It is intended that we take Item No. 14 first. We will then take half an hour, as agreed, on statements in regard to the boat people in Hong Kong. Item No. 1 will be discussed to 1.30 p.m. and after that we will take the Derelict Sites Bill, 1989, from 2.30 p.m. to 5 o'clock. I will not order anything after 5 o'clock at this stage.
Order of Business.
I would like on behalf of the House to apologise toThe Irish Times that our proceedings yesterday were so dismal. On two occasions today it is said in report upon the work of the House yesterday that we were forlorn and dismal. This is an important point. The work of Parliament is not to entertain. Yesterday was an extremely busy and productive day in the House. There was a very detailed discussion on Committee Stage of the Trustee Savings Banks Bill, with very good contributions from Senators Fallon, Doyle, O'Toole and others. The work was done and done well. Then there was a debate on the new Marine Institute Bill, 1989. I want to draw particular attention to an account of the reporting here. Senator Pól Ó Foighil spoke for well over an hour. He spoke, as is his right and entitlement, in the first official language. It was an excellent contribution, dealing in detail with the various aspects of the Bill under question. The report in The Irish Times simply says that “Fine Gael's Mr. Pól Ó Foighil was on his feet for almost an hour speaking in Irish on the new Bill”. For Heaven's sake, there was not a single account of whether he was for or against what the Senator said. The Senator spoke in Irish. Reporting of this sort is a disgrace to the Irish language and to this House.
There was then an excellent debate on reform of both Houses, which I think brought forth a very strong sense of commitment on all sides towards reform. Many detailed ideas and analyses were put forward. Then there was a debate at the end of the day on the flu vaccine. All in all, it was an extremely useful day, a day spent in the interest of the public service. The idea that we should be here as entertainers, which seems to come across from this report yesterday, is unworthy ofThe Irish Times, which, in fairness, gives the best and most comprehensive coverage of the proceedings of this House. It and The Cork Examiner are the only two papers that take their duty seriously in this regard. I would like to put that on the record. If we are trying to do our job seriously, it is totally unfair that we are reported in this way, saying that we were forlorn and dismal. I want to place on record my great sadness that this should have happened yesterday.
On a point of information, I was Acting Chairman yesterday during Senator Ó Foighil's contribution. In fact, Senator Ó Foighil spoke for two hours and 20 minutes on the Second Stage, not just an hour, which compounds the difficulty even more.
I am rarely in agreement with Senator Manning, but on this occasion I am. I had intended to do precisely the same as he did, which is to apologise on behalf of this House for the fact that we are not providing entertainment apparently of the kind thatThe Irish Times believed its readership expect. Look at the sort of business we have — boring things like a marine institute and a trustee savings bank. They obviously do not provide entertainment. It is outrageous.
Ba náireach an méid a dúradh faoin Seanadóir Pól Ó Foighil as ucht gur labhair sé Gaeilge sa Teach. Tá sé scannalach go n-úsáidfí a leithéid d'fhocla i dtaobh dhuine a bhí sásta Gaeilge a labhairt, Gaeilge bhreá líofa. Duine de na cainteoirí Gaeilge is fearr a chuala mé sa Teach seo is ea é, agus ocht mbliana caite agam anseo anois. Bí mór dóibh leithscéal a ghabháil leis an Teach faoin chineál sin cur síos ar ghnó an Tí.
I have been a frequent vigorous critic of many things in this House and I hope to be again. But I have no time for cheapskate reporting which pulls cheap shots. If people do not understand the way Parliament functions then they should go and report something else. There is nothing more boring, more unexciting and less entertaining than the Committee Stage of a Bill. The Committee Stage of a Bill is where this House contributes its most important work to the development of any legislation. I have seen Bills — and I heard Senator Honan talk about this — with 100 or 50 or 200 amendments accepted in this House and not a single word of it reported, because, I presume, it was boring and unentertaining. We rewrote masses of legislation in this House. We rewrote it dramatically over the eight years I have been here. Hardly a word of that rewriting was ever reported, presumably because it was not entertaining in somebody's eyes.
