Before I call the Leader of the House, I would like to ask for the co-operation of all Members of the House today in dealing effectively and efficiently and within a reasonable length of time with the Order of Business. Last week I do not think we did ourselves any good here or elsewhere in the way we addressed the Order of Business and in the fact that we have been putting questions to the Leader of the House that are not relevant to the Order of Business. I ask for the co-operation of everybody. It is not with the intention of preventing anybody from asking questions appropriate to the Order of Business and doing it in the knowledge that it will contribute to dealing with the Order of Business in a way that is becoming to the House. I call on the Leader, Senator Seán Fallon.
Order of Business.
Arising from what the Cathaoirleach has said and before we deal with the Order of Business, and particularly arising from last Wednesday's ordering of business, it is appropriate to put down a marker on the procedural role of the Seanad. I certainly feel very strongly that the distinctive role of the Upper House of the Oireachtas, whose main function is revising legislation, is diminished or at least blurred by the constant call for debates on everything under the sun. I am only too well aware of the political pressures on all my colleagues — we have all experienced them at different times — and I can readily appreciate their need to voice various demands of Government. I feel we should not lose sight, however, of our primary function here in this House. An overt political role of representing a particular constituency or a particular area of locality surely is more appropriate to the other House. I want to make it very clear that in saying this I am not being protective of the Government and I am not being negative in my outlook in regard to the role of the Seanad but I believe that if we succumb to an overt party political cut and thrust, seeking almost instant reaction to topical events or headlines of the day, the Seanad will lose its way and become a mere mirror image of the Dáil. The Seanad has its own role to play; and a more measured, considerate response to issues, for which the Seanad has made its mark, would be lost or severely diminished.
I also feel it is fair to say that many people, including politicians of all parties, fail to take the Seanad seriously. Yet, the Seanad does perform a very useful function as a second Chamber. It can, and in many cases does, highlight issues that are overlooked in the Dáil. As we know, legislation can be initiated in this House, and hopefully more of it will be initiated in the future. Legislation can be amended in a less overtly political atmosphere. We have restrictions — but there is a great merit in having a second Chamber which can undertake a second and perhaps a more detached examination of legislation.
There are various procedures and channels through the Whips open to Senators to raise topical matters. We have Private Members' debates, the half hour Adjournment debates and the all-party motions, which we usually take on a Thursday. I think that this Seanad has a very good record in providing topical debates for Senators. I just make those points, a Cathaoirligh. I feel this should be recognised by my colleagues on all sides of the House. The constant calls for debates on all kinds of matters should be tempered with the points I have raised.
On the Order of Business for today, we resume and continue the debate on Item No. 3, the Environmental Protection Agency Bill, 1990. It will continue until 6 o'clock. We will have a sos from 6 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. and we will then have from 6.30 p.m. to 8 o'clock the final hour and a half of the Government motion. From 8 p.m. until 10 p.m. we will continue debate on the Environment Protection Agency Bill. That Bill, on our side and, I know, on the far side, has evoked a great deal of interest. There are still many Senators very anxious to speak on it but, having said that, we hope, if we can at all, to finish it by tomorrow at 4 p.m. We will see how we progress on that.
If I interpret the Leader of the House correctly on what he had to say before the Order of Business, I have to say I am very disappointed with what he is saying. Certainly, we want an orderly and efficient Order of Business and all Members of my group will certainly contribute to that but there is a sense in which the Order of Business often represents frustration. It is the only opportunity Members have to get across a point of view where there are no other immediate and adequate channels to express it. It is a very important point and we need to keep a sense of balance in dealing with it.
I am disappointed with the tone taken by the Leader of the House, because what he is seeming to suggest is that the Seanad should seek out a more restrictive role for itself rather than seek out a more positively distinctive role. The Leader of the House, when he was appointed, and indeed the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach, all indicated their desire for genuine Seanad reform and for seeking a more meaningful role for this House. As far as I can see, that particular process has come to a halt. I do not know whose fault it is, but certainly there have not been any meetings, nothing is happening, there are no new ideas. I would hate to think that the Leader of the House is going into some sort of bunker at this stage, that he wants to put a stop to what was a hopeful movement and that he is in some ways trying to restrict the ordinary powers of the House.
