The Dáil debate on the emergency legislation to enact the Government's guarantee to banking institutions has taken place.

The Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said the guarantee was not free and was in no way a bailout for banks.

The bill was broadly welcomed during the debate, which finished at approximately 11.45pm.

Deputies will return to the Dáíl tomorrow at 10.30am for the committee and report stages.

Earlier, Government Chief Whip Pat Carey told the Dáil just after 7.30pm that a copy of the Bill arrived into his office only a short time ago and had yet to be circulated to the parties.

The delay was criticised by the Labour Party and Fine Gael.

Labour's Emmet Stagg said it was a bad day for democracy and said he had not witnessed such 'choas' before.

Enda Kenny, the FG leader, said it was no way to treat the Opposition party.

Earlier, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said that the stability of the Irish banking system would have been put at risk if he had done nothing in the face of the liquidity crisis facing Irish banks.

Answering questions in the Dáil this afternoon on the Government's €400bn guarantee to six of the main banking institutions, Mr Cowen said the move would allow the banks to go to the international markets now and raise funds.

He said it was not his intention that the taxpayer would be liable for any shortfall down the road as he put it.

He had not handed over any money to the banks he insisted; instead he had lent the name of this country so they could access liquidity.

Mr Cowen told TDs the facility would come at a price, and that a fee reflecting commercial reality would have to be paid by any banks that sought to make use of the guarantee.

He said a stable banking system was in the interests of the taxpayer, and his decision had been taken on the advice of the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator.

Mr Kenny said he would not want to see a situation where bank gains were privatised and losses socialised.

FG points to cost of plans

He asked what was in this for the Irish taxpayer and said it would cost €250,000 for every taxpayer in the country.

Mr Kenny also asked whether the Taoiseach would now insist on appointing officials to the risk management committees of the banks involved.

He said a guarantee of €400bn should not be made with no strings attached.

Labour's Eamon Gilmore said a decade of corporate greed had now come home to roost. If fully called in the guarantee would cost 37 years of our entire tax take to meet the bill, he said.

He asked what specific conditions would apply to the facility and what the taxpayer was getting in return.

The Labour Party earlier objected to tonight's debate.

Labour said it wanted to see the proposed Bill first, and that it would not accept any time limit on debate.

Party whips met this afternoon to see if they could agree the format for the debate.

This morning Mr Kenny said his party wanted more information on the plan, including the exact scale of the potential liability, assurances on stronger regulation of lending, and an end to what he called bonuses and super-payments to bank executives.

Mr Gilmore said this was arguable the biggest decision ever made by an Irish Government, which he said had bet the country on the banks.

He said if the move succeeded in stabilising banking and the economy that would be fine - but if the deal went wrong, the country would be sunk.

Former minister for finance Ruairi Quinn said the scale of the guarantee was enormous.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio's News At One, he said many questions still had to be answered about how the guarantee will be administered.

Opposition leaders were told of the Government's deposit guarantee move at around 7am this morning in a series of phone calls from Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan.