The Order of Business is No. 1, the Equality Bill 2004 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude at 2 p.m.; No. 2, Civil Registration Bill 2003 — Committee Stage, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. until 5 p.m., to resume on the conclusion of Private Members' business and conclude not later than 8.30 p.m.; and No. 15, motion No. 22, to be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 2 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
Last week the House was told by a Minister that no legislation was required to bring about electronic voting for the elections in June. We were told there was no need for an independent panel or commission to monitor and advise on the operation of electronic voting, that there was a mechanism in place to allow people spoil their vote if that was their choice and that the Government had confidence in the consultants who were responsible for the advertising campaign on electronic voting, yet the introduction of that had been shown to be entirely partial against my party when it first came about two weeks ago. Will the Leader agree that the handling of this issue by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in particular has been a fiasco from start to finish? Will she agree also that now is the time to work with the Opposition to bring about a consensus on the issue of electronic voting? This country is one of the oldest democracies in western Europe and the bedrock of that democracy has been the public support for our voting system from the foundation of the State. We should not tamper lightly with it. Will the Leader agree that the entire operation needs to be stopped in its tracks until such time as there is consensus among all the parties, which currently is not the case? Will she agree it is time to stop the operation until that consensus is achieved?
In a superb series of articles by Carl O'Brien inThe Irish Times over the past number of weeks he has been relaying to the country at large the shambles that exists in terms of helping children who get into difficulty with the law through the Children's Court. It is a superb piece of journalism and I congratulate him on it. Will the Leader consider providing time for a debate on the issue of disturbed children who have found no place in terms of rehabilitation and whose parents cannot deal with them because they are a danger to themselves and to their parents? We should debate this issue because if the series of articles by Mr. O'Brien in The Irish Times has shown us anything it is that there is very little provision for children under the age of 18 who get into this kind of difficulty on a regular basis. I congratulate him on an excellent piece of journalism.
I have raised consistently and in a mannerly fashion my concern that the motion passed in this House on 28 May last on auctioneers has been ignored by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
I will have a statement on that at the end of the Order of Business.
On that basis I will park the issue for another day. On the question of electronic voting and this morning's newspaper reports on it, whereas I do not agree with Senator Brian Hayes that we are one of the oldest democracies in Europe, though we are around for a while, a sufficient number of questions have now been asked about this issue to warrant it being addressed. The only way to do that is across the board. No one party has a greater political investment in this issue than another. This is all about giving popular legitimacy to the whole operation of balloting. There are too many questions. It is not a matter of the rights or the wrongs of it, but how people perceive it. If ever there was a situation where the perception is reality, this is it. The Government will have to readjust its position. This should not be made a party political issue. Questions have been raised and we all have a responsibility to address that issue in a fair and open way that gives people confidence in what we are doing. That is an issue we should examine. It is welcome that the Government is looking anew at it and it is now a question of how we move it on.
I am sure the House will agree that the decision taken by the Minister for Finance in regard to the shares of Eircom workers could not be seen in any way other than pro-worker and pro-employer and recognising their contribution. It is incorrect to see it as pro or anti a particular company or anti the shareholders of the company. It did what has always been the case and what we have always asked of successive Ministers for Finance of whatever party. This issue was dealt with by Labour Party, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Ministers at various times, all of whom have taken particular decisions. I welcome the decision and regard it as the correct one. I ask that the Leader also——
Has the Senator a question for the Leader?
There will be only one Cathaoirleach.
Chair the forum.
——support me on that point as I know she will.
It is a great pity that it takes such enormous effort to get a Government to realise we are not all Luddites because we are wary of the method of electronic voting that is being introduced. The constituents I serve in the NUI are an undemanding group by and large — some say that is why they vote for me. Many a Fianna Fáil member has tried the same route and failed gloriously so I would not make too much of it. However, they rarely are too agitated about matters but this issue has resulted in me being approached by a number of people who not only are not Luddites, but are more expert than I on this issue and they are extraordinarily wary of what the Government proposes to do. I will say no more than that. This is not about hostility to electronic voting but about understanding the limits of what computers can do.
