Seanad Éireann - Volume 152 - 08 October, 1997
Order of Business.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy:Today's Order of Business is item Nos. 1, 2 and 5. Item 5 is the Fine Gael Party's Private Members motion on the live export trade for cattle. Item 1 deals with the establishment of the Standing Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. This is a procedural motion which I propose to take without debate. Item No. 2 concerns the  motion establishing a tribunal of inquiry into planning matters. I propose a time limit of 15 minutes for spokespersons and 12 minutes for other Senators. Senators may share time. Item 5 will be taken from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed. I presume that, if debate on the motion to establish the tribunal has not been completed by 6 o'clock, it will resume at 8 o'clock and be completed today.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: That is correct.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: I wish to ask the Leader a number of questions regarding future legislation. He kindly supplied me with a list of legislation which the Government proposes to introduce in the near future. However, there are 90 items on the list and, given that there are only eight or nine sitting weeks between now and Christmas, I am not sure if all items, or which, or any of them, will be taken during that period. It would facilitate the work of Members on all sides if the Leader could let us know today or next week which items will be taken in this session. At present we do not know what business will be taken by the House.
I wish to stress the importance of ensuring that as much legislation as possible is initiated in this House. Both I and Senator Wright as Leaders of the House made a real effort to ensure that as much Government legislation as possible was initiated in this House. Certain Bills in particular are appropriate to this House and I hope the Leader will make this point strongly to the Government and that we will again get good notice of Bills which will begin their life in the Seanad.
It was promised that a number of items would be restored to the Order Paper as a matter of urgency. I note in the list supplied by the Leader that it is the Government's intention to restore Adoptions (No. 2) Bill and the Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill. What is the reason for the delay? We are anxious to take the Adoptions (No. 2) Bill as soon as possible. We were told there was great urgency about it last May and four months have elapsed. We will make every effort to facilitate the Government in reintroducing that Bill on Report Stage. We would be similarly supportive of legislation regarding the legislation dealing with the Commissioners of Irish Lights, the passage of which was hindered by certain electoral considerations. However, those considerations have now passed.
When the workload in terms of legislation is light there is a good opportunity to debate a number of important motions. A promise has been made for a debate on EMU. I would also like an early debate on Northern Ireland. This House has an important contribution to make to that debate and such debates in the past have always been very responsible. Will the Leader inform the House when he intends to facilitate a debate on Northern Ireland?
 It is vital that we have a debate on developments in the EU with special reference to the new treaty which we will be asked to discuss over the coming months. A debate on a major European issue in this House, away from the pressures of the other House, would be helpful.
Finally, I wish to draw the attention of the Leader to the desperately unsatisfactory state of office accommodation and secretarial help which I highlighted on the last occasion we sat. Could the Leader ensure that an early and urgent meeting of Committee on Procedure and Privileges is convened to resolve these matters?
Mr. O'Toole Mr. O'Toole
Mr. O'Toole: I previously raised the issue of support for Members in terms of salaries, allowances, expenses and office accommodation. Both sides of the House have a similar objective on these issues and they should come together and make it clear to the Government that the Constitution requires that we are adequately supported in carrying out our work. Members who are not getting that level of support should insist on it.
I raised with the Leader previously the possibility of a debate on EMU. This would fit in with the points made by Senator Manning about developments in the European Union as they are two sides of the same coin. There is a need for elected public representatives to be informed and to be in a position to discuss with others the EMU and its likely impact on the economy in terms of interest rates, inflation, trade and industry, etc.
On the last sitting day in May I was given a clear commitment by the then Leader of the House, Senator Manning, and the then leader of the main Opposition party, Senator Wright, that the Adoption Bill, which is important to people who have adopted South American children, would be taken as soon as the House resumed. We should show our commitment to it by taking it immediately. There is no need for the Leader or anyone else to cause a delay. Political expediency can create a problem.
Six months ago we passed a resolution of support for the four people in County Louth who are taking a case against British Nuclear Fuels Limited. The representative of the then Government also gave a commitment to support them. During the election campaign both main parties expressed the same commitment. This House should ensure the Government does what we previously asked it to do.
