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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002

Vol. 169 No. 21

Order of Business.

The proposed Order of Business is No. 1, Data Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2002 – Order for Second Stage and Second and Subsequent Stages, with the contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes; No. 2, Official Languages (Equality) Bill, 2002 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, with the contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed 20 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and on which Senators may share time.

In so far as it matters, the Order of Business is agreed to. I do not see much point in taking Second Stage of two Bills which will remain becalmed until the new House returns. There is no way the House will pass this legislation as we will also have an election in the sum mer months. However, if they are ordered by the Leader of the House, we will take them.

Will the Leader of the House indicate whether the Government intends to nominate somebody to fill the vacancy arising from the resignation of our esteemed colleague, Senator Tom Fitzgerald?

Must the new Member be a Kerryman?

While I do not propose to interfere in the business of another party, I am glad the matter has been raised. It is time some balance was introduced to the way in which political parties do their business. It would be appropriate for a Kerry person to replace the Kerryman who has resigned. I ask the Leader to bring this issue to the notice of the leader of his party.

The general secretary of the INTO is—

Order, please, Senator O'Toole to continue without interruption.

I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs about the position of the Government, the UN Security Council and the European Union in relation to the happenings in Venezuela. A democratically elected Parliament has been overthrown in a huge and strategically important country in South America. However, there does not seem to be any response from Western Governments. That country is now being run by the head of the business community and we do not know who put him in place. He is now in charge and he has set Parliament and the laws of the land aside. Nobody is worried about doing business with him. It is time the rest of the developed world took a stand against that and immediately made its position known. It is crucial to do that in terms of foreign affairs and international relations. We would not put up with such action from any other country.

I do not know the thinking behind it, but it is unacceptable. We have opposed developments in certain parts of Latin America in the past. This is a coup. An elected Government has been overthrown, but no one has said a word about it. It stinks to high heaven. The House should at least make its views known on it. I will not ask for a debate on it because time will not be available. However, it is important for the Government to take a stand on this disgraceful action. It looks bad from the point of view of international relations. I ask the House to take a strong and firm view on it, to condemn it and to break off all relations with Venezuela.

I agree with Senator O'Toole. There has not been a peep out of the media about the change of Government there, which seems to have been backed by the United States. As a member of the UN Security Council, it is appro priate for our Minister for Foreign Affairs to make a statement. It is almost as though it did not happen. It is amazing how certain events can take place without the media barely acknowledging them. Venezuela is a rich, oil producing country. Perhaps that is why the Western media have been so quiet on the matter. The Irish media should not take it sitting down. They should let the public know what is happening.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to allow a debate on the economy, which would be a pre-election debate. The issues on which the election will be fought are how the economy will be funded and where the resources will be targeted. The Progressive Democrats published their views on where funding will be found for the national development plan. We have done likewise. However, the major party in Government, Fianna Fáil, has not given any indication of how it will fund the national development plan.

The Senator should wait for it. It will be out tomorrow.

There is a major question about inflation which is double the European average. There is also the issue of a new national wage agreement.

The Senator should not endeavour to pre-empt the debate he is seeking. Those points can be made in the debate he is seeking.

I am referring briefly to some of the important underlying reasons the debate should take place. I ask the Leader to allocate time tomorrow, which probably will be the last day of the other House, for such a debate.

I second Senator Costello's proposal about the economy. The economy is fast approaching a crisis at a time when political parties are making extraordinary promises, which are based on 8% growth when public finances are growing by 22%. It is obvious we will be treated to a large number of manifestos in the coming weeks – we have had some already – which are based on complete and utter fantasy. The premise upon which these manifestos is based completely ignores the cost of so-called benchmarking. It is incredible that benchmarking, which will be responsible for the biggest explosion in public spending—

Let us hammer the worker one more time.

Senator O'Toole can fight his election campaign somewhere else.

I wonder about the Senator's interest in such matters.

Order, please. Senator Ross can make those points in the debate which he and Senator Costello have sought.

I was interrupted by an ATM machine and will now continue. To make a serious point without interruption by the sometimes spokesperson of some Independent Members, it is important that we do not allow the House to adjourn while promising a false dawn – it is not just being promised by one political party but by all – because the public finances are in crisis, and will be in serious crisis by the end of this year.

It is terrible that politics should enter the House, and atrocious that Members should be interrupted for bringing politics into the House coming up to a general election.

I again want to raise events in the Middle East. For the first time in many years there has been a 15-0 vote at the UN Security Council. I cannot remember there being such vote ever before. The vote was in favour of sending a group to Jenin, just to take a look and report back. No constraints were to be put on the group; it was simply to go in and report back. Now, even this has been blocked by Israel.

Israel is one of only two countries created by a vote of the United Nations, which was not unanimous. The Security Council has, for once, agreed to do something. Its 15 members have agreed, but of course Israel has now discovered that it would not be in its best interests if military personnel, whom it would nominate, were part of the team going in. This is atrocious and comes after a very senior military person – a former United States general – has been added to the team. This is unprecedented. I cannot find words to describe the horror around the world at the baseness of the decision by the Israelis not to allow access. The UN Security Council, which represents every nation in the world except, apparently, Israel, should be allowed access.

The humanitarian situation in Jenin is worse than in places where there have been earthquakes and natural disasters. The United Nations and NATO were quick to go into eastern Europe in recent years. There is no excuse for not making the same humanitarian effort in Jenin and other places in the West Bank.

I would also like to raise the issue of the preliminary election for the presidency in France. We must be careful how we deal with the result and remember that democracy is at issue. Who are we to say France should not abide by the decision of its electorate just because democracy does not give what is considered the right result? The French people have a chance to change their decision. Perhaps the huge number who voted for Mr. Le Pen will do so. Who are we to interfere? The same was said about Mr. Haider in Austria—

This is not relevant to the Order of Business.

