Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 21 Oct 1998

Vol. 156 No. 14

Order of Business.

Today's Order of Business is items 1 and 11, motion No. 23. Item 11, motion No. 23, will be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. If not previously concluded, item 1 will resume at 8 p.m. I propose 15 minutes for the principal spokespersons and ten minutes for all other Senators. Senators may share time.

The Order of Business is agreed to. Could the Leader inform the House of the Government's intentions on a White Paper or legislation dealing with mental health? Last week the Leader undertook to come back to me with an indication of the Government's intentions on this matter.

Does the Leader know the Government's mind on the question of General Pinochet? This arises in part from the present discussions of the International War Crimes Tribunals Bill. General Pinochet has been protected until now from facing the charges he deserves to face of widespread murder, torture and abuse of human rights. He is now in a position where two European powers are involved in possibly bringing him to trial and I hope the Irish Government will support any efforts to bring this man to face the charges he should have faced a long time ago.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the report of the Free Legal Aid Board, published today, which indicates the crisis and the delays at present being caused by the lack of adequate funding and staffing in this area? There is a serious problem and I have tabled a motion to address it. I ask the Leader to amend tomorrow's Order of Business so it may be discussed.

I reiterate the point made by Senator Manning. Ten years ago this month I organised a trip to Chile for two Members of this House and two Members of the other House. When we arrived at passport control our diplomatic passports were not recognised by the man who is this week crying foul because his diplomatic immunity is being questioned. It is a long road which does not have a turning and it is time for us to say as a nation that if it is right to extradite people after 15 years, and if it is right to investigate Ansbacher accounts after 15 years — and it is — then it is surely right to investigate mass murderers after ten years. This man has blood on his hands and I would like to see his comfortable and expensive hospital bed exchanged for a less than comfortable prison cell.

I saw what that man did. He stands in the tradition of Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Ceaucescu and Milosevic. I would like the Irish Government to make clear its support for the Spanish in this matter. I would like the Leader of the House to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come in and clarify the Irish Government's attitude. It has been too silent on this issue.

Without wanting to appear truculent I am far from happy with the Leader's response today. I would like to register my disappointment that once again the Order of Business carries no mention of the Shannon River Council Bill. I see the Leader smiling. Last week he gave a commitment that he would look at it. I would like to hear a response. I know the Leader is embarrassed by the position of his party and his Government colleagues but it is time to clear the air.

Perhaps I am losing my memory but I thought we agreed last week that we would have a debate on the banks. That is not taking place this week. I spent a great deal of time preparing my contribution for today to find it was all wasted. I was then told by my colleague, Senator Costello, who raised the issue, that it was his understanding that the debate would take place next week. If that was the case, I would have been able to use the material I prepared. I now find that the Government, without any consultation, is taking a holiday after the by-election and the House is not meeting at all next week. This is in spite of the fact that the Leader also gave me a commitment to have a full debate on education immediately after the by-election. I do not know what is going on. The Independent Members would like to be able to prepare their contributions to debates and I would like an explanation for the issues I have raised.

I associate myself with the remarks made by Senators Manning and O'Toole in relation to General Pinochet. It is appropriate that this House discussed the International War Crimes Tribunal Bill last week and that it is going before the other House, but there has been a deafening silence from our own Government on where we stand on this issue. I would have expected widespread condemnation at this time of the possibility of diplomatic immunity being granted to a person responsible for genocide in his own country. The Leader must convey to the Cabinet, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach the need to make Ireland's stand on these issues clear to the international community.

It was my understanding that we would have a debate on the banks next week. I am unhappy to discover that the House will not meet next week. I do not see why a week's recess is necessary now. Much legislation is due to come before the House and even if the Dáil goes into recess the Seanad should sit and deal with pressing matters. The Committee on Public Accounts has been discussing the current banking scandal but this House has said nothing on the matter. It is not acceptable that this House should wait another week before debating this issue while the whole country is discussing it.

Will the Leader inform the House if any legislation is planned to deal with planning and the rezoning of land? Because of the current housing crisis councillors in urban areas are being placed under enormous pressure to rezone land. Such rezoning is inevitable despite the objections of councillors. Obscene profits are being made by speculators who bought this land at agricultural prices. Legislation is required to deal with this problem. A debate in this House would help tease out the enormous problem of how to address the housing crisis without facilitating speculators who bought land near every major urban area in the country and are now making enormous profits. We must not stand idly by while this is allowed to continue.

I wish to be associated with the remarks concerning former President Pinochet. I suggest that Members who may not be familiar with the sorry history of Mr. Pinochet's rule in Chile should view the movie Missing which stars Jack Lemmon. This will give them some flavour of what life under the Pinochet régime was like for innocent citizens of Chile.

I also ask that the House condemn the murder of a number of journalists in the Kosovo region in recent weeks. Yesterday the Serbian Parliament passed a bill which will severely restrict the independent media in that part of the world from reporting the military activities of President Milosevich and his army of thugs. In the context of the request to the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House to clarify Ireland's position in relation to former President Pinochet, the Leader might suggest that the Minister avail himself of the opportunity to give the House an up to date report on Kosovo.

