Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 22, motion re Fourth Protocol to the Treaty of Amsterdam – a proposal for a Council Directive on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals and stateless persons as refugees or persons who otherwise need international protection; No. 4, Finance Bill, 2002 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10 p.m.; that No. 22 will be decided without debate; that No. 4 shall be taken today and the following arrangements shall apply: the opening speech of the Minister for Finance and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party shall not exceed 45 minutes in each case; the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 30 minutes in each case and Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply, which shall not exceed 20 minutes; that Question Time tomorrow shall be taken at 3.30 p.m. until 4.45 p.m. and that in the event of a private notice question being allowed, it shall be taken at 4.15 p.m. and the order shall not resume thereafter. Private Members' Business will be No. 122, motion re traffic and transport (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight.

There are four proposals to be put to the House. Is the late sitting agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing without debate No. 22, motion regarding the approval of the Fourth Protocol to the Treaty of Amsterdam, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 4, Second Stage of the Finance Bill, 2002, agreed to?

I understand the intention is that there will be a guillotine on the Finance Bill tomorrow. The House will sit for very few days in March. The Finance Bill contains some new elements that are the subject of considerable controversy. I do not accept that we should have a guillotine tomorrow on Second Stage. There are many Members who would not otherwise participate in committee which will not necessarily enable them to make the points they want to make because they may just want to make a point about the proposals in respect of sportspersons, so ably criticised by the president of SIPTU this morning on "Morning Ireland". Is it the intention to have a guillotine tomorrow on the Finance Bill? If so, the Labour Party will not accept it.

It is proposed, as of now, to have two full days' debate, including up to 10 p.m. tonight. If Deputy Quinn is seeking more time tomorrow, perhaps his Whip could make that point to the Government Chief Whip, who will see if more time can be allowed.

To clarify, I am not seeking more time tomorrow. I am seeking an undertaking that there will not be a guillotine tomorrow.

The Deputy knows the Finance Bill follows a timeframe which is normally negotiated between the Whips. If it is not a question of more time, there is a time motion on the Finance Bill, which is taken every year.

Why did the House not follow the timeframe when—

I have to put the question.

—we are reducing the length of time we are sitting? It is ludicrous.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 4, Second Stage of the Finance Bill, 2002, agreed to?

It is for today.

Agreed. Is the proposal regarding the taking of Question Time tomorrow agreed to? Agreed. We now come to leaders' questions.

I believe the Taoiseach is aware of a rather pleasant occasion this morning when people from North West Radio came to the Oireachtas studio and interviewed some of us. The interviews were broadcast to counties Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon and south Donegal. When I was in the studio Deputies Quinn and Gerry Reynolds were there with the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey. The interviewer asked the Minister the reason the Government is proposing an abortion referendum. The Minister said the Government was proposing an abortion referendum because significant numbers of women in recent years had gone to their doctors indicating that they were suicidal and looking for abortions and that the Government had to act to stop this traffic.

Shame on him.

That is not true.

Is this the Government's position? If so, why was this argument not brought forward by the Minister for Health and Children when he proposed the legislation in the House? Does the Taoiseach stand over this statement made by one of his Ministers? I was amazed that this argument was brought forward. As I know the medical profession is on record as stating that no abortion has been carried out in this country for any reason since the X case, what is the Government's position? It was an outrageous remark from which the Taoiseach should dissociate himself.

As Deputy Noonan said, I was in the same studio and heard the Minister, Deputy Fahey, make those points. My reaction was such that I turned to the presenter, Tommy Marron, and said he had a scoop because if the Government had evidence of individual cases of women who were citing suicidal tendencies and, therefore, seeking a termination in this country within the framework of the judgment in the X case, that was the first any of us had heard of it. If the Minister, with the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, is in possession of information that there has been an invocation of the Supreme Court judgment to justify and enable women with suicidal tendencies to seek to have pregnancies terminated in this country, it should be shared with all of us. Deputy Noonan and I are fairly accurately reflecting what the Minister said. As the transcript and recording exist, it is a matter of record. I am not citing him verbatim, but I am citing the thrust of what was said which was to the effect that the Government had received information that various women – more than one – were seeking abortions.

I did not say the Government had information.

