Seanad Éireann - Volume 149 - 29 October, 1996

Order of Business.

Mr. Manning: The first item on today's Order of Business is Committee Stage and, I hope, Final Stages of the Health (Amendment) Bill, 1996. [78] Since that Bill does not have a number on the Order Paper I will discharge the order at the appropriate stage with the permission of the House. The Bill will be taken until 4.15 p.m; there will be a sos from 4.15 p.m. until 4.30 p.m. when there will be the address by Commissioner Neil Kinnock until 6 p.m. If the Health (Amendment) Bill has not been completed, it will recommence at 6 p.m. but I suspect it will be completed in the time allocated.

Mr. Wright: How long does the Leader expect the Commissioner to speak. How will the question and answer session be dealt with?

The Leader was asked by several Members last week and by me over the last number of weeks about the credit union Bill. With 1.6 million members and 400 plus units, politicians on all sides are being lobbied at this stage. The concern is that, if this Bill is not initiated before Christmas, it may not be dealt with before a general election. When does the Leader expect it to be initiated so that we will have a chance to play our part in ensuring it is enacted before any election?

I am sure the Commissioner may allude to the debate on Luas. The former Taoiseach and Fine Gael Leader, Garret FitzGerald, has, in recent days had major articles published on the issue. He said it would be indefensible not to have a full debate on the tunnelling and on-street options. I ask, as many Members of this House have done, that the Leader, irrespective of today's debate, offer us a chance, as he has in recent months, to debate the issue of Luas.

Mr. O'Toole: I wish to raise two issues. We had a good debate last week on the agriculture industry about which many different views were expressed. That indicated the need for focus in that area. I ask the Leader to consider taking that debate a stage further and not just have a broad and general debate as we did last week.

There is a growing concern, not only in agriculture but also in industry and trade unions, that jobs associated with the agriculture industry are not being created. I would like a debate on the associated industries of agriculture, such as wool — there is no wool processing plant in Ireland — developing farming to be labour intensive and to provide employment and adequate reward for people. I would like a debate focusing on the jobs potential in the agriculture industry. That would draw different views from people on both sides of the House. It is significant that talks are beginning today on a possible successor to the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. I hope this issue will be a key part of those talks.

We have discussed crime and punishment, law and order and various aspects of the prison system at great length during recent months. People may have become aware over the weekend of the problems being experienced by schools and their inability to enforce discipline. [79] Schools, school authorities and teachers have been “disabled” when it comes to enforcing discipline. There is a real need to examine the fact that the link between schools and society is unbreakable and the need for schools to be given the authority to impose discipline in a manner acceptable to society and which has the force and power of legislation.

I do not think this is envisaged in the Minister's views on an education Bill. She could be informed by debate in this House on the importance of discipline at an early stage in schools which would have a carry over effect on society at large.

Mr. Fitzgerald: When is it proposed to have a debate on the fishing industry, including the ongoing EU ministerial negotiations? When is it proposed to have a discussion on the Irish language? Such a discussion should tie in with the conclusions of the Constitutional Review Group which recommends a change to Article 8 of the Constitution. I do not agree with that. We must have a mechanism for a discussion on that group's recommendations which include a proposal to abolish the Seanad. That has serious implications for us. The group's conclusions regarding Articles 18 and 19 were that a review group should be set up especially to deal with the Seanad. The group said that, if such a review does not resolve the issue of representation and other substantive issues in a satisfactory manner, serious consideration will need to be given to the abolition of the Seanad and the transfer of its role and functions to another political system. The Seanad should make its views known to the Constitutional Review Group now. I commend the group for its review which is overdue but we have had very little input. It should be brought out into the open with a full discussion on the implications that this review has for the Seanad.

