The Order of Business is No. 1, Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2003 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 4.30 p.m.; and No. 2, Air Navigation and Transport (International Conventions) Bill 2004 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of other Members not to exceed ten minutes, Members may share time and the Minister will be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage.
Order of Business.
We are not opposed to the Order of Business.
This morning many of us throughout the country heard the harrowing evidence given in the High Court yesterday by Mrs. Murphy in the ongoing trial concerning the manslaughter of Brian Murphy. His death was, to say the least, the worst nightmare of a mother and a father but one lesson needs to be learned from this trial. I do not intend to comment on the trial itself but we must learn a lesson from the way victims are treated in the criminal justice system. It appears a number of simple measures need to be put in place in our courts to ensure victims' voices are heard. First, we need bigger courtrooms so that victims are given adequate space and a designated area where they and their families can listen to the trial and, second, we need to inform victims on an ongoing basis about the progress of prosecutions brought before the courts. Those two straightforward measures need to be put in place in the context of a greater debate on the way we treat victims in our criminal justice system.
The Murphy case and the media exposure thereof highlights the need for a more detailed debate on the voice of victims in our criminal justice system. We need that debate and this House would be a perfect venue in which a proper debate could occur. I urge the Leader to bring forward that debate as soon as possible because the voice of victims is largely forgotten and it is to our shame as a Legislature and a courts system that that is happening.
On the same issue, in a previous job I had a colleague who dealt with people who insisted on taking people through the courts. In her very first discussion with them she always told them that if they were looking for justice they should go to heaven but if they were looking for the law they should go to the courts. The courts are never the place for justice. They have never been intended to be the place for justice and people are confused about that. That is one of the reasons we are one of the most litigious populations in Europe.
I agree completely with what Senator Hayes said about giving space to the victims but I welcome the opportunities now at last being given in the judicial system to give a voice to victims in the courtroom and to have a victim impact assessment within the courtroom to allow people to say what is necessary.
We have discussed this issue on many occasions. There was a discussion at an early stage of this Government in which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform — I am sure the Leader will correct me if I am wrong — said it was being considered that the victims in rape cases, for instance, might have legal representation in the courtroom during the course of their hearing. That measure would be welcomed and would be in line with the comments made by Senator Brian Hayes. It might be worthwhile having a discussion on these issues outside this particular case——
——because it is a broader issue which arises every time there is a victim in a court case.
I would like to add to that an issue which I have raised three or four times over the past few months, namely, the question of serving of sentences. When people are given concurrent sentences the method of calculating time off and parole should be completely different from that involving people who are serving one sentence. If a person is serving 250 years, the same system should not be used to determine parole as would be used for somebody serving ten or 12 years. We should have a broad debate on the justice issue and I know the Minister would have much to say on these matters. He has expressed views in private on many occasions and we could gain a good deal from such a debate.
I support Senators Brian Hayes and O'Toole in their calls for measures to address the needs of victims in the criminal justice system. Without making any judgment on the case, the family of Brian Murphy raised valid concerns about their experience in the court. It is something that was discussed already in the House when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, was here. There is a need for much more to be done in terms of victim support within the criminal justice system.
I do not agree with Senator O'Toole that the courts are not the place for justice. I would have thought that was their objective. To be fair to the justice system——
That is why Justice wears a blindfold on the statue at the top of the Four Courts.
——we need to support all sides within it and make sure that it is fair and balanced.
I would like the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, to be invited to the House to discuss again the Hanly report on staffing proposals in the medical service. In particular, I would like the critique raised at a conference in Kildare over the weekend to be explored, which criticises some of the evidence and conclusions of the Hanly report. Major steps are proposed in the Hanly report and it is important that the Government does not rush in, blindfolded, and adopt its conclusions lock, stock and barrel. Members of this House have a contribution to make as regards its proposals.
I join with the general sentiment expressed across the House with regard to the rights of victims of crime to have their voices heard. It took a remarkable act of courage and determination on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Murphy to speak at yesterday's court hearing. While it is correct that we should not comment on the trial, it has struck me for some time as extraordinary that court proceedings and tribunals are not televised. That view has been supported by a member of the Judiciary in one case with regard to tribunals. It is a charade that we have to listen to actors on the radio at night using the words that were spoken. Why can we not hear the people themselves and their words?
