Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 16 Feb 2005

Vol. 179 No. 8

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No. 1, report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on procedure on Second Stage of Bills to be taken without debate, which proposes to address the unwieldy procedure which heretofore applied where an amendment was tabled to the Second Stage Reading of a Bill; No. 2, statements on the progress on development in the BMW region to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes — Senators may share time and the Minister shall be called on to reply not later than five minutes before the end of statements; No. 3, Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2004 — Report and Final Stages to be taken at 2.30 p.m. until 3.15 p.m.; No. 4, statements on regional transport policy to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 or at 3.15 p.m. if No. 3 has not concluded earlier and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes — Senators may share time and the Minister shall be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the end of statements; and No. 15, Civil Registration Bill 2004, to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. with the same speaking times as apply to a normal Private Members' motion. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.

This morning I received from the Government the amendment to the Bill published by Senator Norris, the Civil Partnership Bill 2004, which we are to debate this evening. This is one of the shabbiest amendments I have ever read in this House.

Hear, hear.

This House has had a proud record of debating this important and sensitive issue. The Government is now proposing to vote the Bill down on Second Stage this evening. Even at this late stage I ask the Leader to reconsider this decision. I know that her heart is not in this amendment. The amendment outlines spurious reasons the Bill should be voted down.

The matter can be discussed during the Second Stage debate.

I am raising this matter on the Order of Business as a means of showing my support and that of my group for the Bill. If we have learned one thing from the courts——

The matter can be discussed when the Bill comes before the House.

—— it is that the longer politicians and the Houses of the Oireachtas kick these matters to touch indefinitely, the more responsibility the courts will get. The courts want us to take responsibility in this area and do not want the matter hived off as has continually happened in the past. Even at this late stage I ask the Government to reconsider its position, which I believe to be totally bogus.

Just as we thought the embattled Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, was about to sing "Don't cry for me Argentina", it is quite clear he is back with a vengeance following his comments in the Lower House yesterday.

Hear, hear.

It would seem it is his view that not only has the upstart of a Minister of State, Deputy Callely, been involved in guesswork concerning the metro project——

The Senator is out of order.

Is the Senator calling "foul"?

That is in the Lower House.

——so too has the entire Government.

That statement is derogatory.

Senator Brian Hayes should withdraw his remarks.

I will do so. I should not have used the word "upstart", rather should have used the term "overly ambitious".

The Senator is a bit of an upstart himself.

On the overly ambitious Minister of State from the north side of Dublin——

He is not arrogant like the Senator.

——would the Leader agree that much of the Government's work in this area in the past 17 years has been guesswork? When will we see the metro project for Dublin? Fianna Fáil has been in office for 15 of the past 18 years. We are now being told that a plan is imminent. I ask the Leader, as a former distinguished Minister with responsibility for transport who has never been involved in guesswork, to give a commitment to the House as to when the Government will take a decision on the project and when the metro will be operational.

This is a black day for Seanad Éireann. I am ashamed of what is happening here today, as are many Senators on all sides of the House regardless of their position on the Civil Partnership Bill 2004. I intend to withdraw the Bill to spare the shame of the Government or, perhaps, to rub it in in an ironic way. I will not be present this evening and I will not move the motion for the Second Reading.

If the Government is serious, it seems it is voting down the Bill because it considers that it would be improper to discuss it while it is the subject of a court case, while the All-Party Committee on the Constitution is examining the matter and while the Law Reform Commission's report on the rights and duties of cohabitees is being analysed. I do not believe that, however. I am prepared to go with it, but I am not prepared to have the work done by a group of people over two years treated in a contemptuous fashion by a Government that poses as democratic. Approximately a month ago, I had a meeting with the Taoiseach——

He is a new socialist.

——whose socialist caring face has now been ripped off. When I left my meeting with him, I thought I had been given the sun, the moon and the stars, as most people do. As I walked down the corridor, the stars started to twinkle more dimly and the moon dimmed. As I emerged from Government Buildings, the sun went out. It has finally gone into eclipse here today.

As a democrat, I want to be helpful. I think the most helpful thing I can do is to withdraw the Bill and to make a constructive submission to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution tomorrow. That would be the best thing for me to do, rather than initiating a meaningless debate that would be an insult to me and an insult to the many people who would benefit from the Civil Partnership Bill 2004, including people in heterosexual relationships outside marriage.

