An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The House has agreed that the schedule should not be read out and should be taken as read. There are arising from it just two proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed?

I wish to raise two objections, the first of which relates to the curtailing of debate on the Health (Amendment) Bill 2021 through the use of a guillotine. There is no reason to curtail this debate in circumstances where the Tánaiste has stated that the legislation would not be operational for a number of weeks. The only reason to curtail debate on this issue is to fix the loophole around fixed penalty notices that were handed out at ports and airports at the beginning of February. On "The Late Late Show", the Garda Commissioner spoke about fines at Dublin Airport, yet the legislation underpinning those fines was invalid. As such, they could not be enforced. By any stretch, that is a shambles.

We cannot have a lengthy debate now, Deputy.

To fix it, it is proposed to rush legislation through that also rushes through legislative measures on quarantining that will not be enforced for a number of months. We will fix legislation that was flawed because of the speed it was run through the Houses with more flawed legislation that will be run through quickly and not be operational for weeks.

The Deputy has made his point.

The second point I wish to make is that, presumably based on his legal advice, the Tánaiste has stated this legislation is expected to be challenged in the courts. The courts will do what they wish if it is challenged, but they ordinarily give deference to the fact that the Houses have determined that legislation is proportionate. However, this House will be curtailed in its debate, not by a vote of the entire House, but by a reduced number of Deputies. The number of reasoned amendments that could be tabled was reduced by the Bill's timing, and even those amendments will not be reached, but we are expecting the courts to give deference to this flawed regime. We are sitting here at enormous expense so that Deputies can vote, yet all Deputies-----

The Deputy has made his point at length.

-----will be deprived of their vote, curtailing debate on an issue that the Government expects to be challenged in the courts.

On the Order of Business, brief comments are acceptable, not lengthy statements.

I have never objected to the Order of Business before, but this is important.

I know that and I take the Deputy's point. He is correct, but can we please try to keep the comments as short as possible?

Last night, we got the living with Covid plan mark II. It could have been subtitled "More of the Same". It contains restrictions for ordinary people while turning a blind eye to what is happening in the meat plants and while there is no enforcement of employers in terms of working from home and there is a half-arsed approached to mandatory hotel quarantining. All of this is combined with a new vaccination target that seems to have been plucked out of the air.

What does this have to do with the Order of Business?

We have no time this week to debate the new plan. Our regular slot to debate vaccinations and Covid has been removed this week and, for the seventh week in a row, there will be no Taoiseach's questions. The Government is running from accountability. That is not on. We objected to this at the Business Committee and we will object to it in the Chamber. We need time to debate these matters.

On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, I must object to rushing this legislation. Rushed legislation is normally bad legislation. We do not have enough time to debate it. I am unsure as to how many Deputies will be present to vote.

The Taoiseach has stopped briefing Opposition leaders, including me. Contrary to what he told the House last week, we have not had a briefing since November. He will hide from accountability by having no Taoiseach's questions or a proper debate. We expect the little people - I mean the ordinary people and nothing derogatory - to comply with everything but the Government has refused to close the Border. I have said we should close the Border at every meeting we have had since last March. It is farcical that we will not have enough time to debate this Bill. Our amendments cannot be moved and discussed. It will end up in a mess.

I said last week that the curtailment of the Opposition in doing its job had to stop. It is unacceptable that, for the third week out of four, there will not be dedicated statements and questions to the Minister for Health on the public health response and the vaccination programme. Those statements and questions were agreed by the Business Committee and understood to take place every three weeks out of four.

I understand that additional hours will be allocated to Dáil sittings from next week. The Government needs to clarify for the record that there will be additional hours, more time for the Opposition and fixed statements with the Minister for Health for the duration of the crisis as a standing time slot every week on the public health response and the vaccination programme. We await those assurances.

The Taoiseach was present when the Social Democrats motion on extending the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes was passed today. As such, it is reasonable to have a session where the responsible Minister outlines what steps he will take as a matter of urgency to ensure the commission is not dissolved. We could not raise this matter on the Order of Business because we did not know the motion would pass. Now that it has, it is reasonable to create the space for the Minister to outline the next steps he will take to avoid being accused of cynicism or defying the will of the Parliament.

As I said last week, the timing of business and the amount of time the House sits are not determined by the Government. They are determined by public health advice. That was made clear last week, and health and safety-----

So we cannot debate public health advice because-----

Deputy, please let the Taoiseach respond.

I am talking about the length of time the Dáil sits. There are constraints on what can be debated and what can be facilitated within the time constraints provided as a result of public health advice in the context of Covid-19 and the health and safety advice that the Oireachtas provided - not the Government, not my office, but the Oireachtas. Also, I understand there were communications from staff associations as well. We are in a difficult wave of Covid-19 with the new variants, so that is probably without question informing that advice. That said, I am not-----

All the more reason to hold the Government to account for this shambles.

The Minister for Health will be in here all week on the quarantining Bill. The demand from - maybe not Deputy McNamara - most Members of the House has been for this Bill to be introduced and for this issue to be dealt with as expeditiously as possible because people want a mandatory quarantining regime to be put in place from a legislative perspective.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 656 and 657 together.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic my Department has been working closely with all government departments to support the national Covid-19 effort.

At all times my Department has contributed to, and participated in, the large scale cross-Government communications programme which has been running since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has involved supporting and amplifying Government and public health messaging through both our internal and external communications channels.

Since the onset of the pandemic, my Department has had concerns about the potential for increased domestic abuse as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. Sadly these concerns were well founded as can be seen in recent figures released by An Garda Síochána and frontline domestic abuse groups.

To tackle the scourge of domestic abuse, and support the wider COVID-19 response, my Department has been running a successful communications campaign called Still Here, which aims to reassure victims of domestic abuse that support services from State agencies and the voluntary sector are still available and accessible during the Covid-19 pandemic, regardless of what level of restrictions that are in place.

To date the Department has spent €401,952.56 on the Still Here campaign.

The following revised reply was received on 25 March 2021.

Regrettably we are now aware that a mistake was made in the answer regarding the total figure for the Still Here campaign, specifically a credit note had not been accounted for correctly in our records. The figure in my original answer of €401,952.56 was incorrect and the correct total spend for the Still Here campaign so far is €397,944.36.

I am open to the House in relation to the timelines for the Bill. I understood this was an agreed process and that people were anxious to get this through but the Whip may want to discuss the issue with others. I am not going to be accused of guillotining legislation of this kind but there is a time pressure on this. Let us be honest about that. People may have different views on the legislation but I believe it is proportionate, balanced and grounded in public health. There are protections in it from a civil liberties perspective, about which Deputy McNamara might have genuine concerns.

When will it be implemented?

There is pressure on it, of course there is.

If the Government is not going to implement it straightaway, what is the rush?

Immediately after the legislation is passed, we will have to work up the regulatory framework and get it up and running. The legislation is key to enabling one to do that.

With regard to Deputy Paul Murphy's point, there is no blind eye being turned to meat plants. That is not the case at all.

Why is there still no sick pay?

We debated this on Leaders' Questions and the Deputy's view is that there should be a longer lockdown. That is what he would prefer, without question. This week, the quarantining legislation is the priority. Last week, the Minister for Health and his Ministers of State were before the House. Every week, issues pertaining to Covid have been debated in the House. My understanding is that there will be additional hours next week, as Deputy Ó Lochlainn said. I think the Business Committee is considering that matter and it is one for that committee. We have facilitated a debate this afternoon on Northern Ireland, which was requested and which the Government was happy to facilitate. There are constraints, which are there because of Covid-19 and not because of any Government provision.

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

It is not agreed. I call for a full vote of the House.

We can only have a vote of the Members who are scheduled to be here so the vote will be by the complement of 45 Members.

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with today's business be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 19; Staon, 0.

  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • Richmond, Neale.

Níl

  • Browne, Martin.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Farrell, Mairéad.
  • Gannon, Gary.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Smith, Duncan.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Cormac Devlin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Mattie McGrath and Michael McNamara.
Question declared carried.