Mr. Hayes: I am sure the Leader will agree that a congratulatory message should be sent to the Garda Síochána for its excellent work at the weekend in discovering a large quantity of arms in Donegal. This highlights once again the nature of some republican organisations in this country who are stockpiling weapons and using them in training camps. The incident in Donegal emphasises that. Does the Leader agree that the seizure by the Garda Síochána of such illegal weaponry sends an important signal, particularly to some elements of the loyalist community who have questioned the determination of this State to deal effectively with such acts of terrorism?

Mr. Lanigan: Yes.

Mr. Norris: I support Senator Wright's call for a further debate on Luas. This matter has been raised a number of times and in the last week or two the Leader indicated that he would be prepared to provide time. This is important for [80] the reasons Senator Wright adumbrated. People are increasingly concerned that the Minister is deliberately or unintentionally appearing to subvert the public inquiry that is to be held by indicating that the matter has already been decided with the underground option being ruled out in defiance of all the evidence that has been mounted, including the debate in this House.

On an earlier occasion I voiced concern and sought a debate on the fact that the Department of Justice appears to be on the point of opening a centre for young offenders in the old Kennedy's bakery in Parnell Street. I have had correspondence with the Minister about this and it was supposed to be for 12 young female offenders. However, I understand from another public representative for the area, Deputy Ahern, who has had contact on this subject also, that the response being given now is that there will be some kind of centre for the rehabilitation of general offenders.

An Cathaoirleach: I am sure the Senator can find a more appropriate way of raising that matter than the Order of Business.

Mr. Norris: Will the Leader convey the strong concern of people in the area? I have just come from a meeting where local business people are outraged at the way in which their long term efforts to rehabilitate a difficult part of the city are threatened by this development. If it is so socially beneficial why not have it in Foxrock or the Minster's back yard? Why is everything problematic always dumped on the north side, while good institutions are ruthlessly and continuously stripped from the area?

Mr. McGowan: When will we have an opportunity to debate the allocation of funding to the National Roads Authority? I have raised this issue a number of times, as did the Leader when he was on this side of the House. When I last raised it the Leader agreed on its importance and undertook to deal with it soon. The north-west has been neglected by the authority.

I am a member of the North-West Border Group which hopes to raise with Commissioner Kinnock the dangerous condition of the road from Dublin to the north. Given that I will not have an opportunity to meet the Commissioner other than this afternoon, may I ask if he will consider providing funding to upgrade the road from Dublin to Strabane, Lifford, Derry and Donegal?

An Cathaoirleach: I am sure the Senator will have an opportunity to do so this afternoon.

Mr. McGowan: I only wish to do so with permission.

An Cathaoirleach: There will be an opportunity for questions.

[81] Mr. Enright: I agree with Senator O'Toole's remarks about the debate on agriculture last week. It was positive and constructive, although a couple of items were addressed which it would have been better not to mention. There should be a debate on agri-industry and its employment potential.

Last Saturday on RTÉ the Minister for the Marine, Deputy Barrett, said that the Minister for Health is preparing legislation to allow for consumer representation on a body to be established by the Government. I am sure this legislation will be supported by both Houses of the Oireachtas. In addition, farming and consumer organisations are very interested in the proposals. Will the Leader arrange for a debate so that we can have an input into the legislation which may perhaps be initiated in this House?

I have an Adjournment matter on the necessity for safety measures at concerts and sporting events. In recent times there has been death and injury at such events, despite the implementation of safety improvements. I am pleased that the Government has appointed the Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Alien, to have responsibility for reviewing standards.

An Cathaoirleach: You have submitted this matter for the Adjournment.

Mr. Enright: It is of such importance that it should be debated in the House. Perhaps the Leader will consider one because it may assist the Government in preparing legislation or regulations on this matter.

Mr. Lanigan: I also asked for a debate on the National Roads Authority some time ago. If Senator McGowan considers that the north-west is starved of resources he should try to get in and out of Waterford any morning. There is unbelievable gridlock there. The National Roads Authority refuses to meet the county councils.

Mr. Neville: We had a meeting with them in County Limerick last Friday.

