Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 8 Mar 1994

Vol. 139 No. 11

Order of Business.

Today's Order of Business is Item 2, the Report and Final Stages of the Road Traffic Bill, 1993. I suggest that this be left open-ended at present. Perhaps we should review how we are proceeding later this afternoon, if that is agreeable to the House.

When is it proposed to take Item 1 on today's Order Paper? Will it be taken with or without debate? This is an important motion which affects all Members of this House in that it centres on the committee system. Senators are excluded from three of the four new committees; there is Seanad membership on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs only. This is unsatisfactory and Senators from all sides of the House would like to see an arrangement where committee membership was open to them.

I also ask the Leader for an urgent and immediate debate on Northern Ireland. Senators on the Foreign Affairs Committee have a Northern Ireland sub-committee, but that does not include most Members of this House. Events in Northern Ireland have changed so much since the Downing Street Declaration it would be worthwhile if we had a full and continuing debate.

I thank the Leader for putting Item 11 on the Order Paper. I must be modest about this report but all Members of all parties have a vested interest in this. I ask him to make time available at an early date to have this debated.

I am conscious of the pressure of business over the next number of weeks. However, it is more important than ever to know what business we are to deal with between now and Easter. It is clear what is to happen this week and next week. Rather than be faced with up to five different items in one week without time to prepare for them, we should have the plan for business now.

Even the most erudite and aware people are confused about the position of the Structural Funds. The House is at least entitled to be told what has happened, where matters stand and what changes will be made to the national plan — although Members may not believe what they are told — and it should be outlined to us as soon as possible.

My point is essentially the same as the last one made by Senator O'Toole. We should discuss the National Development Plan, establish its current status, find out how much money will be available to fund it and comment on the Structural Funds. I ask you, a Chathaoirligh, whether discussion of the Structural Funds is appropriate in the debate on the Programme for Competitiveness and Work.

We should debate agriculture again. The House has a good record of debating this issue at regular intervals. There are large amounts of moneys outstanding to farmers. In many cases the State has become the largest single creditor of farmers; that is unsatisfactory. Within the context of the agriculture debate, perhaps we could also discuss Leader II, its status and when we may expect it to be announced. I hope it will not be announced two weeks before the European election, as I suspect it might be.

I support Senator Manning's call for a debate on Northern Ireland. The record of the House on this issue is one of positive contributions, showing restraint, balance and compassion. The situation has fundamentally changed since the declaration was issued in December and this is a matter to which we could appropriately return.

I ask the Leader of the House to provide time to debate the equality issue and the social welfare benefit arrears that are long overdue to a large number of people. There are many people from Cork protesting outside this House today because they have not received arrears they are due. They are not bluffing; they are sincere.

It is proposed to push statements on the Developing the West Together report further down the Order Paper? If so, is it because some people have spoken on this issue and it can now be forgotten? It is a significant and important document because it refers to rural Ireland. Yesterday, there was evidence in my area that cuts have been made in expenditure, for a major road development, that seemed likely in 1993 but which has now been taken out of the National Development Plan. I support the call for a debate on this issue.

Has the Leader any news regarding the proposed debate on East Timor? I accept that strenuous efforts have been made to arrange this because I spoke to the Government Whip, Senator Mullooly. Does the Leader have any specific and definite information on this matter?

I support Senator Manning as regards Seanad representation on the committees. He is correct when he says there is representation from this House on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, but it is disproportionate. There are 30 members of that committee but only five Senators, and that does not reflect the significance or importance of this House. It is also regrettable that the Seanad has such marginal representation on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Women's Rights. This is wrong. I urge the House to make the strongest representations that this House be represented on all parliamentary committees.

I agree with Senator Norris in relation to the committees. This should not be a partisan or party political matter. This House should be represented in a more equitable fashion on those committees. Perhaps it is our own fault to some extent that we allow these things to happen. I hope that, on an all party basis, we could examine this matter and try to progress it.

