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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 5 Mar 2003

Vol. 171 No. 15

Order of Business.

The Order of Business today shall be No. 1, Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage)(Amendment) Bill 2003 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude at 1.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and on which Senators may share time; No. 2, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2003 – Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 3.30 p.m – there are four Government technical amendments; No. 3, Local Government Bill 2003 – Second Stage (resumed) to be taken at 3.30 p.m. if the debate on No. 2 has not concluded and to conclude at 6 p.m., with the contributions of Senators not to exceed 15 minutes and on which Senators may share time; No. 4, Protection of the Environment Bill 2003 – Committee Stage (resumed) to be taken after Private Members' Business and conclude not later than 9 p.m – if I remember correctly, there is one amendment to be dealt with; and No. 13, motion No. 24, motion re prison visiting committees to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

I am sure all Members would want to take this opportunity of thanking the staff of the House – the ushers, reporters and everyone associated with its proceedings – in respect of the late sitting last night. It was a substantial debate in which every member of the Opposition contributed. I also thank the three Government Members who contributed and hope no one sat on them. We are now seeking a significant period of time between the taking of Second Stage and Committee Stage. The Opposition needs a significant period of two or three weeks in order to consult all interested parties. I ask for a guarantee from the Leader of the House that there will be no guillotine imposed on Committee Stage and that a senior Minister will be in attendance. We have already spotted at least seven drafting amendments. Senator O'Toole made the point last night that the Bill was being rushed through. There are significant defects in the legislation over which we need to take our time if the Government intends to push it beyond Second Stage. I ask for a commitment from the Leader on these matters.

On the Order of Business, motion No. 24 is in the name of Senator Terry and one of the most reforming that the House will have discussed since the new Seanad came into being last July. It is customary that the Government tables an amendment but I do not see any. May I take it that the Leader is in agreement with the Fine Gael proposal and that, accordingly, there will not be a vote at 8 p.m.?

The Senator should be sensible.

I agree with the points made by Senator Brian Hayes about the late sitting last night and the pressure put on the staff of the House. It was absolutely unnecessary because we could have finished that business on Thursday afternoon but the decision of Government in the matters was different. It is a pity that the House had to sit late to deal with its business. It is not an efficient manner of doing business but I recognise that the Government calls the shots in this regard and that the Leader of the House was given instructions on the issue.

Yesterday's debate took place at the same time as very important discussions were taking place in the North. In the words of Mitchel McLoughlin this morning, people were trying to work through history and their differences. We should be very sympathetic. The difficulties we have seen on this island have to do with bridging differences and trying to establish parity of esteem, ensuring cultural equality and respect for people of different cultures and backgrounds, especially minorities.

I was absolutely horrified and taken aback last night by a comment from a Government Member who in referring to a Member on this side of the House, in this group, said, "His accent is not particularly Irish" or words to that effect. Personal comments are unacceptable at any time. The remark was made when Senator Ross had finished speaking. I found it particularly objectionable at a time when we were trying to present ourselves as not being mono-cultural. I do not wish the Government side to respond in a defensive manner because the remark could have come from either side of the House. I am not suggesting that it represents a viewpoint of Members on the other side because I know it does not. It may have been uttered unthinkingly. It is, however, damaging and wrong and should be corrected. I ask the Leader to consider this request in an appropriate way.

On a completely different matter, one of the greatest sports events in the world, the Americas Cup, concluded in Auckland this week and was won by Switzerland. It brought €1 billion into the economy of Auckland in recent months and will be held next in Europe. It is likely to be hosted by either the United Kingdom, Portugal or Ireland. When Deputy Kenny was Minister with responsibility for sport, he managed to bring the Tour de France to this country. I ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to consider making a huge investment to bring the Americas Cup to Ireland. The sailing grounds in Dingle Bay off the south-west coast would be spot-on as a venue. There are marinas in Caherciveen, Dingle, Fenit and Kilrush and the event would bring €1 billion into the economy of the west. Switzerland cannot host the event on Lake Geneva. As this news is only one day old, there is time for us to make a strong case to bring the greatest sailing event in the world to the constituency of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism.

