The Order of Business today is No. 1, National Pensions Reserve Fund Bill, 2000 – Committee and Remaining Stages; No. 2, Protection of Children (Hague Convention) Bill, 1998 – Second Stage, which is not to be taken before 3 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and of all other Senators not to exceed 15 minutes and on which Senators may share time. Item No. 16, motion 27, will be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and business will resume thereafter if not previously concluded. Business is to be interrupted from 1 p.m. to 2. p.m.
Order of Business.
I do not want to begin by being contrary this Wednesday morning, but the Leader has indicated we are talking Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 1 today. Over and over again, Members of all sides of this House have said it is bad practice to go straight from Committee Stage to Report Stage. By doing that, we are indicating the Minister has come into the House with a closed mind, that the legislation will be rubber-stamped and no amendments will be taken. There should be an interval, preferably a couple of days, between the taking of Committee and Report Stages of a Bill. The Deputy Leader yesterday kindly agreed to a similar request from this side of the House regarding the Wildlife Bill, the Report Stage of which was correctly deferred. Deferring the taking of Report Stage of this Bill will not hinder the work of the House. We do not mind if the Remaining Stages of this Bill are taken next Tuesday, as dealing with them will not take long. As a matter of principle, I ask the Leader not to take Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 1 today. Otherwise the Order of Business is agreeable.
On the Order of Business yesterday I called for a debate on taxi services, but the time has come in this controversy for calmness all round. I am not sure a debate at this stage would be of help. It is time for people to go away and reflect, for the taxi men to reflect that intimidation will not work and for the rest of us to reflect on the fact that they may well have some legitimate grievances, that there are differences between the situation of taxi men in the capital and in other parts of the country. The time has come to take the heat out of this controversy in the hope of finding some resolution within the general framework laid down by the Government.
I draw the attention of the House to a Supreme Court judgment yesterday, where Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness pointed out certain serious lacunae in matrimonial law. She called upon the Oireachtas to address the need to make the necessary changes. At a later stage, will the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come into the House to address the points made by the Supreme Court yesterday, which feels there is an obligation on the Oireachtas to fill this gap?
I support strongly the point made by Senator Manning about the Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 1. I draw the attention of the Leader to the fact that the Deputy Leader showed greater leadership and flexibility yesterday in dealing with a similar matter. We look forward to similar openness and responsiveness from the Leader today. This is a serious point. It creates agitation unnecessarily when Members feel they cannot contribute. We need an interval between the taking of Committee and Report Stages of the Bill. It is only a matter of ordering our business to allow that to happen. Will the Leader confirm that will be done?
I repeat what I said last week, that the scenes on our streets yesterday give an extraordinarily poor image of our democracy. It is bad we should see television images of people breaking the law and immediately afterwards see their representatives walk into a meeting with the Government. For those of us who lead large organisations, who use the right to protest properly and correctly within this democracy, it is extraordinarily bad if the image goes out that people can break the law and then get to see a Minister. That gives the wrong impression. It makes it difficult for those who are members of an organisation or union who try to work within the existing structures and within the law. The law was broken yesterday. That is unacceptable. A democracy cannot do business with people who use violence to attain their ends. That is a simple, straightforward tenet of democracy.
I wish to ask the Leader about an issue I raised previously. The current review of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness—
Order, please. Has Senator O'Toole a brief question for the Leader?
As part of the review of the programme, the Government agreed to improve maternity regulations and to increase paid maternity leave from 14 to 18 weeks, which requires a change in legislation. I raised this issue yesterday and there may be a response on it today but we need to get that legislation moving as quickly as possible. I would also like it initiated in this House. It is a minor amendment to change the period from 14 to 18 weeks but it would be very welcome and would be supported by all parties. It would also give a clear impression that the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness is working well, despite the opposition of certain Senators.
I agree with the comments of Senators Manning and O'Toole about taking all Stages of the National Pensions Reserve Fund Bill today. We have always stated that the principle of taking Committee and Report Stages at the same time is wrong because there needs to be an interim period to reflect on Committee Stage amendments, while often we request the Minister to reflect on amendments with a view to responding on Report Stage. A period of time is required by both sides to prepare for the next Stage.
