Order of Business.

I wish to inform the House that the Taoiseach has appointed Senator Farrell to the position of Government Chief Whip and Senator Moylan to the position of assistant Whip, with both appointments to take effect immediately. As Leader of the House, I offer my congratulations to these two hard-working and dedicated Senators and I look forward to working with them.

I wish them a long tenure.

The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion re Planning and Development (No. 2) Regulations 2002, to be taken without debate; No. 2, statements on the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, Seventh Progress Report – Parliament, with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, all other Senators' contributions not to exceed seven minutes and this item to conclude no later than 2 p.m; No. 3, motion re code of conduct for Members of Seanad Éireann, with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes; No. 4, motion re the Abbeylara tribunal, to be taken no earlier than 2.30 p.m, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and Senators may share time; No. 5, motion re the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and Senators may share time; and No. 6, motion re Council directive to improve access to justice and cross-border disputes, to be taken without debate.

I compliment Senator Farrell and Senator Moylan on their appointments. They are both very straight and decent and we have no difficulty doing business with them – although for how long is another matter. The Leader would be the first to admit there has been a great deal of uncertainty about our business over the last week or two and into next week. Does he expect that there will be any legislation taken by the House other than that already indicated by the Whip for this week – the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal (Amendment) Bill? Does he expect any more legislation or is he aware of any other legislation to be taken by the House before we break while the other House has its general election?

Does the Leader know when the House will adjourn for the general election? As the Leader of the House, he is in constant communication with the leader of the other House and will have an intimate knowledge of what the leader of the other House is thinking on these matters. He might share that information with the rest of us.

I wish to raise a matter that would have been inappropriate during the expressions of sympathy. Reports of the accident which killed the two gardaí indicate that the two young people driving the car had been refused admission to Oberstown House. The staff at Oberstown House operate according to the law. There is no question of their having discretion and they act as they have to do. They are over-stretched and any suggestion that they were responsible for not taking in those children is wrong. There is a lack of structure to deal with these cases. Centres such as Oberstown House are working beyond their limit and do what is required of them and no more. Many issues are flying around at present. This morning's report on this issue was bad as it seemed to indicate that this incident would not have happened if someone at Oberstown House had taken a different decision. That is not the case and it is grossly unfair to the staff.

Le tamall anuas tá ráitis ag teacht ó Airí Stáit mar gheall ar an tuarascáil atá le foilsiú ag Coimisiún na Gaeltachta. This House has discussed this time and again, ach níl teacht ar an tuarascáil ag an bpointe seo. Ní thugann sé cothrom na Féinne dúinne, Baill an Oireachtais, ná do mhuintir na Gaeltachta nach bhfuil an tuarascáil seo ar fáil. An bhfuil an tuarascáil foilsithe nó cathain a foilseofar í? Tá cearta mhuintir na Gaeltachta ag brath ar a foilsiú. Ceapaim féin go bhfuil a lán gearán sa tuarascáil a chuireann i gcoinne mhuintir na Gaeltachta agus gur mar gheall air sin nach bhfuil deifir ar an Rialtas í a cur i gcló roimh an toghcháin. Níl sin cóir. Ba cheart go mbéadh an tuarascáil foilsithe agus díospóireacht uirthi sa Teach.

I ask the Leader to bring as much pressure as possible to bear so that copies of the report of Coimisiún na Gaeltachta are made available to Members and we can discuss it. Many Members will feel vindicated about their comments regarding policy towards the Irish language and the lack of support for Gaeltachtaí over the years. I would welcome the publication of this report. The current situation is wrong and unfair to Members. Members would be furious if Ministers debated any other issue to which they had no access. The entire report was almost published in the Tuarascáil section of yesterday's edition of The Irish Times and Members are being denigrated by not having access to it.

I compliment the new Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, and the new Chief Whip, Senator Farrell, who is a good Sligoman.

Deputy O'Donnell is not a new Minister of State.

Perhaps we should refer to her new promotion. I also congratulate Senator Moylan on his appointment as assistant Whip. I am sure they will do an excellent job in the period which remains.

