Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Oct 2000

Vol. 164 No. 3

Order of Business.

The proposed Order of Business is No. 1, Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill, 2000 – Second Stage (resumed), and No. 2, statements on sports policy, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and of all other Senators not to exceed 15 minutes. No. 2 is to commence no earlier than 4 p.m. and conclude no later than 8 p.m.

The Order of Business is acceptable to me. Last week on the Order of Business I asked the Leader if it would be possible to revert to the practice of earlier times by giving the Opposition and colleagues on this side of the House advance notice of impending legislation over the following two to three weeks so that Members could order their business in a reasonable way. I received an answer from the Leader, which having read it twice in the transcripts I still do not understand, roughly to the effect that he was leading a minority Government and that this side of the House has the benefit of a majority. It made no sense to me nor to anybody else on either side of the House.

Could I again ask the Deputy Leader if it is possible to revert to the practice whereby the Opposition parties are told in advance, and given as much notice as possible, about impending legislation so that we can organise our business? The simple request was made to revert to a practice that was well established during my time and that of Senator Wright, now a Member of the other House.

It strikes me, however, that the Leader may not be totally at fault because it is clear there is no legislation from the Government. We had a barren agenda last week and again this week. Will the Leader give us an indication if there will be legislation this session? It will probably be the same story again, namely, that in the final two or three weeks of the session Departments will put pressure on the Whip and the Leader to push through all Stages of the most important legislation ever in two and a half hours. The Whip and the Leader will be under pressure and the House will be forced to take legislation at a speed which is not necessary. Will the Government try to get a grip on its business and order it in a way which is fair to all sides of the House?

Has there been any progress on our request last week for a debate on Northern Ireland? All sides of the House would welcome such a debate.

I ask the Deputy Leader for a debate on the ongoing work of the European Council of Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was whisked off to Europe in the Government jet for two days to sign a form to protect the security of tenure of teachers throughout Europe. However, the Minister decided to use the Irish veto. He came to a conclusion which worsened the security of tenure of 50,000 Irish teachers.

I recognise the Government can make policy but many of us are in an era of partnership. The trade union movement, the social partners and the different community groups work on the basis of partnership. It is absolutely appalling and cowardly for a Minister to go to Europe and to sign away protections for teachers without the courtesy of discussing it with the representatives of those people beforehand. He spoke to the four main Churches, whoever they might be, but he did not speak to the people who will be affected.

The Senator is pre-empting the debate he is seeking.

I will just deal with the issue of partnership. There are difficulties in national industrial relations at present. Those difficulties arise when officials of trade unions have to explain to their members why Ministers sign away their rights without discussing it with anyone. That is anti-partnership and against everything we are supposed to be trying to achieve in working together.

The Government is entitled to have different viewpoints and to do things we do not like. However, it has a moral duty to talk with us before it does something like that. It is appalling. I ask that the Minister come to the House to explain to us not what is in the directive but why he did not talk to us before going to Europe.

I am happy with the Order of Business. It is welcome that the Government is granting us four hours to discuss the important matter of sports policy. Is it a precedent by the Government to extend Private Members' time to discuss matters of considerable importance? Perhaps the same generosity could be shown to the Opposition parties when a motion is taken in Private Members' time.

As regards legislation which Senator Manning mentioned, what has happened to all the legislation which was passed in the House? There are approximately ten Bills on the Order Paper in the other House. We are passing legislation expeditiously but it does not seem to go through the other House. Perhaps the Deputy Leader could indicate what legislation has been passed and the legislation proposed to be taken tomorrow or at the next opportunity.

I echo the request by Senator Manning for a debate on Northern Ireland. I requested such a debate last week. I congratulate the Minister for Finance and Personnel, Mark Durkan, on presenting the first budget in 30 years in the new Northern Ireland Assembly, a budget which got all-party support. I am sure our Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, would be happy to get a response like that in five or six weeks' time when he presents the budget. I also welcome the fact that the police Bill will go through Parliament in London early next month. David Trimble, the First Minister, will have to face another Ulster Unionist Council vote in ten days' time, so it is an important and appropriate time for us to have a debate.