Regarding the taxi issue, we are the people with responsibility for introducing and passing legislation and, as such, the Government is responsible for ensuring the laws are obeyed. Clearly, if there are people in the taxi lobby who have broken the law the responsibility is then to ensure they are properly dealt with. There was a sufficient number of gardaí around yesterday to see anyone breaking the law and in that case the custodians of the law were there to deal with that matter. I agree with Senator Manning that this is now a time for reflection and cooling off. I have never accepted the principle of deregulation. It is wrong in any area.
We cannot go into a detailed debate on these matters now. I allowed a lot of latitude to Senators yesterday. If I allow Senator Costello to go into such detail I will have to allow other Senators to do likewise and I am not prepared to do that on the Order of Business. I thought I was very fair to Senators yesterday in the amount of latitude I gave. More detail than would normally be acceptable was allowed in relation to this matter.
Can I ask a question?
Senator Farrell will be called in due course. Senator Costello has the floor and I ask him to be as brief and relevant as possible.
The matter is under discussion and consultation at this time and that is the right way to proceed.
Senator Ryan and I have been raising the issue of the Telecommunications (Infrastructure) Bill, 1999, for some time. At least 18 months have passed since this Bill appeared on the Order Paper. It is a very desirable Bill as it enables network operators to open and use public roads for the establishment or maintenance of telecommunications infrastructure and provides for the sharing of telecommunications infrastructure. It gives power to local authorities to control the opening of roads and the manner in which the telecommunications industry will operate in a more co-ordinated fashion. That is absolutely essential as our roads are being dug up all over the place, which leads to congestion. The whole place is in "chassis" because of this. Will the Leader get confirmation that this Bill will be brought before the House? It would be of tremendous assistance in getting through the streets of Dublin.
I ask the Leader to convey our congratulations to RTE and Mr. Pat Butler, who presented the "Léargas" programme about Kilmichael last night. It is appropriate to acknowledge that programme and it is also appropriate that the truth about what brought this nation into being is told by RTE. That is why I commend Pat Butler on at least attempting to do that. One could not agree with parts of it, but be that as it may, it brought to national light a story that deserved to be told.
I will not pay too much attention to what Professor Peter Hart had to say. I come from that part of the country and the people in that area know the story best. That was told last night and I commend Pat Butler on bringing out that part of the story. The people of west Cork were pleased enough with that programme. The story of the butchery and savagery of the auxiliaries was told last night – the torching of Cork and Crossbarry, which is in my parish. Maybe Pat Butler and RTE should take this further and tell the story of what happened around the country. We cannot deny the history of the country.
Yes, you can. You have done it for years.
Even Professor John A. Murphy, a revisionist, admitted that it took guerrilla warfare to bring the occupying forces to the table.
That is not relevant to the Order of Business.
I ask the Leader to request the Minister for State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, to take into consideration the Limerick taxi position. It is very different from Dublin and those people have a voice in relation to ongoing negotiations.
As I have done for the past few weeks, I ask the Minister for Education and Science to talk to the teaching unions, otherwise we will have a contrary electorate. It is in the interests of children to have talks initiated by the Minister. I impress on the Leader the importance of bringing those messages to the two Ministers concerned.
Many of the matters raised on the Order of Business would be far more appropriate as matters on the Adjournment. Senators will note that there is no matter on the Adjournment today.
I ask the ASTI to reconsider its position and to come in. The Minister is available to meet the union and would give it a sympathetic ear.
What about those who are not members?
The community employment schemes—
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to make a statement, in consultation with FÁS, about the back to work allowance schemes. Such schemes are confusing the public. We need to be clear about what these schemes stand for, where they are going and whether they are market-oriented in terms of jobs.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business. The Leader's proposal to take all Stages of the National Pensions Reserve Fund Bill is completely unacceptable.
Only Committee Stage.
