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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Oct 2001

Vol. 168 No. 6

Order of Business.

Today's Order of Business is No. 1, referral motion regarding Double Taxation Relief Orders, 2001, to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, to be taken without debate; No. 2, statements on the current sit uation following the atrocities in the United States of America, to conclude not later than 6 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; and No. 18, motion 21, to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

I ask the Leader to amend the Order of Business today to allow for a debate on the problems facing Shannon Airport. Recent announcements by Aer Lingus concerning its economic viability and its down sizing have most serious implications for Shannon Airport in terms of its role as a major import export port for one of the most industrialised and employment providing areas of the country. Not only that, it has serious implications for a whole region of the country and the nation itself.

The Order of Business is agreed by us, I hope. May I make one point—

No, absolutely not.

And he is the Whip.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for calling me. Could I bring one matter to the attention—

Senator Henry, on the Order of Business.

We are demonstrating our independence, a Chathaoirligh, of each other—

Gentlemen, please.

—I am not a gentleman.

Order, please.

Will the Leader of the House note that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has produced a most useful report through the Internet Advisory Board on the different perceptions of parents and children regarding the use of the Internet? It would be useful to discuss the matter in this House because, I think, we would get agreement on all sides that the campaign promoted by the Department is extremely useful.

I commend the Leader of the House for the number of issues he has recently put on the agenda for us to debate. He is covering ground pretty well, but I am tempted to add a few more issues. A major one concerns the post offices. I hear the postmasters and the postmistresses are about to embark on industrial action arising from the ballot last week concerning how the sub-post office network is being dealt with. Major issues relate to PostPoint, the retention and maintenance of the network throughout the country, in rural and in urban areas, and the 12% remuneration that was promised, which has now been made conditional on participation in the forum. Serious issues remain to be addressed and I would like an early debate, especially given that another picket is likely to be placed on the Houses of the Oireachtas soon.

The most compelling domestic issue is health and the management of the health service which has not improved under the term of the Government. We saw from the recent ESRI report that 2,000 nurses were recruited in the past four years, while 4,000 administrative staff were recruited. Last year, the number of private patients treated in public hospitals in proportion to the number of public patients doubled. These are serious matters and every day we ask more questions about waiting lists, the closure of hospital beds, the inadequacy of staffing and so on. Will the Leader allow us the opportunity to have a full-scale debate on health, the issue which directly affects most people?

In the fallout in terms of employment of the catastrophe of 11 September, we need to update ourselves on the role of FÁS and the type of programmes and courses it has, which it may have to adjust. Representatives of the agency should state how they will cope with the aftermath by holding courses relevant to those who have lost their jobs.

It is important the House immediately debates the issue of Aer Lingus. It is especially important given that notice has been given to a number of employees without consultation with the unions and also given that the European Commission has allowed a loan to be given to Sabena while not to Aer Lingus. There is a need for the House to express its views clearly to the Minister so that she can proceed with a forceful hand in securing European Commission support. This can be done, especially for the transatlantic leg of the Aer Lingus operation. It is important we have a debate now and not tomorrow or next week. It is urgent and is needed now. The crisis is critical not just for Aer Lingus but also for the west and for the economy. It should be viewed in that light and that is why it should be given priority in the House.

I refer again to an issue I raised with the Leader last week about haemophiliacs. Has he had discussions with the Minister for Health and Children about broadening the terms of reference of the Lindsay tribunal to ensure pharmaceutical companies are investigated and made accountable to the tribunal?

The extraordinary scenario in Dublin city and country where women must go to hospitals in the midlands and the south-east to give birth is unacceptable and must be discussed by the House.

I join with Senator Henry in calling for a debate on the report from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform about the Inter net. This is something which could be usefully addressed in the House.

Do I take it that Senator Taylor-Quinn wishes to second the amendment?

I second the amendment to the Order of Business.