Over the weekend the Government took to itself decisions on how the dormant accounts funds would be disbursed. We had a long debate and an independent body was set up. The Taoiseach said in the Dáil yesterday it was only a small sum of money and that he thought it was a storm in a teacup. To most of us €180 million is a large sum of money. This issue should be debated properly in both Houses of the Oireachtas because until the Oireachtas knows what is going on, it has all the appearances of an election slush fund grabbed by Fianna Fáil, with the collusion of the Progressive Democrats, to buy votes in the local elections.
Why would they do such a thing?
Typical Labour diatribe.
A body has been set up. I have a document produced by Relate telling me how it will be done. The Government suddenly decided it would not do that, but would do it a different way. This is a Government which has given us lectures about decentralisation and taking power out of the centre, but it grabs back to itself €180 million to spend as it wishes over the next six months.
We need to hear in detail in this House why that decision was taken.
The Senator is calling for a debate.
In light of newspaper reports this morning about the Garda intention to roll out the lo-call informer telephone service, with which those in the south east will be familiar and which the rest of the country will now experience, I ask the Leader to get assurances from the Garda Commissioner and from the political master, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, that this scheme will not be abused. I fully accept that the noble aspiration behind it is to reduce speeding and, ultimately, to save lives, but the human condition does not always subscribe to theory. Those of us who travel the roads of Ireland will testify that as the road structure improves and speed increases, the safest roads are motorways. However, there are motorists who, for some strange reason or because of some peculiar approach to driving, believe they own the road and that nobody can pass them by, even if they are doing 40 miles per hour. Will such people make telephone calls and clog up the telephone lines with nuisance calls, begrudgery or envy? I raise the matter because I was the subject of such a call two years ago when in a city in the south east, although it was not a driver who complained but a passenger.
It may have been a party member.
While nothing came of it, I was in the right and that person was in the wrong. There is a danger inherent in this which affects everybody.
Is the Senator seeking a debate?
Yes. My concern is that whenever the public is relied upon to phone in because they do not like something they see on the roads, the situation is open to abuse. I have had no assurances from any quarter that this service will be monitored to ensure that those driving safely and with a high degree of propriety, as most do, will not be subjected to complaints from those who, for reasons best known to themselves, decide to make a telephone call. There should be assurances in this regard from the Minister.
I support Senator Brian Hayes on electronic voting. I am in favour of electronic voting but am extremely concerned about the reservations that have been expressed, in particular regarding security. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, adopts an almost gung ho attitude to the issue. It is worth bearing in mind that further concerns have arisen in regard to the Minister's actions because he is the national director of elections for Fianna Fáil in the upcoming local elections. I urge caution on the Minister. I am glad he has rolled back on certain aspects of this and hope he will roll back on other aspects also.
Members will be aware there has been extreme concern in recent days regarding the Ardoyne area of Belfast where 13 young people have committed suicide within a few weeks. This has been linked and associated with the gangsterism and tactics adopted by the INLA in that area. While I am not a member of the British-Irish Commission, it is an issue the commission should discuss and which the Taoiseach should take up with the relevant authorities in Northern Ireland. If this gangsterism is allowed to prevail, the good done in the context of the Agreement will break down. Anybody following the debate over the past few days would be extremely concerned by what is happening in Belfast. The issue requires a response from this jurisdiction and should be tackled in Belfast.
I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the review of the drugs strategy. Recent developments in the UK and Northern Ireland have seen cannabis re-designated as a class B drug, and this is causing huge confusion, not just from a legal point of view but also among the population as a whole, particularly young people. A debate would be timely in this regard.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by my colleagues on electronic voting. Apart from that, I will confine my remarks on this to congratulating myself on having raised this issue some months ago in this House, before it was raised in the Dáil.
As I am in a congratulatory mood, I ask the House to join with me in congratulating Professor O'Leary--——
I do not think that is in order.
Then I will just do it myself.
We have a policy on congratulations.