I do not want to get involved in denouncing people.The Irish Times and The Cork Examiner do a remarkable job — a fair job most of the time. If they are free to be critical of us, as they are — and I would defend that right — we are free to be equally critical when they do not do their job. That is what democracy is about. It is not about a free press, free to scattergun everybody and the rest of us having to be quiet about that. It is about all of us being free to criticise each other when they are wrong.
Mar a dúirt mé, ba náireach an méid a dúradh faoin Seanadóir Ó Foighil toisc gur labhair sé as Gaeilge ar feadh uair nó dhó. Tá an cead agus an ceart aige é sin a dhéanamh agus bá chóir go n-úsáidfimis go léir i bhfad níos mó Gaeilge sa Teach seo. Ní chabhraíonn a leithéid sin de chur síos linne chun Gaeilge a úsáid anseo.
Is pointe eolais é seo. Fágfaidh mé cad tá déanta faoi na páipéir. Ní raibh me ag súil lena mhalairt. Ach ní shin é leigheas an scéil. Mar a dúirt an Seanadóir, labhair mé anseo aréir i nGaeilge, de réir mo chearta ní raibh duine ar bith a chuir in m'aghaidh ar aon bhealach. Fuair mé cúnamh agus éisteacht ó gach Comhalta anseo.
An rud is mó a chuireann imní orm ná cé go bhfuil an Ghaeilge ar chomhchéim leis an mBéarla de réir an Bhunreachta, nach bhfuilimid fós sa Teach seo in ann an ceart seo a bhaint amach. Tá a fhíos agam — agus tá mé ag cur mo chuid eolais anseo go dtí an Ceannaire ar an dtaobh eile — go bhfuil iarrachtaí á ndéanamh le go mbeadh córas aistriúcháin sa Teach seo. Tuigim go rabhthas ag iarraidh é sin a dhéanamh sa seisiún deireannach.
Tá mé ag tabhairt fógra anseo inniu — páipéar nó gan pháipéar, preas nó gan phreas — mura dtabharfaí domsa mo chearta sa Teach seo go luath trí chóras aistriúcháin go mbeidh orm rud éigin eile a dhéanamh. Ní bagairt é sin ach iarratas don Cheannaire a chinntiú go mbeidh córas aistriúcháin sa Seanad nuair a thosnóimid anseo tar éis na Nollag. Mura mbeidh, caithfidh mise gníomhú ar bhealach éigin eile le mo chearta a bhaint amach.
Is mór an trua nuair a labhraíonn Seanadóirí beagáinín Gaeilge nach féidir leis na páipéir é a scríobh síos. Sin an fáth go bhfuil an Ghaeilge an-lag sa tír seo. Everybody can speak a fair bit of Irish. We know, however, that if we speak in Irish or attempt to speak in Irish we are going to get no publicity whatsoever. Yet those are the same people who pontificate and tell us how we should hold on to our traditions, our heritage and our culture. What is more of our heritage and our culture than our Irish language? It is sad to see it being discredited in this way by the media. We hear a lot about the rights of the media. I have no objection to the media being in the House. My crib is that, they are in a selective situation, because they will only print what they like. If we denied them the right to come into this House they would soon tell us we are afraid to be heard. But, when they do come in to the House, they only print the tit-bits or some throwaway phrase that may be passed, linking two sentences or something else, but which has no real meaning. That is the headline they will latch on to. They are just looking for headlines. It is a pity that those are the people who are moulding society into an attitude of "negative thinking" in regard to Parliament and politics.
I would warn that they should think again. But for the politicians of this country over the last 20 years — we are very solid, sensible people — they would have us down the road that East Germany is today. They would have democracy abolished in this country. I am sad that that is the attitude of the Press. They should be more considerate and realise that they have a serious job to do. They should do it in a serious manner and give to the politicians the credit to which they are entitled. We do not want more, but certainly we do not want less. It is rather sad that there is not a Press Council in this country. There should be a Press Council so that we would have some place to go.
