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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 30 Mar 2000

Vol. 162 No. 20

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is Nos. 1 and 2. No. 1 is Committee and Remaining Stages of the National Minimum Wage Bill, 2000. No. 2 is an earlier signature motion to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1. Business will be interrupted from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

An issue which is consuming the entire country is the transport chaos in the capital and a large part of the country. We have nothing useful to say about it this morning. We can only repeat the exhortations that were made here yesterday and urge that existing channels are used, as a matter of urgency, to try to resolve this dispute. There are bigger, deeper issues and the Leader promised to return to them in a full structured debate in the near future.

I want to raise a question about the work being done by the constitutional review group which produced a number of important reports. One of them is the recent study of the Irish text of the Constitution which is one of the most important documents to emerge and has important long-term consequences. Will the Leader arrange to have a debate on the various reports made by the group? Its reports touch upon the restructuring of the courts, the future of this House and the electoral system which are all matters of great importance.

When I picked up the Order Paper today I felt an old familiar friend was gone. The Shannon River Council Bill, 1998, which was on the Order Paper for a long time is no longer there. In view of the unprecedented piece of parliamentary history here last night when a Bill was voted through Second and Committee Stages—

I cannot allow the Senator to reopen yesterday's business on the Order of Business.

What I have to say is relevant to today's business. Last night was a sad piece of history. Many people who had spoken earlier with great passion about the need for that Bill did not get a chance to speak last night. Therefore, I propose we amend today's Order of Business and agree to take item 14, statements on Shannon River Council (Resumed). I also propose that this business last for one hour and that each speaker have ten minutes. The House deserves to hear the views of speakers, particularly those of Senator Dardis

I would love to be in a position to do that.

I propose that we amend today's Order of Business and take item 14 for one hour. I am sure we could do that without discord since almost everyone agreed with the Shannon River Council Bill, 1998.

Is the Senator proposing that it be taken before the items ordered by the Leader?

I propose that the Order of Business be Nos. 14, 1 and 2. I also ask that one hour be put aside for No. 14 and that each speaker have ten minutes.

When I checked the Order of Business this morning I found that there was nothing on it with which I could disagree. I felt, based on the logical decisions we took here last night, that if you agree with everything in a Bill then you should vote against it. I found myself in the position that I would have to vote against the Order of Business because I agreed with it. That is the type of logic that was thrust in our faces during the debacle on the Shannon River Council Bill, 1998. The Leader should be in disgrace about it. This type of leadership is less than we deserve. We cannot have trust and confidence in the way we do our business if, having reached agreement on something, it is not delivered. The Cathaoirleach will notice that I am not reopening last night's business.

No, but the Senator is repeating some of the sentiments that were expressed last night.

Unfortunately, you could be right.

Senator Manning has taken me out of a bind because I did not know how I would deal with finding myself in total agreement. He has found a way to give expression to that total agreement by proposing an amendment to the Order of Business and I am happy to second his proposal.

As I have said before, there are many aspects to the transport strike. One serious aspect is that 500,000 trade unionists voted for a programme that will cover the next 33 months and any false moves could bring it tumbling down on our heads. It had better be made clear that the commitments given in that programme are the same as those given to all trade unionists.

I am concerned about the Order of Business. I am also concerned about the earlier signature motion. The National Minimum Wage Bill, 2000, was in the Dáil for two months but it will only be here for two days, yet it must be signed by Saturday in order to come into operation. It is clear that there is no intention of giving this House the slightest opportunity to implement any amendments. If amendments were accepted in this House there would be no time for the Bill to be sent back to the other House and then returned here.

Serious questions have been raised about this Bill. Senator Quinn mentioned that entire families who run a business were exempt from its provisions. I have a number of serious technical amendments which deal with the constitutionality of the Bill because that issue was not addressed in the other House.

The Senator will have an opportunity to deal with the detail of these amendments on Committee Stage today.

The Labour group is opposed to the Order of Business because of the earlier signature motion. It is not that we would not want it signed early but it is an insult to this House that the Minister should deal with this Bill in the space of two days without the slightest opportunity being given to make an amendment. Substantial amendments were before this House yesterday and I will table substantial amendments today. I ask the Leader to give ample opportunity to this House so that it can deal with the amendments and to allow, if necessary, for the Bill to be returned to the other House. That would mean that the House and this important legislation could be treated properly.

I agree that item 14, statements on the Shannon River Council, should be taken today because the extraordinary debate that took place last night was a disgrace.