I am glad no commitment was given to reintroduce the Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill. Many people in west Clare would be unhappy if that happened. I would also be unhappy if those articulate and committed people in Fianna Fáil, not to mention the Progressive Democrats, who spoke against that Bill decided, for reasons of political expediency, to do an about turn on it. These matters are important in terms of credibility.
I reiterate Senator Manning's point that it is no use outlining the programme for Government  when we want the programme of legislation for the next couple of months. I would like to know what will be dealt with between now and Christmas.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: We are satisfied with the Order of Business. It is important to outline the programme of work between now and Christmas. We do not want to depend on the Dáil or to do our work on a weekly basis. We should have our own programme of work, particularly in relation to legislation. A number of Members mentioned EMU, Sellafield and the Adoption Bill. These should be discussed in the House. Perhaps the Leader could outline the draft programme of work between now and Christmas.
The Committee on Procedure and Privileges must meet urgently to discuss accommodation and services in the House. At present, I am in an office without a secretary because no phone has been installed. We are also unable to get furniture because of a disagreement between the Whips. We need to resolve this issue as soon as possible or we will not be able to do our work satisfactorily.
Item 5, motion 7 refers to the OECD report on adult literacy which reveals that 500,000 Irish people, not 100,000 as was previously suggested, have serious literacy problems. A new Minister with specific responsibility in this area has been appointed and he is anxious to open the debate on the issue of adult literacy. I suggest that the Leader make time available to debate this matter at an early stage. I know the Minister will be more than willing to become involved and listen to the views of Members on the matter.
Mr. Finneran Mr. Finneran
Mr. Finneran: Two weeks ago I raised the possibility of the House debating economic and monetary union. Will the Leader arrange to debate this matter and the single currency as soon as possible? I support the view expressed by the Leader of the Opposition that such a debate could embrace areas including the Amsterdam Treaty, objective 1 status and the mid-term view. The House could consider the impact of economic and monetary union on industry, agriculture and the services industry. Will the Leader afford the House the soonest possible opportunity to engage in a two hour debate on this important matter?
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: Will the Leader confirm whether the Geneva Convention Bill will be included on the list of legislation to be dealt with in the near future? If it is included, will he ensure that it is placed as high as possible on the list? This Bill was published in May and will permit Ireland to ratify the 1977 Protocols to the Geneva Convention. As 20 years have passed since the publication of those Protocols, it is timely that we should ratify them.
Mrs. Ridge Mrs. Ridge
 Mrs. Ridge: I hope it is appropriate to raise this matter on the Order of Business and I trust the Cathaoirleach will allow me to do so. Will the Leader arrange for a debate in the near future on a matter which concerns families, communities and particularly pre-teen children, namely, the inclusion in daily and Sunday newspapers of advertisements pertaining to sex chat lines? The phrase “aural sex” could be coined to describe these services. The content of such sex chat lines is shocking, the cost of using them is outrageous — £1.58 per minute — and the print used in advertisements promoting them is illegible. The idea behind such services is salacious, disgraceful, anti-family, anti-women and anti-children.
Mr. McGowan Mr. McGowan
Mr. McGowan: Will the Leader arrange a debate on funding from the National Roads Authority? Members are aware that I raised this issue on numerous occasions. If I lost the battle to have it debated in the House I would throw my hat in the air. At present, 73 per cent of all National Roads Authority funding is being given to Dublin and Cork. Therefore, 27 per cent of that funding is spent on roads in rural areas. I find it difficult when driving to Stillorgan, to see flowers being replaced on the island in the centre of the road and notice that the boundary walls of the road are made from cut stone while when driving to my home in the north west I must negotiate roads with dangerous corners and bad surfaces which have fallen into disrepair. I have received no satisfaction in trying to resolve this problem, other than obtaining the address of the secretary of a person working for the National Roads Authority whom I am informed I should contact.
