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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 10 Mar 2010

Vol. 704 No. 4

Finance Bill 2010: Report Stage (Resumed).

Under the order of the Dáil, Report Stage is to resume on amendment No. 3.

The records of the House clearly show that amendment No. 3 was accepted by the Dáil yesterday. It was debated for about three quarters of an hour. It was put before the Dáil and was agreed. Earlier this morning I welcomed the assent of the Government parties on amendment No. 3 as a sign of bipartisanship in this House. The amendment merely deals with the report on the costing of tax expenditure——

I must advise you on what we agreed earlier.

The Deputy was present last night when it was made clear the Government did not accept it. There was an error.

The Minister has now said there was an error last evening. The Leas-Ceann Comhairle called the amendment three times and slowly declared that it was being accepted.

Deputy, will you resume your seat?

Nobody over there raised——

Will you resume your seat when the Chair is on its feet?

On a point of order, the Government Chief Whip kindly informed us a few minutes ago of some action to be taken by the Government to deal with the matter in hand. However, he told us that it would not be acted on until we had time to discuss it. Can we at least defer it until later in the day?

The order of the Dáil states that resumed Report and Final Stages of No. 18 shall be taken today, and notwithstanding proceedings yesterday, shall resume on amendment No. 3. That is the order which we agreed earlier.

On a point of order, I am not aware of any precedent for this ruling. It sounds like the Government is making it up. The record of the House——

I am reminding the Deputies of a decision of the House made some time ago.

I am making a point of order. The record of the House clearly shows that amendment No. 3 was passed yesterday. It was called out by the Leas-Ceann Comhairle no less than three times. The Leas-Ceann Comhairle then said that amendment No. 3 was agreed. It was agreed and there was no dissent whatsoever and no comment from the Government side. When there is no comment and no dissent, that is an agreement. The record of the House shows that.

A Cheann Comhairle, you are here to protect the interests of all Members. After passing amendment No. 3, we then moved on to the next amendment, which was ruled out of order and we are now coming to amendment No. 5. Unless you are making up a new rule——

I am tied by the order of the House.

The Minister said he made a mistake.

I am tied by the order of the House made earlier this morning. I am obliged to recommence on amendment No. 3.

A Cheann Comhairle, under what standing order are you bringing in this procedure? We are being told that amendments in our name are being disallowed by you because we are trying to introduce new material, but in this case you allow the Government to rescind a formal decision taken by the House without any "by your leave". I do not think that is fair play. If the Minister feels that this Bill should not have the amendment that has been made, he can reintroduce a Bill to delete it. I could understand a new amendment being tabled later in the day which would involve the deletion of this section and there would be an opportunity to consider whether that was right. I am sure the Minister would have a procedure for that but what is happening now is that the Minister is pretending yesterday's events never happened and that is not fair to the respective sides of the House. Rules seem to be——

I have to advise the Deputy that the order of the House of earlier——

Under what Standing Order?

Standing Order 26. The Government proposes; I merely implement——

The Ceann Comhairle might read out the Standing Order because there is a sense of unfair play here.

The order, and I will repeat it——

On a point of order, we were circulated with the Order of Business by the Government before the Order of Business was taken. The order states: "(2) the resumed Report and Final Stages of No. 18 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10.30 p.m. tonight 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;". That is the order that was circulated to the House. When the Ceann Comhairle announced the order, because there was opposition to the guillotine, I did not hear, and the House did not see, any change to the order presented to us by Government. From where did the other order come or how was it passed without anybody in the House knowing about it except perhaps the Government Whip? Why did the Government Whip not stay in the House——

I have to advise the Deputy that the Taoiseach——

We were advised by the Government Whip on the floor of the House during the vote about which I am talking——

The proposal is——

I want to get clarification about where the order came from or the status of it——

Can we hear the Standing Order?

——because the Ceann Comhairle did not read it out.

On a point of order——

I am not finished, a Cheann Comhairle. You did not read out the order to which you are now referring. You did not bring that to our attention.

