Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 11 Dec 1996

Vol. 149 No. 13

Order of Business.

Today's business is items 1, 2, 3 and 26, motion 24. Item 1 will be taken until 1 p.m. and it is hoped to complete all Stages, with not more than 15 minutes for each speaker. Item 2 will commence at 2 p.m. and will be taken until the conclusion of Second Stage. I understand few speakers are offering at this point and it should conclude quickly. Second Stage of item 3, a Fianna Fáil Bill, will be taken immediately after the conclusion of item 2 until 6 p.m. It is hoped to complete Second Stage. Item 26, motion 24, will be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

My office has not yet received an amendment to item 26, motion 24. Will the Leader clarify the position in that regard?

I commend all those associated with yesterday's announcement of new jobs in the Dublin area. I am aware of today's report in relation to the western seaboard and the House should have an opportunity to discuss it early in the new year. However, it is important to give credit where it is due regarding the IDA's work on inward investment in the Dublin area against massive foreign competition in terms of the major announcements yesterday.

Many Senators on this side have requested on several occasions a debate on the National Roads Authority. In light of the major increase in funding for non-national roads in the Estimates, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to discuss the issue. Many Senators would welcome such a debate.

I ask the Leader to consider the forthcoming electoral Bill which has been discussed in many places. I do not intend to preempt the discussion, but there is much cynicism about this matter. The arguments for and against the Bill will be dealt with when it reaches the House but, before it is published, the Government should formally ask Members of both Houses for their views. It is not that anyone wants to pull fast electoral tricks. If doing the right thing feeds cynicism and results in less rather than more participation, we will have done a bad day's work. We need to coolly look at the problems which are likely to be created. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that in the next Bill he publishes, every candidate will get an equal chance. Those of us on the Independent benches in Seanad Éireann felt out in the cold the last time despite our views on the Bill. I ask that a consultative process be considered.

I would like to mention the level of support for Members of this and the other House. The Government has a position on the development and modernisation of the public service and the public sector. Every Member should use information technology; there should be an IT link between their office and home. The Minister should ask the Department of Enterprise and Employment to put in train arrangements so that there is an IT link between a Member's office and home. It would allow the easy transmission of information from the Seanad Office to Members quickly, and with less trouble.

That matter could be raised at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

I accept that is the place to raise it. However, there is a need to raise it in the House also. Public representatives should be models of good practice by introducing, using and participating in information technology.

What action does the Leader propose to take if names of Seanad Members rather than Dáil Members appear in the Price Waterhouse/Dunnes Stores report? I noted yesterday that, for the first time in the Dáil, reference was made to the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Everything I heard until then excluded any reference to the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Is it appropriate for the Dáil to tell the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges what it should do? Surely, we should regulate our affairs? Is it intended to hold a meeting of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges to discuss this matter? If it is decided to take action, what can we do? That is a matter to which the committee will have to give some thought. Will the Leader confirm that this is a matter for the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges and not the Dáil?

I agree with Senator Dardis. If the issue of disciplining Senators arises, it should be a matter for the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Either there is a joint Committee on Procedure and Privileges on these matters or the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges should act on behalf of and investigate and discipline its Members. That is only fair and correct, otherwise there is no point having a Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

On the question of information technology raised by Senator O'Toole, he will be happy to know a consultants' report is being prepared at present which includes IT in Leinster House. Part of this falls under the remit of the Oireachtas Joint Services Committee. I agree with the Senator that this is long overdue. He will remember the Leader presented a report to the House on the Library and information technology. We have been unsuccessful in getting it implemented but I hope there will be some movement before the dust settles on the 27th Dáil.

Recent statistics have shown an alarming increase in the number of attacks on women. The seriousness of the problem was brought home to us by the murder of a lady in my constituency last week. Will the Leader of the House consider holding a wide ranging debate on the increase in the number of attacks on women and the causes of that increase? During the debate on the reporting of incest cases in the courts, an interesting and rare speech on the subject was delivered by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Minister said at the time that she had commissioned a research study on the possible links between, for eample, the media and violence. It would be appropriate for the Seanad to hold a wide ranging and philosophical debate on this serious problem, especially in view of the increase in violence against women.

Last week we debated European Monetary Union and the single currency but the time provided was not sufficient to enable every Member who wished to participate. In addition, a number of points and questions were addressed to the Minister for Finance but, because time ran out, he did not have an opportunity to respond. At the conclusion of the debate the Cathaoirleach expressed the hope that the debate would be resumed, but it has disappeared from the Order Paper. I ask the Leader of the House to restore it to the Order Paper. For a debate of that nature to be successful in all its aspects, it is important that the Minister have the opportunity to respond to the queries raised.