Mr. Lanigan: We must have an urgent debate on the national roads. There is enormous spending at present on roads in the Dublin area. The policy seems to be to get people in and out of Dublin but to forget about them once they are in the country. Unless something is done about it we will have a transportation system around Dublin but complete gridlock five or ten miles outside the city. Those who travel to Cork, Donegal, Waterford or Kilkenny experience that now and something must be done about it.

The Leader promised such a debate in the last session but it has not taken place. Due to the lack of communication between——

An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing the matter today; the Senator has made his point.

[82] Mr. Lanigan: ——the National Roads Authority and elected representatives, that debate should take place in this or the other House.

We should also have a structured debate on financial institutions. Because of the recent controversy about the take-over of the TSB and various people doing a runner in financial institutions, we should discuss the regulation of financial institutions. That debate might centre on the nationalisation of financial institutions or it could be widened to encompass the regulation of their structures.

It might not seem important in certain areas, but there are about one million refugees in the African lake area in Zaire, Rwanda and elsewhere. During our Presidency of the EU it is imperative that we use all our influence at EU, African or UN level. Everyone is running away from this problem at present. At least 500,000 people are in danger of being killed in the next few days or weeks. We cannot run away from this. If we address nothing else during our EU Presidency we should address the question of refugees. Let us do something about it by starting the debate here and addressing the matter positively. It is easy for us to say the problem is an African one but the problems of Africa will affect Europe unless we address them soon.

Dr. Henry: There is a great deal of concern among consumers about the standard of food being sold in shops and other outlets. Will the Leader find out what progress, if any, is being made in the dispute between the Minister for Health and the environmental health officers? The dispute has been going on since the beginning of the year and should be urgently resolved so that we can make some progress on the surveillance of food in such establishments rather than relying on the Consumers' Association to do it for us.

Mr. McAughtry: Will the Leader convey to the appropriate Minister the unease felt in the North of Ireland at present at the growing evidence that the IRA intends to carry out some sort of strike imminently? I wish to be associated with Senator Hayes' congratulations to the Garda Síochána on its splendid work in Donegal. It may be that it is part of an intended strike but the evidence is clear that the IRA is carrying out dry runs through loyalist areas in addition to the ever present risk of the destruction of commercial property. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Mr. John Hume promise that Sinn Féin will be brought speedily into talks following a ceasefire, but surely this does not include a ceasefire following an atrocity. Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste to take this point into account? I seek assurance that an atrocity carried out in the North of Ireland by the IRA or others would be regarded in this jurisdiction in the same way as an atrocity carried out here.

[83] Mr. O'Kennedy: I am glad to reassure my colleague, Senator Fitzgerald, about the role and status of the Seanad in relation to the examination being conducted by the all-party review committee. The committee has accepted my proposal that Senators should be written to and asked to submit their views on the role and function of the House and how it can be enhanced if possible.

Another matter I wish to raise has grave implications for the House. Last week, during the debate on the meat industry, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry stated that he was glad to have an opportunity to discuss the recent events in the Russian market. He went on to say: “I am happy to tell the full story which Senator O'Kennedy requested”. Senators want the House to be respected but the Minister deliberately withheld the full story from the House which he said he would be glad to tell at my request. This is a serious and deliberate deception.

An Cathaoirleach: I do not want the Senator to deal with last week's business. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Mr. O'Kennedy: I have a question. In that debate the Minister said in response to a point made by Senator Kiely that: “The Senator seems disappointed that there is not another scare going through the heart of Munster.”

An Cathaoirleach: That matter was raised last Wednesday on the Order of Business and it was referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Mr. O'Kennedy: The record of the House was not then available.

An Cathaoirleach: It appears that some Members had it. I do not want the Senator to go back over last week's business. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Mr. O'Kennedy: Yes. Members must attach importance to the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas and there is a need for honest, credible answers. The House should not be used to libel a Member. If the Minister's statement had been made outside the House, Senator Rory Kiely, who was elected on the Agricultural Panel, would have been libelled.

