Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 16 Oct 1997

Vol. 152 No. 5

Order of Business.

Today's Order of Business is item 1 which will be taken until 4 p.m. I propose a time limit of 30 minutes for spokespersons and 20 minutes for all other Senators. There will be a sos from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m..

I also have to take an additional item later in the day, the referral of the Taxes Consolidation Bill, 1997, to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. The Dáil is due to pass a motion without debate this morning referring this Bill to the committee. On receipt of a message from the Dáil, I propose to have the motion of concurrence circulated on a supplementary Order Paper. The matter can be taken without debate.

The Order of Business is agreed. I am sure colleagues would be very happy to join with me in sending congratulations to a former Member of this House, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, on his election as Chancellor of the National University of Ireland. He is only the fourth holder of the office this century, the previous three being Archbishop Walsh, Éamon de Valera, who held the office for a very long period, and Dr. T. K. Whitaker. I am delighted such a distinguished person as Dr. FitzGerald has been given this honour by the graduates of the NUI.

I wish to raise the issue of the current controversy surrounding the referendum which is due to take place on the same day as the presidential election. The point has been well made over the past number of days that there has been virtually no public debate on this very important issue. We debated it in this House, but it was a rather hurried debate on a Bill to enable a referendum take place. The issues involved are serious. The reservations expressed by two former Cabinet Ministers, Deputy O'Malley and Ms Gemma Hussey, should be taken into account.

As a practical way of encouraging public debate, will the Leader say if the Government proposes to issue an information leaflet putting both sides of the argument, as happened in previous referenda or is that ruled out under the terms of the McKenna judgment? Such a leaflet would be useful.

This House could also make a contribution to that debate. Under our Standing Orders, it is possible for us to invite distinguished persons to address the House. I would be pleased to propose inviting Deputy O'Malley, Ms Gemma Hussey and Mr. Michael McDowell to outline their views, although I do not want to have an entirely Progressive Democrat line up. We could also invite Mr. Gerard Hogan, which would be three Progressive Democrats out of four speakers.

We do not have a monopoly on wisdom.

We could invite distinguished people on both sides of the argument. The debate could be televised and transmitted during Oireachtas Report. I am not making a party point in this regard — there is a genuine deficit of information on this referendum. This matter should not be taken lightly but it has been overshadowed by other events. If this House can help to enlighten the public on the matter, it would be a very useful innovation to so do.

I remind Senators that inviting distinguished persons to address the House is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

As Senator Manning knows.

I support what Senator Manning said about the referendum. There were grave objections from the Independent benches during that debate about the narrowness of the wording, so I am sure we would support any call for further debate on this matter.

I presume it is not proposed to sit on the day of the presidential election. Is the House sitting any day that week? It would be useful if the Leader could tell us if there is any other week between now and Christmas when the House will not sit. The Order of Business is agreed by the Independents.

I join with Senator Manning in congratulating the new Chancellor of the NUI, the former Senator, Dr. FitzGerald.

In regard to the referendum on Cabinet confidentiality, my party tabled an amendment to that Bill which was roughly similar to the terms now being suggested by Deputy O'Malley and the former Deputy, Michael McDowell, of the Progressive Democrats. That was the time when everybody should have rowed together to ensure we would have a proper referendum on the issue. The referendum will be voted on in two weeks' time, which means it is very difficult to now make good the deficit of information. I do not know whether anything can be done about it. I am surprised by the statements which have now been made by those two members of the Progressive Democrats, considering both Houses have been discussing the matter for the past six weeks.

There are many motions on the Order Paper relating to refugees and asylum seekers, and the matter was discussed on the Order of Business yesterday. According to a report in today's newspaper, the Government is reducing its commitment to international aid. The last Government committed itself to spending 0.05 per cent of GNP on development aid but that is now being reduced to 0.03 per cent, which is a long way from the OECD target of 0.07 per cent of GNP. Can we have a debate on the question of refugees, asylum and international aid, which is obviously exercising the minds of many Members? It is also a major issue for the public.

As a one time acquaintance of Dr. FitzGerald, with whom I had constructive dialogue on many issues when he was Taoiseach, I am delighted he has been elected Chancellor of the NUI. It is a continuation of the tradition of having very distinguished people in that office, and he will fulfil the role extremely well.

I am glad people have discovered their consciences before the referendum is held. We will today debate the implications of a single currency, which were not debated before the 1989 referendum. I am glad, therefore, that people are discovering the problems with the issue of Cabinet confidentiality in advance of the referendum.