The Minister was citing information, unless we have an inspired Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources. A Minister of the Government with collective responsibility was saying there was information to the effect that women with suicidal tendencies were seeking abortions and that, therefore, the Government had to act to stop this. After he has had time to reflect and listen to the transcript, the Taoiseach at his press conference later today might give us this new information which has not previously been brought forward in the debate.

I was aware there was a debate this morning. I thought they were debating issues relating to the general election as they affect County Mayo, not the referendum on 6 March, an issue I will be debating later. As I did not hear the debate and have not seen a transcript of it, I am not in a good position to comment on it. I am not aware of any case and do not think anyone would be, because if there was a woman—

Did the Minister not tell the truth?

Every morning for the past three weeks I have been interrupted as soon as I start to answer a leader's question. All I need do is say to my good colleagues at the back that every time the Opposition starts, we should do the same. We will listen carefully—

The Taoiseach does not have to say anything to them.

The Taoiseach is so fragile, is he not?

If we want to have an orderly debate, let us do so, but we will not continue to play the game that Deputies Noonan and Quinn are given free space, but as soon as I start, I am interrupted. We can have it whatever way they like. I will answer all questions, as I do for five hours every week, but if there are interruptions, questions will not be answered. If there is order, I will answer them.

The Taoiseach should answer the question.

He should get the Minister to withdraw what he said.

The Taoiseach should not reply to interruptions.

In reply to Deputy Noonan, I am not aware of any such case and do not think anybody would be because if there was a woman with suicidal tendencies and she, either alone or, more likely, with her family, was to seek an abortion, it would be to her doctor she would go and under doctors' code of practice in this country, that would not be permissible, nor would this information be made public. Therefore, I would not be aware of such a case and it is not a case that has been made. Perhaps a Deputy, Minister or somebody else has personal knowledge of such a case, but I do not.

Deputy Noonan also asked the reason we are having this referendum. I promised that if Fianna Fáil came into government, we would hold a referendum on the question of abortion. In the wake of the Supreme Court judgment in the X case, it was clear there was unfinished business. It was highlighted by the Supreme Court and in Mr. Whitaker's report on constitutional issues. I was aware that the issue was complicated and that we would have to tackle it. I hoped we could build a consensus. The Government did not rush into any proposal and gave ample time for debate. We debated the issue with everybody who wished to express a view and for the first time ever propose giving statutory protection to the lives of pregnant women and current medical practice. We want to create the circumstances where no woman need fear that if she develops a life threatening condition in pregnancy, her doctor will not save her life.

Except suicide.

It is not because we are insensitive to women or because, as some have suggested, we do not trust them that we ruled out suicide as a reason for seeking an abortion.

Of course the Government does not trust them. What did Deputy O'Flynn say about women?

(Interruptions.)

Deputy McManus chips in every day with this one line, but there is a difference between us and we may as well agree to differ. Labour Party backbenchers and her party all voted at its conference to be pro choice. I disagree with this.

That is not true.

The conference motion read: "Conference calls on the party to reject a debate on the issue of abortion and to support women's right to choose. Conference further asks that women should be able to exercise their right." I hold a different view.

The Government is putting women's lives at risk.

I happen to think that pro life means something.

(Interruptions.)

You are not a pro-life party; you are a pro-abortion party; you are a prochoice party. I am not, that is the difficulty–

(Interruptions.)

Fianna Fáil has learnt nothing since 1983.

The Government does not believe or trust women.

(Interruptions.)

Please ask Deputy Roche to withdraw his remark.

Deputy McManus is out of order and must resume her seat. She has no right to speak.

(Interruptions.)

On a point of order—

The Chair did not call Deputy Rabbitte. Deputy Noonan is asking a supplementary question. The Deputy may not intervene in leaders' questions.

I want to raise a matter on a point of order.

The Deputy is not the leader of his party. He will resume his seat.

Did the Chair hear the remark made by Deputy Roche?

The Chair did not hear the remark. The Deputy must resume his seat.

Will the Chair hear me?

The Deputy must resume his seat.

A Cheann Comhairle—

This is leaders' questions. The Deputy must resume his seat. If I do not get order, I will ask the Deputy to leave the House.

Will the Chair hear me?

I cannot hear the Deputy as this is leaders' questions. The Deputy must resume his seat. I ask the Deputy, finally, to resume his seat.

I will come back to it again.

