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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 5 Apr 2001

Vol. 166 No. 3

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No. 1, the Housing (Gaeltacht) (Amendment) Bill, 2000 – Second Stage, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and of all other Senators not to exceed 15 minutes. I also propose to take Second Stage of the Teaching Council Bill, 2000, which is currently before the Dáil. It is expected to conclude 30 minutes after the end of the Order of Business in the Dáil. With the agreement of the Whips, I propose that the contributions of spokespersons shall not exceed 20 minutes and those of all other Senators shall not exceed 15 minutes. Copies of the Teaching Council Bill, 2000, will be available in the Bills Office when it is concluded in the Dáil.

What is happening with the Teaching Council Bill on today's Order of Business is not the fault of the Leader, but it is not a very satisfactory way of doing business. We are literally waiting for the Dáil to complete a Bill which has been before the Lower House for a long time and which has been in gestation for decades. We do not know if there will be amendments to the legislation, nor at what time the Order of Business will conclude in the Dáil. If there are changes, we will have to await the printing of the Bill as amended by the Dáil. While I realise that Senators on both sides of the House have put much work into their proposed contributions for the debate on the legislation, Fine Gael would have no problem if Second Stage was deferred until next week.

Hear, hear.

Perhaps the Whips could discuss that matter later. It is certainly not a good way to do business, although I intend no criticism whatsoever of the Leader in this matter.

Many long serving Members of this House will remember the long campaign waged by the former Senator, Pól Ó Foighil, on the official status of the Irish language. It is a substantial and important matter. He argued then that since Irish was the first official language, he was entitled to have all documentation, including Bills, provided in Irish. He fought that campaign with much support from all sides of the House but he got nowhere. Yesterday, however, the former Senator was vindicated by one of the most important Supreme Court judgments of recent times. The court was extremely critical of the State's failure to provide Irish language versions of laws and other important legal material. The Supreme Court described the behaviour of the Government in this matter as an offence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution – something that former Senator Ó Foighil and others were saying over a long period. The judgment has important practical consequences because it means that since most laws passed here in recent years do not exist in an Irish version, virtually every single law is now open to challenge in the courts because it is not constitutionally sound.

That is the implication of yesterday's Supreme Court judgment which, in many ways, is a recipe for chaos in the courts and the legal system generally. It calls for the most urgent and immediate clarification and response from the Government. I would like the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come into this House today and explain to us what the Government proposes to do in this matter and if it shares the view of the Supreme Court that a constitutional bomb has been dropped on these Houses by the Supreme Court yesterday.

I support the point made. It is grossly unfair on the staff of the House to try to cope with today's situation where the Leader, who I accept had no choice in the matter, has had to order business which is not even on the Order Paper and which is currently in the other House. The Teaching Council Bill, which is a significant Bill, has been 20 years in gestation with three interdepartmental committees dealing with it over that period. There is no urgency in terms of it having to be passed today and it is grossly unfair to ask people on either side of the House to make a focused contribution on legislation which they have in their hands. That is wrong and it is not fair either to the legislation or to the way the House should do its business. The idea of bringing the Teaching Council Bill, which is important legislation, into the House and trying to get it passed some time this afternoon is just not on. I appeal to the Leader to order this business for next week when we can deal with the Bill efficiently. For political reasons I am sure the Minister would like to have the Bill through the House before the teacher conferences but that is something that can be dealt with next week. It is not fair in terms of the legislation to deal with it this week. I do not like the idea of ordering business which is not on the Order Paper. I realise it has to be done in exceptional circumstances and it is not in breach of Standing Orders but it is not good practice or something that should be encouraged.

For the past two days I have raised with the Leader the stand-off between the American and the Chinese governments. That stand-off is getting worse each day. The new kid on the block and the lion of Asia are facing up to each other and the situation is getting more and more difficult. This looks like a scene from Dr. Strangelove where people are playing mind games with each other and it is causing instability around the world, economically and in other ways. For the third time I ask that the Minister for Foreign Affairs would do us the honour of coming into the House to explain the position of the Irish Government, as a member of the Security Council, on this issue. This is a question of international security. It is important and we should not tolerate this kind of gamesmanship between two of the great super powers.


Mr. Ryan

I am not sure who Senator Norris is interrupting. I think he just likes interrupting.

I will interrupt the Senator if he likes.

We must have order, please.

Mr. Ryan

Glacaim le Riar na hOibre mar atá sé leagtha amach ag Ceannaire an Tí. Senator Manning said precisely what I wished to say on the question of the obligation of the State to provide all legislation and other important legal documents in the first language. It was an inevitable decision. The Constitution is unequivocal on the issue of what is our first language and it is something that the State should now deal with because Senator Manning is right in that it will precipitate an enormous number of legal problems if it is not sorted out quickly.

