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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 4 Jun 1998

Vol. 155 No. 18

Order of Business.

Today's proposed Order of Business is item 1, Roads (Amendment) Bill, 1997. I am proposing that spokespersons will have 20 minutes each while other speakers will have 15 minutes. Senators may share their time. Business will be interrupted at 2 o'clock. From then until 4 o'clock we will take statements on the Middle East crisis, in particular the situation in Israel and Palestine. I am proposing that as regards the order for the first rota of speakers, each group will be taken in turn and thereafter the ordinary rota will apply. This was done for the statements on the nuclear testing in India. In that way each group will have an opportunity to make a contribution. I am suggesting that spokespersons will be given 12 minutes and other speakers will be given eight minutes.

If item 1 has not concluded by 2 o'clock, it will resume when the statements finish at 4 o'clock.

The Order of Business is agreed to, in principle. Will there be a sos between 1 o'clock and 2 o'clock?

When is it proposed to bring before this House the amendments to the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill, as promised by the Taoiseach in the Lower House yesterday? I understand it is to be introduced in the Dáil next week but it appears that it might be introduced simultaneously in this House. Will the Acting Leader inform me if that is the case?

I also wish to raise the matter of rail safety. In one of last Sunday's newspapers there was a report that the Minister for Public Enterprise and Iarnród Éireann now have a consultant's report on sections of rail track that are deficient or dangerous. I understand from reading the report, which I presume was leaked, that the results are pretty worrying. Will the Acting Leader request the Minister to publish this report as soon as possible? The Leader, Senator Cassidy, has promised a debate on rail safety. It would be valuable if that report was available to us ahead of any such debate.

I wish to raise with the Acting Leader a commitment that was given to me on three occasions by the Leader to have a debate on industrial relations. I know he gave a similar commitment to Senator Costello and others in the House. I have raised the question of TEAM Aer Lingus on three or four occasions and that matter is now coming to a very uncertain conclusion. We should examine these issues. Yesterday we discussed the question of a new industrial relations programme and what will happen at the end of the current programme. The House needs to be informed about these matters. This matter should be dealt with as soon as possible. Commitments were given during the last session and through the early part of this one but we are now half way through the session. I insist that such a debate should take place.

Will the Acting Leader pass on the congratulations of the House to the non-privatised ESB which is running such a good and effective operation?

Hear, hear.

I am sure it is a job he will be delighted to do on behalf of his party. The ESB is now selling electricity to its consumers more cheaply than the British system which was privatised eight years ago. I plead with politicians on all sides of the House not to take the populist line and object to decisions to increase costs which were taken properly by a company that we are asking to act in the best interests of the whole country.

My final question to the Acting Leader is similar to that of Senator Connor's. Where are we now in relation to legislation on tribunals and what are we facing into? What are we likely to be dealing with over the next couple of weeks in this area? What is the Government trying to achieve? This House needs to be clearly informed about this.

I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator O'Toole in regard to item 8 on the Order Paper which relates to workers' rights and industrial relations. An increasing number of industrial disputes are taking place, of which the Garda pay dispute is just one example. The Minister for Public Enterprise seems to be engaged in a showdown with TEAM by telling employees they must act in accordance with her wishes. There have also been a number of craftwork disputes in the various health boards and local authorities. A thorough and early debate is required on this issue.

I want to raise the issue of the very serious attacks on the elderly which have taken place recently. An elderly man from St. Bricin's Park in my constituency died in the aftermath of a burglary. Another elderly man died in Killaloe following an attack and a Limerick priest was also attacked. This problem is widespread in rural and urban areas. We should hold a thorough debate on the security and care of the elderly and outline the steps being taken on a national and local level, legislatively and otherwise, to address the issue.

When will the Education Bill come before the House? Is there a possibility that so much pressure has been exerted on the Minister in regard to amendments to the legislation that the Bill may never arrive in this House in its current format and that a completely new Bill will be drafted?

Will the Acting Leader ask the Minister for Public Enterprise to examine the issue of press reporting? The press has been having a field day on publicans for the past week, alleging they have increased prices when no increases have, in fact, occurred. A pub with which I am associated was reported to have increased prices when this was not the case. When the journalist in question was approached on the matter, her attitude was that she was merely doing her job. I do not object to journalists doing their job but I do object to blatant lies being printed in the press.