I think it is appropriate to refer to a principle underlying the announcement of a very important discovery by Professor O'Leary regarding testing for cervical cancer. He seems to have made a discovery which will make the return of test results much more efficient, rapid and accurate. More important — this is a matter I have raised previously in regard to other disciplines — the most striking point is that he refused to patent the discovery because it would be of use to people around the world. If one contrasts that with the actions of the American doctor who patented the genetic code of one of his patients, the example of Professor O'Leary is something of which Ireland can be proud.
We might consider the situation regarding the Red Bull drink which is banned in France. I am aware we are looking at the matter here, but there does not appear to be a desire to ban it, which I do not understand. It should not be put into Vodka and so on because of its effect. This combination is responsible for much of the misbehaviour in cities like Dublin. I do not know why it cannot be banned. If the French can ban it, and if it can be shown to be socially destructive, why not ban it?
I have much sympathy with the point made by Senator Norris, even though I would remind him that his colleague on the Independent benches very much deprecates self-congratulation.
The Senator should speak on the Order of Business.
I support what Senator Finucane said. Some people have tried to justify paramilitary campaigns and activities in regard to civil rights. They are the absolute antithesis of civil and human rights.
The point has been made about dormant accounts. For 17 years, I have heard allegations about different schemes and slush funds. When grants are announced, I do not hear the Opposition saying which grants to which worthy community projects should be rescinded.
What about Punchestown? Jackie Healy-Rae would have something to say about that.
I have forgotten my final point.
Yesterday was "weary Tuesday" for many people throughout the country when their hopes and aspirations were dashed following the announcement that many jobs promised by the Tánaiste and the PDs prior to the last general election would be lost.
The Tánaiste dealt with that issue this morning.
A question to the Leader, please.
Were the phantom jobs announced for Longford, Limerick, Galway and other constituencies where the PDs won seats——
Has the Senator a question for the Leader?
I have a question.
Then put the question.
I want to know why Ireland has lost its competitive edge. Why are so many international companies pulling out of the country? Is it because we have lost competitiveness? I call on the golden girl of "golden Thursday" to come to this House and debate the issue.
That is not appropriate.
I would like to be associated with the remarks about suicides in the Ardoyne, which is a hugely complex issue. We must all ask ourselves about the breakdown in social structures that leaves young people without hope. It is an unanswerable argument for involving policing. Vigilantes are terrorising people. As well as talking to the British Government, the Taoiseach might encourage all parties to the Good Friday Agreement to play their part in building up proper policing structures in Northern Ireland.
I support my colleague, Senator Ryan, on the dormant accounts fund. The actions of the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, in this regard are nothing short of scandalous and disgraceful. It is a cynical attempt to build up a slush fund to buy votes for the forthcoming local and European elections. It is every bit as bad as the performance of the Government prior to the last general election.
Has the Senator a question for the Leader?
Will the Leader confirm whether this was a sinister attempt on the part of the Minister for Finance to buy votes in the forthcoming local and European elections? I have no doubt, nor has the public at large, that this is the case.
The second issue relates to the announcement this week that the 1,100 jobs due to materialise in Longford following the establishment of an American health care company will not now happen. This is very disappointing for the particular area and the region in general. The 1,100 jobs are directly linked to the "golden Thursday" announcements. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Tánaiste to visit this House and debate every jobs announcement she made that day. The list of jobs that have not materialised is endless. In each area that was included in an announcement, the Progressive Democrats marginally won the last seat.
In the same vein, we need a debate on job policy in the north west. Senator Bannon alluded to competition and there is an ongoing debate about Eircom and what went wrong with the take-over bid. It was a mistake to privatise Eircom because there is a monopoly on telecom provision in Donegal and companies will not go there because it is too expensive and there is no competition. That is only one aspect of the infrastructural deficit we face in terms of creating jobs. This is a serious issue. There are no announcements of major job losses in Donegal because there are no jobs.
Is the Senator seeking a debate?
Yes. Competition is the key and we must have a debate. Senator Bannon and Senator McCarthy raised a serious issue and the Tánaiste should come to the House as soon as possible.