The Taoiseach did.

No, he did not.

Neither did the Government. Nobody read out what you are now referring to. What was read out is what I have here now, which was circulated.

It was amended subsequently.

It was not amended subsequently.

The order of the House states that the resumed Report and Final Stages of No. 18 shall be taken today and, notwithstanding——

He made a mistake. He did not hear the Ceann Comhairle.

If there was an attempt at amending it, nobody was told about it. The Government slipped up yesterday——

Deputy, I have to advise you of the following.

——and its officials slipped up by getting the amendment through.

The order of the House states that the resumed Report and Final Stages of No. 18 shall be taken today and, notwithstanding the proceedings yesterday, shall resume on amendment No. 3.

That is not what was stated on the Order of Business today, with respect.

On a point of order——

This is something that was concocted——

It was the proposal that was recorded——

——between yourself and the Government Whip. Yesterday, the Minister, either by accident or design, but in my view rightly, assented to a simple, cost free amendment on the part of the Labour Party to have a report on the cost of tax expenditures presented within a month of the Finance Bill. I welcomed the Minister's new spirit of bipartisanship earlier because it makes sense. The Minister is now saying he is resiling from what he and the Government assented to last night and he failed to comment when the Ceann Comhairle's deputy clearly called the item three times. The Clerk and the Clerk Assistant are present and I believe they were both present last night also. Are they suggesting that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle did not call the matter clearly because he did so? We then moved on to the next business, and that is where we are now.

On a point of order, I was in the House yesterday afternoon when the amendment was put and accepted. I was here during that period and I state categorically that is what I believe happened.

The Ceann Comhairle might clarify for me whether the Order of Business, as adopted today, is sufficient to over-rule a decision of the House taken yesterday. If that is the case in regard to this amendment, will it be the case that on every occasion we adopt Standing Orders in the House the Government can rescind a decision of the Dáil the following day by dint of how it is worded? I support the comments of previous speakers because I, too, had no notice of the Order of Business as the Ceann Comhairle now describes it. That is unfair. If an error was made, people should say an error was made and find a fair and reasonable way of dealing with it.

I was in the chair for the better part of the debate and all the speakers who were offering had concluded their comments. Deputy Burton, who had proposed the amendment, had spoken for the third time and could not speak again. The Minister had concluded his contribution. At that point, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Brendan Howlin, arrived to replace me in the chair and immediately put the amendment but the entire debate had been concluded. There can be no further debate on the issue because the proposer of the amendment had spoken for the third time in her concluding remarks and the Minister had finalised it. We were at the point of the amendment being put. We cannot go back to an amendment that had been put to the House and approved.

A Cheann Comhairle, can I read out——

Deputy, you have been on your feet several times.

I have a copy of the Official Report——

Deputy, the position is as follows——

It states, "Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved". The business then moved on.

Deputy, will you resume your seat? I have already read into the record of the House the amended order of the House for today that was made and agreed by the House.

And that over-rules the position of yesterday.

Yes. The position is that in these matters the Government proposes and the House disposes. That is the position.

The Order of Business cannot over-rule Standing Order 26.

A Cheann Comhairle, for the information of the House can you tell us under what Standing Order——

You were told already.

It is Standing Order 26.

Can the House rescind a decision made yesterday?

Standing Order 26——

I must read it again.

The House has not decided what it will do yet, Deputy, but it will be asked to decide shortly. The position is that the Government had made a formal proposal through the order which was agreed by the House earlier this morning. The order stated that we would recommence the debate on amendment No. 3 in the name of Deputy Burton on Report Stage of the Finance Bill.

Despite amendments Nos. 4 and 5 having been dealt with already.

That is the position.

The Ceann Comhairle should read the Official Report.

The Government is in power to bring forward the proposals. The House has the power to dispose of the proposal either negatively or positively.