Will the Leader convey to the Government our sincere appreciation of the manner in which the funeral ceremony of the ten patriots was conducted last weekend? I compliment RTE on the wonderful coverage of the event. Next weekend, the funeral of volunteer Patrick Maher will take place in Ballylanders and I have no doubt it will be another dignified occasion. There is one other patriot still buried in jail grounds, namely, Thomas Kent in Cork Prison. Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach to give favourable consideration to the reinterment of and a proper Christian burial for Thomas Kent soon?

Following from what Senator Ó Murchú said, I was not present at the funerals but I was pleased to hear that Cardinal Cathal Daly said prayers for both sides. That was the Christian thing to do and was very much in the tradition of the Dean of St. Paul's who infuriated Margaret Thatcher by also praying for the fallen on the Argentinian side. That is the civilised approach.

Can we have time for discussion on transport issues, particularly Luas and the underground railway promised for Dublin, so that the Minister can reassure us that there is a clear timetable and that the undertakings given to the House will be met? The situation has changed and I am concerned that we have heard nothing about the underground element. Debate would be useful so that we can hear the Minister's views.

Are State-owned vehicles exempt from the MOT test? Throughout the country buses are among the principal polluters. Yesterday I was behind a Garda van which was pouring out black smoke.

It is lucky the Senator was not in it.

At least I was following it, not as in some other people's case.

That matter is not relevant to the Order of Business. The Senator should find another way of raising the matter.

I shall do my best. I support the call for a debate on Aer Lingus. It is important to have such a debate to reassure the staff, especially in the light of the extraordinary, cavalier and unfeeling attitude expressed by the chief executive of another airline towards the fate of the Aer Lingus employees. I understood we were having statements on Aer Lingus tomorrow. Will the Leader inform the House if this is incorrect?

I would like to point out to my colleagues from west of the Shannon that airport crises are not confined to their part of the country. Will the Leader convey to the Minister, who is due here tomorrow for debate on the Aer Lingus crisis, our acknowledgement of her statement to the Dáil this morning in which she indicated that the number of jobs to be lost has been reduced by 400 to 2,100? All things are relative but that is still a huge hit for any one area. As a matter of urgency, will the Leader convey to the Minister, in advance of her visit tomorrow, the necessity for the continuation of the industrial relations procedures in a spirit of partnership which has been the bedrock of the prosperity of the country for the last number of years? Unfortunately, it would appear from correspondence I have here that certain steps have been taken today which are utterly outside the realms of partnership as we know it.

I support the comments of my esteemed colleague, Senator Taylor-Quinn, particularly in regard to the dearth of midwives in the Dublin region. It is time for a Dublin allowance. London has an allowance for people working in the capital because of the high cost of living in a capital city and it would be a realistic step forward to have the same for Dublin.

While we reflect on the glory of what has been achieved by a Government that can do no wrong and so on—

(Interruptions.)

I am talking about the present lot.

Through the Leader of the House, Senator.

Yes, through the Leader for whom I have mixed feelings but generally feelings of high esteem. He has let me down once again on the issue of homelessness. At our council meeting yesterday I was informed that to be on the priority list for the homeless one would have to be in a hostel for one year, regardless of whether one has children. We had a debate on homelessness here about two years ago and many promises were made. This year in our county area we built 90 houses. There are 4,200 applicants on the list. Are we dealing with the remnants of the Celtic tiger or what in effect was always a Celtic "cheater"?

(Interruptions.)

Does the Senator want a debate on homelessness?

I do because the situation is dire. I did not hear my esteemed colleague's interruption.

The Senator said there was a man about whom she had mixed feelings but she never named him.

Through the Chair, please.

I do apologise but I was provoked, as the Chair will understand.

Will the Leader of the House allow time for a debate on the Department of Finance's scheme of tax concessions for people with disabilities? There is inconsistency as some people are able to avail of it while others, often with more severe disabilities, are not. The scheme's criteria must be reformed and I ask the Leader to allow time for debate.

Last Thursday I listened to questions being asked about a debate, chaired by an Cathaoirleach and myself, the night before. It is disturbing that one of the finest debates in this House, which produced constructive ideas from all sides and included an excellent response from the Minister, was not shown at all on RTE. Only the early debates in this House get coverage. It is as if the producer goes home at 5 o'clock. This was a good debate with constructive ideas, such as Senator's Ross's proposal that we invite the British ambassador here. It should have been heard and seen by the public. If those at RTE do not listen or look, then how can the public?

