An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The House has agreed that for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency only, the rapporteur's report of the Order of Business shall not be read out but shall be taken as read. There are two proposals to be put to the House today arising from this week's business.

Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to?

It is not agreed. I am not exaggerating when I say that the Government is using the Covid pandemic to gag the Opposition and minimise the opportunities for the Opposition to hold the Government accountable at a time of national emergency when people out there are asking questions about the strategy around Covid, around the state of our health services and all the different knock-on issues that are profoundly affecting our population. One of those opportunities, which is being denied to us because of the severe curtailment - we accept there has to be some curtailment - of Dáil activity is Taoiseach's questions. We have asked for this for weeks. The Taoiseach's questions slot, that normally comes after Leaders' Questions, is where the Taoiseach is questioned about the matters under his Department, all the various subcommittees that deal with Covid, etc.

All right, we cannot have a lengthy debate about this now.

We are not allowed ask the Taoiseach these questions. That is not acceptable, as far as I am concerned. It is a 40-minute slot. We have asked for it for the past two weeks and it is being denied. That is not accountability. That is not leadership on the Taoiseach's part. It does not give the public the opportunity to ask really urgent questions they have of Government.

According to the Chief Whip, that is a complete misrepresentation of what has transpired at the Business Committee. There was a consensus at the Business Committee to try to get business done, obviously, in a shortened timeframe because of Covid-19 and the current levels that we are at. Deputy Boyd Barrett should not be grandstanding in such a disingenuous way.

If anyone has been trying to muzzle Deputy Boyd Barrett, he or she has failed spectacularly.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with today's business be agreed to", put and declared carried.

Is the proposal for dealing with tomorrow's business agreed to?

It is not agreed. I do not want to waste the Dáil's time by calling votes, particularly if I am not getting support from others. Nonetheless, I will make the point that we have six and a half minutes to question the Minister for Health tomorrow because the Government insists on limiting the time to debate with and question the Minister. We have raised this repeatedly over the past few weeks. It is unacceptable. We have a raging debate about the refusal of the Government to even take seriously the calls for zero Covid. We have a desperate crisis in our health services in terms of sickness of health workers, the situation in ICU, the vaccine roll-out and so on. By the way, we asked that the debate would be about Covid response and not just about vaccines.

We cannot have a long debate about it now.

I am pointing out it is not acceptable.

Nor it is acceptable that, at the end of Thursday, it seems the Government wants to ensure that we organise things so that there cannot be Tuesday sittings of the Dáil. I object profoundly to this. It is essential work for us to act as messengers to the Dáil of the issues that are being raised by people in the context of this dire crisis and the hardships they are suffering-----

The Deputy has made his point.

-----and their concerns about the lack of a plan from this Government to deal with Covid.

The idea that the Deputy is being gagged or muzzled does not stand up to any scrutiny. There is also a pattern emerging here every week on the Order of Business that, irrespective of whatever is agreed by the Business Committee, the Deputy or someone on his behalf will stand up even though the Deputy was at the Business Committee and raise an issue of one kind or another.

I raised it at the Business Committee.

The issue of Covid dominates tomorrow's agenda, and rightly so. The Deputy wants to raise questions relating to the health service and so on. The reality is our personnel and the people on the front line are performing heroically, as I stated earlier, and they are doing extraordinary work on behalf of all of us. That is why we want to get the numbers down. That is why we want to continue both to get case numbers down and to keep them down, and reduce the pressure.

I thank the Taoiseach.

Tomorrow, the Minister for Health is in for 100 minutes on statements and questions and answers on Covid-19 vaccinations. I presume that will not stop the Deputy from asking other questions either and the Minister from responding. Then the Minister for Social Protection has 135 minutes on Covid-19 and then the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage for a fixed debate lasting 135 minutes on the Department's response to Covid-19. The whole day is dominated by Covid so we should not give the impression that Covid is being marginalised. It is dominating the day.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with tomorrow's business agreed to", put and declared carried.