I mentioned the All-Party Committee on the Constitution. I attempted to refer this matter to a more appropriate committee, the all-party committee on the family, as did many other professional people who made serious and reasoned submissions. My attempt to make such a referral was rejected because it was not deemed to be a proper matter for the committee's consideration. Like many other people, I hardly even received an acknowledgment. I am surprised by this development, but I know it has happened because the Taoiseach referred the matter to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, even though it was not the most appropriate forum.

I agree with the leader of Fine Gael, who referred to the Government amendment as shabby. It is over-cautious. The Government has known for a long time that this Bill was in the pipeline. We had a briefing session a week ago. I gave more notice to the appropriate office than most people give in any circumstances. I said that as I acknowledge that such concerns exist, the best thing to do might be to adjourn the debate. The first part of the debate could be held this evening and we could be informed about the matters mentioned in the amendment at a later stage. I accept the Government's argument that the various reports will add to our knowledge.

To impose a guillotine on such an important measure is contrary to the tradition of the House. My Independent colleagues and I fight against such procedures. To be fair, most Senators on the Government side agree with us. Some 50 years have passed since a Bill initiated on this side of the House was allowed by any Government to pass onto the Statute Book. On that occasion, the Bill was proposed by the late Professor W. B. Stanford and provided for the humane treatment of pigs in abattoirs. I would have thought that Seanad Éireann thought sufficiently highly of its dignity to allow it to move on after 50 years, for example, by considering a social problem that is at the heart of the lived reality of so many people in this country.

A week ago, on Joe Duffy's "Liveline", I listened to a woman who had been bereaved. Family members had been very helpful to her until after the burial, when they went in and started to grab every single thing. This Bill would start to address such problems. I do not suggest——

I have given the Senator considerable latitude.

——that it is a perfect Bill, that it is incapable of being amended or that it could not be withdrawn at some stage to be replaced by a better Bill. However, the Government has not made any proposal in this regard.

I am worried because the Government acted against the principles enunciated by the former Minister, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who said she would require clear and cogent factual evidence to introduce discrimination against any Irish citizen. The Government introduced the savage 16 cutbacks. It acted in the case of a matter that was heard by an equality tribunal that was established by the Government. The tribunal determined that there had been a serious abuse of the rights of a gay couple.

I ask the Senator to conclude.

Instead of addressing that inequality, the Government introduced legislation that copperfastened it by redefining a "spouse". I am disgusted by the Government's behaviour today. I oppose the Order of Business.

I too am very disappointed that the Government has tabled the amendment to the motion for the Second Reading of the Private Members' Bill which Senator Norris was proposing that we discuss this evening. I had looked forward to the debate because I felt it would have added to the general consideration of the issues faced by cohabiting couples who need legal protection. It is a question of protecting the rights of people in cohabiting relationships and civil partnerships and the creation of such civil partnerships. It is very disappointing to see the Government running away from the opportunity to discuss this issue.

We are not running away from it.

It is effectively running away from it.

There could be two hours' debate on it.

Why else would it not allow the Bill——

Who is withdrawing it?

Senator O'Meara, without interruption.

The amendment states that "Seanad Éireann declines to give a second reading to the Bill..." To decline to give a Second Reading to a Private Members' Bill is a serious matter, although this is not the time to discuss that subject. Clearly, we are not being allowed to discuss the motion for the Second Reading tonight.

There could be two hours of debate on it tonight.

This House needs to debate the operation of the Standards in Public Office Commission, specifically the legislation pertaining thereto, in light of the fact that the commission has found itself unable to investigate any further the issue involving the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, under the legislation passed by the Oireachtas.

It is being investigated.

It is time we examined the legislation, which is extremely complex and cumbersome. We now see that, at a certain level, it is simply not working. We are left with the comment in the Quigley report that there is a perception of impropriety on the part of the Minister, Deputy Cullen. This perception remains in the public arena.

One of the objects of setting up the commission was to have a mechanism whereby the public could be reassured that matters that needed investigation could be investigated. Clearly, this has not happened and we must therefore determine the efficacy of the legislation, or, in this case, its lack of efficacy, and consider how it can be amended to make it work on behalf of the public.

