The Order of Business is No. 1, Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001 – Second Stage; and No. 6, motion re statement for the information of voters. Contributions of Senators on the Bill shall not exceed 15 minutes and No. 6 will be taken with No. 1 for the purposes of the debate. The Minister shall be called to reply to the debate not earlier than 3.30 p.m. Business will be interrupted from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Order of Business.
I agree to the Order of Business with one exception which has been consistently raised by Senator Manning over the past week, namely, No. 12. I ask the Leader to take No. 12 before No. 1. It will not take more than a few minutes and I cannot understand the intransigence of the Leader in not agreeing to this. There no reason we could not deal with it. It could be dealt with in ten minutes and we could get on with our business. With that exception, I agree to the Order of Business.
I second the proposal that we take No. 12 before No. 1.
I also ask the Leader to arrange a debate dur ing the next session on the Commission on Human Rights. Senators may have heard on yesterday evening's television news that the committee of the Irish Penal Reform Trust went to the Commission on Human Rights to express its concern about the treatment of mentally ill people in the penal system. The Commission on Human Rights was set up under the Good Friday Agreement. However, while the commission has been named and some people have been nominated to the body, as yet it has no staff of any significance and not much in the way of funds has been given to it. I do not ask for the debate immediately the House resumes, given that so little work has taken place, but I would be grateful if the Leader could arrange it before the fourth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
I also support the proposal to take No. 12 before No. 1. The reasons have been well rehearsed, so I will not go into them.
I also support Senator Henry's call for a debate on the Commission on Human Rights, which is an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement. The British Government set up the Commission on Human Rights two years ago in Northern Ireland. We set up ours a couple of months ago and if, as Senator Henry said, no staff have been allocated at this point, it is a disgrace because we gave a solemn, statutory commitment to establish that commission and have it running properly. I would welcome a debate on that matter.
When does the Leader of the House intend to introduce legislation to allow for the implementation of the decision taken by the Minister for Finance in the context of the budget to transfer £500 million from the Central Bank fund? I understand that the permission of the European Central Bank is required and that this must be obtained before the budget becomes operable. I would also like to know when the Leader intends to arrange for the legislation required for the raid on the social insurance fund as a result of which all our PRSI contributions will be transferred to the Government. When is it intended to bring legislation in relation to both those issues before the House?
Regarding the issue of illegal dumping, I ask the Leader to request the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come to the House for an emergency debate on the entire question of the discovery of illegal dump sites. So far such dumps have been found only in the vicinity of Dublin. However, it is reasonable to assume in the circumstances that they exist in the vicinity of other major conurbations around the country. They have been totally uncontrolled and it appears that in some instances the county councils were aware of their existence for some time, but the public was not aware. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the Seanad so he can explain the situation and what steps he intends to take to control and remedy it and to prevent a recurrence.
For the last couple of years I and other Senators have been seeking a debate on appropriate education for children with autism and the reasons speech and language therapy teachers cannot be appointed. You, a Chathaoirligh, have asked us to use the appropriate mechanism for raising these issues. I did that yesterday in an Adjournment Debate and—
Senator, it is not in order to discuss the Minister's reply on the Order of Business this morning.
I am not discussing the reply. I am simply pointing out that it is not a procedure which has made me any wiser. How can we get across to both the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Education and Science the need to deal with speech and language therapy teachers and the educational needs of autistic children?
The Senator and her party should put down a substantial motion on the matter—
We have done that in the past but it has not been debated.
—to be debated in Private Members' time.
We have done so but we are getting nowhere. I believe we must make an effort to deal with these issues and the mechanism through which I thought I would get a response is obviously useless and has been in relation to motions on the Adjournment. I appeal to the Leader to get these debates under way in the new year. Even then, it is a year too late.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on Northern Ireland? Even though it is near the Christmas recess, I hope he will be able to allocate a couple of hours for it. There have been many significant developments in recent times but the leaking of the ombudsman's report on the Omagh bombing raises serious questions. If there is any proof that the police were aware in advance that there might be a bombing in Omagh, one can only imagine what this must mean to the relatives of those who died and suffered that day. It would be wrong not to give Members an opportunity to discuss those implications at the earliest possible date.
Senator Ó Murchú has raised the issue I intended to raise and I strongly support his request. It is remarkable that the report should have been leaked at this point. One wonders about the motivation behind it. The report places a clear question mark over the operation of certain sections of the police force in Northern Ireland and for that reason it is appropriate that we have this debate. It raises a question about the Special Branch in particular.
However, one ought to put on record the fact that nothing in the report indicates that the bombing could have been averted—
These matters can be dealt with in the debate which has been sought. It is not in order to pre-empt that debate on the Order of Business.
Nothing can shift the blame from the people who planted the bomb. The hypocrisy of Sinn Féin spokesmen, given that these people came from the same stable, and Mrs. McKevitt complaining about her husband in Portlaoise—
Thank you, Senator Norris.