On the point made by Senator O'Toole about remarks made last night in the Chamber, rulings of the Chair have consistently stated that remarks of a personal nature are not in order. A debate should be confined to specific issues before the House and Members must not indulge in personalities. I have consulted the records and I will be asking the Senator to withdraw the remarks.

I am very pleased to hear that and I am sure other Members will welcome it. I am also sure that the Senator who made the remarks will take the Cathaoirleach's advice and withdraw them.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for his ruling. It contributes greatly to the dignity of the House that he has dealt with the issue in this manner.

I support Senator O'Toole's remarks in regard to the Americas Cup. I want to raise a related matter on the Order of Business. A report in this morning's edition of The Irish Times states that an alarmingly increased percentage of tourists surveyed last year were unhappy with their holidays in this country. Some 56% were less than satisfied and the figure increased to 80% for visitors from continental Europe who were unhappy about the quality of their holiday here. This sounds serious alarm bells for Ireland and it is an issue which is worthy of considerable reflection. If we are to undertake the sort of projects to which Senator O'Toole referred, we will have to consider how we operate that business. For hoteliers to be demanding further Government supports and subsidies is not a solution to the real issues. I am not saying there are solutions. However, tourism is one of our biggest industries and if 81% of customers from continental Europe, one of our largest markets, are unhappy with what we are doing, it is up to us to change it.

I would like to make a number of suggestions to the Leader. On the question of policing, I am intrigued that the London Metropolitan Police has decided, after approximately 20 years, that putting officers on the beat – as distinct from having super-duper Z cars whizzing around the place – is perhaps the best way to reduce crime in a community. Most politicians from across the spectrum believed that all along, but they were fed management-speak and so on by various consultants who persuaded them differently. The basic instinct of public representatives is that having gardaí visible and on patrol in communities is the best way to reduce that sort of crime identified by the London Metropolitan Police as a nuisance to communities. Public order offences and petty vandalism impinge most on ordinary people's lives. I request a debate on the way we operate the policing service.

The other issue I wish to raise relates to the current war, the threat that it will escalate and the extraordinarily brave decision by the Turkish Parliament, which listened to its people, in the face of the most extraordinary levels of bribery. This issue must given further consideration. In the context of what the Turkish Parliament has done, I wish to place on record my view – I believe it is that of most people – that the deliberate destruction yesterday of a Mosque in Gaza by the Israeli armed forces was about as offensive and wrong an act as any country in the democratic world has ever carried out. I do not care what are the reasons or excuses, bulldozing people's centres of religious practice is about as offensive and as close to racism as one can get. It was an appalling act.

It is time someone with influence reined in the Israeli Government. No one justifies suicide bombings because they are appalling. However, it does not justify the actions of the Israelis. We should have a serious debate on what is happening in Palestine and Israel because the threat of war in Iraq is diverting attention from that issue. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter in the immediate future.

I also want to raise an issue to which I have referred on previous occasions. There are approximately ten Seanad Bills on the Dáil Order Paper. The Containment of Nuclear Weapons Bill was introduced in the year 2000, which is almost three years ago. We spend a great deal of time – we were here this morning until 2 a.m. – dealing with legislation which then goes to the Dáil. I note that the Immigration Bill, which some people – not the Leader – wanted to rush through the House before Christmas is still on the Dáil Order Paper and we are now in the third month of 2003.

We have no control over the Dáil.

We have no control over it but we exist in the same building.

Each House conducts its business separately.

There are channels of communication. This House should formally approach the Committee on Procedures and Privileges of the Dáil to find out why people insist that Bills introduced here should be dealt with in an expeditious manner when they are merely added to a queue of legislation waiting to be introduced in the other House. The Lower House should learn to do its business in the same way the Seanad does.

