Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 16 Apr 1997

Vol. 150 No. 18

Order of Business.

Today's business is items 1 and 2 and the item on road safety, item 30, motion 25. Item 1 will be taken until 2.30 p.m. and there will be a sos from 2.30 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. Item 2, the Universities Bill, 1996, will be taken from 3.30 p.m. until 6 p.m. and item 30, motion 25, will be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

While item 30, motion 25, is in the name of the Fine Gael Senators, it is, in effect, an all party motion because I know that Senators from all parts of the House would wish to be associated with it. With the agreement of the House, we will suspend the usual practice for Private Members' time and allow ten minutes per speaker as if it was a series of statements.

I welcome the Leader's comments on this evening's Private Members' time because there was mention on a major national morning radio programme that the matter was being debated tonight and I welcome his idea that the debate will be treated as statements.

I add my voice to the comments of the Cathaoirleach with regard to our colleague, Senator Norris. I am sure that when he spoke recently in the House about this type of incident he never thought he would be here this morning as a witness to the fact. On behalf of Fianna Fáil, I am pleased that he is here with us this morning and wish him a speedy recovery from the injuries which he received.

I join with you, a Chathaoirligh, and Senator Wright in sympathising with Senator Norris on what happened to him last night. I am very glad he is with us this morning. He anticipated what would happen in a sense when he spoke previously about what was happening in the vicinity of his residence.

When will the legislation to establish the Food Safety Board come before the House? The board was established some considerable time ago. Recent answers to Parliamentary Questions indicate that it has virtually no staff. It appears that there has been only minimal contact between the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Department of Health. The board was set up under the aegis of the Department of Health in response to the BSE crisis to assure domestic and foreign consumers of the safety of Irish food. It was appropriate that the board be set up but it seems that little has occurred since the announcement of its establishment. When is that legislation to come before us?

I have no problem with the arrangements for Private Members' time this evening. I suppose that the next motion which comes from this side of the House, on which there is overall agreement, will also be dealt with by statements where speakers are allowed ten minutes each.

I join with you, a Chathaoirligh, and others in welcoming Senator Norris to the House today because I was afraid he would not be present. The issue he raised previously in relation to activities in his and other areas of Dublin is a serious one and I am sure he will speak about it. I am delighted he will be here to attack the Universities Bill, 1996, with his usual style and vigour.

The House is due to take Second Stage of the Credit Union Bill tomorrow. In view of the fact that amendments tabled on Committee Stage in the Dáil were agreed, I believe everyone would like to ensure that the Bill is passed as quickly as possible. In that context, will Committee Stage be taken next week?

Last week, an appeal was made to the Leader to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to address the House in connection with the serious crises in agriculture and the beef industry, particularly in respect of live cattle exports and the sharp decrease in the price of milk. Thousands of jobs are at stake in these industries and I appeal to the Leader to ask the Minister to appear before the House to give some hope to those involved. Many of these people worked very hard during the past 12 months and borrowed to purchase cattle but they face the prospect of having no income. If this happened to any other section of the community various task forces would be established and emergency meetings arranged.

Various farmers' organisations visited the House yesterday to lobby Members about this issue. I do not expect the Minister to be able to travel to Brussels and appear before the House at the same time. If he is not available, the Minister of State might come before us to clarify the current position. This is an extremely serious matter and, in addition to people losing money, loss of our beef and store export markets will have grave implications for the future.

Will the Leader make inquiries with the Department of Health in respect of the report of the National Task Force on Suicide? The task force was established in November 1995, issued an interim report in mid-1996 and was due to report by the end of last year. I understand that delays occurred because the task force wanted to ensure that its report would be detailed and comprehensive. When will the final report be published?

I express my appreciation for the good wishes expressed by the Cathaoirleach and other Members. I am glad to state that rumours of my demise have been considerably exaggerated. I did not intend to say much about this matter, but since it has been raised and become a matter of public awareness I will now do so. I raised this matter on previous occasions and I would be grateful if the Leader communicated our concerns to the Ministers for Justice and the Environment.

Last night's incident occurred at the end of a preservation society meeting which concluded at 11.30 p.m. At midnight a number of people were still in my house and there was such an outbreak of noise on the street outside that it could be heard at the real of the premises. I went out to remonstrate with those involved and received a clout in the face. Later last night, a young man was stabbed and, apparently critically injured, following a fracas in Rumours nightclub. On the last occasion I raised this issue, I referred to Rumours in addition to P.J. McGrath's, Fibber McGee's and the Back Gate and I do not know why such establishments are allowed to release drunken louts on to our streets at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. each morning. Taking cognisance of the fact that a planning application has been made to add another late night shebeen to this list, I hope the Minister for Justice and the Environment will increase Garda strength in the area. Last night, the gardaí were efficient, arrived on the scene quickly and attempted to find those involved. I informed them that this is the kind of thing that happens when one goes out without one's shillelagh.