The House has discussed global warming in the past. I ask the Leader to consider how best the House can examine the very serious threat it poses to us all considering that the Kyoto Protocol comes into force today.

Regarding No. 15, the Civil Partnership Bill, it is unusual for a Bill to get to this stage in the Seanad. A debate of two hours is very comprehensive. The outcome of the vote would be a different matter from the consideration of the substance of the Bill. It would receive full and fair consideration in the course of a two-hour debate.

I am a member of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, which is dealing with the issue of the family. That committee welcomes the fact that Senator Norris is to appear before it to make a presentation. However, it would be entirely wrong to introduce legislation until the committee has concluded its consideration of the matter, particularly given that it is likely that a constitutional amendment will be required in addition to legislation if the matter is to progress satisfactorily. Therefore, it is reasonable that the Bill be debated fully and that we decide on the basis of the vote at the end of that debate whether the Bill should proceed further. It is unusual for a Private Members' Bill to get to this point or to have it considered fully. I appeal to Senator Norris to allow a full debate to take place this evening so all the relevant issues can be thrashed out appropriately and comprehensively.

The introduction of the Kyoto Protocol is significant. It would be more significant if the United States, China and India were involved in the process, but at least it is a start. There is a growing awareness worldwide of how misuse of the environment can change the climate. For that reason the protocol is welcome. We should soon have a comprehensive debate on global warming and the global environment, not just the domestic one.

I agree with Senators Brian Hayes and Norris that it is regrettable that the debate on the Civil Partnership Bill will not go ahead this evening, given that we had such advance notice. I was looking forward to the debate, particularly in light of the fine recent speech by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and the proposals made by the Law Reform Commission a year ago.

We could have had a debate and despite Senator Dardis's reservations, and the possible constitutional difficulty, the Bill could have progressed beyond Second Stage. There could have been a delay before the other Stages to allow time to resolve those matters to which he referred.

No one is stopping it.

This House has a good record on dealing sensibly with matters regarding how a civil society should proceed. We do not all have to agree on every issue. It is sad that the Bill is to be voted down in this way at the last minute.

It reminds me of the way the Government side voted down my stage payments Bill, although the majority on that side agreed with it. The Minister promised a six months review. That period has elapsed. Will the Leader inquire about that from the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with responsibility for housing?

On a separate issue, Killarney National Park is the foremost property of its kind in the State, if not the world.

I never heard of it.

As a biosphere reserve, the Leader's former ministerial colleague, Senator Brendan Daly, referred to it as "the jewel in the crown".

Is the Senator seeking a debate on this issue?

No, I am not but if the Leas-Chathaoirleach wants to be that generous to me I will accept it. At the heart of that national park, beside the Meetings of the Waters lies the old world example of charm and warmth, Dinis Cottage, now in an increasingly dilapidated state. I understood that the Government, through the heritage section of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, had provided the necessary moneys to repair the cottage. The planning difficulties that existed for a long time are resolved but nothing has happened. The Leader visited the area a few years ago and it is close to her heart. I prevail on her to use her good offices to jolt someone and have something done about this.

The Leader will go on a fact-finding mission to the Senator's favourite hotel.

Otherwise, another tourist season will pass and the visitors who love to wander through that part of the park, to rest and view the tranquility of the waters, will not even be able to have a cup of tea there.

Will the Leader invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House to debate the drug problem? Recent developments merit such a debate. The Garda has apprehended a major producer in the midlands and placed him behind bars, where he belongs. The media today report that many non-nationals are manufacturing, distributing and selling crack cocaine in addition to the members of the indigenous population engaged in the same activity. It is a worrying development.

The Garda is to be commended on making so many detections lately. Nevertheless, this warrants a debate. If a non-national is found guilty of such an offence deportation should be considered. There should be a mandatory sentence in the case of all offenders because there is far too much of this taking place. Young people are polluted because of the actions of these people and it is time action was taken.

I support my colleague, Senator Norris. During the past two years he has acted under advice from all quarters. He has consulted, discussed, briefed and listened to everyone. He has tried to move the matter forward in a consensual manner. Given the way we try to do business on these benches, it is an absolute disgrace and utterly unacceptable that, half an hour before two years' work is put to the sword, he gets this weasel-worded amendment to bury all that endeavour.