I am conscious of the fact that we are subject to a sessional order and that we must conclude the Order of Business within a specified period. In that context, all of us need to be aware of the fact that some people may wish to speak and if we keep speaking on the Order of Business, they will not have an opportunity to do so.

I congratulate the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister on the work done yesterday in Northern Ireland. It seems strange that the British Prime Minister, who is confronted by the possibility of a war in Iraq, remained at the talks while the leader of the Unionist Party felt the need to return to Westminster for a committee meeting. Leaving that issue aside, I believe progress was made. Perhaps it is somewhat disappointing that matters were not brought to a conclusion. I am confident, however, that with goodwill on all sides – and if people remember the Good Friday Agreement is the template on which everything is based – it will be brought to finality in the coming weeks. I wish everyone involved well in that regard. It might not be appropriate to debate the matter now, but perhaps we can do so later when a clearer picture emerges.

I accept the Cathaoirleach's ruling, which I do not dispute. The debate last night was quite heated and it needs to be seen in that context. Unparliamentary words were used on all sides. One term was used quite late last night, which I thought was very unparliamentary. The standard that might apply to those of us who have been here for a long period might be different to that which applies to those who have not been here long. I am confident that the import of the words was not intended to be offensive. Notwithstanding the fact that I can understand why offence might be taken, I hope the matter might be seen in that light. The context of the debate and the fact that it was quite heated at times should be taken into account.

I support Senator Brian Hayes's remarks in regard to the contribution of the staff who were here late last night. One thing that needs to be said is that there were criticisms several years ago about the length of time it took to produce the record of the proceedings. The Editor of Debates and the staff must be congratulated on the speed and accuracy with which they now produce the record of the proceedings.


Hear, hear.

Following 11 September 2001, many restrictions have been introduced in the United States and many Irish emigrants are affected by the changes. As nine Ministers will visit the United States for St. Patrick's Day, could they do something about the position in which these illegal emigrants find themselves? Will they ask Mr. Bush to consider an amnesty for these people, particularly those who are genuine and who have been working in the United States for many years? This would lift the cloud which hangs over these people on a consistent basis.

I was not in the Chamber last night when the unfortunate remark was passed. I understand Senator O'Toole heard the comment, read it and listened to it again this morning. I was present in the House and spoke immediately after Senator Ross and heard what he said. I did not consider what he said to be inflammatory. I do not agree with Senator Dardis.

I did not suggest—

The Senator suggested that heated words were exchanged and that it was part of the atmosphere in the House.

There were heated words.

It was not heated at that time, nor at the time the remark was made. There was an intention to suggest there was something different.

I did not suggest that.

I understand Senator Dardis did not refer to any Senator but to the overall debate.

The debate was clear and reasonable, at least at the time we spoke. These remarks are unfortunate. If some people have difficulty with hybrid ancestry, I do not. My father was English, but I can go back much further than many Members on my Irish pedigree. That kind of remark does not bother me. I am glad my colleague has attended the House. He will probably be able to address these matters himself.

I support Senator Ryan's call for a debate on the situation in Israel. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs conducted an important debate on the issue. Elements in the treaty of association between Israel and the European Union require that if Israel is to derive economic benefit from the treaty, certain standards of human rights should be maintained. In view of this, and as a friend of Israel, I requested the attendance of the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the committee to examine the possibility of triggering these mechanism as a punishment for the misbehaviour of the Israeli Administration. On the other hand, if we are concerned with religious matters we should also, in an even handed manner, direct our minds to the way in which the Christian minorities are treated in all the Arab and Muslim countries.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on transport, with particular focus on the proposed metro for Dublin. During a debate, this House produced the amendment that helped to create the idea of the metro. The Minister for Transport recently visited Madrid and Copenhagen to see if a system can be constructed in Dublin much more efficiently and cheaply. I believe that is possible and the Minister will be in a position to advise the House of the results of his researches. This is especially important given the enormous cost over-runs on the construction of the Luas light rail system, which will not make the slightest difference to traffic congestion in Dublin.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

I believe it is. We will have to disagree amicably on that point. I call for an early debate on this issue.