We cannot pre-empt the debate at this stage. You have requested a debate and have made a number of points in support of your request. I cannot allow you to discuss the matter further.

The Leader may not feel he has sufficient ammunition when he makes his request to the Minister. The media are carrying reports that 50 members of the Defence Forces will shortly go to the region as part of the OCSC delegation on verification. Irish lives could be at risk; therefore, we have a very real interest in what is happening there. That is the main reason the Minister should come to the House to discuss this matter. I appreciate your ruling, a Chathaoirligh.

It is because the matter is so important that I allowed you such flexibility and latitude on the Order of Business.

A Chathaoirligh, your latitude is legendary and I appreciate it.

As is your longitude.

I am only trotting after Senator Norris.

I will try not to test either your latitude or longitude, a Chathaoirligh.

Nobody should be under an illusion about the attitude of this side of the House to what took place in Chile under the Pinochet regime and nobody can condone what took place. However, it would be wrong to intervene in the legal process in the UK where proceedings might be initiated and from where Spain is seeking Pinochet's extradition. It is a separate aspect of the matter, although we condemn what took place in Chile.

It is important to debate matters relating to the banks but such matters will come to the House by way of legislation. As I understand it the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for Finance are bringing forward proposals for a regulatory system for the banks separate from that in place at present which will give rise to legislation. With regard to the case under examination by the Committee of Public Accounts, the Comptroller and Auditor General may be given additional powers which may also require legislation. In that event the House will have an appropriate opportunity to debate the issues.

I support the request to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs come to the House. Will the Leader ask the Government to consider providing financial support to those in Nigeria who suffered in the terrible fire there? We may wonder how people were caught up in such disaster but the fact that Nigerians must queue for 15 or more hours to get petrol may lead us to understand why they rushed to get the petrol gushing from a pipe. Having experienced the trauma and tragedy of the explosion in Omagh we must have an understanding of the horrific events in Nigeria. The House should send its support to these people and the Government should send financial aid.

I note with interest reports in the newspapers of what was called a "Pretty Polly clinic" held in Dublin yesterday. I remind the House that the former Pretty Polly factory in Killarney remains vacant despite the Tánaiste's assurance at the beginning of the year that a replacement industry would be in place by Easter. Will the Leader of the House come back to me on that matter?

I support what Senator Cox said about Nigeria. We should remember the malign role of Shell in Nigeria. When a delegation from the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs sought permission to go there the chairman of the committee, Deputy O'Malley, was advised not to apply to the Nigerian Government but to Shell. It is strange that a major international company should control the issue of visas to distinguished politicians.

With regard to General Pinochet, I share strongly the satisfaction expressed that this criminal is at last on the first step towards justice. However, we must be careful with regard to the accusations against him. I note that the newspapers have indicated that he may be arraigned on charges of the arrest, torture, murder and genocide of 94 Spanish citizens. That is an abuse of the term "genocide". Murder is what is involved; genocide is the specific, clear desire to annihilate an entire race. We must be clear about the terms.

I hope there will be a debate on the banks. I know legislation may be necessary but any such debate must take into account the role of the Revenue Commissioners. Immediately after a news broadcast in which the principal item was the role of the Revenue being questioned as it apparently let off a major banking interest with a fraction of what it should have paid, there was an advertisement directed at the ordinary PAYE earner saying if they do not submit their forms on a certain date, they have to pay everything they owe, plus interest and penalties. If this applies to the ordinary little people, as we inherently call them, who pay taxes, why should it not also apply to the great institutions?

Is the Government considering legislation to deal with gazumping which is happening repeatedly? The building industry needs to be looked at. More scaffolding collapsed in D'Olier Street and a worker was injured. We have already raised that matter in this House.

In the light of remarks made in the press and by informed legal sources in the aftermath of certain recent murder cases, has the Government any plans to look at the notion of diminished responsibility as a defence against murder? It was indicated in court that a legislative amendment is overdue.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands to come to the House to debate setting up a book town in Ireland? This would be an attractive phenomenon for Ireland, especially given our culture and history. One town which would be suitable for this purpose is Listowel in my own County Kerry, which has a great history. There are many book towns in European countries and it would be an excellent attraction for the many Irish emigrants living in Australia, America and elsewhere.

Ireland has had a long relationship with Chile. General Bernardo Higgins, the liberator of Chile, was the son of an Irishman. We are fair minded in Ireland. Any man is entitled to be considered innocent until he is proven guilty.

So was Salvador Allende.

The language used in this House and in the media suggests General Pinochet has been tried and convicted. He has been travelling back and forth to Europe for many years. Nobody can condone political crimes.

They are not political crimes — they are murder.

Surely he is entitled to a fair hearing.

Something he never gave any of his own people.

I ask the Leader to leave the matter to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the wellrehearsed international laws available to deal with such people.

It is my wish that every Senator adopts that view.

I would be quite happy to leave General Pinochet to the courts. My concern is that the US authorities are lobbying heavily to ensure that he does not come before the courts because of the complicity of the leader of what is called "the free world" in the murder of thousands of citizens of Chile.

Hear, hear.

