The Order of Business today is No. 1, Adoptive Leave Bill 2004 — Report Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 4.15 p.m.; No. 2, Civil Liability and Courts Bill 2004 — Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 or at 4.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6.30 p.m.; and No. 3, motion re operation of the provisions of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 or at 6.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 7.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
We support the proposed Order of Business. I offer the other side of the House my sincere commiserations on the results of last week's elections. I have a word of advice for the Taoiseach. He stated that he intends to carry out a major reshuffle of the Cabinet. He should look to the Leader of this House to bring back some solidity and competence to the Government as soon as possible.
There is much deadwood in the Cabinet and the appointment of Senator O'Rourke as a member would help to solve this problem. I ask the Taoiseach to follow my advice.
On the Order of Business, Senator.
On behalf of everyone, I offer congratulations to Senator Higgins on his election to the European Parliament and to all those who stood in that contest. I also congratulate all those who were elected to the local authorities. The most important result was not just the success of the Opposition but the massive turnout compared with an average of 15% to 20% in other EU countries. We owe the people, and the candidates from all parties whose campaign over the past six months or so contributed to that turnout, a great tribute.
The results clearly point to a dramatic change in the composition of the next Seanad by virtue of local authority membership. I wonder whether, in a newly constituted Seanad, there would be greater support for Seanad reform along the lines we have proposed.
I am sure the Leader of the House would agree it would ensure some of her colleagues on that side of the House might make it back after the next election.
The Government has succeeded in having the constitutional referendum on citizenship passed. I congratulate it on that. We should now move on the basis of all-party consensus to agree the legislation to be brought before both Houses of the Oireachtas over the next few months. We have been given the right by the people, who are sovereign in this matter, to limit citizenship in certain circumstances. We have an obligation to move on an all-party basis. Genuine debate and agreement on the issue of immigration is necessary. The time is now right for that debate. It is also time to introduce legislation based purely on all-party support and consensus. That is how we should proceed to ensure we have a rational, confident and balanced debate so the terrible tyranny or racism will not be bestowed on the Irish people. That must happen now. I encourage the Government to work with us on this side of the House to achieve all-party agreement on this matter.
I offer congratulations to the newly elected members of the local authorities and to the newly elected MEPs. It is important that we recognise their potential contribution. I also offer my condolences in respect of the number of single transferable votes that evaporated from my colleagues on the other side and suggest that it might perhaps encourage Members on the Government side to take a new look at the proposals in the recent report on Seanad reform and show a new interest in, for example, the list system and various other forms of election. It would add a certain level of information to how they should be informed.
I support what Senator Brian Hayes said about our Leader's position in Government. Perhaps she is currently more needed in Westmeath than in Government. Westmeath sadly lacked her calming and supportive influence over the past week or two.
On the more serious Curtin issue, the committee appointed to deal with the matter is meeting today. We can only wish it well in what I believe to be an impossible task. I have communicated with the Leader on a number of occasions about this and she has been extraordinarily helpful. However, the Government should seriously consider negotiating an outcome or conclusion to his issue because unless negotiations are entered into, Judge Curtin will still be a judge long after this Government has gone. In terms of costs, taxpayers' money will evaporate on a mission impossible. We should be realistic about it. The Government has a clear objective which it can achieve in ways other than the way it is going about it.
I have been very careful in what I have said. I know the Chair is uncomfortable with it. However, I do not believe I have gone beyond the limit. I ask that this be raised confidentially by the Leader with the Government. Serious mistakes have already been made, not by anybody in this House, and we should examine carefully what the conclusions might be. I think we are making a mess of it.
I agree with Senator O'Toole. I am very concerned with what I have read from well informed commentary in the media that the path being pursued will not succeed and will cause problems for the future.
That will be decided by the two Houses.
I extend my commiseration to the parties opposite and I advise them to brace themselves for what is ahead. They probably already know from the comments of backbenchers——
Is the Senator advising us?
Those opposite should cheer up.
They should enjoy it while they are here as God knows what will happen after the next election.
We know we are all subject to the vagaries of the electorate. From listening to people on the doorsteps and to the backbenchers' comments in the media, some of which were attributed, it is clear there is a long list of issues about which people are concerned. Two issues are of particular concern and they are linked. One is the impact of the Hanly report, which will be even bigger if the Government publishes a second Hanly report. The second issue is decentralisation, in which the Government has put itself in a bind. If it delivers decentralisation, it will alienate a great number of public servants who are bothered about it.
I have given the Senator latitude. I am not sure if this is relevant to the Order of Business.
If decentralisation is not delivered, there are areas around the country which will be very annoyed at the Government. These issues are linked. Public servants should have a look at where the Government intends them to go and check whether the hospital that is there now will be there when they get there.
I congratulate everyone who succeeded in the recent local elections. More importantly, I congratulate everyone who partook in the local elections regardless of the result, both the candidates and the public at large for coming out in such large numbers. It is a great test of one's calibre to put oneself before one's community and peers to face an electorate. It is very easy for those who do not put themselves above the parapet to be critical. It was a good day for the body politic that so many people contested the elections. I am not going to rise to the bait of warnings and advice given from members of the other side of the House. The reality is that we should be complimentary to our democratic system. Not all countries have a democratic system that works as effectively as ours and we should acknowledge that.
Because the current situation is fraught with difficulty, I agree with Senator O'Toole that negotiations should be examined. What the Senator said is wise and this could drag on for years. I encourage the Leader to pursue that.
The Senator knows the procedure has been adopted.
I am not trying to do anything to upset that. I agree with the comments that have been made regarding the increased vote and the number of people who took part in the democratic system. It is great to see it working so well. Maybe it is not the last hurrah for the tallyman because the elections worked very well and people were very satisfied with it. I support Senator Brian Hayes's comments on citizenship legislation and that is something the Leader might usefully pursue.
When does the Leader expect the fog of indecision will lift regarding the break-up of Aer Rianta? Is there any report from today's Cabinet meeting on that matter?
We will have to go around the hotels again.
I agree that last Friday was a very good day for democracy. The people's vote was up by several percent. While wishing to join in congratulating everyone concerned, none of us, either optimistically or pessimistically, should pre-empt the choice of the people in two or three years time.
Can the Leader arrange a debate on the annual report of An Post? There is much concern throughout the country about the future of certain post offices and this should be debated in the House.
I ask the Leader to pass on to the Office of Public Works congratulations on the magnificent job it has done in the National Library of Ireland with the space which now houses the remarkable exhibition of manuscripts of James Joyce. For the first time I feel I can hold my head high in the international community of Joyceans because we have a deposit of material of world standing which was imaginatively bought by the Government and we now have a facility of world standing in which to exhibit it for the first time.
I must be a little negative and ask the Leader to speak to the relevant Ministers about Carmichael House, which many Senators know. More than 40 voluntary organisations which look after people with motor neurone disease, gifted children and many others are under threat that the house may close by July if there is not a co-ordinated attempt to support it. One Department has already rowed in but others need to do so also. The closure of Carmichael House would be a real tragedy and a loss.
I dissociate myself from the encomiums paid to President Reagan recently. It is a very sad thing for a family when a human being dies and one accepts and respects that. However, this is a man who laid the foundations for the catastrophic foreign policy of the United States. Arms were illegally exported to Iran, drugs were sold and the money used to supply guns for the murder squads in South America. President Reagan's interventions in Asia and the Middle East were equally disastrous. He laid the foundations for the tragedy we are looking at today. History will show this to be the fact and I am happy to put that on the record.
I also raise the issue of Carmichael House which, it was announced at the weekend, may have to close. This house, which accommodates 46 important support groups which help needy people, is under threat of closure because it needs funding of €300,000. On 17 May last the Taoiseach opened Carmichael House, wished those working there well and congratulated them on the work they are doing. The same Taoiseach is now standing over the possibility of the house closing. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs has promised to provide funding but the house needs additional funding from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I ask the Leader to ensure that Carmichael House gets this essential funding, not just for the next six months but on an annual basis, to ensure that the work of the organisations who use the house can continue.
I feel like a fish out of water today, having a licence neither to laugh nor cry about the election results. I congratulate those people who participated. As an ex-returning officer, I would like us all to pay tribute to the people who keep the machine going during elections and play an important role in that way.
I support Senator Brian Hayes's request for a calm debate on citizenship. After the referendum, this is something to which we should move quickly. This is a matter of particular interest in Northern Ireland. It is also important to begin to unstitch immigration from citizenship and asylum. We need and welcome these people. It is a labour force issue more than anything else.
I support the remarks about Carmichael House which does magnificent work for deserving and needy people. It would be tragic if for some reason it fell between the cracks of various Departments. I hope the Leader will be able to encourage people to pull together in that regard.
I, too, share Senator O'Toole concerns regarding the committee given that the person involved is apparently suffering serious mental illness.
Will the Leader request the Minster for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to discuss how he is dealing with the health problems of those in prison given that prison doctors have been on strike for some time now? Many people in our prisons are suffering from serious mental and physical illness. I request that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come to the House to discuss the matter because the prison health service is run by his Department and not the Department of Health and Children.
