Today's Order of Business is item 1, the Human Rights Commission Bill, without debate, and item 2, Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Bill, 1999, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. I propose 20 minutes for spokespersons and 15 minutes for other Senators, who may share time.
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is agreed. Will the Acting Leader consider raising at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges the possibility of using our powers to invite distinguished figures to address the House, the most recent of whom was Mr. Jacques Santer? I have in mind the proposal made some time ago by the Leader to invite the European Commissioner, Mr. Padraig Flynn, to address the House. There are many matters on which the Commissioner could enlighten us.
In a spirit of conciliation.
It is not appropriate to raise the matter of inviting distinguished persons to the House on the Order of Business.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his guidance in this matter but it appears to be the view of all Members that this privileged opportunity should be accorded to our distinguished Commissioner to answer a variety of questions here.
Senator Manning is being mischievous and permissibly and positively so. I support him.
I raised yesterday with the Deputy Leader that I wished to have a debate on the ESRI report and, having considered the matter last night, I feel it should be addressed. It is of major importance and, in the light of comments made yesterday by the Deputy Leader and Senator Lanigan – with whom I agreed – the report must be responded to. Members appear to agree with me on this.
On another related issue, since joining the euro, the impact it has had on various parts of the economy, its competitiveness and aspects of the development of our economy should be discussed. I am concerned that fund managers and those involved in large scale investments are taking funds from second line stocks. This will result in many of our smaller companies – which are publicly quoted – being sold to foreign ownership. I foresee a loss being incurred in that area.
We should also consider the impact of the euro and the investment movement in Europe on the development of Irish industry at macro level. This matter should be discussed here with the Minister for Finance. It has not been discussed in the Lower House and it is a matter of grave concern to the leadership in second line companies.
The Order of Business is agreed. Will the Acting Leader facilitate us with an early debate in Government time on item 19, the Trade Union Recognition Bill, 1999? This is a very pertinent issue. I understand it has been indicated by the trade union sector of the social partnership that it would be a precondition to enter into a new social partnership and with other elements. It is important we debate this matter.
There appears to be continuing confusion as to whether an extension will be given on item 10, "That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to support the EU campaign for the retention of the duty free status at airports and ferries". Will the Acting Leader get clarification on this and, if necessary, invite the Minister here to up-date us as we are coming close to the deadline for a decision on the matter?
Finally, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government made a a statement yesterday about the new residential density for house development. Can the Acting Leader seek clarification from the Minister that any benefit will accrue to the consumer rather than to the builder?
Senator O'Toole mentioned the ESRI report and our rubbishing of the report yesterday. The House needs to address the fundamental point that when reports are placed before us, whether it is a report from the ESRI or an Oireachtas joint committee, we seldom address them. The records say they are placed before the House but how many times have we addressed what is in these committee reports? Can the Acting Leader ensure that, if a report from an Oireachtas joint committee is placed before this House, we will address its contents?
In the past we talked about land prices and the profits developers make out of land sales. I was disturbed in the past few days to learn that the Office of Public Works has decided to pay the highest ever rental for property space in Dublin city. This is a disgrace and the matter should be addressed here. We have talked about escalating land prices and the fact that young couples cannot buy property but then the Office of Public Works pays the highest ever rental price for office space in the centre of Dublin.
It has also bought enough space for 30 cars to park at a time when everyone in both Houses and throughout the country is saying there are too many cars in Dublin. The Office of Public Works is part of the Houses of the Oireachtas and it has paid the highest ever amount for rental space in Dublin. This is a public disgrace.
We cannot debate this matter now.
Who is the relevant Minister?
May I ask that this matter be addressed by this House?
Senator Lanigan could raise this matter on the Adjournment.
It is not in order to raise this issue on the Order of Business.
Yesterday, I asked for a debate on south Lebanon. A headline in The Irish Times today stated that Mr. Sharon calls for “unity” government to bring troops back from the Lebanon. It would be great if we could do that but the only way we could do so is if Mr. Sharon can get the Israelis to withdraw from south Lebanon.
