It is proposed to take items Nos. 1 and 2, and item No. 2 not later than 6.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
I am sorry to begin by saying that there is no question of item No. 2 being taken not later than 6.30 p.m. We will do everything to make sure the Bill goes through smoothly but there is no agreement that the Bill will finish at 6.30 p.m. and I want to make that very clear.
I want to raise a matter which gives me no pleasure to raise but it is a matter of great public concern and the Seanad is the place where I must raise it. I did not raise it before because the matter was sub judice but that is no longer the case. I refer to what has now become known as the Senator Seán McCarthy case. On the face of it, and to any reasonable observer, a constitutional immunity which was placed in the Constitution for very good reasons and as a fundamental safeguard of democracy has been used in a way which was never intended.
I hesitate to interrupt the Deputy, and I appreciate the seriousness of the matter he is raising, but I would like to point out that on the last occasion I made the ruling the matter was sub judice. As the Senator has pointed out, that is no longer the case but I am aware that it is before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges by way of a motion from another Member. I was anxious to indicate that to the Senator. If the House agrees to permit a discussion on the matter, or to allow Members to make statements, I will not rule against that but I would not like a speech from the Senator at the moment.
I will not be making a speech. I will be brief. Our view is that this clause in the Constitution has been used in a way that was never intended. To any reasonable person there would, on the face of it, seem to have been abuse of that constitutional privilege. The situation is made very much worse by virtue of the fact that neither the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Chief State Solicitor have given any reason or explanation for what they have done. I understand it is traditional that they do not explain their actions and that they are backed by precedent in this. However, in this case the public interest is not well served by their following this course of action.
The Taoiseach and others have made it clear — this is why I am raising the matter today — that they do not have any responsibility in the matter and that it is entirely a matter for the Seanad to resolve. It is for that reason, more than anything else, that I feel obliged to raise the matter here publicly today. I accept that in view of the seriousness of the constitutional questions involved, and the degree of public concern, we, as Members, have a responsibility to face up to this matter openly, properly and comprehensively. This is one issue where there can be no closing of ranks or a shirking of the issue. Fine Gael are insisting that there be a full investigation of the matter in a way which the Committee on Procedure and Privileges will determine and will be agreed by the House. The structure, shape and timing of this investigation must be agreed to and in place by the end of this week and the matter must, for all our sakes, and for the sake of public life, be processed openly, fairly and speedily.
Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom a rá gur cóir don Seanad comhgairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Seanadóir Joe O'Toole as ucht a ghradaim nua mar Rúnaí Chumann na Múinteoirí Náisiúnta, agus a ghuí gura fada buan é i mbun a chúraim agus go raibh rath ar a shaothaor.
On a less happy note I also feel obliged to refer to the outcome of the recent court case. Again, I should like to assure the Chair that I do not intend to make a speech. It seems to me that the proposed line of action at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges raises a rather specific approach to the matter. It does not exonerate us from the duty here and now to affirm in a full meeting of Seanad Éireann that the lawmakers are not above the law. The public expect no less from us to say that here and now. We should deplore, without any further investigation, what is an obvious, and regrettably successful, abuse of constitutional immunity and to say that it compounds public cynicism about politicians and brings this House into further disrepute.
On behalf of Fine Gael I should like to convey congratulations to Senator Joe O'Toole on his prestigious appointment as General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation. We feel sure that he will bring to that position the same energy that we have come to expect of him in the House. We wish him well.
I second the motion of congratulations to Senator O'Toole. I do that in my dual capacity as a member of the Fine Gael group and as an active member of the INTO. I am delighted at his appointment, and that delight is shared by INTO activists and many people in the community. Senator O'Toole is recognised as a person of extraordinary ability, commitment and incredible energy. He is recognised as a person of high principle and we wish him good fortune, much success and many years in his position. He will make a very fundamental, innovative and creative contribution to the devolopment of Irish education at the end of this millennium and into the next one. We are very fortunate to have him at this time.
I would like to be associated with the expression of good wishes and congratulations to Senator O'Toole. I would like to wish him every success when he takes over the position of General Secretary of the INTO.
I, too, join in the congratulations to Senator O'Toole. I would like to wish him every success in the years ahead. Certainly he is facing many difficulties. There have been many restrictions on teachers over the past few years but I have no doubt he will be more than equal to the challenges which face him.
On a less happy note I also want to express concern on behalf of the Labour Party in relation to what has now become known as the McCarthy case. It seems to us there was a breach of privilege, an abuse of constitutional rights and privileges which are afforded to Members of this House. It seems somewhat incredible that eight hours after leaving the House somebody should be claiming privileges. Unfortunately the Directors of Public Prosecutions follows the procedures and does not give reasons why the case was withdrawn. The obligation now falls on us to set about rectifying the situation and I would certainly support the calls for a full investigation by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges because ultimately it is a matter of a breach of our privileges. I would go further and say that it may be necessary to amend the Standing Orders of the Seanad, particularly those relating to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges where abuses of privileges appear to have taken place, in order to cope with events such as those which happened over the past few days.