We have come a long way from the day the Taoiseach with the beatific look on his face and his hands joined thus said we would proceed with this debate by way of consensus in a non-hysterical manner and that there would be no scaremongering. I again put it to him that this morning the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources was speaking on behalf of the Government. The context of the question was why the Government is proceeding with this referendum. The Minister spoke on behalf of the Government. While not attempting to quote the Minister verbatim, I put it to the Taoiseach that the thrust of the Minister's remarks was that the Government's reason for bringing forward this referendum was to prevent women going to their doctors claiming they were suicidal and seeking an abortion, that this practice had been widespread over recent years.

I did not say that. That is incorrect.

I put it to the Taoiseach that this was the only reason brought forward by the Minister this morning for the introduction of the referendum.

That is also not correct.

That is what the Minister said. He should listen to himself.

Will the Taoiseach give a guarantee to the House that he will stop the scaremongering and that he will stop laying charges at decent people on this side of the House?

There is no scaremongering from this side of the House.

If the Taoiseach feels he will lose the referendum, let him take it like a man and not twist the debate around and lay charges at people on this side of the House to the effect that all virtue lies with those on the Fianna Fáil benches and all the sinners are over here. I do not think that case will carry.

I assure Deputy Noonan I am very anxious to have an organised and civilised debate regardless.

(Dublin West): That is not what was indicated—

This will be the last day that there will be silence for any of Question Time if order is not restored.

The Taoiseach is losing it. Will he not answer the question?

I am not, and I would like to answer the question.

Will he let Deputy Roche loose again?

Please allow the Taoiseach to reply without interruption.

I assure Deputy Noonan it is my intention to ensure that there will be a calm and cool debate over the three weeks. The people will decide on the arguments that have been made in the Legislature over the past several months. Naturally I will accept whatever the people decide, as I always do. I do not have any knowledge of what the Minister, Deputy Fahey, said today.

Will the Taoiseach ask him to resign?

I have heard the Minister say three times that what Deputy Noonan said he said is not correct. If Deputy Noonan is correct in what he said, that is not an argument that has been put forward. I want to be clear about that. The Minister, Deputy Fahey, will have an opportunity to speak on this.

What I was trying to say when I was interrupted is that we did not rule out suicide as a reason to legislate for abortion because we were insensitive to women or because, as some suggested, we did not trust them. That was not the argument. We did so because the evidence showed that where abortion is allowed on the basis of psychiatric consideration, the numbers seeking abortion rapidly increase. That is the position outside this country and that evidence was put before the Oireachtas committee. It has been put to my party and the Government by people who, I believe, know what they are talking about. I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but eminent people in this business have put forward that evidence. That is my only basis for this. We listened to leading psychiatrists who told us pregnancy, in itself, does not cause suicidal tendencies and in extremely rare cases where those tendencies might exist, abortion is not the appropriate treatment.

The Taoiseach does not mind them going to England.

What if one is a raped teenager?

What about the C case?

Order, please.

Deputy Owen asked me about the position in England. There is a different position in this country. The Deputy will appreciate that I do my best to legislate for what happens in this country; I do not legislate for what happens in England.

I draw the Taoiseach's attention to a comment he made yesterday in reply to a leader's question I put to him. As a justification for bringing forward this divisive referendum, he stated he has listened to leading psychiatrists and he cited them as a justification for this restrictive referendum on abortion.

I draw to his attention and that of some of his colleagues a letter that has been sent to him by the President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists at the request of the Irish division. It states:

I am writing to you at the request of our Irish Division regarding your Government's Green Paper on Abortion which has quoted the Rawlinson Report . . . of 1994. This paragraph has misquoted a statement by Dr. Margaret Oates who gave evidence on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Unfortunately the Green Paper has repeated this misquote.

At no time during her evidence did Dr. Oates say that there is "no psychiatric justification for abortion". She did say that there was "noabsolute psychiatric indications for termination of pregnancy” and went on to explain that statement by saying that termination of pregnancy—

I point out to the Deputy that it is a long-standing rule that—

Only in respect of questions.

Yes and this is leaders' questions.

The Deputy's contribution is coming to an end.

I am using the letter as anaide memoire. I would not like to misquote what it says.

It is a long quotation.