And the newspapers also.

It is unfair to this House and to the people.

I support the remarks of Senator Ó Murchú about the reinterment of the remains of the volunteers last Sunday and especially his proposal on the reinterment of Thomas Kent. It is appropriate that this House acknowledge the role of the Defence Forces. They were impeccable and performed admirably. As my party's spokesman on defence, I was proud to be there.

I support the call by the Leader of the Opposition for a debate on the Shannon stopover. It is high time that this was debated in this House and that it was voted on. It is time that the Shannon stopover was stopped.

A point of information – the Leader of the Opposition called for a debate on Aer Lingus, not the Shannon stopover.

There is no such thing as a point of information.

There is a difference between what Senator Ross stated and what our leader called for.

Order, please. Let Senator Ross continue without interruption.

I apologise to the House and the Senator. I did not intend to be provocative. However, let us debate the Shannon stopover, whether Fine Gael calls for it or not. I understood that was his proposal.

It was a deliberate misrepresentation.

We should cease having statements and instead debate a motion on the issues which the Leader proposes. It is appropriate that we will debate the economy, but it is unfortunate that on other issues we have statements with no motion to focus on so that people can pin their colours to the mast. It would be more fitting for the House and the parties to express a view on Aer Lingus because individual statements get people off the hook and vary according to the geographic location of the Senator. I understand from "Morning Ireland" that the Minister for Public Enterprise will come here tomorrow. Then the House should express a view on the Shannon stopover and Aer Lingus rather than present inconclusive, rambling statements.

I support the call by Senator John Cregan for a debate on tax concessions for people with disabilities. There are anomalies in relation to these concessions.

I wish to clarify for Senator Taylor-Quinn that Dublin people are not being made to leave the county to have babies. Members will recognise that there has been a huge increase in the number of asylum seekers coming to our country, which puts an extra strain on maternity services in the city. This is coupled with an increase in the number of Irish people who have moved to Dublin. It is only right that we look at developing services on a regional basis as well as continuing the development of smaller county units for maternity services.

I support calls for a debate on the use of the Internet and on the recent report from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is important that we focus on the issue of technology and access to it. For many who live in peripheral areas, broad band technology is not available and will not be available in the short-term. We need equality of access for all and we need a flat-rate access fee immediately. I would welcome an opportunity to debate with the Minister the barriers which prevent this. For some reason, Eircom has difficulties making this available to us and to the service providers.

It is appropriate that our friend and colleague, Senator Cox, should refer to the Internet. If Members are aspiring Deputies and want to get a good website on the cheap, she will be glad to talk to them about it.

I support the comments by Senators Glynn and Labhrás Ó Murchú on last weekend's commemoration. As a spokesman on broadcasting, I see last Sunday as one of the finest examples of the case for public service broadcasting. It was RTE's finest hour. When it comes to big occasions like this, there is no other broadcasting company – not even the BBC – which can rise to the occasion as RTE did. For the many people who could not be in Dublin last Sunday, RTE captured the occasion superbly. I am interested in seeing the TAM ratings of this event.

It would now be opportune for RTE to commission a series on the period from 1916 to 1921. The ignorance of this period is extraordinary. If one looks at the media comment leading up to last Sunday, there were large gaps in the knowledge of many of our so-called experts who tried to suggest that history was being re-written. In 1966 RTE commissioned such a series on the insurrection in 1916, a series that, surprisingly, was never repeated. RTE still has that series. The Taoiseach referred to the "closure" of this aspect of our history – with the exception of Thomas Ceannt – and it is an opportune time for such a series.

I ask the Leader if he will invite the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, to the House to explain the Clár initiative, which in a sense slipped by over the last two weeks. The Minister of State has identified seriously economically disadvantaged areas of the country. It is important that all sides of the House have an opportunity to debate this matter. Members representing rural Ireland have long been calling for some initiative to bring disadvantaged areas up to speed. The initiative which the Minister of State, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuiv, launched in recent weeks received minimal coverage at a national level, although it received extensive coverage at provincial level. It would be an opportunity for the Minister of State to highlight a significant initiative in terms of improving the prosperity of the areas designated.

