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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 28 Mar 2001

Vol. 165 No. 17

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2 and 3, motions re the Freedom of Information Act, 1997 (Prescribed Bodies) Regulations, 2001, to be taken without debate; No. 4, Finance Bill, 2001[Certified Money Bill]– Committee and Remaining Stages; No. 5, motion for earlier signature, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 4. Business is to be interrupted from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. No. 20, motion No. 27, is to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Business, if not previously concluded, will resume thereafter.

Will the Leader bring to the attention of the Minister our request, in view of the Supreme Court decision regarding free education up to the age of 18 and the intention of the Government to ensure those people with disabilities will continue to get that free education until their potential education level has been reached, that he publish guidelines to ensure as soon as possible that those people will receive and continue to receive free education?

I am told there is a possibility that the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill will be taken in the House tomorrow. If it is to be taken, we will object strongly, particularly if it is intended to take all Stages. I would consider that heavy-handed, centralised government and bully-boy tactics.

Over the past couple of weeks there have been many discussions and issues raised here on the question of the teachers' dispute and I have been careful not to make any comment on it. I want to make it clear that it is not that I did not have anything to say. Obviously I have a great deal to say but I believed it would not have been helpful to do so. I know people meant well in seeking debates and I do not in any way dispute the need to have the Oireachtas involved in such issues. In the light of that, it would be helpful nonetheless if there was a discussion here on the industrial relations structures in place in order that people might understand how disputes, and particularly delicate disputes, are dealt with and to ensure that Members of the Oireachtas can have a sense of trust and confidence in what is going on.

I certainly do not blame any Member of the Oireachtas for wanting to have these matters discussed when Members are not being kept fully informed, etc. I felt I could not add to a debate because I was involved in it in other places and I thought it would be incorrect to do so. However, the structures of industrial relations, which are quite advanced and sophisticated, should at least be understood by the Members of the Houses so that when they are dealing with people making representations, there is a clear understanding of how matters should be dealt with and where they might be dealt with.

On another unrelated issue, for about the third time in a month we have heard people talk about the reduction of the number of organs being made available for transplants. That is an issue which should be taken on board positively. We, as public representatives, might well give the lead by showing our absolute commitment and, if necessary, signing up as organ donors. The Minister for Health and Children might indicate to us his plan to make this more acceptable and part and parcel of our commitment to people who are less well off then ourselves. It is an important issue. There has been a huge drop in the number of available organs for transplant and we should discuss that in the House and see where we going in that regard.

I am not happy with the Order of Business as outlined by the Leader of the House. We have been through this a couple of times previously. If motions containing matters of interest or contention relating to regulations come before this House, are referred to the appropriate committee and come back to this House, there should be an opportunity to debate them. I already flagged the Freedom of Information Act drafts which were laid before the Seanad on 21 February and indicated that this was a matter with which we were concerned. The Leader of the House indicated that there would be an opportunity to debate matters of this nature. My party does not agree with the manner in which this Act is being dealt with. We get ad hoc additions to the Freedom of Information Act rather than a comprehensive approach that would deal with exemptions. This matter should not be put through by nod, it requires a proper debate in this House.

I request a debate on the motor insurance industry. It was revealed recently that the Irish Insurance Federation has been providing incorrect and totally unreliable data to the Irish Motor Insurance Advisory Board, which was examining the matter. The correct data indicate that the most profitable group for the industry is young people in their twenties, whose premiums are loaded to an inordinate degree. It is high time that we had the Irish Insurance Federation before the House so that we can have a proper examination of its attitude towards the various categories of drivers who have been discriminated against, that is, the young, old and, in particular, women. We need a debate on this matter and we need the Minister to present the case to us.

I agree with Senator O'Toole on the question of industrial relations. He is being patronising, however, when he says that Members of this House do not understand the industrial relations machinery. Many of us do. Everybody in this House—

In the way that we understand brain surgery. We know a lot about it but we do not do it ourselves.

