Order of Business.

The Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 24, motion 15. I will also be asking the House to deal on its receipt from the Dáil with all Stages of the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1999, and a motion for the Bill's earlier signature by the President. On No. 1, Temporary Holding Fund for Superannuation Liabilities Bill, 1999, all Stages to be taken today. No. 2, motion for earlier signature will be taken without debate at the conclusion of item 1. On No. 3, Appropriation Bill, 1999 – all Stages to be taken today on the understanding that the motion which appears on the Order Paper as No. 10 will be taken early in the next session. I propose that contributions be confined to one speaker from each group as is the usual practice and that speakers' contributions should not exceed 30 minutes. No. 4, motion for earlier signature, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 3. It is hoped to take the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1999, which is currently in the Dáil, and the earlier signature motion not earlier than 2 p.m. Item 24, motion 15, to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and business to resume thereafter if not previously concluded.

I do not have any difficulty with the items ordered for business which appear on the Order Paper. However, I strongly object to the manner in which the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill is expected to be taken in this House. This Bill could have been introduced to this and the other House in any of the past number of weeks. We now have a situation in which the Bill still has not been passed in the Dáil and we are being told that the Minister, with some degree of arrogance, wants all Stages of the Bill to be taken in this House today.

There are nine Seanad Bills in the Dáil at present, two of which – the Radiological Protection Bill and the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill – are 1998 Bills. This House was informed that it was a matter of great urgency that we would pass these and other Bills. The Planning and Development Bill has not yet commenced its life in the Dáil, yet we had to reschedule our sittings for the convenience of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development got into a huff because we would not take all Stages of the National Beef Assurance Scheme Bill on a particular day and he had to return to the House on another date.

This House is being treated with contempt. The Dáil is not running its business properly and Government machinery is breaking down as far as dealing with legislation is concerned. We are being asked to rubber stamp this Bill today and I strongly object to the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources expecting us to take all Stages of a Bill which has not yet been passed in the Dáil, sight unseen.

I propose amendment No. 1 to the Order of Business:

That the Seanad does not take all Stages of the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill today.

On a cooler note, will the Leader confirm that the debate on the Appropriation Bill will continue in the new session?

A great deal of publicity surrounds the publication of the report of the Committee of Public Accounts. Although we do not have any constitutional role in this regard, it would desirable to have a full debate on the report some time after Christmas. The report is a very historic document in regard to the history of the Houses of the Oireachtas and shows that work can be carried out in a very efficient manner. I suggest that the Committee on Procedures and Privileges might consider the possibility of the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts coming into the House to answer any questions arising from the report.

We too are opposed to the Order of Business as outlined by the Leader and I second Senator Manning's proposed amendment to the Order of Business. It is outrageous that we should be asked to take all Stages of a Bill which is still before the other House. We do not even know whether or not it will conclude in the other House. Now we are being asked to take it at some stage this afternoon. That is totally unacceptable. We at least have the other Bills here in front of us, and we have already put on record that we are not happy to take all Stages of any Bill, whether or not it is before us on the Order Paper. Certainly we are totally opposed to taking all Stages of a Bill that is not before us.

To highlight what has been happening with legislation from this House going to the Dáil, yesterday, on the Criminal Justice (Safety of United Nations Workers) Bill, 1999, there was reference to a Bill which is before the Dáil, the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Bill, 1998, and the Minister was totally confused, referring to an Act when it is in fact a Bill which we see before us, a Bill of 1998 which has been languishing in the Dáil for over 12 months with no attempt to put it through. There is a logjam of legislation that has been passed by this House but has not been processed by the other House. It is unfair of the Leader of the House to expect us to take, sight unseen, legislation that is currently before the other House.

I support Senator Manning's call for an early debate on the report of the Committee of Public Accounts. It appears to be a seminal report in terms of how we conduct our business. It would be well worthwhile to put it on the Order Paper at an early stage next year.

I ask for a debate on the public and private sectors which involve key areas of industry and operations relating to the well-being of the entire nation. I refer specifically to the fact that Ryanair has decided to suspend its operations at Knock Airport from 11 January next, although this year over 80,000 people were brought through. It is not good enough that something like that can happen at the drop of a hat, leaving a whole community in the west bereft of a tremendously successful service, on the basis of a £6 levy. If that is the case, let us find a way of solving it rather than having the whole service suspended.