I ask the Leader for a debate on the tourism industry. Time was promised in this session for such a debate. When is it envisaged? The tourism industry is in crisis. First, the industry suffered from foot and mouth disease. Then came the 11 September attacks and the whole area is up in the clouds. I ask the Leader to arrange for an urgent debate.

I wish to inform the House that the Aer Lingus Bill, 2000, is being withdrawn. Senators Connor, Taylor-Quinn, Norris and Glennon called for a debate on Aer Lingus as a matter of urgency. As the Senators may be aware, the Minister for Public Enterprise will be in the Dáil at least twice today, if not three times, in regard to various matters pertaining to her portfolio but especially matters concerning Aer Lingus. The Minister has agreed to facilitate the Order of Business in this House by making herself available from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. tomorrow evening to allow for statements on the current state of Aer Lingus. I noted the large number of Senators who requested this in the last two weeks and I look forward to their contributions.

Senators Henry, Taylor-Quinn and Cox called for the report on the Internet to be debated and I have no difficulty in allocating time for that. Senator Costello called for a debate on post offices and I have already agreed to allocate time for it. Senators Taylor-Quinn, Henry and other Senators called for a debate on health issues. Perhaps when the new health policy is available in a few weeks' time it would be appropriate to have an all-day debate on this matter.

Senator Ormonde called for a debate on the future role of FÁS. I am aware that she is very committed to the great work it has carried out over the years. Tomorrow we will have a four hour debate on the economy and perhaps this point can be raised with the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, who will be present.

Senator Taylor-Quinn called for an update on the extension of powers of the Lindsay tribunal. I agreed with the sentiments which she expressed last week and hope that this will be done as soon as possible.

Senators Norris, Glynn, Ó Murchú and Mooney offered their congratulations to all concerned in the organisation of the State funerals last Sunday. It was a privilege to be present and I congratulate the Taoiseach, the Government, the Defence Forces and all others associated with the event. I join with Senator Ó Murchú in calling for the reinterment of Thomas Ceannt. As Senator Mooney said, RTE excelled once again in its coverage, which was compulsive viewing. I met many people who asked to have this opinion expressed in the Seanad today to publicly congratulate RTE on their magnificent work last Sunday.

Senator Norris called for a debate on the current progress of the Luas and I have no difficulty in allocating time for this. I will pass on his views to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government regarding MOT testing.

Senator Ridge called for a debate on homelessness and I have no difficulty in allocating time for this before Christmas. Senators John Cregan and Leonard called on the Minister for Finance to come into the House to clarify the tax concessions to the disabled. This has been mentioned on many occasions here, in particular on the Finance Bill by Senator Farrell. There seems to be a different view of discretion right across the board and the Minister may address this in the forthcoming budget or in the Finance Bill. I have no problem in allocating time for this.

Senator Dino Cregan expressed his disappointment at RTE's coverage of the Sellafield debate. This has already been expressed in the House. I have raised it with the relevant authorities and have expressed the concern of the House that legislation should take precedence at all times over statements, motions and the Order of Business. In fairness RTE has been keeping to the 25% guideline for Seanad coverage on "Oireachtas Report". Regarding the proposal by Senator Ross that the ambassador come to the House, I heard this matter covered by RTE in highlights of the week on a Saturday morning. It was a suggestion of note and I will again pass on the Senator's views on the issue of Sellafield.

Senator Connor has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That statements on Shannon Airport be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.

Burke, Paddy.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Cregan, Denis (Dino).Henry, Mary.

Jackman, Mary.Keogh, Helen.Norris, David.Ridge, Thérèse.Ross, Shane.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Níl

Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Cassidy, Donie.Cox, Margaret.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.

Hayes, Maurice.Kett, Tony.Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Máirín.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Burke and Ridge; Níl, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons.
Amendment declared lost.
Order of Business agreed to.
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