On a point of order, as I described what happened we cannot go back to deal with amendment No. 3 because all of the speakers who had offered had spoken, the proposer of the amendment had concluded and the Minister had concluded his contribution. We cannot return to that amendment. Having voted we had moved from that amendment to amendments Nos. 4 and 5. We cannot return to amendment No. 3. If we are to follow the course that has been suggested it would mean returning to amendments Nos. 4 and 5.

We will resume the debate on amendment No. 3.

However, that is not what the Chair is proposing.

And we would be out of order in doing so.

The agreed proposal on the Order of Business this morning is that we would recommence on amendment No. 3 in the name of Deputy Joan Burton. That is what I am proposing to do now.

How can we commence the debate on an amendment that has been completed? The debate cannot commence on that basis.

On the Order of Business this morning, the Government proposed that we recommence the debate on amendment No. 3 and the House agreed to that proposal. That is the position.

Was the proposal in regard to amendment No. 3 a parole statement by the Taoiseach that none of us on this side of the House could hear? Did he whisper it under his breath because it is not written down——

The Taoiseach made the announcement this morning.

——or discussed.

Deputy, the Taoiseach made the announcement this morning.

Did the Taoiseach mutter something under his breath?

Deputy, please.

The Ceann Comhairle is meant to protect the interests of this side of the House and it is not permissible for the Taoiseach, on a Bill as important as the Finance Bill, to seek to prevaricate and play a trick on the structure and the procedures of this House. When did the Taoiseach say this? Is the Ceann Comhairle saying he said it because he did not present it to the Whips nor did he discuss it with them?

It is on the record of the House, Deputy.

No. It is not in the written order that came before this House.

Unless I can get the co-operation of the House, I will have to suspend the sitting for a short period to allow things to cool down. I call Deputy Bruton.

I would like to know what is the precedent under Standing Order 26 for the Government to reverse a decision of the House in this way? This is deciding by fiat that a matter debated and dealt with in order by the House no longer stands. The Taoiseach cannot read out from a bit of a paper and rule out what the Parliament has done. That would be like throwing out some item of legislation on one order. That is not democracy.

There is no provision for it.

What precedent is there for the use of the Standing Order to rescind a decision of the House?

I am advised the Government is empowered to bring forward the proposal to have the amendment decided here,——

When did the Taoiseach say it?

I have not seen it.


——to bring forward the amendment for the House to decide on it. That is the critical point. The House will again be asked to decide on the amendment.

I am being very orderly. I have Standing Order 26 to hand. One would want to have a mind of elastic to try to stretch into that Standing Order the ability to give power to the Government to actually change a decision made yesterday. There is nothing like that in the Standing Order. However that Standing Order could be applied to this situation, it is simply ordering the business of the day. Is the Ceann Comhairle saying the Government can order the business of the day and rescind business of yesterday? There is nothing in the Standing Orders of this House to allow the Minister to do that.

The decision was made by the House.

There is no power available to him to do that.

The Taoiseach made the proposal this morning. He asked for and received the agreement of the House to the amended proposal.

Is the Ceann Comhairle saying the Taoiseach muttered something on the other side of the House that was not audible?

Please, Deputy.

With due respect, it was not in the written order of the House. I objected to the guillotine being applied to the Finance Bill. I had the written order in front of me and can confirm with our Whip that, in the copy we received, there was no reference to amendment No. 3. The Ceann Comhairle is suggesting that the Taoiseach, in his presentation to the House, audible only to his colleagues and the Ceann Comhairle, suggested the order for today would be changed without due written notification or discussion by the Whips to rescind a decision the House agreed yesterday quite lawfully and amicably.

The Ceann Comhairle has a responsibility to me, as a Member of the House, as much as he has to the Government. The procedure he is adopting is patently and blatantly unfair. If he is accepting some muttering from the Taoiseach that none of us heard, although we were all alert, it is unfair. I welcomed the fact that the Government, after a long discussion, assented, however silently, to amendment No. 3. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle put the amendment to the House three times.

I ask the Deputy to resume her seat.

What protection am I afforded?

We will ensure protection.

I was orderly yesterday. The amendment was openly discussed and was put to the House three times. The Minister and I exhausted our speaking time and the amendment was fully debated.