Henry Kissinger announced he would not stand by and allow a country to fall into the hands of communism because of the irresponsibility of its own people. In other words, they voted for the wrong Government.

He is another Nobel Peace Prize winner.

It is remarkable that civilised people will give someone like Pinochet the right to a free trial. That is why our system is superior to the one he imposed on a country with a 150 year old democratic tradition. I am delighted and I hope our Government will say it believes all those accused of committing murder should be given a fair trial, and no Government in the free world should attempt to prevent that. People against whom there are legitimate and serious accusations should be brought to trial and the US, in particular, should not use its clout to stop this.

Two building workers are in jail this afternoon. Whatever the merits or demerits of the case people will draw the conclusion that when building workers complain about being forced by subcontractors to break the law they go to jail, and will observe that many people are not in jail for bigger crimes, bigger evasions of tax and more serious offences. The House should re-examine what it means to be equal before the law in our society and we could do with a serious debate about what equality means in Ireland, because for most people it no longer exists. There are two Irelands, one of ordinary people who are compelled to observe the law, the other of people who are allowed to negotiate the law.

On a more mundane matter, will the Leader inquire from the Government and Dublin Corporation whether proposals for two separate deregulations will become law? I had the extraordinary experience of standing for almost 15 minutes outside Heuston Station, on a morning with no bad weather, no bad traffic, and no taxis. Why will people in this city not deal with that problem decisively and immediately? The second issue, arising from the spectacular prices paid for pubs in Dublin, is whether the Government still intends to introduce full deregulation in the issuing of licences for public houses, particularly in Dublin, because one suspects that those buying pubs know something about the future which the rest of us do not know. I would like a reassurance that there is no drawing back from the recommendation of the Competition Authority.

Did the Senator drive from the Cork train to the pub?

I also call for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House, but on a different issue to that raised by other speakers. It is nearly six months since the peace agreement was put in place but progress to date has been slow, particularly on the formation of the Northern Ireland Executive. We were assured at the time that the Executive would be in place by the end of October and I echo the Taoiseach's hope that it be in place within a matter of days. This is a delicate time in Northern Ireland and now more than ever great leadership is called for, so I ask the First and Deputy First Ministers to do everything possible to establish the Executive.

I congratulate the two winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Senator Haughey mentioned it was a great tribute to County Derry to have two Nobel Prize winners, and I congratulate St. Columb's College in Derry, which may be the only school in the world with two Nobel Prize winners.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health and Children to clarify the position on cervical smear testing throughout the country? A major problem has arisen; certain health boards have a screening procedure but because of a lack of staff there is a 12 month wait for smear tests. This is a serious matter for women who are worried about cancer. The health boards say women should have the smear test carried out by their local GP but many women have inhibitions about going to male doctors for this, and in some areas there are not enough female doctors to whom male GPs can refer patients. This is causing major problems for women in terms of the delays in obtaining the results of cervical smear tests from the laboratories in Galway. In some cases it takes up to six months to obtain these results. That is not acceptable given that the Department of Health and Children has stated that women must be smear tested regularly.

I cannot allow the Senator to debate this matter further. This is not an Adjournment debate, it is the Order of Business. The matter the Senator is seeking to debate would be more appropriate to an Adjournment debate.

I accept the Cathaoirleach's ruling. Will the Leader bring this problem to the attention of the Minister for Health and Children because it must be addressed?

Senator Manning inquired about the proposed legislation on mental health. I will come back to the Senator on that matter tomorrow and I apologise for not having the information he requires today.

Senators Manning, O'Toole, Mooney, Cox, Haughey, Costello, Dardis and Norris expressed serious concerns about General Pinochet. I will communicate their views to the Minister. As the Deputy Leader of the House, Senator Dardis, stated, no one can condone what is alleged to have taken place under the Pinochet régime. However, we must also bear in mind the remarks made by Senator Haughey.

Senator O'Toole is concerned because he has heard nothing further on the progress of the Shannon River Council Bill. I will communicate with him on that matter tomorrow. The Senator also requested a debate on education. I am glad to inform the House that the Education Bill will be dealt with in the House in the second week in November. I look forward to the debate on this comprehensive legislation.

Senator Costello and others requested an urgent debate on the banks. I have made time available for this on the first Tuesday in November and the debate will continue until everyone who wishes to contribute has done so.

Senator Coghlan raised the issue of the Pretty Polly factory in Killarney. I am aware that people living in the area are concerned about this matter and I will pass on the Senator's views to the relevant Minister.

Senator Norris requested an urgent debate on house prices and I will make time available in the near future. Senator Dan Kiely expressed serious interest in having a book town established at Listowel, County Kerry. I suggest the Senator give notice to the Cathaoirleach tomorrow morning of his intention to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

I will communicate Senator Bonner's request for a debate on Northern Ireland to the Minister for Foreign Affairs to see if such a debate can be arranged. With regard to Senator Lanigan's serious concerns about the delays involved in obtaining the results of smear tests, as the Cathaoirleach stated, that matter is more appropriate to the Adjournment. If the Cathaoirleach deems the matter appropriate for debate on the Adjournment tomorrow evening, I am sure Senators would be anxious to contribute.

Order of Business agreed to.