It is because they are not as good as Joe Taylor.
They may not be as good in presenting, but it is extraordinary that the legal profession is locked into the practices of other centuries, not only because trials may not be seen but because of wigs and gowns and so on. These features are not appropriate to the age in which we live.
On another matter, it was great to be an Irishman in Twickenham last Saturday afternoon.
The Senator is not allowed to say that.
I know it is great to be an Irishman, but I do not believe it is relevant to the Order of Business.
I have not congratulated anybody, or expressed my condolence on the death of English rugby, but I am about to make a relevant point. In the context of the celebration of Irish sport it is disappointing that the opening of Croke Park cannot be at least discussed.
That is not relevant to the Order of Business. It is out of order.
I do not want to prejudice the outcome, but there should surely be a discussion.
Following a report circulated by RGDATA on what it describes as "ghost town Britain", it is important to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, to the House to debate the action needed to avoid "ghost town Ireland". I am concerned at the great number of small rural post offices, shops and other business outlets that are closing down in rural Ireland on a weekly basis. It is important to have a debate on the issue. Large stores are starting to dominate at the expense of small enterprises.
The Hanly report was raised by Senator Tuffy. I wonder whether a second Hanly report was launched at the weekend, because there was a great deal of backtracking on the original report. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, has backtracked on the downgrading of accident and emergency units in two thirds of the country's hospitals. That is welcome on this side of the House.
As regards what Senator Dardis had to say on the opening of Croke Park, I would welcome it——
That is completely irrelevant to the Order of Business.
Yesterday the first national playground policy document was launched by the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Brian Lenihan. The surveys were carried out by the national children's committee, which highlighted the lack of play facilities throughout the country, only 168 playgrounds having been provided by local authorities. As eight Departments are involved in the implementation of those plans, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to discuss the policy.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senators Brian Hayes and O'Toole. This court case is a tragic circumstance for all the young people and families involved, and I do not intend to comment on it. However, behind that case is a significant culture of alcohol, and this House should address it again. We had a good debate on it at one point during the anniversary celebrations of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, at which some people laugh but which was very necessary in the 19th century and may well be necessary again. If one examines the statistics just released, one sees that Ireland has the highest level of alcohol consumption in the European Union. The problem is particularly prevalent among young women. Perhaps we might consider the matter.
I would also like something to be done about the fact that several of the joint committees have developed a habit of starting their business at a time that coincides with the Order of Business in this House. That is disrespectful to the Cathaoirleach and the Seanad. It happened today with the Joint Committee on Transport. I went there only because I was asked.
And the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs.
It also happened with the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Leader and I have suggested that we might, as a Chamber, boycott those committees on one occasion so that they simply cannot meet. They are treating this House and the Cathaoirleach with disrespect.
Perhaps we might also have a debate on foreign affairs, particularly the extraordinary behaviour of the United States of America in kidnapping the democratically elected president of a small Caribbean country. It is now clear from the press conference that, after a good deal of pressure, President Aristide was allowed to stay in the Central African Republic, but he was kidnapped. They were playing the same tricks in Venezuela, where they were caught by a very fine Irish television company with their hand in the jam. Now they are trying exactly the same trick again, and among their evidence is the claim that there is an Islamic threat. General James Hill, the chief of the US southern command, said the proof of the danger of Islamic terrorism was supplied by US citizens resident on Isla de Margarita, who reported a sudden increase in the number of young Muslims living on the island. It is a frightening thought that the Americans would use that as the basis for undermining a democratic government.
All that can be raised in the debate.
The Cathaoirleach will be glad to know that I do not intend to raise the Croke Park issue as he would rule me out of order.
It is not relevant at all; it is no business of ours.
We have been G-A-A-gged.
Perhaps we might invite the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to the House. His brief is so wide that he could be here on a raft of different subjects, particularly regarding the communications end of his portfolio. I say that for two reasons, the first being the weekend reports on the state of this country's fixed-line infrastructure. Apparently a secret report has been prepared, which even ComReg has not seen. As the company is supposed to be floated on the Stock Exchange, it is timely that we try to flesh that out and get more information on it. The second reason concerns the roll-out of broadband. That has been likened to the previous rural electrification scheme, so important is it to the country, particularly bearing in mind the Minister's commitment of last Saturday regarding group broadband schemes, which would mirror group water schemes. It would be useful to invite the Minister to the House to provide more information on that.
There is a view that without accompanying strengthening legislation the much lauded ministerial guidelines on one-off housing will be rendered useless. In light of that, I invite the Leader to make a statement which will provide clarity rather than confusion.
That will be raised tomorrow.
Senators Tuffy and Bannon raised the matter of the Hanly report. Can we have an update on its status? At a conference in Dublin over the weekend it was mentioned that local hospitals will retain 24-hour cover and that regional hospitals will receive more specialised services. If true, this is welcome. Is the Taoiseach's statement, which we would favour, or the proposals of the Hanly report correct? We would like an update on the position.
I support the call of Senators Brian Hayes, O'Toole and Tuffy for a debate on the issues arising in the area of justice, particularly the role of victims in the administration of justice. The members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights participated in public hearings last December on the criminal justice system. The committee's report, which would have been issued by now but for the ongoing public inquiry, will probably be issued shortly. A debate on justice would provide an opportunity to debate it. Other issues, such as the suspended sentences being handed down in rape cases, give rise to concern in this area. A good debate would encompass these and other issues.
I also support Senator Kenneally's call for a debate on communications. The Eircom IPO presents an opportunity to discuss such issues. Apart from the matters mentioned by the Senator, we could also debate the delay in the installation of telephones in certain parts of the country where the problem seems to have gone back to the bad old days.
Whatever about the Hanly report, will the Leader ask whoever is in charge of the working time directive for doctors to attend the House to tell us what should be happening before administrators and doctors all over the country continue wasting their time trying to introduce rotas for the directive in August? I will be in a position to raise the issue of political appointments to semi-State boards tomorrow night under the motion in the name of Senator Ross and on behalf of most of the Independent Senators.
I am glad the Senator said that.
However, can the Minister for Health and Children come to the House to discuss the serious revelations made by Fintan O'Toole inThe Irish Times regarding correspondence between the former chairman of the blood transfusion board and the Minister regarding appointments to that board? It is one of the most important boards in the country but even after ten years we still have trouble with it.
As it is so long since we saw him could we invite the Minister for Transport to make a guest appearance in the House to explain the Government's policy on the development and construction of inter-urban routes, as enunciated in the national spatial strategy document? Priority has been given to the routes from Dublin to Cork and Galway but there is no mention of development of the route to the south east. In local papers the Tánaiste is on record as being against the development of such a route to Waterford and the south east.
The Senator is wrong again. It is the nature of the route.
Will the Minister attend the House and clarify the situation because the lack of this vital infrastructure is hindering the development and growth of Waterford and the south east? We need clarity on the matter.
I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on a related topic, namely economic policy in Northern Ireland. We can move away from the reactive issues which we always talk about in regard to Northern Ireland when there is a punishment beating or political impasse. While the symbolism of checkpoints has been removed along the Border, we still have social and economic partition. We must devise a concrete connecting policy between the North and the South which is something we do not have at present. This requires the collective will of people on both sides of the Border.
The Coleraine to Derry railway link is under threat and it looks likely that it will close. People are seriously worried about this possibility as it is both a tourist and economic route. We need to use the spatial strategy to promote a rail link between Derry and Letterkenny. When the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, was last in the House he said he would incorporate the development of this link into his transport strategy. If we showed the will on our side perhaps that would help to maintain the threatened Coleraine to Derry link.
I support the previous speaker's request for a debate on the economic aspects of cross-Border communication, especially in the north-west, which would give a new dimension to the debate. The North-South bodies are still in existence, as are the economic problems, and such a debate would be most helpful.
I also support the request for a debate on the role of victims in society. As Senator Walsh suggested, this would be better in the context of the justice committee's report rather than in the present heightened atmosphere. I do not wish to comment on any recent cases, but they do give us an opportunity to reflect on what we all owe to juries and the service people give on our behalf. They are ordinary people dealing with extremely complex and disturbing situations.
I would welcome a debate on hospital policy generally. Much nonsense is talked about what patients want when, by and large, patients want to get better. It might be helpful if some statistics from small hospitals around the country were made known in order that we can learn where patients have a greater chance of getting better.
I am grateful to the Cathaoirleach for his ruling on Senator Dardis's point in regard to Croke Park. If he had not made it, I might have been tempted to sin against the Holy Ghost too.
That is a matter for a body other than the Seanad.
Last weekend there was another gangland-style murder and an attack. While we have become complacent about this type of activity, which has almost become a weekly occurrence, it is a serious issue. We need the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House and outline his response to this type of killing. While drugs play an important part in this problem other issues are also involved. The Minister is not on top of the problem. People are afraid to walk the streets at night because they encounter danger. The Minister needs to reassure us about his response to these murders. People are going around with guns in their pockets. Where are they getting them? The Minister needs to address this multifaceted issue in the House.
Will the Leader intervene with the Minister for Transport and Irish Rail regarding the state of carriages on the Westport and Ballina railway lines? On a number of occasions the dining car has been taken away and there is no breakfast buffet, nor are there first-class carriages. The line is being treated in the same way as the national primary road, the N5. The users of this road and the railway route are being treated as second-class citizens. I ask the Leader to intervene and meet Iarnród Éireann or the Minister for Transport regarding this matter. It is very serious that a second-class, substandard service is being provided.
I join with Senator Paddy Burke in asking that the Minister for Transport be invited to the House to debate the state of the rolling stock throughout the country, particularly on the west coast. I refer to the Mayo line, to which I am sure Senator Paddy Burke was referring, and also the Sligo line.
What about the south west?
In recent years there have been considerable improvements to the Sligo line and the signalling system, but there is no point having a dual carriageway if one does not have a car to drive on it. The state of the rolling stock in the west is a disgrace and harks back to the 1950s. The 90 carriages bought recently by Iarnród Éireann should not be reserved for Cork and the more profitable rail routes. If proper infrastructure were in place, people would use it and the service would therefore become more profitable.
I strongly support Senator MacSharry's remarks on the rail network. There is no doubt that significant improvements have been effected and the Leader, who was previously Minister with responsibility for transport, can take much credit for this.
The rail network has an integral part to play in the public transport system. When one considers the circumstances that obtain between Mullingar and Athlone, where there was previously a rail link, one realises that it would make a lot of sense to reopen it. That is the way forward and the way to end some of the gridlock on our roads.
The Senator has supported the call for a debate and should not elaborate at this point.
The relevant Minister should be invited to the House for a debate, during which I could make these remarks. It is an operational matter for Iarnród Éireann.
Senator Brian Hayes, as Leader of the Opposition, spoke in very careful, measured terms about the lessons we can learn from a particular case. I know we are not supposed to comment on the case but I believe the family in question was enormously brave. Can one imagine any woman having to speak as Mrs. Murphy did? Her words were incredibly courageous. The Senator referred to the need for victims to receive a progress report on their case and on delays. It appears that progress reports are not issued in cases of the kind in question, but it would be very useful if they were.
The Senator also referred to the size of courtrooms. Many are in very old buildings, which are not custom-made and cannot cater for huge crowds. Everybody is cheek by jowl in many very large cases, which must make it extraordinarily difficult for people to do their business, particularly when there are emotional matters involved as there are in any case. The Senator called for a general debate on these matters. I am not referring to yesterday's case in saying that victim impact statements, which were introduced some years ago, are a good idea. They allow victims to go through a process of catharsis in which they can say what they want.
Senator Brian Hayes put forward very practical points. Senator O'Toole made the point that courts are never the place for justice, a point taken up by Senator Tuffy. When the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, is in the House on Thursday, we can ask him if he will participate in a debate on the broader matters referred to and on sentencing policies. Senator Tuffy said a balanced system of justice is needed. There will be people for and against whatever sentence is passed. That is why judges have such an important role to play because the responsibility for making decisions in cases such as this rests upon their shoulders. The Senator also wants the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to discuss the Hanly report and its current position.