It is important that we recognise the inadequacy and total failure of, for example — and I raised this point last week — Private Members' Business where a group like ours, the main Opposition party, will have three or four occasions a year to raise Private Members' Business. We could look at that as a starter towards having at least one Private Members' motion per week to at least use the means we have available. If the Leader does that and if he is positive, he will find that trouble on the Order of Business will become a thing of the past.
On the Order of Business today I would like to ask the Leader of the House, first, if he could indicate if any progress has been made on Item No. 2 — he spoke on it last week — if, and when it is proposed to take No. 6, if it is proposed to take it this session, and if he will indicate when he will make time available for the general debate on agriculture and GATT, which I think he promised us last week. Further, would he again look seriously at the possibility over the next couple of weeks of making time available for a debate on Northern Ireland, which I believe his own group would like to have and which I am sure the Progressive Democrats would like to have. I know that everybody on this side of the House would like to have an opportunity to discuss what is happening in Northern Ireland. Finally, I am not sure if it is appropriate to the Order of Business, when will a Clerk Assistant be appointed to this House?
I think I should respond to that part of the Senator's question. There is a certain statutory function that must be pursued in that regard. I have undertaken to exercise that in the first instance and I am waiting for a reply or confirmation. It is only in other unusual circumstances that the House would be required to deal with the matter. I can assure the Senator that I am as concerned as he is about the matter.
In deference to yourself, I certainly do not wish to open up a debate on the role of the Seanad but I want to make three points. Over the past year we have proposed from these benches either to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges or the appropriate subcommittee three changes which would relieve all the difficulties we are experiencing on the Order of Business, because those difficulties are simply the need for ideas to find expression or articulation in some form or another. One of our proposals was that there would be a topical hour where issues could be raised in an orderly, designed and modelled way. Secondly, we have asked that Private Members' time would be extended to once a week. Thirdly, we have asked that two matters on the Adjournment might be taken on occasions. We have offered full co-operation.
I am not going to get into a wide debate on those issues. I have made the points. I have argued them time and time again. They are agreed on both sides of the House. It is not a question in terms of individuals on both sides of the House. It is a matter of grasping the nettle. We have to deal with these matters.
On the Order of Business, I want to raise one issue. It is an issue of topicality to all of us — not because it is in today's headlines — but one cannot but note the fact that again hundreds more have been killed in Baghdad today. I would appeal to the Leader of the House again to consider a discussion on the events in the Middle East in a general way and not in an immediate reaction to what happened today, but since the war has gone on for so many weeks we should have a proper debate on it and discuss it perhaps next week. I would like to hear a commitment from the Leader of the House to have such a debate.
I am sorry I was somewhat late for the earlier part of the speech of the Leader of the House. I hope I am right in interpreting it as one basically of complaint without any proposals to provide solutions to the problems that are being experienced on the Order of Business. I certainly agree with the Leader of the House. It seems to me to be improper that the Order of Business should go on and on. It goes on for a reason. What I find disappointing is that the Leader of the House is not coming up with any proposals which would relieve the problems which are giving rise to these inordinately long periods on the Order of Business.
There have been a number of suggestions, including some made by Senator O'Toole. I have long held the view that speeches in the House are far too long and that we would all benefit greatly from cutting down on what we say. I also feel that we should have the opportunity to respond to topical matters and that, in particular, the matter on the Adjournment should be extended to allow for perhaps two or three topics to be raised so that everybody would have a chance to raise what they feel is important.
Could you help me a Chathaoirligh, with a matter that is giving me some difficulty? I refer to the papers that are laid before the Seanad. One such paper is the Fair Trade Commissions annual report. I ask your guidance and the help of the Leader of the House, because there are matters in the reports laid before the House that it is important to discuss. I am not going into detail. There is a serious situation in which I would question the Fair Trade Commission's report. That is in relation to the price of bread being sold in one shop for 79p and the same bread from the same bakery being sold elsewhere for 39p. I am not trying to raise the issue but I believe it is equally as important as the Gulf crisis.
I agree that what the Senator is addressing is important but he is going down the very road we are trying to avoid. I want to ask your co-operation. There is a procedure for discussing any matter and the Senator can use the procedure of motion. It is also fair to say that the documents referred to are laid before the two Houses of the Oireachtas and they are not a matter for discussion on the Order of Business as such. The only way that you can have recourse to such a discussion is by way of motion. I suggest that the Senator take that line. Otherwise, we are going to go down the road we are trying to avoid. If it happens in one instance it will happen in another.
