This week in Leinster House: June 14-16, 2011

A full week of Dáil and Seanad sittings ahead, supplemented by (one) committee meeting – it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas(!). Realistically, this week will actually have slightly less vigour than some of the preceding committee-free weeks, but there will be some things worth looking out for.

Tuesday

Both full houses kick off at 2:30pm, as the Dáil kicks off with Questions to the Taoiseach while the Seanad gets through its theatrical order of business. At the time of writing we didn’t know much about what questions Enda Kenny would face: there were only three on notice: has Ireland been talking to Greece and Portugal about common bargaining tactics (Gerry Adams), the potential for a government ‘100 days in power’ progress report (Micheál Martin), and progress on making the Oireachtas more effective (Martin again).

Of course, business in both houses will be delayed to some degree as both houses pay their own tributes to the late former Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, whose funeral that morning will have been attended by most in Leinster House. The Dáil will see lengthy statements in that regard, as Lenihan was a member of the house at the time of his death. (The government’s decision on when to hold a by-election in Dublin West will be telling on its intentions for political reform – but this is, of course, a matter that will rightfully be left alone for the coming weeks.)

Lenihan’s constituency colleague, Joan Burton, is timetabled for 3:15pm to take Questions to the Minister for Social Protection; this will likely be delayed, but when it does get going, she will face questions based largely on individual constituency issues – Joe Carey (FG) of Clare, for example, has six alone, all evidently relating to the closure of a single local company. There will be an interesting one from Tom Fleming (Ind, Kerry South), who wants to know if there are plans for national registers for people looking for jobs, and people advertising them.

At 3:30pm, the Seanad will be kicking off a debate on a Motion re Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998, a recurring item throughout the week’s business. Unfortunately, at present, nothing has been added to the Order Papers or the Weekly Agenda to let us know what that might entail.

At 4:15pm, it’s new business for both houses: the Seanad kicks off a two-hour session of Statements on the Allocation of Language Support Teachers for Special Needs Pupils in the Context of the Employment Control Framework, while in the Dáil it’s time for the more quippily-titled Leaders’ Questions. Given the morning’s funeral of the former member for Dublin West, this will be a much more orderly affair than usual. After that, there’s a quick rubber-stamping for an amendment to the rota by which ministers appear for questions, and then the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2011, which – as weekly readers will know – proposes to regulate greyhound breeding establishments.

Back upstairs, the Seanad will discuss adjournment matters at 6:15pm while in the Dáil 7pm brings Sinn Féin’s private members business – this week on water and sewerage charges. It’s a long motion, but the crux is that the Dáil shouldn’t introduce water charges, and the money planned for private water meters should instead be spent upgrading the current water system. That’ll bring us up to 8:30pm, when the Dáil puts an end to a difficult and trying day.

Wednesday

Wednesday marks the first time of the new parliamentary session that we’ll have a committee meeting: the Public Accounts Committee convenes for its ceremonial opening, at which it will choose its chairman and vice-chairman. If you’ve been following this for a few weeks you’ll know that there’s a potential flashpoint here. Traditionally the largest opposition party gets the chairmanship of this committee: Fianna Fáil has planned to nominate John McGuinness. The problem is that the technical group reckon having Fianna Fáil supervise a committee of this kind is a little daft, so they’re planning on putting forward Shane Ross as their own nominee. Of the committee’s 13 members, Ross is the only one from the technical group – but if the Sinn Féin rep, Mary Lou McDonald, sides with Ross then he’ll force a vote on the matter.

Like Ross, McGuinness, who will be supported by FF stablemate Michael McGrath, only has two votes to count on in such a vote – and the balance of power will sit with the nine government TDs, who will have to decide whether to back a Fianna Fáiler or side with Sinn Féin and gang up on a party still licking its electoral wounds. That meeting kicks off at 3pm in Committee Room 1, and ought to be a cracker.