The second reason for a debate on this is the announcement by the Minister for Public Enterprise that she proposes to have Aer Lingus floated in the same way as Telecom Éireann. We need to discuss what will happen if the State is not in charge of essential services. We need to discuss the whole area of joint ventures rather than total sales. We have seen what can happen. Ryanair is picking and choosing the plum areas. It started off with Knock Airport as its flagship. Now it no longer wants that but is going for juicier routes. I believe that is what will happen if Aer Lingus is sold off.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister responsible for transport about park and ride facilities for the people of this city? The people of south-west Dublin have no park and ride facilities for Christmas. There are two sites on the north side, one at the airport and one at Whitehall, and there is one on the south side at the Simmonscourt extension. It is a wonderful system. It costs £4 a day to leave one's car, and that includes the cost of travelling to and from the city centre by bus. However, the people I rep resent in south-west Dublin, which has the two roads with the greatest concentration of traffic, the Galway road and the Naas Road, have nothing. People in south Dublin have the benefit of the DART service as well. We want to know why we are not being catered for in Tallaght, Clondalkin and Lucan. I strenuously object to being excluded from what is supposed to be a proposal to keep the traffic moving. I hope the Leader of the House will take me very seriously in this matter. Why should we not have that facility?

Is the Senator seeking a debate on the matter?

Thank you, a Chathaoirleach.

I believe she is seeking a debate on the Adjournment.

It is hard to support public transport when one sees Iarnród Éireann going on strike, greatly inconveniencing the people of the west who will not be able to get to Dublin to do their shopping and preventing people travelling to the west. It is scandalous that people in Iarnród Éireann, formerly CIE, specialise in going on strike in the days leading up to Christmas, for their own selfish reasons. I appeal to the private bus companies to fill the vacuum. I appeal to the Garda Síochána and Dublin Corporation to be sympathetic to them when they come to this city, because they will be filling a vacuum that has been created by selfish Iarnród Éireann workers. I appeal to them to come back to work and not inconvenience the very people who put the bread and butter on their table and support them all year round.

The Senator should have a word with the Minister.

I too wish to raise the matter of Ryanair's decision, although it is not on the Order of Business. However, on this, the second last day of this session, there is no other opportunity to raise the matter. This decision by Ryanair to pull out of the west is heartless, ruthless and totally unjustifiable. We saw a time when Ryanair had not the price of fuel to put into its aircraft when it was starting up at Knock Airport. Now it is abandoning the west. It would never have got off the ground – and I do not intend a pun – were it not for Knock Airport. It is a dastardly decision. We have seen the power of public opinion in the past few weeks and the changes that resulted. Public opinion should be mobilised now to reverse Ryanair's decision.

Is the Senator supporting Senator Costello's request for a debate on the matter?

I certainly am. I support it fully.

I intend to continue on the same theme of transport, in relation to the flotation of Aer Lingus. It is not as big a venture as Eircom, in which almost all of us in the South invested, only to see the shares become almost valueless. It is essential that we should not go the same way in relation to Aer Lingus. Maybe I am being pessimistic, but there is no great sense of confidence among the general public in the flotation of any Irish asset.

Coming from the west, I believe it is essential that we should not allow Knock Airport to be affected as badly as it is. I would welcome a debate on transport.

I support the request for a debate on the air transportation service, particularly in light of Ryanair's proposed withdrawal from Knock Airport. In discussing the flotation of Aer Rianta or Aer Lingus, we should have a debate on what we regard nationally as essential air services and the underpinning of the future of regional airports.

Mr. Ryan

At great frustration to myself yet again, let me ask the Leader of the House what the Government is going to do about our telecommunications infrastructure, since it is apparently refusing to do anything about the Telecommunications (Infrastructure) Bill. Notwithstanding what the Leader of the House has said, this is a problem for the parts of the country about which we have been hearing. Telecommunications infrastructure in most of our underdeveloped areas is appalling, and this Bill was supposed to deal with it, but it is sitting on the Order Paper for reasons I do not understand.

I would like to know why, in the case of Nos. 2 and 4, early signatures are necessary. As a matter of principle, I object to things going through here without an explanation. Can the Leader of the House tell me why we need an early signature, particularly to the Temporary Holding Fund for Superannuation Liabilities Bill which is meant to provide for pensions in about 25 years' time? The urgency of getting through and signed within the next three days something that will not come into force for 25 years escapes me.

Let me raise an issue that has been raised here frequently. I refer to the budget speech in the Dáil and the fact that with great reluctance copies of the script were given to Members of this House. We were told this was for constitutional reasons, something I can understand, but it was given to every journalist in the Press Gallery and no constitutional exception was made in their case. If the media can be supplied with copies of the script in advance for their convenience, and I believe they should be, there is no constitutional reason Members of this House who are in attendance should not be treated in a similar manner. It is a gross offence to this House to raise constitutional issues while the script is handed out willy-nilly to members of the press.

I support the Members who raised the need for a debate on transport policy. I invite Members on the other side to consider what will happen if Aer Lingus is privatised. We see what Ryanair is doing in Knock. If Aer Lingus is privatised it will inevitably become a minor part of a major multinational. We will be far more peripheral in terms of the thinking of a major multinational than Knock Airport is in the thinking of Ryanair.