I will not waste time repeating what has been said about the unsatisfactory nature of the introduction of the Teaching Council Bill here. I know this is a subsidiary House but we seem to be able to do our business better. There are 11 Seanad Bills currently before the Dáil, one of which dates back to 1998. We are not in a position, quite correctly, to bully the Dáil into dealing with those but I wish the reverse was also the case and that we were allowed to order our own business in our time because we deal with legislation expeditiously in this House. We do not cause unnecessary delays. We do not hold up the process of legislation and, as Senator O'Toole said, this is an important Bill. Finally, does the Leader yet know when the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Bill will be taken?

I also support the call for the rescheduling of the debate on the Teaching Council Bill for all the reasons that have been very well articulated already and which I do not propose to repeat.

I want to reiterate the call I made yesterday for a debate on the economy. The ESRI report published today issues some fairly cautious warnings which might well be debated in this House.

On item No. 29 in the name of Senator O'Toole, Senator Norris and myself, will the Leader provide time for a debate on the rights of small shareholders? This motion is not meant to be contentious. In fact, it congratulates the Tánaiste and the Government for taking measures which resulted last week in the Smurfit organisation revealing some outrageous salaries and it would also give us an opportunity to examine transparency in those areas and to put a stop to directors of public companies, particularly Smurfit's and Eircom, enriching themselves at the expense of small shareholders when the share price is going down.

Will the Leader provide time for a comprehensive debate after Easter to review the foot and mouth disease crisis to allow us have a full discussion on what is happening in regard to the controls and restrictions that have been put in place? Will the Leader convey the appreciation of this House to the Minister for the reliefs allowed yesterday in regard to both AI and in the movement of animals, although I suppose most people would be interested in the racing at both Cork and Leopardstown? Will the Leader provide time for a comprehensive debate after 19 April because there is a danger that complacency is setting in. We are moving forward and, hopefully, we will continue to move in that direction.

I find myself a little fractious this morning and in disagreement with Senator Manning. I cannot regard this as one of the most important decisions to come from the Supreme Court. There have been decisions on matters of life, death and social survival. I love the Irish language. Occasionally I make attempts to speak it. I am not at all antagonistic to it but it is time we brought the Constitution into line with the perceived reality. Let us have a change in the Constitution and recognise what is the fact on the ground. If we divert huge amounts of money in this area, nobody will read them and the young people will be completely disillusioned.

Senator Norris, if you would bear with me for a moment. Senator Manning asked that the Minister would come into the House and clarify the situation in relation to the implications of this judgment for the State. The points you are making would be more relevant to that debate when it takes place than they are to the Order of Business.

Thank you very much, a Chathaoirligh. I am very glad for your paternal advice which now allows me to agree with Senator Manning once again. I support the call for the Minister to come into the House and then I shall place a contrary point of view on the record.

I want to now disagree with Senator O'Toole. The Chinese situation is being resolved as we speak. It was on the news as I came in. There is no need for the Minister to come in here to explain everything because the Chinese now know everything that is on that plane.

Senator Norris, please bear with me for a moment. I issued a memo last week to all Senators. I would hope that the Senator read it. If he did, he certainly has not taken the points that I made in the memo to heart. I ask him to read it again—

Send him another copy.

—and abide by the appeal I made in relation to the way in which we conduct our business on the Order of Business.

Thank you very much. I stand reproved and I will read it again.

All is well.

Perhaps in return, a Chathaoirligh, you could ensure that our colleagues on both sides of the House abandon the widespread practice, which I believe comes under your remit, of reading all their speeches.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to consider introducing mandatory sentencing for the crime of rape? I notice in the March list of the Central Criminal Court that of the 38 cases, 26 were for rape. In the October list, there were 42 out of 53 cases, and in the June list 29 out of 33 cases. These are alarming figures and something drastic will have to be done. Sentences are a matter of pot-luck depending on the judge. One offender might receive a slap on the wrist, whereas another might be sentenced to five or ten years in prison. I do not know how this is to be dealt with, but I feel there is a great need for a surgeon in such cases, especially for repeat offenders. It is a drastic solution, but castration seems to be the only way of dealing with this crisis.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

I am sorry, but this particular crime is getting out of hand and something will have to be done about it.