An Cathaoirleach: I ruled Senator Kiely out of order last Wednesday on that matter. It was referred at Senator Kiely's request to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges where it has been discussed.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Will the Leader ensure that the Minister who used privilege to deceive the House and to make a statement which would otherwise have libelled a Member returns to the House, apologises and withdraws his statement [84] and clears up the deception? If not, the House and its status will be demeaned.

An Cathaoirleach: That is not a matter for today's Order of Business.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I will be happy to hear from the Leader that he will take action.

An Cathaoirleach: The matter was dealt with by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Mr. O'Kennedy: The record shows the deception and the libel uttered by the Minister.

Mr. Enright: The Senator should read the full debate and the comments made by everybody. It is important to have balance in this matter.

Mr. Farrell: I support Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on agri-business which perhaps could include how farmers could be encouraged to return to traditional or organic farming. This is the only way people may be reassured that they are getting good, fresh and properly produced food.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Higgins, to come to the House and explain why Teilifís na Gaeilge will get its weather forecasts from a foreign source and bypass Met Éireann in Dublin?

Mr. Norris: They are getting better weather.

Mr. Belton: All the weather does not come from Ireland.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Farrell without interruption. I hope this is relevant to today's Order of Business.

Mr. Farrell: Surely a State sponsored and supported company should not be going to a foreign source for something that is available here. A first class service has been provided by Met Éireann through the years. This is scandalous.

An Cathaoirleach: I am sure the Senator will find some other way of raising that matter.

Mr. Farrell: I am raising it now. I ask the Leader——

An Cathaoirleach: There are more appropriate ways of raising this matter, Senator.

Mr. Farrell: Nothing is more important than this. We talk about creating jobs, supporting Irish goods and buying Irish. Now we are going abroad for information that is available here in Dublin.

Mr. Magner: In case Senator McAughtry's remarks when he asked that this House would condemn with equal emphasis an atrocity [85] committed down here or in Northern Ireland are misinterpreted, let me assure him that politicians on all sides of this House have never differentiated between a bomb in London, Belfast or Dublin. I assure him that whether it is a Pakistani shopkeeper or a loyalist on the Shankill Road, this House will always utterly condemn, without equivocation, any such atrocity committed by anybody of any political persuasion.

Mr. Finneran: I appreciate that the House will debate the Health (Amendment) Bill but there is a pressing matter in regard to the subvention to nursing homes. I understand that in the Western Health Board area no funds have been provided for three months for any extra applications. That cannot be allowed to continue. I ask the Leader of the House to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Health. It should be dealt with urgently and I hope it will get a positive response.

Mr. Quinn: I remind the Leader of the House that he has agreed to hold a debate on the currency issue, particularly as the date for monetary union is approaching. I also ask him to consider soon, although not immediately, a White Paper published today on science, technology and innovation. It is very worthwhile and we should find time to consider it.

I tried to find RTÉ's annual report for 1995 only to be told that while the board of RTÉ handed it to the Department in April this year, it has still not been published. If we are to set an example as far as speed and urgency is concerned, we should not allow any Department to sit on a report. I have tried to have included in every Bill coming through this House in the last couple of years a date for publication of the annual report of any State body. When RTÉ was set up, no time limit was set for the date of publication of the annual report but it now seems to be necessary. The board of RTÉ is not at fault, the Minister is at fault for not having published this annual report yet.

Mr. Mulcahy: I wish to raise two matters with the Leader. The first concerns refugee legislation which was mentioned by Senator Lanigan. The Leader will be aware that this House passed all Stages of the Refugee Bill, 1996, just as we rose for the summer recess and the Minister indicated to us then the Bill was urgent. As I understand it, the Refugee Bill has been signed by the President but has not yet been brought into force. Could the Leader explain why that is so?