What, if any, co-ordination exists between Departments in regard to the threatened ecological disaster on the world famous lakes of Killarney? The lakes, which are a prime national asset, are in the care of the National Parks and Wildlife Service under the aegis of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. The Department of the Marine and Natural Resources should also be involved in their upkeep. Tonnes of rock phosphate were recently dropped from the air on coniferous forestry in the catchment area of the River Flesk's tributaries. The rock phosphate has been flowing into the lakes and it appears there is no State co-ordination in regard to this. Will the Acting Leader address the matter as one of urgency?

Will the Acting Leader facilitate a debate on the relationship between business and political parties in this State? We are all beginning to be embarrassed by the drip-feed of leaks in regard to large amounts of money which were donated, primarily to the Fianna Fáil Party. However, Fine Gael has also managed to eliminate a debt very quickly on occasion.

The Senator's comments are without foundation.

I am not imputing any evil motives to anybody. I simply want us to clear our collective names.

I am sure the Leader will consider a debate on the matter.

I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business:

"That the Order of Business be amended by taking item 11 in regard to the compellability of witnesses prior to other business."

In the light of recent revelations, I believe it is time the Oireachtas gave itself the power to oblige people to come before its committees. This motion has been on the Order Paper for weeks but has not been moved. We must insist that people, particularly those who bring these Houses into disrepute, should be brought before them and compelled to explain themselves to their peers with the same privileges and rights of a court witness.

Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeachas a ghabháil don Chathaoirleach as ucht an óráid a thug sé i Loch Garmán ar an Domhnach seo caite. Those in attendance were impressed both by the substance and eloquence of his delivery. The Cathaoirleach did this House proud.

I call on the Acting Leader to give some consideration to how the House might appropriately mark the forthcoming retirement of the US Ambassador, Jean Kennedy-Smith, who made very pivotal contributions at critical junctures throughout the peace process. It would be appropriate for this House to recognise her excellent contribution in some way.

I second Senator Ryan's motion that the Order of Business be amended. This is an appropriate time to debate such a motion.

Senator Connor raised the issue of Irish railways. I am sure the Acting Leader and Members of the House will join with me in conveying sympathy to the German Government and people on the horrific rail crash which occurred in northern Germany yesterday.

I sought clarification from the Acting Leader yesterday on the matter raised by Senator Ryan. Senators Costello, O'Meara and I have a similar item on the Order Paper since February. Given that clarification was not forthcoming yesterday, I support the amendment to the Order of Business.

Could the Acting Leader give some indication of how soon the Parental Leave Bill will be introduced here? The deadline for the introduction of the Bill has passed. There is a great deal of talk about child care and it is important to enable parents to take better care of their children. It is unfortunate that Ireland has been seen to be dragging its feet on this matter. I would welcome the early introduction of that legislation.

I note the nomination of the members of the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland and hope the lack of concord between the Governments in putting the commission together will be something they can now put behind them. I wish the commission well in its important work and I wish our colleague, Senator Hayes, well in his participation in it. The commission's work must be seen to be independent and impartial. Its deliberations will have a crucial bearing on the success of the Northern Agreement.

I support Senator Ryan's amendment but hope it would not preclude the discussion requested by the Leader of Fine Gael yesterday in regard to the possible establishment of a press council and the obligations of the press.

Senator Bohan expressed his concern about an aspect of the drink trade. I would like the Leader to give us an undertaking that this House will have a wide ranging discussion on the operation of the drink trade. The citizens of Galway have had to introduce local legislation to curb behaviour late at night. We may be close to that in this city. I told the House two years ago that if the operations of four enormous shebeens in the O'Connell Street area were not curbed there would be murder. There have been repeated murders related to the activities of the operators in the period since I made that statement. We owe it to young people to have a wide ranging discussion in which responsible publicans like Senator Bohan could make the case for his group but also so that the crimes of other people can be highlighted to the public.

Senator Gallagher congratulated Senator Maurice Hayes on his appointment to the policing review group in the North. I join in those congratulations and I know he will make a fair and positive contribution to that development. It is a great honour and responsibility for him. He has a great knowledge of the legal process and of the feelings of the people there.

Will the Leader notify Minister O'Rourke of the concerns of this House regarding the problems disabled people have accessing public transport? There was a report recently that new buses cannot take wheelchairs without a great deal of manoeuvring. It is ridiculous that there was no consultation beforehand to allow a normal size wheelchair to be measured and the situation corrected before it became a problem. I am concerned about the lack of attention paid to the needs of the disabled; it is such a simple matter. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister reports to this House on the situation regarding the new bus fleet with access for the disabled as a part of the normal service.

