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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 9 May 2001

Vol. 166 No. 11

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No. 1, Valuation Bill, 2000 – Second Stage, with the contribution of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and of all other Senators not to exceed 15 minutes and on which Senators may share time; No. 15, motion 24, to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Business, if not previously concluded, will resume thereafter.

I first of all wish the Minister for Foreign Affairs a speedy recovery after his unfortunate accident last Friday as he was going from this House where he had been performing so well.

I wish to raise two issues on the Order of Business. I request a debate in the fairly near future on Northern Ireland. Events are moving very rapidly there and it is a long time since the House has had an opportunity to debate the issue. Many Members on all sides would like to hear the Taoi seach or the Minister for Foreign Affairs and air their own views.

I also ask for an urgent debate on the whole question of sports policy and sports funding. I am thinking in particular of the situation in the Football Association of Ireland, which is about to receive fairly massive injections of State funding. We read very disturbing reports of the extraordinarily incompetent and shoddy way in which that organisation runs its own financial affairs. We read of massive six-figure payoffs to people who have been clearly guilty of a breach of their duties, if not worse. We see a veil of secrecy surrounding the activities of that organisation where cover-ups seem to be the name of the game over a long period of time. Yet, this is the same organisation which is to be entrusted with huge amounts of public funding. It would be important and useful if we could have a debate on the whole question of the criteria which apply to the funding of sports, sporting organisations and the entailed accountability.

The Leader gave a commitment that he would have a significant debate on education when time permitted after dealing with the issues relating to the referenda. Members of the House have called for different aspects of education to be debated, from adult education to drugs education and other areas. The issue of the rights of children with special needs, because of all that has happened in the area of education in recent times, has been raised on both sides of the House. It would be very important for the Members of both sides of the House to indicate their views and their understanding of the importance not just of access to education but also participation in the process.

Education is a bit like the Ritz Hotel – anybody can walk in but if you do not have the money, you cannot properly participate in what is happening. We must ensure that this area of participation includes people no matter what their special needs. I ask for an all-day debate which could be structured to deal with certain aspects during certain times of the day and that the Minister should take questions. The education area attracts more motions on the Adjournment than any other. It would be useful to have a directed and controlled debate in this House on the topic over the course of a day. I ask the Leader to respond.

I ask the Leader of the House to bring to the attention of the Minister for Defence and the Marine my concerns in relation to the sale of Clancy Barracks which is being touted abroad for a giveaway price of £20 million. The local authority concerned, Dublin Corporation, and the Dublin City Manager, have already indicated that they wish to purchase the barracks at a reasonable price just as they have also indicated a desire to purchase church lands which are now increasingly being made available, in order to deal with the enormous crisis of homelessness and the issue of social housing in the city. It would be a terrible shame if almost 17 acres of prime land within the Dublin Corporation area—

I interrupt Senator Costello for a moment. The subject matter of the Private Members' motion will give the Senator an opportunity to discuss these matters. The points he is now making could be made more appropriately during the Private Members' debate this evening.

I would certainly appreciate the Cathaoirleach's being flexible enough to allow a debate on this issue.

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport to come to the House. Once again there is an industrial dispute and a crisis and we have a Minister who, ostrich-fashion, says that it is no concern of hers. What is the purpose in having a Minister if at a time of crisis she washes her hands of it and says it is somebody else's problem? Her attitude is that they started it so let them settle it. Perhaps the Leader would ask the Minister to come into this House and explain why she is not prepared to take any initiative in trying to resolve this dispute which last year caused revenue losses of £50 million and endless problems for the ordinary commuter.

I support that call. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Public Enterprise to come into the House and demonstrate to us what can be done to tackle this industrial relations problem which seems to be endemic to Iarnród Éireann and, like Mount Etna, is liable to erupt with far-reaching negative consequences at any time? The story of Iarnród Éireann is a sad saga of low pay, low morale, poor management and poor motivation. Some root and branch action will have to be taken in the interest of every citizen and in the interest of the tourism sector which has suffered severely due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Something has to be done and I want that matter discussed comprehensively, calmly and reasonably in this House with a view to taking corrective action.

