Today in Leinster House: April 19, 2012

Another lengthy day, with a landmark vote on whether to permit abortion in Ireland, and a good deal of other matters in the committees and elsewhere. There’s also the continuation of discussion on the Fiscal Compact and the legislation triggering its referendum.

10:00am – European Union Affairs – With the Public Accounts Committee meeting in private, the first business of the day is in Room 3 where the EU Affairs committee picks up the Fiscal Compact baton. Newly-ousted SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie MP will brief members on her party’s stance, before junior trade minister Joe Costello comes into brief members on the government’s policy paper on Irish Aid.

10:00am – Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture – In Room 4, members get their teeth into a series of new EU legislative proposals, including plans to add to the list of banned psychoactive substances, and discuss a green paper on the issue of “innovative lighting techniques” as part of the EU’s drive towards energy efficiency.

10:30am – Leaders’ Questions – It’s Thursday, so Eamon Gilmore will be taking the leaders’ questions against the deputy leaders of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the technical group.

10:30am – Order of Business – The Seanad begins its day with its standard 75-minute free-for-all allowing members to raise matters of varying prominence. 

10:30am – Jobs, Social Protection and Education – In Room 2, Sean O’Driscoll from Glen Dimplex Ireland offers his thoughts on how to combat unemployment and youth unemployment. In recent weeks he’s called for a national five-year pay freeze in order to help make Ireland more competitive. It’ll be interesting to see how that is received.

10:51am – Order of Business – TDs get 20 minutes to check up on the status of some of the government’s promised measures.

11:11am – Private Members’ Business [Technical Group] – Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman) Bill 2012 (second stage) – Debate resumes on what is probably the most high-profile action of the week: Clare Daly’s legislation allowing abortion in some circumstances where the life of a mother-to-be is at risk. This follows the Supreme Court ruling in the 1992 ‘X Case’ (Attorney General v. X) where it was found that the Constitution allowed for abortion in circumstances where the life of the mother is at risk, including the risk of suicide. No government has legislated to provide for this procedure. The government is still waiting feedback from an expert group established to deal with the ruling of the 2010 ECHR A, B and C v. Ireland case – and therefore it may vote against the measure for now. Debate will conclude at 12:41pm and a vote taken then.

11:30am – Health and Children – In Room 2, members hear from a member: former world 5000m champion Senator Eamonn Coghlan joins former Olympic silver medallist John Treacy, the chief executive of the Irish Sports Council, to discuss how sport can be used to help tackle childhood obesity.

11:45am – Tributes to former senator Myles Staunton – Myles Staunton died last June at the age of 75. He was a Fine Gael TD for Mayo West in the 20th Dáil, and later served in the Seanads elected in 1977 and 1981. He lost his seat in 1982, and unsuccessfully fought later Dail and European campaigns before returning to the Seanad in 1989. Members will pause for a while to pay tribute to him today.

1:22pm (approx) – Referendum on the Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union) Bill 2012 (second stage resumed) – There’s a 30-minute breather after the outcome of the abortion vote (if there is one), after which TDs will return to the other major business of the week: the legislation requiring a referendum on the Fiscal Compact. This continues until 4:30pm and resumed again this evening.

1:45pm – Department of the Taoiseach (sub-committee) – A subset of the Finance Committee will have an unusual visitor: Taoiseach Enda Kenny pops into Room 2 to discuss the Budget’s estimates for his own Department and for the agencies which come under its remit like the Chief State Solicitor’s Office, the Central Statistics Office, the Attorney General and the DPP.

2:00pm – Statements on the Sale of State Assets – The main item of the afternoon in the Seanad is a 90-minute discussion led by Brendan Howlin, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, on the hot potato of state assets and when they might eventually be sold.

2:30pm – Foreign Affairs and Trade – With the Taoiseach in one committee meeting, the Tánaiste attends another – with Eamon Gilmore visiting the Foreign Affairs committee in Room 4 to offer a briefing on the aftermath of the last Global Irish Economic Forum in Farmleigh and where it has gotten us. (Expect some quips about Denis O’Brien’s attendance from some of the opposition members.)

3:30pm – Road Safety Authority (Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness) Bill 2012 [Seanad] (committee stage) – Leo Varadkar yesterday navigated the Seanad through the first leg of new legislation which will overhaul the regime governing the roadworthiness of commercial vehicles. Today he’ll spend two hours considering opposition amendments and other housekeeping matters.

3:42pm – Topical Issues – Four newsworthy items are discussed for 12 minutes apiece, with ministers on hand to respond.

4:30pm – Questions (Minister for Education and Skills) – Ruairí Quinn is the minister rostered up for questioning today; he will face inquiries on teachers’ allowances, cuts to Deis school funding, cuts to primary schools, teaching retirements and small rural primary schools.

5:30pm – Matters on the Adjournment – With the legislation wrapped up, the Seanad discusses a few matters of local importance before wrapping up for the week.

5:45pm – as 1:22pm – Once Ruairí Quinn is done, debate continues on the Fiscal Compact referendum. The Friday schedule includes ‘Second and Remaining Stages’, indicating that today’s debate will not end with a vote on the second stage.

8:00pm – Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012 (second stage resumed) – Thursdays usually end at 5:45pm – so it’s strange that the sittings would continue up to 10pm. Nonetheless, today marks the second two hours of debate on legislation reforming social welfare provisions in line with the Budget announcements. The most controversial point in Joan Burton’s Bill makes 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 concluding vote at 10pm.

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