In recent weeks we have discussed the transmission of pornography via mobile telephones. Another worrying case has arisen in the past week that reflects a gap in the law. The Posts and Telegraphs Act 1951 does not apply to mobile telephones but only to telecommunications under the auspices of Bord Telecom. I ask the Leader to take up this matter with the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources because it is one thing for us to talk about the issue in this House but the onus is on us to amend the law if a gap is found as has happened in this case. An amendment to the Act would enable the authorities to apply the law properly.
Once again the newspapers have featured the number of road deaths that have occurred in the past two weeks. I was approached yesterday by someone who is very concerned that when his son failed his driving test, he was told he would have to wait 50 weeks to retake it. I checked this and a person who lives in Tallaght must wait 55 weeks and a person in Raheny 54 weeks to retake the test. Those who come from outside the State cannot believe that people who fail a driving test continue to drive while they wait up to 55 weeks before they can retake the test. This is in the hands of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I raised the issue two years ago and was told action was being taken on it. It clearly was not and I ask the Leader to draw the attention of the Minister to the serious nature of these delays.
I ask the Leader to organise a debate as soon as possible on the Government's jobs policy. It is important that the efforts and successes in creating jobs in recent years are recognised.
What about the hollow promises at the general election?
While it is unfortunate that certain jobs have not materialised because of world economic conditions, it is important that the contribution of the Government to job creation in the last seven years is put on the record. In the period before the election many jobs did materialise and it is important that we make that clear.
Tell that to the people in Macroom.
Along with many others, I have taken great interest in the trials and tribulations of a former Member of this House and the manager and board of directors of Manchester United PLC.
That is not relevant to the Order of Business. Is the Senator seeking a debate?
The Senator is kicking to touch.
I want to put a question to the Minister for Finance who has great empathy with the Irish horse industry. I am not concerned with the tax free status in that regard because it has served this country and that industry well. However, the people at the upper end of the scale seem to have vast amounts of power and money and I want the Minister to come to the House and give us a clear picture of the implications of tax measures he intends to introduce for this industry because they do not appear to be equitable or fair.
The Finance Bill will be taken in this House soon and matters such as that can be raised during that debate.
To ensure there is good governance in regard to taxation, the Minister should come to the House and clarify a situation——
In the Finance Bill.
——which appears to be wrong and inequitable.
The development of the new test for cervical cancer by Professor John O'Leary and his team in Trinity College is good news, but it would be even better news for the women of Ireland if the long promised national screening programme for cervical cancer was brought in. Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House and address this issue because each year 50 to 60 Irish women die from cervical cancer and it is recognised that if a proper screening programme was in place, such deaths would be preventable?
I support calls for the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, to come to the House and put on record the job creation policies of this and the previous Government.
She is getting tired of her job.
She could also put on record the dismal performance of the previous Fine Gael and Labour Government——
The Senator should go down to Macroom and ask the people there about that.
——when unemployment was at 19%. I look forward to the debate.
The Deputy should check the votes in Longford and ask Deputy Sexton about that. She got her seat under false pretences.
Order, please. Senator Finucane will have an opportunity to make a contribution later.
Senator Finucane has made an outrageous statement that a Deputy got a seat under false pretences.
That is an outrageous statement and I ask that it be withdrawn.
I am delighted I raised this subject because it seems to have raised some hackles on my colleagues opposite.
That rests the case.
I hope the Tánaiste comes into the House and refutes——
Has the Senator a question on the Order of Business?
Yes. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate quickly on this subject to ensure that the scurrilous article——
That point can be raised during such a debate.
——written in theIrish Examiner this morning can be rebutted by her.
We cannot discuss this matter now.
Free up the Progressive Democrats today.
That is an honest article written in theIrish Examiner today.
I call on the Leader to reply to the Order of Business.
I indicated that I wished to speak.
The Cathaoirleach indicated that he would allow me to speak.
I did not notice the Senators indicating. I call Senator Terry.
We spent considerable time in this House last year debating the intoxicating liquor Bill and I am extremely concerned that a number of its provisions are not being implemented. The Minister should come to the House to review that legislation and explain why certain pubs still have happy hours when this practice is outlawed by the Bill. The promotion of alcohol in pubs by giving free drinks to customers is also outlawed, but from speaking to young people I am aware that type of promotion is still taking place.
Another issue we should discuss is the drawing back on the late closing time of pubs on Thursday nights. This provision has only been applied in pubs in rural areas; one can still drink as much as one wants and as late as one wants in this city. Therefore, the Bill has been a sham. Why introduce legislation if we are not going to enforce it? The Minister needs to outline why he introduces these types of laws but will not enforce them.
There are two Senators indicating that they wish to contribute and the time is almost up. I did not see either of them indicating until now. I call Senator Ulick Burke.
I endorse what Senators Ryan and McCarthy have requested, namely, that the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, explain in the House why it is necessary for him to disregard an independent board established by the Oireachtas by way of legislation just two years ago and to show no confidence in its ability to allocate the funds of dormant accounts. I ask that he explain why he has taken it upon himself, as is his pattern over the years, to have a slush fund at any cost and why he has failed to implement a scheme introduced in the last budget. He has even failed to provide an application form and other relevant details to the individuals who would benefit therefrom. He cannot say other than that he wants a slush fund.
The Senator has——
He should be denied it.
I call Senator John Phelan.
I indicated that I wanted to contribute at the very start of the Order of Business.
I did not see the Senator.
The Cathaoirleach nodded at me.
I said I did not see him. Does he accept that?
I accept it.
The Senator needs Senator Bannon's more subtle approach.
I just wanted to make the point.
I agree with what Senator Ulick Burke said and echo what Senators Ryan and McCarthy said about the dormant accounts funds. I am glad the issue was raised because it is very serious. The rules governing the board that was set up were established last year and it now appears the Government wants to set these rules aside and use the funds in any manner it sees fit. This is highly inappropriate and unacceptable.
I join with my colleague, Senator Bannon, in requesting that the Tánaiste come to the House to discuss the job proposals she announced on the so-called "golden Thursday" before the last general election. It is all well and good for Government speakers to stand up and try to defend her, but the fact of the matter is that 2,700 jobs were promised on that day and none of them has been delivered to date.
That will be a matter for the debate. Time has concluded.
We frequently give out about Fianna Fáil breaking promises it made before the last general election but——
The Leader to reply.
——we must remember that the Progressive Democrats also made promises and has broken them since then.
The first speaker was Senator Brian Hayes, the Leader of the Opposition. He raised the matter of electronic voting. I would be the first to say that, combined with the work of the committee and its members from this House, the Government has shown a consensus-like approach to the issue. This was evidenced in the Dáil last night, in the proposal to set up the independent board and in other matters. However, I appreciate this House, in a general way, led the way and that it was Senator Brian Hayes who raised the issue as one of major importance last week. The issue was then raised in the Dáil, where it is the subject of this week's Private Members' motion. It shows that in a democracy both a Government and Opposition are necessary. The matter is now proceeding in a consensus-like way and we should all be glad, in the cause of democracy, that this is happening.
Senator Brian Hayes also spoke about the wonderful articles being written by the journalist Carl O'Brien. We are trying to organise a debate on what appears to be the lack of places for disturbed children of a particular age who come before the courts. I hope we will have this debate the week after next, if not next week.
On Senator O'Toole's point, the Seanad Office and I spoke last week to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and to his private secretary because I said I would make a statement on the matter today. The Minister expects to announce the terms of reference and the names of the chairman and members of the review group on auctioneering very shortly — I believe it will be within the next few days. The terms of reference are being finalised and the members of the group who were chosen are being contacted. We will await developments.
I thank the Leader. I am very appreciative.
After we finished here on Thursday, I inquired into the matter and the position is as I have outlined.
Senator O'Toole also raised the issue of electronic voting. I am glad the changes have come about as I had reservations. I said this here in the House, as did others. We live our lives by voting and it is important that residues of fear and uncertainty are wiped away. We are on the way towards achieving that. The Senator also spoke about the pro-worker and pro-employer legislation introduced by the Minister for Finance in regard to Eircom workers.