I wish to follow Senator O'Toole's comments regarding the recent tragic events, but I did not wish to make the point during the tributes. The Labour Party's Road Traffic (Joyriding) Bill has been before the House since 1998, but for four years it has been voted down by the Government. It took the death of Veronica Guerin before we introduced appropriate legislation regarding the Criminal Assets Bureau and so on to deal with the serious drugs problem. In the current circumstances it behoves the Government to begin producing appropriate legislation and places of detention. Senator O'Toole pointed out that Oberstown House and Trinity House operate within their remit. These young lads would have been in an appropriate place of detention and not out joyriding if such places were available. This is a moot point, particularly given the fact that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform speaks about zero tolerance all the time.

Some time ago the House had a comprehensive debate on the interim report of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board. The final report indicates that the interim findings were close to the reality and points out that profits in Ireland are ten times those in the UK. There are significant issues regarding the insurance industry, particularly concerning vulnerable people at the lower end of the scale and young and elderly drivers. We have not been getting all the facts about the motor insurance industry and I ask the Leader to make time available to debate this report.

I have lived all my life in Donnybrook where I have had a great relationship with the Garda Síochána during the years. Last Sun day I called to the Garda station at 10 a.m. to offer my deep sympathy. I found the staff very distressed having lost colleagues who were with them at 6 a.m. but gone at 6.30 a.m. Their colleagues lost their lives not just carrying out their duties, but trying to protect other road users from danger.

I have been impressed, as must the families and colleagues of the men concerned also, by the deep outpouring of grief shown by the community. There has been a continuous queue at the Garda station in Donnybrook to sign the book of condolence and both the station and the scene of the accident have been decked in floral tributes. People have great respect for the Garda Síochána because they know the risks its members face in carrying out their duties. I offer my deepest sympathy to the Garda, the families of the men concerned as well as to the family of Private Ó'Flaithearta.

I continue with a question raised by Senator Manning. Does the Leader of the House know of other legislation that may be proposed in the House other than what we see on the schedule before us? There may be a situation where we need to amend the Electoral Act, 2001, if the decision in the case currently before the High Court goes a certain way. It has to do with the capping of expenditure in elections, including elections to this House. A case has been made to the High Court which seriously queries one of the sections which relates particularly to Members of the Houses.

It is before the court.

I agree, but it is a serious issue and we ought to be prepared for it. We live in the real world. Has the Leader received any indication that we will be back dealing with this issue if the decision in the case goes a certain way?

I again raise the desperate situation in the Middle East, which is getting worse. Any fair-minded person must realise that the Government led by Mr. Sharon has decided to eliminate the Palestinians from the face of the earth. The International Committee of the Red Cross, UNWRA, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, the Security Council and everybody but Tony Blair have come out against what is happening to the people of Palestine. Watching the scenes from Jenin refugee camp in recent days reminded us of the horrors being perpetrated on these people. Médecins sans Frontières doctors and nurses have gone in to help, including one Irish nurse, but have been berated and sent out by the Israelis. There is a smell of death, but people are not allowed to deliver food or bury the dead. They are not allowed provide any of the humane treatment necessary.

Will the Leader of the House send a strong message of support, not only to the Palestinians, but to the international bodies and individuals trying, in difficult circumstances, to alleviate the difficulties? We cannot stand by. If the world stands by, this war against "terror" will escalate and no minority will be safe from the excesses and incompetence of the United States Government which will not allow in any humanitarian aid because of the fear of losing seats in the next election. While we, too, are facing an election, we must be cognisant of what is happening in the world.

I endorse Senator Costello's remarks about the insurance industry. We will debate the Constitution today, a debate which will indulge Members and involve a certain amount of navel-gazing, but a damning report by the Motor Insurance Advisory Board will be published today on motor insurance and the insurance industry generally. The House should be aware that we are witnessing the exposure of one of the greatest rip-offs of consumers since we exposed the banks.

Mr. Ryan

Hear, hear.

We exposed the banks in the Oireachtas, the very place where it should be done. The insurance industry is being deceitful and dishonest to the consumer because, as is clear from the report, it is disguising its profits in a way that the ordinary person cannot understand.

Senator Costello referred to the stark fact that the insurance industry in Ireland is making profits nine or ten times greater than those in the United Kingdom on this rip-off which is causing damage. If we do anything in this House, it should be to stand up to big business when it is behaving dishonestly.

Hear, hear.

There is no doubt that this is happening and I ask the Leader of the House for an immediate debate on the matter. I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business that we have such a debate or statements on the report of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board as the first item today.