We cannot have a debate between Senators Costello and O'Toole on the matter of industrial relations. Senator Costello, are you supporting the call for a debate on this matter?

I was just getting around to that. A debate on industrial relations would be desirable. The teachers' dispute has caused enormous controversy. There was no proper clarification of the Labour Court decision and there was no proper clarification at an early stage of the PPF. We requested on numerous occasions that the Minister give that clarification to this House. It is a bit like putting the cart before the horse or closing the door after the horse has bolted.

You have made the point.

Even at this late stage, I believe that a full debate is necessary.

The Senator will have to build a new stable.

Dublin is the capital city of Ireland. We know that certainly better than we know brain surgery. I am dismayed at the by-laws proposed by Dublin Corporation for event management. As someone from outside the Pale, I completely reject the idea that Dublin Corporation will outlaw events of which it does not have 31 days notice or which attract more than 300 people. I ask the Leader for a debate on this issue and the role of Dublin as the capital city. I hope that many people throughout the country will make submissions to Dublin Corporation and that those Members of the House who are also members of Dublin Corporation will bear this in mind when making their decisions.

Some months ago I was promised a debate by the Leader of the House on the issue of young drivers and the astronomical costs of insurance they face. I repeat my call, this time in support of Senator Costello, for a debate on the report that was published in The Irish Times. I ask the Government to immediately set up a meeting with the insurance companies, who are responsible for penalising young drivers, women and the elderly. This debate should ensue immediately because it is an ongoing, extremely controversial and extremely unfair issue.

The barring of groups, not necessarily protests, from assembling on our main thoroughfare is extraordinary. Having listened to the debate this morning, it is clear that many different groups will be discriminated against. The individual responsible, when asked whether charities will have to put money upfront—

Those are matters that can be dealt with in the debate if it takes place.

I hope so because all these things are happening insidiously. We should have far more openness and transparency and support people who have problems and need to express themselves. People collecting for charity should not be discommoded by something entirely illogical.

I am not particularly reassured by Senator O'Toole's opinion that some of the people who are engaged in industrial relations at the moment need the attentions of a brain surgeon. I support the Senators who referred to the need for a more liberal policy than is proposed for street demonstrations in Dublin. I come from a part of the country where sadly we have had to provide legislation and means of controlling these demonstrations and processions. That does not arise here. There is no need for it. It is an enormous truncation in the ordinary processes of democracy and goes far beyond the remit of a local authority to determine.

Secondly, Senator Coogan has the advantage of me. I was not aware of the Supreme Court decision in the Sinnott case, but I ask the Leader of the House to arrange for a full debate on this matter. This opens up an extremely important field of public policy. It is bringing the Constitution up to date and is changing the nature of education which in the past was related to age. It is a matter of huge importance.

Referring to another legal judgment, I ask the Leader of the House to ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, the implications for the planning pro cess of the recent High Court decision in relation to the Old Head of Kinsale, which appeared to say that protections for public access that were put into the planning Acts as a condition of planning permission were unconstitutional. If that is so, planning officers have obviously been misapprehending their powers. Equally, if public access can not be protected, will the Minister tell us what the implications are, and how, in the absence of being able to do it through planning permissions, these rights of the citizen can be safeguarded?

In view of the conviction yesterday by a court in the west of Ireland of an Internet crime under older legislation, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, to discuss the topic of crimes that can be perpetrated over the Internet. Yesterday, in a case of a lady defamed over the Internet, the Garda were successful in getting a conviction under the 1961 Act. I compliment the Garda on that and on their success in Ballyfermot yesterday. I took a personal interest in a case that involved one of my constituents. We will see more and more of this type of crime perpetrated and it is important that we discuss the matter. While we have had success under existing legislation, it is now appropriate to look at the legislation with a view to updating it.