In reply to Senator Ryan, we are not Luddites, but we were in danger of being portrayed as such, like King Canute trying to push back the tide as it rolled in. Electronic voting will now be on a far firmer footing. On the dormant accounts, as I recall that legislation provided for the establishment of an independent board to disburse those moneys. I will find out the up-to-date position.
Senator Mooney talked about lo-call informer telephone numbers nationwide and wondered if these would be abused. I have personal reservations about using an informer number. However, some of the drivers who come up behind one on the road expect one to move over for them in a 60 mph zone, even when one is driving at the speed limit. I do not see why one should if one is adhering to correct driving standards.
Senator Finucane spoke about the suicide incidence in Belfast and what appears to be a campaign by the INLA, with all those young people taking their own lives needlessly. Terrorism has developed in a dangerous manner and this is a terrible reflection of that development. Senator Brady spoke about the review of the drugs strategy. We will have a debate on that. It is necessary to take stock of the current situation to see what is happening.
Senator Norris is in the arms of a princess inThe Irish Times this morning. She is not a real princess. Princesses are named; just as the Senator is David and I am Mary, she is Princess whatever.
That is my own name.
I do not think this is relevant to the Order of Business.
He is in her arms on the front page ofThe Irish Times.
The Leader will have to qualify that.
The Leader will reply to the Order of Business.
I am happy for the Senator who also raised the matter of Professor O'Leary in Trinity. This testing has not changed for 60 years since the 1940s. It is wonderful that Professor O'Leary did not seek to patent his discovery and thereby make loads of money. This way services will become more readily available. Well done to him.
On the Red Bull drink, I cannot say what is happening. We will have to await developments. Senator Mansergh robustly rebuts the allegation about slush funds. Senator Bannon spoke about the hopes and aspirations of people in Longford. The target of 1,600 jobs was to rely too much on one particular industry. However, I thought the Tánaiste did well this morning when she said her piece.
She was good.
Senator Maurice Hayes spoke about the vigilante-type terrorism that is developing in the North and how serious it is. Senator McCarthy referred to the dormant funds and "golden Thursday". There is something slightly old-fashioned about announcing jobs all the time. When the full complement of jobs is not delivered, one has to pull back from the original announcement. However, the Tánaiste has done a great job on the employment front. Unemployment is currently running at under5%, which is remarkable in a period of downturn.
Senator McHugh, on jobs policy in the north west, referred to a lack of competitiveness. Senator Minihan believes the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, should be asked about an amendment to the Post Office (Amendment) Act 1951. There is much more to that issue; the safety side must also be considered.
Senator Quinn talked about the delay in the driving test, which is now up to a year. This is wrong if the emphasis is to be kept on road safety. There is a strategy for ensuring tests are held at a faster pace, but this is not happening. The Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy McDaid, is in charge of that particular segment of transport activity, so we will invite him to address the House on the issue. Senator Dooley would like to see a debate on the Government's jobs policy. That could well be of benefit. Senator Feighan is seeking a debate on the beneficial tax implications for those in the higher echelons of the racing industry. Senator Henry is seeking a debate on the national screening strategy for women as regards cervical cancer. Senator Morrissey is also seeking a debate on jobs and has asked that the Tanáiste be invited to the House to discuss the matter. Senator Terry referred to the non-implementation of aspects of the intoxicating liquor Bill, in particular the demise of the happy hour provision which leads to unfettered drinking. I was not aware that provision was still in place. Perhaps there is a phasing out time involved.
Senator Ulick Burke asked that the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, be invited to the House to discuss the disbursement of funds by the independent board under the Dormant Funds Act. I will ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss that matter. Senator John Paul Phelan also referred to dormant accounts, the Tanáiste and the jobs situation. The Tanáiste has proved very willing to come to this House. A debate on jobs, leaving aside the issue raised today, would be useful.
The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, introduced legislation to deal with accounts that had been dormant for 15 years or more and from which nobody was benefiting.
On the recommendation of a committee.
Following a recommendation from the Committee of Public Accounts.
It was introduced as a result of the DIRT inquiry.
We should be glad that legislation is in place. We will invite the Minister to the House to discuss the matter.