceedings under any of the Acts passed since the Government took office cannot be processed because of industrial action in the Chief State Solicitor's office where work has ground to a halt, files and cases are not being processed, and in view of the fact that the Chief State Solicitor's office comes directly under the baton of the Taoiseach, what is he doing about it?

The Deputy should table a parliamentary question on that issue.

(Mayo): We have ceased doing that, nothing is happening. Cases are not being processed. Work has ground to a halt and the Taoiseach is doing nothing about it.

Put down a parliamentary question.

Will the Ceann Comhairle put on the record whether I am correct in saying it is the responsibility of Ministers to answer questions, not civil servants?

It is a matter for Ministers. The Chair has no function—

What has a strike in the Civil Service got to do with answering parliamentary questions?

(Interruptions).

The Minister, Deputy Martin, was asked the question, not his civil servants.

On a related matter, last Thursday I submitted a matter for consideration by you for an Adjournment debate concerning proposed job losses in my constituency. I was selected for that matter but was then deselected on receipt by your office of a message from the Government to the effect that the Minister had no responsibility in the area of jobs. Will you quote me precedent—

My ruling cannot be challenged in this manner. The Deputy should contact my office in relation to any query on that matter. It is not a matter for the Order of Business.

I did contact your office.

The Deputy is disorderly in raising the matter on the Order of Business.

I sought a letter of clarification from your office. I was not satisfied with that letter and I conveyed my dissatisfaction to your office. I want to know—

The Deputy is out of order in raising the matter in this manner.

A precedent has emerged where the Government has abdicated its responsibility.

It is not a matter for the Order of Business.

I make the point that a similar point was raised by my colleagues, Deputy Owen and also by Deputy Stagg.

It cannot be raised in this House.

This House is out of control.

Not on this side.

On the Order of Business, the record will show that about two months ago we had exactly the same set of circumstances to which Deputy Flanagan has drawn the attention of the House.

The matter cannot be discussed in this way on the Order of Business.

This House is littered with precedent of industrial matters—

The Deputy cannot raise this on the Order of Business.

—raised in this Chamber and the Minister of the day being required to answer. That answer came from the Office of the Tánaiste about two months ago.

I now conclude the Order of Business. We must proceed with the business of the day.

Members have rights.

We have certain rights.

We have rights.

We must proceed with the first business of the day.

I am merely asserting that in the matter which Deputy Flanagan raised, there are plenty of precedents here.

We will proceed to No. 43.

A Cheann Comhairle, you are constraining the rights of Members of the House.

We are now on No. 43, Report Stage. It is now 11.10 a.m.

(Interruptions).

On a point of order—

The Chair is on its feet. The Chair is using its discretion. Order. The Deputy must resume his seat.

It is a democracy.

The Chair is on its feet. Deputies must resume their seats.

You are frustrating the House, a Cheann Comhairle.

The Chair should not forget we live in a democracy.

I have called the end of the Order of Business. It is now 11.10 a.m. The Chair is on its feet.

This is not over.

Deputies must resume their seats.

The Chair is a farce.

I suspend the House for 15 minutes.

Sitting suspended at 11.11 a.m. and resumed at 11.26 a.m.

We are resuming on No. 43 – the Equal Status Bill, 1999: Report and Final Stages.

On a point of order, Sir, I regret to say this, but it seems that the practice of the Order of Business is unsatisfactory for everybody, including the Chair. It is the duty of Opposition parties to oppose the Government. We have no desire to come into conflict with either the Chair or the secretariat of this House. We are obliged to oppose the Government. I have to say to you, Sir, that your interpretation of that practice is in conflict with what we understand to be precedent.

The Deputy should not cast reflections on the Chair or be critical of it. It is totally disorderly to do that.

It is unfair.

I am trying to be constructive. This party and, indeed, the Fine Gael Party, has—

What is the point of order, Deputy?

I want to draw to your attention the seriousness of the matter that has already been brought to your attention – the earnest request that a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges take place as a matter of urgency to discuss the totally unsatisfactory nature of the way in which the Opposition is being frustrated in carrying out its legal and constitutional duties.

That is really not a point of order, Deputy. We are on No. 43.

May I ask for your help, a Cheann Comhairle?

No, I have called No. 43.

I just want to ask your help with regard to the procedures. When Dáil questions are not answered by a Minister, because of a dispute, is there a responsibility—

That is not a matter for the Chair.

But you are in charge of the order of this House and of protecting our rights.

The content of the Minister's reply is not a matter for the Chair.

The Standing Orders of this House require you to look after our rights as much as those of Ministers. Why is it that they are not required to let you know, in the same way as you require them to let you know, if an Adjournment motion does not come within their responsibility? Surely there is a requirement on them to let you know if they are not going to answer questions.

(Interruptions).

We must proceed with the business of the House. I am asking the Deputy to resume her seat.

Ministers are not answering questions.

If Deputies have matters like that to raise, there are other ways in which they can do so. I have called No. 43 – the Equal Status Bill, 1999: Report and Final Stages. We must have order to proceed.

On a point of order, the situation is really very serious. We can get information under the Freedom of Information Act, yet Ministers will not answer the same questions in the House.

That is not a point of order.

But this is a very serious matter.

It is not a point of order. The Deputy should resume his seat. Deputy Stagg, is it a point of order?

Arising from the comments made by my party Leader, Deputy Quinn, will you indicate to the House, as chairman of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, if a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges will be held to discuss the very serious matters raised by Deputy Quinn today?

I cannot give that assurance at this stage.

Can you indicate when it might be called? It is very serious when Members of this House cannot get such information.

A reply will be conveyed to the Deputy in due course and as soon as possible. We must proceed with the business of the House.