I would like to ask the Leader if he can give us an indication when there will be action with regard to implementation of the Human Rights Convention into Irish law. Once again today we were criticised by a senior judge, Judge Catherine McGuinness, for our tardiness in not having done this. Speaking of the Oireachtas, she says, you would wonder what they are at. Perhaps the Leader will be able to tell us what we are at and what the Government proposes.

I certainly support Senator Costello's call with regard to the rail strike, but I do not think we should pillory the Minister before we hear what she has to say. In my opinion, she is a particularly good Minister and the union situation should be looked at. It is outrageous that an inter-union dis pute should hold the businesses and the passengers of this country to ransom in the way it is being allowed to happen. I look forward to our colleagues in the ICTU using their good offices to resolve this matter.

Hear, hear.

I support Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on children with special needs. This is a matter that comes up regularly in the Seanad as part of other debates when we are looking for extra remedial teachers or on Matters on the Adjournment concerning these children. I would particularly welcome such a debate because I have been asked to make the keynote speech at a conference on this subject. I would like, as a Member of the Oireachtas, to go to that conference and say that we in the Oireachtas take this matter seriously and are prepared to say something about it.

May I say to my colleague, Senator O'Toole, who used the old platitude about going to the Ritz, that anybody can go into the Ritz but there is a problem once you get in. I was there not too long ago and if they think you have an Irish accent they give you a teapot with a thick spout so that the tea dribbles all over the place. You have to be very careful and indicate you are Irish and that you would know a thick teapot when you see it—

Senator Norris, this is very interesting but it is not relevant to the Order of Business.

—and would insist on an English teapot.

I thought for a moment Senator Norris was going to remind us about the famous silver teapot that was presented one time. If it is still in working order, perhaps it could be used in the Ritz for Irish guests. That would definitely be an Irish teapot.

I am sure colleagues on all sides of the House would wish our colleague, Senator O'Toole, well in his capacity as vice-president of ICTU. He made an excellent contribution on the "News at One" programme today which was fair minded and moderate. I hope that attitude will prevail in the discussions tomorrow. It is an extremely difficult point.

I join Senator Manning in calling for a debate on sports funding. I am somewhat taken aback at what I can only refer to as an astonishing attack on the FAI. Every major sporting organisation here has at one time or another been pilloried for its lack of administrative expertise of one sort or another. Everybody in the House will know I acquire some of my paltry income from work as a sports journalist. I am a sports person and like many Irish people I follow a variety of sports, not least Gaelic, soccer and rugby among others. Senator Manning's remarks seem to be a veiled attack on the initiative the Government has taken. It is yet another example of old Irish begrudgery.

Two chief executives in a row have been fired and there has been a £250,000 payoff.

The Senator may raise a question for the Leader on the Order of Business. This type of debate is not in order.

I appreciate that. My question is in the context of the remarks that have been made and the justification for a debate. We have listened to Senator Norris, my distinguished friend and colleague, who as usual has expounded on a wide range of subjects on the Order of Business. Well done to him, we all enjoyed it. It would not be a debate—

These matters can be dealt with during the debate.

The debate I am seeking is not about an attack on a sporting organisation that is trying to do the best it can for young people with the help of the Government.

The Senator will have adequate opportunity to make these points during the debate.

I accept that but it is about sports finance and I hope the Leader, in responding to the request, will frame the debate so that it will not be seen to be one-sided or an attack, veiled or otherwise, on one sporting organisation because of what I believe to be a magnanimous gesture by the Government.

The Senator should please resume his seat.

I raise the issue of Irish women in prison. I ask the Leader of the House to make representations to the Minister for Foreign Affairs about Irish women in prisons in Northern Ireland. Professor Monica McWilliams, MLA, exposed a disgraceful situation in Mourne House, the women's prison in Northern Ireland, where 60% of the warders are men. This is totally against international policy, which suggests that only 10% of warders in women's prisons should be men, and vice versa in men's prisons. This problem did not exist in Armagh prison where there was trouble enough. I would be grateful if it could be debated in the House, but if this is unsuitable, I would be very glad if the Leader would raise it with the Minister.

