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Seanad Éireann debate -
Friday, 8 Mar 2002

Vol. 169 No. 11

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No. 1, Public Health (Tobacco) Bill, 2001 – Committee and Remaining Stages; and No. 2, Residential Institutions Redress Bill, 2001 – Second Stage, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and on which Senators may share time.

The Order of Business is agreed. Last week I asked the Leader of the House if the Communications Regulations Bill, 2002, would be taken before the general election and he told me it would not. That was accurate information at the time, but I read subsequently that there is pressure to take it. Perhaps the Leader could give me the up to date position on the Government's intentions in regard to the Bill.

The referendum is over. I ask the Leader to provide time during our next sitting for a reflective debate on the entire process. There is a great deal to be reflected upon. Some issues are technical, including the way information is delivered to people on complex matters; the role of the Referendum Commission; midweek voting; and what happens when polling cards go missing and people find that somebody else has voted in their place, which happened in a number of polling stations. There are also the substantive issues.

It is important to point out that the campaign over the past four to six weeks was very civilised. There was a great deal of tolerance and good manners all round and very little of the poison, bitterness and hatred that characterised the earlier campaigns, especially the 1983 campaign. A few people disgraced themselves, but that will always happen. It would be good if the House, when it returns, could reflect upon the issues of the referendum in a calm way.

Will the Leader of the House seek a view from Government on the decision of the US President to introduce a protectionist policy in the steel industry? We had discussions on the problems of Irish Steel and its successors in Cork and know what it is like to have to live in the real world of competition. We passed a Competition Bill last week and have been committed to EU rules and regulations in this area. The so-called great disciples of globalisation in the United States have a different view of globalisation now, which is to keep all comers out. They are prepared to take advantage of and put pressure on countries in the developing world to restrict their ability to develop industries. This is quite disgraceful and I call on the Government to raise with the EU authorities how we can best respond in an active way to this extraordinary, negative decision by President Bush to put protectionist policies in place and tax every piece of steel imported by the United States.

There is a great need for a debate on yesterday's decision, but not just for one day. We must hold our breath because it would be completely wrong to rush into a decision on the issue. This is a good time to discuss the result before a new Government comes into power, whatever shape and complexion it takes. We do not have to be at the beck and call of the Supreme Court because there is a separation of powers. However, there is no need to do anything yet. It is time to allow the decision to bed in, understand where we are and make decisions, but not reopen the debate. There is no rush because medical professionals can be trusted. Yesterday's decision is difficult to interpret and we should not rush to do so. It is a decision which we accept and must allow to bed in. We must take our time before taking any new initiative in this area.

I support the call for a debate on the referendum result. It was a very wasteful, costly and confusing referendum, which we pointed out on a number of occasions. Given that the status quo has not changed, it is important to reflect on where we go from here, particularly in terms of future legislation. Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to indicate what might happen legislatively? The Government has been very much to the fore in making promises and commitments regarding what it would do if returned after the general election. Obviously nothing will happen until the election, but now is the time to hear where the Government stands and for us to discuss the matter.

I have repeatedly asked for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come to the House to discuss waste management. We are getting a huge number of reports of illegal dumping of both household and hazardous waste throughout the country. Yesterday somebody in County Meath was sent to prison, so obviously the courts are coming down fairly heavily on offenders. We need to discuss this matter to understand what the policy is and hear what the Minister has to say about it. It seems to be out of control, but there does not seem to be any direction on dealing with it. It is causing an enormous amount of pollution and damage both to the countryside and the good name of the country.

I again ask for a debate on the Middle East. A number of people including Senator Norris asked for this yesterday. Events seem to be spiralling out of control and it would be worth having the Minister, Deputy Cowen, here to discuss the matter, especially considering our role on the Security Council of the United Nations.