I have an obligation——

On a point of order, what did the Taoiseach read out this morning to address this matter?

Can the Ceann Comhairle give us that?

The order of the Dáil states: "The resumed Report and Final Stages of No. 18 shall be taken today and, notwithstanding the proceedings yesterday, shall resume on amendment No. 3."

Was the Opposition notified of the intention to make a change?

In terms of the fair workings of the House, as Whip of the Fine Gael Party, the main Opposition party in this House, I was not notified of that. I am not sure if the Labour Party, the second largest Opposition party, was notified of it.

Absolutely not.

The vote was called. There would be no action on it until later in the day.

This is absolutely absurd. What the Ceann Comhairle is doing is totally abusive of the House and its Members, including the Members of the Opposition.

The Deputy will have to withdraw that remark. I am in the business of implementing the order of the House as agreed by its Members this morning.

I am not accusing the Ceann Comhairle but the Government, including the Taoiseach.

The white sheet was circulated.

To be fair, this is totally abusive of the Opposition. I am not happy and we will not allow this to go through.

I want to make a point of order with a view to being helpful. It might be useful to suspend the sitting of the Dáil to allow the Ceann Comhairle to check exactly what happened. I fully understand and appreciate that he was not in the Chair yesterday when this incident occurred and, therefore, he and his officials may need to check the record.

Will the Ceann Comhairle also check whether it is reasonable or fair, under Standing Orders or under what one of his predecessors used to describe to me, by way of preaching, as the long-standing traditions of the House, that the Order of Business of today can overturn a sovereign decision taken in the House yesterday? What value have I in today's business if it can be overturned completely tomorrow morning on the Order of Business? If the Ceann Comhairle suspends the House for ten minutes to check this, I will be happy.

I am obliged to implement the order of the House——

——as agreed on the Order of Business this morning, but I am willing to suspend the sitting of the House for five minutes to allow the Whips to confer and discuss this matter. We will resume in five minutes to take a decision on amendment No. 3.

I ask that we suspend for ten minutes as we will not have completed a discussion in five minutes.

I suggest that we suspend for ten to 15 minutes. I do not specialise in procedure but I acknowledge that the notion that an amendment put validly yesterday can be overturned by Government pique today is utterly wrong and is an abuse of the House.

Much has been said in this debate. The House has been misled by Deputy Burton in one respect, in regard to which I am entitled to put on the record one fact. That fact is that at no stage during my contribution yesterday did I lend any support to the suggestion that I was supporting the amendment. The opposite has been stated on several occasions by Deputy Burton. I acknowledge there was an error in that I did not oppose the amendment and it was agreed. I immediately raised the matter at 7 p.m. with Deputy Burton and she indicated that she was not prepared to resile from her position, which was her right. Equally, the Government dealt with the matter this morning on the Order of Business, which is its right, subject to whatever ruling the Chair may make.

I said this morning that after a long debate yesterday, in which we all gave our varying views, the Government, by not opposing——

We are engaging in serious repetition on the matter.

No. The Minister has made a charge against me. The Ceann Comhairle did not interrupt him and I ask for the same speaking rights.

That is the only time I was able to speak this morning.

Can I just respond? There was nobody from Fianna Fáil except the Minister present yesterday while the amendment was being discussed, although we were dealing with the Finance Bill, one of the most important Bills that the House passes every year. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle asked the position on amendment No. 3 no fewer than three times and stated slowly that it was being passed.

By not voting, the Government assented to the passage of the amendment, irrespective of the personal and governmental views the Minister may have expressed in the debate. It has happened, albeit not very often with the Department of Finance or Minister for Finance, that Ministers have assented to what the House has proposed.

Before I suspend the sitting of the House, I advise the Deputy that the order of the Dáil this morning supersedes the decision of yesterday. That is the position. We are suspending now for the Whips to confer and discuss the matter and we will be resuming at the earliest opportunity, bearing in mind that there is to be a sos at 1.30 p.m.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.20 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.