The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Planning and Development Regulations, 2001; No. 2, Mental Health (Amendment) Bill, 2001 – First Stage; No. 3, Asset Covered Securities Bill, 2001 – Committee and Remaining Stages; and No. 4, Family Support Agency, 2001 – Second Stage. The contributions of spokespersons shall not exceed 15 minutes while those of all other Senators shall not exceed ten minutes. Senators may share time.
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is agreeable to my group. I wish to pay a vote of sympathy to the family of the late Detective Sergeant Seán Eiffe who died in the course of duty last Friday. It is important we remember, even though we are at times critical of the Garda, that this man made the supreme sacrifice in defence of the public good. We would like to pass on our sympathies to his family.
I refer to the tragedy at Wexford over the weekend. Lives were lost in dreadful circumstances and perhaps the Leader will consider having a short debate under No. 5, which will be the first item of business tomorrow. It would afford an opportunity for brief statements on asylum seekers and the events in Wexford.
I turn to the constitutional amendment Bill. I draw the attention of the House to a statement by a group calling itself Mother and Child, which is better known as Youth Defence. The group announced that it is about to launch a major poster campaign personalising the abortion issue around the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health and Children. The debate so far has been about the principle involved and there is no place in politics for the personalised nastiness that the group intends to bring into the campaign. We debated the issues here last week without becoming personal or attacking the motives of people on either side. These people should be told these imported tactics have no place in Irish politics. Neither the Taoiseach nor the Minister for Health and Children, both of whom are doing their jobs honestly according to their lights on this issue, should be subjected to the personalised abuse promised by this appalling group.
How does the Leader intend to order the remainder of the debate? Is there any great point in going ahead, given that the Deputy Leader and the Tánaiste do not think there should be a referendum? Surely, at the very best, we could postpone this—
We cannot get into those matters now on the Order of Business.
As always, I am just trying to be helpful. Surely we could postpone the debate until after Christmas, given that there is no urgency now about a referendum. If the Progressive Democrats continue to face both ways at once and state, "We will vote for a referendum, but we really do not want one," will the Leader at least make sure that Committee and Report Stages are held on separate days?
With regard to the first item, when the committees were being established we were strongly of the view that there was a need to refer matters to them and that on that basis they would be referred without debate. The reason for this was that the matters, having been considered by the committee, would then come back to the House. I note that the motion states that the committee shall send a message back to us. The reason I am raising this question is that I cannot recall any messages having being received. We have referred quite a number of matters to committees in the past six or seven months without debate. Obviously, they are being debated. If possible, I would like to get a list of all the matters we have referred to committees in the past six or seven months, and an update on their current position and when we will get a chance of debating them. The committee system is not a black hole into which we dump things. It is in place to have a rational and informed debate begun. I ask that the Leader respond to this request.
I do not want to open a debate on the issues raised by what happened in Wexford last weekend except to make two simple points. Members will recall the long debates in the House and the many votes on the legislation governing the question of asylum seekers and immigrants. Time has passed and we need a debate in the House without the legislation being part of it. I ask the Leader to timetable a debate in order that Members can express their views on economic migrants, convention refugees, other refugees and asylum seekers and how they should be dealt with. It should include issues such as the right to work while waiting for their cases to be processed. We could then inform Government. It is important to have such a debate, particularly at a time of declining employment. I do not know who wants to go picking mushrooms in Belmullet, fruit in north Dublin or raising chickens, but we will need people to do that work.
The Senator has made his point.
I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands to come to the House to explain to us what exactly is happening in RTE. I have asked this question previously. The question of Aer Lingus has been raised because it is an issue in the national media and has a high profile. That is what tends to happen in the House. It is only when an issue receives a high profile in the media that people want to discuss it. The issue of what is happening in RTE is very important and we should be getting an update. I understand there is a decision pending to sell Ireland's long wave broadcasting licence which would seem to be irrevocable. It escapes me why we would want to lose our right to broadcast on long wave, with a footprint right around western Europe.
The Senator is pre-empting the debate with his statement.
I agree. I used it only as an example of the reason it is important to have a debate at this stage. I ask that the Minister come to the House to debate the matter.
