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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 25 Mar 1999

Vol. 158 No. 16

Order of Business.

Today's Order of Business is items 1, 2 and 3. Item 1 is to be taken without debate. Item 2, Second Stage, will be taken today with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. Senators may share time. Item 3, Second Stage, will also be taken today with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. Senators may share time.

It is proposed that item 3 commence at the conclusion of item 2.

Will there be a sos today?

If it is requested. It is not envisaged at present.

Yesterday on the Order of Business Senator Lanigan and Senator Ryan condemned the invasion of Kosovo while Senator Coghlan supported the NATO action. The Leader of the House, in his reply, supported both points of view. Is that the Leader being the Leader or is it an accurate reflection of Government policy? It appears to be the latter but could a debate be held today or tomorrow – preferably tomorrow – on the current situation and the Irish Government's attitude to it?

I understand it is proposed to take item 7, the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, 1999, next week. A number of educational organisations are still studying the Bill and wish to put forward their views. Committee Stage of that Bill will not conclude next week anyway so I would be grateful it the Leader could postpone that debate until the first week of the new session. The Government will get every co-operation on this matter from this side of the House.

It is an important Bill and everybody is anxious to ensure it is the best possible legislation. It was initiated in the Seanad and the Leader has been extremely understanding in this regard up to now. However, I am seeking a further deferment.

I support the call for postponing Committee Stage of the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill. The Teachers Union of Ireland and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have set up groups to examine the legislation. They have salient views to offer and they represent the people who are most closely involved in this area. If extra time were given, it could facilitate useful consultation.

The first European war this century began in the Balkans and it appears the century will also conclude with a Balkan war. Ireland has come through this century not knowing its position on, for example, Hitler's extermination of the Jews and various other horrendous events. The Irish Government and its people must have a well discussed position on these issues. We need to find a position between not interfering in the internal affairs of a nation while not washing our hands when we witness genocide. That position must be discussed. On at least four occasions in the past two years I have sought a debate on this matter. Admittedly, a debate is not helpful at times such as this but it must take place and I ask the Leader to make time available for it.

I wish to put on record our appreciation of the wise decision by the House of Lords in the UK that Mr. Pinochet should address the problems of his past life properly.

I support the calls of the two previous speakers for more time on the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill to facilitate proper consultation with the broad range of educational interests involved.

Senator O'Toole commented on the good judgment of the House of Lords with regard to General Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile. I was less than happy with the statement by Lord Dubs in the House of Lords yesterday regarding the proposed inquiry into the death of Rosemary Nelson. He said the RUC is the best qualified body to conduct the inquiry. Given that the report by the independent commission showed that the inquiry conducted by the RUC into death threats to Rosemary Nelson was a sham, the force is the worst qualified to conduct the inquiry. The Minister for Foreign Affairs should impress upon the British authorities the need to have the inquiry carried out by an independent body. There is no reason the FBI could not conduct the inquiry, having first received the forensic material from the RUC.

Regarding NATO's air strikes on Yugoslavia and Kosovo, I am disappointed the Minister for Foreign Affairs has been seen to be evasive and not to have an opinion, good, bad or indifferent, about what this country's position should be. It behoves us to know where we stand as a people. It is not good enough to say we do not have a view because we do not know the position under international law. We have enough experts to find that out so that we can state our position. President Milosevic is a dictator who has engaged in extreme violence and ethnic cleansing. This country must know where it stands on the NATO strikes. The Minister should address the House and allow us to help him make up his mind, and that should happen at the earliest opportunity.

I support the view that it is a matter of considerable urgency that the House should debate the issues associated with the air strikes on Yugoslavia and Kosovo and form a coherent view. Senator O'Toole is right to say there are two conflicting views. One is that this is an internal matter which is outside the remit of the rules regulating international intervention. The other is that this is a dictator who has brought considerable misery and suffering to the area, that several attempts have been made to reach a settlement but on each occasion President Milosevic has engaged in brinkmanship and withdrawn from making an agreement, and that in the circumstances there was no option but to intervene. We need to tease out those matters in some detail and it is important that the Minister should be here for the debate. I join previous speakers in asking that we devote considerable time to it tomorrow.

The leaders of the various groups have supported the holding of a debate on Kosovo. I will not allow that debate to be pre-empted on the Order of Business by other speakers. I have allowed considerable latitude to the Leaders and will now call other Members on the Order of Business.