Something has bugged me for a long time. This happens when there is a serious accident or something of that kind. I saw it in my own town of Sligo, when there was a rather serious tragedy. Photographers were out on an elevated area with telephoto lens trying to photograph people in their beds. The curtains had to be pulled. That is scandalous and degrading. It is a sad situation that when people are in grief or in mourning, the media should be there trying to catch those sad moments that people want to forget. I would call for a Press Council so that we could take these people before some body.
Thank you. Senators have a very serious obligation — and they are taking it this morning — to express views that are very relevant to the functions of the House. That is why I am allowing a certain amount of latitude in this debate. I would ask Members not to depart from the press interest in so far as it impacts upon the Order of Business and the Business of the House for the day.
In the same vein, I take particular exception to a comment in the same newspaper as well, which speaks about and I quote:
One possible reason for the dearth of Senators earlier was clear if one listened to the list of Christmas "do's" that were on hand around teatime.
That seems to be the clearest implication that, because there might have been parties on in the evenings, this was a reflection on the work of the Seanad and that Members were not turning up to business because of this. It is an outrageous comment. It is bringing this House into disrepute if these comments are not nailed as we are nailing them this morning.
Bhí mé ag éisteacht leis an Seanadóir Ó Foighil agus creidim go raibh an ceart ag an Seanadóir nuair a bhí sé ag lorg seirbhís aistriúcháin sa Teach seo.
I believe that nothing could illustrate better the repeated demands of Senator Ó Foighil for a translation service in this House than the situation that occurred here yesterday when he spoke very well and very feelingly about the Marine Institute Bill, a situation with which he is familiar because of the geographical location of his constituency. It is a pity that this service does not exist.
With regard to the newspaper reporting, I think it is an important issue. We ought not to be too po-faced about it. The reporting in the newspapers, particularlyThe Irish Times and The Cork Examiner, which is quite excellent in its reporting, is normally of a good standard. They do not report everything. It is extremely irritating. When there is a row on the Order of Business that gets the headline because of some snappy phrase. Some of us stay in the House for the rest of the day and talk on a series of amendments but none of the substance gets reported. I am all in favour of a certain lightening of the proceedings by humour. It is a valuable instrument of debate. I have no objection to this being taken up in the media. But there is an obligation to retain a balance by dealing with the substance of debate. It is sometimes unfortunate when this does not occur.
I wish that some of the other newspapers, notablyThe Irish Press, would take some notice of the existence of this House. I deprecate attacks on Seanad Éireann by newspapers which never attempt to explore the realities of this House. This is true sometimes, even of The Irish Times. There was an article some months ago in a prominent position. The writer of that article had to go back over 40 years to provide examples of the bad behaviour of this House and of the stupidities that occurred in it. I felt at that time that that illustrated that we were, generally speaking, on the right course.
I would like, finally, to draw attention to the fact that it is not just the newspapers. We get a reasonable deal from most of the newspapers. It is quite outrageous that RTE, although they give us reasonable coverage on radio — and I hope they will do so soon on television — published what purported to be a report of the general election. There is not a mention in that report, which is sent to all Members of the House, of the fact that the Seanad exists at all — they do not even mention it. I know it is produced because of timing, but I think it is lamentable that this should happen.
There are one or two other things I wish to raise with regard to the Order of Business. I do not think I will be testing your latitude, a Chathaoirligh, too much by referring to an item that I mentioned——
We will see.
I will restrain myself from any pert comments out of respect for the dignity of your office and of the House. Yesterday, I referred to the fact that I believed an item was missing from the Order Paper. It is missing again today, but I wish to apologise to the staff of the House for apparently having cast a slur on them. The reason it is missing is entirely my own fault. I wish this to be placed on the record. It was an item I had written out and signed myself. I understood that several of my collegues had signed it as well. This was not the case. I would like to take this opportunity of withdrawing any slur that might have attached to the members of the professional staff of this House, who are indeed fully professional, courteous and quite excellent in carrying out their work. I apologise to them for that situation.
I would like to ask if the Leader of the House can give us an indication — I asked this yesterday and I did not receive a reply — with regard to the timing of the debate on the North of Ireland, the urgency of which has been underlined by the tragic events of yesterday afternoon, which place clearly in perspective the operations of the so-called Peace Bus.
