Seanad Éireann - Volume 172 - 16 April, 2003
Order of Business.
Ms O'Rourke Ms O'Rourke
Ms O'Rourke: The Order of Business today is No. 1, report of the Joint Committee on Standing Orders, to be taken without debate, notwithstanding anything in Private Standing Orders, at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Companies (Auditing and Accounting) Bill 2003 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and on which Members may share time, the Minister to be called on to reply not earlier than 15 minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage, at approximately 1.15 p.m.; No. 3, Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) (Amendment) Bill 2003 (Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil) – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 3.30 p.m.; No. 4, statements on cancer and the provision of cancer services, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 at 3.30 p.m., if No. 3 is not concluded earlier, to conclude not later than 5.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and on which Members may share time, the Minister to be called on to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of the statements, at approximately 5.15 p.m.; and No. 11, motion No. 28, to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m. and from 5.30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Mr. B. Hayes Mr. B. Hayes
Mr. B. Hayes: I have suggested over the past few weeks that the House should not adjourn for the Easter recess until we have had a debate on the current situation in the Northern Ireland peace process. While I fully appreciate that the Taoiseach is out of the country representing us in Athens today and, though I would not in any way wish to make the situation more difficult by asking a Minister to attend the House to contribute, given the sensitivities involved, I suggest to the Leader that the House discuss the matter in a short debate at some stage today, perhaps over 40 minutes or an hour. That would allow colleagues to put their views on the record.
I say that because, as the Leader well knows, there is a spirit of co-operation and support on all sides of the House for the two Governments' efforts as they try to cajole all the Northern Ireland parties to work the situation out. Members of the House would make a very good contribution to that process. I do not want to pressure the Government to say anything more than it has already. My proposal is therefore for the House itself to debate the matter, and I would be interested to hear the Leader's response.
An unrelated matter raised by many colleagues on all sides of the House is the dramatic escalation in the spread of the SARS virus in many parts of the world, particularly south-east Asia. I know that the Leader has been in contact with the Minister for Health and other Departments about the serious matter raised on the floor of the House. I suggest that, over Easter, she put another idea to the Minister for Health, namely, that he arrange for a full risk assessment of continuing with the Special Olympics, particularly regarding south-east Asian countries. That risk assessment could involve the Department of Health and Children, the Special Olympics organising committee, the World Health Organisation and others. This disease spreads rapidly through travel and we are all at risk where we are exposed, in the absence of proper quarantine controls, to people travelling here from south-east Asia. Australia has, in the past 48 hours, begun to quarantine people travelling there from south-east Asia in order to ensure that the disease does not take hold.
A full risk assessment of, at the very least, representatives from those countries in south-east Asia that are sending delegations to the Special Olympics should be put in place. As Senator Finucane stated yesterday, there is a great deal of concern among many of the towns hosting the delegations from that part of the world. A full scale risk assessment would be helpful and perhaps in the first week after the Easter recess the House could hear the response of the Minister for Health and Children to it.
Mr. O'Toole Mr. O'Toole
 Mr. O'Toole: Yesterday I raised the question of young people buying houses and the fact that they are either being misled or given incorrect impressions from those providing different views and advice. I am concerned because, in view of the fact that the same information is available to the State, people are giving totally opposing advice to young people. Those who give this kind of advice should at least be required to include a declaration of interest to the effect that it is in the business of stockbrokers to sell equities and that it is in the business of auctioneers to sell property, etc. I was amazed at the response of Senator Dooley and others who rushed to the defence of the auctioneering group. When I raise this issue, the response I normally receive from auctioneers is one of delight because they are ashamed at the behaviour of some people in their profession and want it cleaned up.
Tribunals and court cases showed us that auctioneers are the sellers and buyers of property and that auctioneering companies have individuals at the back of auction halls who bid against young buyers and raising the market price. I did not make this evidence up, a member of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party told me stories about an interest in land being sold by their family and their being unhappy about the way it was dealt with and the fact that it emerged that the land ended up in the ownership of an auctioneer's brother.
I did not pull this scenario out of the air. I did not intend to deal with these issues, but they need to be addressed. Perhaps there is a need for regulation in the area of auctioneering so that we all can have trust and confidence in it. This matter needs to be considered and I ask the Leader to invite the appropriate Minister to come before House. I am sure the Minister would share the views of people on both sides of the House. This is not a party political issue. I am sure Senator Dooley would not want to defend and represent himself as being in favour of the kind of activity I have just described.