I join my colleagues in complimenting and congratulating all those who placed their names on ballot papers for last Friday's European and local elections. Local government is democratically elected by the people and they gave their verdict at the weekend. Fine Gael won outright control of the councils in my constituency, wiping the Progressive Democrats completely off the map and melting down Fianna Fáil.
Now that the people have given their verdict, it is important that we debate the economy, crime, the health services and funding for local authorities.
The Senator is seeking four debates.
Those of us on the Opposition benches who met people on the doorsteps know these issues are of great concern to the public. They are annoyed with the Government in terms of the policies it has pursued for the past two years. The Government has let the people down. It is important we debate these issues of grave public concern before the summer recess because I do not believe the Government will survive autumn 2004.
Is the Senator suggesting there will be a revolution?
Senator Bannon should put his salary on the Paddy Power slip.
We have our own weapon of mass destruction.
We had it last week.
Senator Browne on the Order of Business, please.
I join in congratulating all those who contested the elections. The bravest thing any person can do is put their name on a ballot paper. Those involved deserve our congratulations on taking part in the democratic process. It is encouraging that voter turnout has increased, something which upset the trend in recent elections.
As a person who took part in the election, I learned a great deal about the importance of transfers, an issue we should consider for the future. We should consider advertising or making available information leaflets on the importance of transfers, the advantages of PR voting and the role of local government. There is much ignorance in that regard. The number of deliberately spoiled votes is also an appalling matter. There is an onus on Government to ensure people have such information available to them.
The House should also have a debate on the register of electors. I was appalled to learn that many people who turned up to vote discovered to their horror that they could not do so because their names had been taken off the register and they had not been notified. Voting is a basic right to which everyone is entitled. The current register of electors is totally unsatisfactory. I am not sure what is the solution to this problem but the matter should be debated in the House so we can consider alternative methods of keeping it up to date. We should also ensure everybody who is entitled to vote has the option of doing so.
On the occasion of the last Private Members' business in the House, involving a motion from the Progressive Democrats about decentralisation, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, indicated to the House that everything was going according to plan as regards the timescale initially set out for that programme. On the very next day he was interviewed by RTE and clearly indicated that was not so. He stated that in the worst case scenario it will be the end of 2007 before the last Department decentralises. It was a terrible injustice to the Members of this House to change his mind the very next day and mislead them. I ask him as a matter of urgency to correct the record, either through the Leader or personally in the House. His statement was certainly a terrible rebuff to this House and its Members. He sat here and winked and nodded with regard to various statements that were made——
And promised A, B and C.
Certainly. He is obliged to come back to the House to correct the record regarding the accuracy of the statement he made.
Furthermore, will the Leader request the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to explain in the House the reason for the deteriorating conditions of many beaches throughout the country that lost their blue flag status? I refer in particular to the beach in Spiddal, County Galway, which is one of the most important beaches in the county. The real reason for this, which I raised on the Adjournment, is that the local authority and the Government still allow untreated sewage to be discharged into Galway Bay. Consequently, because of the currents and prevailing winds, it drifts towards the beach.
Which beach? Is it the beach in Spiddal?
Yes. Kinvara is the town in question, and I referred to it on the Order of Business previously. This issue is being ignored and it is time the Minister, particularly as president of the Environment Ministers in the EU, directed Galway County Council to prevent this.
I support Senator Bannon's call for a debate on the economy. It would be useful and give us a chance to examine those elements of the economy that are the envy of other European countries. We have one of the most successful economies in the world. The sooner we discuss this, the better.
I thank the public for turning out in such numbers at the local and European elections. I have certainly noticed a mood change among the electorate in that it treats the representatives and the candidates with such respect and courtesy.
The Senator did not know where he was——
This has certainly changed over many years.
I, too, call for a debate on the register of electors. It is a mess and we need to find some formula that will ensure that those who are entitled to vote can vote and that those who are not do not have a vote.
Senator Brian Hayes, the Leader of the Opposition, quite rightly praised the turnout at the elections. It was magnificent in light of the stories one hears from around Europe about a decline in voter participation. I suppose we all have different ideas as to why our turnout increased but it is very good when people turn out in large numbers. I thank the Senator for his other kind comments.
As the Senator was talking, I was thinking about the accompanying legislation that must follow the referendum vote. We stated in our Seanad reform discussions that the Seanad would be the catalyst for getting groupings together to hear their views on legislation. This is what all the various parties involved in this matter have put forward. I could address myself to the Minister on this and it would be a good idea if he would consider the issue in that vein. We would then try to have all-party agreement on the accompanying legislation.