The bombers who were caught with 300 lb bombs are worrying about the families' feelings.
Finally, I support Senator Henry's call for a debate on the treatment of prisoners who are mentally ill but I also wish to say a word on behalf of the sane. Isolation in padded cells is used against sane prisoners. It is illegal but it is happening in this State.
I wish to refer to the requests for a debate on Northern Ireland and on the specific issue of a leaked version of an ombudsman's draft report. I do not believe it would be helpful to have such a debate at present. There is also the aspect that Senator Norris raised which is that it would only shift the focus from the people who planted the bomb. Perhaps I could explain something on the basis of my background as an ombudsman. When an ombudsman does a draft report it is sent to the relevant people who are asked if they agree with the facts. They may not agree with those facts. One then explains the assumptions one will make or the conclusions one will draw and one gives them the opportunity to respond. About the least helpful thing this House could do is have a debate on a leaked version of a draft report when we are not aware of its totality. I, too, question the motivation of the people who leaked the document.
We need a debate on Northern Ireland and we need a debate on whatever arises from the ombudsman's report when it appears. However, it is best to leave that until the facts are fully on the table.
What Senator Hayes says makes a lot of sense. The matter should be debated but to do so when we do not know the facts would be irresponsible. That message came across clearly from the debate on "Morning Ireland" this morning on RTE. People from both sides who knew nothing of what they were talking made wild allegations against each other. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland then came in and said that people should hold it, and that this report has not been read by any of those making statements about it. That is madness and we would only repeat that exercise if we debated the matter now. Let us wait until the report is issued.
Next week, perhaps.
I endorse the point made by Senator Costello. He asked when we would get the legislation which is necessary to implement some of the budget measures which the Minister announced this week. I understand that legislation is necessary regarding the Central Bank's reserves but I had not thought it was necessary regarding the social insurance funds. My understanding is that although Senator Costello said that those funds were raided by the Minister, there was also a Deputy Ruairí Quinn who found those funds particularly useful in the past when he dipped into them for about £18 million, and put the social insurance funds into deficit.
That is not relevant on the Order of Business.
It is very interesting.
It would be interesting if the Leader could tell us why legislation is necessary this time for taking money from the social insurance fund when it was not necessary when Deputy Quinn needed the money.
I support the call made by Senator Glennon for an emergency debate on illegal dumping around the Dublin area. I can say with some confidence that this problem is quite widespread around the country. It is time for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come to the House for an emergency debate on this serious matter.
I support Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú in his call for a debate on the leaked draft ombudsman's report in Northern Ireland. I would be happy to await the final draft of that report before having a debate. I also seek a debate on general issues relating to Northern Ireland and we should have the debate on the ombudsman's report also.
Senators Coogan and Henry called for an amendment to the Order of Business regarding No. 12. With the Senators' agreement, No. 12 will be included on the Order of Business on Tuesday next. Senators Henry and Norris, supported by Senator Costello, called for a debate on the treatment of prisoners and human rights issues, particularly in relation to the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. I will leave time for this.
Senators Costello and Ross inquired regarding the timeframe relating to matters which followed the budget announcement. I will have inquiries made. To answer Senator Ross, I do not know why legislation will be needed this time when it was not needed last time. Perhaps there is a difference but I do not think there is.
The difference is that they put the fund in deficit.
The Senator should resume his seat.
I am just helping the Leader of the House on this matter.
The Senator has spoken once on the Order of Business. The Leader will continue his reply without interruption.
Senator Glennon and other Senators called for a debate on illegal dumping. As Senators will know, an additional €16 million was provided in the budget for a new programme of grants to radically improve the waste management infrastructure. This brings the figure in 2002 to €30 million which is approximately seven times the £4.3 million provided by the previous Government in 1997. It is timely to have a debate on this and I will endeavour to see if time can be allocated next week.
I would like to inform the House that we will be sitting until at least 12 midnight on Wednesday. There is a very heavy schedule next week in both the Dáil and Seanad. We will sit again the following week on Tuesday and Wednesday, 18 and 19 December before the Christmas recess. We will take the Social Welfare Bill and the Appropriation Bill – Second Stage on Tuesday with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken on Wednesday.
Senator Jackman again called for a debate on education. I have already committed time and have said we will have this debate in the next session. Fine Gael can allocate Private Members' time to this matter and does not have to consult any other party or, indeed, me. That is the way it should be and has been.
Senators Ó Murchú, Norris, Hayes, Ross and Callanan called for a debate on Northern Ireland. A view has been expressed on the draft ombudsman's report on the Omagh bombing. I have taken account of the requests made and will review the matter on a weekly basis.
Senator Coogan has moved an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 12 be inserted before No. 1. Is the amendment being pressed?
No. I thank the Leader for his change of heart. It must be my persuasive abilities over those of Senator Manning.