Ms O'Meara Ms O'Meara
Ms O'Meara: I echo the sentiments expressed by Senator Brian Hayes regarding the issue of the Northern Ireland talks and the ongoing difficulties that appear to be encountered by the parties in resolving the current set of issues. I underline the need for a debate and statements on this issue. I accept that this is a delicate issue, but it is important that we should discuss it as a matter of urgency. As Good Friday approaches, our best wishes go to the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister and all parties involved in the current round of discussions and negotiations. The underlying desire of all peoples is towards a positive resolution of the issues involved. I hope this is achievable, if not in the immediate short term, then in the long term. It would be worth considering having a continuing discussion at this level on the matter.
I ask the Leader to consider returning to the issue of alcohol abuse after Easter. In the commentaries that have emerged in recent weeks, a change of attitude is finally emerging in respect of people's attitude to alcohol. There is a growing concern, which has now reached the proper level, about alcohol, its effects and the intolerance towards it in our community, not only in terms of law and order and violence, but also in terms of the physical and mental health of members of the community and, in particular, the younger generation. This matter has major implications for the health service and the education system and it is one we should revisit on a regular basis. We have a role to play in reflecting people's concerns about the effect of alcohol on people of all ages and at all levels of society. I welcome what appears to be a change of attitude towards this matter.
I ask the Leader to consider making time available for a debate on tourism. Now that the weather has improved, we hope that the Irish tourism industry will have a good year this year. However, the signs are not good on the international front and, in that regard, it is important that we look carefully at the future of tourism and the need for supports for it, particularly in the current year.
Mr. Brady Mr. Brady
Mr. Brady: I congratulate the Donegal coroner, Mr. Sean Cannon, on highlighting the influence of alcohol as a major contributing factor in the tragic death of a 15 year old boy, Brendan Rush, in Donegal town last year. We all heard the plans for mandatory identification cards, heavier penalties and changes in advertising standards. I accept that this matter was the subject of a previous debate, but I ask the Leader to arrange a debate which would focus on the aspect of parental responsibility.
Mr. Coghlan Mr. Coghlan
Mr. Coghlan: In view of the huge housing waiting lists in all local authority areas and the chronic shortage of land in most of these areas, I ask the Leader for a debate on local authority housing. Unfortunately, local authorities in need of land for housing are often unable to compete with the private sector when land comes on the market for public sale. Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come before the House to debate the matter? I would not be opposed to regulation in the auctioneering industry and I would not defend the few bad apples in the barrel. Most of those in the business are honourable, but perhaps young people are being offered different advice from various sources.
More importantly, as regards the chronic shortage in local authorities areas such as County Kerry, there is a need for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to put in place some mechanism that will allow liaison and consultation between the agencies of the State when land becomes available in areas where it is urgently required by local authorities. Everyone, including the Taoiseach, is concerned about the huge prices of land. Perhaps a mechanism could be put in place which would allow for an arbitrated price to be agreed in order to allow local authorities to purchase land. I urge the Leader to make suitable representations to the Minister on behalf of everyone in the House in that regard.
Dr. M. Hayes Dr. M. Hayes
Dr. M. Hayes: I support Senator Brian Hayes in his request for a risk assessment regarding SARS and the Special Olympics. I hope this would also include a safety assessment. When I raised the issue last week, it was largely with the purpose of facilitating the Special Olympics and making sure that points of entry would be sufficiently staffed to enable the Games to take place. It would be a pity if we allowed a scare to develop. We are dealing with a small number of affected countries in south-east Asia. There are positive signs in that people have begun to identify the virus, which may well have peaked, and means of diagnosing it. I hope the Department of Health and Children will work closely with Special Olympics organisers to ensure that fears are dispelled and that people are reassured. The Special Olympics is important for this country and for all the athletes involved and it should go ahead without a hitch.
Mr. McCarthy Mr. McCarthy
Mr. McCarthy: I wish to raise the proposed ban on smoking in public places. This follows on from a murder last week in a New York night club in which a bouncer asked a patron to extinguish his cigarette. This resulted in the stabbing of the bouncer who died 11 hours later in hospital. The Vintners Federation of Ireland and the Irish Hotels Federation have raised concern as to how the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, will proceed with the ban. I would appreciate if the Leader of the House would arrange for the Minister to inform us how he intends to proceed and whether it will be an all out ban.
Mr. Dooley Mr. Dooley
Mr. Dooley: Will the Leader request the Minister for Transport to come to the House as soon as possible to discuss the issues surrounding the future ownership of the State airports? There is considerable concern, certainly in my region, County Clare, about the future ownership structure of Shannon Airport. There is uncertainty among staff, business and tourism interests in the area. A debate on the Minister's proposals might be useful at this stage.