In more regular business, the Seanad kicks off at 10:30am with the Order of Business while the Dáil begins with Leaders’ Questions. 10:51am (yes, 10:51am) in the Dáil brings its own Order of Business, while further Questions to the Taoiseach on Wednesday morning leave us in the same informal vacuum as Tuesday. Thereafter, there’s 45 minutes for a motion on the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 and another 45 minutes for Motion re Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 - yes, the same one from the Seanad yesterday. All of that brings us up to 1:30pm the Dáil – meaning that, for the entire morning, we currently haven’t the slightest clue what’s going on.

Thankfully, the Seanad will be ploughing on ahead with something we can recognise: from 11:45am to 1:30pm, it’ll be putting its final rubberstamps on the Female Genital Mutilation Bill 2010 – a bill tabled by the current Labour Seanad leader Ivana Bacik, but which dates back to her time in opposition (it was first discussed on April 21, 2010).

After lunch the Seanad resumes with its own discussions on the Finance (No.2) Bill 2011 - the one that gives legal effect to the jobs initiative, and which was passed by the Dáil (82 to 37) last Thursday – while the Dáil gets back on track with Questions to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. There, Phil Hogan will face questions on rates waiver schemes for small businesses, local government efficiency… and one, from Labour’s Seán Kenny, asking if there’s any legal way of making people take down those damned cable ties from the elections posters. (It’s during these discussions, by the by, that the Public Accounts Committee will be meeting at 3pm).

Thereafter (3:45pm) the Dáil gets busy with the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill – a housekeeping measure extending the provisions of earlier acts – while more interestingly, the Seanad will see debate on a motion put forward by the Taoiseach’s Nominees: seven of them, from across the FG, Labour and independent ranks, are looking for a commitment that the Seanad will:

- put in place arrangements so that this House can engage directly with well informed citizens and residents from all walks of life whose experience and expertise can contribute to debates on issues of public importance thereby adding considerable value to our work as legislators;

– invite to the floor of Seanad Éireann, on a case by case and ongoing basis, appropriate leaders and representatives of civic life who have a significant contribution to make to the deliberations of this House […].

It’s signed by seven senators including Martin McAleese, Marie Louise O’Donnell, and Katherine Zappone, and should make for interesting watching when the Public Accounts Committee finishes. (As a side comment, do these rookie senators essentially wish the Seanad was more like a giant, 60-member committee?)

At 7pm the Dáil will revert to Sinn Féin’s private members’ bill – to wrap up at 8:30pm – while the Seanad at 7:30pm will get to the same Motion re Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 - details of which we’ll provide once we get it from the Department of Justice. The Dáil discusses adjournment matters at 8:30pm and the Seanad at 8:15pm.

Thursday

As per usual, both houses get going at 10:30am with the Order of Business. (An observation here: both houses only have two pieces of legislative business scheduled for the day. The Dáil tends to spend about 20 minutes on its Order of Business, but has no fixed time outlined. The Seanad has… 75 minutes set aside.)

The Dáil’s schedule is relatively fluid, so we’ll cover that first: the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011 will finish its passage through the lower house, after which the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2011 gets going again (though the provisional schedule doesn’t include a vote on its passage).

The Seanad, after its 75 minutes of talking-about-what-to-talk-about, gets 105 minutes of Statements on the Fair Deal Nursing Home Scheme, breaking for lunch at 3:30pm and then resuming with more debate on the Finance (No.2) Bill.

Back downstairs, at 3:30pm, it’s the final ministerial questions of the week: the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, faces a mash of questions on why broadband isn’t available in various places in Co Meath and the transfer of the national power grid.

Adjournment matters hit the Dáil at 4:45pm, and the Seanad at 5pm.

As always, all of the week’s business can be viewed on our live Dáil and live Seanad streams. The Public Accounts Committee meeting, at 3pm on Wednesday, can be viewed on our live stream from Committee Room 1.