I can assure the Cathaoirleach that I will not be the person to disrupt the proceedings of the House. I totally support your attempts to run a more orderly House.
Thank you, Senator.
I must protest at the innuendo that this is a disorderly House, a phrase that has very sinister connotations indeed. I support Senator O'Toole's plea for a debate on the Gulf War because the situation has deteriorated so alaramingly since we last debated it. That is a matter of great priority. Perhaps the Leader will inform us when it is proposed to take Item No. 5, the debate on the Appropriation Bill.
For a long time now I felt an Urbi et Orli speech coming on me, which I would like to get rid of. I was sorry we did not have some notice that the Leader of the House was going to make us privy to his philosophical deliberations on the role of the Seanad. That, in itself, should have required some notice. Since he has chosen to do so, I would like to make some comments on that and on your own remarks. It is true that there are Senators who, on the Order of Business, waste time, as some people might say, in order to attract publicity; but we are all publicity seekers and it is interesting to observe that very frequently the Senators who thus “waste time” are those who make the most substantial contributions to legislation in this House. That should be put on the record.
Last week reference was made to the deplorable fact that a Minister was kept waiting while the Order of Business was going on. With respect, I submit that the role of the Seanad is not to accomodate Ministers but vice versa. It is by definition the role of the Minister to wait on the convenience of the Seanad. I would make rather a different point to that made by Senator Manning. I would refer the House to a long record of debates on the Order of Business. Custom has the force of law and a long-standing custom is that it is quite legitimate for Senators to bring up matters from week to week which they think should be brought up on the Order of Business. It is for you, a Chathaoirligh, to deal with them if they are irrelevant, but I put it to you that custom suggests you should give them maximum flexibility and I will expect that continuing flexibility on the Order of Business. Like Senator McGowan, I am not one of those who deliberately disrupts the Order of Business; but I do expect reasonable flexibility and I certainly will strenuously resist any attempt to impose an artificial strait jacket on the discussions on the Order of Business.
I wish to ask the Leader of the House if it is the Government's intention to set up a relief fund for those people who suffered severe losses during the floods and storms of early January. I understand that the Minister for Agriculture and Food at the time went on record and said he was contemplating setting up such a fund. I would like to know if the Government decided to set up this fund and when it will be put in place.
I would like also to speak on this delay which takes place every week on the Order of Business. Obviously something has to be done about it. I would think it is the duty of the Cathaoirleach to be very strict on this matter and it is the duty of the House to assist him. In fact, it is almost an obligation on the Cathaoirleach to be unpopular with the Members here because of the strict measures he might take to make sure that the House is run in an orderly fashion. In spite of whatever protests might be made to the Cathaoirleach if he were to curtail speech on any debate, I think, nevertheless he would have the respect of the House if he was strict.
On other matters, I am not too sure what provisions there are here to raise immediate matters, and by "immediate" I mean something of international or national importance that occurred the day before we meet or the day we are meeting. There should be some arrangement among Members — and I do not mean the Committee on Procedure and Privileges; I am not too sure about the effectiveness of that body — I think there should be some group here that could decide on matters of immediate importance that should be or could be raised. For instance, Senator O'Toole and Senator Murphy raised the matter of the Gulf War. Baghdad is no longer a long way away. In fact, there is no place on earth a long way away any more; it is all very close to us and it all affects us. The invasion of Kuwait was barbaric and I think the bombing of Baghdad is barbaric. The bombing of Israel was worse, if there is a stronger word than "barbaric."
I think we are drifting slightly from the Order of Business.
Having asked you to be strict, I did not expect you to be strict that quickly.
It is difficult to know at what point one should begin.
Yes. Having said what I have said — and I stand over what I have said that these countries are no longer far away from us — I believe there should be a provision whereby a committee of this House consisting of all the groups, could sit down and decide if there is an immediate matter to be debated and I do not think it should be left all the time to the Cathaoirleach to decide these things.
There is a provision in Standing Order 29 for Members to raise any matter they feel concerned about and consider urgent. That provision obtains.
