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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 24 Apr 1996

Vol. 147 No. 1

Order of Business.

Today's Order of Business is item 1 and item 15, motion 30. There will be 20 minutes per speaker on Item 1 — statements on the White Paper on Foreign Policy. This debate will not conclude today. Item 15, motion 30, will be taken between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

I agree with the Order of Business. However, it is disappointing that there is no legislative programme this week. Approximately eight pages of legislation were promised a couple of weeks ago. There is no legislation on the Dáil Order Paper either. I hope the Leader is using his good offices to ensure that important legislation is brought forward sooner rather than later.

Before the recess I and many other Members made it clear that we would make this House available for a debate on crime and other important issues. Unfortunately, the gangland executions we spoke about before Easter are continuing in Dublin. As I said, I am disappointed there is no legislative programme on the Order Paper this week. I hope the Leader will use his good offices with the Ministers and the Taoiseach to ensure that we have an opportunity to discuss legislation as soon as possible.

I support Senator Wright, although I did not know he was going to raise this matter. The lack of legislation is an embarrassment. I am not saying this to criticise the Leader of the House but to criticise the Chief Whip's Office for its organisation of legislation and business. We are waiting for three or four pieces of legislation from the Department of Education but we have not even seen the heads of Bills. Outstanding legislation has been promised but there has been no movement in this regard. Just because we are now in the final year before a certain election does not mean the House can do its business quietly without rocking any boats or creating problems. There is no doubt that nature abhors a vacuum. The structure of this House means that it might become necessary to table a series of amendments to the Order of Business on a weekly basis in order to discuss other business, particularly if the Government does not do so. I want to give the Leader a strong hand when discussing with the Government the need for a proper amount of business because if the Government does not provide it, the Opposition will.

I support Senator Wright and Senator O'Toole. The Minister for Health signed the health insurance regulations on 28 March and they will become law after 21 sitting days of the Houses of the Oireachtas. However, they discriminate against the psychiatrically ill. This issue was debated in the House last July and it was agreed that the Minister would discuss it with the people involved and with the EU to sort out this discrimination because it was not approved of by this House. I was disappointed to learn that this discrimination still exists and I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to outline the reasons for his action.

Will the Minister for Justice inform the House when a Bill will be introduced to deal with the antiquated and largely unworkable criminal provisions relating to insane people? The need for such legislation was highlighted again this week by the latest chapter in the Gallagher case.

Will the Leader invite the Minister for Enterprise and Employment to the House to outline the efforts being made by the State agencies under his control to secure a buyer for Butlers Engineering Limited which has been in receivership for the past eight weeks? The last 130 workers were made redundant last Friday.

We should not allow today to pass without noting that it is the tenth anniversary of the huge explosion in Chernobyl. The Government should ensure that efforts are made to clean up the antiquated plants in eastern Europe and Great Britain. Cleaning up the nuclear energy industry should be the priority at United Nations, EU and national levels. On the tenth anniversary of Chernobyl we should not forget the millions of people who will suffer as a result of that explosion and the potential for further disruption in the future.

There was a disturbing news article yesterday regarding a young man in Galway who is reaching the age where his elderly parents can no longer look after him.

That matter does not arise on the Order of Business. There are other ways the Senator can raise the issue.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to ensure that places are available for people with severe mental handicap? These places should be made available as a matter of urgency——

I remind the Senator that there are other ways to raise the issue. It does not arise on today's Order of Business.

——to alleviate problems in cases such as the one I mentioned; this is just the tip of the iceberg.

There is a good tradition in the House of understanding and co-operation in a common purpose regarding the expression of Members' concerns across a range of areas. Nobody has played a bigger part in this regard than the current Leader of the House, Senator Manning. The Government is doing a grave disservice by undermining, not just the role of the Leader but the Seanad itself, at a time when many pressing issues need to be addressed. We are all aware of the cynicism about politicians and the feeling that we are irrelevant. Matters can be discussed on radio programmes and elsewhere but not where it counts.

There is a large range of issues on the Order Paper, covering crime, drugs, health issues, the beef industry, the tourism industry and Northern Ireland. Although I have not discussed it with the Leader, I am sure of his views but for some reason best known to itself, the Government has decided to reject and repudiate the role of the Seanad. It has decided not to allow the House to address today any of the matters I mentioned. How will Members explain to young people that politicians are relevant?

A question to the Leader on today's Order of Business.

