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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 Nov 1991

Vol. 130 No. 8

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take the Liability for Defective Products Bill, 1991 until 4 p.m. There will be a sos from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Could I again ask the Leader of the House especially in view of what happened in Northern Ireland last night where there is a state of sectarian civil war and a political vacuum, whether he could let this House discuss what is happening in Northern Ireland to see if we can add something towards helping the situation there? I know he has strong views on this but I think he is wrong. There is a view across the House that we should have this debate in the near future.

I spoke yesterday about what was going to happen regarding the debate on the role of the Seanad. The Leader replied that he would note what Senators were saying and it would be referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges who would take it from there. I understand that to be a recipe to do nothing. I do not accept the sentiments expressed here yesterday from my own bench that we all know nothing will happen. If we are worth our salt and if we care about the future of this House, will we do something constructive?

Senator Hederman has already made her address on the reform of the Seanad.

I want to know if anything is going to happen or is it just talk?

As Chairman of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, I reject the remark that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges have done nothing. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges is comprised of members representative of all parties in this House. They have acted constructively and positively at all times in the interests of the business of the House.

What have they done with regard to reform of——

You will not put questions to me.

You are addressing me. I would not dream of addressing you except you spoke to me.

I must clarify the position for the House when allegations are falsely made in the House. I know the position in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I have told you the position. You should ask a question of the Leader of the House and let us get on with the business.

I apologise. I think I was misunderstood. I was not referring to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in general. I was referring to what the Committee on Procedure and Privileges have done or would do in relation to this problem. I apologise if I was misunderstood.

You chose your words.

I apologise if I was misunderstood. I am referring to what the Committee on Procedure and Privileges have done. This issue comes up every ten years. There have been commissions and committees, but nothing has happened. Will the Committee on Procedure and Privileges do anything?

You put your question so I take it that concludes the matter.

May we put down motions on this and can they be debated as soon as everybody has made their contribution on this item?

May I express my abhorrence at the killings which took place in the North last night? It is dreadful. The situation is unfortunately escalating out of control. Given what has happened, I have come to the conclusion that a debate in this House cannot make things worse, but it has some potential to improve matters. For that reason, I would ask the Leader to reconsider the attitude he has taken towards a debate on the North over the recent past.

Would the Leader be prepared to make time available in the near future for a debate on the financial crisis with which most of the local authorities are faced, given that the estimates campaign is taking place in local authorities at present? Could he give us an outline of what new legislation we can expect to be introduced in this House in the near future? Can he give us an indication of what Bills might be initiated here?

I would be happy to debate the events in Northern Ireland because we would be of one mind in condemning the type of outrage we saw last night, and the continuing outrages on both sides of the community. It is utterly abhorrent to all of us. In this House we continually condemn these atrocities but obviously nobody listens to us. I wonder if the debate would have an effect, but I would be happy to debate it.

May I join with those from all sides of the House who have asked for a debate on Northern Ireland? A Cathaoirligh, you will remember — and I am sure the Leader will remember — that for quite some months now I have been asking for a debate on Northern Ireland. We have been consistently told that we could not have one because it would exacerbate the situation in Northern Ireland, and we have not had one. We have done absolutely nothing. We have not even been a talking shop. The situation could not be worse. We are losing moral authority because we are in dereliction of our responsibility in not having a debate.

I would also like to ask the Leader of the House what is the precise current situation regarding a foreign affairs committee? This arises from the Order of Business. I have a detailed motion down seeking the creation of a foreign affairs committee. I would ask the Leader to confirm what the Taoiseach said yesterday in the other House, that a foreign affairs committee will be established. I do not believe it was clearly indicated whether this was a committee of both Houses. Will the Leader make strong representations that this must be a committee of both Houses?

I hope we get to deal with serious business in this House. My colleague quoted my words of yesterday, when I said that I did not believe anything very substantial would come from the debate on the role of the Seanad, I am not going to get into a petty wrangle because at this moment it is important that the highest standards of debate be maintained in this House to protect the Irish people from further disillusion, which they are currently experiencing with the antics in the Lower House.

Mr. Farrell

I ask the Leader of the House if we could have a debate on a case in my area in Sligo where five men with 18 to 22 years service have been let go from the Forestry Service? It is deplorable that men who have worked for that length of time with an organisation should be let go like that. We should debate this matter as it is grossly unfair.

Will the Leader of the House indicate if and when we will have the Bill dealing with dissolution of the Land Commission? Perhaps we could take that legislation if we have nothing more pressing at the moment. It has been around for about five years and, to my knowledge, has been published for over two years. There are some urgent issues in different constituencies arising as a result of Land Commission difficulties and I ask that we deal with it here fairly quickly.