I express my sincere condolences and sorrow on the deaths over the weekend of the garda and the asylum seekers who were coming here to look for a better life. There could well be a benefit in having a debate on the general issue of immigration which, as Senator O'Toole stated, is not set in the rather passionate context of the taking of legislation. There are numerous issues which need to be looked at. Almost weekly one hears a question about the nature of the agreement with Nigeria entered into by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I understand there is another such deportation about to take place where there are serious questions of human rights and fears that the person concerned might be persecuted on returning home.
Second, I seek two debates before Christmas. One is on the question of housing and homelessness. The National Economic and Social Forum reports that the situation has deteriorated considerably. Local authority housing output is well below the requirement for the homeless and others. We should also debate the war being waged in Afghanistan, the global threat from terrorism and the deteriorating position in Palestine in this season of good will in the context of the Secretary General of the United Nations being awarded the Nobel peace prize yesterday.
I join in expressing sympathy on the death of Sergeant Eiffe, not just to his family but also to his colleagues, particularly those who were present when this appalling incident happened.
It would be useful to debate issues arising from the terrible events in Wexford and the finding of the bodies in the container. However, it ought to be considered on two levels – the national and European. It is apparent that some of the difficulties could be minimised if there were a concerted, unified European response.
Senator Manning raised the matter of targeting over the proposed referendum. Some of us have already been targeted in hoarding advertising by those people. Members of the Oireachtas All-party Committee on the Constitution were targeted in that way. This is a free country and people are entitled to do that, but they should have the courage of their convictions and identify themselves on the advertising. This occurred in my local town and my experience of that committee was that several of these people showed an absolute disregard for the Oireachtas, the Judiciary and the will of the people, which is the most worrying aspect. I thank Senator Manning for his helpful comments. We will debate this on Committee Stage, which I know an Cathaoirleach would prefer.
I have allowed a certain latitude to the leaders because they speak on behalf of their groups on the important matters which the groups wish to raise on the Order of Business. I insist that other speakers confine themselves to questions to the Leader which are relevant to today's business. I call on sister . . . I mean Senator Ridge.
A Chathaoirligh, my husband always said that a wonderful reverend mother was lost in me. I do not know why. He also said that if the nuns ran the country, there would never be a deficit, a statement with which I agree.
I ask for a little indulgence as I received my nomination to the Seanad from the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors. I extend my deepest sympathy to the family of Sergeant Eiffe and his colleagues in the AGSI.
I do not know why people are putting up posters about the referendum as no one in Dublin has spoken a word to me about it. I also think we should not proceed with it.
Closer to home, or homelessness—
Closer to the Order of Business if possible.
I would have thought that An Cathaoirleach would have had more respect for a nun.
I support Senator Costello's comments on homelessness. He says that there is no room at the inn, but the reality is that there are no inns and no rooms.
An appalling issue is that, for whatever reason, we do not seem able to provide transport facilities for people who have a physical disability. People who do not get the appropriate transport services in the days of the gloating Minister for Finance are outside the gate today, and that is shameful. The Taoiseach should consider our colleagues outside the gates who have no transport when he is contemplating how to arrange the millions for the Bertie Bowl in Abbotstown. We should start again with a proper attitude. There should be a meaningful debate on how to meet the transport needs of people who use wheelchairs in this city.
We all agree with the sentiments expressed by Mother Ridge on the provision of transport for people with disabilities. I do not think there should be an ongoing debate on issues decided by those outside the gate. They should come to us and put their case. We will put the case to the Minister or the Leader of the House and we could then have a more meaningful discussion. Otherwise we will be dictated to by those outside the gate irrespective of whether their views are good, bad or indifferent.
I wish to raise an important matter. Mr. David Byrne, the EU Commissioner was privileged to speak to this House recently. According to a report by the political correspondent, John Cooney, which was taken up by various newspapers all over Europe, Mr. Byrne described the knowledge of Europe in this House as abysmally low. If there had been sufficient time to discuss matters of European importance with him in this House, he might have formed a different impression. He suggested that Members of both Houses did not earn their salaries because of their failure to campaign in the referendum.
This has nothing to do with the Order of Business. Have you a question for the Leader of the House?
It has a relevance which I will explain. This remark is a total slur on this House and that is why it is relevant to the Order of Business. Commissioner Byrne said that he did not vote in the referendum even though as a Commissioner he was granted two days leave in which he could vote.