If only Committee Stage is being taken I will withdraw my amendment but the intention, apparently, is to take all Stages today. It is obvious that if, as Senator Manning said, this is the proposal, the House is being asked to rubber stamp the Bill, as the Minister has no intention of accepting amendments. It is a very important Bill and we should ensure it is taken seriously. It is complicated and will decide the fate of State pensions for at least 50 years. I ask the Leader to reconsider the matter and to take Committee Stage only. There should be no guillotine on Committee Stage either.
I move the following amendment to the Order of Business: "That the Seanad adjourn after Committee Stage of the National Pensions Reserve Fund Bill, 2000, and take statements on industrial relations."
I second the amendment.
In recent weeks several Senators have called for a debate on BSE and the beef industry in general. The Leader gave a commitment last week that we would have that debate. When does he envisage that debate will take place?
In view of the way the UN climate change conference ended last week in The Hague, it is appropriate that we examine our commitments in this regard. I ask the Leader to accommodate a debate in the near future and invite the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to the House to give us his views and outline the way we will reach the levels we have set for ourselves.
My question relates to promised and necessary legislation, the local government Bill. I raise the question this morning in view of what I read in the newspapers over the weekend, namely, that its appearance in the other House, where it is to be introduced, is not certain. There is great interest in the legislation in this House also. One Member of the Oireachtas who will have a pivotal role in relation to its passage stated: "There is no way in the wide earthly world that I will accept the Bill in its present form." Will the Leader let us know the current position in relation to that Bill?
The other question concerns my old hobbyhorse, the international criminal court Bill, a ratification Bill of an international treaty which this country signed two and a half years ago. This is important legislation because it would eliminate impunity for those people who carry out atrocities in the names of their states. It will establish in The Hague, on a permanent basis, an international criminal court to deal with these crimes. This country has to ratify that treaty in our domestic law in the same way as we have to ratify all the United Nations sponsored conventions. Has the Leader had discussions with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or his officials on the introduction of the Bill?
I ask the Leader once again if he will arrange a debate on the recently published interim report on the Shannon river.
This is a matter of grave importance and urgency for the people who are directly affected by this problem. Senator O'Toole raised the matter yesterday and many other Senators have raised it over a number of months. The sub-committee has worked long and hard over a number of months and it has published a worthy report. I would like this House to have an opportunity for a full debate and a strong endorsement of the recommendations in the report.
I formally second the amendment to the Order of Business by my colleague, Senator Ross, because it will give us an opportunity to comment on the taxi situation. I will make one remark on that. We have seen an extraordinary shift in attitudes regarding the fact that women and children were pushed to the front line by the taxi people.
We ought to be careful about how hard we become because the same people in this House and outside it were correctly critical of the attitude of the Israeli authorities, but when it comes to our own doorstep, we are quick to say it is disgraceful and that they are using women and children as cannon-fodder. We should have the same attitude generally if it is a question of principle.
I would like to comment on the rather gloating speech, which shocked and surprised me, of Senator Callanan on the subject of the Kilmichael ambush. I found it extremely offensive and it is a pity this House should rake up these Civil War issues. In west Cork during that period—
We are absolutely proud of it.
—there was widespread murder of members of the Church of Ireland community and it is very dangerous to rake up all of that.
Senator Norris, please.
They gave the Senator the freedom to be a Member of this House.
The people of west Cork gave the Senator the freedom to be in this House.
That event was commemorated in one of the filthiest and most disgraceful—
The Senator should be ashamed of himself.
Now that the truce appears to be in place, can I bring the House back to another kind of guerrilla warfare that took place on the streets of Dublin yesterday? To follow what was said by Senator Norris—
Senator, there is an amendment to the Order of Business seeking statements on industrial relations and that will be a more appropriate opportunity, if it arises, to raise those matters.
What I want to speak about has nothing to do with industrial relations—
Have you a question for the Leader of the House, Senator?
Yes. Is it the Leader's intention to draw to the attention of the relevant Minister the need to put in place a code of conduct or regulations to debar the use of children as cannon-fodder in the type of protests we saw yesterday? It is gross child abuse to expose very young children to the naked aggression that I saw on the streets of Dublin yesterday and it is an issue that must be addressed. I am asking the Leader of the House to seek to have it addressed.
