Speech on Order of Business: Recalling the Seanad, CAO results, Criminal Justice Bill
10 September 2020
I would like to speak about the Order of Business. I suggest, with the greatest of respect, that the Cathaoirleach might stop digging and stop dominating the Order of Business. He has spoken, with respect, more than anyone else this morning on the Order of Business.
I did not interrupt anyone. I have not made any points of order. I simply want to set out my position and that of the Labour Party - I believe it is a fair and reasonable one - on the Order of Business. First, it is disingenuous to suggest that either Opposition Senators or any other Senators have some sort of obligation to recall the House. As someone who did seek to recall the House, the Senator will know it is a power that is available, but it is not used lightly and is used rarely.
In fairness, when we knew that the Seanad was being recalled early, we all supported that. We all anticipated, as Senator Ó Donnghaile, Senator McDowell and others have said, and saw from the draft schedule that there would be debates on education in this crucial week, when we see thousands of children back to school and thousands of our school leavers getting their leaving certificate results.
It was reasonable for us to assume that would take place, and that we would debate education along with the Covid Bill, which we were looking forward to debating over a reasonable period. When contacted for the Labour Party group last week, I was happy to agree on behalf of my group that we would sit over two days, that we would forgo the calling of votes on the Order of Business on the Wednesday, that we would have the Second Stage debate on the criminal justice Bill and that if any of us had an issue with that Bill we would call a vote in the knowledge it would be adjourned until Thursday when we would have a sitting in the Dáil Chamber. I thought that was a reasonable accommodation. We sought to be co-operative with the Leader and everyone concerned. I am very disappointed that two-day sitting did not happen, and, as Senator Ó Donnghaile said, I thought it was until there was a change of tack at very short notice.
I appreciate that agreement was not forthcoming from everyone. However, it is the obligation of the Government to ensure there is sufficient time to debate a Bill that is not as urgent as it might appear. I have just done a major review of criminal justice and police enforcement powers under Covid and we could have waited a little longer. It would have been perfectly possible to have the debate on the criminal justice Bill today and tomorrow in the Dáil Chamber thereby giving all of us the opportunity to debate it in the usual timeframe.
The Labour Party has amendments in. My colleague, Deputy Howlin, put those amendments in in the Dáil. There was a lengthy debate on them and they were put to a vote. We are anxious to do the same today but not on a day when we have all Stages of the Bill. I have placed the Labour Party's position very clearly on the record. It is a reasonable position and I am very disappointed that it has not been within the capacity of the Government side to ensure that we would have a two-day sitting this week, notwithstanding there was not agreement about the use of the Seanad Chamber and that we could not have sat in the Dáil Chamber over two days.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, and the Cathaoirleach can guide me if I am not entitled to do so, to remove Committee and Remaining Stages of the criminal justice Bill and replace them with the statements on education that we were promised, on which my colleague, the Seanad spokesperson for education, Senator Hoey, had prepared comments on and about which all of us were anxious to discuss in such a crucial week for education.
We want to have a fair debate on the Covid Bill. We supported it in the Dáil so it is not that we are looking to oppose it for its own sake. We have real concerns about it, which Deputy Howlin raised and which I hope to raise today. We do not believe that it is appropriate to debate all Stages of that Bill today.
I propose the amendment to the Order of Business - I think I am entitled to do so - and I hope there will be strong support for it. It is bad practice in the Seanad to rush all Stages through and it is unseemly and unedifying that we are having such a big row about procedures on our first day back when the country faces so many crucial challenges, with Covid, Brexit and rising rates of infection. It is really unfortunate that we are in this position. We sought to be constructive and co-operative. I am sorry that agreement was not possible but there could have been another way to sit Thursday and Friday, or indeed sit today and Monday when the Dáil will not be using this Chamber.
The Committee on Procedure and Privileges will sit later. I express my disappointment that it will coincide with the Criminal Justice Bill, on which I am leading for the Labour Party group and therefore must shuttle between two venues. That is not ideal and others will be in the same position. I would like the committee to be able to come to a good compromise where we can ensure we are sitting and debating in a way that ensures everyone has a right to vote and Bills are not being rushed through at all Stages when this is not necessary.
I propose an amendment to remove Committee and Remaining Stages.