Order of Business.

The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 11c, motion re membership of committee; No. 22, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Bill 2002 – Report Stage, resumed, and Final Stage; No. 6a Taxi Regulation Bill 2003 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 4.45 p.m. and business shall be interrupted not later than 7 p.m.; No. 11c shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on the resumed Report Stage and Final Stage of No. 22 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 2 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance.

The Dáil shall sit tomorrow at 10.30 a.m. and shall adjourn not later than 4 p.m. There shall be no Order of Business within the meaning of Standing Order 26(2) and (3). Any divisions demanded shall be postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Tuesday, 24 June 2003 and, accordingly, the following business shall be transacted in the following order: No. 6a Taxi Regulation Bill 2003 – Second Stage, resumed, shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 4 p.m.; No. 6 Residential Tenancies Bill 2003 – Second Stage, resumed.

There are four proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposals for the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 11c agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 22 agreed?

I cannot agree to this. We are at an early stage in terms of the deliberation on amendments presented on this important Bill. The discussion cannot be properly addressed in the period up to 2 o'clock. The guillotining of this Bill is unnecessary and unacceptable.

I have just received a telephone call to advise that amendments I tabled that would allow for worker representation, for the many people working in the Houses of the Oireachtas who are not elected Members of either House, will not now be taken by the Minister for Finance. They have been ruled out of order—

Thank you. The Deputy will resume his seat.

It is an important matter because what is happening here is that the Minister for Finance has, with the usual craft at his disposal, introduced an amendment that debars the opportunity to properly—

The Deputy is out of order. The first comment was in order, but now the Deputy is out of order. I call Deputy Stagg.

—debate the representation for unelected members of staff of these Houses on the commission. I have to make a strong protest—

The Deputy will have an opportunity when the Bill comes before—

I will not because my amendments have been ruled out of order—

The Deputy will have an opportunity to contribute. The Deputy will resume his seat when the Chair is on his feet.

Will the Ceann Comhairle please address this matter?

I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

I resume my seat in deference to the Chair.

The Chair is correct, the Deputy will have an opportunity to raise the matter on Fifth Stage.

Of all of the issues on which a guillotine motion may be desirable, this is certainly not one. It is desirable that there will be as much consensus and agreement on all aspects of this legislation. For the Bill to go to a decision when there are many Opposition amendments that will not be debated is undesirable. I suggest to the Minister and the Chief Whip that in the event that the Bill is not concluded by 2 o'clock today, they should adjourn the debate. I know they want to get legislation through before the end of term but this is one Bill where there should be as much agreement as possible.

We would like to make sure that there is sufficient time to debate key amendments, including the one on staff representation. Our own amendment in respect of staff representation is in order and can be taken, but we would like to be sure that sufficient time will be made available for an adequate debate. Perhaps there could be some flexibility on the other side of the House if sufficient time is not available.

We too agree that the necessary time should be made available for this Bill. On a personal note, I have a vested interest in ensuring that amendments Nos. 55 and 59 in my name are heard before the Bill is eventually agreed by the House.

The Deputy is not the only Green Party Member with a vested interest.

Very good.

Allow Deputy Boyle to proceed without interruption.

I am glad that the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism is finally using his own words.

We would love to know who wrote that speech last night.

On those terms, we support the views of the other Opposition Parties in asking the Government to allow full and proper consideration of this Bill.

This is an important piece of legislation but perhaps not the most important that has ever come before the House. We appreciate the need for as much consensus as possible. Having said that, we have already had one hour's debate and are proposing to have three hours today on Report Stage, which would appear to be fairly generous. Notwithstanding that, we will agree to adjourn at 2 o'clock.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with No. 22 be agreed to," put and declared carried.

Is the proposal on the sitting and business of the Dáil tomorrow agreed to?

There is increasing disquiet about the level of accountability in this House. Yesterday, I participated in what was a sham debate on the 2003 Estimates with the year already half over. Tomorrow we will have a sitting in the absence of the Taoiseach, with no Order of Business, no Question Time and no divisions.

No quorum.

And no Opposition.

I imagine that this week there will be 20 Government Deputies around the House, close to their monitors.


Allow Deputy Richard Bruton to proceed without interruption, please.

Will there be 20 Opposition Deputies?