I compliment Senator Norris who, apart from his last two sentences, avoided the subject and spoke on the Order of Business for the remainder of the time. As I am sure the Clerk will advise you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, there is no restriction on speeches on the Order of Business as long as I stick to the Order of Business rather than the subject of the Order of Business. I can point chapter and verse to a former Leader of the House making a 45 minute speech on the Order of Business when he was not Leader. Before there is a ruling, there are issues to be dealt with——

The House has agreed to a half an hour restriction.

Does that mean I have 20 minutes from now?

I believe in all sincerity that this is not the way to do business. It gives an extraordinarily negative impression of democracy. It is a steamroller of autocracy running down and through a difficult endeavour. No suggestion was made previously to Senator Norris that he should hold back the legislation. On advice from different quarters, he has delayed bringing forward the legislation on at least three occasions over the past six months. He tried to ensure it would not create difficulty for people and it was worded and presented in a way that was open to anyone with moderate views.

The way the matter has been dealt with is completely undemocratic, unnecessary, undignified and inhumane. It is a shameful way to do business. If the Government had a problem in this regard, there could have been some discussion and a way could have been found to deal with the issues. It would have been easy for the Government to deal with the business tonight, not have a vote on it and let it sit on the Order Paper until it was ready to deal with the matters with which it was concerned. However, it wanted to put on record the rejection of the legislation. This legislation has grown out of a demand from ordinary people because of a suggestion by the courts and out of the practice and progress in other democratic nations throughout the world. We could have dealt with the matter in a better manner, which would have given people confidence. Private Members' Bills, particularly in the Seanad where no support or research structures are in place, should be given a deal of respect.

Hear, hear.

What has happened here today is wrong. It is a shameful day and it does not become us as parliamentarians and public representatives to bury work in this way and to give such a negative message to many people who were hanging on this legislation. It would be quite in order for the Government to say it listened to what has been said and it is not prepared to take the matter further at this time. It could have said that there would not be a vote on it this evening or it could have given a commitment that Committee Stage would not be taken until the three issues were dealt with. It is sufficiently clever to table an amendment which gives the reasons for the Government's decision. However, it is unusual in terms of Order of Business statements that the reasons for the rejection should be included with such clarity.

I do not have a problem with what the Government is trying to do, which appears positive. However, it should not undermine the endeavours of a parliamentarian who has put two years' work into drawing up the legislation. Has any value been put on his efforts in dealing with the issue? Senator Norris has gone to the highest court in Europe on a related matter. He has given much of his life to these issues and he has tried to do so in a moderate way which will not give offence. He has found acceptability among the general public on many of the issues he has raised. He has raised issues in a way that is admirable. I resent the way in which he has been treated today and I will vote against the Order of Business. I ask the Leader to reconsider the position.

Senator Coghlan who is not here should remember there are also national parks in Connemara and Donegal and there is a meeting of the waters in Wicklow.

A point was raised about the Minister for Transport. It is worth reminding ourselves that in the budget produced by the then Minister, Deputy Quinn, in 1997 the Exchequer investment for public transport was precisely zero.

The Senator is really going back in time.

At least with €500 million a year, we can talk about——

A Senator

That is rubbish and the Senator knows it.

On a point of order, under Standing Orders, as half an hour has elapsed since the start of the Order of Business, I propose the Leas-Chathaoirleach asks the Leader to respond to the debate.

The Senator does not want to hear what I have to say.

I will reserve the opportunity in my mind to illuminate the Senator.

Standing Orders provide for half and hour after the Leader rises to speak.

I regret it appears we will not have the opportunity to debate Senator Norris's Bill——

To reject it.

——as I would have liked to have made certain points about it. Although I have not had a chance to check the record, I am sure that about 30 years ago the then Senator Mary Robinson introduced private Bills of various kinds. I am sure she let them be debated because proposals can benefit from debate and can always be resubmitted later. It is certainly not this side of the House that is running away from debate.


It is an extraordinary notion that we cannot divide in this House on social legislation.

Why put an amendment then?

I commend Senator Norris for going to the trouble of putting forward proposals. They need a certain amount of refinement.

Has the Senator not heard of Committee Stage?

There are many other issues that need to be taken into account.

It is a pity an opportunity to debate this legislation seems to have been taken from us.

We can have a debate on it.