Obviously, the people spoke in the referendum and, as has been stated, it will fall to the next Government to proceed. Nothing useful can be achieved by debating that issue between now and the end of the Government's term. Yesterday every group in the country seemed to take meanings from a result that was, by any standards, extremely complex. One of the recommendations of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution that was advocated by one of the parties attending was to leave matters stand in conjunction with a crisis pregnancy agency. In those circumstances, the best we can do is to reflect calmly on what has taken place. Senator Manning raised one aspect regarding the operation of referenda in general that could be debated. It is very curious that the registers of electors are more deficient in the era of computers than they were when they were done manually. That needs to be addressed.

There is an important issue that the House should discuss before the end of the term. We will be confronted with a decision that we will have to take before the end of the year and that is how to proceed with the Nice treaty affecting the enlargement of the European Union. Two very important reports have been published in recent weeks. One is the report on the first phase of work of the National Forum on Europe and the second is the excellent report produced by the Joint Committee on European Affairs on the future of Europe. Both those reports together merit serious consideration by the House and I ask the Leader to make time available for that debate.

I agree fully with Senator O'Toole about protectionism in the United States with regard to steel. This is hard to reconcile with that country's attitude to the Common Agricultural Policy and its wish to dismantle it. One wonders whether its professed support of trade liberalism is more related to its own domestic advantage rather than world trade.

I allowed considerable latitude to the leaders of the various groups to comment on the referendum and to make the case for a debate on it. We should defer any further comment on that matter until the debate takes place.

I agree with that point. We could have a very reflective debate on the referendum. Today is international women's day and we should mark it in the House. We should say that we celebrate the achievements of women in this country and throughout the world. It is a day of celebration. We have come a long way in relation to women's rights, but, unfortunately, we still have a long way to go, particularly regarding the representation of women on decision making bodies. At our level in the Houses of the Oireachtas, there should be more representation of women of all shades of opinion. It would be truly reflective of Irish life if there was more equal representation of women in this particular decision making body. We should also pay tribute to the many women who are carers and who look after the most vulnerable in our society. The issues of poverty and domestic violence need urgent attention and should be debated in the Chamber.

Due to the number of rapes and sexual assaults taking place each day, I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to consider introducing legislation providing for mandatory sentencing for the crime of rape. One judge gives a rapist a slap on the wrist while another judge gives ten years.

It is a pity there is nothing on the Order Paper today reflecting the fact that it is international women's day. Last year we had a debate on the question of devoting the next holiday to recognising the contribution of women in Irish society.

I support my colleagues in the call for a debate on the outcome of the referendum. In the meantime, it is important that the House voices its concern at the statement of the Roman Catholic hierarchy yesterday when, in response to this, it once again referred to the flawed Supreme Court judgment. This is very regrettable and it should be asked to withdraw it. It is very dangerous when such a senior body of men in this country undermines respect for one of the principal democratic institutions of State.

I agree with my colleague, Senator O'Toole, about the Bush administration and the steel industry. It is extraordinary and it is incompatible with the way it is stripping jobs away from this country and moving them to cheaper markets in Korea. That is its idea of globalisation and yet its own inefficient steel industry, which is out of date and needs the kind of brutal shake up the US would like to deliver to other countries, is protected by President Bush because that industry supported his election. Once again, he is a captive of major industries and this is a great pity.

I support Senator Costello's request for a discussion on waste. Perhaps the Leader could clarify a point for me with the relevant Ministry. I understand that the notion of charging people for plastic bags is now operating in supermarkets and shops and this is very welcome. However, I am told that certain supermarkets will not permit customers to use bags they have not authorised, in other words, ones that are not their brand bags. That seems to go against the spirit of the legislation passed in this House and I would welcome a comment on it.

I would like to be associated with Senator Keogh's remarks about international women's day and I support her aspiration for greater participation by women in public life and for greater support for women who are in caring positions in the home. Senator Dardis was kind enough to refer to the report of the forum. That is my report, but I am glad to say it has had the approbation and support of all the parties to the forum and the members of the pillar. I assure the Leader that we would be very happy to co-operate with any presentation to the House, if that is appropriate.

I am concerned that the Public Health (Tobacco) Bill is being rushed through in a manner that is not suitable. Second Stage finished late last evening and I understand the intention is to take Committee and Final Stages today. This seems to be happening on a regular basis. The whole concept of having Second, Committee and Final Stage debates is that there is consideration of the points made on each Stage. I doubt if we will see a change at this late stage. It is happening once again and I am concerned about it.