The Taoiseach has come to the House time and again and said how burdened he feels because he has to work for four hours here in the Dáil, accounting for the way he is managing the country. I say to the Taoiseach and his Ministers, however, that that is their job. They are publicly accountable to the House and trying to constrain the ability of the Houses of the Oireachtas to hold the Government to account is not the way to proceed. Having these sittings with no proper accountability devalues the role of Parliament. If we are going to end the dual mandate and have extra sittings, let us have proper accountability in this House – not these sham Friday sittings that merely absorb time and give the Government the sense that it is getting legislation through. We want a balanced parliamentary system whereby the Opposition can hold the Government to account for its actions. That is what the country needs and that is why we are not happy with the continued introduction of these Friday sittings without a proper Order of Business or other systems of accountability.

The Ceann Comhairle will recall that I raised all these arguments last Thursday and pointed out that there would be no Order of Business, Adjournment, Question Time or divisions. The only thing I forgot to say was that there would be no Government Deputies either, as turned out to be the case the following day.

The Opposition was not around.

Nothing highlights the farcical nature and fraudulent purpose of Friday sittings better than what happened last Friday. They are designed to clock up the number of days to make the increasingly short sittings look good, as well as giving certain backbenchers who do turn up the chance to chalk up more lines for Vincent Browne's tally at the end of the year. They serve no purpose in terms of parliamentary accountability or scrutiny. There has been a gradual erosion of the number of sitting days as well as a diminution of any standards of accountability in terms of how the Government orders its business. Some 19 Bills have been committed for publication this session, yet as of today only four have been published. I have a copy of the Order Paper for Friday, 5 July 1991, when the Taoiseach of the day had to attend the House to present the Order of Business. This side of the House is in favour of Friday sittings but we want the right to question the Taoiseach and have divisions. In other words, we want to ensure that the Government does its business and has its Deputies present here.

It is quite clear that the Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, and the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Hanafin, have no intention of mending their ways this side of the summer recess. However, we cannot continue to do our business in this fashion where the Executive is arrogating all powers to itself and has no regard for the standing or role of Parliament. We do not wish to head into a new parliamentary term in the same fashion where the Government clocks up Fridays merely to take the bare look off the paucity of sitting days.

Tomorrow we will have no Order of Business, no questions, no votes, no accountability and probably no quorum if the Chief Whip is on form.

We will have an important piece of legislation the Deputy has been seeking.

Friday sittings are now becoming a tidying up exercise – a way of disposing of troublesome leftovers.

Will the Deputy be around? He was not here last week.

Yes, I will be here.

A Deputy

He will be at the Stock Exchange.

We will all be here.

Deputy Gormley without interruption.

Next week, we will devote a total of three and a half hours to the new health strategy – the Prospectus and Brennan reports.

That is even worse. The Government smiles and laughs about this; it treats the House and the electorate with contempt.

We are speaking about tomorrow, Deputy.

It is not a laughing matter to anyone on a hospital trolley, yet we will have three hours to devote to that debate. The Government is an absolute disgrace.

I will allow the Deputy a brief comment on the proposal for tomorrow's sitting.

We will have two and a half hours to debate the World Trade Organisation negotiations, so the Government is packing it all together.

That has no relevance to tomorrow's sitting, which we are discussing.

I am talking about Friday sittings.

I understand the Deputy is talking about Friday week.

I want more accountability. I want the Government to stop treating this House and the electorate with contempt. We have had enough of its arrogance.

That is sweet coming from the Deputy.

One of the first things that must be addressed is to have the Taoiseach back here on Thursdays in order that he will be accountable to the House and to the Opposition, in particular. That matter still has to be revisited. On Friday sittings, this debate can continue indefinitely but the Ceann Comhairle recognises, as well as we do, the unsatisfactory nature of the conduct of business on Fridays over these weeks. There is a proven case that the matter needs to be revisited, although it is clear that Friday sittings will proceed tomorrow and the week after. We do not oppose Friday sittings but the key question is how we conduct our business on Fridays. We can harangue each other across the Chamber forever and a day, but the case is so self-sustaining and has been so well put that the Government must revisit it. I urge the Government to do so as quickly as possible.

A tradition has grown up in the House, particularly as we come towards the end of a session, to have Friday sittings. Deputy Richard Bruton and Deputy Rabbitte were both Ministers in the rainbow Administration which sat on Fridays when there was no Order of Business or Question Time, yet there was not a squeak from either of them.


He is making that up.

Ending the dual mandate has changed all that.