As far as I recall, the legislation governing the Standards in Public Office Commission was introduced under the rainbow coalition——

On a point of information, it was the Minister, Deputy Cullen, who brought forward the standards in public office legislation.

The then Minister of State, Eithne Fitzgerald, had a great deal to do with the preparation of the legislation.

Is the Senator seeking a debate?

No. I want to make the point that this legislation is designed to ensure integrity in public life and not to provide a political playing pitch.

I want to express my deep concern about the way in which the Government parties are dealing with the democratic workings of this House. We have descended to a new low today, which does not do justice to the people or to the Members of this House. To treat Senator Norris's Civil Partnership Bill in such a shabby fashion does not become any of us.

Democracy means we note it.

This is a moderate proposal recognising that many people live together, be they in a same sex relationship or as heterosexual couples. This is a moderate proposal which the Government was prepared to vote down and it would not even allow a sensible debate to continue on the Bill.

We are not stopping it.

The Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform are on record as speaking in support of such proposals.

That is right.

For the Government parties to guillotine a debate on this proposal is not good enough.

Hear, hear.

We are not guillotining it.

Fine Gael supports this proposal and will support it on Second Stage today. While we have some reservations about it we would have dealt with those by way of amendment on Committee Stage. That is the way in which legislation should be dealt with in this House. Shame on the Government, on the Members opposite and on all of us in this respect.

Senator Norris will forgive me if I refer to Blackwood, who came from the Ards of Down to vote against the union. In this case, I came from the Ards of Down to vote for the union as proposed by Senator Norris.

I hope Senator Norris will participate in a debate on this subject. I came prepared to debate it and to vote for something along the lines of what he proposes to deal with an important and pressing social problem. It is not tremendously necessary to worry about the constitutional implications. It is a matter for the law of contract rather than family law and Senator Norris has been careful in framing this to avoid emotive terms like marriage and family.

Amendments are fine as long as they are not wrecking amendments. When I am told to wait for the resolution of current litigation, I worry that it might take years. Do we know when the reports of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution and the Law Reform Commission will be finalised? There must be a timescale and it would be a pity if the Seanad was seen to lack compassion for people who are caught in a difficult situation. Is it possible for Senator Norris and the Leader of the House to agree a form of words so the topic can be discussed and then opened up to these committees within a timescale so the House is seen to be compassionate on an important social issue and things are not rushed into? It is important that we have the type of debate only this House can have and that we have it this evening.


Hear, hear.

I listened with some amusement to Senator Mansergh speaking about SenatorRobinson's Bill 30 years ago. The then Leader of the House had trouble physically holding the Bill on contraception in his hand so we have improved since then.

Senator Norris showed great restraint when he spoke about his disappointment on this matter, but I am also disappointed. It is not just the two people within a civil relationship who are affected but any children they may have had in a previous heterosexual relationship. The other partner cannot adopt or have custody or guardianship of any of those children, which leaves them in a vulnerable situation, demonstrating the urgency behind this legislation.

I respectfully remind Senator Dardis, who suggested that Senator Norris could be asked to delay discussion of this Bill, that I agreed to delay the discussion of my Bill on in vitro fertilisation. That was seven years ago. I agreed to the establishment of a commission and seven years later it still has not reported. Senator Norris could be a very old gentleman if he agreed to delay the Bill.

It is one way to ensure re-election.

It is absurd to assert that any side of the House cannot table an amendment to any legislation that comes before it, particularly under Private Members' business. It happens regularly on both sides.

I join those who compliment Senator Norris on his work in this area, where he has been a champion of change and has approached the matter in a genuine and reasonable way. Equally, however, the contrary point of view must be taken into account. The Bill has implications for marriage, adoption and other sensitive issues. It is not unreasonable for the Government to ask that issues that are under consideration in the courts or the Houses receive the appropriate consideration.

It is for the Houses of the Oireachtas, not the courts, to determine these issues. However, there are two sides to the matter and I have reservations about the Bill, which I have discussed with Senator Norris. Nevertheless, I would welcome the opportunity to articulate those strong and genuine views and I am sure there are others like me. It is only in the process of debate that we will eventually reach an outcome that will benefit all of society, which should be the objective of the every Member of this House.