Now that Senator Norris has spoken, I know he is alive and well. When I heard the news on the radio this morning I had wondered about his health. I am glad he is able to account for himself.

It is commendable that the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Dukes, has agreed to introduce legislation to legalise deflector systems. I live in an area where this is a major issue and I ask the legislation be expedited. People should not be forced to adopt a wait and see attitude. We want to end the controversy as quickly as possible by having the legislation introduced as early as possible.

I thank the Leader for arrangements he has made for Private Members' time this evening. He has been generous enough to realise that Members on all sides will have a contribution to make. Will the House have an opportunity to debate the future of the country after 1999 when we may no longer have Objective 1 status for EU funding? Large areas of the country, including my region, are not ready to lose this status. We in Donegal have succeeded in getting a commitment from Fianna Fáil that there will be regionalisation to take account of the areas which are not ready to lose Objective 1 status. Perhaps it is easier to get a commitment from a party in Opposition. Will the Leader organise a debate on this matter which is not party political but which concerns all Members?

The west and the Border counties are not ready to be removed from this status because their infrastructures have not been built up. We are told about the present economic boom but in my part of the country there is not a sound, never mind a boom. It is widely accepted that a debate on this issue would be useful and the Leader should consider organising one.

I welcome the successful conclusion of the fisheries talks in Brussels conducted by the Minister for the Marine, Deputy Barrett. When the acting chairperson of BIM, Mr. Joey Murrin, says the outcome was not as bad as had been expected, we can consider progress to have been made. One must also welcome the funds that will be made available to modernise our fishing fleet. Some of the boats in use are up to 50 years old and one has good reason to fear for their crews' safety. Will the Leader indicate when the House might have a chance to discuss the safety review on the fishing fleet? It was published some time ago yet we have not had a chance to discuss it. We should debate it as soon as possible.

I note this morning there are many parking cones on Molesworth Street and I presume they are there in preparation for the today's Garda march. I have raised this issue on several occasions. How many gardaí are expected to march on Leinster House today? Has the Minister for Justice made any emergency plans to man Garda stations and ensure proper emergency cover is provided? This may be the first time in the State's history that gardaí have marched to the Dáil. There is an onus on the Minister for Justice to come to the House today to explain to Members why the march is taking place, how many gardaí will be marching and what emergency procedures are in place.

I have allowed the Senator some latitude but we cannot debate the matter on the Order of Business.

Fianna Fáil's director of elections will give the Senator the answers.

I appreciate the Cathaoirleach's indulgence. I cannot gloss over this issue because it is of grave importance. Is the Leader prepared to ask the Minister for Justice to come to the House today to give a full explanation of the facts pertaining to this issue?

Some weeks ago I informed the House that a serious problem had arisen in sugar beet growing areas, especially in County Carlow where one of the country's remaining sugar factories is located. Since then, the workers in that factory have gone on strike and, according to newspaper reports, Greencore is being investigated by the EU with regard to bad practices in the sugar trade. The situation has become serious. It is also significant that Greencore claims prices for sugar beet are too high. However, although it could not reach agreement with growers about this year's price and conditions, it had no problem reducing the quota by 3 per cent. That is a dangerous strategy. While the company claims the raw material costs too much, its actions will have the effect of driving up the price of the raw material by between £2 and £3 per tonne.

Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

I have. This is an important issue in County Carlow and the Cathaoirleach should give me a little latitude. If we have a bad beet growing season it could lead to a shortage of Irish produced sugar which, in turn, will allow sugar traders to import more sugar from France and England. That will have a long-term detrimental effect on the economy and on workers and farmers. I ask the Leader of the House to use his judgement to have these three disputes resolved as a matter of urgency.

In view of the remarks made on radio this morning about the efficacy of the deflector system, can the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications come before the House today to explain what will be involved in the proposed legislation for the autumn? What value will it have for deflector groups who are in a state of flux this morning? They do not know what will happen. They say their taxes are up to date and some of them intend to go on air this morning while others will not.

As it is a matter of grave concern throughout the country, the Minister should come before the House to explain how he will deal with the fact that some companies have guaranteed licences at present. What compensation will these companies be paid by the State if there is a dilution in the quality of those licences? The State will have huge difficulties paying such compensation. This is an urgent matter. It is also a matter of electoral concern which is why legislation will not be introduced until the autumn. The Minister should explain his actions.