I agree with the comments of Senator Hayes regarding the curtailment of legitimate protests in O'Connell Street in Dublin. The proposal by Dublin City Council is a negation of our democracy, particularly because it is the main street of the capital, which honours so many of our past leaders who themselves had to engage in legitimate public protest and outcry. It is important to bear in mind that we have a very fine tradition of people engaging in lawful protests while respecting the law. I ask that the powers that be in Dublin think again on this matter. Those who are honoured on the street are part of what we are and the way in which we have been shaped. It is a frightful contradiction. I appeal that the matter be looked at again.

Will the Leader of the House outline the Government's proposals, if any, to alleviate the hardship inflicted on the tourism sector which there is a need to rescue as it is hurting badly? A campaign needs to be launched immediately in the United States and other markets in which there are, unfortunately, frightful misconceptions in the minds of some that reflect the situation unfairly and about which we must do something urgently.

I support Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on industrial relations mechanisms and structures. It has never been more evident than in recent weeks that the public does not understand the workings of the Labour Court. This subject matter should be part of civil and political education at post-junior certificate level and is worthy of a long debate in the House.

I also support the call for a debate on the banning by Dublin City Council of protests on O'Connell Street. Would the 1916 Rising have taken place if the draft guidelines had then been in place?

Mr. Ryan

Shoot the bureaucrats.

If I was a member of the council, I would vote against them. As they are still in draft form, it is timely that we use the Chamber as a means to oppose them.

I wish to raise the issue of the workings of An Bord Pleanála on which I have asked for a debate on many occasions and on which we touch when debating other subjects related to planning. We should have a full debate on An Bord Pleanála, how it works, its composition and accountability and transparency. Given the new planning legislation, it is now more than ever timely to discuss the issue.

Mr. Ryan

As a resident and half native of Cork, I thank Senator Hayes for raising the issue of the Old Head of Kinsale. The actual situation and the principle that has now been established are extremely threatening. There will have to be forms of public protest to bring the owners of the golf course to their senses and make them accept that they have a public obligation as well as a private—

March on O'Connell Street.

Mr. Ryan

We still allow people to march in Cork. We have none the proposals they have in Dublin. The Leader of the House owes us an explanation as to the reason he is of the view that Nos. 1, 2 and 3 should be taken without debate. Senator Costello was correct in that regard.

I vigorously support Senator O'Toole's suggestion that we should have a debate on industrial relations, particularly since the majority of teachers rejected the PPF. There is a question, therefore, about whether the leadership of the teacher unions is in touch with its membership. There is a serious issue to be discussed. I read in this morning's newspaper that building workers received a 44% increase. I am not sure whether that was on top of or included the increase provided for in the PPF. I am aware that Bank of Ireland staff received a 17% increase and Members of the House a 30% increase on top of the increases provided for in the PPF. Perhaps we need to work out the industrial relations machinery which worked in a way that it did not for the ASTI. Perhaps it all comes down to Senator O'Toole's mythological ATM for which we all do not yet have a code.

It worked for us here.

Mr. Ryan

I am not sure about that. It would be disingenuous of somebody in my position to complain. Many of my colleagues needed and deserved the increase.

The Senator could return it.

I adore the Victorian attitude of the Left.

We are dealing with the Order of Business. Does Senator Ryan have a question for the Leader of the House?

Mr. Ryan

I thought I was dealing with the Order of Business. I am currently dealing with my colleagues.

When will the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2000, the Ordnance Survey Ireland Bill, 2001, and the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Bill, 2001, be taken? They have been on the Order Paper for varying lengths of time and we still do not know when any of them will be taken.