Last month Apple Computers closed with the loss of 450 jobs. Earlier this week Bourns Electronics announced it will lay off 120 people and Liebert closed its plant last night with the loss of 200 jobs. The closure of that plant is different from the redundancies by Apple Computers and Bourns Electronics. Task forces have been set up all over the country but we should not create another one because we will not have enough people to man it.
What are we doing about jobs in the computer industry? The ESRI report recommended that we should restrict job creation. Other people are commenting on whether we should create construction jobs. Almost 1,000 jobs have been lost in Cork city, yet we are talking about very expensive property. I want to know what are our priorities. Can the Acting Leader arrange for someone who is knowledgeable in these matters to come here and explain job creation policies to Members?
I support Senator Cregan's call for a debate on job creation. Yesterday we called for a discussion of the ESRI report. Most of the com ments yesterday failed to detect the underlining point being made in that report. It outlined that the competitiveness of industry is fundamental to our continuing economic growth. We may disagree as to how that competitiveness should be achieved but this issue should be addressed by the House.
Last week there was great controversy about consumer affairs issues, particularly with regard to the retail trade. Can the Acting Leader arrange a debate on consumer regulations and related issues? Perhaps we could broaden the debate to include many of the State agencies, for example, the ESB hire purchase charges. With the current low interest regime the ESB's charges are at a level that is very hard to justify. Some of the local authority SDA loans are being charged at a rate of 12 per cent. These issues should be addressed here in order to give consumers the benefit of what will be a very sustainable low interest rate regime.
I draw the attention of the Acting Leader to the position pertaining in Telecom Éireann with regard to its operator service. It is a diabolical service but it is also an essential service. Despite the level of technology here we still have to rely on an operator if we want a newly installed number. Tourists also require an operator service to get foreign numbers. I am sure everyone knows that when one contacts the operator service one will hear the phrase "you are queued and you will be dealt with in strict rotation". Unfortunately, a caller could have to spend ten or 12 minutes listening to that phrase. The service in Dublin is quite good but the service provided in the west is atrocious. Last week when I rang the service my telephone rang out four times which means I waited for 14 minutes without getting a reply. Can the Acting Leader bring this issue to the attention of the relevant Minister? Can he also state my annoyance at this unsatisfactory service?
I support the call made yesterday for a debate on housing. I compliment the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, on his initiative to ease that crisis. If a debate takes place we should call on the Minister and the Government to look at temporary accommodation in Dublin because this affects students. These young people are going through a tough part of their lives and they are being exploited. The State should consider building accommodation for students and give people reasonable accommodation while they are being trained.
I support the call by Senator Costello for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to clarify the proposals on residential density. The effect of these proposals will do nothing to reduce the cost of houses to purchasers unless there are accompanying measures taken in the Finance Bill, none of which has been indicated by the Minister for Finance in respect of the Bill currently before the other House. There is no point having more houses in less space if all it will do is increase profits for developers and land speculators.
In view of the continuing concern throughout the country regarding the Objective One application and the CAP reform proposals, will the Acting Leader invite the Taoiseach to address the House next week? I am particularly interested in his meetings yesterday with Commissioner Flynn and President Santer.
I do not agree that we should have a limited debate on the ESRI report. It is not a particularly dramatic or radical report. As Senator Walsh said, it has a simple message but its way of getting there may be somewhat unusual and controversial. If we are going to debate it we should talk about the economy in general. As Senator O'Toole mentioned, we should also debate our relationship with Europe and the euro. Against all the predictions the euro currency is already in decline. The effect of a weak euro on the Irish economy could be serious in that it will be more expensive to travel to England and America, and there are other reasons. This will benefit some and not others. Senator O'Toole put his finger on the problem – although I get uncomfortable when I hear trade unionists telling us what to buy on the Stock Exchange – when he said second line companies could be bought up for very little money. This is one of the consequences of a weak euro. It is a serious problem for some businessmen who must get involved in management buy-outs. There is a solution for Senator O'Toole; he could buy the shares and do extremely well.
