Order of Business.

The proposed Order of Business is Nos. 2, 3, 1 and 22, motion 23: No. 2, Town Renewal Bill, 2000 – Committee and Remaining Stages, and No. 3, Firearms (Firearm Certificates for Non-Residents) Bill, 2000 – All Stages. Notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders relative to private business, No. 1, The Trinity College, Dublin and the University of Dublin (Charters and Letters Patent Amendment) Bill, 1997 – Report Stage (Resumed), will be taken no earlier than 4 p.m. No. 22, motion 23, will be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and business will be interrupted from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

The proposed Order of Business is agreed. The issue of national primary and secondary routes was raised some time ago and there was a request that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government or a representative of the National Roads Authority should be invited to the House to discuss it. Will the Deputy Leader arrange a debate so the position in relation to national and secondary routes can be discussed? Something must be done urgently about the congestion on our roads which has developed over recent years. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange such a debate at the earliest opportunity.

We are happy with the Order of Business. I wish to draw the Deputy Leader's attention to the development yesterday in Europe where President Chirac of France appeared to agree with Mr. Fischer in Germany on what he called an inner core or pioneer group which could move faster in Europe. The House will not meet for a number of months, but there may be developments in that regard because France takes over the EU Presidency later this week. If specific attention is not paid to this matter during the next few months, we could be left behind in an area where Ireland has not taken steps. I ask the Deputy Leader to draw the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the urgency of this matter.

An advertisement appeared yesterday on behalf of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, seeking tenders for electronic voting systems in future elections. It is interesting that this advertisement was placed at this time, given that there may be an urgency in this area.

There is plenty of time.

Order, please. Senator Quinn without interruption.

The cathaoirleach of South Dublin County Council said this morning at the hand over of a public private enterprise library in Lucan that the right way to avoid apathy and low turn out in elections is to ensure that polling takes place in supermarkets. I put my heart and soul behind that suggestion.

The Senator has an interest in that.

If that was tied up with the Department of the Environment and Local Government's wish for electronic voting, deals could be done with supermarket companies for correct voting procedures at checkouts.

That matter would be worthy of a much lengthier debate than is possible on the Order of Business.

On a previous occasion I asked the Leader for a detailed debate on the responsibilities of the media, particularly with a view to the establishment of a regulatory body such as a press council. Members may have read reports in the newspaper today regarding the death of Anthony Cawley in prison. He was a sad and deprived young man who was serving a long term of imprisonment for crimes against society. Reports today suggest that there may have been a media connection with his death in terms of advertising relating to his case with a view to selling extra newspapers.

There are many cases of insensitivity, recklessness and ruthlessness in the media regarding individuals, many of whom have not committed any crimes, but who have no recourse to fair play subsequently. It is time, in the interest of the media which we all respect, to analyse such cases. If a public representative was connected with this case, there would be an in-depth analysis day in, day out. We must have fair play across the board.

I am disappointed the Mental Health Bill has not come before the House, despite having asked the Leader about it for three years. It is at Second Stage in the other House but it will not come before this House before the recess. When can we expect to debate it in the next session? It is extremely important legislation for which many people are waiting. I have received representations from people who find it extraordinary that we have been shouting about it for the past three years but still have not debated it.

I draw the attention of the House to the continuing closure of fundamental services in rural areas and the reluctance of Departments to take responsibility for it. A large number of banks and other financial services are closing because of retrenchment and changes in the information technology sector. It is time the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development was asked to come into the House to outline the steps the Government may take to provide basic fundamental services throughout the country, particularly in rural areas. It is important for the Government to deal with this issue.

I support Senator Burke's call for a debate on our national primary and secondary roads. I am talking about the main road from the west to Dublin through Tarmonbarry. There was a serious accident involving a bus at Frenchpark in the past fortnight which highlights the type of bad roads in that area and in Swinford and Ballina. Some of us will not see a good road in that area if we adhere to the timeframe set out in the national development plan. There is an urgent need for a debate on this issue.