Senators Gallagher and Chambers must be on the same wavelength as I am. In congratulating Senator Hayes, I draw the attention of the House to the press release, which I assume was issued by the Northern Ireland Office, which appeared in my newspaper this morning. It made no reference in the lengthy and impressive CV of Senator Hayes that he is an active Member of the Upper House. I do not know who is to blame. Perhaps the paper regurgitated the press release from the Northern Ireland Office. If that is the case we should not be too surprised that it did not want to highlight the fact that Senator Hayes is a distinguished Member of the Upper House if he is to deal with the police commission reforms in an even handed matter. I put on the record that we are proud of the fact that not only is he a Member of this House but also has been appointed to this important commission which will have far reaching effects on the search for stability in Northern Ireland.

The matter of tribunals of inquiry and the related matters of ethics in business and the relationship between business and politics were raised by Senators Connor and O'Toole. The Tribunal of Inquiry Bill will come before the Dáil next week. It will be the intention of the Dáil to deal with that quickly and to have it come through this House as soon as possible. It is a piece of legislation which will be with us shortly. Several of the issues raised this morning can be dealt with on Second Stage of that Bill which will seek to extend the scope of the Flood Tribunal to deal with some of the matters of public controversy at present.

As soon as the consultant's report on rail safety is published it will be useful for the House to debate it, but there is a large number of items which Senators want to debate. There is a large legislative programme to get through between now and the recess and there will difficulties in accommodating everyone. We will attempt, however, to deal with that matter as it is serious.

Senator O'Toole mentioned industrial relations. Again this is a result of the pressure of business. The Senator was given a commitment and I will ensure that commitment is honoured. I note his insistence in this important matter. I join in his congratulations to ESB and will convey them to the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke. There are aspects of the activities of ESB which are already subject to private enterprise. The Senator will be aware that, under EU rules, when the peat burning power station is built in the midlands, power generated there will be sold to the ESB.

I am well aware of that. That is the sort of competition which ESB will be able to handle.

Senator Costello mentioned attacks on the elderly. I share his view that it is appalling that elderly people who have worked all their lives should be subjected to these mindless attacks. I congratulate the Garda for apprehending and charging people for the attack on the priest in Limerick. It would be useful to discuss the security of the elderly. There is a community role in this; individuals in areas where elderly people live have a responsibility to keep an eye out for them and inform the Garda of suspicious behaviour in the area.

Senator McDonagh raised the Education Bill. The Bill is at present with the Select Committee. Once it leaves the Dáil it will be sent to the Seanad.

Senators Norris and Bohan again called for a debate on the establishment of a press council. We will try to find time for that. The price of a pint is something which concerns all of us and we note the comments made by Senator Bohan about the matter.

Regarding the co-ordination of Government Departments in Killarney, the Office of Public Works and other agencies involved will co-operate fully to ensure pollution and other incidents which affect water will be dealt with. I am an angler myself so I have an interest in this. It is unacceptable that phosphates should be spread on bare land and find their way into the watercourse.

Senator Ryan raised matters which can be dealt with on Second Stage of the Tribunals Bill. I cannot accommodate him on the matter of item 11. The Dáil has not taken this motion either. It has to come into force within a month of being moved in the Dáil and then it will come before this House. It has been dealt with by the Dáil subcommittee on Dáil reform.

I also congratulate Senator Hayes on his appointment. He will bring gravity and experience to the police reform body.

Senator Gallagher raised the matter of parental leave. That will come before us on Second Stage next Friday. I hope Senator Norris met plenty of people on the tour of his drawingroom this morning, to which I was listening on my way here.

It was most crowded, but eloquently so. I thank Senator Dardis for asking.

I hope he plied them with free drink as they were passing through.

Spiritual refreshment is what they call it.

I agree with Senator Ridge that there is a lack of access for people with a disability. However, first, these and some other matters would be more appropriately dealt with on the Adjournment and, second, if Senators have points which they wish to raise with Ministers, I suggest they write directly to the Minister rather than ask the Leader to convey the message on their behalf.

I have such faith in the Leader. I am deeply disappointed.

It is my earnest wish that they will accept your advice, Deputy Leader, in that matter.

It will reduce productivity.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 16; Ní, 25.

Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Connor, John.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Doyle, Joe.Gallagher, Pat.Hayes, Tom.

Henry, Mary.McDonagh, Jarlath.Norris, David.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Toole, Joe.Ridge, Thérese.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.


Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Chambers, Frank.Cox, Margaret. Gibbons, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Keogh, Helen.Kett, Tony.Kiely, Dan.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.

Dardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom. Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Mairín.Walsh, Jim.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Henry and Ryan; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Keogh.
Amendment declared lost.
Order of Business agreed to.