Tá gach seans go mbeidh sé ar ár gcumas tuarascáil Choimisiún na Gaeltachta a phlé an tseachtain seo chugainn mar, dar leis na meáin cumarsaide, is léir go bhfuil an tuarascáil ag an Aire i láthair na huaire. Cuirim fáilte fosta roimh an Bhille Chomhionannais Teanga atá foilsithe le déanaí. B'fhéidir go mbeidh seans againn sin a phlé.

My understanding from the media is that the Coimisiún na Gaeltachta report is now with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. Perhaps there will be a chance to debate it if it is published in time. I welcome the comprehensive Official Languages (Equality) Bill, 2002, and hope we will have a chance to attend to it in the coming week.

I also support Senator Lanigan's call for us in the remaining days of this session to express our absolute horror at what is happening in the Middle East. We have all endeavoured to be responsible in this matter and strike a balance, realising there have been excesses on both sides, but Israel's aggression, as we see it, against the Palestinians is a war crime. There is an onus on America to play a more proactive role given that Mr. Colin Powell was humiliated on his recent visit. Several weeks ago America sent the wrong messages to Mr. Sharon which were used by him to conduct unbridled aggression against the Palestinians. In the coming weeks and months we will no doubt be calling for a tribunal to bring him to book for these war crimes.

I join Senators Costello and Ross in asking that we debate the report of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board prior to the closure of the Seanad. The House will recall that when we discussed the interim report spokespersons for the motor insurance industry scoffed at it claiming it had no basis in fact. However, the truth is out and has pulled the rug from underneath it by showing the extraordinary high costs with premia often four times higher than those in the United Kingdom. Senator Costello also pointed out that total profits in Ireland are nine times higher than in the United Kingdom. An extraordinary amount of money is being made. There is also the fact that legal costs are 12 times—

We are not debating the report now. An amendment has been proposed to the Order of Business that this matter be debated today. I do not want the report debated on the Order of Business.

I only wish to emphasise that the need for this debate is based on these facts. I wanted to bring the facts forward to emphasise that point.

I formally second the amendment of my colleague, Senator Ross, on the insurance industry. It is important that it is debated. I look forward to the opportunity to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, on establishing the board which produced this report. Another cogent argument for taking the debate is the disgraceful event we dealt with some years ago when the insurance industry effectively sidelined the then insurance ombudsman, Pauline Marrinan-Quinn, to such an extent that she had to withdraw. I compliment the Minister of State not only because he called for the report to be produced, but also because he has established an implementation body which will begin taking action within three months. That is the type of political action we need.

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

It is important to point out that not only does the insurance industry here make ten times the profits it makes in the United Kingdom, the amount of compensation awarded is ten times greater and legal fees are four times greater. Lawyers decided not to co-operate with the implementation body. It also takes six times as long to obtain a court decision.

Senator Norris is endeavouring to subvert my ruling that we cannot debate the matter on the Order of Business.

I am sorry it appears I was so doing and I will desist immediately. I am surprised to discover Deputy O'Donnell has been appointed a Minister of State. I understood she had been one for a considerable time and had been doing a good job. I assume there is some technical crux.

The notification to the Seanad was that Deputy O'Donnell was appointed as Minister of State to the Government.

What was her responsibility before?

She was Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Does she still have that role?

Thank God for that.

I express my heartfelt sympathy to the Garda, but I wish to comment briefly on the manner in which this matter has been reported subsequently in the press. There were attacks on politicians. The word "parasite" was used about 15 times in a radio programme yesterday. It was laid at our door that these circumstances had arisen partly because it was impossible to use stingers. This was because we had been derelict in our duty in not introducing amending legislation to avoid a secondary crime being committed by the use of stingers. Five years ago this House and the Dáil passed the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1997, which rectified the position. As a politician, I am tired of being accused of being in the wrong.

I am sad about the resignation of Deputy Molloy as Minister of State. While I have disagreed fundamentally with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, and battled with him repeatedly in the House—

This is not relevant to the Order of Business.

—he is justified by the publication of the correspondence. How anyone can attribute motives other than those of the highest standards in public life is beyond me. I would like to see the newspapers taking note of this.