There is a serious problem in our relationship with Europe, which is in decline and should be discussed. This was evident in Brussels yesterday. A declining euro will cause serious problems for our economy because the Irish pound will also decline very fast. If there is to be a debate, it should be couched in those terms, rather than a narrow debate on the ESRI report.
Before I call on the next speaker on the Order of Business, I am sure Members will wish to join with me in welcoming a parliamentary delegation from the Republic of Turkey who are in the Distinguished Visitors' Gallery.
I extend to His Excellency, Mr. Hikmet Cetin, leader of the delegation, and the other members a sincere welcome to our country.
I ask for a debate on the enlargement of the European Union and the implications of various countries joining. I remind the Acting Leader that a debate on the Broadcasting Bill was promised.
I congratulate Senator Ross on standing in for Eamon Dunphy. He did a very good job yesterday.
I join with the Cathaoirleach in welcoming our distinguished friends from the Republic of Turkey. They are very welcome to Ireland and to Seanad Éireann.
On the matter raised by Senator Manning, I know the Cathaoirleach will give this very careful consideration when he calls a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. It is most unfortunate that the Leader cannot be here this morning to give his opinion.
What does the Acting Leader think?
I think it would be a very interesting exercise, but I cannot anticipate what the Committee on Procedure and Privileges may decide.
Senators O'Toole, Lanigan and others mentioned the ESRI report. I endorse what Senator Walsh said – that the institute is concerned about inflation and we should maintain our competitiveness. It was extraordinary for it to say that businesses should turn back. We will be sitting three days next week and will have a very tight schedule. However, we will try to make time available to debate this issue. If this is not possible, we will be debating the Finance Bill very soon and we will then have an opportunity to raise issues included in the report.
On the euro and the effect the decline of the euro would have on second line stocks, irrespective of the euro some of these second line stocks are under threat as a result of what is happening in the global economy. The euro could be discussed in the debate on the Finance Bill. However, we will try to discuss it as a separate matter.
Senator Costello raised the question of the Trade Union Recognition Bill. I will consult with the Whips to see what can be done to bring that Bill forward. I will seek clarification on the duty free status. Some of these questions could be dealt with if Members contacted Departments.
Senators Costello and Gallagher raised the issue of residential density. I will seek clarification on this and the matter can be discussed in the debate on the Finance Bill.
Senator Lanigan mentioned the issue of the ESRI report and other reports laid before the House. In general, the more important reports are debated on their own or as part of the wider debate on Bills. However, the Senator makes a reasonable point because reports should be considered from time to time.
The question of the rental price of property was raised. I am not sure who is directly responsible for this, but this matter could be raised on the Adjournment. Several matters brought forward on a daily basis could be more appropriately dealt with on the Adjournment.
The question of southern Lebanon was dealt with yesterday. A debate on this matter would be useful, but given that our schedule for next week is tight it may not be possible to discuss it.
Senator Cregan raised the question of jobs in Cork, task forces, etc. This is an important issue and should be debated in the House. The Tánaiste indicated yesterday that she would be agreeable to come to this House at an early date to discuss these issues.
Senator Walsh mentioned consumers and interest rates. I do not disagree with what the Senator said. The issue of the Telecom operator service could be dealt with on the Adjournment. I accept this is a serious matter, but it is part of a Department and could be dealt with efficiently in a ten minute Adjournment debate.
Senator Kiely raised the question of the housing crisis and temporary accommodation in the city for students. This is a serious issue and must be considered.
Senator Gallagher mentioned Agenda 2000 and the outcome of the negotiations on CAP reform. We will seek to have a debate on the outcome of the negotiations because that would be helpful. The Senator asked yesterday about the early warning unit in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. That unit exists still and attempts to ensure there is sufficient warning before companies close.