The transportation chaos on our streets is due to low pay and long hours worked by people who do a very responsible job. Let us remember that that is at the core of this dispute. I would welcome a move towards industrial relations taking place during the coming week. All avenues, such as the Labour Court and the Labour Relations Commission, should be explored. I hope this matter will be resolved as early as possible.

I refer to a report from a judge yesterday in which he justifiably deplores the fact that a young girl who was not mentally ill had to be confined in secure accommodation for mental patients due to lack of proper accommodation. I have received, as I am sure other Senators have also, a communication from a family about the impact of an investigation of allegations on them of child abuse. Obviously I will not go into the details of the case but I am sure there is another side to it. It is tragic that the steps which must be taken to keep children secure can result in them being damaged in other ways. I have enormous sympathy for the social workers and other professionals who have to deal with these cases but it stems from inadequate resources and proper facilities. Perhaps the Leader of the House can arrange a debate on the provision of child care and ask the Minister for Health and Children to be present.

Will the Leader confirm if the debate in this House on the review of the role of the Seanad under the Constitution has been concluded? The reason I ask this is the chairman of the all-party committee for the review of the Constitution is preparing a draft White Paper which includes the matter already dealt with by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe in a previous report. I am anxious that the honour and dignity of this House would be fully recognised and protected. I spoke on this matter some time ago and wondered if the debate has been concluded. I understood the chairman, Deputy Brian Lenihan, was to address the House and, if he has not already done that – I doubt if he has – I urge him to do so.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance to include the town of Dunmanway in his drive for decentralisation, for some aspect—

This is not in order on the Order of Business.

I accept that, a Chathaoirligh, but some weeks ago I raised the closure of the only factory in this town and I asked the Leader if he could obtain some information from the appropriate Minister on the difficulties facing the town.

There are other ways by which the Senator can raise this matter – either on the Adjournment or by way of a Private Members' motion – but it is not in order on the Order of Business.

I will be guided by the Cathaoirleach. I call for a debate on the issue of immigration raised by the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, and the need over the next five years for 200,000 people to enter this country to build up our workforce from either inside or outside the EU. This is worthy of debate. There was an incident where the council proposed to build a house for a needy family in my area. Despite putting this out for tender on two separate occasions, no builder was prepared to take on the work due to the lack of employees in the construction industry. The Tánaiste mentioned the construction industry as well as the lack of nurses. This is an issue worthy of debate and deserves special attention. Due to an insufficient workforce the vista facing us is appalling and we are unlikely to be able to deal with the situation over the next few years.

I support Senator Costello's remarks on the earlier signature motion. For someone who attended this House last week and rather loudly and proudly proclaimed that her middle name was intervention – we were discussing CIE at the time – the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy O'Rourke, has made a damn bad job of it. Can the Leader establish how the Minister proposes to continue to intervene and if she will do so fruitfully and successfully?

The Cathaoirleach will be aware that over the past two weeks I attempted to raise by way of the Adjournment a safety matter in respect of Iarnród Éireann.

I have to rule the Senator's matter out of order and I will not allow him to raise it on the Order of Business.

This is the only national public forum I have available to me to raise issues. In view of the antiquated and outdated legislation and regulation attaching the cord between Iarnród Éireann and the Department of Public Enterprise, will the Leader bring to the Minister's attention my concern regarding a fatal accident in Donamon, Roscommon, on Iarnród Éireann level crossings? As a public representative this is the only way I can raise the matter as it has been ruled out of order under regulation. I agree that the Cathaoirleach had no other option but it illustrates that – I think it is the 1932 legislation – is outdated and its sell by date is past. It is inappropriate that a Minister cannot address an issue of such importance and public concern under those regulations.

I second Senator Costello's amendment to the Order of Business on the earlier signature motion to the National Minimum Wage Bill. That matter and the issue of the Shannon River Council Bill are fundamental to how we do business in this House but also and more fundamentally to how the Government parties treat this House as regards legislation and how we are regarded. We attempt to fulfil our role as legislators but we are not allowed to do that. Regarding the manner in which the National Minimum Wage Bill is being treated, we have tabled technical amendments to bring to the Minister's attention fundamental errors in the legislation. When we have brought technical issues to the attention of any Minister, they have generally been accepted. However, in this case it means the Bill would have to go back to the other House. In our opinion and from the advice available to us, those fundamental errors—

These are points which can be argued on Committee Stage.

I accept that. I am trying to make the point that we are attempting to fulfil the role given to us by the people and fulfil our mandate of perusing legislation in the best possible manner. That is our role on issues of public importance.

I understood that Senator Costello would oppose the Order of Business but I did not understand him to have proposed an amendment to it.

My mistake.

Is that correct?