Senator Norris raised the issue of plastic bags. I congratulate the Minister for the Environment and Local Government for his wonderful success in clearing plastic bags through simple legislation which I did not think would succeed as well as it has. However, I ask the Leader to draw his attention to a big concern. The Irish Glass Bottle Company or Ardagh in Ringsend is the only place Rehab uses to recycle bottles. It is done on a nationwide basis, but is now threatened because of the danger the factory will close. Will the Minister do whatever he can to ensure another source of recycling glass is found as quickly as possible?

I congratulate those involved in putting the reports of this and the other House on the Internet quickly. It means we are able to see what happened within hours of it happening. Six or eight months ago a decision was made not to put on the Internet the reports of Oireachtas committees. That means they only appear in paper form and are not as readily available to those who are not in the House. It means the public is not in touch with the work being done at the committees.

I hope the Cathaoirleach will allow me to commend Senators Manning and O'Toole for the calm tone they set in the post-referendum environment. The House acted in a mature and sensitive fashion during the debate. I said at the time that there was not any political kudos for anyone in this issue. The people require calm and responsible leadership from us. The tone for the debate, whenever it takes place, has been established this morning.

Senator Manning inquired about the Communications Regulations Bill. I am pleased to inform the House that it is my intention to order Second Stage for the second half of Thursday, 21 March.

Senators Manning, O'Toole, Costello, Dardis, Keogh, Norris and Ó Murchú expressed their views about the outcome of the referendum. It will not be possible to allocate time for a debate on the issue, given the amount of legislation which must be dealt with before the Easter recess. However, we will review the matter in the coming weeks and I will discuss at the leaders' meeting how to progress the issue. I welcome the views expressed about the outcome of the referendum. The people have spoken and we, as true democrats, uphold their decision. Perhaps we will be able to discuss the matter after the Easter recess.

I will pass on to the Minister concerned the views expressed by Senators O'Toole, Dardis and Norris about President Bush's decision to contain the entire steel industry within the United States. All our Ministers are travelling abroad next week to sell our country in the major capital cities of America. I know the timing is difficult, but we will highlight it perhaps within the European Union, as suggested, and perhaps to President Bush.

Senators Costello and Norris raised the issue of waste management, an issue on which I have already given a commitment that we will have a debate, if time permits. We had such a debate in the past six months. I will pass on the points made by Senator Norris about plastic bags. I welcome the success of the initiative by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government which has been welcomed by everyone.

Senator Costello raised the issue of the Middle East, an issue on which I gave a commitment yesterday that we would have a debate. Senators Keogh, Norris and Maurice Hayes referred to the fact that today is international women's day. I congratulate those ladies who have come to the fore in political life and encourage everyone interested in political life to take the opportunity of the forthcoming Dáil and Seanad elections to become Members of either House. It is an experience they will not forget.

For whatever reason.

We should encourage them to do so.

Is the Leader of the House saying that people should give their first preference vote to a woman in his constituency?

Order, please. The Leader of the House to continue without interruption.

I would be grateful for the second preference votes of any lady in my constituency. I am pleased that the first Minister in the House this morning will be the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Hanafin. As I said last night during the debate on the Public Health (Tobacco) Bill, she will go a lot further in public life. We will do everything we can to get as many young people as possible, male and female, into public life.

Senator Bohan called on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to have mandatory sentencing for rape. I will pass his views on to the Minister.

Senator Quinn expressed his concern about the Irish glass bottle industry. Ardagh has indicated it will close its factory in Ringsend. That is a serious matter for which I will allocate time, if it needs to be discussed for an hour any day in the coming weeks.

I join Senator Quinn in welcoming the fact that the proceedings of both Houses of the Oireachtas are put on the Internet. I will pass on his views about the committee proceedings.

Senator Maurice Hayes mentioned the Forum on Europe, an issue I will discuss with the leaders and the Senator after the Order of Business.

Order of Business agreed to.