I again join Senator O'Toole and others in seeking a debate on the auctioneering industry. While I will certainly be making comments, we all want to make it clear that we are not in favour of rogue elements within any profession. The issue I have is that auctioneering continues to be singled out as the profession which seems to have the greatest number of rogues, which is certainly not the case. A debate would be very useful in assisting to highlight this. I recognise the issues that Senator O'Toole has, of which I am aware and which are of great concern to me, but they should be thrashed out in a balanced environment where all sides of the profession are discussed and the excellent work many auctioneers are doing is recognised. At no time should the good name of auctioneers be maligned. As I know Senator O'Toole would not want to do this, a debate would be useful in that regard.
Mr. Browne Mr. Browne
Mr. Browne: I ask the Leader of the House to invite the Minister for Transport to come to the House, if he remembers where we are, in the next term. It is a disgrace that he has not been here once in the second term and was only here once in the first term. We need to debate the issue of the driving test and the huge failure rate. A total of 1,400 fail the test every week. There are also wide variations with Cavan having the highest failure rate and the Shannon region having the highest pass rate. There is also the fact that there is no regulation of driver testers. Even the test is outdated from the point of view that there is no overtaking manoeuvre, a vital driving skill. It needs to be updated. Therefore, there is a need for an urgent debate in the House on the matter.
Mr. Kitt Mr. Kitt
Mr. Kitt: I also want to raise the transport issue. Some months ago other Senators raised the issue of the dismantling of the rail signal at Athenry. I now hear reports from the County Development Board in Galway on the proposals of Iarnród Eireann to dismantle the rail signal at Gort, County Galway. It is very sad at a time when the Minister for Transport, Deputy Seamus Brennan, has been positive about a western rail corridor, Iarnród Eireann is taking many steps to dismantle rail signals on this line. A debate on this issue would be useful if the Minister is coming to the Seanad. The Leader might follow up this question and have a debate on the railways.
Ms Terry Ms Terry
Ms Terry: Nobody here would dispute the success of the penalty points system. It has been a great success and responsible for saving lives but in the light of the comments made at the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors yesterday in Galway about the inability to implement any further extension of the penalty points system, it is time the Minister for Transport came into the House to debate the issue and explain how he expects the Garda to implement a service without the necessary computer systems. We also need the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to explain how he can expect so many resources to be applied to implementing the system when Garda resources are completely stretched, an issue we discussed yesterday and on many other days. There is a huge need for gardaí on the streets but instead they are tied up and will be further tied up trying to implement this system without the necessary computer systems. I would like to see both Ministers come into the House to explain to us how the system will be implemented.
Mr. Feighan Mr. Feighan
Mr. Feighan: Recently I highlighted the issue of lack of decentralisation to areas which had not already benefited. The Leader joined me in calling for a debate on the issue. I am very disappointed that a debate has not taken place and urge the Leader to ensure it takes place as soon as possible.
Mr. Finucane Mr. Finucane
Mr. Finucane: Last night I was allowed to raise on the Adjournment the issue of decentralisation to Newcastle West, Kilrush and Listowel. In his final response the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, stated decentralisation would happen soon. It will happen shortly – at least that is what the Minister of State says – after a long, long wait.
Mr. Browne Mr. Browne
Mr. Browne: He has been saying that for six years.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: That is history now.
Mr. Finucane Mr. Finucane
Mr. Finucane: I know that but I just want to reassure my colleague.
In response to what Senator McCarthy said on the Vintners Federation of Ireland and the Irish Hotel Federation lobby, Senators will be aware there is concern among the cancer bodies, the Irish Heart Foundation and ASH from which we have all recently received letters. They state quite definitively that they hope there will be no rowing back on the commitment by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, in accordance with the tobacco regulations, to introduce legislation from 1 January next year. They are concerned that there may be a body emerging within the Government parties looking for a certain part of a premises to be allocated for smoking. They are trying to have their concerns allayed and urge the Minister not to change from his original intention. If I remember correctly, legislation to approve this passed through both Houses. Am I right in saying this or will it be done by way of regulation?
Ms O'Rourke Ms O'Rourke
Ms O'Rourke: Yes, that is correct.
Mr. U. Burke Mr. U. Burke
Mr. U. Burke: This year, as everybody here knows, has been designated European Year for People with Disabilities. We are well aware of the failure of the Government to provide adequate resources to deal with the difficulties that many families face. The real commitment of the Government is highlighted when we see that it opposes Irish participation in drafting a new treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities. It is impeding at European level the establishment of a combined European effort to eliminate difficulties for people with disabilities. Will the Leader request the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House and clarify the position with regard to his commitment to people with disabilities, given that this year has designated European Year for People with Disabilities and we will host the Special Olympics.