I support the views expressed by Members who called for a debate on the motor insurance industry. I would like the Leader of the House to place particular emphasis on the astronomical premiums young drivers are being charged. In many cases, they have to pay more in insurance premiums than for their cars. The proposed introduction of the penalty points system will give insurance companies an ideal opportunity to level the playing pitch, not load young drivers. While they should, by all means, load them where they incur penalties, they should start off on a level playing pitch. I ask the Leader of the House for an immediate debate on the matter.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to come to the House today to apologise for his intemperate, irresponsible and unacceptable comments in regard to the people of Cooley as reported in today's edition of The Irish Times? It was an attempt to make pariahs of the people of County Louth when he said that they were smugglers and involved in criminal activities. It is patently obvious that not all of them are.

He did not say that.

As regards this national crisis, we had a very important debate yesterday when we spoke—

Be careful.

I am entitled to speak without interruption. The debate yesterday was both responsible and important. It is in a spirit of co-operation and working together that I make this comment. The people of Cooley are the finest in the land and, like the people of west Cork, our farmers are honest men and women who are entitled to the Minister's respect. He should withdraw, unreservedly, his comments as reported in The Irish Times.

To seek to deny that there are smugglers who have done untold damage to decent people is to seek to deny the truth. The majority of the people of Cooley, like the majority of people elsewhere in the country, are decent and honourable, but for far too long they have been held to ransom by a group of smugglers located in a certain area and underpinned by groups throughout the country. Not to use this occasion to seek to root them out and bring their activities to an end is a gross injustice to decent people who want to obey the law of the land. I have enormous respect for the people of Cooley, as I am sure the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development has.

I would be very happy if the Minister said the same thing.

As the time available for the Order of Business is limited, I ask the Senator to be brief.

I repeat a call made by me and other Senators in recent weeks for the Sean Cromien report on the Department of Education and Science to be debated calmly, coolly and rationally. I desisted from making that request in recent weeks for obvious reasons. It was better in all the circumstances not to call for a debate on any element of education in recent times. For that reason I sat back and bided my time, but the time is now ripe to debate the report which is very well thought out and researched and far-reaching in its recommendations which I would not like to see gathering dust on a shelf. A number of very serious challenges to education and those who deliver it have emerged in recent times. The least we can attempt to do, as legislators, is underpin the system with the most efficient, up-to-date and responsive Department of State. I seek the opening of a debate with a view to initiating action on the issue. It merits a day long debate and I ask the Leader to facilitate it.

I am delighted with the interest of Senators in Dublin city. We have been criticised for long enough for not rejuvenating the city's main thoroughfare, O'Connell Street. It has been proposed to do so by reducing the number of cars using the city centre and providing more pedestrian zones.

With a guillotine.

A beautiful plaza will be constructed outside the GPO. The volume of traffic and the number of demonstrations in the city centre must be reduced. Such demonstrations can take place at the drop of a hat and that cannot be allowed to continue.

What about free speech?

There are areas in this wonderful, vibrant city of ours where freedom of assembly will be permitted. That is only right because freedom of assembly is guaranteed in our Constitution, but not on our main street.

O'Connell Street is in our city.

What about Croke Park? Send all the demonstrations when Abbotstown is built.

What about Smithfield?

That is a lovely place. I am glad the Senator knows the city.

I support Senator Quill's call for a debate on the Cromien report. I cannot understand how the Minister for Finance can have such large surpluses while the education system is in crisis.

Will the Leader ask the Ministers for Tourism, Sport and Recreation and Enterprise, Trade and Employment to embark on a campaign in North America regarding the status of our food products? The perception is that Irish food is not of the highest quality and is not safe as a result of the BSE crisis and the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. This will damage our tourism industry.

It is doing so already.

The relevant Ministers are not doing enough in terms of a promotional campaign on food quality following the foot and mouth crisis.

In response to Senator O'Dowd, and as someone who also comes from a Border county, it would be very naive of us if we did not accept there has been smuggling and that it will continue as long as people can do so.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader on the Order of Business?

I accept that but all the people are not criminals and are not smuggling. They are co-operating with the Garda. The name of the people of Cooley Peninsula cannot be taken in the manner it was.

Order, please.

