Today's Order of Business will be items 1 and 2 and item 18, motion 33. Item 1, Second Stage, will be taken today with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and all other Senators ten minutes; Senators may also share time. Item 2 to be taken at 2 p.m., statements on the Shannon River Council with the contributions of Senators not to exceed 15 minutes. Business will be interrupted from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. to allow Senators attend the other House for the reading of the budget. Item 18, motion 33, to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is agreed. I compliment the Leader and the Independent Senators for having arranged for us to have a very speedy debate on the budget this evening. The debate will be under way before the debate in the Lower House has taken off. Will the Leader facilitate a debate on developments in the North between now and the end of the session? It is six months since we last debated this issue. A great deal has happened, a great deal is happening and a great deal has not happened. Members would like an opportunity to review developments.
I am delighted that a number of issues will be dealt with over the next few days, including a debate on the budget tonight and the high profile discussion of the Shannon River Council. Motion 19 tabled by Independent Senators states: "That Seanad Éireann takes note of the First Report of the Joint Committee on Education and Science and Literacy Levels in Ireland." I would like to make Members aware of this report as we will be discussing literacy tomorrow. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges has tried time and again to draw people's attention to the importance of having reports of Oireachtas committees debated in the House. This report covers those issues as well as primary education.
I support Senator Manning's call for a debate on Northern Ireland. They seem to have reached an impasse. A debate would be valuable in teasing out the position and giving Senators the opportunity to make recommendations.
I draw the attention of the House to the High Court case yesterday when a young boy was detained in an unsuitable remand centre because there was no alternative accommodation. The Eastern Health Board received a substantial sum of money to provide suitable residential facilities but has not made any specific proposals in that regard. It is a disgrace that, while money has been made available, no action has been taken. There is a huge shortage of suitable accommodation for young people at risk, especially at this time of the year in the run up to Christmas. It is disgraceful that money made available to a State agency is left unspent in such circumstances. I ask the Leader to bring the matter to the attention of the appropriate Minister to ensure that specific proposals are put forward at an early stage so that measures are taken to alleviate the problem of unsuitable accommodation for children at risk, especially in this city.
I support the request for a debate on Northern Ireland. Experience of dealing with the issue in the House confirms that we tend to be reluctant to debate it when one is needed, yet we tend to debate it at times when there have been achievements. Democratic debate contributes to the resolution of all problems; it does not exacerbate them.
It appears we are encountering a pattern of Ministers being less than direct or perhaps misleading with regard to information they provide to the House. Senators are aware of the controversy Fine Gael Members have had with one Minister. In last week's debate on overseas development aid a clear impression was given to the House that next year's budget for ODA would be increased. Subsequent press briefings confirmed it would be frozen. I believe the House was improperly misled by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs. I am not used to this from Ministers.
We hold debates with Ministers. The Minister for Education and Science made much of his commitment to children with severe and profound mental handicap. However, he omitted to tell us that the budgetary provision for next year would not meet the requirements of all those children, therefore, the constitutional guarantee will not be implemented. He also omitted to tell us that his officials were telling parents of those children that it would not happen in the way he was advising this House.
I find such developments regrettable and a departure from the standards I have become used to over the significant number of years I have been a Member of the House. It is not the way we do business. If Ministers cannot be relied upon to give accurate information to the House and to be frank and truthful with Members, we may forget debate.
I support the request for a debate on Northern Ireland. It would be timely and beneficial and may be helpful in progressing those matters which appear to be in stalemate.
This is European Day for the Disabled. I am wearing the emblem associated with the day. I hope the Minister for Finance will give due consideration and financial support and resources to the disabled. I also hope this will be a good day for the supportive groups who provide the disabled with tremendous services, such as centres for independent living.
I echo the concerns expressed by my colleague, Senator Ryan. I also took part in the debate on overseas development aid. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs is very good. She is a very courageous person and apparently battled for her interests at the Cabinet. We all got the impression that the matter had been resolved. I said I had been unable to follow the figures clearly because they were put in a confused way, but that I was relying on the assurances by the Minister of State. It was astonishing to find the next day that Trócaire, who had briefed me extensively and much of whose material I did not put on the record of the House because I assumed all its concerns had been met, made a very strong statement saying that its concerns had not been met, especially with regard to emergency aid for situations like the flooding in Nicaragua.
I am not sure if the House was misled, but matters were misinterpreted, which is very damaging. A group of Roman Catholic bishops made a very strong statement indicating they were still concerned. We require a further explanation.
I was unable to attend the House yesterday because I was in Cork attending an event by the Cork Aids Alliance. I understand this matter was not referred to in the House, which is a pity. Will the Leader arrange a debate on the subject of AIDS because I am concerned that young people may have lost touch with the reality? There was a dangerous article by Paddy O'Gorman challenging received understanding of the fact that it has now passed as a major infection into the heterosexual community. The House has a responsibility, which it has lived up to in the past, to alert the public to the continuing dangers of this tragic infection.
I support Senator Manning's call for a debate on Northern Ireland and I ask the Leader to arrange it as soon as possible because it would be timely. Much good work has been done and much still needs to be done. A debate would support the good work of the Taoiseach on the peace process.