I thank Senator O'Toole. We are pretty robust on this side of the House. There is no point in saying that we loved what happened to us. How could one unless one was foolish? We will live to fight another day. There was a rout; there is no other way to describe it. We are good at picking up and I am sure we will all do so. We should try to smile about it and not have such glum faces on this side of the House as we will have to pick up.
The Leader seems to be enjoying herself.
Senator O'Toole referred to the committee working on a particular matter and clearly expressed his views, which will be on the record as is fair. He asked if I would speak privately on the matter and I undertake to do so. Senator O'Meara echoed the comments about the path being pursued and spoke about the vagaries of the electorate. She spoke about the Hanly report and decentralisation. I suppose we all get our day in the sun from time to time and the Opposition's day is now. If I were in the Opposition's position, I would make the most of it.
It is only half the day; the other half is to come.
The Leader should be allowed to continue on the Order of Business without interruption.
The question is whether this is the start of a bright spell for the Opposition.
Senators should remember the words: "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old time is still a-flying".
After the shower comes the rainbow.
The Senator does not know real poetry. It was Horace who wrote “carpe diem”. Everyone has rightly congratulated those who were elected to local authorities. I spent many years on an authority. Those who failed have come out with their heads held high. They have had their hopes dashed and it is quite serious and difficult for them to cope among their families and friends. However, that is the game and those who participate do so with good heart.
Senator Minihan referred to the great turnout and to those who ran. I agree that we have a good democratic system. Senator Coghlan echoed the sentiments of Senator O'Toole about a particular matter, which I can understand. The Senator spoke about the increased vote, which was very good and he wants the fog of indecision surrounding Aer Rianta to be cleared.
When will it lift?
I do not know. I would think it has slipped below the horizon.
Has the date slipped again?
I would think so, if they have any sense. Senator Mansergh also spoke about democracy and called for a debate on the annual report of An Post. We can have such a debate and will invite the Minister to whom the report is presented to attend. Senator Norris congratulated the Office of Public Works on the job done at the National Library, which is free to the public and has a shop, a café and everything one would need. The Senator spoke about Carmichael House and I have been approached on the matter this morning. Terrific voluntary work is carried out there and it is the catalyst for all the voluntary organisations. The Senator made remarks about the late President Reagan, which will be on the record and on which I would prefer not to comment as he has passed away.
Senator Terry mentioned the need for ongoing and properly structured funding for Carmichael House. Senator Hayes called for a calm debate following the referendum and he also spoke about Carmichael House. Senator Henry spoke about prison doctors who, while not on strike, do not attend all the time they should. She asked me to raise this with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and I will certainly do so. I heard Senator Bannon over the weekend on local radio. There is no doubt that he was the star of the show.
I thank the Leader.
I believe the Senator's brother or some other relation was elected.
It was my brother.
He headed the poll.
We should not let him in here. We could not put up with two of them.
It would be an explosive combination.
The Leader should speak about the Order of Business and not the local elections.
The Senator asked for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House.
Senator Browne said that proportional representation should be explained to people and I agree with him. It is mystifying. While we all know where to put our first, second and third preferences, the system is quite complex and there are a great many spoiled votes. The Senator also requested a debate on the register of electors. Many people were removed from it which seems mischievous. I do not understand it. If one continues to live in the same house, how can one be removed from the register?
Senator Ulick Burke spoke about decentralisation. I will check the Official Report to determine what the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, said on both days. I do not think there was a dichotomy or argument between the two points he made. The Senator also asked about blue flag beaches. I presume they are independently assessed. I did not like to see Spiddal lose its flag. I think the assessment is carried out by an environmental grouping or agency.
The discharge of effluent into the bay caused the loss of the flag.
We will inquire into the matter. Senator Lydon called for a debate on the success of the economy. While we have a very successful economy, the electorate has moved on to other issues and approaches.
It is certain that the configuration of the Seanad will change come the next election. The votes have been cast and the local authority members elected. It may well be fortunate and correct to consider that in the context of the examination next week and the week after of Seanad reform. Due to the patterns of voting last Friday, the membership of the Seanad will change if the panel system remains in place. That could be for the good. Those are the matters raised.
There is also Senator Feighan's contribution.
I ask Senator Feighan to excuse me; he referred to the increased turnout on Friday. To explain why I left the Senator out, I note that he is inclined to contribute last. It is a tactic he has adopted and is not a bad one. We can only be pleased about the increased participation of voters in the elections. While we are not pleased at the outcome, we are pleased that voters turned up in great numbers to cast their votes. It was a good day for Ireland.
I omitted something on the Order of Business. On No. 3, motion re the operation of the provisions of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998, the contributions of spokespersons and other Members shall not exceed ten minutes.