I am aware of that. A Senator may well raise a matter and it may be ruled out of order. I am talking about a group who would decide with the Cathaoirleach what would be in order — even though it was not on the Order Paper — because of its immediate importance. That is what I am talking about. However, I think we are going through an age of savagery, with all the bombing and everything that is going on, affecting children and women in Baghdad. The whole thing is sick. It is horrifying. I wish somebody would just say: let us sit down and talk and stop all this killing of people.
With due deference to what you said earlier, a Chathaoirligh, I beg leave to ask the Leader of the House if he would make some time available for the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications to make a statement in relation to the situation which has evolved, particularly over the past week, in relation to An Post. This has a particular concern for us all. It has rocked the country, in particular the rural parts, in relation to possible job losses and subpost office closures. No doubt——
Again, Senator, it must be by way of motion. While not wanting to be absolutely restrictive, at the same time I cannot allow what is tantamount to a speech to be made.
If I could briefly conclude, all of us here are elected to a greater or lesser degree by a rural constituency. We have all had representations on that. I would ask the Leader of the House to consider favourably my request. This is a very important issue and I would ask him, if possible to make some time available for a statement.
I support the Senators who have asked for a broad debate on the implications of the current horrific war in the Middle East. As Senator Hanafin has said, it is a war that is impacting on us very closely and it could have a much more dangerous impact in the future.
Ba mhaith liom arís comhghairdeas a dhéanamh le gach éinne a bhí ag obair chun an córas aistriúcháin seo a chur ar siúl sa Seanad. But, having said that, I must refer to something I think highly insensitive and I would like to request either the Leader or the Cathaoirleach to ask the Office of Public Works why, when we are looking for a tool to change from Irish to English or English to Irish, that the implement we get is made in England. I think that is very insensitive when we all know that these instruments are available in Ireland.
I would like to raise a couple of matters directly on the Order of Business, but I would like to make a few comments, if I may, about the general discussion. I think it has been very useful. I am glad that the Leader of the House opened it up. It might perhaps indicate that there is an opportunity coming for a full debate on the role of the Seanad, because I recognise the fact that we are all dealing within parameters that constrict us. I do not think there is necessarily ill will. I think it is time we looked at the procedures in some depth. I note my colleague Senator O'Toole has indicated that certain suggestions have been made and I hope they might be implemented.
It seems very clear to me that there is a lot of intellectual energy in this House on all sides and it simply seeks an avenue of expression. The way in which the Seanad is composed at the moment apparently does not allow for that expression, according to the existing channels. It seems to me that the channel is not simply to deny expression of that energy, which could be most useful, but I imagine the Leader will agree with me that the thing perhaps to do is to seek some method of harnessing that energy in the interests of the State and I am sure that all sides of the House would cooperate in that.
You yourself, Sir, referred to Standing Order 29. I have no intention of drawing yourself or your Office into it but I would just like to say in general terms that it is difficult sometimes because of the way Standing Order 29 is written. There is no clear guidance as to what constitutes a matter of urgent national importance, so that matters may well be raised by people who, with the best will in the world, consider them to be such, but they are ruled out of order and it is impossible to discover the criteria by which they were ruled out because the Standing Order is vague. That is no attempt to——
I accept that, Senator Norris, but really you are engaging in a very wide area now if we are going to debate Standing Order 29. I just gave you a moment on it due to the fact that it was mentioned.
I very much appreciate that. Could I say that it is just one example? Senator Hanafin suggested that perhaps some kind of sifting committee might be established. This might be a good idea; it might be a bad idea. Again, perhaps it is something that could be considered, because I believe we all wish to see the House operating as efficiently as possible.
In deference to your remarks, Sir, I will pass from this, but I will raise three items which are on the Order Paper. The first one, I think, gives an illustration of what we have been talking about today, because I am well aware of the fact that it will not be possible to have it raised today. It is Motion 71, which states:
That Seanad Éireann expresses the hope that the Government has monitored and intends to continue monitoring meetings such as that sponsored by the National Front of France in the conference chamber of Dublin Castle with a view to ensuring that Irish domestic law concerning Incitement to Hatred is not breached and that in the event of any such breach occurring those responsible are prosecuted with the full vigour of the law.