Has the Leader any update for me on the Education (Welfare) Act? I ask because it is acknowledged that there is a drop-out rate from school of 20% in the areas from where these young, marginalised people come. If school attendance officers were in place, these young people might not take to a life of crime. We are irresponsible in not providing for this. On the previous occasion I asked about this I was told it would be taken care of shortly. I await a positive response from the Government to its obligations in this regard and an acknowledgement from it that not having school attendance officers in large urban areas is almost a crime.

Mr. Ryan

Tugaim tacaíocht do mo chomh Sheanadóirí atá ag lorg foilsiúcháin luath thuarascáil Choimisiún na Gaeltachta. Is mór an trua go bhfuil Airí Stáit ag cur i gcoinne cuid de na moltaí agus an tuarascáil gan a bheith foilsithe. Seo spindoctoring agus níl sé oiriúnach do rud chomh bunúsach don tír seo leis an Ghaeilge agus an Ghaeltacht. Is mór an trua go bhfuil a leithéid ar siúl faoi láthair. Ba chóir go bhfoilseofaí an tuarascáil díreach sa chaoi is go bhféadfaimis tosnú ar dhíospóireacht tábhachtach faoi todhchaí na Gaeltachta.

The issue of crime is frequently raised in this House. Some 50% of indictable offences are committed by people aged 17 or less. This figure may be somewhat out of date but it is the most recent one I came across. We have under-responded to its causes and to the legislative, custodial and other areas that are necessary to deal with it. The recent incident we witnessed is a particularly horrific example of that and we need to look again at where the resources in crime prevention, detection and custodial care are directed.

Since it appears that we may be here for a few weeks yet, I suggest to the Leader that there is a great need for a debate on the issue of freedom of the press and democracy. We perceive Israel as a democracy but the suppression of free investigation of what it was doing in the West Bank makes it unqualified to hold that classification. I am uncomfortable that the Israeli Labour Party is a member of an international organisation to which my own party is affiliated, as I do not believe it currently meets the requirements.

Another issue of concern is what happened to the international media last Saturday when there was a popular uprising against a coup in Venezuela in which 40 people were killed. The international media appears to have closed down for the day and ignored what was happening there. Indeed, I was hard pressed to find anything on the Internet either. This is an extraordinarily sinister state of affairs. I am not suggesting there was a conspiracy but there was serious indifference to the attempted destruction of democracy. One's views on President Chavez are not relevant in this case.

I support my colleagues on the Independent benches in their request for a debate on the report on insurance.

The Senator is going back.

Mr. Ryan

The only merit in a market economy is the provision of competition and a market economy without that is the worst of both worlds.

In my time in this House I have seldom heard such a body of opinion calling on us to debate the Middle East. I have been surprised at the strength of feeling in the country regarding a debate and it is not all one-sided. It is right that we should allocate time for a debate on the Constitution but it seems to me that there is a public perception that we have ignored such an important issue. I urge the Leader to find time for a debate on the matter at some stage.

I support the call of Senator Ross and Senator Norris for a debate on the insurance industry. The detail of the MIAB report yesterday stunned everybody and it merits being debated now rather than in some months' time.

I congratulate Senator Farrell and Senator Moylan on their well-deserved elevation. I wish my colleague, Senator Tom Fitzgerald, a speedy return to good health and a very happy retirement. I was very sorry not to be present on the day that tributes were paid in the House. It was a bolt out of the blue for us all. I had the opportunity to pay a brief tribute to him on Radio Kerry.

I invite the Leader of the House to comment on the amazing climb-down regarding the SRA. Was this forced on us by the European Union? We received a famous report from the Attorney General, Michael McDowell, which described at length the twin pillar approach to the preventive and supervisory roles of the Central Bank. At the time I thought it was another attempt to scapegoat a very good State servant, another Kerryman, retired Governor Maurice O'Connell, who is out of the equation. I would like the Leader to indicate when it is intended to bring forward the new Financial Services Bill before the House. What caused the change of heart and climb-down in view of the previous Government decision?

The Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business has often dealt with the matter of insurance during this Parliament and at long last the MIAB report has been published. To add to what Senator Ross said, not alone is it deceitful, it is downright disgraceful. The House should debate the issue.

I support all those who have called for a debate on the Middle East, where events are quite shocking. Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House and tell us exactly what use we have made of our seat on the United Nations Security Council?

Hear, hear.