This contribution is totally out of order. It is not relevant to the Order of Business and I must ask Senator Lanigan to resume his seat.
I ask that the Commissioner return to the House to explain what he meant.
I ask the Leader when No. 11 on the Order Paper, the matter of dumping, will be taken. I raised this matter repeatedly over the past couple of weeks. It is an important issue and we now have dumps all over the place. The latest one is in Fairview where some serious waste has been found. It has been going on for a number of years and has been revealed by the development of the Dublin Port tunnel.
I ask the Leader if there is a possibility of time being provided for a discussion on discipline in schools in the light of the decision against a teacher who wished to discipline a pupil who was supplying cannabis to other pupils in the school. I say this despite the fact that I support the legalisation of cannabis.
I understand, a Chathaoirligh, that you do not wish much discussion on the question of the tragic shooting in Abbeyleix, but I wish to add my voice to those who sought a debate. The committee has been fairly neutered in investigating the Abbeylara case and that is relevant particularly since for so long we have boasted that we have an unarmed police force. We now have an armed section. We need to know what rules govern the use of guns in these circumstances. It was tragically a member of the police force who was killed but it could have been a member of the public.
You have made your point, Senator Norris.
I think the public is concerned at shootings in the public street where civilians may well be hurt. Other Members have raised the question of the refugees who tragically met their deaths while being brought to an Irish port. I ask for a debate on this matter. We should bear in mind in that debate the very serious words of Bishop Comiskey, who referred directly to legislation in a very fine and considered interview on the radio and indicated that not only Irish law but also European Community law should be looked at.
With regard to posters, it is distressing for people to be pilloried in this manner, but senior politicians have a way of dealing with it. I remember the last time this kind of issue was raised and precisely the same group was around. They were abusive and violent. I treated them with contempt and I hope that is the way the Taoiseach will treat them.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the damning report on water quality just published, which raises major public concern as to how all local authorities deal with the supply of good quality drinking water. Given that it is a national condemnation of local authorities, we should have a debate on it here as soon as possible.
I have it down on the Order Paper.
I would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy for the family of Detective Sergeant Eiffe. I support Senator Manning's call to discuss the tragedy in Wexford during the debate on No. 5 tomorrow.
I know my county is often referred to as the Kingdom. However, it is not yet an independent republic. We never declared UDI and it is not a secessionist state. I call on the Leader to use his good offices on behalf of the citizens there who are still paying their taxes to get the euro calculators and ready reckoners distributed immediately to all the blank spots, which have not received them to date.
That is nothing to do with the Order of Business.
It is still a very relevant matter where I come from. We are in the euro area.
I know we have a very busy schedule, but I ask the Leader to allow time for debates on road safety and fire safety. Christmas is supposed to be a happy time and a family occasion. However, many families will receive tragic news of the loss of loved ones. The carnage on our roads in particular is absolutely shocking and seems to be out of control. This House could play an important role in alerting people to certain procedures.
Following Senator Ó Murchú's point about road safety, we had a debate here two weeks ago on that. However, we held back somewhat because we understood the Road Traffic Bill would reach us before Christmas. We understood that penalty points would be introduced next year. I ask the Leader to tell us when the Road Traffic Bill will reach us. I gather it has not yet gone through the other House. That means we will not deal with it before February, in which case the penalty points will not be introduced until perhaps 2003. If that were to be so, it would be a great disappointment.
I ask the Leader for a debate on insurance, which has been sought for some time. There are two aspects that worry me. The Government promised to establish the Personal Injury Assessment Board this year. Is it possible that we will have to wait until 2003 for that also? The Health Insurance (Amendment) Act, 2001, requires the Health Insurance Authority to introduce risk equalisation. That was promised for October and it is now December. Will this be introduced in the near future?
I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House, early in the new term, for a further discussion on the problem of immigration, which was highlighted by the tragic happenings of the weekend. I congratulate the Minister on his humanitarian approach to that tragedy. It is highly commendable.
It is also highly unusual.
I take this opportunity to welcome Senator Costello back to the House. He and his colleagues were conspicuous by their absence from the vote last Friday. Perhaps he would like to confirm that he was in the genealogy office checking out his background.
It is not in order to refer to the presence or absence of any Senator.