I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister for Education and Science my hope that the Government will respond very quickly to the outcome of the ASTI's discussions today. I join Senator O'Toole in seeking a debate on edu cation for children with special needs. Two sessions ago, I was promised a debate on autism and appropriate education, which could be included in the debate on children with special needs.

The saga of contaminated blood seems to continue. There have been reports that the Mid-Western Health Board has had to recall 715 patients to have their blood groups checked as a precaution. I am extremely concerned and I feel that this should be discussed in the House.

With many others from Munster, I had to commute from Limerick today and I agree with Senator Quill that the Minister should come here so that we can debate the ongoing industrial problems in Iarnród Éireann.

I support Senator O'Toole's request for a full debate on the many aspects of education. Senator O'Toole referred to children with special needs. This debate should be extended to include the success or otherwise of the Breaking the Cycle programme and review how the disadvantaged are faring under the new schemes available at all levels. This is particularly worthwhile now that we are reforming the Vocational Education Act of the 1930s and it would be an opportunity to have a debate before taking that Bill in this House. I hope this can take place before the summer recess.

The demise of rural post offices will drive another stake into the heart of rural Ireland. More Government business must be put through the network and the services need to be expanded and enhanced. The sooner the Minister makes the appropriate arrangements the better. Some time ago Senator Manning called for a debate on the Flynn report on post offices. Such a debate would be extremely timely and I call on the Leader to arrange it for next week.

I support Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on education. Perhaps the Leader will consider including that as part of the issue of school bullying, on which I have so often called for a debate.

I support the call for the Minister for Public Enterprise to come to the House and was somewhat surprised and amused to hear Senator Costello's contribution. The Minister seems to be damned if she does and damned if she does not – she cannot win no matter what she does. Bringing her to the House would be a marvellous opportunity for fair-minded Members to articulate the many achievements of the Minister. It would be an ideal opportunity for Senator Costello, as a lifelong member of a trade union, to call—

I would prefer if Senator Glynn did not address his remarks to Senator Costello. The Senator should address his remarks to the Chair. It is not in order for a Senator on either side to engage with another Senator on the Order of Business. Questions or requests should be put to the Leader who will reply at the conclusion.

Since the relevant union is affiliated to the Labour Party, maybe Senator Costello will have a word with it.

I have asked the Leader a number of times when the promised disability legislation will come to the House. I note from the Government's programme of legislation that this will not happen before the summer recess. In that context I ask for a debate on disability and equality in which we could raise in particular the concern of people with disabilities that they are not receiving the type of training necessary to include them in the workforce, especially in the technology sector. If we are to be inclusive in terms of people with disabilities, we must in fairness give them the type of training which will ensure they are able to participate in the workforce to the fullest possible extent.

I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Public Enterprise not to come into the House under any circumstances as it would be inappropriate for her to come for a debate on an industrial dispute. The Tánaiste is the person who should come to the House for such a debate. We should not be discussing an industrial dispute for which there is no ministerial responsibility, as has rightly been said, but the role of trade unions in the country.

Hear, hear.

That is the problem we are currently facing. What happened to the clause for industrial peace promised barely weeks ago when the phantom document, the pay deal, was signed? There has been a strike in Aer Lingus, by train drivers and by ASTI since that promise of industrial peace.

Senator Ross has made his case for a debate on the role of the trade unions.

Let us have in the House the Tánaiste, whose responsibility it is, to discuss the trade union movement which holds much power and which is being abused by some elements.

The case we are currently facing is not cut and dried. We should be very careful not to automatically blame the smaller unions in this dispute. There is a problem and the disproportionate damage they are doing to the economy and the people is appalling, but we should acknowledge that the ATGWU has a case.

The Senator should not pre-empt the debate he is seeking.

I am not doing so. These people have a case and that is why a mature and sensible debate in the House should take place.

I join Senator Manning in asking for a debate on sport and its organisation. The relationship between sport and business is such that many people are making a fortune from what was considered sport. The change from an amateur to a professional system is causing problems in all sporting organisations, be it the GAA, the IRFU or the smaller groups. I called for a debate after the Olympics, but we did not have a full debate on the matter at the time. It is appropriate that we now have such a debate. The relationship between sport and business is such that it is difficult to work out how to associate, for example, the premiership or first division of the League of Ireland with smaller clubs. There are more soccer teams—

That matter can be explored in detail during the debate which has been sought.

There should be a general debate without recrimination because young people and the future of sport, not the future of the business at the top echelons, are important.

In view of the huge escalation of violence in the Middle East, I ask the Leader for a debate on the issue. The violence is escalating on a daily basis and we should at least have a say on what action might be taken. We cannot condone the recent murder of a baby and the apparent murder of two Israelis yesterday. We must have a debate on the issue and have our voices heard before the situation in the region blows up, which is likely to happen.

The Senator has made his point.

I sincerely ask for a debate on the issue in the near future.

I support Senator Manning's request for a debate on sport which should include all aspects such as sporting scholarships and so on. This matter has never been debated in either House, therefore, it should be included in the debate.

I would also like to raise the issue of motor insurance which has been raised on previous occasions by several Senators. A recent survey showed that young people are now buying motor bikes because they cannot afford to insure cars. I ask the Leader of the House to arrange for a special debate as a matter of urgency on the whole issue of car insurance.

I support the Senators who called for a debate on sport and I wish to outline the genuine commitment of this Government to community groups and sporting organisations throughout the country, particularly in peripheral and Gaeltacht areas.

I support the call for a debate on the rail strike and draw attention to the concerns expressed particularly in relation to the Munster area where rail services to the south have been seriously affected by the rail strike. I recognise the input of my colleague, Senator O'Toole, in regard to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. I come from the west of Ireland which suffered ten weeks of withdrawal of services last year, unlike any other part of the country. There is a serious need for the trade unions involved in this dispute to realise the consequences of their actions for people throughout the country who are suffering and need to travel to the west to transact business. I ask all those involved in the trade union movement and the Minister to seriously look at the consequences of this dispute, including the rights of the public which are being trampled on.

I, too, support the calls for the Minister to come to this House for a debate on industrial relations. I join in the sense of outrage and anger which currently exists among the public in relation to the issue. It appears that the ghost of ILDA will haunt the nation for a second year in succession. It is more than a coincidence that those involved in ILDA are now predominantly involved in the present dispute. We must have a debate on industrial relations in this Chamber because people will not tolerate such disruption for a second year. The west of Ireland is just recovering following ten weeks when there were no tourists in that region.

These points can be made during the debate on the matter.

I am just responding to the sense of annoyance and outrage in the west and throughout the country as a result of this dispute.

I join with my colleagues in calling for a debate on sport. It is essential when the debate takes place to draw a distinction between the commercial element of sport, which I would describe as show business, and real sport, with which we all grew up and entails honest athletic endeavour on the part of ordinary people. Sport has changed dramatically and become hugely commercial in recent years. We tend to think of sport as what we see on television but that is not the case. There are hundreds of thousands of people still involved in honest amateur athletic endeavour and that is the sport we should seek to cultivate. I look forward to the Minister coming to the House.

I join other Members in calling for a debate on industrial relations, particularly given the current difficulties with the rail system. The time is long gone when a small group of people should be able to hold the country to ransom. I am aware of students who missed examinations yesterday at the end of their college year through what appears to be a relatively petty row between very small groups of people. I am not unduly concerned whether it is the Minister for Public Enterprise or the Tánaiste who comes in, but the time has come for essential services such as the railway system to be dealt with as such in our industrial relations machinery.

I support the call for a debate on sport. One of the major issues in this regard relates to purchasing land for community purposes, particularly sports facilities, in growing towns. It is impossible for community groups to raise the hundreds of thousands of pounds being demanded for an acre of land in growing towns, particularly on the east coast. That is a major issue that must be addressed.