If the Minister were to address his remarks through the Chair, he might not invite interruptions. Please allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

You can call it what you like, a Cheann Comhairle, but it is playing to the gallery. A few minutes ago, I was asked to provide more time for the passage of legislation. One of the reasons we are sitting on Fridays is perhaps the length of time it takes us to deal with the simple Order of Business every day.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with No. 4 be agreed", put and declared carried.

We were promised that 19 Bills would be published in this session, yet we are getting very close to the end of the session and only five have emerged. Against that background, we now have a health strategy which will involve a lot of new legislation coming before the House. Will the Minister for Defence tell us what system will be put in place for fast-tracking health legislation so we will not be waiting interminably for such important legislation, as we have had to wait, for example, for the Residential Tenancies Bill?

The Deputy has made his point and he should allow the Minister to answer. We cannot have a debate on legislation.

I am just making the point.

The Deputy can ask a question about promised legislation or a promised debate.

Yes, but there has to be a context, a Cheann Comhairle.

We cannot go into debates on these issues or we will be here all day.

The context is that a lot of promises regarding legislation get long-fingered. The House is eager to have a proper debate on health strategy, which will not be fulfilled by a sham three-hour debate on two major consultants' reports, with another one waiting in the wings.

Yesterday, the Minister for Health and Children said he expected that the major legislation arising from these new health proposals will be passed within 18 months. We are talking about a revision of the Health Act, so what preparations are the Government making to ensure that deadline is met? When can we expect to see the legislation in order that it might meet the Minister's expectation of being passed within 18 months? Given the Government's record, that is not a very long time to ensure the legislation is passed.

Obviously, we will need to have a fairly distinct strategy in order to ensure the enactment of the health strategy legislation, which will be necessary on foot of those reports. One way of fast-tracking it would be to continue to have sittings on Fridays to deal with legislation.

What about Mondays?

I wish to raise the question of the Immigration Bill with the Minister, Deputy Michael Smith. Last week, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was obliged to withdraw provisions in respect of the Criminal Justice (Temporary Release of Prisoners) Bill where he effectively incorporated a new Bill at the last minute as it entered Committee Stage. The Immigration Bill was published in February 2002 and wound its way leisurely through the Seanad, taking about 15 months, before completing Second Stage here in May this year.

Does the Deputy have a question?

Yes I do, Sir. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has now published 32 pages of heads of amendments. He proposes to move these on Committee Stage without any Second Stage debate. The amendments may have great merit, for all I know, but it is a completely transformed Bill. When the Minister, Deputy McDowell, was in Opposition he was the most vigilant watchdog of proper parliamentary procedure.

The Deputy has asked his question, so perhaps he would allow the Minister to reply.

It is not acceptable that a Bill, as introduced—

I am sorry Deputy but, as I ruled with Deputy Richard Bruton, we cannot have a debate on the issue.

No, I do not want a debate on it.

The Deputy is entitled to ask a question but he is not entitled to discuss what might be in the Bill or what might be more appropriate when the Bill comes before the House.

I do not want to debate what is in the Bill. I am saying that one Bill was introduced and spent 18 months winding its way through both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Deputy made that point. He is being repetitive.

A completely different Bill is now going into Committee Stage. There has been no Second Stage debate on it and that is not an acceptable way to do business in the House. That is without making any comment on whether the 32 pages presented to the spokespersons have any merit.

Does the Minister have any comment to make?

The Bill is currently in committee. We are anxious to see it passed before the recess, if possible. I can understand the Deputy's point of view but, in all fairness, when legislation is going through the House, a big effort is made in all Departments to try to make sure it is as effective and comprehensive as possible. Sometimes it is necessary to have a significant number of amendments.

This is a new Bill the Minister is working on now.

The only reason behind it, is to improve the legislation.

He is transplanting a new Bill.

What is the current status of the 14 Bills the Government has promised to publish before the summer recess? They are: the veterinary medicines Bill; the Abbotstown sports centre authority Bill; the oil pollution of the sea (civil liability and compensation) (amendment) Bill; the sea pollution (miscellaneous provisions) Bill; the islands Bill; the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (amendment) Bill; the education for persons with disabilities Bill; the water services Bill; the public service management (recruitment and appointments) Bill; the health and social care professionals (regulatory) Bill; the commission of investigations Bill; the European Union (European arrest warrant) Bill; the civil registration Bill; and the Aer Lingus Bill. That list comprises 14 of the 19 Bills the Government promised to publish and have debated in the House, yet we as members of the Opposition have not seen them.