I am reluctant to ask for a debate on education. It is a wide area with many aspects that need to be addressed but the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform – the same Minister Senator O'Toole castigated and I agree with him in relation to what has happened in Europe – today launched a £40 million package of grant aid for crèches in the private sector. A total of £290 million is going into this sector and I am concerned that this money is being used in an ad hoc fashion and that its focus is very much business rather than education led. I would prefer to have a debate on pre-school education in the context of child care because pre-school education seems to have been neglected entirely, yet a huge amount of money is currently being spent in an ad hoc fashion. Perhaps we could have an early debate on that area.

Will the Deputy Leader arrange a debate on Third World aid? Irish people have always shown great concern for communities in the underdeveloped countries. Each time a new tragedy is shown on our television screens the Irish people react very generously. The State has also made a contribution and that contribution is likely to increase fourfold on the existing figure. We need to know if that money is being spent in the most effective manner.

We should play a proactive role in this regard because each time a new conflict occurs in the world, the civilian population suffers. We must look at this issue not just on a case by case basis but on a long-term basis. It behoves us as legislators, and particularly this House, to play that part and perhaps the appropriate Minister or Ministers could come here to discuss this issue. I am not talking about making statements but a lengthy debate in which we would have an opportunity to have an input into the decision making process so that we get the most effective use of this money in the future.

Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come to the House to debate this year's Environmental Protection Agency report, particularly with reference to the pollution of drinking water by e.coli, in other words, by human sewage or animal faeces? We know that 50% of private schemes are polluted and there is a report in one of today's newspapers that the water in a psychiatric hospital in County Cork is polluted. What efforts are being made to stop this ongoing scandal, which is a serious health issue?

I note the statements on sports policy on the Order Paper. It is wrong because in the last session we were promised a serious debate on homelessness. Some of us only came back last week, albeit that was not our fault, and I would like to remind the House that from April to the present time, 25 men had to live on the streets because their hostel closes for the summer. Where are we going in this House? We are discussing sports policy as against the problem of people lying on the streets. It is time this Government woke up and got real. I am sick of waffle. I ask the Deputy Leader if we can make a real contribution to society by having a debate on the problem of homelessness, which is escalating on a daily basis.

I support Senator O'Toole in his call for a debate but I do so from the opposite point of view. I commend the Minister for having the courage to represent the four main Churches yesterday. He did so tenaciously.

He is not supposed to represent the four main Churches; he is supposed to represent the people of Ireland.

An Cathaoirleach: Order, please. I call Senator Keogh to speak without interruption.

You have been very silent since the Berlin Wall came down—

Senator Farrell, please desist.

I ask the Deputy Leader to bring to the attention of the Minister for Health and Children the urgent need to have a national campaign to eradicate cervical cancer. We have just had news of a pilot programme in the North Western Health Board area. A total of 80 women die each year as a result of that cancer, yet it is one of those cancers that responds very well to treatment. Early detection is essential. I ask that the Minister for Health and Children implement such programmes. It would be relatively inexpensive and would be much better than burying 80 women.

I join Senator Costello in congratulating Mark Durkan on presenting his first budget to the Assembly. Having read the Belfast Telegraph last night and having got details of the budget in the North, I am disappointed at the level of funding for road works provided by the Government.

The Northern Ireland budget has very little to do with the Order of Business.

It may have, but I come from a corner of Ireland that is cut off from the rest of the country by Northern Ireland.

I would like the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come into this House and tell us what was discussed and what has happened in the Joint Ministerial Council, especially regarding access to the north west. I left home this morning at 6 a.m. in an effort to beat the traffic and get here on time. I counted 40 lorries between the point at which I crossed the Border at Strabane until I got to Aughnacloy. That roadway is not sufficient to carry such a volume of heavy vehicles. That is why I raised this important issue. The sum of £100 million has been provided for that type of work in Northern Ireland. That contrasts sharply with the £25 million allocated by the Department of the Environment and Local Government for road works in Donegal last year. It is not half enough. Access from Donegal to the rest of the country has been virtually cut off.