Will the Leader seek clarification from the Minister for Health and Children regarding a problem for nurses and care workers from the Philippines? They have been accommodated in deplorable living conditions. We are ask ing such people to come to Ireland and care for our sick in our hospitals but we put them up in dreadful conditions. For example, five or six people live in a bedsit while 26 people depend on two rings of a stove for cooking facilities in another house. Who is responsible for the living conditions of these nurses? Is it the Minister, the hospitals in which they work, the health boards or the regional health authority?

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development should be congratulated on the wonderful job he is doing. However, I agree with Senator Coghlan that there should be a debate on the effect of the foot and mouth disease outbreak on tourism and trade, particularly in County Kerry and along the western seaboard, and the adverse publicity in the US. A member of my family who lives there called me and asked me what was going on here. A campaign to promote the quality of our food must be undertaken to protect the industry.

I congratulate the Minister for Health and Children on the wonderful work he has done on the anti-smoking campaign for young people. He should come to the House for a debate on the issue. However, the Minister should go a step further and introduce a no smoking policy in all public buildings. We should begin in this House and set a good example by making it a no smoking building.

Reference has been made to a hotel in Kinsale, which is in my constituency. I support the call for a debate on the activities of An Bord Pleanála. The planning department of Cork County Council in its decision on the Kinsale hotel application acted in accordance with the planning laws to ensure public rights of way were preserved. An Bord Pleanála overturned the decision but the planning department behaved absolutely correctly.

I am extremely sorry that Senator O'Dowd raised the issue he did and used such language.

The Senator—

I am sorry, a Chathaoirligh but I always obey your rulings.

I quoted from The Irish Times. That is what the man said.

An injustice was done and it would be more appropriate if those who have information were called on to give it and those who are interfering with the law were condemned.

They are not giving the information..

That is happening in County Louth and elsewhere. I call for public support for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the Government. We either stand for law and order and justice to be done or we just pretend that we do.


Hear, hear.

Will the Leader make time available to debate the report on the provision of psychiatric services for adolescents? It is an important report and subject. It is an area of psychiatry which, sadly, has been neglected in Ireland for a long time.

I will pass on the views of Senators Coogan, O'Toole and Maurice Hayes to the Minister for Education and Science and I will provide time for a debate, if required, in the next number of weeks.

Senators Coogan, O'Toole, Costello, Ryan, Ormonde, Hayes, Coghlan and Doyle expressed various views regarding the teachers' dispute and called for a debate on industrial relations. It is a timely call, particularly by Senator O'Toole, who is very involved and experienced in this area. I will allow time for this debate.

He is an industrial relations brain surgeon.

Senator O'Toole pointed out that we, as public representatives, should encourage the public to become organs donors. I will schedule a long debate on that issue so that Senators can express their views in this regard.

Senators Costello and Ryan referred to Nos. 1, 2 and 3. These motions were discussed in detail by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, at which the Labour Party was represented by Deputy Seán Ryan. However, if they wish to discuss them later, I will allow time. Legislation takes precedence, especially the Finance Bill. We have a long, hard day's work ahead of us and could sit late into the night as many recommendations have been tabled.

There will be many votes.

It is a long Bill because it covers the short tax year, the alignment of the tax and calendar years and the changeover to the euro. The Minister for Finance's concluding contribution on Second Stage last night was stimulating and encouraging The Celtic tiger will continue to thrive and it was an experience to witness the Minister's vision. I am delighted to have been present and I know many other Senators on both sides of the House were extremely impressed.

Senators Costello, Jackman and Cregan called for an urgent debate on the motor insurance industry. I have given very careful consideration to this and will propose, on the Order of Business tomorrow morning, an all-day debate on the motor insurance industry. I look forward to the contributions of the Senators who have called for this debate in recent weeks and will note their views carefully.

