Today in Leinster House: April 18, 2012

The Dáil and Seanad are both back in business today, with two bills of massive political importance – the Fiscal Compact referendum, and the ULA bill legalising abortion in certain circumstances.

Within all of that, there’s also plenty of important topics in the committees. A packed day.

9:30am – Jobs, Social Protection and Education – The day begins in Room 3, where members will discuss the European Union’s plans to introduce new financial management standards for companies across the EU. After that, there’ll be input from ICTU’s Paul Sweeney and Peter Rigney; Fr Seán Healy from Social Justice Ireland, and Dr Mary Murphy from NUI Maynooth – each of whom will be discussing ways of combating youth unemployment.

9:45am – Sub-Committee on the Fiscal Compact Referendum – The first of two hearings today on the Fiscal Compact (separate to the Dáil debates, of course) will discuss the realities of what the treaty will mean for Ireland. The hearing, packed with economists, includes Megan Greene of Roubini Global Economics, Jimmy Kelly and Michael Taft from trade union UNITE, Brian Lucey from Trinity College and Terrence McDonough of NUI Galway.

10:30am – Leaders’ Questions – The Dáil’s delayed three-day week begins with Enda Kenny taking the usual batch of leaders’ questions from the leaders of FF, SF and the technical group. It’s the first batch of questions since the furore over which ministers had met Michael Lowry, so we can expect that topic to be among those broached.

10:51am – Order of Business – The Dáil will spend at maximum 30 minutes discussing its own agenda; given that there’s been no sittings for a fortnight, there’ll be plenty of inquiries about the progress made in various respects.

11:21am – Referendum on the Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union) Bill 2012 (second stage) – Aside from the high-profile item of opposition business later this evening, the Dáil’s week is dominated by the formal legislation allowing a referendum on the Fiscal Compact treaty. The ‘second stage’ debates will offer TDs their best chance of putting arguments on the record in favour or against the treaty’s overall ratification. (Some eyes on Éamon Ó Cuív, who has previously said he’d vote in favour of the Bill, even though he’s against the referendum.)

11:30am – Sub-Committee on the Fiscal Compact Referendum – The second of today’s hearings takes on the sociological impact of the referendum, with input from Seán Murphy of Chambers Ireland, Tom O’Connor from CIT, Andrew Storey from UCD and Prof Gerry Whyte from TCD.

2:30pm – Questions (Minister for Finance) – Back with a bang. The first stint of ministerial questions for three weeks goes to Michael Noonan, a minister whose round of oral questions always manages to serve up a headline or two. Today his questions will deal with the profitability (or otherwise) of NAMA, the promissory note talks and where the €90m of costs is going this year, the IMF’s thoughts on the new insolvency plans, and what parts of the memorandum of understanding he wants to have amended after this week’s Troika inspection.

2:30pm – Order of Business – The Seanad kicks off its two-day week with the standard 75 minutes allowing members to raise matters of daily prominence.

2:30pm – Foreign Affairs and Trade – Junior trade and aid minister Joe Costello makes his first appearance at a committee meeting since his promotion to ministerial ranks, discussing the government’s policy paper on Irish Aid and reviewing the general scheme of activities for St Patrick’s Day 2012. Room 1.

3:45pm – Topical Issues – Four topical issues are discussed for 12 minutes each.

3:45pm – Road Safety Authority (Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness) Bill 2012 [Seanad] (second stage) – The only legislative item on the Seanad schedule this week is new legislation being brought forward by Leo Varadkar, who wants to reform the regime for ensuring the roadworthiness of commercial vehicles. There’ll be nearly two hours of general debate on it today in second stage; a vote, if called, will be taken at 5:45pm with amendments to be considered tomorrow.

4:30pm – Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform – Brendan Howlin is called into Room 4 to discuss two recent government statutory instruments – one tweaking the expenses regime for TDs (and possibly allowing some members to claim twice for certain bills), the other giving the ‘super-junior’ ministers a pay rise. He’ll also discuss the overall plans for new legislation to safeguard the rights of corporate and civil whistleblowers.

4:33pm – as 11:21am – Debate continues on the Bill requiring a referendum for the Fiscal Compact.

5:45pm – Private Members’ Business [Taoiseach’s nominees] – Motion re Child Trafficking – On October 12 last year the independent Taoiseach’s nominees, led by Jillian van Turnhout, put forward a motion proposing a plan of action to oversee the government’s fight against human trafficking, most predominantly for sexual purposes. It asked for action within six months. With six months having passed and no progress being made, they bring forward a revision to revive government action.  

7:30pm – Private Members’ Business [Technical Group] – Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman) Bill 2012 (second stage) – Probably the most contentious piece of legislation to come before the Dáil in quite some time. In the ‘X Case’ (Attorney General v. X) 1992 the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution allowed for abortion in circumstances where the life of the mother is at risk, including the risk of suicide, and implicitly suggested that the government should legislate to address this. No government has done so, a point bemoaned by the European Court of Human Rights in 2010 in the case of A, B and C v. Ireland. Clare Daly of the Technical Group has introduced legislation which aims to address the gap. The government, which is still waiting for the feedback of an expert group to deal with the latter case, may vote against it for now. Either way, debate will continue until 9pm and resume tomorrow morning.

7:45pm – Matters on the Adjournment – The Seanad wraps up its day with the usual daily session of miscellaneous matters of general interest.

9:00pm – Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012 (second stage) – It’s an unusually long day in the Dáil, as the government tries to steer through some legislation and make up for the two weeks lost over Easter. This is the first two hours of debate on legislation reforming social welfare provisions in line with the Budget announcements, the most prominent of which is to make changes to the One-Parent Family Payment, reducing the age limit applying to the youngest child in the family on a phased basis from 14 to 7 years. There could well be some regretful tones from the Labour benches, and indeed possibly another defection or two when it comes to a vote tomorrow. Either way, debate continues until 11pm and will resume tomorrow.

All of the day’s business can be viewed on the streams: