Seanad Éireann - Volume 130 - 05 December, 1991

Order of Business.

Mr. Fallon: It is proposed today to continue discussion on Item No. 1 on the Order Paper, the motion on the Maastricht Summit. I would suggest that today, because of the number of Senators anxious to speak, we have a sos from 1 p.m. to 1.30 p.m. and then continue until 4 p.m.

Mr. Manning: The Criminal Damages Bill and the Patents Bill have finished in the Lower House. I am also told — may be the Leader of the House could confirm it — that the Electoral Bill and the Milk Agency Bill are being transferred from the Dáil to the Seanad as Seanad Bills. Therefore, we now have four Bills and there may be others as well. Could the Leader give us some indication what the programme is between now and Christmas, given that there are only two weeks left? I want an assurance that there will not be any rushing through, guillotining of legislation or curtailment of time for motions——

Mr. Fallon: I do not know the meaning of that word.

Mr. Manning:—— between now and Christmas. Also, yesterday in the House references were made at the end of the day to the flying of the Union Jack over Government Buildings yesterday, a rather unseemly exchange, I thought. Surely, a Chathaoirligh, after 70 years of independence it is a terrible sign of immaturity and of national inferiority complex on our part that the flag of a friendly neighbour state, a co-member of the EC, cannot be flown during the visit of a Prime Minister without it raising hostile comment in this House. Either Britain is a friendly neighbour or it is not. Let us have an end to the ambiguity.

[1371] Mr. O'Toole: I would like to clarify the record on that point. As regards an unseemly exchange, I simply rose yesterday to say that this House might welcome the fact that the flag was flying. I think Senator Manning will confirm that.

Mrs. Honan: You, did not.

Mr. O'Toole: I welcome this maturity but apparently now the question is being discussed in the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party as to whether we should rejoin the Commonwealth and I am pleased to see that at least the Fianna Fáil Party have moved that much further forward.

An Cathaoirleach: We will return to the Order of Business.

Mr. O'Toole: I asked a question yesterday of the Leader of the House in regard to two Bills. I accept that he may not have had the timetable of business until Christmas worked out at that point, but we would want to know when these two Bills are being taken and also when the Appropriations Bills will be taken. I can see us facing a difficulty next week and the week after of having to pass the Appropriations Bill, which has to go during this period, and also the B & I Bill, which has to go through before the 31st of this month. That is my understanding. Then there are the two other Bills which have just been referred to. I fear we are rushing into guillotines and I want to make it quite clear that we have a consistent policy that guillotines are unnecessary if business is properly planned.

Dr. Upton: May I ask the Leader of the House if he would be prepared to raise with the Government the question of their being prepared to meet the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, who, I understand from today's newspapers, are waiting for a year to be met by the Government, so that they can discuss the appalling problems which they are now [1372] experiencing and in particular the question of 200,000 people who, they claim, are dependent on that organisation?

May I also ask the Leader of the House if he is prepared to make time available at some stage in the future so that we might discuss the problems of radiation, particularly the problem of radon in homes in the west of Ireland and also the problem of radiation levels which are now excessively high in some sheep in mountainy regions?

Mr. Cullen: May I ask the Leader if he could clarify whether the Milk (Regulation of Supply) Bill will be presented in the House here next week and if indeed it has yet been published in yellow form? Secondly, I raised the question of a debate on broadcasting yesterday, and I must say I am deeply concerned that the Minister for Communications may rush new legislation into either House to deal with this matter. I do not believe that that is a satisfactory way to deal with this very complex issue and I would ask the Leader of the House if he could, first of all, arrange to have a debate in this House before any definitive action is taken with regard to how broadcasting is to be handled in future both in the medium of radio and that of television and how those changes might impact on the print medium as well.

Professor Murphy: I agree with Senator Manning's remarks about the flying of the Union Jack. It seems to be unbelievably childish at this stage that anyone should get upset about flying the flag of one of our Community partners.

More seriously, I want to make an observation to the Leader of the House which is meant to be a compliment to the Government. Whatever reservations the media expressed about the significance of yesterday's meeting, I think what was highly significant was that the two leaders agreed on biannual meetings. That was a great step forward and a good day's work for both countries. That is an appropriate observation to make on the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

[1373] Mr. B. Ryan: While I tend to be identified as being somewhat green in the unacceptable form of that word — on many issues, I have absolutely no problems with flying the flag of a friendly nation when the Prime Minister of that country is visiting this country. It would be daft, and is daft, to raise any objections to that. If we are not friendly with the nation then we should not pretend otherwise. Arising from the visit which produced that reaction, perhaps the Leader can explain if there is a significance in the fact that the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister have agreed to meet every six months for the next two years. They did not say “Prime Ministers”. They say “we”. It is a new timeframe I must say.

Professor Raftery: I support the call of Senator Upton for a debate on radon gas. We are making a lot of noise, and probably rightly so, about the dangers of radiation from Sellafield. I am not aware that any deaths are being caused in this country by radiation from Sellafield but I am informed that up to 150 deaths occur per year because of radiation in our homes, radiation from radon gas. Our politicians seem to be far more concerned about what might happen from what is emanating from Sellafield and have little or no concern for what is happening in our own homes. Second, I am glad the Prime Ministers agreed to meet twice per year. I noticed in this morning's Irish Times that the Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, in a cartoon said: “That is, until Mr. Major retires”.

An Cathaoirleach: I do not see any difficulty with that.

Mr. E. Ryan: I was wondering if the Leader of the House could clarify the position about the Union Jack flying over Government Buildings. I agree with Senator Manning. As far as I remember it was the Independent Senators who made it an issue. It was not commented on by anyone else, except the Independent Senators and it shows a certain lack of maturity on their part that they [1374] would even notice it and would have to comment on it.

Mr. Costello: I support the calls by Senator Upton for a debate on the dangers from radon gases and I would like to support his other call that the Government should meet with the St. Vincent de Paul Society because they do represent a section of our community numbering 200,000 to 250,000 people. They are a large voluntary organisation of some 11,000 or 12,000 people. It is a shame that the Government, having made arrangements to meet them during the year, now find it is impossible to do so. That is a matter of concern and we should exhort the Government to meet them.

In relation to flying the Union Jack, it is a matter of simple courtesy when we are hosting——

An Cathaoirleach: I did not hear any objections from anybody and I do not see why we have to confirm the obvious.

Mr. Costello: It is a matter of common courtesy that the flag of a visiting nation should be flown, whatever the problems Senator Mooney may have about the totality of relationships on this island.

Mr. Mooney: I have no problems. Why am I being singled out?

Mr. Costello: It is a matter of common courtesy, I am saying to the Leader of the House, that the flag should be flown when we are host to the Prime Minister of a member of the European Community.

Finally, may I ask the Leader of the House if we could have that debate on Northern Ireland we have been awaiting for such a long time?

Mr. Fallon: Senator Manning raised a question which I dealt with yesterday but I will repeat my reply. Next week it is proposed to have the Criminal Damages Bill, 1990 and the Milk (Regulation of Supply) Bill. The following week the B & I Bill must be taken. In regard to the Appropriations Bill, in the past we had a speaker from each side, pass the Bill and [1375] come back for a further debate early in the New Year. That seems to be the format again this year.

In so far as the guillotine — a word I do not use — allocation of time is concerned, it has been a tradition, fortunately or unfortunately, in this House and in the other House over the years, for as long as I can remember, that coming to the end of the session, whether it is the summer or the Christmas period, and that will probably happen again, we take a number of Bills, but I will give plenty of time for that. If we have to sit Christmas week we will do so, and if we have to sit late, we will also do that. I will not curtail debate but there will be a few Bills coming to us immediately before Christmas and some of them must be passed. That has been a fact of life over the last number of years.

Senator Upton and Senator Costello raised the question of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Like other Senators I have the height of respect for that organisation and I will do anything I can to help them. I have no plans for a debate on the other problem raised, that is, radiation levels.

Senator Cullen asked about the Milk (Regulation of Supply) Bill. I am glad of the opportunity to tell the House it will be taken next Wednesday. I expected it would be printed on yellow paper but it was issued in green form, as far back as 19 July 1991. In other words, the Bill is there in green form and for Senators who wish to speak on it, it is available in the General Office.

Senator Cullen also asked about the Broadcasting Bill. I am certain it will not be published before Christmas and I will endeavour to have it brought to this House. That point was raised by previous speakers over the last number of weeks. I have noted what Senator Murphy said and I have no comment to make on what Senator Brendan Ryan said. The other points I do not propose to touch because I do not think they are relevant. I think I have dealt with all the queries.

Order of Business agreed to.