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

The House passed a motion this morning to extend the life of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. The Government facilitated this by not opposing the motion. On foot of the motion, the Minister needs to update the House or introduce the necessary legislation tomorrow. We have called on him to do so and we will call a vote.

The debate by all Deputies tomorrow will be curtailed by a vote today by a reduced number of Members. Deputies will not be able to table or vote on valid amendments tomorrow because a reduced number of Deputies voted today to curtail tomorrow's debate.

I support Deputy Gannon's call with regard to the mother and baby homes commission. It would be an act of extraordinary bad faith, even by the standards of this Government, to cynically allow a motion to be passed by the Dáil with no intention of acting on it. The matters set out in the course of the debate are of the utmost seriousness. They deserve the serious attention of the Government. At a minimum, the Minister, who failed to answer core questions that were put to him by the proposer of the motion and other Members, must come to the House, answer those questions comprehensively and put minds at rest. I am very deeply concerned about this turn of events, and many survivors and advocates are also distressed and alarmed by it. I support Deputy Gannon and I ask the Government to do the honourable and right thing.

I spoke on this earlier and I alluded to the fact that it is very strange that the Government is not extending the life of the commission, yet it accepted the motion. This is playing politics at a very cynical level. It might look good for the Government and get it off the hook with its backbenchers, but it sends a distressing message to the victims, their families and their advocates. We are playing games here with people's lives and it is just unacceptable.

I support the Deputy's request on this matter. Language is meaningless if we accept what the Minister said today, that on the one hand he was not opposing the motion but, on the other, he gave no clarification regarding the extension of the commission. We need clarity and we can only have that in an open discussion in the Dáil, in which the Minister and Taoiseach clarify the matter and we are allowed to ask questions.

The Government is motivated primarily and solely by the needs and concerns of the survivors, and to do right by them. That is informing the Government's policy and its response to the commission's recommendations. The Government is focused on delivering on those recommendations, as is the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, particularly in the context of the information and tracing Bill, which we are anxious to have before the House as quickly as possible. The interdepartmental group is working on the historical recognition redress scheme. The motion has been amended to include enhanced medical cards. That is part of the recommendations and is something we want to do. We certainly would not oppose that. We do not want to divide the House on these issues. Nobody on the Government side is playing political games here. There was no legislation before the House today.

We were not allowed. It was ruled out of order.

During Private Members' business, Members can bring forward legislative proposals. It could have been brought forward, published or engaged on last week.

What is important is the Minister's statement regarding the retrieval of the tapes and the potential for the tapes to be available. There is more work to be done. In my view, the bona fides of the Minister cannot be questioned with regard to doing right by the survivors. I heard some of the contributions and it is wrong to cast aspersions or to try to create a division in which some are more virtuous than others on this issue. That is not right, and I detected that in some of the contributions I heard. Many people, the survivors of these institutions, want access to information, once and for all. As an Oireachtas and a Government, we must also get on with doing what many people need to get done on a range of issues. We are committed to doing that.

Obviously, the Minister will engage further with the Oireachtas on the range of issues that are covered. His statements, last night and today, although I was not in the House earlier, regarding the retrieval of the tapes are significant and should provide an opportunity on that issue. The Deputies must acknowledge that there are significant challenges regarding the issue of the commission, which the Minister has been pursuing in respect of getting responses, and regarding the Data Protection Commission's engagement with the commission.

On the points raised by Deputy McNamara, these are the mechanisms that have been provided so we can do our business in the House in the context of Covid-19. I understand the Deputy's reservations, but I do not believe there is any way out of it.

The motion that was passed today pertains to extending the commission of investigation into the mother and baby homes, which dissolves a few days hence. The fact that the House passed the motion requires the Minister to act and to tell us what he is going to do. We must create space for that and that is the reason we will push for a division on this issue.

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 21; Staon, 0.

  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • Richmond, Neale.

Níl

  • Barry, Mick.
  • Browne, Martin.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Farrell, Mairéad.
  • Gannon, Gary.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Smith, Duncan.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Cormac Devlin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Cian O'Callaghan and Gary Gannon.
Question declared carried.