I share the concern of Senator Maurice Hayes about the lack of child care for problem cases. Could we have a debate on the reasons the Department has not put in place any structures to deal with such cases as the child who was repeatedly before Judge Peter Kelly's court and who is now detained in the Central Mental Hospital? She is a 17 year old disturbed girl. For five years we have been promised that something would be done to deal with such serious cases and nothing has been done. I never thought I would see the day when a child would be detained in the Central Mental Hospital. It is an extraordinary state of affairs.

I support the request by Senator Hayes for the Minister of State with responsibility for children to come to the House to debate the issue of children in need of accommodation who are before the courts.

It is important that whatever agreement is reached with workers in CIE is within the context of the new national wage agreement. Given the seriousness of the situation, perhaps the Minister would come to the House to discuss the matter so that we could express our views and offer our help in resolving this national dispute which is causing much hardship and damage to industry at present.

I also support Senator Hayes. He raised a most important issue, namely, the consistent lack of attention by the Government to something which happens on a regular basis. This teenager is not the first but is one in a continuous queue of young people who cannot avail of any services to help them. It is a shocking indictment of the system that a judge has to prod the Government to take action. We are meant to cherish our children equally. That 17 year old is still in the Central Mental Hospital. What future does she have to look forward to? I hope we will have a debate soon with the Minister for Health and Children and that he will tell us what he intends doing to address this issue once and for all.

I wish to raise a matter of some urgency related to East Timor from where the Taoiseach recently returned and where he was in touch with the President. I have the leading article from yesterday's Jakarta Post. At the time of the mayhem last year, 100,000 refugees from East Timor were evacuated into West Timor. They are still there. The Indonesian Government has given until tomorrow night for a decision to be made, otherwise it will stop feeding them. This issue is of dramatic urgency because, if it ceases feeding them tomorrow night, then there is the possibility of 100,000 deaths from starvation.

Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach to act immediately and ask the Indonesian Government to delay this action of ceasing to feed the 100,000 East Timorese refugees in West Timor? The detail is contained in the leading article in yesterday's Jakarta Post which I will give to the Leader afterwards. It is an urgent matter. The European Presidency is now in the hands of Portugal which has an interest in this. There are a number of areas in which we could do something, but this is of dramatic urgency and I am anxious that something be done about it immediately.

I support Senator Hayes and commend him on raising that issue. All Members have been circulated with information in the past 48 hours relating to a matter within the ambit of the Eastern Health Board and in which the Minister would obviously would have some competence. I support Senator Hayes and others who referred to what appears to be an outrageous development regarding a family in the Dublin area; the family cannot be identified for legal reasons. This House has a right to raise matters of this import. Obviously there are two sides to the story and I support Senator Hayes's comment and request. Will the Leader take urgent note of what has been said and communicate with the Department of Health and Children? I have already inquired through the Minister's office as to the reality of the situation. If even half of what we have read is true, it is an outrageous indictment of any State or semi-State agency in the year 2000 that it acted in this manner. I am grateful to the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to expand on this but it was mainly to support Senator Hayes and his initiative.

Will the Leader let me or the House know why there is an unprecedented delay in the publication of the local government Bill? It was promised over a year ago and has not yet been brought before us. It will be a substantial Bill as it will take into account all legislation relating to local government since the founding of the State. Aspects of it created expectations on the part of local authority members which have not been met. The sooner the Bill is before the House the better, but I would like to know why there has been an extraordinary delay in its publication. I understood it would come before this House and there is no reason for it not being before us so that we could deal with it before the Easter recess.

Mr. Ryan

I am sometimes inclined to be disorderly but I have never questioned the ruling of the Chair. However, I seek clarification on this occasion. Last week the Minister for Public Enterprise identified herself as the person who was sorting out the safety of the railways. She claimed credit for it and accepted responsibility for it. Are Ministers in this House subject to the same rules as the rest of us? If the Minister has accepted responsibility, I am at a loss to know why we cannot raise issues connected with that for which she has accepted responsibility.

I am sure, if the debate which has been sought is allowed, the Senator will have an opportunity to raise these points with the Minister.

Mr. Ryan

It also happened yesterday where a Minister successfully breached the rules of the House. Ministers should remember that they are subject to the same Standing Orders as everyone else in the House.

I join with colleagues in drawing attention to the horrific situation regarding disturbed children. There is no doubt that the problem is that the Department of Finance will not allow the Department of Health and Children to spend money in the area. The fundamental issue is that matters such as this are governed by the malevolent influence of the Department of Finance and the ideological clone who heads it politically. There are other areas of life where this issue arises.

