Gnó an tSeanaid - Business of Seanad

Before I call the Leader to outline the Order of Business, as a result of sometimes complaints and sometimes concerns, I want to read a reminder of what the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, agreed to on time limits, etc. I ask Senators to allow me a couple of minutes to get it over and done with. I am hinting at no one in particular and just want to remind Members of the limits. Sometimes I get complaints that I give some Senators too much time and others not enough.

I remind Members of the purpose of, and arrangements for, the Order of Business. The primary purpose of the Order of Business is to consider the proposals by the Leader for the business to be taken on each sitting day and the order in which it shall be taken and the arrangements for taking it. The House may accept, reject or amend the Leader's proposal. Members are called to speak on the Order of Business in order that they may offer their views on the Leader's proposals. Members may support or oppose the Order of Business, or seek to amend it.

The only matter formally before the House is the proposals in respect of the day's business. However, the practice has developed over time whereby Senators suggest to the Leader matters on which he might consider arranging debates on later days. Senators may support their requests for a debate by reference to the matter involved. However, reference should only be made to the matter involved to the extent necessary to support a Senator's case for the importance or urgency of it. Substantive speeches, whether scripted or otherwise, are not allowed on the Order of Business and must be reserved until the matter is ordered for debate.

Timed limits for the Order of Business are agreed to by the Seanad, not by me, on the recommendation of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges shortly after the House first met in 2016. They are as follows: the Leader must be called on to reply to the Order of Business not later than 55 minutes after he makes his proposal; the contributions of group leaders shall not exceed three minutes; the contribution of every other Senator shall not exceed two minutes; and the Leader's reply shall not exceed ten minutes.

In 2016 the Committee on Procedure and Privileges confirmed the arrangement that applied in the last Seanad and Senators speaking on the Order of Business, other than the group leaders, are confined to one topic only. Sometimes that is abused and I get complaints from others. As Chair, I believe undue rigidity in the application of the rules is not always in the best interests of the conduct of business and that the exercise of discretion which I quite regularly do is sometimes appropriate. However, I am concerned that the exercise of discretion has at times been interpreted as the setting of a new benchmark and a licence to ignore the rules, which was never intended.

I ask all Senators to respect the rules which they themselves have set for the conduct of the Order of Business. I must insist on respect for the Chair in my application of these rules. For my part, I shall continue to endeavour to be fair and impartial in the way I apply the rules.

I wish to mention two other matters. I accept Senators bring in mobile phones and use them to access the Internet, for emails, etc. The making of telephone calls in the Chamber, whether it is behind the screen or in the corner on the way out, is totally prohibited. I insist that the taking or making of a telephone call must be done outside the Chamber.

On Commencement matters, it is four minutes for each Commencement matter. Sometimes Senators take six or seven minutes and then want to ask a supplementary question. I am very flexible in allowing a supplementary question to a Minister but a Senator cannot take six or seven minutes at the outset as I have to be fair to everyone. One day a Senator took 15.5 minutes and the Senator who only got eight complained and said I had given another Senator 15.5. I have to be balanced and fair, as well as using some flexibility.

I felt it would be inappropriate to mention this yesterday because of the tributes being paid to the late Mark Killilea, even though I had decided to do so at the start of the year. I hope, we will be here this time next year.

I call the Leader to outline the business of the day.