I agree, but we must remember that democracy can often throw up the wrong result. We have had Hitler, Haider and now Le Pen. Democracy is as dangerous a method of election as any other.

I resigned myself months ago to the fact that we were not to have any legislation concerning mentally ill persons before the courts or in prison, even though it was promised last autumn. Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to tell us what he proposes to do about the situation of the Central Mental Hospital which is refusing to take any more mentally ill prisoners? No other patients are being admitted when patients are discharged because the hospital is so short-staffed. It is quite unsuitable to have dangerous, violent and ill persons within the prisons and unfair on staff, prisoners and the ill prisoners concerned. What does the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform propose to do about this?

I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Health and Children to explain what has happened to the BreastCheck programme. I thought it was running satisfactorily in the three health board areas where it had been introduced, but yesterday I discovered that not alone is the rest of the country not included in the screening but that in the three health board areas where it was set up people who are supposed to be screened are not being screened. Tallaght is the same size as Limerick city and people have not been screened there. I have received telephone calls today from people in Enniskerry, Kilmainham and Drogheda to say that nothing has happened, even though all these places should now be getting the second round of screening.

The doctor in charge of the screening programme resigned last year and did not give the reason for her resignation. I wonder if it was due to lack of resources. Is this programme just a smokescreen to indicate that something is being done for women while only a very small and select group are being screened? A woman told me she wrote to the Minister informing him that she was reaching the age of 65 years and had not been called for screening. The Minister's office wrote in reply that the programme was by invitation only and there was no guarantee she would be called.

I am sure that between now and the end of this Seanad the Leader will be faced with significant constraints on the time available. If the opportunity arises I ask the Leader to consider a debate on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings on account of the reports last weekend which illustrated that the neighbouring island intended to seek immunity with regard to aspects of that appalling incident. Those reports were the result of very good investigative journalism and the journalists are to be commended. I ask the Leader to consider this for discussion. It is a mat ter which has all the ingredients to become what Lord Denning once described as "an appalling vista".

I ask for endorsement by the House of the unanimous decision of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. Senators Farrell, Gibbons, Henry and I are members of that committee, which will be gone soon. I am sure the new committee will agree with the decision to investigate the insurance industry using the excellent report by the Motor Insurance Advisory Board as a book of evidence, in the same manner that the Committee of Public Accounts based its DIRT investigation on a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Consumers have been conned and there are huge vested interests to be confronted.

I ask the Chair to allow me announce that the Leader of the House is today celebrating 20 years as a Member of this House.

He might invite us somewhere afterwards.

I knew that would elicit a response and I hope it is all very positive. I congratulate him on an outstanding achievement.

The Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, and Senator Glynn will lead it.

I ask the Senator not to spoil my big moment. It is an outstanding achievement for any parliamentarian to serve 20 years in either House. I am sure many others will celebrate such an achievement, myself included. I wish the Leader well.

I thank Senator Mooney, a life-long friend of mine, for his kind words. It has been a great honour and a privilege to represent the electorate which puts us all here as local authority members. I look forward to very many more years in the House, or in the other House if the electorate of Westmeath so wish.

In reply to Senators Manning, O'Toole and Costello, the appointment of a Member to fill the vacancy caused by the retirement of Senator Fitzgerald will be notified to me by the Taoiseach in due course. When he informs me I will inform the House immediately.

Instant recall.

Senators Manning, O'Toole and Costello all expressed various strong views regarding matters in Venezuela. I will pass on these to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Senator Costello and Senator Ross proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. As I indicated earlier, it was my intention that this debate should take place. In the past five years, we have allowed as much time as was required to let the House review progress that had taken place. All fair-minded people would agree there has been unprecedented progress over the past five years. There has been a growth rate of 10% and 380,000 new jobs have been created. I know the people of Dublin Central will bear this in mind when they go to the polls. Having the first posters up does not guarantee a seat in any constituency. However, the good Senator beat them all to the punch. He is in a happy mood these times and we do not want to spoil it for him.

In relation to the points raised by Senator Ross and Senator Costello, whenever there was a crisis in the history of the country, was it not Fianna Fáil that always came to the rescue and solved it?

It created it.

I will pass on Senator Lanigan's view regarding the Middle East and the French election. I will pass on Senator Henry's view to the Minister regarding the two very important points she raised on the Order of Business. I will pass on the views of Senator Walsh to the Minister for Foreign Affairs regarding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

Senator Coghlan spoke about the decision of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. All day tomorrow has been scheduled for a discussion on the report on the motor insurance industry. Senators should avail of the opportunity—

That will be just statements, I want an investigation.

—to make very strong points, such as the Senator's experience in his "kingdom" constituency.

It is a bit late now.

All of us have very harrowing experiences of the insurance industry and I look forward to many Senators coming in tomorrow to share them. This is one of the most pressing issues to be debated in the House because it interferes with the operation of many family businesses and it will lead to job losses unless something is done urgently. Although it seems obvious that the general election will be called tomorrow, with the agreement of the House and the leaders after the Order of Business today, I propose that we sit at 10 o'clock tomorrow to discuss this very serious issue. This will allow Senators to make their contributions during the all day debate on this long awaited report.

Will this be discussed from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. tomorrow?

That will be decided by tomorrow. Senator Costello has moved an amendment to the Order of Business that statements on the economy be inserted before No. 1. Is the amendment being pressed?

Perhaps I will give the Leader of the House an opportunity to reflect overnight.

Order of Business agreed to.