We all know that the telecommunications network is under great strain, both mobile and land line networks. The most fundamental infrastructural development we need is in telecommunications. It is the backbone of any e-commerce development and is one way we can divert development into the rest of the country and away from this overcrowded, overbuilt city which is choked with traffic. Despite that, the Telecommunications (Infrastructure) Bill has been on the Order Paper for many months and the best the Leader can do is tell me when it is being introduced, which is a great deal of information. Why did the Government go to the trouble of placing a Bill of this importance on the Order Paper only to leave it there for eight months? I do not want to know when it will be introduced but why it has been delayed. It is the least the House can expect from the Leader.

I am glad the Taoiseach has conceded he was playing politics with the issues of immigration and refugees when he was in Australia.

I ask the Leader to convey our congratulations to the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, on his successful meeting with Commissioner Fischler on the conservation of the pelagic industry along the north European coast. He persuaded the Commissioner to look at the possibility of having observers on pelagic boats. Most of our fishing trawlers have been involved in conservation for a number of years. This move will improve the European fishing industry.

A speech on fisheries is not in order on the Order of Business.

The Senator is trawling.

I accept that. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to update us on the other matters he discussed yesterday with Commissioner Fischler.

In view of the disturbing information emanating from the Saville inquiry after only three days, I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to advise us on whether Irish observers are present at the inquiry and to update us on the position. I read in today's newspaper that a solicitor, a partner of Rosemary Nelson, has been refused protection by the RUC. The Finucane family visited the Taoiseach recently and he is in favour of a separate inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.

I support Senator Coogan's call for a debate on the local government Bill. When will the Minister for the Environment and Local Government publish the Bill? The local authority system is breaking down. Yesterday the Minister announced directives on toll roads and extra planning regulations. However, SPCs and county development strategy groups have not been put in place. The public is losing confidence in the Minister and the local government system because he has not introduced the local government Bill. Perhaps the House should have a debate on this pressing issue before the Bill is published.

I support the call for the introduction of the local government Bill at the earliest possible date. However, I do not support Senator Burke's sentiments. In the interest of reflecting the changing and more challenging role of local authority members, the Bill's introduction should not be deferred.

Senators Manning, O'Toole and Costello said they hoped a breakthrough would be achieved in the transport dispute. I hope that happens in hours rather than days. Everyone is working to ensure that workers get to and from their work. I congratulate taxi people who are working night and day to ensure that people get to work from 6 a.m. They may be getting a financial reward for it but their commitment is beyond the call of duty.

Senator Manning proposed an amendment to the Order of Business which Senator O'Toole seconded. The Irish Times did not give a balanced report on the events here last week. The Minister came to the House yesterday evening and said that Waterways Ireland is a statutory body which became operative on 2 December 1999 and takes over responsibility for the navigation of the River Shannon on Saturday, 1 April 2000.

On a point of order, the Leader is abusing the House by using it to debate a subject on which we asked for a debate. We would be happy for the Leader to make that statement during the debate if he agrees to amend the Order of Business. He is abusing his position by having a debate on a subject which is not on the Order of Business. His attack on The Irish Times and on Jimmy Walsh is unfair. He is one of the most reliable, competent and honest reporters.

It is not in order to intervene a second time on the Order of Business. I ask the Leader to continue his reply.

This is a particularly significant development in the context of improved cross-Border relations. It seems to be particularly inopportune to propose the establishment of another statutory body at this time.

I object to what is happening. The Leader is abusing his position by reading part of a statement made in a debate last night. He should either agree to a debate or there will be no debate. He cannot have an unlevel playing field. This is a matter of fairness.

Perhaps the Leader could address the other matters raised on the Order of Business.

He should order the debate.

It is the Government's duty to govern. Allegations were made here, so I must put the record straight.

What allegations were made? There were no allegations. The matter was dealt with in a good humoured way. We asked a fair question.

The position was called a disgrace.

It is a disgrace. Last night the Leader brought this House into disrepute.

I did not.

He did. We went through the charade of agreeing with everything in the Bill and then the Government parties voted against it.

We must have order.

The Leader has abused his position by reading into the record part of a statement made last night. He should either have a debate or not have a debate.

The Senator has already spoken on the Order of Business.

This is an abuse.

I ask the Senator to withdraw that remark.

What remark?

The remark that I brought this House into disrepute last night.

I will not withdraw that remark. I did not intend saying it but what happened last night was a disgrace.

Senators must address the Chair.

It was a charade that flew in the face of any type of honourable behaviour. The Government parties voted through every Stage of the Bill and then voted against it on Fifth Stage. It was a cynical move.

I ask Senator Manning to resume his seat.