I know the Government will probably produce an information document, but will the Leader ask it to produce something which people can easily read? The Government document produced for the previous referendum was written in such turgid English as to be almost incomprehensible to anyone other than a lawyer. If the Government is to produce an information document, will it be in a form which informs rather than confuses people?

If 20 people had been killed by terrorist outrages in the last ten days there would be an outcry, and rightly so, and there would be justified demands for emergency legislation. We are becoming immune to the carnage on our roads which is a reproach to us all. In discussions with my students yesterday it emerged that the roads have become the most hazardous place in the country. It is time we did something about it. I suggest that a committee of the House be established to listen to views on what is needed to stop this. There is no point in having a debate where everybody blames the Government.

Will the Leader arrange a debate on the issue of refugees? I attended a debate in Cork last week where it was difficult to find a speaker to justify the clampdown on illegal immigration, which has sinister and racist overtones. Who is instructing people to operate this clampdown? It appears that skin colour is the first criterion used to single out people. Given our experience over the last 100 years it would be sad if Ireland, of all countries, started to operate a dubious and racist immigration policy.

I thank the Leader for organising the debate on EMU today. He changed it from another day at my request. The lack of debate on EMU is similar to the lack of debate on the bail referendum and the referendum on Cabinet confidentiality. Perhaps there is a way in which the House can be used to debate such matters. We should consider Senator Manning's suggestion.

I am delighted at the election of Dr. FitzGerald as Chancellor of the National University of Ireland. I had the pleasure of studying under him.

There is an answer to the carnage on the roads but I am not sure if it is in the hands of this House. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure that the same national attention is paid to speed as was paid to Operation Freeflow last year? Operation Freeflow resulted in a change in mindset among users of the roads which enabled it to succeed last December. According to the Garda Síochána, speed is the cause of accidents. We must change our attitude to this issue.

Today is World Food Day. The Cathaoirleach kindly afforded me the opportunity to speak on this matter on the Adjournment yesterday. On that occasion I was reminded that the report by Bord Bia was recently published. Will it be possible to debate the report? There is a lot of meat in this subject.

I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the late Senator Enright. I also congratulate Dr. Garret FitzGerald on his election.

I support the proposal by Senator Costello for a debate on overseas development assistance. It is worrying that we are apparently not about to honour our commitments with regard to the UN target for ODA.

I was a member of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation when its deliberations were adjourned. A couple of weeks ago the Taoiseach said that he considered it would be useful if the forum reconvened but he did not give any further details. Will the Leader ascertain what is proposed for the future of the forum? It is imperative that it recommences its good work.

Will the Leader arrange a debate on spiralling house prices, especially in Dublin? The Department of the Environment and Local Government has established a commission on the subject. Could the House make recommendations to the commission?

Many Members of the House are elected by local authority members. We are in a better position to evaluate what is happening on a national basis. I am told, for example, that house prices increased by 14 per cent in Dublin last year compared with a 3 per cent increase in the North. Despite the fact that building materials have increased by approximately 3 per cent over the past two years, house prices have increased in some instances by 30 per cent. There is a need for a debate because if matters are allowed to continue young couples will not be in a position to buy their own homes, especially in the cities.

With regard to the referendum on Cabinet confidentiality I am surprised that the leader of the Opposition and the spokesman for the Labour Party, who were members of the previous Government and whose Bill on this matter was accepted by the Government, have lost faith in their Government to make a proposal which they now see to be inadequate.

We have not lost faith.

Beware of calling for a debate in house prices because it will raise issues regarding the control of inflation.

I have been informed by visually impaired people that there is no voice over system on the DART. If one is blind one must count the number of stops. There is a mechanism on trains but it is not used. This is a shame. Will the Leader raise the issue with the relevant Minister?

I join in congratulating Dr. FitzGerald on his election as Chancellor of the National University of Ireland. He follows in a distinguished tradition and is a distinguished person. He will make an excellent Chancellor.

I was a member of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. It had almost reached a conclusion in terms of its work. The only outstanding matter was the report, which could not be agreed because Sinn Féin would not accept the principle of consent or, more correctly, the way it should be exercised.

While it is desirable that the forum should recommence its work, there is a practical difficulty in that the senior people in the northern parties, especially in the SDLP and Sinn Féin, cannot be in two places at the one time. It is more important that they be present at Stormont than at Dublin Castle.

Regarding the forthcoming referendum on Cabinet confidentiality, I realise the House would benefit from the wisdom of Deputy O'Malley and the political skills of former Deputy Michael McDowell. However, there is a degree of hindsight about this matter. The issue was debated when the Bill was before the House and there was adequate time to discuss it. I do not recall many of the reservations being raised now being expressed then.