Given that Ireland lost its bid to win a massive Dell investment that would have created approximately 1,500 jobs and that last year County Longford lost Cardinal Health, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to the House to debate Ireland's competitiveness and industrial policy in order to establish once and for all the extent of the jobs challenge facing our country. Since Christmas we have experienced numerous job losses because of stealth taxes introduced by the Government. We are told this on a daily basis. Any company director will give the same answer.

Did the Senator hear the managing director of Yahoo on television yesterday?

The Government has let industry down and it is important that we have a debate on this issue sooner rather than later. Many promises were made in the run-up to the last general election which have since been broken.

Senator Bannon is looking for a debate.

I want true light to be shone on Government policy.

I ask the Leader for a debate on the workings of a press council in light of a number of issues that have arisen recently. One perennial issue is imbalance in the media not only here but in other countries where the media come down on one side of an issue and give a distorted view. We need only look at the elections in America, and not specifically the presidential election. An amendment was voted down by 11 states in the state elections but the liberal media were so far on one side they lost sight of the reality on the ground. It is very important to have balance in reporting.

I am intrigued by the sequence of events here this morning. A debate was offered but because the Government has indicated it is voting a particular way, the debate is being pulled and we are told we are undemocratic. This should be debated properly. The Government is not undemocratic. It did a very democratic thing.

On the Bill introduced by Senator Norris, it may be reasonably easy to resolve the issue. I was taken by what Senator Maurice Hayes said. If Senator Norris and the Leader of the House could meet for a few minutes they could agree that the Government will withdraw its amendment, that the Bill as introduced will be debated this evening for a full two hours, that there will be no vote at the end and the Bill will, therefore, be adjourned——

On Second Stage.

——and will then be referred to the all-party committee. This would save the Government's face. I suspect this decision was taken somewhat precipitately under pressure from people who seem to wield disproportionate influence within certain parties. It would allow the debate to go ahead. It would mean nobody would be embarrassed in any way and it would mean the Bill could come back to the House and be voted on at a later stage.

It would also accommodate the difficulties, which are very understandable, on the other side of the House that were particularly eloquently spoken about by Senator Jim Walsh. It would accommodate the difficulties of Senator Mansergh in that the Bill could be amended as the Government wishes on Committee Stage. That is a possible solution that would allow a serious debate. Senator Norris is right in his view that the Seanad is in danger of being seen to run away from a difficult issue.

That is correct.

The word "decline" in this amendment is immensely offensive. I will be voting against the Order of Business as well. Perhaps after that vote the Leader and Senator Norris would sit down and try to resolve this problem in a civilised manner. That would be quite easy and would satisfy everybody.

I welcome the comments of Senator Dardis in respect of a debate on global warming and the environment given that the Kyoto Protocol has been signed by most countries, apart from the United States, China and India.

On the issue of the western rail corridor, I have seen some figures that suggest the cost would not be as great as the earlier consultative reports indicate given that the line is going from Collooney to Ennis, which is the area not served. Unfortunately, the costings have included a line to Cork. I hope we will have an opportunity to discuss that issue.

I hope we will have a debate on the Civil Partnership Bill 2004, proposed by Senator Norris. I will be disappointed if it is withdrawn. The debate would offer an opportunity to air differing views and outline different aspects of this matter.

Three Senators remain to speak and I ask them to be brief. We are in breach of the Standing Orders set by the House.

I will be brief. Since the health portfolio was taken over by the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, last month 6,297 people lost their medical cards; in December 2004 more than 2,100 people lost their medical cards and since the last election 64,000 people have been denied access to medical cards. If this trend continues this Minister for Health and Children will go down as the Minister who dismantled the medical card and GMS system. I ask the Minister to indicate what she is doing with regard to the medical card and GMS service. She has promised approximately 200,000 yellow pack medical cards but we have been told some will not be in place until April or May. I ask that something be done immediately for the many who are suffering as a result of their withdrawal.

Women in the west do not have access to BreastCheck and, as a result, 40 per annum die because of their late presentation.

Is the Senator seeking a debate?

Yes. I ask that the Minister come to the House and debate the reality of why it is that——

A point of order is now valid.

Senator Dardis should listen; perhaps he could convince his Minister to do something about the tragic state of BreastCheck.

Is the Senator seeking a debate?