Senators Cox, Maurice Hayes, Ormonde and others raised concerns about proposals affecting O'Connell Street in Dublin. Senator Doyle is a long-standing public representative and former Lord Mayor. The amount of money being spent by Dublin Corporation is very welcome. We need some information, however. As a trader on O'Connell Street, I have had no consultation whatsoever. If, as has been suggested, the traders are calling for the measures proposed, this is certainly without the knowledge of at least some traders. I will allow time for a debate on the issue, but first we must have all the facts. Perhaps Senator Doyle will use his good offices in that regard. I would welcome a discussion with him later today and hope to be in a position to inform the House on the matter early next week.

Senators Maurice Hayes, Ryan and Callanan expressed views in relation to the Old Head of Kinsale, which I will convey to the Minister. Senator Finneran called for a debate on Internet-related crime, for which I will allocate time.

Senators Coghlan, Burke and Dan Kiely referred to the problems associated with foot and mouth disease. I am pleased to report that at 4 p.m. next Tuesday the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation will address the House on his plans to deal with the matter, including overseas promotion and the marketing of Irish products, and the Government's current view of the situation. On each Tuesday for the duration of the unfortunate set of circumstances arising from FMD it is my intention, with the agreement of party leaders in the House, to arrange for an up-to-date briefing by the Government on the action being taken and how the challenges are being met. This will also provide an opportunity to hear the views of Senators to assist the Government in dealing with the matter.

I thank all parties, including those in Opposition and our partners in Government, for their unified approach to this situation. There has also been excellent co-operation by members of the public, organisations, industry and the farming community in particular. I hope there will be a continuation of this excellent example to the exclusion of "solo runs" or any self-interest approach.

I note the views of Senator O'Dowd, whom I know to be a very responsible, dedicated, hardworking public representative. Nevertheless, I must bear in mind the strong views expressed by Senators Kiely, Leonard, Quill and Callanan, which the House can endorse, in congratulating the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development on the great work he has done on behalf of the Government and the people. If there are people who are not conducting their affairs in accordance with the law of the land, this cannot be condoned by anybody. It was in that context that the Minister expressed the views to which reference has been made. We must stand shoulder to shoulder in support of the Minister and the people of County Louth, particularly the people of the Cooley area who are the salt of the earth – decent, honourable, hardworking, committed people.

Senator Ryan inquired about the electoral Bill, a matter on which I will come back to the House tomorrow morning. It is proposed to take Second Stage of the Ordnance Survey Bill next Tuesday at 3 p.m. It is being initiated in the Seanad. In reply to Senators Quill and Burke, I will arrange for the report on education to be discussed in the House at the earliest opportunity.

I will have inquiries made of the Minister for Health and Children on the issue raised by Senator Leonard concerning the living standards endured by nurses from other countries, especially the Philippines. I will also inform the Minister of Senator Kiely's views with regard to smoking and no smoking areas and convey Senator Lydon's question on the provision of psychiatric services for adolescents.

Many Senators inquired about the Waste Management Bill which I am pleased to inform the House that the Government decided yesterday will be initiated in this House. It will be discussed all day next Wednesday.

I wish to raise a point of information.

Is the Order of Business agreed to?

I will also allocate time for a debate on An Bord Pleanála for which Senator Ormonde has been requesting for some time. I will discuss with her how this can be facilitated having regard to the schedule of business in coming weeks.

Is the Order of Business agreed to?

The order has been changed since I spoke earlier and I should have the right to respond.

No, we are discussing today's Order of Business. Tomorrow's Order of Business will be discussed tomorrow morning, I hope in a more orderly fashion than today's discussion.

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

Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cox, Margaret.Cregan, John.Dardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.

Glynn, Camillus.Hayes, Maurice.Kiely, Daniel.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Máirín.


Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Costello, Joe.Hayes, Tom.

Jackman, Mary.Keogh, Helen.McDonagh, Jarlath.Manning, Maurice.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Toole, Joe.Ryan, Brendan.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Farrell and Gibbons; Níl, Senators Burke and Costello.
Question declared carried.