We are only trying to be helpful.

It is the Senator's problem.

They were not voiced at that time.

It is called constructive opposition.

Senator Manning would not conduct anything other than constructive opposition. It has always been his practice and I would not expect anything different. However, there is a degree of hindsight and opportunism about this matter. If the Seanad wishes to discuss it, I am sure Members would be happy to debate it in further detail although we had such an opportunity when the Bill was before the House.

I draw the Leader's attention to the fact that County Louth had the highest rate of deaths from road accidents before Operation Lifesaver was introduced by the Louth/Meath division of the Garda Síochána. The number of admissions to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital following road accidents has reduced by 25 per cent. If Operation Lifesaver was extended to the rest of the country, there would be the same significant reduction in the mortality rate following road accidents.

Will the Leader bring to the attention of the Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise, Deputy Jacob, the great concern of the people of County Louth about the Government's position on the case against British Nuclear Fuels? Page 31 of the Fianna Fáil election manifesto states that "in Government, Fianna Fáil will ensure that the case taken by the Dundalk residents is fully funded and if required appealed through the higher courts". It is of great concern to the people of County Louth that this has not been done yet and I appeal to the Government, even at this late stage, to rectify the position. The Irish Sea is the most radioactive in the world and the rate of deaths from cancer was 15 per cent higher in County Louth in the period 1971 to 1991 than any other county. This case warrants a significant commitment from the Government.

Several comments were made earlier about the rose I am wearing in my lapel.

We thought it was a poppy.

Or a carnation.

It was suggested that it was blooming. However, the remarks give me the opportunity to mention that today is Rose Day for children with autism. Will the Leader ask the Ministers for Education and Science and Health and Children to continue the great work being done to help people with such conditions as autism? Such conditions are irrelevant to the majority of people but they are extremely relevant to the families of those who suffer from them.

There is a need for a debate on the number of deaths on our roads. There was a debate last night on the National Roads Authority and many of the comments made then, and this morning, should be passed on to the authority. In the last Seanad I said four wheel drive vehicles with bull bars on the front should be banned. They are the most dangerous vehicles on the roads and have caused innumerable accidents. I apologise to Senator Dardis for mentioning the farming community but because its financial status has improved——

I am not representing the farming community here.

——all young men want four wheel drive vehicles. They look down on everybody else. They drive up behind other motorists on motorways and try to force them off the road. Bull bars on the front of such vehicles should be banned and if the current rate of deaths on the roads continues, perhaps even four wheel drive vehicles should be banned from motorways.

I agree with Senator Connor that there should be an early debate on our overseas development aid obligations. However, the Senator is wrong when he says that Ireland is reneging on its commitment to bring its percentage of such aid up to the United Nations target.

We shall see.

Ireland has never reached its target for overseas development aid.

I know that but Fianna Fáil has an appalling reputation in this area.

Our aspirations are high but in the last six years——

Senator Lanigan, it is not in order to debate overseas development aid or any other matter on the Order of Business. It would be in order for the Senator to put a question to the Leader of the House.

I ask the Leader to take into account the Government's commitment to overseas development aid. An early debate on this matter should be arranged.

If I do not raise questions at this stage, I may not have the opportunity to do so later. Senator Brendan Ryan has returned to the House and he also makes speeches on the Order of Business.

The Senator should withdraw that remark.

He makes good speeches.

Senator Ryan is entitled to make a speech on the Order of Business; nothing precludes Senators from making speeches on the Order of Business.

Is that a challenge to the Cathaoirleach?

It is in order on the Order of Business to seek a debate or a discussion on any matter. However, it is not in order to debate any matter on the Order of Business. I notice that contributions on the Order of Business are becoming lengthier and I hope to address this matter in the future.

I wish to be associated with the expression of sympathy to the family of the late former Senator Michael Enright. I also join in congratulating Dr. Garret FitzGerald on his appointment.

Given the debate last night on the National Roads Authority, will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to clarify the future of the authority? The future position of the NRA has been seriously undermined following the debate and it is ironic that Senator Lanigan said issues raised this morning and last night should be referred to it.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader of the House?

I ask the Leader of the House to ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to clarify the future of the National Roads Authority. It appears the NRA is in danger of being abolished and its staff want to know what will happen to them.

I support the call for a debate on the recent carnage on our roads. There would be a major debate on this important matter if as many people were killed by guns or farm machinery. I agree Operation Lifesaver has been successful but more legislation will not solve the problem. Many Bills have been passed in recent years and innocent people going five or six miles an hour above the speed limit in villages are often caught. The number of people caught and fined for such offences is much higher than for other speeding offences.