If we have transferred financial resources and responsibility for a service to an authority which is untouchable or uncontactable, it is time we placed our feet back on the ground. Senator Manning supported my calls for a debate on this issue on previous occasions and I hope the Leader will make arrangements in that regard. This matter is of concern to those who elected many Members to this House. Local authority members are crying out for an answer and they elected us— —
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has made a good case on their behalf.
Mr. McGowan Mr. McGowan
Mr. McGowan: I suggest that this matter be debated as soon as possible. I am not flying a political flag. I believe this issue will be supported by all in the House.
Mr. O'Dowd Mr. O'Dowd
Mr. O'Dowd: Can the Leader provide time to discuss the Government's refusal to fully fund the Dundalk residents' case against British Nuclear Fuels in the Irish courts? This is in direct contradiction to the Fianna Fáil motion passed in this House earlier this year supporting this demand and the promise in their manifesto that they would fully fund such legal action.
Mr. Lanigan Mr. Lanigan
 Mr. Lanigan: At the beginning of this new session, I ask that the conduct of the press in the approach to the Seanad election be investigated; there was disgraceful reportage of the election and the results. I am not speaking against the dedicated daily reporting of the Seanad but the editorial staff of newspapers, radio and television who have treated the Seanad as if does not exist. They eulogise other public figures but always run down the role of the Seanad and Senators.
I ask editorial staff to conduct an in-depth examination of the reportage of this important House of the Oireachtas. I ask the reporters who are here daily, to add their voices and to try to get an adequate response to the reportage of the Seanad. If we do nothing else in the next few weeks but address this problem, this House will be enhanced.
There are dedicated members of the press here daily who are being shafted by their so-called subeditors. This matter needs to be addressed on the basis of public relations. During the election, no one could find out who had been elected or what was happening. This is not the fault of the staff of the House, the Cathaoirleach or the Members. It is the fault of the very people who are trying to play down the importance of this House.
There are a number of urgent items I wish to raise but I shall leave them until next week as they cannot be addressed today. I support what Senator McGowan said about the National Roads Authority. On many occasions I have raised the problem of the daily gridlock in the south east. It takes an hour and a half for people to travel from Tipperary, Kilkenny and Carlow to the regional hospital in Waterford because they cannot get across the bridge. In 1956 I owned a Prinz 2 car and could reach Waterford in half an hour.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: The case for a debate on this matter has been well made.
Mr. Lanigan Mr. Lanigan
Mr. Lanigan: I join Senator McGowan in asking the Leader to contact the National Roads Authority to ensure that gridlock does not continue in the south east.
Mr. Gallagher Mr. Gallagher
Mr. Gallagher: Under Papers laid before the Seanad on Order Paper, item 38 reads: “…Statement regarding guarantees of borrowing by Bord na Móna…”. I ask the Leader to confirm with the Minister for Public Enterprise and the Minister for Finance when the remainder of the agreed amount of investment to replace the commercial borrowings of Bord na Móna will be sanctioned by the Government. Last year a package was agreed by the then Government and the first instalment of investment was paid last December. I am glad the Government paid a further instalment in recent weeks. However, I expected that the remainder would be paid.
Mr. O'Donovan Mr. O'Donovan
Mr. O'Donovan: Will the Leader arrange a debate on the fishing industry? It is a neglected industry and the issues which need to be  addressed include the policing of the coastline, the conservation of stocks, the pollution of rivers and the proper development of aquaculture and mariculture. Such a debate is long overdue because the problems of the fishing industry have rarely had an airing in the Oireachtas. We need to ensure the future of the industry and of our fish stocks. We should bear in mind that we have almost 25 per cent of European fishing waters but less than 4 per cent of the fishing quota.