I again ask the Leader for a date for a debate on the proposed revision of the censorship laws, as promised in the Fianna Fáil elec tion manifesto. I hope the Leader will not renege on his promise and assure him there will be speakers from this side of the House. Apropos of that, will he inquire of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform why a purveyor of pornography in Galway had his sentence doubled, yet the same material is freely available and advertised in Dublin? There appears to be an anomaly in the law. I congratulate the Garda sergeant who seized the pornography and brought the case to court but why are we unable to deal with this problem in Dublin?

The Minister for Agriculture and Food is to be congratulated for his remarkable success for Ireland in the agricultural talks on CAP reform. When the Commission's proposals were published some time ago, the loss to Irish agriculture was estimated at £226 million per year. After the changes made to these proposals, achieved by the Minister, that loss has been wiped out.

That is so.

I ask for a debate on the Commission proposals in the near future. I also condemn the overcharging by Tesco and the deceitful manner in which it was done – there was often a large difference between the price on the goods and the price charged at the checkout. This borders on the criminal. I also support the calls for a debate on Kosovo.

As rapporteur to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, I was responsible for its report on attention deficit disorder in Ireland. The report will be adopted this morning and will be presented to the Dáil and Seanad. It is a serious issue and I hope the House can debate it as soon as possible. It is a growing problem which has not been addressed. It straddles three Departments, the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Education and Science, and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, but it is mostly within the remit of the Department of Health and Children so I hope the Minister, Deputy Cowen, can attend the House when we discuss this report.

I accept your ruling on Kosovo, a Chathaoirligh, but I would not like to let the opportunity pass without complimenting the Minister for Foreign Affairs on his stance, although he was condemned earlier.

You will have an opportunity to do that in the debate.

In the past ten minutes, he and other Ministers have arranged for Kosovo to be discussed at the Berlin summit. He has been very involved and has not been neutral.

Mr. Ryan

Since concerns about minorities are widespread in the EU and NATO, I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to undertake a visit to the Kurdish territory in Turkey to investigate the abuses of human rights, genocide, murders and bombings carried out against those people by Turkey for the past 50 years at least. Turkey, incidentally, is a member of NATO and may well be involved in bombing Kosovo. I also ask the Leader to ask the Taoiseach whether he is happy to have an Attorney General who apparently does not have an opinion about international law.

Will the Leader confirm whether the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has brought to Government a satisfactory recommendation on pub licensing laws? Will it be in place by the summer and will he outline the timetable?

I too accept your ruling on Kosovo, a Chathaoirligh. It was akin to a pre-emptive strike. We need hard, fast, specific strikes to bring the bully boy dictator back to the negotiating table.

On Objective One status, I am concerned that the Taoiseach may have folded his tent prematurely in his hour long meeting with the German Chancellor, Mr. Schröder. I read this morning that papers have been drafted which may allow Portugal an extra two years of Objective One funding. Our master of negotiation may have been premature in conceding that most of Ireland should have the status of Objective One in transition. Perhaps the Leader will comment on that.

Senators Manning, Costello, O'Toole, Dardis, Kiely, Coghlan and Lanigan expressed views on Kosovo. I join Senator Lanigan in congratulating the Minister for Foreign Affairs on his stance, and on his involvement in arranging a discussion of the issue at the summit. I accede to the requests of Senators and will arrange for statements at 2 p.m. tomorrow.

Senator Ridge called for a debate on the censorship laws. I will allocate time early in the next session for such a debate. Senator Rory Kiely congratulated the Minister for Agriculture and Food on his success with the new Commission proposals and called for a debate on them. I will see if I can arrange to have statements on this issue for two hours next week and if the Minister will be available to address the House.

Senator Jackman called for a debate on attention deficit disorder and I support her request. I will arrange for a debate on this issue.

Senator Coghlan called for a debate on the licensing laws.

I want information on the licensing laws.

I will allocate time for this debate and I will come back to the Senator with information. I read in the newspapers this morning that the licensing laws will extend opening time by one hour. Many people have different views on this issue. I will inform the Senator of the up-to-date position tomorrow morning.

I asked the Leader about the Qualifications (Education and Training) Bill, 1999.

I will discuss that with the leaders of the parties after the Order of Business.

Order of Business agreed to.