The second matter relates to riots and dangerous activities at concerts and other large events which was also raised by other Senators. I appreciate that the Minister of State, Deputy Allen, has been given responsibility to draw up a voluntary code of practice but anyone reading the Evening Herald on Saturday, 26 October will have been shocked by a description of the concert the previous night at the Point Depot when, [86] according to that newspaper, even the gardaí present were shocked at the violence. I ask the Leader for an urgent debate on this subject. Is it not time to consider a statutory legal framework for these concerts? There will be more deaths——

An Cathaoirleach: I remind the Senator that there is a motion on the Adjournment on this matter and I do not want a discussion now on it.

Mr. Mulcahy: It is not my motion. The Leader should consider an urgent debate on this topic with the Minister present.

Mr. Kelleher: I ask the Leader if the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, could make a statement on allegations concentrated in the agri-food business regarding the banning of beef from Monaghan, Cork and Tipperary from the Russian market because of the concentration of the Goodman group in these three counties. Is there any truth in the rumour that this is a personal vendetta against the Goodman group by the Minister? I do not say this lightly but the Minister is on record in the Dáil as stating he would shed no tears if Mr. Goodman left the beef industry. While the Minister has yet to furnish scientific evidence on why Monaghan, Cork and Tipperary——

An Cathaoirleach: That matter is not relevant to today's Order of Business and we had a discussion on the beef industry no later than last Tuesday.

Mr. Kelleher: We have yet to get information from the Minister why these three counties were banned from exporting beef to Russia.

Mr. Enright: The Senator should read his statement.

Mr. Kelleher: The Minister should make a full statement on the reasons these three counties——

An Cathaoirleach: That matter was discussed in great detail last Tuesday.

Mr. Kelleher: The Minister has failed to point out why those three counties have been banned and that rumours are circulating widely in the agri-food business.

Mr. Magner: I thought the Russians did it.

An Cathaoirleach: That matter was dealt with last Tuesday.

Mr. Daly: I support Senator Lanigan's request that the UN and EU, especially the Tánaiste, take immediate action to avert the developing crisis in Zaire. It appears almost 500,000 people will die there shortly unless action is taken. There appears to be no urgency at UN or EU level to [87] deal with this disaster — and I speak as someone who dealt with overseas aid in Africa for some years. The situation is very dangerous and likely to spread throughout Africa. It demands more action than we are seeing from the UN refugee agency or the EU. I ask the Tánaiste to indicate how the EU propose to play their part in dealing with the disaster which is likely to happen there in the next few weeks.

Could the Leader draw the attention of the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications to the proposed closure of the freight line from Ennis to Claremorris? This is likely to occur at the end of this year. It will create unemployment but will also put pressure on the road network because of the huge volume of freight being carried——

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator can find other ways of raising that issue. It is not relevant to today's Order of Business.

Mr. Daly: Perhaps during the discussion on Luas the Minister might explain the denial of services to the west.

Mr. Manning: The most important matter mentioned on the Order of Business was that raised by Senators Lanigan and Daly on the impending famine and slaughter in Africa. All Members want minds to be focused on drawing attention to that and I will try to have an early debate on that disaster. We may not be able to do very much but at least we can focus attention and greater urgency from the EU on the matter. I thank the Senators for raising the issue.

Senator Wright asked about the format of the address by the Commissioner this afternoon. If we know in advance how many Senators intend to ask questions we could have either individual questions or questions grouped in order, if they relate to each other. The Commissioner intends to speak for 40 minutes but brevity was never his outstanding quality so he may speak for longer. I suspect his speech will take between 45 minutes and an hour and there will be questions for about 30 minutes afterwards.

The credit union Bill was raised by Senator Wright. It is a matter of urgency to which the Government has given priority. My understanding is that a number of new sections, which are warmly welcomed by the credit union movement, arrived late for inclusion. It is intented to publish the Bill before Christmas but, one way or the other, it will be given priority on the legislative programme either before or after Christmas. All Members who have been approached in recent times by representatives of the credit union movement about this matter can give them that assurance.