I am not feeling as fractious as Senator Norris, but I join Senator Manning in congratulating former Senator Pól Ó Foighil on his historic win in the Supreme Court yesterday. The Constitution very explicitly lays down the precedence that is accorded to the Irish language when it comes to translations of legal material. Likewise, I support Senator Manning in calling upon the Minister to come before the House.

We all read the upsetting news this morning that 230,000 State servants have difficulty in cashing their pay-cheques. The banks made a unilateral decision that they would no longer cash cheques. We voiced our concern in the House and agreed on both sides that pensioners and those who never had a bank account are victims of this decision. Something must be done and I ask the Leader of the House to use his good offices to arrange an urgent meeting between the Department of Finance and the banks to resolve the problem. For the good of the elderly and so many others, this must not be allowed to continue.

Senator Manning has raised a very important point on the Irish language. It is not just a matter of its status, but it impinges upon the rights of people. It would be bordering on racism to suggest that some people should be deprived of those rights. Not only should we invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House, but it would also be helpful to invite the Minister responsible for the Irish language, particularly in the context of the new language Bill which is now being prepared.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the elderly. We have always had great respect for the old and appreciated the great contribution they have made to society and the development of the State. I was particularly shocked yesterday and today to see an advertisement depicting two elderly ladies in a most questionable manner crossing a road, one of whom was very incapacitated. One could not justify this under any circumstances. There is an outcry in Britain over it and I would like to think it would never happen here. That is why I am calling on a debate for the elderly and their position in society.

This may seem like a parochial matter, but during the debate yesterday on the Waste Management (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2001, several Senators – Senators Quill, Ryan and I – talked about the need for waste minimisation within the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Supreme Court judgment will have an even greater effect on the amount of paper produced in these Houses. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government did seem anxious that waste minimisation should be practised in the Oireachtas. I ask the Leader to allow a one-hour debate in which Senators could produce their suggestions and receive a response from the Minister so that we could set an example in this field.

For some time now, I have called for a debate in this House on the banking services available to the public. Today we see that workers and State employees are not in a position to cash cheques in the banks. Banks are making enormous profits, hundreds of millions of pounds per year, and the situation that has developed is inappropriate. They are treating the Government and the public with contempt in this matter. We have a responsibility to look to the post offices and the credit unions so the State employees and those without bank accounts are given an opportunity to continue their business. In the past, banks desired that people use cheques rather than cash, but now that this has been achieved, they want to create a situation in which people open accounts so as to cream off more money. It is time that we had some response from the Government. I ask that we have a full debate on the banking service as soon as possible.

In relation to the Teaching Council Bill, 2000, I respect the stand of the Government. Should the Bill come to this House this afternoon, the Leader should ensure that adequate time is made available, not only at Second Stage but also at Committee Stage, because this work has been in preparation for many years and it is very important for the teaching profession. I ask the Leader to be conscious of this given the approach of Easter. It is important that the Bill is not rushed through.

I support Senator Finneran in relation to the banking system. I too was very concerned when I heard on the news that the banks seem to be treating us all electronically and that the human element is vanishing. The banks needed us long before we needed them and it is high time that the Department of Finance discussed the policy on this issue. A full debate would be very appropriate in this House.

I strongly support the position of the Irish language and the Houses of the Oireachtas should be giving a lead in this regard. I make no apology for saying so.

On at least two previous occasions, I have called for a debate on school bullying and I ask that the Leader request the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to debate the subject. Bullying is causing mayhem and making life miserable for many young people in our schools.

I support Senator Callanan's request for a discussion with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development on changes being made by the Government in their approach to the foot and mouth problem. First it should address the dispensing of information to the public to keep them aware of what is taking place and how the Government is making changes to adjust to the situation on a daily basis. There is a need for a continuous flow of information to the public and farmers are finding it difficult to know what is taking place. It is important that they are continually updated.

I support the requests for discussions on the banking service. Since the DIRT inquiries, the response and services the banks are offering to the public contain an element of contempt. The new regulatory authority that has responsibility for the services being given should be examined. This issue should be debated.

Will the Leader of the House allow time, perhaps after Easter, for debate on the welfare of the Traveller community, particularly the positive work that is being done locally and nationally by the Traveller consultative committees? We should also discuss the large convoys of Traveller traders that are traversing the country and illegally occupying public and private lands. Perhaps the Leader will ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come before the House to indicate whether existing legislation is adequate or whether changes would be required to allow us to deal with this matter.

I support Senator Finneran's call for a debate on the banking system. On the last occasion we debated this matter I referred to the new regulatory body that was being established and since then I received a letter from the banker's association which tried to enlighten me on its stance. However, the letter made no reference to the other matters I raised. One of those matters, about which I was particularly incensed, was the difficulty with cashing cheques. I have a cheque on my desk but due to my need to attend county council meetings on Mondays and be present in the Seanad on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I have found it difficult to get to the bank. Now, however, according to newspaper reports this morning, I will not be able to cash it.