I also thank the staff of the House who covered the debate last night, which continued until almost 3 a.m.

Concerns have been expressed by some in the primary schools sector that text messaging shorthand is contributing to deteriorating standards in spelling and grammar. This is illustrated by a case in the United Kingdom this week where a 13 year old schoolgirl submitted an essay written in text shorthand. Will the Minister for Education and Science take a stand on this issue?

In view of the decision yesterday by An Bord Pleanála to approve the construction of the first waste incinerator in this country at Duleek, County Meath, it is important that the House debate the issue of incineration. There are serious health implications and the public has expressed deep concern. The Protection of the Environment Bill will take powers from elected members of local authorities on matters including the question of waste incineration and transfer them to an executive. It is important to debate the issue.

Over 20 years ago on St. Valentine's Day, a horrific fire occurred at the Stardust night-club in Dublin. Those of us close to that event still remember the deaths and disabilities suffered. Recently, three horrific fires have occurred at night-clubs world-wide, in Rhode Island, Chicago and South Korea. I call on the Leader to ask the responsible Ministers to ensure that the required vigilance in this area is maintained. This issue should attract the same kind of attention given to road deaths, a subject on which the House recently held an excellent debate. Unfortunately, however, the incidence of road deaths jumped again last weekend just as the public was beginning to relax.

Will the Leader outline the Government's legislative priorities for the remainder of this session, the Bills to be introduced between now and Easter and when the Companies (Auditing and Accounting) Bill will be initiated?

I support the timely suggestion by my colleague, Senator O'Toole, regarding the Americas Cup. There would be no finer setting than Dingle Bay. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism should use his good offices to help bring the competition to Ireland and the wonderful coastline off County Kerry.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to promote Ireland as a location for international maritime events? There are facilities around the coastline for this purpose and the country's excellent amenities, including those at Dingle and Kilrush, have not been fully exploited. The former Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources was aware of the importance to the economy of maritime recreation and business activities. This matter should be taken seriously because it is of vital importance that Ireland should join the international league in terms of the promotion of international maritime leisure and recreational events. I support Senator O'Toole's request regarding the holding of the Americas Cup.

I am sure the Leader and Members agree with me on the need for conservation. However, it is deplorable that Dúchas rangers are threatening people in rural areas with prosecution for engaging in the age old tradition of cutting turf. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister to attend the House and explain if he intends to redraw the boundaries to facilitate this activity. The tradition of turf cutting has never affected the environment, nor will it do so over the coming 1,000 years.

I do not wish to put in a bid for Stangford Lough, but I support Senator O'Toole's imaginative proposal regarding the Americas Cup. It could be of enormous importance to the country and it should be pursued.

I do not like to disagree with a Senator who requests a debate, but the Minister for Education and Science should have more to do than be concerned with text messages. They are a wonderfully inventive form of communication. We may be producing a race of cryptographers and code breakers and we should not take seriously concerns about this issue.

I concur with what has been said about tourism and I ask the Leader to arrange a speedy debate, especially on the need for a greater emphasis on community led tourism. It would be excellent for the country if the Americas Cup were held here. Tourism should be addressed in tandem with a review of internal aviation. Flights should be able to come from Farranfore to Carrickfin without having to go through Dublin. In welcoming the Americas Cup we should bring tourists to Knock, Carrickfin and Sligo.

I support the request made by Senator Cummins yesterday that the Minister for Education and Science be called to the House to discuss the issue of third level fees. We have asked for this many times and it is now quite late in the academic year. There have been threats and hints about what will happen next year. It is not fair that prospective students and their parents do not know whether they will have to pay fees. It is our duty to call the Minister to account and to get him to reveal an up-front policy and tell us what the situation will be. Middle income PAYE earners have a particular concern. The Minister's ideology in regard to fees seems to be to hammer the middle income group.