I support my colleague on the opposite benches, Senator Farrell, in deploring the loss of employment in the forestry area in County Sligo, my native county. That is indicative of the problems in relation to unemployment and emigration in the West.

I would like to support the calls for a debate on Northern Ireland. I have been calling for such a debate for the past two years. I do not think we have had a debate on Northern Ireland in the term of the present Seanad. There is no sense in saying that it would not help because of the delicate situation as a result of the Brooke talks. There is every reason now to have a full and thorough debate in this House.

Secondly, will the Leader of the House give any consideration to a debate on the political situation? This is something I have raised in the past number of sittings but we have had nothing but a vague suggestion by the Leader that he will do so. Of course, the position is still very delicate in the other side of the House and I am sure we would not wish to exacerbate it. However, it would be worthwhile to have a full discussion on the matter here.

Thirdly, may I ask the Leader of the House if we could get some firm indication from the Minister for the Environment, whoever that may be, when the local authorities will know what funds they are getting so that they can put their estimates together?

I join with my colleagues on both sides of the House in asking the Leader of the House to review his position in respect of a debate on Northern Ireland. I believe it would serve a useful purpose to have such a debate in the House. The problems there are ongoing. The House should not be precluded from discussing the matter and making recommendations. Regardless of the good work of other agencies the Seanad can make a contribution and hopefully, that contribution will be helpful. I strongly urge the Leader of the House to look at the matter again. There is general agreement that we should have this discussion and I hope the Leader will respond.

I rarely raise items on the Order of Business, but last week I supported Senator Jackman who spoke on the Order of Business. I am a member of a local authority, as are many other Senators. Their business is not being treated with the urgency it deserves. The local authority system will grind to a halt unless the new Minister — and I wish him well — appreciates the urgency of giving some indication to county managers and county executives of the rates support grant. He is a rural man and has served on a county council. I attended an estimates meeting on Tuesday. We are basing our estimates for 1992 on the supposition that we would have the same money as in 1991 but the rumours are not good. I am very concerned about the matter which is of vital concern to the people of Ireland and to all the local authorities and I ask the Leader of the House to convey our anxiety to the Minister. We have 21 days to strike a rate. With the way things are drifting, we could have a bankrupt local authority system in this country if some indication is not given shortly.

I, too, would like to join with the other Members of this House in condemning the violence in the North and particularly the recent killings. I hope that at some stage the Leader of the House will be able to accommodate a debate on Northern Ireland. I have no doubt it will be a fruitful one. I hope the activities of Senator Manning's party in the past 24 hours has not been to the detriment of a Member of the Oireachtas. I hope that we are not back in this House again in the future extending sympathy, as we did before in respect of an elected representative from that county. I hope history proves me wrong. I abhor the personalised attacks made on a Member of the Oireachtas yesterday by the Fine Gael Party.

I hope the Cathaoirleach will allow me to extend my sincere congratulations to my old friend and constituency colleague, Alderman and Deputy Vincent Brady, on his appointment as Minister for Defence this morning. I would like to extend heartiest congratulations to him and wish him every success in his post.

I take it that just leaves us with the Leader to reply.

A number of Senators have asked for a debate on Northern Ireland. This is not for the first time. I must remain consistent on this matter. I still live in hope and pray that talks will continue which might help to resolve the problems in the North, and that the talks will resume. For the moment, my reply is that I have no plan for a debate. Obviously, I share everyone's concern at the violence that is takig place in the North and last night's incidents highlight this very serious problem. As concern has been expressed on all sides, I would say that perhaps we might have a debate at some time in the future. I will certainly change somewhat and give the matter much consideration in the next few weeks and perhaps we may come to a decision on having some form of debate. This is not a firm promise; it is something I will consider seriously.

Senator Hederman has referred to the role of the Seanad and the present ongoing debate. I indicated previously that we will report to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges who will have a number of options on how to go forward. I am sure the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, in their wisdom, will do that.

Senator Upton referred to new legislation in this House. I indicated that, as always, both myself and the Chief Whip will continue to seek legislation to be initiated in this House. Indeed, we have already made moves in that area. We will speak with the new Members of the Government to see what can be done.

Senator Norris asked about the foreign affairs committee. My information is that it will be formed. I have expressed a wish that there would be Seanad representation on it.

Senator Farrell raised a matter which is not appropriate to the Order of Business. I will examine the position regarding the Land Commission (Dissolution) Bill raised by Senator Doyle. I continue to keep the request from Senator Costello on the present political situation in mind. Regarding the rates support grant raised by a number of Senators, as I indicated yesterday I will bring the wishes and concerns of the Senators to the attention of the new Minister as soon as possible. Like Senator Haughey, I, too, would like to congratulate Deputy Vincent Brady on his promotion.

Order of Business agreed to.