The references of Senator O'Toole and Senator Magner to the role of information technology are reminders of the degree of blockage that has occurred in that area. A motion proposed by Senator Magner and Senator Manning was before the House at least two years ago, when Senator Manning was Leader of the Opposition in the Seanad. It is unbelievable that there could be such delay in this relatively simple matter. If this were a commercial organisation the decision would have been implemented very quickly. If Members of the status and influence of Senator Manning and Senator Magner have been unable to move faster — and I am not blaming them — there must be active resistance to it. Where are the blockages occurring? Why is this development not happening faster? The Leader of the House must ensure the blockages are removed. If the public knew the primitive conditions in which Members of the Oireachtas must operate, it would suffice to make the Oireachtas a laughing stock if nothing else did.

Will the Leader of the House arrange an urgent debate on the problems in Northern Ireland? The situation is bogged down in megaphone and telephone diplomacy and that is not a role this House should adopt. Surely this House can offer a contribution or recommendation? We are at least on a par with other organisations which are interviewed daily in the media and I am tired of looking at television pictures which feature rocket launchers in the background.

A question for the Leader.

I am seeking a debate on Northern Ireland. I also want the Leader to contact people in the media who are responsible for showing background pictures of paramilitaries in action with rocket launchers, rifles and weapons of every type. Such pictures are a deterrent to the public which is already frightened there will be another outbreak of violence in the North. This House has been silent on the matter, apart from a couple of requests for a debate. I appeal to the Leader to let this House have a voice and make a recommendation or contribution of some kind. Most us are aware of the situation on the ground in Northern Ireland and we are entitled to express our views in the Seanad. That is why we were elected and I ask the Leader to give us an opportunity to do so.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Social Welfare to examine the position of women working in the home? I emphasise the word "working". Women who do not draw unemployment assistance, unemployment benefit or other social welfare payments are debarred from participating on training schemes. This is discrimination. I ask the Leader to impress on the Minister the vital importance of allowing women working in the home to go on these training programmes if they wish.

Will the Leader draw to the attention of the Minister for Enterprise and Employment and the relevant agencies the contents of the damning report which shows the west is the poor relation in terms of job creation in recent times? The imbalance shown in the report is an indictment of the Government and these agencies. While we welcome the job creation in Dublin and on the east coast in the last few days, more than 50 per cent of those who take up those jobs will come from the west, thus creating more pressure for the system in Dublin. The Minister should bring more balance into job creation in the interest of development of the nation as a whole.

I also ask the Leader to consult the Minister for the Environment regarding the recent decision of the Cavan County Manager to contest in the High Court a case to prove his liability to fill the potholes in the county. This is the most obscene thing I have heard in recent years. It is totally inappropriate that a senior official should spend taxpayers' money in court to defend himself against doing something for which he is liable. I understand he intends pursuing the case to the Supreme Court. I ask the Minister to stop this nonsense and to tell the Cavan County Manager to do the job he is employed to do and stop wasting taxpayers' money. That applies to other county managers also. The public should not have to take the most senior official in a county to court in order to have basic road works carried out.

As my party spokesperson on Northern Ireland I add my voice to the call for a debate on this subject. We may not be able to influence the course of negotiations, and we would not take that role on ourselves in any event, but there are points we could usefully make. We could express our total rejection of and abhorrence at sectarian attacks on churchgoers, which cannot be tolerated anywhere in the civilised world. We could also indicate our approval and support for those in the Protestant community who showed courage in dissociating themselves from such behaviour. We could make a useful contribution to the ongoing debate without intruding on the negotiation process, which is not at a positive stage.

Like my party leader in the Dáil, I have only one position on the matter of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I want full disclosure at all stages from all parties and there should be no barrier on such disclosure from the earliest moment. Whatever can be done to achieve that should be done as quickly as possible in the interest of vindicating public life in Ireland. In that context, it is understandable that people are sensitive about the Dáil interfering with the Seanad. It is extraordinary that, in the other House, the Taoiseach failed to disclose, in the course of a week long debate——

I would ask you to put a question to the Leader.

Would the Leader inquire from the Taoiseach why he failed to disclose to the Dáil that he personally had solicited funds and that his Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry and Minister for Health had benefited and, almost treating the Oireachtas with contempt, acknowledge it in a television interview at the end of the week? That question has to be asked and answered; democratic accountability should be discharged in the Oireachtas, not on RTÉ. I hope that matter will be addressed.