The letter continues: " ‘would always have to be worked out on the basis of an individual patient'." That letter from Professor John Cox sent to the Taoiseach on 1 February should be put into the public domain. Perhaps the Taoiseach will do so at the press conference he will give later today and clarify the points in relation to the Minister, Deputy Fahey.

We, on this side of the House, want a debate on this referendum. We have not had a proper debate on it. The Taoiseach's surprise at the fact that the radio programme was even discussing this matter is an indication, I suspect, of his desire not to have a debate on it. It was perfectly reasonable for Tommy Marron to raise the question as to our attitudes to this issue since it is the first issue that will come before the electorate in this calendar year.

As far as my party is concerned, we are opposed to this abortion referendum. Why does the Taoiseach continue in his scaremongering – that is the only way I can interpret it although I invite him to do otherwise – to cite someone like T. K. Whitaker when his report did not recommend another referendum but recommended quite the contrary, that there should be legislation to give support to the Supreme Court judgment in the X case?

That is right.

The Deputy's party when in Government did not do it.

The Government has had five years to do it.

(Interruptions.)

Order, please. Deputy Quinn, without interruption.

Will the Chair call the dauphin to order? If we are to have the sort of debate the Taoiseach is seeking, incorrect citings and innuendo will not provide the basis for it. T. K. Whitaker did not propose another referendum. To attempt to suggest, as the Taoiseach has done in his replies, that somehow T. K. Whitaker is on side for this referendum is, I respectfully put it to the Taoiseach, highly misleading and constitutes scaremongering.

I understand the Referendum Commission will be put in place today, or perhaps this was done yesterday, under Mr. Justice Morris. I also understand the commission will not be charged with disseminating information but will simply draw attention to the fact that there is a referendum and advocate that people should vote on it. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the commission will not provide information concerning the nature of the proposal, either for or against it? Is the Taoiseach deliberately trying to reduce debate on this serious issue? We must recall that Second, Committee and Report Stages were guillotined. We did not have the full debate we wanted.

Ridiculous.

Now it seems the mandate of the Referendum Commission is being interpreted under the new Act as requiring it to give no information other than the fact that the referendum is taking place. Perhaps the Taoiseach will outline the mandate for the commission under the new dispensation.

The mandate for the Referendum Commission under the legislation passed before Christmas is that it should explain what the referendum is about and urge people to vote. It is not a question of it simply urging people to vote; that is incorrect. I am sure it will do its job in its normal successful way.

With regard to the issue raised by Deputy Quinn, the reason I mentioned both the Supreme Court judgment in 1992 and what Mr. Whitaker said is that both stated the political system should act. They did not prescribe how it should act, but both stated there was an issue to be dealt with.

By legislation.

Many others have said it also. We had a long debate. Divorce was a major issue, but that debate was guillotined. It was short and sharp.

By agreement.

The Taoiseach was hiding from it.

This debate was far longer.

The Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

This issue should be well aired for a simple reason. While I will accept whatever happens, if we go down the road of the right to choose, with no real regard for the unborn, it will be a mistake for Irish life. That is my view.

Nobody is arguing that.

That is not the issue.

That is how I interpret it.

There he goes again.

The Taoiseach is ignoring the main issue.

We know what he is at as well.

Order, please.

I accept Deputy Quinn's view. He has a view which is as outlined at his party conference – the right to choose, with no mention of the unborn. That is his party's position. It is not mine. I am not sure what the Fine Gael Party's position is, but I know what Deputy Quinn's party position is. I have an opposing view and whether it is religious, ethical, moral or legal, it does not matter.

It is political.

The Taoiseach is going to impose it on women.

I do not think it is political. I do not think Deputy Quinn is any worse a person for his view and I hope he does not think any worse of me. It is not a political difference; it is a religious, ethical or moral difference. Let us just differ; we know what it is. I could argue that the Deputy's party posters, on trusting women, are misleading—

They are not.

—when, for the first time ever, pregnant women will be protected under legislation. That is the reason it is misleading.

One needs 20:20 vision to see the party name on Fianna Fáil's posters. The Taoiseach is ashamed of them.

Where are the PD posters?

Order, please.

We have a policy difference and the people will ultimately decide. I believe the Deputy is wrong and that his policy will be wrong for Ireland, but let the people decide. Is that not fair?

I wish to respond to what the Taoiseach said.

The Deputy should ask a supplementary question.