I add my voice in support of the Civil Partnership Bill 2004, proposed by Senator Norris, and avail of the opportunity to second Senator Ross's proposal. We need to resolve this issue because there is a huge degree of scepticism out there in regard to politics and the role of this House. We have heard about Seanad reform. If we make this House irrelevant, we must take responsibility for that. A precedent has already been set by the Minister for Agriculture and Food in regard to the veterinary practice Bill which was debated here before Christmas. When the Minister discovered there was a need for substantial change to the Bill she delayed it and it has not yet been debated on Committee Stage where necessary changes will be made. Something similar could happen in this case.

I support the call for a debate on the issue of drugs. There are a number of ways to examine this issue. The abuse of drugs is rampant in provincial towns and is causing serious problems but it is not being addressed and a blind eye is being turned. Non-nationals should not be solely blamed because there are other reasons and other problems which need to be dealt with. The one serious problem is that no services are available in rural Ireland for those people in provincial towns who find themselves afflicted by this scourge and who genuinely want to get off drugs. The Minister for Health and Children needs to put such services in place in rural areas. People are forced to travel to Dublin or Limerick and they cannot get in there. For example, in a provincial town such as Roscrea, there is no methadone-dispensing chemist. This problem must be tackled immediately. I support the call for that debate.

Last Sunday, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs announced his intention to replace the lone-parent allowance with a system he described as "family-friendly". I ask the Leader to invite him to the House to explain this system. I have a horrible feeling this is the type of solo run typical of the Minister. I understand that no preparations have been made in this area. The points made by the Minister in the article are quite valid and need to be further explored. Following the outcry over last week's column in The Irish Times it would be very opportune for the House to debate this issue. The Minister should come to the House to explain his plans and the timeframe involved. He also needs to explain whether this will have implications for married couples. I understand from sources within the Department of Social and Family Affairs that the plan to scrap the lone-parent allowance could be discriminatory against married couples. The matter warrants a debate in the House.

I wish to speak in general terms about the mini-debate the Leas-Chathaoirleach was kind enough to allow. Senator Norris and I have discussed this matter on numerous occasions. We did not reach any conclusion but the Senator certainly knows the lie of the land from my point of view and I am very clear on his position. I am aware of this issue since he spoke to me well before Christmas. Senator Norris arranged an excellent presentation in the audio-visual centre for all Members who wished to attend and which I enjoyed very much. I also discussed this matter with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell and the Taoiseach. I have not been delaying the issue by any means.

I accept that.

I am aware the Senator understands my position. Many Members on this side of the House were looking forward to the debate in which we could express our views. It was agreed at our party meeting this morning who would speak in the debate. I was looking forward very much to putting my views on the record of the House on the matter, which I regard as a human rights issue. I am disappointed and I hope Senator Ross's view can be discussed afterwards.

The amendment to the Order of Business is not shabby, as Senator Brian Hayes stated, but is in fact correct. Each of the subheadings in the amendment make correct points. Ms Zappone and Ms Gilligan are currently involved in litigation. The Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution is in existence but I am not aware of any all-party committee on the family. It may be a sub-committee.

It deals with marriage. I made a submission which was rejected.

The House has received the consultative document from the Law Reform Commission but not the full report which is due some time in the future. Many valid points were made but I wish to point out to the House that the three points made are correct and are not bogus, shabby, lies or anything like that.

I have accepted that.

They are not reasons for rejecting the Second Reading, that is the point.

They are actually quite correct.

They are not reasons for rejecting it.

We accept what the Leader says but the debate on the Bill could be adjourned.

I would welcome the Bill being debated for two hours tonight because the views expressed by speakers from all sides would be very interesting and would add texture to the ongoing debate on this important issue. The Houses of the Oireachtas should seek precedence and be the prime movers on matters such as this and the courts, including European courts, should not impose their will. Surely Members are able to make up their minds on the issue.

Rather than being delighted to defer the debate, I had been looking forward to speaking to the Bill and, like many other Senators, had indicated to the Government Chief Whip that I wished to do so. My colleagues and I look forward to placing our views on record for everybody to see. It would be wrong to claim that everybody has the same view. How could that be the case? Our diverse lives bear witness to the different points of view that would have emerged this evening. My comments are addressed to Senators Brian Hayes, Norris and O'Meara.

Senator Brian Hayes referred to the point of view expressed by the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Callely. The Minister of State is an excellent, positive Minister who has come before the House on several occasions and works hard at his job. The Senator will shortly be able to address him directly when he comes before the House.