In view of the obvious success of the initiative that is being taken on traffic free-flow in Dublin, will the controversial Luas plan, which would be very expensive, be shelved as there is no agreement on it? Will we have gardaí deployed in the country towns where we have problems?

There is a major issue in Cork county at the moment regarding electro-magnetic radiation and the fears that have been generated as a result of the ESB plans to put a major development between Aghada and the lower harbour. Has there ever been any scientific analysis or investigation into whether such fears are justified?

Can we have the Luas relocated to Cork?

I join with the Leader of the Opposition in welcoming the tremendous number of jobs which will be created in north Dublin and the record this year of both the Industrial Development Board and the Minister for Enterprise and Employment in the number of jobs that have been attracted against very intense foreign competition. It is something in which we can all take pride and comfort. I think I would be right in sending the congratulations of the House to the Minister and to the IDA.

I take the point raised by Senator Wright and Senator Finneran about the report on developments in the western seaboard area. The fact that the report is there should be seen as a prelude to further action and investment in trying to provide jobs and I would be happy, early in the next session, to have a full debate on that topic.

Senator Wright also raised the question of a debate on the National Roads Authority. I am disappointed that I have not been able to have that debate up to now, but it is something for which I will provide time. I am sorry it has not happened up to now.

He also raised the question regarding item 26, motion 24. As the Senator appreciates, as yet I do not have the same level of strategic advice that I was used to in handling these matters but I am sure he will not be unhappy with the way the matter is handled.

Senator O'Toole raised the question of the electoral Bill, its contents and the desirability of asking the views of both Houses. I would welcome that and I could make time available next week if there was agreement in the House that such contributions would be useful. Perhaps we can discuss the matter later.

He also raised the question of IT and the provision of resources for Members, allied to the question of the Library which Senator Lee raised. It is an important issue. As Leader of the House I had a discussion on this matter recently with senior officials in the Office of Public Works who wanted to get my views arising out of the earlier report. The most useful thing we could do now is to ask the officials of the Office of Public Works, who have very elaborate plans in preparation for the redevelopment of the Library and the provision of proper Library resources, to address these plans to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges who can then relay them to the House.

Senator Lee is quite right; this matter has taken far too long. However, much work is being done behind the scenes to decide how a full integrated library and research service can be provided and it would be worthwhile to get an update on that.

Senator Dardis and Senator Magner raised the important issue of what might happen should the names of Members of this House appear on the Price Waterhouse list and if we are informed of this by Judge Buchanan. This should be a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and I will formally ask the Cathaoirleach to convene a meeting of that committee so we can get legal advice on this matter. I agree with Senator Magner and Senator Dardis. We should discuss the matter fully in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Senator Mulcahy raised the question of attacks on women and violence generally and I would be happy to accede to his request for a wide ranging philosophic debate, as he called it, on this matter. It might be useful to invite the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána to attend such a debate so there can be a degree of informed interaction between the Commissioner and Members of the House. I thank the Senator for his suggestion.

Senator Howard raised the question of the European Monetary Union debate. I understand that the debate has not yet concluded. Senator Howard is not correct in saying there was insufficient time last week. My understanding is that the debate ended that day with some time remaining as not enough speakers were offering. I have been informed that other speakers would like to contribute to that debate so it should be reasonably simple either to restore that matter to the order paper or find another form of words so the debate can continue.

Senator McGowan and Senator O'Kennedy raised the question of a debate on Northern Ireland. I will try to organise one for next week although I cannot promise this. The Tánaiste has an extremely heavy workload at this time arising from the summit and matters related to the last few weeks of the Irish Presidency. However, if it can be done it will be done. I will pass Senator McDonagh's suggestions on to the Minister for Social Welfare. Senator Finneran raised the question of the Cavan County Manager. I do not have any function in this matter but I note the robust remarks the Senator made and do not disagree with them very much.

Senator O'Kennedy raised the question of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. On a matter like this, full disclosure means full, not selective, disclosure. The other House is to come to a decision this evening as to how it will handle the matter and we should await that decision. Nobody in this House or the other House should be afraid of the fullest possible disclosure.

There should be full disclosure at all times.

Full disclosure of all aspects is required and that is what will happen.

Senator Sherlock raised a number of issues in a late intervention. Luas will not be scrapped although there may be changes in the way it is implemented.

We will move it to Cork.

We will give Senator Sherlock the chime in the slime.

I have noted the question on radiation and will pass it on to the appropriate people. I note also that the traffic is flowing more freely in Dublin and we are all grateful for that.

The trains are running on time.

Order of Business agreed to.