I ask the Leader to ask the Minister when we will sign the convention on torture. I ask this in the context of the fact that today Amnesty International launched a campaign on the subject of torture and indicated the fairly horrifying fact that in the last year three quarters of world Governments practised some form of torture. When the Leader returns with this information we might be in a position to have a debate on it.

I strongly support my colleague, Senator O'Toole, in seeking a debate on the way in which the European directive was treated by the Government. I say that because we went through a series of Bills on equality with very considerable attention to detail. There were major battles here in which Senator O'Toole and I really engaged on precisely this subject, so it is outrageous for the Minister to say that he had the support of the Oireachtas and that he consulted the teachers. He did not. He spoke about requiring teachers to uphold the ethos of a school. That is a classic violation of conscience.

We cannot have a debate on the matter now. I take it that the Senator supports Senator O'Toole's request—

I strongly support it.

—for a debate at some future date.

As soon as possible, especially as it has been made more urgent by the suggestion from the other side of the House that the Minister in Europe was representing the four main Churches. I find that an astonishing statement. The Minister represents the Government and the people of Ireland but no sectarian interest.

I seek the updated report on the Fastnet Rock accident over 30 years ago. The allegations made in that report are quite serious and I do not understand why the relevant Minister has not reported to the Oireachtas on it. The Minister should come to the Seanad and give us that information so that we can get the Government's views. The repercussions of those allegations are serious.

I support Senator Henry's call for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come to the Seanad to deal with a problem we have raised time and again – the substandard quality of drinking water and the danger to people this poses. We should issue a Government health warning for some schemes and tell people to boil their water before drinking it. Time and again I have cited on the record parts of a report by Friends of the Earth on this matter. That organisation took the Government to court on water quality and won its case in Europe.

A different issue which is important to those of us in local government concerns the amount of digging and road repairs being carried out by a variety of companies involved in utilities such as telecommunications and gas, for example. It has been brought to my attention that the quality of the relaid road surface is substandard and these people are getting away with murder. The Minister should use his imagination and perhaps ask the local authorities to develop schemes whereby instead of different companies opening a road every three days, the authorities might open the roads and repair them to the necessary standard.

I also raise the issue of the third Bacon report. It has long been recognised that the west and Border regions have substandard infrastructure and have been left behind in many ways in industrial and transport development. Once again it has been recognised that the attraction of industry to those areas is often based on the quality and price of housing. The Government has decided that Dublin, as the capital, will be the focus of attention.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I am not one to misuse the time of the House and I ask the Chair to bear with me. The present Bacon report has increased the tax on houses. Six months ago there was a duty of £3,000 on a house in the west costing £100,000. Now it is £15,000. That is not the way to attract people to the west.

Hear, hear.

They are attracted to Spain.

That is for a second home.

For a second, third or fourth house.

Senator Coogan should find a different way to raise this matter.

Newspaper advertisements show that houses in Spain cost proportionately less than houses in the west of Ireland.

I ask for a debate on school bullying. Regrettably, I have personal experience of this. A recent newspaper account of bullying made sad reading, particularly for the victim. This debate should be arranged as soon as possible and I will have more to say at that time.

Will the Leader convey to the Minister for Health and Children the urgent need to improve the lot of nurses? There is a shortage of nurses and beds are being closed and operations cancelled as a result. The situation is becoming critical. The Minister should shorten nurses' hours of work and improve their pay. He should also seek alternative routes for people to become nurses. Nursing aides could take a course after working for two or three years to qualify as nurses. It is unacceptable that we have to go to the Philippines, Australia and God knows where for nurses. We could do that much more easily if we paid them to do the job.

In view of the recent announcement by the Taoiseach on the twentieth anniversary of Bord Gais and the investment of £100 million in the laying of a pipeline from Pullathomas in north Mayo to Craughwell in Galway, it would be a suitable time to invite the Minister for Public Enterprise to the Seanad to outline the up-to-date position, the development of the line, whether it is a commercial field, where the inter connections will be and the proposed plan for the expenditure of the investment.