I also support the call for a debate on industrial relations and transport in particular. There is a lot the Government can do. It should allow everybody to use bus lanes when the train drivers are on strike. There are thousands of extra cars coming into the city in the past few days, yet they cannot use the bus lanes. It is disgraceful and unacceptable that the unions are monopolising transport and the life of the community. I condemn what they are doing. The ICTU should have a proper writ which should be respected and obeyed.

These are points that can be made during the debate which has been sought.

I support the remarks of Senators O'Toole and Ormonde on education, particularly with reference to special needs. In that context, will the Leader indicate when the disability Bill will come before the House? There are many disabled people who are anxious to know what the Bill will mean for them and, more importantly, how it will enhance their everyday independent living.

I join Senator Manning in wishing the Minister for Foreign Affairs a speedy recovery from his accident following the debate here last Friday. Senator Manning called for a debate on Northern Ireland and I will consider arranging this.

Senators Manning, Mooney, Lanigan, Burke, Chambers, Glennon and O'Dowd called for a debate on sports, the Government's sports policy and the Government's achievements over the past four years in relation to sport. This would be a worthwhile debate and I will have the Minister present for it in the next two or three weeks if possible.

Senators O'Toole, Norris, Jackman, Ormonde, Glynn and Kett called for a debate on education. The new VEC legislation, which is currently going through the Dáil, will be passed before the summer recess. If the Bill does not reach the House in the next two to three weeks I will allow time for an all-day debate on education, edu cational needs, education for the disadvantaged and the other matters raised today.

Senator Costello commented on the sale of land at Clancy Barracks. As the Chair correctly pointed out, the Senator will have ample opportunity tonight to make his case, but if he and other Members still feel strongly enough that not enough time has been given to this we can revisit it in the future.

Senators Costello, Quill, Chambers, Caffrey, Glennon and O'Dowd expressed great concern about the current rail strike and the difficulties that is posing for practically everyone in the community. Senator O'Dowd called for bus lanes to be reopened to all traffic, as journeys which took an hour and a half now take two and a half hours, as we found yesterday and today. There is certainly an onus on everyone concerned.

The generosity of people throughout the country in every line of business during the foot and mouth crisis was responsible and heartening, to say the least. Summer trade is beginning, businesses are trying to relaunch and various things are happening. The Taoiseach reopened Dublin Zoo a few days ago and the St. Patrick's Day festival is taking place on the weekend after next. We are trying to let the world know Ireland is open for business and the tourist season has started and is in full swing.

We know negotiation and consultation will be the order of the day and I call on Senator Costello to use his influence through his party to see if something can be done about this dispute. I welcome whatever help he can bring to this delicate and serious position in which workers, employers and Government employees find themselves. It is a serious state of affairs and something that should be addressed immediately.

I will pass Senator Norris's views to the Minister. I join Senator Mooney in congratulating Senator O'Toole. I can certainly pass on Senator Henry's views to the Minister.

We share the views of Senators Jackman and Coghlan in relation to post offices which are the backbone of rural communities. I look forward with interest to hearing various proposals on how post offices can play a more leading role, considering banks are changing their policies, communities are enlarging and the population is increasing in many areas. Emigration is no longer a factor and 45,000 people are joining the workforce every year. There will be a need for an improved post office service, so I support fully the request made by Senator Coghlan.

Senators Keogh and Kett inquired about disability legislation and I will come back to the House tomorrow to inform Senators of the timeframe for the legislation. Senator Ross called for a debate on the role of trade unions and I will leave time for that.

Senator Lanigan asked for a debate on violence in the Middle East; I have already agreed to allow time for such a debate. We should acknowledge the great work of His Holiness Pope John Paul II in the past week. He has visited some of the world's most difficult areas despite his advancing years. It was uplifting for us to play our part and I will allow time for a debate on the issue.

Senator Burke called for a debate on the motor insurance industry, especially with regard to young motorists, a debate for which I can leave time.

Order of Business agreed to.