Senator O'Meara called for a debate on amending the Standards in Public Office Act. She also raised global warming.

Senator Dardis stated that much greater progress would have been made in reducing consumption of fossil fuels if China, the United States and India had been involved in the Kyoto Protocol.

Senator Coghlan agreed with Senator Brian Hayes. He also expressed concern about Dinis Cottage near the Meetings of the Waters and asked that we intervene with the heritage council.

The Leader should intervene with the heritage division of the Department.

Senator Glynn called for a debate on drugs. I understand this issue is the prerogative of the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, rather than the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell. I note the Senator pointed the finger at nationals as well as non-nationals. We are too quick to blame non-nationals for the ills of society. We will seek a debate on the issue.

Senator O'Toole expressed support for Senator Norris. I have great respect for the Bill, which is the reason I had meetings and conversations with Senator Norris, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Senator Mansergh raised Exchequer investment in transport. I agree that we need a debate on the issue.

I cannot understand the reason people do not want to debate Senator Norris's Bill today because our views would be valuable. Senator Terry stated the decision was not democratic. It is democratic for a Government to put forward a viewpoint. Surely the ability to speak on issues is part of democracy.

Senators should listen to the debate and then decide to vote for or against the Bill.

I do not understand the reason Senators do not want to hear opposing views, which other Senators are entitled to express.

That is not the point. I do not want to be misrepresented. I strongly resent the Leader's remarks and ask her to withdraw them. I have not tried to stop Senators speaking but suggested that the debate be adjourned so the House can have further debates. The Leader should not, therefore, say that I and other Senators are against debate or do not want to hear the views of others. I will make my submission to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution tomorrow.

We wish to make our submission tonight.

In that case, the Government parties should not vote down the Bill.

I liked Senator Maurice Hayes's historical allusion. He expressed the hope that the House would debate the issue. We hope we will do so. I agree that the House should not appear to be lacking in compassion. We do not all live in cosy arrangements. Unfortunately, life is not always a two-up, two-down and everything that goes with it. I have strong feelings on the matter.

Senator Henry praised Senator Norris's restraint and referred to her Bill on in vitro fertilisation, an issue on which a commission was established in the Department of Health and Children.

Seven years after it was established by the Minister for Health and Children, the commission has not issued a report.

The same applies to the Shannon Navigation Bill.

Senator Jim Walsh stated that the Oireachtas should be proactive in discussing the question of civil partnerships. Senator Bannon requested that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment come before the House to debate employment and Senator Hanafin also requested a debate on the issue.

Senator Ross wished to discuss the Civil Partnership Bill. He wished the Bill would be debated and put forward a scenario he thought could help resolve this matter. We would be willing to discuss the matter and I look forward to seeing the Senator after the Order of Business.

Senator Kitt referred to global warming and hoped the debate on the Civil Partnership Bill would take place tonight. Senator Ulick Burke stated that 64,000 people have been denied medical cards since the last election. The Senator called for a debate on medical cards and the extension of the BreastCheck programme to the west.

Senator Coonan supported Senator Ross's proposals regarding the Civil Partnership Bill and Senators Norris and O'Toole indicated they would vote against the Order of Business.

Senator Browne requested that the Minister for Social and Family Affairs come before the House to discuss his proposals for lone parents. I listened to the Minister and thought he was extremely positive. He wants lone parents to be able to take part in education and employment without having their entitlements docked, which I thought was sensible. We will try to arrange for the Minister to come before the House.

He will come all right.

It is an issue with which the Minister feels comfortable.

Is the Order of Business agreed to?

Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 17.

  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Brennan, Michael.
  • Callanan, Peter.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Hayes, Maurice.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kett, Tony.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lydon, Donal J.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mansergh, Martin.
  • Minihan, John.
  • Morrissey, Tom.
  • Moylan, Pat.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Rourke, Mary.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.


  • Bannon, James.
  • Browne, Fergal.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Henry, Mary.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Meara, Kathleen.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Terry, Sheila.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators Norris and O’Toole.

I wish to inform the House that arising from the inadvertent casting of a vote against rather than for the question, the result of the division as shown on the display board has been amended with the agreement of the tellers from both sides. The amended result will appear in the journal of proceedings.

Question declared carried.