I draw the attention of the Leader to the position of local authorities, especially urban district councils, regarding the local elections next year. He may recall that in 1994 local authority areas were extended for voting purposes only with the intention that subsequent administrative and geographic changes were to take place which would bring the areas within the jurisdiction of the local urban district councils. Subsequently, nothing has happened and no administrative and geographic changes have occurred. As a result, local urban district councillors have been representing areas over which they have no jurisdiction. People voted for them in these extended areas. The position has not been clarified for the forthcoming local elections. Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to clarify the position of urban district councils in these elections?
I support the call for a debate on Northern Ireland. It is a timely issue. I also congratulate the Leader for arranging a debate on the budget. Given that it is to commence at 6 p.m., would it be possible for the spokespersons on Finance to receive a copy of the Budget Statement to enable them prepare? It is important we use well the opportunity presented to us.
As a member of an urban council I support Senator Caffrey's remarks. On the question of overseas development aid, I was not misled by anything said by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs in the debate last week. She announced that the link between GNP growth and growth in overseas development aid has been broken. It is a retrograde policy step. The excuse is that the country is now too rich to keep up with our commitments; it used to be that we were too poor.
I asked specifically about that.
We cannot reopen the debate on this matter.
I would call it a spin and if the text of the speech by the Minister of State was read carefully nobody would have been deceived. Will the Leader arrange a debate on the decision to increase by £10 per month the cost to the public of the drugs scheme? It is a despicable decision that will affect many of those who are just above the medical card income threshold and suffer from diseases such as diabetes and asthma. It justifies the cynicism with which people anticipate budgets — the Minister gives with one hand and takes away with the other.
Will the Leader give an indication when item 25 on the Order Paper, dealing with the health effects of microwave transmitters on telephone masts, will be taken? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should be brought into the House to deal with this matter. I attended the conference in Dublin Castle earlier in the year and, while I had my own opinions on the effects of microwaves on health, it was clearly felt that masts should not be erected without local consultation.
I raise the issue today because the item has raised its ugly head in Donegal this morning, in a picturesque village called Kerrykeel, where one of the mobile phone companies moved in this morning and closed off the town. I believe that people have been arrested. I would have thought that the mobile phone companies would have learned that the only way forward is to consult with the local population. I am particularly concerned that local people have been so inhibited this morning.
I cannot allow the Senator to go into such detail.
I was born in this village, spent many happy days there and know it very well. That is why I want to show my support to those people.
I support Senator Manning's call for a debate on Northern Ireland. I have every confidence that the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair can resolve the deadlock in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. I am, however, particularly concerned with the lack of facilities being made available to the relatives of those murdered on Bloody Sunday and the delay in the inquiry. It is being pushed back all the time and it is an important issue which should be resolved.
In relation to urban renewal status, various local authorities submitted plans earlier this year to the Department of the Environment and Local Government for their towns. No decision has yet been made and there are concerns about the delay. I ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come before the House and tell us which towns will be designated.
Some weeks ago I asked the Leader to arrange a debate on planning for the future in the psychiatric services. The House will be aware of a policy document which was introduced some years ago and which has been carried on by successive Governments. The time is now opportune to have a debate on the matter and examine the important aspects of the document to see how it has provided services to the psychiatrically ill. I would welcome a debate on the issue as soon as possible.
I support Senator Norris's call for a debate on the AIDS virus. I do not know the man in question, Mr. Paddy O'Gorman, but I pay tribute to him on a well written and researched article. I believe a debate here would be important in allaying many of the fears and exploding many of the myths surrounding this disease.
It was an absurd, stupid article full of fallacy.
Senators Manning, Costello, Ryan, O'Brien, Leonard and O'Toole called for a debate on Northern Ireland. I will see if time can be left aside for this before the Christmas recess. The issue referred to by Senators O'Toole and Costello can be taken tomorrow with the literacy statements.
Senators Norris and Gallagher called for another debate on overseas aid. The Minister dealt comprehensively with the issue last week in this House but if the Senators feel that we should have a further debate on this, I will have time set aside for it in the next session. I will pass on the request made by Senator Caffrey to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and see if any progress can be made with his query.
In reply to Senator Leonard's request, I will endeavour — it will not be easy — to make available to spokespersons a copy of the Budget Statement as early as possible this afternoon. I agree with the thrust of her request and I will do what I can to facilitate Senators who are leading for their parties this evening.
In reply to Senator Gallagher, I will arrange for a debate on the drugs scheme. I know he was very impressed with the contribution of the Minister for Health and Children in this House last week. It was an experience with which I was most impressed and I know Senator Gallagher is looking forward to another visit to the House by the Minister in the near future.
I will certainly arrange for another debate on mobile telephone masts. I suggest to Senator Bonner that he table the issue as a matter for the Adjournment tomorrow, when he may be facilitated in discussing this pressing item in his area.
Senator Hayes called on me to find out the present position regarding urban renewal. We are awaiting agreement in Brussels and when I hear more I will contact the Senator.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on the psychiatric services and I will arrange this at the earliest possible opportunity. Senators Norris and Farrell called for an urgent debate on AIDS and I will facilitate that request.