The Deputy will appreciate that most of the Bills he listed have already been dealt with yesterday and the day before – the 17 and 18 June.

I would argue that most of them have not been, a Cheann Comhairle.

Most of these Bills are fairly well on target but I intend to communicate with the Deputy on the details. If there is one way of proving that we are turning this part of the day into a farce, it is by asking a question about 14 Bills in that context.

We would not have to ask such questions if the Minister did something about them.

Does the Deputy expect an answer on all 14 Bills?

I am entitled to ask a question of the Minister.

Last week, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, announced on the airwaves that he was going to involve himself in the most important talks on agriculture in the last 30 years. I noticed that when he was away, the Minister of State, Deputy Aylward, solved the industrial dispute in the Department, which had been going on for three months.

Has the Deputy a question on legislation that is appropriate to the Order of Business?

Nowhere has the abdication of Government responsibility been more evident than in the area of agriculture. I ask the Minister and the Chief Whip to provide some time next week for statements on agriculture, if the negotiations conclude this week.

It is not appropriate to ask a question on that matter. I call Deputy Seán Ryan.

It is not appropriate to have it dealt with under the WTO talks. Could the Government provide one hour for the debate? What did Our Lord look for – just one hour.

It is a matter for the Whips.

All we want is one hour from the Government. The Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, is going to say something, a Cheann Comhairle.

I am quite prepared to help here.

I am sorry but I would prefer if the Minister did not deal with debates in the House.

I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle.

If we allow a situation where any Member can stand up and ask if there is going to be a debate on some particular issue, be it national or local, we would be here all day.

It is the single biggest industry in this country.

On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle—

I hope it is a point of order.

The Order of Business was proceeding fine and the Minister was prepared to answer a question which is relevant, current and topical.

I was out of order.

That is fine but the Opposition has no other way of getting information but to raise questions here. Deputy Timmins raised a valid question. The Minister wants to answer it but you will not let him, a Cheann Comhairle.

The Deputy is correct. The reason I will not let him answer is that if I allow any Deputy to raise a question about a debate on any particular matter – Deputy Timmins's, for example – I could not then stop you, if you wanted to raise a question about a parish pump in north Kildare, and sought a debate on it.

We should have no Order of Business at all then. It is a waste of time.

We should have an Order of Business that is in accordance with Standing Order 26.

It has gone on long enough now.

It is a waste of time.

Correct, the Deputy is stating the obvious.

Absolutely. We could get it on the Internet like the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, wanted.

Has the Deputy learned how to use it yet?

If the Deputy is not satisfied with Standing Order 26, I suggest that he—

The Government determines Standing Orders, a Cheann Comhairle, nobody else.

The Committee on Dáil Reform is in a position to change Standing Orders if it does not like them.

The Committee on Dáil Reform has nothing to do with it. The Government determines Standing Orders.

I have called Deputy Seán Ryan.

On occasion, when the Taoiseach has indicated he would respond, you have given him leeway, a Cheann Comhairle. In this case, you should afford the Minister some leeway.

I cannot stop other Deputies from raising any issue they wish when there is a debate on the matter but it would be open-ended and entirely outside Standing Order 26, to do so now.

What plans does the Government have to abolish ground rents? Given the commitment in the programme for Government and also in the context of its—

What legislation?

This relates to promised legislation by both parties in government.

And by the parties opposite when they were in government.

When will the ground rents Bill be introduced?

Ring the Land Registry.

It is not possible to indicate at this stage.

Is there a commitment to bring the Bill forward?

I cannot give a date.

The Minister for Defence acted in a reasonable fashion earlier when he extended the debate on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Bill 2002. I appeal to him to act in a similar fashion by extending the time for the health debate. It is absolutely vital----

That is next week's business. There will be an opportunity to discuss it next week.

I am referring to the provision of time for the debate.

That does not arise. It will be on the Order Paper next week and the Chair will call the Deputy then.

Many Members want to participate. I appeal to the Government Chief Whip to do something on this.

I refer to the private security services Bill.

That was raised on Tuesday.

Where does it stand now?

It is in committee.

How long has it been in committee?

Two years.

It is up to the committee.

Is the Minister aware that in the UK and internationally the title physical therapist is synonymous with physiotherapists and the titles are interchangeable, while in Ireland a group of unqualified people have adopted the term "physical therapist"?

The Deputy should table a parliamentary question to the appropriate Minister on the matter.