I also join with the Leader of the Opposition's comments on Item 11 — that Seanad Éireann should take note of the Joint Services Committee report on the Oireachtas Library facilities. There is no doubt that the legislation coming before both Houses is ever more complex. If the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, one cannot have that vigilance or protect democracy unless we have information. This Library is equipped to deal more with the demands of the 1920s than the 1990s——

The 1820s.

——or the 1820s. I urge this House and the Leader to arrange a comprehensive debate as soon as possible on the excellent report produced by Senator Manning, who chaired the committee. We should ensure that the report is debated fully, that amendments, if necessary, are put to it and that there is a concerted all party effort to have it implemented. The balance between elected representatives and the permanent Civil Service must be redressed in some way, and that can be done with fast accurate information. I urge the Leader to place this on the agenda as soon as possible.

I support the request by Senator Manning for a debate on Northern Ireland. I appreciate that the Leader of the House is doing his best to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs present in the House to ensure there would be a worthwhile debate. The progress being made on the problems in the North were well illustrated on a television programme last night and this House has not had sufficient opportunity to make its contribution to this issue.

May I ask the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on the future of the tourism industry. Whether a debate takes place today or tomorrow on saving the west, the full development of the tourism industry is the one area where jobs will be created in this country.

May I ask the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on the inadequacies of the postal services? Last week I posted two important letters of introduction to a firm in the USA to two US Senators. The letters went into the post bag in Leinster House at 5.20 p.m. They arrived yesterday but they should have arrived last Friday. All documentation sent from the Seanad to me will be awaiting my return home on Friday, which is of no use.

The staff in the House are not to blame, but the postal service has broken down. The present service provided to Senators and Deputies is not acceptable.

Before I call the Leader of the House, Senator Dardis asked about Item 4 on the Order Paper dealing with the Programme for Competitiveness and Work and how it would fit in with the Structural Funds and the National Development Plan. They are two separate issues. During the debate on Item 4, references, or perhaps passing references, to the Structural Funds and the National Development Plan would be in order.

I would welcome a debate on Item 1 on the Order Paper and I concur with the sentiments expressed by Senator Manning and others that the Seanad should have a more important role on the committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas. When the committees were established, it was suggested that there be a review in due course. It is important that this House would have a stated position on this. As Senator Magner said, perhaps through the Committee on Procedures and Privileges, Senators could express the view that the Seanad be part of the review of the committees. I believe all Senators concur with the sentiment that they should have a more active role on committees and in the membership of committees. I am confident that the Whips will agree an appropriate time for a debate on this issue.

Regarding Northern Ireland, last week I suggested that hopefully between now and the Easter recess the opportunity for a debate will arise.

I would welcome a debate on Item 11 on the Order Paper regarding the report on the Oireachtas Library facilities. At that stage all Senators will have the opportunity to commend Senator Manning on the work he has undertaken on that excellent report, a report which it is in all our interests to have implemented. We will arrange for this debate to take place.

Regarding the Structural Funds, as soon as the Government and the officials in Brussels have agreed a programme, we will only be too pleased to arrange a lengthy debate in the House on the spending of several billions of pounds for the duration of the programme.

Senator O'Toole inquired about the forthcoming legislative programme. There are six pieces of legislation on the Order Paper which will be dealt with. Before the end of the week I hope to be in a position to advise the Senator of other matters which we hope to deal with in the near future.

Agriculture will be addressed as soon as possible and Statements on the Developing the West Together Report is scheduled for next Thursday according to the Whips' notice.

Regarding East Timor, the Senator is aware that we did everything possible to have either relevant Minister attend the House, but unfortunately it was not feasible. We will continue our efforts in this regard.

I would welcome a debate on tourism and Bord Fáilte as soon as possible. As regards the postal service, I hope Senator Fitzgerald was not suggesting that he only dealt with two letters last week when he made this complaint.

That is a bit unfair.

Order of Business agreed to.