Does the Taoiseach agree that the motion passed at my party's conference also claimed that we did not want another divisive referendum and that what is on the agenda, therefore, are the parameters of the Supreme Court judgment in the X case? We want the proposal rejected and legislation put in place. We do not go as far as the Tánaiste did in 1992, when rape and incest were suggested as grounds for abortion. That is not our position. I accept that the motion adopted at our conference reflected within it two different points of view. The reality is that on 6 March the electorate is being asked to make a choice. We say that choice will diminish the rights and protections of women.

The Taoiseach has cited psychiatrists in the past. The last paragraph of the letter from Professor John Cox, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, written to the Taoiseach at the request of the psychiatrists working in this jurisdiction, states: "We would not want the debate on abortion in the Republic of Ireland to be misinformed and therefore we hope that the correct quotation is used in future." The Taoiseach's requests for reasoned debate, which obviously Deputy Roche has not heard, suggest that in response to a letter from the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, to which Irish members are affiliated, he will use the available opportunity to correct the record and cite the correct quotation.

Briefly, the quotes and information we received came from many people. The all-party committee heard from Mr. Sheehan, Professor Anthony Clare and many other eminent psychiatrists whom we know from their writings and work, are the people with the difficult job of dealing with those with suicidal tendencies. They are people a large proportion of the Irish public and I respect. I have seen what they have said. They are eminent people in this field and clear in what they have said. We have taken that advice. That is our point of view.

In relation to the Labour Party conference motion, it contains contradictory positions. It states at one stage that the party does not want a constitutional referendum and then that it supports the right to choose. There cannot be a right to choose without a constitutional referendum.

That is the point I am making.

The party is stating that it does not want a referendum, but it then seems to state, if I can say with the greatest respect, it does not want—

Is the Taoiseach losing it?

The Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

The Deputy's party seems to have the position that it does not want a referendum that has anything to do with protecting the unborn. That is the only logical conclusion one can come to on his party's position.

That concludes leaders' questions. I will now take relevant questions on the Order of Business.

On a point of order, will the Chair require Deputy Roche to withdraw the disgraceful slur on a Member of these benches? There are many decent people—

What slur?

—with different views on this issue.

Order, please.

There are many decent people involved in politics and many who consider themselves above politics. Deputy Roche is beneath politics—

On a point of order—

I am asking the Chair—

On a point of order—

Deputy Roche should resume his seat.

—to require him—

The Chair did not hear the remark. The Chair cannot rule on a remark—

He said she was pro-abortion.

With due respect, it is your job to hear it.

It is not my job. When there is total disorder in the House the Chair cannot hear.

Being able to hear ought to be a criterion for being chairman.

The Deputy should not challenge the Chair.

On a point of order—

I have ruled on that point of order.

As somebody who suffered as a result of slurs cast by another Member—

If it is the same point of order, I have ruled on it.

I just want the Chair to listen for one second.

The Deputy had better be brief.

Deputy Roche cast a slur on Deputy McManus which must be withdrawn.

The Chair did not hear that remark.

You must get him to withdraw it.

The Chair did not hear the remark and cannot rule on a remark it did not hear.

You cannot arbitrarily hear some things and not others. He cast aspersions on Deputy McManus.

If Deputies accept the ruling of the Chair we might hear disorderly remarks. The Deputy should resume her seat.

You kindly listened to the recording of the proceedings on my behalf.

The Deputy must resume her seat.

The Chair should extend the same courtesy as he extended to me last year and listen to the tape.

The Chair has explained the position and will not continue to repeat that explanation.

I am grateful to the Ceann Comhairle for not allowing a similar remark to pass last year.

The Chair has explained the position.

Will you listen to the record?

The Chair did not hear the remark.

A Cheann Comhairle—

The Deputy must resume her seat and restore order.

With respect—

The Deputy is behaving in a disorderly manner. She must resume her seat or I will ask her to leave the House.

A Cheann Comhairle, you—

The Deputy must leave the House.

I wish to raise a point of order.

The Deputy must leave the House. Other Deputies must resume their seats. The Chair is on his feet.

A point of order.

There cannot be a point of order when there is disorder.

On a point of order.

There is complete disorder so there cannot be a point of order. The Deputy must leave the House.

The Ceann Comhairle should consult the record of the House. I only wish to—

The Deputy must leave the House.

I want to raise a point of order based on my own experience—