In view of the recent U-turn by the Government on stamp duty and residential rented accommodation and the ESRI report which stated that more houses were built last year than this year, which is worrying for the future, I ask for an urgent debate on housing.
I support the call by Senator O'Toole for a debate on RTE. I have raised this issue on a number of occasions. I am concerned that competition from other television stations will mean the quality of programmes will not be as good. It is important to have a debate on this issue. I mentioned the Sunday sports programme when I raised this issue before. Last Sunday I listened to what replaced it and it was a joke to hear RTE personalities making jibes at each other. There is bad management in RTE. I would welcome a debate if that is possible.
I join with everyone here in expressing sympathy on the tragic death of Garda Sergeant Seán Eiffe from Ratoath in County Meath. I know his family well. They are decent, hardworking and honourable people. He served his country with great distinction. I want to be associated with all the remarks made here today. The tragedy occurred while he was protecting our society.
I also want to be associated with the sentiments expressed about the tragedy in Wexford. I hope to have statements next Friday on asylum seekers, for which Senators Manning, O'Toole, Costello, Ridge, Norris, Coghlan and Glennon called. I wish the five people well who are fighting for their lives. I also commend those who are looking after them in hospital.
As regards the points made by Senators Manning and Dardis about the proposed campaign by Youth Defence, I will pass their comments to the Minister responsible for that area. It is time to adhere to the standards for public notices, irrespective of who they are targeted at. No one, particularly those who are serving in the national interest and who are chosen by the people to hold certain positions, should be abused in such a way.
Senator Manning mentioned the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill. With the agreement of the leaders, I intend to take Committee Stage tomorrow and Remaining Stages on Thursday. Whips and leaders will meet after the Order of Business to find agreement. I thank the leaders and the Whips for their co-operation in dealing with a heavy schedule of legislation this week.
I will come back to Senator O'Toole about the list of matters taken without debate during the past year. Senators O'Toole and Rory Kiely expressed concern about what is happening in RTE. Senator Rory Kiely mentioned the Sunday sports programme on the Order of Business on a number of recent occasions. Senator O'Toole informed the House of his up-to-date knowledge. He participated well last night on "Questions & Answers". It is regrettable RTE is considering the sale of its long wave signal. I hope that will not happen because its long wave signal enables it to broadcast across Europe and further afield, which makes it easier to sell Ireland as a nation.
Senators Costello and Ridge called again for a debate on homelessness and I have no difficulty in accommodating that in the next session. A debate on the matter was already taken during this session. Senator Costello also called for a debate on Afghanistan and the Middle East and I am happy to agree to that, time being of the essence. Senator Norris referred to No. 11 and I propose to include statements on it on the Order of Business for Friday. I will endeavour to facilitate the taking before the Christmas recess of matters called for which are of an urgent nature.
Senator Finneran called for a debate on water quality. We had a debate on the matter a few weeks ago, but a new report has come out which is damning of group water schemes. It is not as scathing of local authorities. Millions are being spent on group water schemes at present and, as most of us who are members of them know, local authorities being pressured to spend this money. Counties in the midlands are being pressured because of a lack of activity. Rural local authority members of all parties have responded to the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Ó Cuív's CLÁR programme. He is to co-ordinate with other Departments, such as the Department of the Environment and Local Government, with regard to the programme. I certainly agree with the sentiments expressed in the Senator's call for the debate and I will have time allowed for a debate.
I note Senator Coghlan's comment about the euro. Senators Ó Murchú and Quinn spoke about road safety. The Road Traffic Bill, 2001, is before the Dáil and it is hoped that it will come before this House in February. Senator Quinn also called for a debate on the insurance industry, which I have agreed to. He referred specifically to public liability. It is extremely difficult to get cover in the first place and, having got it, to be quoted a reasonable cost. I will certainly allow time for this debate in the early part of the next session.
Senator Burke returned to an old chestnut. As a local authority member he is always vigilant. I welcome his congratulating the Minister for Finance on restoring mortgage interest relief in the budget. It will allow the investor to come back into the market. I heard at lunch time that a very large company is returning to Ireland and will employ 400 people in construction. This is very welcome to Members on all sides of the House as we are all concerned that such occurrences will take place. It is positive news and an immediate positive response to a very good budget.