I support the call by Senator Cregan for a debate on the report on flooding on the River Shannon and the management of the river. That would be a useful exercise. Much of the time of this House has been taken up with that matter over the years and now that we have a report, we should debate it.
I ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, the internal discussions taking place in the ESB to rationalise its local offices and shops. I understand the customer base is to be increased from approximately 10,000 to 35,000. That will result in the closure of ESB offices and shops in practically all our county towns. That is an anti-rural stance on the part of the ESB and it is not in line with Government or EU policy on regional development. I ask the Leader to call on the Minister and the ESB to abandon this proposal in the interests of providing a service to its customer base in our local towns and villages.
The question of community employment schemes was raised by Senator Ormonde. I was shocked to discover that there is discrimination in the operation of community employment schemes in certain respects. Will the Leader prevail upon the Government, particularly the Tánaiste, to ensure that people are not treated differently and that all discriminatory codes are removed forthwith?
Much has been said about taxi drivers, the events that happened yesterday and what has been happening over recent weeks, but it is about time the authorities, both at Government and civic level, sat down for discussions. Will the Leader initiate a debate on the means of protest, to which everybody is entitled, in Dublin over recent years? There is no doubt that 50% of what happened on the streets yesterday had nothing to do with taxi drivers. No mention was made of the Socialist Party placards that were being held up. One lady with a Socialist Party banner in her hand was pictured attacking a garda. The slogans that were written on the hotel across the road and the damage that was done had nothing to do with taxis. It had more to do with extreme left wing politics and the politics of so-called republicanism. Dangerous elements are coming into the protest and this House should initiate a debate on the best way to allow people to protest in a manner in which they will achieve the most, while ensuring that the public will not witness the scenes that took place yesterday and the day before.
An epidemic of AIDS and HIV has spread throughout the world, particularly to Russia, and Zambia and Lesotho are being decimated by the disease. We discussed the AIDS problem in the House previously but it is imperative that we have a debate in view of what is happening in Africa and Russia.
I would like the House to acknowledge that today is International Day of Solidarity with the People of Palestine, a UN designated day.
The importance of a debate on BSE cannot be overstated. I have called for such a debate for the past two weeks and the need for it becomes more urgent by the day. Consumers are concerned about this issue and it needs to be cleared up. A debate in this House would highlight many of the safety regulations in place and it is imperative that it take place as a matter of urgency.
Given the failure of the Minister for Education and Science to get involved in the teachers' dispute, it is important that a mediator be appointed. There are hardship cases and leaving certificate students are extremely worried about this dispute. There is a stand-off between the Minister and the ASTI and a mediator must be appointed immediately to bring this to a head—
These points may be important but they are not relevant to the Order of Business.
I understand that, but it is important to highlight the failure of the Minister for Education and Science to handle this issue and the need for the appointment of a mediator.
I will do my best, a Chathaoirleach, not to try your patience.
I have been so sorely tried up to now that the Senator could not try me any more.
We should not flog ourselves into the position as if we were in the Tuileries about a week before the French Revolution. The Garda should review the handling of street dem onstrations and protests, as I am sure it will want to do. It is important that this is done in a way that does not inhibit protests. We should err slightly on the side of allowing protests and tolerating them rather than otherwise.
I support the point made by Senator Manning and others that it will demean this House and take away from its dignity if there is no time between the Committee and Report Stages of the Bill. It suggests that the views of the House do not matter. It is not a good time to have a debate on industrial relations as a number of disputes are at a delicate stage and words can be picked and used to light a fire, which we are trying to keep down. When people are actively and earnestly trying to resolve these disputes they should be allowed get on with the job. For this reason, I ask the Leader of the House to meet Senator Ross to discuss the possibility of allowing time between the Committee and Report Stages. I ask Senator Ross to meet with the Leader to agree another issue those of us who do not want a debate on industrial relations can discuss in the interval.
I support the call by Senators Gibbons and Tom Hayes for a debate on BSE. The Minister is addressing the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on this issue and I am sure he would be willing to come in here to enlighten us on the matter.