I wish to request a further debate on Northern Ireland, particularly in view of the fact that the marching season is already upon us. I was alarmed by the announcement this week that the British Government has issued a new type of rubber bullet to the British Army and police in Northern Ireland and to the police in Britain. I do not believe the British authorities have learned anything from the past because rubber bullets have caused mayhem when used to break up organised parades and gatherings. Rubber bullets are one of the first things which should be decommissioned and I request a debate on this issue.

Senators Manning, O'Toole, Ryan, Ormonde and others referred to the arrangements for taking the Teaching Council Bill. I assure them that a full debate will take place on Wednesday next on Committee and Remaining Stages of the Bill. I know it is not the will of the House to do so and it seldom happens that we are obliged to deal with legislation in this way. However, the House will have to deal with an enormous amount of business next week and I do not want to have to arrange to sit on Good Friday. I thank the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of the other groups for their co-operation in relation to matters pertaining to the smooth running of the House. I request their further co-operation in allowing Second Stage of the Teaching Council Bill to be taken at 1.30 p.m. As already stated and as suggested by Senator Ormonde, I will allow time for a full debate on the remaining Stages of the Bill.

Senators Manning, O'Toole, Ryan, Norris, Coghlan, Ó Murchú, Henry and Glynn expressed their views on yesterday's Supreme Court decision in favour of former Senator Pól Ó Foighil. When he was a Member of the House, Mr. Ó Foighil put his point across forcefully on many occasions. He always believed he was right and it is to his eternal credit that he persisted with his arguments. As Senator Manning stated, Mr. Ó Foighil was rewarded yesterday when the Supreme Court's judgment was handed down. I am pleased with the outcome and I congratulate Mr. Ó Foighil on the determination he showed in bringing this matter to a successful conclusion. I will ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister with responsibility for the Irish language to come before the House to indicate the implications the judgment will have for future legislation. I will arrange to have the debate at the earliest opportunity so that Members may discover the approach the Government intends to take.

I will communicate Senator O'Toole's views on the events involving the USA and China to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Senator Ryan inquired about the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Bill, which, I understand, will be introduced in the House immediately after the Easter recess.

Senators Ross, Finneran, Ormonde, Chambers and Bonner requested a debate on the economy, the banking system and the proposed changes thereto and the plight of the 230,000 who cannot cash cheques. This matter must be addressed and I will make time available for a full debate on it in the second week after the Easter recess.

Senator Ross referred to No. 13, motion No. 27, on the Order Paper which relates to the interests of small shareholders. The only way this can be debated before the Easter recess would be if the Independent group uses its Private Members' time next week to do so. Perhaps the Leader of that group might give consideration to the Senator's request to have the matter debated before Easter.

Senators Callanan and Chambers requested that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development come before the House to provide an update on the foot and mouth outbreak. I stated on the Order of Business last week that it was my intention that the House should review the situation. Following the Order of Business I will be seeking the approval of the leaders and the Whips to hold such a review at the conclusion of business on Thursday of next week, with the Minister or Minister of State present to provide an update on foot and mouth disease before the Easter recess.

Senator Bohan made an extremely forceful call for mandatory sentencing in rape cases. I support that call and I will pass on the Senator's strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business. I will make time available for a debate on this matter when we return from the Easter recess.

Senator Ó Murchú requested a debate on treatment of the elderly. In my opinion the elderly are cherished because they helped to make this country great. The elderly deserve our support and everything that is due to them. I will make time available for a debate on this matter. I will also make time available for a debate on school bullying, as requested by Senator Glynn.

Senator Ó Fearghail requested a debate on the Traveller community and, in particular, the large convoys of traders which traverse the country on a regular basis. I will make time available to discuss this matter and I will communicate the Senator's query with regard to whether legislation is required or, if not, whether other action will be taken.

I will make time available for the debate on Northern Ireland requested by Senator Bonner. However, this will not be until after the Easter recess.

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

Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cregan, JohnFinneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Tom.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.

Kett, Tony.Kiely, Daniel.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Máirín.


Burke, Paddy.Coghlan, Paul.Cosgrave, Liam T.Doyle, Joe.Henry, Mary.Keogh, Helen.

Manning, Maurice.Norris, David.O'Toole, Joe.Ross, Shane.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Tellers: Tá, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons; Níl, Senators O'Toole and Henry.
Question declared carried.