Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 6 Nov 1996

Vol. 149 No. 4

Order of Business.

Before announcing the Order of Business I wish to express sympathy on behalf of the House to the widow and family of the late Barry Porter, MP. It is unusual for this House to express sympathy on the death of a Member of the British House of Commons but Barry Porter was a founder member of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body and many Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas served with him since that body's inception. He was a great friend of this country and a vigorous, full-blooded and supportive member of the body. Those who came to know him during that time valued his commitment and friendship.

Today's business is items 1 and 2 and item 20 on the supplemental list. Item 1 will be taken until 5 p.m., uimhir 2 idir 5 p.m. agus 6 p.m. le ocht nóiméad go gach cainteoir, and item 20 from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.

Is it the Leader's intention that item 1, the Family Law (Divorce) Bill, 1996, will be dealt with between now and 5 o'clock?

I hope that as much progress as possible will be made, culminating in its conclusion.

As we are on Report and Final Stages I am sure our spokespersons will do everything to ensure the Bill is expedited as soon as possible.

I welcome the fact that President Clinton has received a renewed mandate from the American people. I look forward to his continued commitment to the peace process here. I also look forward to the fact that his distinguished Ambassador, Mrs. Jean Kennedy Smith, will continue her good work in the interests of peace on this island.

I wish to raise the need for continued discussion on the White Paper on Education, which is listed on the Order Paper "to be resumed". We should discuss certain sections of it which the Minister could then deal with as well as taking questions at the end of the debate. That system worked satisfactorily on previous occasions. The White Paper on Education requires further consideration prior to the Minister introducing some of her education legislation, apart from the Universities Bill.

I appeal again, as have all sides of the House, for a debate on currency developments in Europe, particularly with regard to European Monetary Union, imports and exports and the implications of Britain joining the European Monetary Union or not. This has become more pertinent with the change in the value of the punt over the last week. We should have such a discussion in this House. As the punt has now dropped below parity with sterling, people are talking about its impact on inflation. That is new information for many people and it needs to be examined. We need to be fully informed on it by having a debate.

I join with the Leader in proposing a vote of sympathy to the family of the late Mr. Barry Porter. The British-Irish Interparliamentary Body has made a valuable contribution to mutual understanding between the parliaments but more importantly it has made a genuine contribution to the whole peace process and for that, Mr. Porter and his colleagues are to be commended as are our own Members on that body.

I wish to extend our congratulations to President Clinton on his re-election as President of the United States. I acknowledge the work he has done and the personal interest he has taken in the peace process. I am sure the United States will continue to make a valuable contribution to the peace process.

The membership of the food security board was announced today. Will the Leader indicate when we can expect legislation establishing that board to come before the House? While it has been established on an interim basis, it needs legislative support to have a genuine effect as well as teeth to act in the interests of both the food industry and the consumer. We hope it will have such an effect but I wonder when we will have that legislation.

Last week we debated the Control of Horses Bill including a provision whereby people who are convicted of contravening certain sections of it cannot own or have any interest in a horse for the rest of their lives. Those who are drafting the food board legislation should examine that section of the Control of Horses Bill with a view to having something similar included.

The issue of Rwandan refugees in Zaire is to be raised on the Adjournment today but it is a matter that could be debated more widely in the House. As President of the Council of Foreign Ministers, the Tánaiste should ensure the European Union does everything it possibly can to alleviate the situation and to intervene on a humanitarian basis.

That matter will be discussed on the Adjournment.

I join in the expression of sympathy to the family of the late Barry Porter and I concur with Senator Dardis on the importance of the work of the British-Irish InterParliamentary Body. I also congratulate Mr. Bill Clinton on his re-election as President of the United States. The active involvement of his Administration in the Northern Ireland peace process, as embodied by Senator George Mitchell and the US Ambassador, Mrs. Jean Kennedy Smith, has been most important. The President has indicated that he will continue this active involvement in the next term and all Senators will welcome that.

Among the Bills due to be published this session are two which relate to youth. The Youth Services Bill will be published by the Department of Education and the Children Juvenile Justice Bill will be published by the Department of Justice. When are they likely to be introduced in the Seanad? We should have a debate on the issue of young people who drop out of school early and who do not go on to third level education. They lose out, fall into the unemployment trap and often end up in trouble with the law. The problem of teenage pregnancy is also prevalent in that sector of the community. They do not appear to be the responsibility of any Department.

A question for the Leader.

I hope the local employment service can take up that issue.

I join my party leader in congratulating President Clinton on his re-election. The House should send a message to the American Ambassador to Ireland expressing our gratitude for the help and assistance the US Administration has given to the peace initiative. I hope such a message would have the unanimous support of the House.