Senator Hayes sought guarantees from me. I can give none, nor is there an onus on me to give any. I have checked the Standing Orders of the Seanad on this. He wants no guillotines on Bills. There was no guillotine last night.

There was, by another name.

I call it a filibuster. The Senator asked for a guarantee that there would be a senior Minister present on Committee Stage of the Bill. We regard all our Ministers as excellent and whoever comes in will do an excellent job. He also wanted a guarantee that amendments would be accepted. He must wait until the debate happens for that.

I agree with those who want to thank the staff. Through the Cathaoirleach I formally thank the staff in the House and those who produce the reports for the massive work they have put in following our long session.

Both Senators O'Toole and Brian Hayes agreed with the comments made in regard to the North. Senator O'Toole made an imaginative proposal in regard to the Americas Cup. I thank Senator Dardis for informing me the winning boat is owned by a woman. It would be wonderful to get the event to come to Ireland. I have a modest knowledge of boating and sailing from Lough Ree, which is not making a pitch for it. I remember what an event it was when the tall ships came to Ireland. I will convey the Senator's suggestion to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, and perhaps something will come of it.

Senator Ryan remarked that 56% of tourists are unhappy with their experiences here and the percentage rises to 80% for some tourists. That is worrying. He also spoke about policing. We would all agree that policing works most efficiently by having gardaí on the beat. We must make the best use of our resources. He mentioned the Turkish Parliament and also the deliberate destruction of a mosque in Gaza. He suggested that the Dáil should learn to conduct business as well as the Seanad does.

Senator O'Toole raised a matter upon which the Chair has ruled. That is the best way to deal with the matter and I thank the Chair for its intervention on the issue. Senator Dardis spoke of the general context of last night's debate. The debate was not of an amiable nature but personal comments should not be bandied to and fro. The Cathaoirleach has decided he will deal with that.

Senator Finucane asked if the nine Ministers going to the US for St. Patrick's Day would make a case for an amnesty for the "illegal" Irish emigrants there. There have been a lot of cases of people in that situation coming forward. I will put the issue to the Taoiseach's office.

Senator Norris called for debate on Israel and on transport. Senator McCarthy is worried about the spelling and grammar of young people who send text messages. I agree with him. As a former teacher I can imagine how the habit of texting would continue in written work and grammar and spelling would be neglected.

Senator Bannon raised the issue of the incinerator. He will have the opportunity to speak tonight when the environment Bill is before the House. The Local Government Bill will also be before the House today. I note that the Fine Gael leader would do away with An Bord Pleanála.

There is a dictatorial approach by the Government on the issue of incineration.

The Leader without interruption, please.

Senator Quinn gave a timely reminder of the anniversary of the Stardust tragedy and mentioned the three major fires in night clubs around the world. He asked if the same attention could be paid to this issue as is given to the penalty points system for the roads. We were all filled with foreboding when we heard how many died last weekend.

Senator Coghlan asked what Bills were due to come before the House. The Finance Bill and the Social Welfare Bill are the major legislation due before Easter. I will inquire about the Tánaiste's Bill. He also supported Senator O'Toole's suggestion for the Americas Cup. Senator Daly supports that and further activity and events in the maritime area. Senator Feighan spoke about the Dúchas rangers frightening rural people. People should stand up to them.

Senator Maurice Hayes does not take too seriously the issue of text messaging because he considers it helps people to communicate and keep in contact. He too is in favour of having the Americas Cup here as it would support tourism. Senator McHugh also raised the issue of tourism and mentioned an air route from Farranfore to Carrickfin. Perhaps not many tourists would want to take that direct route.

Senator Tuffy wants the uncertainty clouding the issue of third level fees to be cleared. The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Dempsey, is right to examine matters and review them to see how best the resources we have can be used to help those who are disadvantaged to access third level education.

I thank Senator Bannon for the vivid picture he gave us of the late Senator O'Reilly.

Order of Business agreed to.