Will the Leader convey to the Government our total and utter rejection of this cavalier approach to the Houses of the Oireachtas and particularly the Seanad? We have not been burdened with work and we are ready to serve. If this is to be the approach, we should be honest and say we have no function. However, the Seanad has a function which it has discharged well. I hope the Leader will convey to the Government our total repudiation of its action.

A discussion will be held today on the White Paper on Foreign Policy. We have waited a long time for this debate. What type of discussion will we have because, by the time we get to it we may be lucky to have two speakers from this party and the debate will be adjourned until the next day? This is nonsense.

I take up the point made by Senator O'Kennedy, but in a slightly different way. I welcome this discussion on the White Paper on Foreign Policy, which I believe Senator O'Kennedy also welcomed. I am pleased the Leader indicated that we would not finish the discussion today. I am sure Senator O'Kennedy and other Members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs would agree that this is important because there is a meeting of the bureau of the committee at 3.30 p.m. and at 4 p.m. and we will have a serious discussion with the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Burton, on chapters eight and nine of the White Paper, which concern human rights. For people like myself and I am sure Senator Lanigan, Senator O'Kennedy and the other Members of the committee, it is more important for us to attend that meeting than to be present in the House. If we did not have the opportunity to come back to this in a week or two, some Members of the committee would be automatically precluded from taking part so I welcome this arrangement.

We had a useful and valuable discussion on LUAS and the possibility of introducing an underground element. This question has become a matter of controversy in the other House, which I regret. I would prefer if future traffic planning and the future of Dublin city did not become a political football. That was not my intention in raising the matter. It is a key area for the capital city and I would like the Leader's advice in this regard. Having raised this matter a few weeks ago, does that prevent this subject from being raised in any other fashion for six months or whatever? I hope that is not the case but I remember a rule that if a subject is raised, it cannot be discussed again for six months. I would like to return to this on the Adjournment or at another time.

Is it the Leader's intention to entertain a discussion on the Goldenbridge orphanage affair? Many people feel it is a subject which would be relevant for discussion in this House. If the Leader is contemplating a discussion, I suggest that it be broadened. From my experience, brutality and the ill-treatment of children was not the exclusive domain of nuns, Christian Brothers or the Roman Catholic Church. I went to an upper class Protestant boarding school——

We are not discussing that subject today. Do you have a question on today's Order of Business?

——and the amount of damage done to the children in that school was incalculable. It was part of the ethos of that era and I would welcome it being exposed, but not in a sectarian way which seems to be happening at present.

I support Senator Honan's call for the Minister for Health to come to the House or to provide an opportunity to discuss the health insurance regulations. Psychiatric patients are being discriminated against and this is a serious matter. All people seeking health cover and treatment should be treated equally. It is unfortunate that the Minister has signed regulations which give varying degrees of support in terms of health insurance. Psychiatric patients have been singled out and will receive less cover than others in need treatment. The House should have an opportunity to debate this issue.

When we can debate the White Paper on mental health. This is all the more urgent because of recent court cases. The issue of care of the mentally ill has entered the public domain and is being debated outside this House. Such matters should be debated in the Oireachtas because a White Paper on mental health is already in existence. Members have been requesting a debate on this issue for nine months. I ask the Leader to provide time on a specific date for such a debate. The public debate on important current issues relating to this matter should be taking place in this House.

When will the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Rabbitte, introduce legislation to prohibit IMRO from charging schools for the use of music? This issue has been referred to in the past number of days and we are aware of the problems which exist. There is need for legislation in this area. I do not believe anyone would deny musical artists from collecting their fair share of royalties. However, I do not believe it was ever their intention to charge primary schools for this particular service. It is important to engage in a debate on this issue because those who collect such funds are paid commission and have no objection to travelling great distances to do so.

When my party was in Opposition two years ago I recall many days when legislation was not introduced in this House and no Ministers attended. I remind the current Opposition Members that they were no different when their party was in Government.

That was on Saturdays and Sundays.

It still hurts, does it not?

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on job creation? When the Government was formed, its stated policy was to make it more attractive for people to work than to remain unemployed. That has not happened and there is complete disillusionment among young students as a result. They are given leaflets and offered six weeks work. There is no concerted effort to inform young people about how they might obtain employment. The situation is one of complete disorganisation. There are large numbers of officials in the Departments of Enterprise and Employment and Social Welfare who are trying to provide advice in a piecemeal manner.