Aontaím leis na Seanadóirí eile mar gheall ar an teanga sa Teach seo. Bhíos in éineacht le daoine eile ón Teach eile agus ón Teach seo ar feadh dhá bhliain mar Chathaoirleach Chomhchoiste an Oireachtais don Ghaeilge.
I am going to say it in English to make sure that it sinks in. I was for two years in the last Seanad chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on the Irish language with Senator Brendan Ryan and other Senators and Deputies. The biggest complaint we had at all times — and I fully agree with Senators Pól Ó Foighil and Maurice Manning in what they have brought up here this morning — was that every time anybody put a question down in the Dáil or spoke in Irish here it was referred to the next day in the papers as "speaking in Irish". It is time that you, a Chathaoirligh, took a hand in it. I would ask you to write a letter to the editors of these supposed Irish papers and tell them once and for all to recognise that the Irish language is our first language and that we have a right to be reported. Whether I agree or disagree with what Pól Ó Foighil said here yesterday is a different matter. I congratulate him on his speech of over an hour and a half in the Irish language.
The other thing is that we have been paying lip service to Irish in the Seanad. Since 1987 we have been promised instantaneous translation equipment. We were given all kinds of lame excuses. It would only take up a small corner in the House and it is about time we had the equipment in. We were promised the equipment when the House was being renovated. It is very important. I would ask you, a Chathoirligh, as a special favour to this House to take up these two points. I ask you as well to contact the editors of the papers to help us have our Irish language where it should be, which is ar bharr an pháipéir. Sin é an áit cheart dó.
I want to make one or two comments in response to the comments about the Press. I am one of the people who has not read the papers this morning. I have a feeling that we are being rather too sensitive about this type of comment. A lot of what is said in papers is like last winter's snow — it is gone in the equivalent of a quarter of a second, politically. The other thing to remember is that what goes into papers is there because it is meant to amuse the public. The Press have different objectives than what we have. I think that, as society has developed in this country, we are simply getting too hot and bothered about media coverage.
I, like Senator Upton, did not read the papers either this morning, because I had other matters to attend to. I do not know why some of us are going around wearing a crown of thorns or having an agonised expression on our faces because the media say something that is not very nice.
It is what they did not say, Senator.
Fair enough, but the fact is that we have got very reasonable and good coverage from the media throughout the years, particularlyThe Irish Times and The Cork Examiner. We are a public body. We are entitled to be exposed if we are not doing our business correctly. We are entitled to be neglected if we do not do it correctly. I do not know why we are all going around being so uptight about the media. It is up to us. If somebody wants to get into the papers they can submit something and they know how to do that. I do not know what all the worry is about.
I take the points that have been raised in regard to the coverage of the Seanad yesterday. I have been a consistent critic here of the performance ofThe Irish Press. Every time I criticised it, they ignored it further, if that were possible. Possibly one of the reasons The Irish Press is not doing so well is that they do not cover the workings of the Seanad. They should take on board the performance, circulation wise, of The Irish Times in the past few years. If they start covering the proceedings here, their circulation might start rising.
I do not think we should take what happened yesterday on board as an attempt to get a "córas aistriúcháin" into the House. There are two separate issues. What happened yesterday in connection with the report of Senator Pól Ó Foighil's speech should be taken as a separate item. The development of the cause of the córas aistriúcháin should be taken as another item. We will continue to try to get the córas aistriúcháin into the House. I will take it up again. We are coming up with officialdom reasons for not putting in the particular system here.
The suggestion made by Senator Fitzgerald of a meeting with the editors could be taken on board and the Cathaoirleach and possibly leaders of the groups could take that on board. There is no point in criticising the Press reporters who attend the House, because I know that on many occasions they send in their copy very assiduously and sub-editors and editors edit out what they have put in. They spend long hours here, long hours of unamusing and sometimes boring work. They sit here day after day. I do not think that it is the reporters fault that what happens here is not reported; I would blame the sub-editors and editors. A meeting with the editors would not be a bad idea.
I did answer the point raised by Senator Norris yesterday in connection with the Anglo-Irish debate. That will take place after Christmas. That was the only item that was actually raised on the Order of Business.