Hear, hear.

Mr. Ryan

I suggest people should not let their ideology get in the way of the practical realities concerning how the market actual works, as distinct from how it is supposed to work in theory.

All these points can be made in the debate which has been requested.

Mr. Ryan

I thank the Cathaoirleach and appreciate his guidance as I would not have known that.

While I do not believe the House should get media coverage simply because of its existence, last Wednesday the Minister for Finance came to the House, his first appearance in the Houses of the Oireacthas following all the fuss of the previous week, and made a very spirited defence of the budget. It was a very lively debate which went substantially unreported because the timing was inconvenient or awkward, etc. I am at a loss to know why this was less important than Senator Norris's problems with legal costs which was raised yesterday morning.

Perhaps we could have an emergency debate before the recess on the decision by the Irish Medicines Board to make some drugs, in particular St. John's wort, unavailable unless on prescription. The necessary licensing has not been processed and people who are in the habit of buying St. John's wort in food stores will no longer be able to buy it or get it on prescription. I hope the Leader will call on the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to give a commitment to put a moratorium on the decision for at least three months until the licensing issues are sorted out, if the decision to put it on prescription stands.

We are having debates on high finance and high flying. Road conditions in frosty weather can be forecast well in advance and I ask the Leader to ask the Department of the Environment and Local Government to request local authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure sanding and gritting are carried out to avoid the many accidents which may occur.

I support Senator Cox's call regarding the decision of the Irish Medicines Board. This may only be the start of decisions by it in this area and it would be very appropriate to have a debate on alternative medicine, although I know we had a debate previously on the matter. However, further explanation is necessary and we should not be pioneers in European terms in this area, as would seem to be the case. If we look at the control of products over the years we will remember what happened on previous occasions, such as with thalidomide, hepatitis C, etc., and the associated fall out from those decisions. While I have no reason to conflict in any way with the Medicines Board other than on this issue, public debate says this decision is not correct and that its ramifications should not be carried into other areas.

I also support the call for a debate on the crisis in Knock Airport as a result of the decision by Ryanair to pull out. Horan International Airport serves the entire Connaught region and is part of the vital infrastructure. I am taken aback by the crocodile tears on the other side of the House as I remember that both Fine Gael and Labour in Government tried to block the development of the airport. If it had not been for Monsignor Horan and his good friends in Fianna Fáil at that time we would not have an airport in Knock.

Rubbish, absolute rubbish.

I support what has been said about the non-availability of the Budget Statement to Members of this House. Given that today is Wednesday, an anniversary so to speak of the budget, can the Leader say if we should expect a further instalment of the budget, or is the budget by instalment at an end? Will there be a further balancing measure announced as required or deemed necessary?

What arrangements does the Leader intend making for a debate on the report of the Committee of Public Accounts which is expected today?

I support what Senators have said about the proposal of the Irish Medicines Board to regulate certain health products and alternative medicines. I am a supporter of alternative medicines and am strongly of the view that much of our population, particularly our young people, is being systematically poisoned by the over use of antibiotics.

Mr. Ryan

Hear, hear.

This is a personal view. I would like a debate on the matter and perhaps the deadline of 1 January could be deferred.

Will the Leader make contact with the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment about the relocation of Molnlycke to the Middle East? This is the only factory of significance in Dunmanway and the loss of jobs and the knock-on effect on the economy is a huge blow to the town. In broader terms I am concerned that a factory such as Molnlycke, which has given great employment and service to the town, should for economic reasons relocate in the Far East, in this case Taiwan. This seems to be a trend throughout the country. The closure of Molnlycke is a huge blow to the people and community of Dunmanway.

I am disappointed that Senator Finneran has been political this morning.

One has to be.

There is an onus on the Government to solve the crisis at Knock Airport and I hope it responds accordingly. The national carrier has pulled out and now Ryanair is pulling out.

Who spoke about the foggy, boggy place?

I hope the Government responds quickly to this devastating blow to the west. I support Senator Caffrey's call for an urgent debate on the crisis.

I would like the Leader to provide a progress report in relation to our millennium building and to give an update on when we might be moving into our new offices. We are hoping to move in the new year.

I find Ryanair's decision to pull out of Knock Airport hard to understand because only months ago that company was lobbying politicians, particularly those in our part of the country, about the huge number of people it would bring in if it was allowed into Shannon Airport. It outlined the effect this would have on the entire south-eastern region, listing the number of tourists it would carry. In fact, it suggested the place would be overflowing with tourists. Now Ryanair is pulling out of Knock Airport.

Did the Senator say overflowing or overflown?

I am at a total loss to know what Ryanair is doing and I support the calls of my colleagues for a major debate.