I ask that this House engage in an open and honest debate on this issue. We must recognise the plight of the thousands of young people who do not know whether to travel to America or England because they cannot gain employment in Ireland.

A question to the Leader, Senator. That matter is not being discussed today.

The House is not very busy today. Young people in Ireland expect more from the Oireachtas. Their future is important to the nation. I ask that there be a debate on this issue to give solid direction to school leavers. I believe the Leader will have no difficulty in this regard because the collective views of Members will be of value to those who are concerned and confused at present.

I support Senator Wright's and Senator O'Toole's comments on the absence of business for this House. I suggest that the time may have come to reconsider Standing Orders. The Leader will be aware that there are a number of Private Members' Bills in the pipeline which could be debated when Government business is not forthcoming. There are also other Private Members' Bills which could be placed before the House if the opportunity arose for an early debate. The Leader might consider Standing Orders to discover if the House might deal with such matters.

I also wish to draw the Leader's attention to the dispute in the public service which is creating hardship in relation to the payment of benefits and entitlements. This is particularly relevant to farmers receiving grant aid, many of whom have not received their blue cards. This is an escalating and serious problem and one we should discuss.

Members will be alarmed by the recent report by Barnardos which indicated that more than 30,000 children live in poverty or are homeless in this country. While there has, rightly, been public debate on events that took place 40 years ago, there is a crisis at present in relation to children and time should be made available to discuss the Barnardo's report here. The Minister with responsibility for this area might indicate what he will do about the very serious crisis facing so many very young children because there appears to be very little Government action on this issue.

I add my voice to that of Senator Farrelly when he referred to the position regarding copyright and ask the Leader of the House if we can have a discussion on it in the very near future, in view of requests made by IMRO for primary schools to pay fees. Schools are hard pressed as it is and if the artists, writers and so on knew where the money was being demanded, I feel they would not want it. We badly need a discussion on this matter. Very shortly we will not be able to open the windows of our cars when the radio is on in case we are liable to pay fees as public broadcasters.

I wish to raise the crisis in agriculture, especially in the beef sector. Where is the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry? He failed dismally in discussions with the European Commission lately. He could only get 5,500 tonnes of beef into intervention when we needed a lot more. Beef is selling at 92p per lb at present compared to £1.08 per lb last year. These prices will put up to 5,000 beef farmers out of business. This is very serious.

A new system of bovine disease eradication was introduced which I said was a disaster. It will prove to be a disaster——

That is not relevant to the Order of Business. I am sure the Senator will find some other way to raise that matter.

It is very relevant. I read that the tags other farmers and I received last week are in breach of EU regulations. Does the Minister know if that is true? This is a serious issue.

Bulls are being bought and sold all over the country. All the farmers involved would like to see them TB and brucellosis tested.

The Senator will have to find some other way of raising this matter. It is not relevant to today's Order of Business.

It is a very serious question.

We are stretching the Order of Business.

The farmers are having these tests carried out on their animals and when they look for the results, the Department will not issue them.

The Senator will have to find some other way of raising this very important matter.

Where is the charter of rights the Minister launched? It has gone out the window. There is a major crisis in agriculture and farmers are suffering.

I was glad to hear the Minister for Justice saying in the other House yesterday that she intends bringing in legislation early next year to update 150 year old legislation dealing with those brought before the courts who are deemed to be psychiatrically ill. The legislation in the Department of Health which would be needed to complement that legislation is only 50 years old. I hope, like Senator Finneran and Senator Honan, that there will not be a substantial delay before this legislation is brought forward. The delay on the discussion of the White Paper on Mental Health is very serious for those working in this field. My colleagues in forensic psychiatry are constantly brought before the courts and their opinions and actions challenged. I ask the Leader of the House to convey some sense of urgency on this matter to the Minister for Health. I was contacted again yesterday about a problem in this field. While I realise I cannot discuss cases which are sub judice, serious cases are being brought forward and because of the lack of legislation in this area, my colleagues are being left in a serious predicament, as are psychiatric nurses. In this country constitutional challenges on their actions are almost indefensible.

Would the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Stagg, discuss relieving the problems that have arisen with the disposal of meat, bonemeal and tallow? I understand the Minister is considering setting up a 30 megawatt biomass electricity power plant. I would like to see processed offal being used as an additional power source for this plant. Renderers have an important role to play in this issue; they have a nationwide network. It would be helpful if a way of disposing of this offal, meat and bonemeal could be found. The tallow produced could also be used for the production of biodiesel.