I certainly agree with Senator Murphy that none of us is above the law and I do not think any of us should find ourselves in circumstances where that impression can be created.
Without being repetitive, I join with other Members of the House in congratulating Senator O'Toole on his appointment.
In relation to the incident of claiming privilege, I have submitted to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges a motion that the committee, in the light of the recent public concern at the possible abuses of the constitutional provision of Article 15.3 providing immunity from arrest for Members of the Oireachtas travelling to and returning from the House, clarify its interpretation of the circumstances in which such immunity from arrest may be used by Members of the Seanad, and further that the committee might consider the possibility of requiring Members who invoke this immunity to report that fact and its circumstances to the committee so as to determine whether such invocation amounts to abuse of the privilege.
I share the view that there is very widespread public concern about this matter. I do not for one moment pass judgment on whether the action taken was correct. The integrity of every Member of this House is at stake in this matter and I would like to see it clarified so that at least we can have some regulations as to what is and is not acceptable. That is within the remit of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
I wish to be associated with the remarks already expressed here today to Senator O'Toole on his appointment as General Secretary of the INTO. He is the second Kerryman in recent years to be appointed to this position. The late Jackie Brosnahan, a distinguished Member of this House, also held the position. I wish Seantor O'Toole every success in his new appointment. There is no doubt he will make a tremendous success of it and I wish him well.
I would like at the outset to congratulate Senator O'Toole on his appointment as General Secretary-designate of the INTO. I look forward to co-operation with the INTO through my own union, the ASTI, and indeed in a personal capacity next year. No doubt we will move along lines towards teacher unity and a better deal for education at all levels.
In relation to matters of immunity in this House it is time the Seanad regulated the privileges it has been granted under the Constitution. I do not think it is a question of discretion but one of the obligation and duty. First and foremost there should be a debate in this House in relation to that whole area of privileges which have been granted to us and in relation to how this House should operate. Then the Committee on Procedure and Privileges should look into the matter and regulations should be drawn up and, if necessary, Standing Orders changed so that it would be clear to us and to the public that we are operating within the law at all times.
We should debate an urgent matter which has arisen in relation to events in England at the Strangeways Prison, Manchester, where over the weekend and the last few days we have seen considerable disturbance. The reason I raise this issue——
I must remind the Senator that there are procedures for raising that matter. It is not a matter for the Order of Business. I do appreciate your concern.
On the Order of Business, it is a matter that is relevant to us because we debated in the House some time ago matters in relation to a death in prison. There is a similarity between conditions in prisons in Britain and conditions in prisons here. With the approach of the summer it is important that the matter be debated in this House; it is a matter of urgency and it should be addressed.
I am extremely disappointed that the Larceny Bill is not included in the Order of Business. It was stated here when we finished Committee Stage that it would be finally dealt with on Wednesday, 28 March 1990. It was not dealt with because of other incidents but it has now disappeared entirely from the Order Paper. As regards the complaints I have been making for sometime, the Order of Business is still being dealt with in a haphazard fashion. That is also true in relation to the Social Welfare Bill which we have to complete in the space of three hours.
The Larceny Bill, 1989, is No. 7 on the Order Paper.
I know that. We are being told here that we have to deal with one of the most important Bills involving the largest expenditure in the State in the space of three hours. In the other House to considerable amount of time was devoted to it but we are expected to deal with it in three hours.
The Senator is now making a speech and considerable latitude has been given.
I am not making a speech. I am referring to the Order of Business. The Whips have not agreed that a matter of this importance should be dealt with in that short space. I object to it.
The Senator has made his point.
I want to have that put on the record.
I had harsh and striking things to say but I think I know what it is like to be love bombed at this stage. My string has effectively been drawn. I graciously acknowledge the kind words of Senators and I promise I will be fairly vociferous, energetic and, I hope effective, in my defence and promotion of education, and the needs of education, over the next decade. I hope to be a thorn in the side of many people over the next ten years, or whatever until the end of the century——
——or continue in the defence and promotion of education and the needs of education. I would like to raise one point on the Order of Business which follows on from what I have said. I raised this matter last week — Item No. 9 on the Order of Business — the Intermediate Education (Amendment) Bill, 1989. This is a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Intermediate Education (Ireland) Act, 1878, for the purposes of removing a statutory obstacle to free access to secondary education for girls and of deleting a discriminatory subsection regarding the education of girls. I asked that this would be checked out. It is abominable in this day and age that the education of girls in secondary schools is merely at the pleasure of the commissioners. Even though that is not operated it smacks of discrimination against young women in second level education. It is abhorrent to have it on the Statute Book and we should get it off the Statute Book as quickly as possible. I ask the Leader of the House to give me a response and to say when he proposes to order the printing of that Bill?