We will shortly discuss the colleges Bill and education in general. Will the Leader of the House bring to the attention of the Minister for Education, before that Bill is finalised, an anomaly that exists whereby a number of colleges in Northern Ireland do not qualify for ESF grants? The payment of such grants is at the discretion of our Department of Education. Public representatives in the Border counties continually make representations to the Department to have colleges in Northern Ireland recognised for such grants but they do not receive any response from the Department. It is most embarrassing when a college that has been selected by students from the Border counties does not even get a reply from the Department. No Member of the House would support that. Will the Leader bring this matter to the attention of the Minister as it appears to have escaped her attention? We must make it clear whether we recognise such colleges for inclusion in our grant programme. The current position is unsatisfactory.

I support the vote of sympathy to the relatives of the late Barry Porter of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. I also congratulate President Clinton on his re-election. He is an enthusiastic supporter of the peace initiative and I hope his re-election will give it a new impetus.

Some time ago I raised the issue of delays in the Department of Justice in dealing with applications for naturalisation by persons who are resident for five years and employed in this country. There are undue delays in finalising such applications and I wish to bring the problem to the attention of the Leader of the House.

As councils are meeting to discuss their estimates, will the Minister for the Environment make a statement as to whether service charges will be abolished? Service charges are important to many of our councils but at present we do not know now if they should be included in our calculations. All we want is a clear cut answer, yes or no. Then we can proceed with the preparation of our estimates in a sensible and professional manner.

Can we have a debate on school discipline? This is a big problem in England; schools here are operating in a vacuum. There could be a problem with schools closing if the Minister for Education does not do something positive. If we had a debate here, she would get the views of the Members from various parts of the country as to how parents and pupils feel about the present system and what measures they believe should be implemented. This would be helpful to her. There would be no aggravation about this because it is something we all agree should be debated.

I am tempted to wonder if the legislation referred to by Senator McGowan as the "College Bill" was the Universities Bill. If this is the case, it suggests that a colleague of mine from Trinity College was correct when he said the plans of the Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach, were to reduce the college of the sacred and undivided Trinity to the regional technical college in Dame Street.

I am appalled at that snobbery.

It is a terrible slur on regional technical colleges.

Senator Norris on the Order of Business. A question to the Leader.

Will the Leader invite the Minister for Justice into the House to explain the operation of the Refugee Bill and to give a review of it in the light of a number of recent instances which concern those of us who took part in the debate, particularly the case of Madani Haouanoh. He was excluded from this country in curious circumstances about which there appears to be conflicting evidence from journalists on the one hand and the Minister on the other. There appears to be an attempt by departmental officials to smear this man.

I am sure the Senator can find other ways of raising this matter.

It has been leaked to the newspapers that the marriage was performed by Fr. Pat Buckley, and is probably legitimate but it seems odd that the Department would release this kind of information.

We will not discuss the details today.

Can the Leader get an explanation from the Minister of the move to deny refugee status to 150 Cuban refugees — using the phrase: "because they had not shown a well founded fear of persecution"? A number of Members discussed the issue of a well founded fear of persecution at considerable length when the Refugee Bill was going through the House and we were given certain assurances. However, in the light of these two cases, it appears that these assurances were not as watertight as the Minister assumed.

I am saddened to hear of the death of Barry Porter, a member of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, who represented the Unionist position, because, at the time, there was no Unionist prepared to take their seat. Barry Porter did so and made an enormous contribution. I join in the vote of sympathy.

I agree with Senator Dardis that it is important that the problems in Rwanda and Zaire be discussed on the Adjournment; these problems are being discussed this afternoon at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. However, I ask the Leader to allocate three hours to debate this matter.

That matter is being discussed on the Adjournment.

I appreciate that and I have accepted the importance of it. Our President has requested that the media and everyone involved continue to highlight the problems in Zaire. We should allocate a minimum of three hours to discuss that problem.

Today the Minister for Health announced the personnel for the new food security board. I look forward to the introduction of this important legislation in the near future. All sides of the House should show co-operation and goodwill when discussing this Bill.

We are not discussing that matter now.

Comments have been made which are of no benefit to this country because ambassadors, who represent the countries to which we export meat, relay this information back to them.

I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister for Justice or the Minister for Foreign Affairs the horror and concern felt in the southeast, particularly in Kilkenny, at the death of a German national. The attitude of the officials in the German Embassy was horrific. They used their country's Data Protection Act to refuse to give any details about this man.

That is not a matter for today's Order of Business. There are other ways the Senator can raise such an issue.

It is not good enough to say that no member of the Embassy staff could attend the funeral in Kilkenny because they were too busy with the Irish Presidency.

The Senator knows that is not a matter for today's Order of Business.

The South-Eastern Health Board had to bury the German national. I hope the attitude of the officials in the German Embassy is not mirrored in any other country.

I appreciate the Leader's decision last week to discuss the currency issue on 4 December. Perhaps he could allocate time to discuss the White Paper on science and technology which was published last week. I urge everyone to read it before we discuss it because it is a valuable document as regards investment in jobs.

I support the calls by Senator Enright and Senator Dardis to introduce legislation to establish the food security board as soon as possible. That is a priority because it will secure confidence not only in our food but also in our exports.

I join with Senator Sherlock in congratulating President Clinton on his re-election. There seems to be a major change in part of Democratic Left which absented itself from the Dáil when the President of the United States came here.