My question, which I raised before, is in connection with the implementation of the law by the Garda Síochána in regard to the seizure of untaxed cars. While I fully agree and admit that the Garda is within its rights in seizing untaxed cars — it is implementing legislation passed by this House and the Dáil — the law needs to be changed. Two ladies made representations to me on this matter. One of them was left stranded beside Connolly Station while the other was left in County Westmeath; they both come from County Offaly. Both ladies were left in difficult situations. There is a real danger that the person involved — a lady in most cases — could be injured, raped or maimed if left stranded in this way. The way the law is framed is wrong and needs changing.

Any Member of this House or any Minister of State who wishes to make representations on behalf of a citizen to any authority has a right to do so.

I will first address the point made by Senator Wright, Senator O'Toole, Senator O'Kennedy and a number of others about the alleged dearth of legislation. It has always been my policy as Leader of the House to have a mix of legislation and major issues discussed. We sat more often in the past year than in the last ten years and we covered a wide range of issues. Many Senators will agree that when they made requests, I was able to accommodate them for the most part. We have been on course so far this year.

I circulated our programme for the next three weeks to the leaders of the Opposition parties. Next week we will be discussing the Defence Implementation Report, which Senator Lanigan has been requesting for some time. We will also discuss the Refugee Bill.

Did the Leader circulate this information to parties or to groups?

It was circulated to groups. Next week we will also conclude the Fianna Fáil Party's motion on tourism which we adjourned unprecedentedly to allow people, who had an interest but could not be here, to take part.

On 7 May we will be dealing with the Justice motion which will provide plenty of time to discuss matters raised by Senator Wright. The Finance Bill will be before the House that week and we will sit three days. I hope the light rail Bill, which will be a Seanad Bill, will be introduced here the following week. The health debate, to which Senator Finneran referred, will take place on 16 May and I will discuss the format it might take with him later. In addition, there are other pieces of legislation which we will take.

That said, I welcome Opposition comments about the need for an even heavier workload for this House and I will do everything I can to accommodate Senators. I would point out also that there is a problem which has not been addressed, that is, rather than legislation going through the new committee system in the other House more quickly, it is remaining longer on Committee Stage there. This means sometimes there is a delay while we are waiting for legislation to come before this House, but I can promise colleagues a substantial load of legislation from now until the end of the session. I look forward to their enthusiasm and desire for legislation being translated into the usual co-operation.

Senator Honan raised a number of issues on the Order of Business. Basically, the health insurance regulations would be best raised on the Adjournment. Likewise, I understand her concern for the situation in Portarlington, County Laois, with the closure of Butlers Engineering Limited but, again, an Adjournment debate would be the speediest way to raise that matter with the Minister.

A number of people addressed the question raised by Senator Honan on the need for legislation to deal with the possible release of Mr. Gallagher and the circumstances arising therefrom. The Taoiseach said in the Dáil yesterday that the relevant legislation would be ready by the end of the year.

Senator Lanigan raised the question of Chernobyl. If we could find time, I think it would be appropriate to at least spend an hour discussing that issue sometime in the near future and I will see if that can be done.

Senator Norris raised a number of issues. I would not propose to have a discussion on the Goldenbridge case per se, but if it could be broadened out, I think it would be an appropriate topic. If the Senator puts down a motion, I would be willing to entertain it and see whether time could be made available.

Senator Farrelly raise the question of IMRO. I think we would all agree with the Minister who said this morning on "Morning Ireland" that this is an issue which should be capable of resolution in a way favourable to the schools.

Senator Daly raised the question of the public service, an issue which is being addressed at present. I should remind him that item 11 on the Order Paper can be resumed at any moment which allows a discussion on the wider aspects of child care and problems arising from it.

Senator Rory Kiely raised the crisis in agriculture. I am sure all Members would join me in congratulating the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry on the vigorous approach he has taken in dealing with the crisis which is not of our making, which was caused in another jurisdiction, and where it is absolutely essential that the sort of unity we saw in the House in the early stages is continued in the national interest.

I have dealt with Senator Henry's question on legislation. I will refer Senator Townsend's views on energy to the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications.

I agree with Senator Enright on the issue he raised, and especially on the publication of details of the case which should certainly have been confidential. Whoever released that information did no service to the Garda Síochána.

Order of Business agreed to.