Senator Manning appealed for calm as regards the taxi drivers' dispute. Last week I raised the issue of access to Leinster House. I do not know if it applies only to me, but the Garda seem to hassle me more coming into the House than it hassles unruly demonstrators. I have been a Member of the House for a long time and I have never experienced hassle and intimidation to the same extent as I have in recent days. If people and groups who make civilised protests and demonstrations can be brought before the courts then the taxi drivers should also be brought before them for their unruly demonstrations and the hassle they have caused Members.
Senators Manning, O'Toole, Costello, Ross, Norris and Maurice Hayes referred to the time allocated for No. 1. Legislation has never been guillotined under my leadership and it never will be. We can review progress at the conclusion of Committee Stage.
Senators Manning, O'Toole, Costello, Jackman, Ross, Quill, Lanigan, Maurice Hayes and Rory Kiely expressed concern about the way the taxi dispute was handled yesterday and the events outside the House. I will pass their views on to the Minister. I agree with Senator Manning that people should take time to reflect on this issue and work out the strategy for a successful conclusion to the dispute. Consideration should be given to the formulation of a code of conduct for future disputes. I will provide time for a debate in the House on all the issues raised in recent weeks.
I will convey to the Minister Senator Manning's comments on yesterday's Supreme Court ruling by Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness.
Senator O'Toole referred to the PPF. If the Bill to extend maternity leave under the PPF from 14 to 18 weeks is presented to me for debate before the Christmas recess it will be taken. I welcome this move and congratulate the Government and all those involved in bringing it about.
Senator Costello referred to the telecommunications Bill. This Bill is not listed to be taken in the House before the Christmas recess. Before I came into the House Members asked when the Remaining Stages of the Wildlife Bill will be taken. They will be taken on Thursday, 7 December, with the permission of the House. I will pass Senator Callanan's views on last night's RTE programme to the Minister.
Senators Ormonde and Coghlan called on the Minister to intervene in the running of FÁS schemes. Everyone wants to see the good work under the schemes continuing, but there is a changing climate in employment and the training aspect needs to be encouraged. I agree with the comments made by Senators Ormonde and Coghlan and will pass them on to the Minister.
Senators Gibbons, Tom Hayes and Rory Kiely called for a debate on BSE. I agreed last week to allocate time for such a debate. On the issue raised by Senator Gibbons, I will ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come into the House to debate the UN conference on the environment and how it will relate to Ireland in the future.
Senator Connor referred to the local government Bill. I expect this Bill to come before the House in February and to be concluded before the end of the month.
Senator Connor referred to the international criminal court Bill. The Senator may be able to get clarification from the Minister on this point during the debate on No. 2.
Senators Cregan and Finneran called for a debate on the Shannon river interim report published last week. I am pleased to inform the House that I intend to allow time for a full day debate on this report next Tuesday.
Senator Finneran asked me to raise with the Minister for Public Enterprise the internal discussions within the ESB. We all fully support the points made by Senator Finneran on the closure of sub-offices which provide a good social service. No one, when the country is awash with money, should consider closing the county town sub-offices of a semi-State body such as the ESB.
Senator Lanigan called for a debate on HIV/AIDS. It is a timely call and I will allow time for this. Senator Tom Hayes expressed concern regarding the teachers' strike. The Labour Court is ready, willing and available at any time to act as a mediator but I will pass on his views to the Minister.
Senator Ross has moved an amendment to the Order of the Business that only Committee Stage of No. 1 be taken today and that statements on industrial relations be taken at the conclusion of the Committee Stage debate. Is the amendment being pressed?
It is, unless the Leader gives a commitment that Report Stage will be taken on a different day.
Burke, Paddy.Coghlan, Paul.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Costello, Joe.Doyle, Joe.Hayes, Maurice.Hayes, Tom.
Jackman, Mary.Manning, Maurice.Norris, David.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Toole, Joe.Ross, Shane.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Cox, Margaret.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.
Glynn, Camillus.Kett, Tony.Kiely, Rory.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Máirín.Walsh, Jim.