I want to remind you, Senator, that you are not entitled to read the motion, but seeing that you have it read there is little I can do about it.
I did not realise that. Can I just use that very briefly as an illustration, because I am aware that it could be taken that I was being fractious and tendentious and really wasting the time of the Seanad, but I do not think so because that meeting——
Senator Norris, have you a question for the Leader of the House?
Yes, I have. The question I have for the Leader of the House is: will the Leader of the House, despite the fact that this matter is most unlikely to be taken today, draw the material substance of it to the attention of the Government so that the law of this land may not be flouted and so that Seanad Éireann may be demonstrated, despite the antiquity of its machinery, to play a vital role in the day-to-day running of the country.
You are gone beyond the question, Senator.
It is, but there was not a full stop, as you may have noticed, a Chathaoirligh; there was only a comma, so I think that it falls within——
Well, there is a full stop where you are concerned now unless you adhere more strictly.
Well, perhaps a semicolon. That was my first request. There are just two others about which I would like to ask the Leader of the House. The first is Item No. 10 on the Order Paper for today, and I do so because I believe the Leader of the House has given an opening for it. I am not going to propose an alteration to the Order of Business but I would like him to give time for it. An adoption Bill has been accepted by the Government and this is a related matter.
The Senator has made his point.
I ask the Leader of the House to give time for this because he indicated that legislation should be initiated in this Chamber and that the issue should be dealt with in a less overtly political manner.
There is no necessity to make such an emphatic statement. The Senator has put the question to the Leader of the House and I am sure he will reply.
My third question is whether in the light of recent newspaper speculation which indicated that there might be a foreign affairs committee established of one House and further newspaper speculation which indicated that certain elements of the Opposition appeared to give only marginal standing to the Seanad in any possible Oireachtas joint committee on foreign affairs, the Leader will give time for Item No. 49 on the supplementary Order Paper which looks for the establishment of a foreign affairs committee. If there is not to be a joint committee, will the Leader immediately table a resolution establishing in addition to the Dáil committee on foreign affairs a Seanad committee on foreign affairs?
We might need a sifting committee to go through what the last speaker has spent so long debating. It is vital that we have a debate on agriculture. This has already been mentioned by Senator Manning. I suspect that because of the pressure for other debates the debate on agriculture may be relegated but because of the great uncertainty in agriculture I plead with him to have a debate on it next week.
Put down a motion.
I refer to the statement made by the Leader of the House concerning his perception of the function of the Seanad. He spoke in an ex cathedra fashion and since he put some very profound words on the record I would like to add one or two. I do not entirely agree with him. I take his point that this is a legislative assembly. That may well be our primary function but that is not the totality of the Seanad. The totality of the Seanad is the various functions in which we are engaged which include the Order of Business, motions, debates, and matters on the Adjournment. I do not think we should get carried away with the notion that merely because we are one of the Houses of the Oireachtas concerned with the enactment of legislation we should put other areas of activity into a peripheral role.
I support the call by Senator Manning for an urgent debate in this House on Northern Ireland. Also, given the present situation in Brussels, a debate on agriculture is extremely compelling and pertinent at this time.
I support the call for a debate on agriculture and on Northern Ireland. There was a debate on agriculture in the past but there has not been one on Northern Ireland. I would like to add to that a request for a debate on prisons. These are areas that have been raised with the Leader of the House. He has indicated his intention of having a debate on Northern Ireland and prisons and I would like him to give us some indication as to when he thinks both of those areas will be addressed.
Those are medium-term urgent debates but there are the specific areas of topicality in the context of what the Leader said. Three were raised here today; the closure of 550 post offices and the effect that may have on the rural population; the question of the bread war and the question of the horrendous developments in the Gulf War. We have an obligation to discuss these issues. I do not think the Leader of the House can come in and say that it is not the function of the Seanad to deal with day-to-day, topical, current issues, otherwise it would be a mirror image of the Dáil. That is not the way we should be going forward.
I admire and appreciate the work the Leader of the House has done in terms of initiating major legislation in this House but he will have to give more thought to the area of current issues and affairs. There is a major role for this House to play but it cannot be done within the terms indicated by the Cathaoirleach, namely, Standing Order 29, the Adjournment or Private Members' time. They are not for urgent matters and I am not aware of a single matter which was dealt with under Standing Order 29 since I came into the House. Perhaps the Whips, the Leader of the House, the Cathaoirleach and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, if that is the appropriate body, need to address this. There is a need for somebody to look at the structures to ensure that this important area which takes up time on the Order of Business has a particular slot in which it can be dealt with.