I would like the Minister for Public Enterprise to come before the House to explain her proposed privatisation programme, which is an utter shambles. It is incomprehensible that she proposed the privatisation of Aer Lingus, given the extent of the problems which exist. Surely she was not unaware of the problems, and if she was there are other questions which must be asked. I was shocked to learn yesterday that some cabin crew staff, who work such unsociable hours, earn as little as £5,500 per annum. Apprentices to the—

We cannot have a debate on these matters on the Order of Business. The Senator is perfectly in order to request that the Minister be invited to the House for a debate.

I appreciate that – I might not be able to plead to the Leader as well as my learned friend, Senator Coogan. The initial salary of apprentices is much more than that.

I support Senators Keogh and O'Dowd in what they said and ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House as a matter of urgency to explain why he intends to close several breast cancer screening units throughout the country. It is disgraceful.

I request the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Defence or the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources – I am not sure which is the more appropriate – to come to the House. In recent weeks there have been some serious disasters at sea, two in Greece and off the west of Ireland. In the US there is one controlling unit for the coasts, which are under one agency. In Ireland we seem to have inherited the British system and have a number of different agencies. I would like the Minister for Defence or the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to say if they are satisfied that there is no need for any structure other than that we inherited from the British some 80 years ago, and to which we have added, to ensure we are prepared for any eventuality, such as the dangers and disasters which have occurred in the past couple of weeks.

I support Senator Chambers's call for a debate on Bord Gais and the huge gas find off the Mayo coast. Last week I called for a debate as a matter of urgency. Those drawing up the plans would want to revisit them and have a look at the map of Ireland to find out where County Kerry is. There are people in County Kerry and we would like to see gas being brought to that part of the country.

On the last point, I was not aware that Kerry had moved position since yesterday.

It nearly did last year.

Apparently it has moved.

I assume Senator Manning was talking about earlier sitting times.

No, I am talking about advance notice of legislation.

The Senator mentioned earlier times, which would be a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. On legislation, I agree there should be notice. We hope to take two Bills next week, Second Stage of the Irish Film Board Bill and all Stages of the Insurance Bill, 2000. The Government has brought forward a record amount of legislation during its term of office.

That was not the question.

It was implied that there was no legislation, an implication which is wrong. At the end of its term the Government's record will stand up to scrutiny in relation to the amount of legislation which has been brought before the House.

It is about the manner in which it comes before the House.

I was talking about upcoming legislation. The Leader is rubbing off on Senator Dardis.

Order, please.

It is about doing business in an efficient way. The Leader has become very defensive.

Please allow the Deputy Leader to reply without interruption.

I do not see why the Deputy Leader must make a pro-Government speech before he can answer a question.

Given that I represent one of the two parties in government, it is not very surprising that I should defend the Government's record.

Regarding Northern Ireland, I agree with Senators Manning, Costello and Bonner that it would be appropriate for the House to discuss events there. Obviously, what happens in the budget in Northern Ireland is a matter for the Administration there, not for this House. The wider issues in regard to Northern Ireland are worthy of debate and I will endeavour to arrange that at an early date, if possible prior to the Ulster Unionist Council meeting.

Senator O'Toole stated that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would sign away people's rights. I cannot imagine that a Minister in any Administration would do that but I agree that the matter could be debated in the House, either under the aegis of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform or the Department of Education and Science as there have been several calls for a debate on education. I presume Senator O'Toole would be agreeable to the matter being discussed in that context.

Picking up on the point made by Senator Norris, I am aware that in the past we have discussed some of these issues during debates on legislation. It is quite acceptable for religious orders to defend their ethos—

That is not the point; I was referring to the lack of consultation with people who represent sectional interests.

I am replying to a point made by Senator Norris, not Senator O'Toole.

The point I made was that the Minister should not be representing the Churches.

The Deputy Leader must be allowed to reply to the Order of Business without interruption.

The Deputy Leader is being provocative.

Senator O'Toole would not know anything about that.

I accept that.

The Senator is quite capable of identifying that trait in other people.

Senator Costello raised the issue of four hours being provided to debate sports policy. Obviously, some of this will be Government time. Requests came from both sides of the House last week for a debate on this matter and we are, in fact, providing more time than would normally be accorded for Private Members' time.