The Government should make it mandatory that devices are put on every car which would ensure they can travel only up to 70 miles an hour. This would reduce the number of accidents caused by speeding and the need for more legislation and programmes such as Operation Lifesaver. People caught interfering with those devices should be banned from driving for at least five years. Such devices were placed on trucks 20 years ago and they are also on tractors. Why not place them on cars? It would be a simple way to reduce the number of accidents.

Aer Rianta recently announced that it intended to withdraw its service of carrying the remains of deceased people flown to Knock Airport from England. There are many discussions about subsidiarity and the fact that Ireland is on the periphery of Europe. The Minister made a long statement yesterday about the State's investment in Knock Airport and its future. The House should ask Aer Rianta, which is a private company and runs its business as it sees fit, to resume that service in Knock Airport for the people of the west. It is fundamentally necessary to restore it in that part of the country. I travelled from the tip of north Mayo to Castlebar yesterday, a distance of over 65 miles. Much inconvenience is being placed on the people of the west by the withdrawal of that service. I ask the House to support my call to Aer Rianta to reinstate that service at Knock Airport.

I join with Senator Manning and other Members in congratulating Dr. Garret FitzGerald on his appointment as Chancellor of the NUI. It is a great honour for him and for Seanad Éireann. Former Members of this House have become Presidents while others who began their careers here have been appointed to distinguished positions. I will inquire about the information leaflet on the forthcoming referendum and will come back to the House on the matter.

Senator Henry asked about the possibility of the House sitting during the presidential election week. It has been the precedent of the House not to sit the day after the bank holiday. Bearing in mind the election is on a Thursday, I do not propose that the House sit that week. The House must deal with a considerable amount of legislation before Christmas and judging from the number of debates which have been called for, to most of which I will accede, Senators may be poised for a busy time between now and Christmas. Perhaps the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, under the stewardship of the Cathaoirleach, could discuss sitting additional days.

Senators Costello, Connor and Brendan Ryan called for a debate on the refugee issue, with which I have no problem. I will make time available at the earliest possible opportunity. Senators Ryan, Quinn, O'Dowd, Lanigan and Farrell spoke about the 20 deaths on the roads in recent days. We discussed this matter at length last night and perhaps this morning is a sensitive time in the House as a former colleague has lost his life. I have no objection to a debate on this matter. Perhaps the leaders of the various groups in the House could discuss this matter to see how best to facilitate Members' requests.

Senator Quinn requested statements on Bord Bia. I understand statements are taking place in the Dáil but I have no problem with his request and will accede to it. He also called for a debate on EMU a number of weeks ago and I am pleased to say the Minister for Finance will open that debate after the Order of Business. I would like as many Members as possible to participate in this discussion. I will monitor the participation of Members to assess the genuineness of calls for debates.

Senator Connor and Senator Dardis asked about the future of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. All Members would like the forum to be reconstituted but, as Senator Dardis pointed out, it is impossible for them to be in two places at the one time. We will keep the matter under review and will welcome its return. Senator Finneran called for a debate on house prices. I overlooked his request yesterday but Members will appreciate that when the Order of Business takes over one hour it is easy to overlook a request. Perhaps the Committee on Procedure and Privileges might consider tightening it up, a suggestion with which Senator Connor, a new and distinguished Member, will agree.

He is recycled.

I hope we will have a debate on house prices before the Christmas recess. Senator Ridge raised a matter in relation to the DART which would be more suited to the Adjournment. I concur with many of the Senator's wishes.

Senator O'Dowd raised what is known as the "County Louth issue" with which we all concur. This House may take pride in the stance it took during the last Seanad. When in Opposition, I along with other colleagues and Independent Members, was able to get the Government to change its views on the issue. I sympathise with the Senator's request. It is extraordinary how Members change to our view but when they were on the other side of the House it was more difficult. Political decisions must be taken by politicians. The problems which existed in the past will have to be overcome by the political system and politicians.

Senator Burke raised the question of the National Roads Authority. I would have taken a different view of last night's debate which I thought was worthwhile. If five hours had been made available, there would have been enough speakers. A review of the National Roads Authority enabled Members who are also members of local authorities to express their views. Indeed, we are all representatives of the local authority system. I thought it was timely that the first significant debate should facilitate local authority members' wishes. Senator Burke will concur that the National Roads Authority has transformed the landscape. As one who used to travel up to 60,000 miles per year, it is now more pleasant to travel around the country than in the past.

Order of Business agreed to.