In view of the NUI decision recently to break up its constituent colleges structure and confer independence on its four universities and the Minister for Education's promise to bring forward the necessary legislation, I ask the Leader of the House if he could convey the view to the Minister for Education that when she is doing that she should take the opportunity to confer the additional Seanad votes on the two universities and other appropriate colleges. For the past 15 months I have constantly raised this issue and it is frustrating to be told that when it went to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges the feedback was that it was not the business of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges but of the Seanad. It came back to us as the business of the Seanad and I have heard nothing since.
I must remind the Senator, as I have with others——
You can understand my frustration.
I do, but there is no provision in Standing Orders for personal frustration.
If there were we would all be assigned to asylums at this stage because of the level of frustration and stress. I consider this to be the business of the Seanad and I have yet to get a satisfactory answer. Students and graduates of the universities will take to the streets one of these days. They feel they are being discriminated against and cannot vote. I would like an immediate answer to that question from the Leader of the House.
It is seldom that I interrupt or disrupt the Order of Business but I add my concern to Senator Cosgrave's in asking for a debate on An Post. It will be over and done with and we will not have had an opportunity to discuss its implications. Surely it is the business of the Seanad to represent the views of the people who elect us. I hope to get two positive answers from the Leader of the House today in relation to those requests.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an ghléas seo ar mo thaobh clé — agus tá súil agam go mbeidh seans ag Seanadóirí eile úsáid a bhaint as am éigin le linn na díospóireachta. Tá an rogha acu anois mé a thuiscint nó gan a thuiscint. B'fhéidir gurbh fhearr leo an rogha gan mé a thuiscint, ach tá an rogha acu anois agus cuirim fáilte roimh an chóras aistriúcháin. Tá súil agam go mbainfear úsáid as go minic agus go rialta. Tá dualgas orainn, sinne a bhfuil an Ghaeilge go measartha líofa againn, úsáid a bhaint aisti, go háirithe anois nuair atá an córas nua seo ann.
Tá an Seanadóir as ordú anois.
Tá mé as ordú cionn is go bhfuil mé ag moladh na Gaeilge! Tá brón orm faoi sin, a Chathaoirligh, níor cheapas go mbeinn.
I add my support to Senator O'Toole and a number of other Senators including, Senators Manning and Hanafin, for a debate on the horrific events that have developed in the Gulf, particularly today. I am entirely in sympathy with Senator Murphy who said last week that it would not be a debate of "I told you so" or anything like that. It is a debate about a tragedy which is unfolding before our eyes. We should be talking about the end of it not about who said what and who was right and who was wrong. I appeal to the Leader for such a debate.
On the issue the Leader of the House raised, it is not my usual function to be in sympathy with him but we should all take ourselves a little less seriously. There is perpetual tension between the Government and the Opposition in a House like this. I do not find this House frustrating. I find it difficult. Sometimes I do not get my way and sometimes I do. I do not always get what I want done and sometimes I do. I have no great patience with anybody who gets up and says that because an issue he or she wanted debated was not debated in the time span they allocated themselves that somehow this House is——
We are moving away from what was intended by the remarks of the Leader of the House.
The six University Senators raised the issue of extending the franchise to graduates of other institutions when the university Bills were going through this House and we are quite impatient in regard to extending the franchise to all those who should have it. Notwithstanding my great enthusiasm for the graduates of the national university I do not expect them——
I cannot allow the Senator to go down that road.
——to take to the streets simply because they do not have a franchise to elect people to the Seanad.
Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister for Justice to introduce a Bill in the Seanad to change the law on criminal insanity? It is highly unsatisfactory that the Government have the responsibility to release a person so convicted. I support my colleague, Senator Cosgrave, in asking for a debate on the proposals by An Post. If those proposals go through we can sound the last post for rural Ireland.
What are the Leader's intentions with regard to a debate on agriculture encompassing the whole area of the GATT and related matters? Does he realise that many farmers will have a nil income position during 1991? Do the Government accept that is the reality? I ask for a direct answer to these questions. Will he indicate when we will have a meaningful discussion on agriculture? We had a lengthy debate on agriculture some months ago but the position nationally and globally has changed dramatically.