Some time ago the House debated the NESF report on early school leavers. That debate was well received. Can the Leader organise a debate on the latest NESF report on rural renewal and combating social exclusion? In view of the continuing crisis in the beef industry and the growing crisis in the dairy industry a debate on rural poverty would be apt and it would be helpful if time were made available for it.

I join my colleagues in deploring the attack on Senator Norris not simply because he is a Member of the House but because he is a citizen. It was a disgraceful assault, although it is not easy to close the Senator's mouth.

If the Leader invites the Minister for Justice to this House to discuss the situation in the Garda, she might consider setting up a commission not just on pay but on the effectiveness and the deployment of gardaí throughout the State. I find it difficult to take Senator Mulcahy seriously on this issue. He tries at every opportunity to heighten people's fear because he believes there are votes in fear. That is his modus operandi. He knows as well as I that the deployment of gardaí in Dublin during this march on the Dáil is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner. The Senator is a lawyer so he should know it more than I and yet he persists in his nonsense——

A question to the Leader, Senator.

——that the Minister for Justice should instruct the sergeants and inspectors on how to deploy themselves today. He should stop.

I did not say that.

The Garda has occuppied a preeminent place in the affections and respect of Irish people since its foundation but it is in grave danger of diluting that respect because of the behaviour of gardaí in the past over internal differences, and this march on the Dáil does it no credit whatsoever. Having said that, I recognise the gardaí's entitlement to march. I may deplore it but I recognise it. I urge Senator Mulcahy to stop trying to heighten the public's fears.

That is disgraceful.

It is true.

I welcome the conclusion of the fisheries talks and I support Senator Maloney's call for a debate on the review of the fishing fleet.

I am glad Senator Norris is with us today. There are dangers in being a university Senator of which we were not aware, so we will have greater respect for him from now on.

I am glad there is a general welcome for the way in which we are handling Private Members' time this evening. I assure Senator Dardis I would be happy to make similar arrangements at any time if there were general agreement.

The legislation regarding the food safety board is at an advanced stage but the board cannot function without it. I will return — I hope tomorrow — with a more up to date account on the state of that legislation.

Senator O'Sullivan asked about the Credit Union Bill. It is very important and I have deliberately left Second Stage tomorrow open ended. It will start at 2 p.m. and will continue until it is completed. I hope we will have co-operation as there was wide consultation and there is now general agreement on the importance and need for this legislation. I hope we will deal with Committee Stage next week.

Senator Byrne raised the issue of agriculture problems and made a strong case. I will convey what he said to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to see if there can be a debate on the matter in this House.

Senator Neville asked about the task force on suicide, on which I will get information. Senator McGowan raised an important and non-partisan issue and I will see if some mechanism can be found to have it discussed in the House but I cannot guarantee it.

Senators Maloney and Burke raised the issue of the sea fisheries talks. We congratulate the Minister for the Marine, Deputy Barrett, on the successful outcome of the talks. A discussion on the modernisation and safety factors of the fishing fleet is overdue.

Senator Mulcahy raised an issue which he has often raised before and I want to clarify some points on that. Gardaí are not marching on Leinster House, as he has persisted in saying, as if there were some attempt at a coup d'état or to intimidate or take over the House. The gardaí are exercising their democratic right to stage a protest. Many may feel, as I and probably most Members of the House do, that an error of judgement is involved and that they would be better advised not to do that. Nonetheless, what they are doing is entirely within their rights and is not a breach of the law. Operational matters are in the capable hands of the Garda Commissioner and the senior officers of the Garda force. There is no breach of the law and it is important we put this into perspective. They are doing what they are entitled to do. We may not approve of it but it is their right. There is no threat to democracy, to the safety of the public or to ordinary people. We should be balanced and fair on this issue. Senator Townsend exercised the Carlow dispensation to make a strong case on the beet industry. I will convey his remarks to the relevant authorities.

Senator Lanigan suggested that the deflector groups are fluxed by events. They are not fluxed. We have announced legislative proposals which need to be carefully examined. These proposals set out to undo the damage caused by the granting of a licence to a cartel by the Fianna Fáil/PD Government. Our proposals are an attempt to restore fair play.

The Senator should ask the deflector groups about that.

The Minister has thought carefully about this issue. The Senator is a fair and even minded person and he should take his time and study the proposals. He will see that there is wisdom behind them. I assure the Senator that electoral considerations have entered into no one's thinking.

Absolutely not.

We are above petty electoral considerations.

Of course.

I thank the Senator. Senator Kelly raised the NSF/ESF paper on rural renewal and combating exclusion. This is an excellent document. I agree with Senator Magner's comments.

Order of Business agreed to.