I call for a debate on safety at sea. There were successful campaigns recently about safety on construction sites and in farmyards. However, each year during the fine weather young people are drowned as a result of boating and other accidents at sea and on lakes and rivers. If we cannot have a debate before the end of the session, I ask the Deputy Leader to request the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to undertake an advertising campaign to highlight the dangers of accidents at sea, particularly at this time of the year. Unfortunately, someone will lose a loved one during the summer. I ask the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to take this issue on board.

Yesterday was a turbulent day and we may have inadvertently missed decisions taken at the Cabinet meeting yesterday. Will the Deputy Leader tell us what measures, if any, were announced or decided in relation to price controls? I am glad the Government decided not to tinker with the groceries order. It has provided stability and a fair trading environment since it was introduced in 1987 or 1988.

I am concerned at the news that Dublin is the fifth most expensive city in Europe. This is important from the point of view of our tourism trade. Was the rise in inflation and the damage it may cause to our tourism trade addressed at the Cabinet meeting yesterday?

I support Senator Chambers on the question of the maintenance of services throughout rural Ireland. If we were serious about that issue rather than simply paying lip service to combating exclusion and marginalisation, the Government has to do everything in its power to ensure that banks, post offices and all the necessary services are maintained. In addition, the Government, through the Department of Health and Children, must examine its policy in regard to some of the moves to centralise hospital services—

That matter can be taken up tonight in Private Members' business. I have given the Senator a good deal of latitude.

I appreciate that.

I have an interest to declare as a member of the board of Independent News & Media but, personally speaking, I support Senator Ó Murchú's plea for a serious and sensible debate on the role of the media in society and in developing some sensible means by which people who are aggrieved by their treatment in the media can seek redress. We should try to extend the debate to include some sort of consideration of the advisability of changing our libel laws.

I join in the call for a debate on the media. Some years ago I tabled a motion, which was discussed, but there were only three speakers – the then leader of the Opposition, Senator Manning, Senator Cassidy and myself. It got a very bad reception in the Seanad. I get tired listening to wall to wall coverage in the media, particularly on radio, to the effect that politicians are all the same. I have been 37 years in politics and I can look them all straight in the eye. I have nothing hidden in my cupboard and I would not be 37 years in politics if that were the case. I speak for 97% if not 98% of elected representative in this country. Because 1% or 2% have in some way violated the rules, should we all be tarred with the same brush? Many solicitors and accountants have been struck off but those professions were not tarred with the one brush. Why are politicians being treated differently? It is because those in the media are getting away with it, but we should all defend ourselves. I know I speak for 97% or 98% of the men and women who are elected to public life at local and national levels.

Senator Farrell has made his point.

I also ask that the debate be widened to include the privacy law. I have said before that if some politician gets into trouble, that is fair enough, but why should pictures of their wives and families who are innocent people, and their homes, be spread across the newspapers? That is done for one reason only – to sell the product that makes the big media combines more and more profitable.

We must not pre-empt the debate which has been sought. Senator Farrell, these are points which can be made in the debate.

They are doing it to make money for their big combines and now they are taking over every provincial paper in Ireland to try to clean up on this issue. It is time we realised that they are selling this product not for higher motives but to see how much money they can make out of it.

I also support Senator Chambers's call for a debate on services, particularly in rural areas, and we should include in that the up to date position on the EU directive on social welfare services and the effects it will have on rural post offices. I also support the call for a debate on national primary and secondary roads. I read the NRA report in the paper yesterday on the tolls that will be placed on many of the new motorways which described the N3 as the Dublin to Monaghan road, and the motorway from Clonee to Kells. In fact, the Dublin to Monaghan road is the N2 and as far as I understand, there are no plans to upgrade that road to a motorway. It is the main artery to the north-west. I would like that issue to be included in the debate and perhaps the Minister would give us an update on the position and whether we will have a motorway on the N2.

A welcome announcement was made yesterday by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to the effect that new houses built after January 2001 must be wheelchair friendly. That is wonderful news. Hav ing regarding the announcement of the building of additional houses, I urge the Minister to request engineering personnel in local authorities to ensure that houses currently being planned for this year and next year will be wheelchair friendly.