I must remind the Senator——
It is very relevant——
It may be relevent to another time and another place.
The position as of now is entirely different from the position which existed when we had our last debate.
Some Senators including Senator Manning said that I was putting a stop on the debate, as it were. I am not. We have a Whips' meeting every week at which we order and finalise business for the day and for the week; yet we still spend an hour and a half asking questions on items we know cannot be taken. I have been as helpful and as innovative as I can but I have to work within the rules of the House. If Senators and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges want to meet and change them, that is fine with me. What I am saying is that we should work with what we have before us. That is what I am trying to do. I should not lose sight of our primary function here. I feel very strongly about that. I am not trying to protect the Government or negative the role of the Seanad in any way. I am as open to change as anyone and if the Committee on Procedure and Privileges want to meet and change the rules I will not try to stifle them.
It is not on that we should debate the headlines of the day. That is not feasible in this House and we know that. We have Whips who meet every week and there are channels and procedures whereby topical matters can be raised. There is provision for a half hour Adjournment debate, for taking items under Standing Order 29, for Private Members time, and soon but if Senators want an extra topical hour or whatever it is to be called, that is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. If that comes into play, that is fine with me. I am simply saying that we should do our very best with what we have. I do not think the Order of Business should take an hour and a half every day.
Senator Manning again asked about item No. 2. I met the parliamentary agent and explained to him that there was priority legislation and he seemed to understand that was the situation. The Senator also asked for a debate on agriculture and Northern Ireland. Hopefully, a debate on agriculture will be arranged within the next two weeks. Senator O'Toole spoke about allowing time to discuss topical matters and also Private Members' time. If that is to be changed, that is fine with me.
Does the Senator support it?
If it is discussed with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges we will have a good open discussion on it. Many Senators asked for a debate on the Middle East. We had one on 24 January and because we have important legislation for the month of February, I do not see that its possible to have a debate.
Four hundred civilians should make a difference.
Senator Fallon, without interruption.
Senator Upton said speeches are too long. If the Committee on Procedure and Privileges want to curtail debate that is a matter for them. Senator McGowan asked about documents laid before the House. That is not a matter for discussion on the Order of Business. Senator Murphy asked for a debate on the Gulf War and he asked about the Appropriation Bill. That will be taken within the next two weeks or threreabouts. Senator Naughten asked about a relief fund. I do not know the position on that but I will try to find out and let the Seantor know. Senator Hanafin asked about the procedures to raise urgent matters. I have given the procedures and the channels through which we can raise such matters. Three weeks ago we had a debate on the Gulf. Senator Cosgrave asked about a debate, as did Senator Jackman, on An Post. That seems to be suitable for a debate in Private Members' time. Senator Lanigan also asked about a debate on the Gulf War.
Senator Norris supported some form of debate on the role of the Seanad. If the Committee on Procedure and Privileges want to change some of the rules or regulations of the Seanad that is a matter for them. I have no plan for a debate on Item No. 71 or on Item No. 10. As regards the committee on foreign affairs I replied last week to Senator Cullen that discussions were still going on with the other parties and I said I was hopeful that it would be a joint Oireachtas Committee. Senator Byrne asked for a debate on agriculture. We will have a debate on that matter within two weeks. Senator Staunton also asked for that debate. Senator Costello asked about agriculture, about Northern Ireland, An Post and the possibility of raising topical matters.
We have very important legislation for the remainder of the month. Sentor Jackman asked me to convey her views to the Minister. She also spoke about a debate on agriculture and An Post. I have no plan for a debate on that at present but it is suitable for Private Members' time. Senator Brendan Ryan spoke about extending the franchise and also about a debate on the Gulf War. Senator Neville asked about a Bill on criminal insanity. I understand one is in the course of preparation. I understand from Senator Neville that he would like, if possible, to initiate it here. I will ask the Minister about that and see how we get on. Senator Hourigan asked me many questions on agriculture. We will have a wide-ranging debate on agriculture hopefully within two weeks. The questions he asked me would be far more appropriate to the Minister who will be here on the day. That is where he should direct his questions.