I welcome the move and hope it will be extended to the Opposition.

I am sure these matters will be dealt with on a case by case basis and that, if a subject is important enough, sufficient time will be accorded to ensure it is debated. There is a great deal of precedent for extending debates during Private Members' time by up to half an hour or more when speakers are still offering.

Legislation in the Lower House is a matter for that House and we do not have any control over that. The Senator should raise the matter with his party representatives in the Dáil. Senator Costello was also one of the Members who called for a debate on education and we will try to facilitate that.

Senator Ó Murchú raised the issue of Third World aid and I agree that we should debate the matter. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, would be quite anxious to hear Members' views on how this money might be best spent, in view of the fact that there will be a large increase in funding which we welcome. I am aware that one particular Member of the Dáil is very anxious that funding should be provided for North Vietnam. Obviously, these matters could be discussed during a debate on Third World aid.

Senators Henry and Coogan raised the issue of drinking water and e.coli contamination. We have discussed this matter in the recent past but I do not see any reason why we should not debate it again as it is an important issue.

Senator Ridge is correct in saying that homelessness is a hugely important issue. However, we respond to the requests which we receive. Last week a debate on sport was requested and that has been granted.

I was promised a debate on homelessness in the last session but I am still waiting.

The Senator is well aware that one must be persistent in these matters.

I would get a medal for persistence.

I am not saying for one moment that homelessness is not an important issue or that it should not be debated in the House. We will ensure that time is made available in the near future to do that, if it can be done.

Senator Keogh referred to health and the national campaign for cervical cancer. I am aware that early intervention makes the cure rate very much greater. I will draw the attention of the Minister for Health and Children to this issue. Senator Burke made a related point with regard to breast cancer. All these points can be made in the context of a debate on health.

Senator Bonner raised the issue of Northern Ireland. He also mentioned the Joint Ministerial Council in the context of access to Donegal and asked that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government come to the House. He made the point that there was £100 million for Northern Ireland and £25 million for Donegal. It strikes me that £100 million divided by six amounts to considerably less than £25 million, but that may be a bit pedantic. The point he makes about access to Donegal is a reasonable one.

Senator Norris raised the matter of the convention on torture. I am aware of the campaign being conducted by Amnesty International for which it is to be applauded. We will see what can be done to address that issue. I have also dealt with the matter of education.

Senator Cregan raised the question of the Fastnet Rock accident. The Minister would be quite capable of dealing with this, and we will see what can be done about that.

The second issue raised by Senator Coogan was road repairs and the price of infrastructural improvements in the context of the utilities digging up the roads. In my experience, Bord Gáis is an example to the others in respect of how it has restored the roads. It is our experience in Kildare that it has done a very much better job than some of the other utilities. It is unquestionably wrong that, as has happened in some areas, a road that has been improved is dug up immediately afterwards by the utilities. There should be some co-ordination—

That is the point.

—between the utilities to ensure that does not happen. He also mentioned the third Bacon report. It is Government policy in relation to regional development to channel industrial investment into areas outside Dublin. It would be wrong to suggest that the entire focus of the Government is on Dublin. It is the capital city and contains a large proportion of our population.

It is having an adverse effect.

The Senator is aware that it is now IDA policy to channel investment to areas outside of Dublin.

It has a contrary effect.

The issue of school bullying was raised by Senator Glynn. That can be dealt with in the context of a debate on education. The same applies to Senator O'Dowd's point on nursing.

Senator Chambers also raised the issue of Bord Gáis and Senator Kiely raised the matter of public enterprise and asked that the Minister come before us on that issue. I hope that can be arranged.

Senator Quinn raised the question of accidents at sea. The Minister will be here this afternoon to deal with the Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill. I realise that it is not precisely the same topic. Nevertheless, the Minister will be here, and the Cathaoirleach is always flexible on Second Stage with regard to matters that can be raised by Senators. Perhaps that Bill will afford the Senator an opportunity to make his point.

Senator Coghlan raised the matter of privatisation and so on. I will note what he had to say about that.

Order of Business agreed to.