Senator Wright also sought a debate on Luas. I would be happy to have such a debate and I will try to organise it in the next couple of weeks. Senator O'Toole and Senator Enright asked for [88] a debate on job potential in agriculture. Other Senators, including Senator Henry, raised the equally important question of food safety standards which are of concern to everybody at present, particularly in view of the report over the weekend on the level of antibiotics in pork. There is a need for a debate on all aspects of agriculture, whether it be guarantees of food purity or potential employment. I will discuss the structure of such a debate with colleagues.

I do not have information for Senator Fitzgerald regarding the debate on fishing. I did not contact the Minister over the weekend but I will endeavour to do so shortly. I will try to organise a short debate on the Irish language next week to coincide with the inauguration of Teilifís na Gaeilge. Senator Fitzgerald and Senator O'Kennedy, whom I thank for his help on the matter, raised the Constitution and the references in it to the future of the Seanad. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges agreed last week that the House would debate in the near future how Members see the future role of the House. It is important that the debate is taken seriously and that Members are positive and critical in their contributions. I will consult the leaders of the other groups about the structure of the debate and it will take place soon.

I join Senator Hayes in his congratulations to the Garda on their important find in Donegal last night. It puts a huge question mark, if such were necessary, over the bona fides of the IRA and the future intentions of that organisation with regard to peace when hideous weapons of murder are found primed and ready to be used. Senator Magner answered the point made by Senator McAughtry when he said an atrocity is an atrocity no matter where it happens and all atrocities will be met with equal condemnation.

Senator Norris raised the matter of young offenders. I do not have information on that matter. With regard to Senator McGowan's question, I will try to organise a debate on the National Roads Authority although I cannot say when. I also do not have control over what questions he will ask Commissioner Kinnock. Senator Enright referred to food safety standards and I agree with his sentiments. I also agree it is urgent to hold a debate on safety standards. I have dealt with the questions asked by Senator Lanigan. Senator Henry referred to the ongoing dispute with environmental health officers. The Minister for Health will be in the House shortly so perhaps the Senator might raise her question with him then and get a direct answer.

I remind Senator O'Kennedy that there was a full debate on the beef industry last week. Hard things were said, as were said on all sides in both Houses over the past week. The matter was raised in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and a certain course of action has been proposed which will be taken. I do not accept that the Minister deceived the House last week.

[89] Mr. O'Kennedy: The record clearly shows that he did so twice.

Mr. Manning: I also do not believe there is profit in re-opening that debate.

I, like Senator Farrell, was puzzled as to why Teilifís na Gaeilge is getting its weather forecasts abroad. Senator Norris probably gave the correct answer in saying that they might promise better weather. However, it is a fair question and I will try to get an answer to it. I will refer Senator Finneran's question to the Minister.

The date for the debate on European Monetary Union and currency matters has been provisionally set for 4 December. The Minister is willing to have a full debate on that matter.

Senator Mulcahy raised the Refugee Bill. I will find out the commencement date and if it has been delayed. He also made a good point about the appalling incidents that occurred in Dublin over the weekend, which has been covered by other Senators and warrants a debate. Senator Daly raised the question of the refugees. He may use the adjournment debate to get a full reply on the proposed closure of the freight line.

Mr. O'Kennedy: The planned statement does not deal with the issues. The privilege of this House has been used to libel a Member.

An Cathaoirleach: The Order of Business is complete.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Agriculture to return to the House——

An Cathaoirleach: We cannot reopen that debate.

Mr. O'Kennedy: ——and to correct the record.

An Cathaoirleach: That matter was discussed last week.

Mr. O'Kennedy: It was not discussed here.

An Cathaoirleach: It was referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Mr. O'Kennedy: In the interests of this House and the status of the Cathaoirleach, the Minister should return to withdraw——

An Cathaoirleach: It is not an issue. Is the Order of Business agreed?

Mr. Manning: I have no difficulty in furnishing the Minister with the text of what the Senator said.

Mr. O'Kennedy: It is the record, not what I said.

Order of Business agreed to.