In response to Senators Manning and Costello, I would prefer if we did not have to rush through the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill. However, what happens in the Dáil is the concern of the Dáil and what happens in the Seanad is the business of the Seanad. I am proud to be here this morning on the 154th sitting day of this Seanad and to have presided over the busiest two years in the history of Seanad Éireann. We could not have imagined three or four years ago the amount of legislation we would initiate in this House. One third of all legislation has been initiated in the House and that is the way it will continue for the remainder of the Government's term in office. Any Senator who thinks he will have a cushy job for a day or a day and a half a week had better think again about his position. We must move two by-election writs and I would have no problem moving a third or a fourth if a Senator wishes to leave the House on the first day back in January.

Will the by-election be on that side of the House?

It will not be on this side.

Surely the Leader is not throwing out the Progressive Democrats?

I support Senator Manning's suggestion that the Chairman of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, Deputy Brian Lenihan, should come into the House to discuss the report. We can process that through a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Senators Costello, Caffrey, Chambers, Jackman, Finneran, Burke and Tom Hayes expressed their concerns about Knock Airport and the fact that Ryanair is contemplating not flying out of there from mid-January. If Mr. Barry Desmond had had his way, Knock Airport would not have been built. I remember Monsignor Horan did not get a letter for a couple of days so that work could be completed. The Mayo Member on the other side of the House should at least be honest.

What has that got to do with Ryanair?

This airport was built as a result of a commitment given by a former Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey—

Can we hear his name again?

—Mr. Padraig Flynn and Deputy Albert Reynolds.

They did not give it any money; they only talked about it.

The Government will have to keep it open now.

We know what a former Fine Gael Taoiseach thought of Knock Airport at the time. The Senator should learn his history because if he does not know from where he came, he will not know to where he is going. We will have an urgent debate on this issue on the first day of the new session. This is a serious matter for the people of the west. I call on Michael O'Leary, who is a neighbour of mine, and Ryanair to consider their commitment to the people.

I will pass on the concerns expressed by Senators Ridge, Ryan and Farrell about the road transport problems.

It is discrimination.

Senator Ridge's point is more suited to discussion on the Adjournment.

Senator Ryan mentioned the motion for earlier signature. It is necessary to enable £3 billion to be paid into funds before the end of the year.

I will pass on Senator Jackman's views on the flotation of Aer Lingus to the Minister. Senator Ryan mentioned the Telecommunications (Infrastructure) Bill, 1999. It will not be taken in this session, but I will see what I can do for the next session.

I agree with Senators Coghlan and Ryan that the budget speech should be circulated to Senators on budget day. This matter will be on the agenda of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges until we get a satisfactory conclusion. All Members of the Oireachtas should be circulated with the budget speech before members of the press. I did everything I could to ensure that happened and I will continue to do so.

I will pass on the views of Senators Cox, Finneran and O'Donovan to the Minister immediately after the Order of Business. I would like to have a debate but, unfortunately, tomorrow is the last sitting day. I will also pass on Senator Callanan's views to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. I will pass on Senator O'Donovan's views about the closure of a factory in Dunmanway to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

As this is the last Order of Business of the year, the decade and the century, I, on behalf of all Members of the House, thank you, a Chathaoirligh, and the Leas-Chathaoirleach for your kindness and courtesy. I thank the leaders and the Whips of all parties, particularly Senator Tom Fitzgerald, for their hard work in the House. I also thank the Clerk, Ms Deirdre Lane, and Ms Jody Blake for their kindness and courtesy. I thank Mr. Jimmy Walsh who reports the proceedings in the House every day in The Irish Times and I thank RTÉ and Mr. George Devlin who presents “Oireachtas Report”. I wish the ushers and members of staff who have been kind and courteous to us throughout the year a happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous 2000.

I asked a question about the Committee of Public Accounts. Perhaps a debate could be arranged in the new year. It was also raised by Senator Costello.

It is a good idea and I will be pleased to arrange it.

Senator Manning has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1999, and the motion for Earlier Signature thereon be deleted from the Order of Business."

Amendment put.

Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Costello, Joe.Doyle, Joe.Hayes, Tom.Jackman, Mary.

McDonagh, Jarlath.Manning, Maurice.Ridge, Thérèse.Ross, Shane.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.


Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cox, Margaret.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Gibbons, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.

Keogh, Helen.Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Máirín.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Burke and Ridge; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Keogh.

Amendment declared lost.

Question put: “That the Order of Business be agreed to.”

Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cox, Margaret.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Gibbons, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.

Keogh, Helen.Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Máirín.


Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Costello, Joe.Doyle, Joe.Hayes, Tom.Jackman, Mary.

McDonagh, Jarlath.Mooney, Paschal.Ridge, Thérèse.Ross, Shane.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Tellers: Tá, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Keogh; Níl, Senators Costello and Ross.
Question declared carried.