You are supporting the vote of congratulations.

He is a Republican; sin scéal eile.

It was always known to have a warm affection for all things American.

That does not arise on today's Order of Business.

Another prominent statesman, one whom Senator Sherlock overlooked, should also be mentioned. We should send our good wishes to President Boris Yeltsin.

Has the Senator a question relevant to today's Order of Business?

I join with colleagues in conveying sympathy to the wife and family of the late Barry Porter. He was an honest and open advocate of what he saw as the conservative and Unionist tradition and he always had our affection and respect. I hope that points the way for all of us.

Arising from what Senator Enright said, we must, in the interests of consumers here and abroad, have full and open disclosure on all food related issues. In that context, I raise a serious question. When the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry agreed to the inclusion in the Russian deal of Wexford and the exclusion of other counties with a lower level of BSE, was he not aware that there were already reported cases of BSE in his native county in the Department, which have since been confirmed, which demonstrated that it had a much higher level——

We have discussed this on numerous occasions.

We have not. This is serious for the confidence of consumers, be they Russian or Irish.

The cows are innocent until proven guilty.

It does not arise on today's Order of Business. There are other ways for the Senator to raise the issue.

There may be but the Minister said on the record of this House that there would be further cases of BSE. When he said that, did he know that those other cases would be in his county?

We are not discussing that on the Order of Business. As I have told the Senator, there are other ways he can raise the issue.

He did not disclose this to the Russian customers nor did he deal with the matter in an even handed way.

I visited prisons in England last weekend and I came away depressed when I saw what I regarded as the abuse of Irish people in English jails. I raise this issue to make all politicians aware and to ask them to bring pressure to bear on their leaders on the abuse of Irish nationals in English jails.

The Senator should start with his own leader.

I cite the case of one young man of 21 who was strip searched three times within nine days.

We are not discussing that matter. A question on today's Order of Business.

As Senator O'Kennedy was allowed to show his concern about animals, I should have a right to show my concern about human beings. A young man of 21 was strip searched on three occasions in nine days. The situation has deteriorated dramatically and nothing has been done. There will be serious unrest in English prisons over the abuse of Irish people. I ask all politicians to bring pressure to bear on their colleagues on the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body and also on their leaders so that the British Government is similarly pressurised to do something about the problem.

Could we have a debate on pornography some time in this session? The proliferation of obscene and pornographic material on television, radio, videos and in magazines and the seizure of large quantities of it by the Garda points to the problem at hand. Most of it is demeaning to women and children. It behoves us to discuss this to see if we can come up with a solution.

I congratulate President Clinton; it is a shame he has cancelled his visit to Ireland.

One always learns something new on the Order of Business, especially from Senator Lydon.

I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his co-operation on today's business. I join with him and other Members in congratulating President Clinton on his emphatic victory and hope he continues to put Ireland high on his foreign affairs agenda. There is no doubt that his contribution has been a major impetus in the peace process and towards establishing a new ceasefire. All of us send our good wishes and pay tribute to the work of Ambassador Jean Kennedy-Smith. We hope the re-election yesterday of President Clinton will mean four more years for her in Ireland. We would appreciate that.

Since Senator O'Kennedy is being ecumenical, we should also send our good wishes for a speedy recovery to President Boris Yeltsin.

Senator O'Toole asked about a debate on education. I will talk to him to see if it can be arranged. As Senator Quinn confirmed, the debate on currency is on 4 December.

I share Senator Dardis's commendation of the work of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. With regard to the food security board I will let him know tomorrow when we can expect the legislation. If it will not be ready for a couple of weeks I have no objection to arranging a debate on the concept of the food security board and related issues. If the legislation is imminent we will not have such a debate.

Senator Dardis and Senator Enright referred to the problems in Zaire. I have no objection to conceding two hours of Private Members' time next week to debate the problems there.

Senator O'Sullivan requested a debate on youth services. I have no information on the Bills she mentioned but I do not think they will be published before the end of this session. I will get further information on them.

I will convey Senator McGowan's point about ESF grants to the Department of Education. Senator Farrell raised the question of local authority funding and there will be a debate on that matter before the end of the session.

Senator Norris raised questions about refugees. I understand that the Refugee Act, 1995, has yet to be implemented and I will get further information for the Senator.

Senator Lanigan made his point and I do not have anything to add. Senator O'Kennedy referred to the BSE related Russian ban on beef from certain counties. I have nothing useful to add. When the Minister said there would be further outbreaks I am sure he meant that, given the nature of the disease and what has happened so far, there would be further instances of it.

He had knowledge at the time which he concealed from us and the Russians.

I cannot speak for the Minister on the matter.

Senator Maloney raised the issue of prisoners and if Members have a point to make perhaps they should approach their party leaders on it.

Senator Lydon asked for a debate on pornography and I have no difficulty in having such a debate. There will be a Bill before the House shortly incorporating elements of the Private Members' Bill published by Senator Henry and it will offer scope for debating that matter.

Order of Business agreed to.