There seems to have been very little action on our part with regard to the Middle East, or the other war against terrorism taking place in Afghanistan from where the killing of foreign soldiers is being reported, but the number of indigenous people being killed is not. I am delighted to hear the King is returning, but wonder if he will get to see the dreadful state of many of his people. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, could come to the House, given her new position, and we could have a debate on an issue which seems to have been bypassed totally.

I join in the expressions of sympathy to the families of Garda Tony Tighe, Garda Michael Padden and Private Peadar Ó Flaithearta. One line in the death notices in all the newspapers explains that they died in the line of duty, an expression we do not understand until something like this happens.

I congratulate Senators Farrell and Moylan on their promotions and wish them well. I have no doubt that they will do a very good job, as they have for the last number of weeks. I was absent when tributes were being paid to Senator Tom Fitzgerald. He was an excellent Whip, both in government and opposition, and was very easy to work with. I wish him a speedy recovery.

I join in the calls for a debate on the insurance industry. Several Senators have in recent years asked for such a debate. The report of the MIAB bears out what they were saying. This important debate is urgently needed.

I thank the Taoiseach for appointing me as Chief Whip and members of the Opposition for their kind comments. I assure Senators that we will work in peace and harmony.

I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, and express our appreciation for everything that Deputy Molloy has done during his 37 years in the Oireachtas. He has made a massive contribution to politics.

I join in the congratulations to Senator Costello regarding his recent happy announcement and wish him well. It is nice to see the good news continue to spread even to his family.

Inquiries were made by the Leader of the Opposition and former Leader of the House, Senator Manning, regarding the sitting of the Seanad. Many Senators have been in the House for quite a while and will be aware that the Seanad elections will not take place until at least June or, perhaps, July. The Seanad will continue to sit whenever it is requested to do so by the Government. There are Bills that will come before the House prior to the Seanad elections and we will process them in the usual way. There is no need for anyone to get over-excited because there is no rush—

All I did was ask the Senator the Bills to which he was referring.

I will inform the House in the morning. Senator Manning has just sprung this query on me. He did not notify me during our leaders' meeting today. I will return to this question.

On a point of order, the Leader of the House is the greatest chancer I have ever met in my life. There was no leaders' meeting today.

"Chancer" is a most charitable word.

The Leader of the House must be allowed to continue without further interruption.

It is all very well for Senator Manning, but when one has to fight two possible elections during a short period of time, in addition to conducting the affairs of the Seanad, one must understand—


It is proposed that the House will sit two days next week. I will speak to the leaders tomorrow morning.

I certainly agree with the sentiments expressed by Senators O'Toole, Ó Murchú and Ryan in relation to the commission's report on Gaeltacht matters. I support all the calls made for its circulation. Time will be made available to allow all Members to express their views on the matter.

Regarding the issue of juvenile offenders, I will pass on the views of Senators O'Toole, Costello, Norris and Ryan to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue. Many Senators have called for a debate on the motor insurance industry. I express my appreciation for the hard work of the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Treacy, who has brought forward a report on the matter—

On a point of order, the Leader of the House is anticipating the debate sought and attempting to subvert the Cathaoirleach's ruling on the matter. If he wishes to make a statement on the matter—

That is not a point of order. The Leader of the House will continue with his reply.

Go raibh maith agat, a Cathaoirlaigh. Thank you for your protection.

It is my intention that the House will have an all-day sitting to discuss this very serious report, possibly one of the most serious that we, in this House, have had to consider over the past five years. It affects industry. Businesses are closing down because of hikes in insurance premia over the past three years. Young people are finding themselves in a dreadful position when it comes to motor insurance. I am committed to having a debate on the issue in the near future and will discuss its timing with the leaders and Whips at the conclusion of the Order of Business.

I have noted Senator Connor's views in relation to the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2002. Many Senators have called for a debate on the Middle East crisis which I will endeavour to arrange for tomorrow.

I do not anticipate any discussion of the Education (Welfare) Bill to take place before the general election. However, I will endeavour to have a discussion on the matter before the Seanad elections.

Regarding Senator Ryan's statements on the freedom of the press, everyone can agree with the sentiments expressed in the call for a press council and fair play. I will pass on Senator Coghlan's points to the Minister.

Senator Ross has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that statements on the report of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board be taken before No. 1 on the Order Paper. Is the amendment being pressed?

In view of the conciliatory remarks of the Leader of the House, I withdraw the amendment.

Order of Business agreed to.