Mr. S. Ryan Mr. S. Ryan
Mr. S. Ryan: Given the unanimity of opinion among the political parties in the Oireachtas with regard to the need to retain duty free sales status at airports and ferry ports, will the Leader provide Government time to discuss this issue? It has been debated in the past. It has important consequences for jobs in the regional airports and at Dublin airport. The Minister for Finance should come to the House to update Members on the issue.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: The Senator has changed somewhat from his picture in The Irish Times of this morning.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: I am glad to find Members in a good working mood. I will not disappoint them. Senators Manning, O'Toole and Costello asked about the legislation which will come before the House between now and Christmas. It is envisaged that 21 Bills will come before the House. I assure Members that I will do my utmost to have as much legislation as possible initiated in the Seanad. At yesterday's Government meeting I was appointed to the joint legislative committee which meets weekly and that will be useful in trying to have legislation initiated in the House. In the light of the voting strength in the Dáil it might be easier now to have legislation come before the House than in the past. Senator Lanigan, a former distinguished Leader of the House, made the point that press interest in our proceedings would increase if more legislation were to be initiated here.
As I indicated, 21 items of legislation will come before the House. They include the Plant Varieties (Proprietary Rights) (Amendment) Bill; Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Powers, Functions and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill; Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill; Education (No. 2) Bill; Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Bill; Local Government Funding Bill, which will be of interest to Senator McGowan; Taxes Consolidation Bill, which I understand is a large item of legislation; Appropriation Bill; Adoption (No. 2) Bill; Children (Juvenile Justice) Bill; Children Bill, which lapsed on the dissolution of the last Dáil; Criminal Justice Bill; Child Pornography Bill, which relates to the point made by Senator Ridge; Courts Service Bill; International Commercial Arbitration Bill; War Crimes Tribunal Bill; Jurisdiction of Courts and Enforcement of Judgements Bill; Merchant  Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill; Merchant Shipping (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill; Air Navigation and Transport Bill and the Turf Development Bill and the points raised by Senator Gallagher might be accommodated. Those are the Bills we know of and I am sure more legislation will come on stream to take us up to 24 December.
The adoption Bill has been referred to the new Attorney General and we await his advice in the matter. I am pleased to inform the House that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will meet with the Paraguayan children and parents before the end of October. I envisage that we will receive the Bill by mid-November. The Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill will be ready within the next two weeks.
Senators O'Toole, Manning, Costello and Finneran were anxious to have a debate on EMU. I propose to take Statements on EMU on Thursday, 16 October. This debate will be open ended so that every Member will have an opportunity to participate, and I would encourage Members to do so. I propose that the matter be debated over a number of days because this important event will benefit the country enormously.
I will meet the Leaders following the Order of Business to see when it might be appropriate to have a debate on Northern Ireland. I am also in favour of a full debate on Europe.
I met with the Government Chief Whip and the Assistant Chief Whip and put the various concerns of Members to them regarding the lack of services in this House. I understand the Department of Finance will come back to us on this on Friday next. Additional money was sought to bring the services up to the required standard. I will liaise with the Leaders and the Whips following the meeting on Friday. This is an urgent matter and Members are seriously concerned about it. New Members are totally disillusioned in this regard. I had hoped to have the matter concluded by today but, because of events in the other House, this was not possible.
Senator Henry requested information relating to the Geneva Convention. I will seek the information the Senator requires and come back to her on the matter. I agree fully with Senator Ridge's request; that matter may be discussed during the debate on the Bills that will be coming before us in the near future.
Senators McGowan, Lanigan and others asked for a debate on the National Roads Authority. The National Roads Authority has a fine record under all Governments but there are areas where it can be improved. I know the localities mentioned by Senators McGowan and Lanigan. I was there recently, as were most Members of this House. A debate on this matter would be very welcome.
I will seek a reply to Senator O'Dowd's proposal and discuss the matter with him later this evening. Senator Gallagher mentioned Bord na Móna. I understand a Bill will be before us in the  next couple of weeks. Coming from the midlands, I understand how important the peat industry is in that area and I fully support the Senator's views. I wholeheartedly support Senator O'Donovan's call for a debate on the importance of the fishing industry and I will see what I can do to facilitate his request. In relation to Senator Seán Ryan, I have a vested interest in regard to duty free. I support the Senator's request and will communicate with him, possibly tomorrow afternoon, to see how his proposal can be progressed.
Order of Business agreed to.
Seanad Éireann 152 Order of Business.