Today in Leinster House: November 20, 2012

THE OIREACHTAS WEEK actually began yesterday, with a visit from a European Commissioner, but the business in the Dáil tonight and tomorrow evening will – for a myriad obvious reasons – grab all the attention, and rightly so.

1:30pm – Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation – The day begins in Room 2, where members will examine as many as 17 new EU legislative proposals, before hearing from the HEA and Ireland’s universities and ITs as members discuss the gap between the skills that Irish graduates leave college with, and the skills they need in order to secure gainful employment.

2:00pm – Questions (Minister for Education and Skills) – Ruairí Quinn gets the Dáil ball rolling by stepping in for 75 minutes to answer parliamentary questions on matters including the ongoing delay to grant payments by SUSI, financial support for adult learning initiatives, cuts to guidance counsellors and its impact on bullying, and Junior Cert reform.

2:00pm – Committee on European Union Affairs – In Room 1, the Oireachtas committee on all matters Europe meets some members from its Latvian counterpart, where the two countries will discuss matters of mutual interest.

2:00pm – Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine – In Room 3, meanwhile, the chairman-designate of Coillte, Brendan McKenna, introduces himself. Once he’s done, representatives from Macra na Feirme will make their pre-Budget submissions.

2:30pm – Order of Business – The Seanad’s day begins with the customary 75-minute discuss on whatever takes the fancy of the 60 members, who will also agree to the day’s agenda.

3:15pm – Leaders’ Questions – The marquee event of the afternoon will see Enda Kenny up to bat at inquiring curveballs pitched by Micheál Martin, Gerry Adams and the technical group’s rostered spokesman.

3:36pm – Questions (Taoiseach) – With those queries dealt with, the Taoiseach takes on more slow-paced questioning on meeting the victims of the Kingsmill massacre, meetings with David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and last month’s meeting of EU heads of government.

3:45pm – Statements on the Action Plan for Jobs – The Seanad, meanwhile, will be holding a 75-minute discussion on the government’s 270-point jobs plan, with proceedings led by Richard Bruton.

4:30pm – Committee on Health and Children – James Reilly is in Room 2 to brief members on next week’s meeting of EU health ministers, and the matters being discussed, before he’s joined by Kathleen Lynch, Alex White and the HSE’s incoming head Tony O’Brien for the regular update on all things health. Doubtless, the HSE’s continued funding difficulties and the death of Savita Halappanavar are likely to feature.

4:36pm – Order of Business – TDs get 30 days to agree to the day’s agenda.

5:00pm – Fiscal Responsibility Bill 2012 (committee stage) – On the other side of the corridor, meanwhile, Senators will discuss amendments to the Fiscal Responsibility Bill, which will limit the size of a Budget deficit that Ireland can incur. (Its provisions, for a maximum deficit of 0.5% of GDP, won’t kick in for Ireland until 2018.)

5:06pm – Topical Issues – Four of the day’s newsworthy matters are discussed by ministers, backbenchers and opposition for 12 minutes apiece.

5:54pm – National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 (report and final stages); Electoral (Amendment) (Dail Constituencies) Bill 2012 (second stage) – There’s about 90 minutes or so left over before members buckle down for Sinn Féin’s emotive private motion; in the time available, members will finalise their deliberation on legislation to set up a new national vetting bureau to monitor the fitness of adults to work with children, and break the back on the legal changes to the Dáil constituencies ahead of the next general election.

7:30pm – Private Members’ Business [Sinn Féin] – Motion re Supreme Court ruling in the X Case – On October 21, a 31-year-old Indian woman who was 17 weeks pregnant attended University College Hospital in Galway complaining of back problems. Doctors learned that the woman, Savita Halappanavar, was suffering a miscarriage – and expected the foetus to be delivered naturally within hours. Over two days later – with the foetus still having not yet left Savita’s body – she and her husband asked repeatedly for labour to be induced so that her pain might be ended. She was refused. Eventually the foetus was delivered – but in the meantime Halappanavar had contracted blood poisoning which proved to be fatal.

Halappanavar’s death has caused an international outpouring of grief and anger at Ireland’s abortion laws (under which a woman is constitutionally entitled to an abortion if her life is at risk, including through suicide – though the legislative framework dating from 1861 still outlaws it) – and prompted a wave of political teeth-grinding as the Government’s Expert Group on the A, B and C versus Ireland ruling (where the European Court of Human Rights found that Ireland’s vague abortion laws breached the rights of its citizens) was handed in the night before Savita’s death became known.

Sinn Féin has the baton in the Dáil this week, and uses it to propose a motion calling on the government to publish the Expert Group’s findings immediately (something it has been unwilling to do, pending an examination of the report’s contents) and to immediately legislate to allow abortion where the mother’s life is at risk.

Debate will begin at 7:30pm and be suspended at 9pm until tomorrow night. One senses the world will be watching.

8:00pm – Matters on the Adjournment – While all of that’s going on, the Seanad will be debating three matters of newsworthy interest before wrapping up for the day.

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