Senators Burke, Caffrey and Bonner raised the issue of national primary and secondary roads and the need to have a debate on road structures and the role of the National Roads Authority, which is an important issue. As we are nearing the end of this session, the amount of time available for such a debate is limited. I suspect we could have that debate in the next session. I recall the Leader of the House giving a commitment to have such a debate when the matter by raised by Senator Finneran recently.

With regard to Senator Quinn's comments on what President Chirac said about an inner core of EU States, I noted what was said and I – and I am sure the Government – would be concerned about the possiblity that there could be a two-speed European Union. I understand President Chirac said that in the context of enlargement. I am sure the Government will take Senator Quinn's views into account and I will bring them to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. As the Deputy said, the French Presidency has just begun and it is flagging part of its intention for its Presidency.

I have seen a demonstration of the electronic voting system and I would welcome its introduction. It would enable people to vote in their nearest polling station for any constituency in the country. That is technically possible and such a facility would benefit students and others who find it difficult to travel home to vote, although there are security aspects to that. I am not sure supermarkets are the most appropriate places to install such a system; I would welcome its introduction in my nearest licensed premises, although I would not like to encourage young people to frequent them.

With regard to the matters of the media, the press council and defamation raised by Senators Ó Murchú, Maurice Hayes and Farrell, Senator Ó Murchú talked about media responsibility, but perhaps it is a contradiction in terms as to whether the media are responsible. It is important in our democracy that we have free speech and fair comment. I do not think anyone is suggesting that they should be restricted, but this is an important issue to which we should allow time for a debate. When it was discussed in the past not many Members contributed, but in an earlier debate on the Law Reform Commission's proposals on defamation quite a number of Members contributed. I will check about allowing time to debate that matter.

Senator Jackman raised the issue of the Mental Health Bill. While we do not have any control over what the Dáil does, I will raise that matter with the Chief Whip of the Dáil to ascertain what progress can be made. I am as anxious as the Senator to ensure that Bill should come to this House as quickly as possible.

I agree with what Senators Chambers, Coghlan and Bonner said about the closure of services in rural areas. A certain base of social infrastructure is required in rural areas with regard to banks, post offices, Garda presence and so on. The Senators' specific request was that the Minister of State with responsibility for rural development in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development should address this House to ascertain what can be done about that, although I suspect it will be the next session before we can arrange such a debate.

Senator O'Donovan raised the issue of safety at sea. As we enter the holiday period, it is important to stress the need for safety and to advocate caution with regard to activities on beaches and our inland waterways. Many such activities are covered in the recent marine casualties Bill, although I realise the Senator called for a broader measure to deal with accidents at sea.

I wish to inform Senator Coghlan that the Government is introducing a package of measures, which have been widely called for, to control inflation. Since I was not at the Cabinet meeting at which this matter was discussed, I am not in a position to say what happened and even if I had been at it I would not be in a position to indicate what was said.

Given that the Deputy Leader is the conduit between the Government and this House I thought he might have been in a position to say what happened and I wanted to afford him the opportunity—

The Deputy Leader without interruption, please.

One of the things which the Government is attempting to do, and which I applaud, is to stop profiteering. It is obvious that one of the elements in inflation is profiteering by traders of various sorts. The Director of Consumer Affairs was right to advocate that people be vigilant in terms of shopping around in supermarkets or whatever.

Senator Moylan referred to the regulation that new houses must be wheelchair friendly from January 2001. I welcome this move. In Kildare County Council I have been seeking for some time that the various building regulations be put in place to ensure that houses are wheelchair friendly and that people with disability can move freely. For example, handles on doors should be of the lever type rather than the knob type. Unless one is disabled one would not have thought about this but the Senator is correct and I shall certainly bring his views to the attention of the Minister.

Order of Business agreed to.

I propose that the sitting be suspended for ten minutes because of a vote in the other House.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 10.57 a.m. and resumed at 11.10 a.m.