I will resume my seat if the Leader allows a debate or desists from abusing his position.

At the conclusion of the Leader's reply the House will decide whether there will be a debate because I will put the Senator's amendment to the House.

Out of deference to you, a Chathaoirligh, I will resume my seat.

I thank the Senator.

I did not bring the House into disrepute last night. Senator Manning's remark was unfair. I have endeavoured since I became Leader of the House to meet every request. The Opposition must agree that I have been as fair as I possibly can.

I will not withdraw the remark. The Leader is responsible for how the Government behaves in this House. What happened last night was an unprecedented disgrace and the Leader must take responsibility for it. He, not me, put that on the line.

I ask the Leader to move on.

I always co-operated with Leaders of the House when I was in Senator Manning's position.

If I was in Senator Cassidy's position, I would not have allowed last night to happen.

It must be a dreadful time to be in Opposition. We cannot have two statutory bodies, one of which becomes operational next Saturday.

On a point of order, we have called for a debate on this issue. If the Leader wishes to deal with that point, he should accept the amendment. This is outrageous and unacceptable.

I draw the Leader's attention to the fact that these points can be made during the debate if it takes place. I ask the Leader to continue with his reply.

Senators O'Donovan and Manning called for a debate on the workings of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution and the forthcoming White Paper. I will allow time for such a debate.

Senators Costello and O'Meara wanted to know how much time will be allowed for the Committee and Remaining Stages of the National Minimum Wage Bill. We can discuss it for as long as we like today. Senators Maurice Hayes, Henry, Chambers, Mooney and Ryan—

On a point of order, the Leader did not address the point I made. There is time to debate the issue in this House but there is not enough time to go back to the Dáil.

The House will decide on that matter.

The Leader has not addressed the points made.

We want the legislation in place by 1 April. Senators Maurice Hayes, Henry, Chambers, Mooney and Ryan expressed serious concerns about the 17 year old placed in a mental institution. I will pass on the views expressed and will arrange for a debate if Senators wish.

I will pass on the views expressed by Senator O'Donovan regarding decentralisation to Dunmanway. The Senator also called for a debate on labour shortages and I will arrange such a debate. I will discuss the matter raised by Senator Finneran with him and I agree with his sentiments. I would be pleased to receive whatever documentation Senator Quinn has regarding the 100,000 people who are in a dreadful dilemma in East Timor. I would also be happy to urgently forward the information to the Taoiseach's office for his attention.

Senators Coogan, Burke and Liam Fitzgerald asked for the publication of the local government Bill as a matter of urgency. The Bill will be published in a number of weeks. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, can be trusted to look after local government. He understands the issues involved and was a member of a local authority and secretary of LAMA. There has never been a better time to serve on a local authority because an enormous amount of funds are available to councils.

There is no change.

No money was available between 1995 and 1997 and we know who was responsible for that.

On a point of order, would the Leader define the term "a number of weeks"?

I am not allowing any more interruptions and ask the Leader to continue his reply.

In an effort to be helpful as usual, I would say within four weeks. I will find the information requested by Senator Ryan and come back to the House next Tuesday. I hope the Senator will be present to hear my reply.

Or tomorrow.

Mr. Ryan

It is not in order for a Senator to refer to the absence of Members.

Senators should not refer to the absence of any Member.

I join Senator Bonner in congratulating the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, for the successful outcome to his negotiations with Commissioner Fischler.

Senator Manning moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That item 14 be taken for one hour before item 1." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.

Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Cregan, Denis (Dino).

Doyle, Joe.Henry, Mary.Jackman, Mary.McDonagh, Jarlath.Manning, Maurice.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Meara, Kathleen.

O'Toole, Joe.Quinn, Feargal.Ridge, Thérèse.

Ross, Shane.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.


Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cox, Margaret.Dardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Gibbons, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Haughey, Edward.

Keogh, Helen.Kett, Tony.Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Donovan, Denis.Ormonde, Ann.Walsh, Jim.

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

Amendment declared lost.

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

Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cox, Margaret.Dardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Gibbons, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.

Haughey, Edward.Keogh, Helen.Kett, Tony.Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Moylan, Pat.O'Donovan, Denis.Ormonde, Ann.Walsh, Jim.


Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Cregan, Denis (Dino).Doyle, Joe.Henry, Mary.Jackman, Mary.

McDonagh, Jarlath.Manning, Maurice.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Meara, Kathleen.O'Toole, Joe.Quinn, Feargal.Ridge, Thérèse.Ross, Shane.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Farrell and Keogh; Níl, Senators Costello and O'Meara.
Question declared carried.