Senator Dardis agrees with Senator Brian Hayes and he wants trials and tribunals to be televised. I do not know whether that is a good idea. It is very American but perhaps it is appropriate to modern times. He would also like a debate on a forbidden subject, the GAA.
Senator Bannon referred to the RGDATA report. I read the booklet about "ghost town Britain" but it did not refer to post offices, it was about large out-of-town shopping centres, saying that people want a return to smaller shopping enclaves. He too wanted a debate on the Hanly report.
Senator Brennan referred to the first national playground document. I will ask the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss it. Many urban areas are keen to have access to or to provide money for play areas.
Senator Norris talked about drinking. No.13 on the Order Paper states: "Statements on the high level of alcohol consumption by young people (resumed)”. There was an item on the news this morning about a EUROSTAT report to the effect that the Irish are the greatest imbibers in Europe. I do not know whether this research includes wine which is taken with many meals in other countries. Women were cited again as a bad example, which is unfair because I do not meet many women who drink to excess. Perhaps they are doing it and we do not know about it.
There are plenty of them in the city of Dublin.
Yes but they are not engaging in nefarious deeds.
Yes they are.
Senator Norris also raised the sitting times of joint committees, which are wrong. A joint committee cannot be held unless Senators are present. Therefore the fact that they insist on holding their meetings at the time we start our business is bad manners and discourteous.
They never conflict with the Dáil.
Yes. Senator Norris mentioned a report on the kidnap of the President of Haiti. We do not know the truth of this. He also raised the behaviour of the Americans in Venezuela and that Americans said that seeing Muslims going around is an Islamic threat in itself.
With regard to Senator Kenneally's comments, I spoke to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on Saturday and he would be keen to come to the House to discuss the report on fixed lines and the roll out of broadband. We may be able to arrange that for the week after next.
In response to Senator Coghlan, we are debating guidelines on planning tomorrow and we look forward to hearing his contributions. He also asked for an update on the Hanly report.
When the report on victims in justice, to which Senator Walsh referred, is published it will be the best time for a debate. It is due soon.
Senator Henry mentioned the working time directive and doctors. It cannot be put back and must be implemented. I did not read the article the Senator mentioned on blood transfusions. She asked that the Minister for Health and Children come to the House to speak about this and the blood transfusion board.
Senator Cummins referred to inter-urban roads. I was in Dungarvan yesterday. The Senator should try travelling from Athlone to Dungarvan. The first signpost for Dungarvan appears about ten miles short of the town. That is a local matter which I should raise with the Senator rather than him raising it with me.
It is a matter for the National Roads Authority.
He has called for the Minister for Transport to come to the House to discuss inter-urban routes. I had a lovely day in Dungarvan. The people there are lovely.
Can the Senator tell us about the guest appearance of the Minister?
It was a women's day. Senator McHugh asked for a debate on the economic policy between North and South. That would be interesting but the ministerial meetings are continuing. However, we could have an up to date debate and then discuss the railway line from Derry to Letterkenny which might highlight the example of the other line.
Senator McHugh also spoke about hospitals policy and said he was encouraged by what Senator Maurice Hayes said about juries. I do not know how people can listen to harrowing evidence and make their decisions.
Senator Terry spoke about gangland murders. The Minister will be in the House on Thursday. We will ask him to return on another occasion for a debate on sentencing policy and gangland murders. We will also ask him to outline his views on what can be done in courthouses when particularly emotional cases are heard.
Senator Paddy Burke spoke about the state of train carriages. The lines and signalling have been substantially upgraded. To undergo a long journey without refreshments of a most basic nature is punishment in itself. Perhaps the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy McDaid, would be keen to flaunt himself now in the north west area. It would be a good debate.
It is the trains that we want.
Senator MacSharry referred to the same issue on the Sligo line. He is correct that more people would take the trains if there were decent carriages and a modicum of refreshment. Senator Glynn asked about what has happened with regard to the Mullingar to Athlone route. I do not know. I gave myimprimatur to it before I left the then Department of Public Enterprise.
All the more reason for the Minister to come to the House.