I rise to congratulate Senator O'Toole on his appointment to this very prestigious post which is of very great importance in this country. Senator O'Toole has had a very active role in this House. He has opposed many issues and has broken our hearts at times but nonetheless I think we are at one in wishing him well on his appointment.
On the Order of Business, may I ask the Leader of the House if the Whips have agreed to the appropriate times for the taking of the Social Welfare Bill?
I am not going to break the unanimity of this House — it is a great tribute to him that he could unite the House in one thing at least today — in congratulating Senator O'Toole. I must say it is with mixed feeling that I congratulate him because I hope it does not mean that we will miss him from his duties as our Whip and co-ordinator here, where he has been very effective. Senator O'Toole has had the great advantage of being elected to this position unopposed, a position which many Members of this House envy, but he deserves this great honour which has been thrust upon him. I hope it does not mean he will be any less effective in this House. Because of his energy and interest I know that he will still be a very active Member of this House.
I want to join in congratulating Senator O'Toole on his appointment to this very important post which I am sure he will fill with distinction. Of all the teacher organisations, I think the INTO is the most important.
I should like to join in paying tribute to Senator O'Toole. I was very happy to read that he had been appointed to this position. I have known the Senator for some time and I have always been impressed by one great thing about him, that is, his sincerity. I have not always agreed with him but I have never doubted his sincerity in anything he said.
I should like to join in congratulating Senator O'Toole on his appointment and to wish him well.
I seek clarification in regard to the time which will be devoted this evening to the Social Welfare Bill. I recall very clearly from the Whips meeting last week that we agreed to dispose of the Social Welfare Bill today. From my recollection of that meeting none of the Opposition Whips agreed to a 6.30 p.m. finish; we agreed to take the Social Welfare Bill today and finish today.
I should like to join with other Senators in congratulating Senator Joe O'Toole on his appointment as General Secretary of the INTO. I sincerely believe he will give the same dedication to that post as he has had to his post in the Seanad. He has certainly kept the Seanad alert and alive and has made a major contribution to it. I believe that the INTO have a valuable General Secretary and I wish Senator O'Toole success and good luck in his post.
The question raised by Senator Manning in regard to privileges for Members is the subject of a motion before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges today. I believe Senator Manning has a copy of this motion. This matter has been mentioned by a number of Senators and I am aware of their genuine concern about it. However, as the matter is before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges — we have recently learned a lesson on procedures and the insistence of working to the book — it would be inappropriate to deal with this matter now. Therefore, I ask for the co-operation and the help of all the people who expressed concern to allow the matter to be dealt with by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges who will decide on a course of action.
With regard to the other questions raised, the proposed Order Paper says clearly that all stages of the Social Welfare Bill, 1990, will be taken from 3 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. All the people who attended the Whips meeting had a copy of the proposed Order Paper.
On a point of order, I have here a copy sent to our Whip, Senator Howard, immediately after the meeting which says "2.30 p.m. with no finishing time".
I hope there will be no disagreement because we have a reasonably good working arrangement, which I hope will continue. There has been no attempt to act any differently to what has been agreed. The meetings of the Whips which take place every Thursday morning are reasonably successful. We agreed to sit last Thursday to take the Social Welfare Bill but at the request of most Labour and Fine Gael Members we agreed to adjourn the House, not to sit on Friday and to sit today to take this Bill. I believe we can be seen to be co-operating and I ask for a little co-operation here now.
We have changed the business around. An Independent Senator approached me last Thursday and asked if the Marine Institute Bill could be taken on Thursday, and we agreed. I hope Members recognise that it is valuable to reach agreement at the Whips meetings on Thursday, rather than to have hassle in the Seanad which takes up a lot of time, does not contribute to a good atmosphere and delays the business of the House.
Senator Costello asked about the Larceny Bill. His party were represented at the Whips meeting last Thursday and we reached agreement. That Bill is No. 7 on the Order Paper. It is not being put on the long finger.
With regard to the questions about prisons and the conditions in prisons I do not think it is appropriate that we should discuss them here.
Is the Order of Business agreed?
I seek clarification on whether the Social Welfare Bill will finish at 6.30 p.m. That was the proposal on the Order of Business but we are not agreeing to that.
We changed the business from Friday, when it was ordered, to today because it was very inconvenient for the Minister who had——
That is too bad for the Minister. That is the most arrogant thing the Senator could say.
We need to know if the Social Welfare Bill will finish at 6.30 p.m.
No, absolutely not.
I believe the Minister wants to co-operate and to have a full debate here. There is no intention to restrict the debate and I have received a note which confirms that he is agreeable to allowing extra time. There is not intention to restrict the debate or to try to rush the Bill through.
Is the Order of Business agreed?
Provided the Social Welfare Bill is taken to completion today.
Is that agreed? Agreed.