Ms O'Rourke Ms O'Rourke
Ms O'Rourke: The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Brian Hayes, again brought up the topic of a debate on Northern Ireland. I thank him for the sensitive way in which he introduced the topic because the peace process has reached a very fine balancing point, about which there is no doubt. We are all afraid that the wrong word would be an intrusion into the debate. I spoke to the Taoiseach's programme manager yesterday evening because the Taoiseach had left for Athens. The Taoiseach would not wish anybody else to take the debate. However, I do see merit in talking about the topic again. I, therefore, ask the leaders of the parties to meet me in the anteroom after the Order of Business.
Senator Brian Hayes also asked that the Minister for Health and Children establish a risk assessment for the SARS virus which would give a guarantee and a sense of security to those who are travelling, as well as to those coming for the Special Olympics from certain countries. This would be well worth doing. I am making a list of Ministers whom we might invite in the first two weeks of the next session. I hope that will be one of matters discussed.
Senator Joe O'Toole again talked about auctioneers and expressed some amazement at what a particular Senator said yesterday. A useful debate must take all points of view into account.
Senator O'Meara echoed what Senator Brian Hayes had said about Northern Ireland and has extended her best wishes to the two Prime Ministers as they go about their business on the issue. She also said the issues relating to alcohol reflected huge concerns. She is quite right. It is amazing how the dangers of smoking took a long time to register, yet now everybody accepts that smoking is dangerous for one's health. We are at the cusp of the debate where we are realising the dangers of excessive alcohol. I am always cautious about saying that alcohol is bad for one's health, because medical research shows that moderate drinking is in order while excessive drinking is not. That should prove a very good debate.
Regarding the debate on tourism, the SARS virus will affect not only those arriving for the Special Olympics, but also people travelling from the representative countries. Recalling what Senator Brian Hayes said, it is important that this issue should be included in the debate on tourism.
Senator Brady correctly gave due praise to the Donegal coroner, Sean Cannon, who spoke about the very sad death of a young man there and laid the blame where he thought appropriate. Senator Brady and other Senators have also regularly highlighted the importance of parental responsibility.
Senator Coghlan spoke about the huge local authority housing lists and asked that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government should attend this House. That is a debate I want to arrange, but I must point out that the Taoiseach is going ahead with public submissions on the constitutional provision regarding property, and these will be made in July. The committee on the Constitution is dealing with that issue. The Senator is right in asking for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come to the House to speak about it. There may be interim measures which can be taken.
Senator Maurice Hayes agreed with Senator Brian Hayes about SARS risk assessment, particularly in relation to the Special Olympics. Senator McCarthy trusts there will be a continuation of the all-out ban on smoking, and the tenor of letters we are getting from concerned bodies bears out this concern.
Senator Dooley referred to the future ownership of State airports and wants the Minister for Transport to attend this House. That is also on my list. The Senator is clearly not in favour of rogue elements and from what he said yesterday he wants a debate on auctioneering, and we are all agreed on that.
Senator Browne also wants the Minister for Transport to attend this House to talk about the driving test issue. If there continues to be unease among the concerned bodies and the Minister's Department about its proper administration, the lack of care which people heretofore have been giving to driving will increase, and that would be wrong. I will endeavour to get the Minister for Transport to attend. Senator Kitt referred to the taking away of rail signals, when there is some hope for the train line in question.
Regarding Senator Terry's comments, the Garda sergeants and inspectors were right to express their concerns about the points system being correctly implemented. A useful debate could be held on that issue. Senator Feighan requested a debate on decentralisation. The party that “punches above its weight” had a debate on that at its own conference, and the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, was very emphatic about it.
Mr. B. Hayes Mr. B. Hayes
Mr. B. Hayes: The country and western wing of the Progressive Democrats.
Ms O'Rourke Ms O'Rourke
Ms O'Rourke: I do not know what wing it was.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: At least we are all singing in harmony.
Ms O'Rourke Ms O'Rourke
Ms O'Rourke: We are singing from the one hymn sheet. I agree regarding letters from concerned bodies about the issues of smoking and prohibition. Senator Burke spoke of the European Year of People with Disabilities, and we would wish to ask the Minister for Justice the precise position there, and what we are doing about it. Lastly, I wish everybody a happy Easter.
Order of Business agreed to.
Seanad Éireann 172 Order of Business.