Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 3 Nov 1999

Vol. 160 No. 11

Order of Business.

Today's Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 18, motion No. 20. No. 1 shall be taken without debate. No. 2, Cement (Repeal of Enactment Bills) Bill, 1999, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, contributions of spokespersons shall not exceed 15 minutes and all other Senators shall not exceed ten minutes. No. 3, Second Stage, shall be taken today with contributions of each spokesperson not to exceed 20 minutes and all other speakers not to exceed 15 minutes. No. 18, motion 20, shall be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and business to resume thereafter, if not previously concluded.

The Order of Business is agreeable. Will the Leader arrange to have the latest NESC report made available to Senators as soon as possible? Will he also make time available for a debate on this important report, which would be very worthwhile? When will the House debate Partnership for Peace?

The House intended to deal with some business which had to be postponed due to the Adjournment two weeks ago. I am referring in particular to the debate on waterways and the report on Lough Ree. The Leader indicated a date for this debate. I appreciate that circumstances changed but I would like a commitment on a new date.

With other Senators, last year I consistently raised the issue of changes to regulations governing taxi and hackney operators. The House was given a commitment that certain changes would take place and we need to debate this issue. It is appalling that hackneys cannot use bus lanes and that we cannot depend on them for the safety of children returning home at night and so on. There is a huge problem, not just in Dublin but all over the country. We need a clear understanding of whether the Government is responsible for this issue and where the problems lie.

I support Senator Manning's call for a debate on the latest NESC report. The report is very important in the context of the debate in the House two weeks ago on the national development plan as it will inform that plan to some degree.

The Leader gave the House a commitment to debate Partnership for Peace. The debate on this issue is coming to a conclusion in the Dáil and it would be scandalous if this House did not also debate such an important matter.

Given reports in today's newspapers that Senator George Mitchell is expected to conclude his involvement in the talks in Northern Ireland by the end of next week, whether or not they are successful, will the Leader arrange for a debate on this matter within the next ten days or so? This issue is reaching a critical stage and it is important that the House has an opportunity to discuss it.

The situation regarding the Intoxicating Liquor Bill is getting out of hand. The Bill was withdrawn in the summer and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, is now doing a U-turn or a somersault on closing times for the millennium because of pressure from vintners similar to that which led to the withdrawal of the Bill. Why can we not get a decision on this matter?

One of the items before the House today is the Cement (Repeal of Enactments) Bill, the memorandum to which is a model for what we should be doing with the Intoxicating Liquor Bill in that it states that the ". . . repeal of the Cement Acts, 1933 to 1962, is proposed on the grounds that the industry is operating successfully and that the need for regulation has become redundant with the passage of time". Perhaps the Leader would convey that message to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in relation to the Intoxicating Liquor Bill because it seems both Houses are being brought into disrepute because of pressure from the Independents and publicans, and we are getting no regulation, good, bad or indifferent, on this matter.

I was not expecting that speech from Senator Costello. For the Senator's information, the Minister has made a decision. It had nothing to do with pressure from publicans or from anybody else.

He is doing a U-turn again.

It was pressure from the public who did not want pubs to stay open all night and I agree with that. With regard to the other elements of the Bill, of which I am not aware as yet, there will be changes in the law and I imagine it will satisfy everybody.

I ask the Leader to get in touch the relevant Minister with regard to Leitrim Foods. This company was taken over by Kepak some time ago. It was more or less given to that company being sold at a fraction of its true value and the company also received over a £1 million in Government grants. Kepak is in the process of asset stripping this factory so that no other manufacturing company can start operating there. As the House will be aware, it is an area of high unemployment. It is appalling that Kepak has adopted this attitude and started asset stripping the premises. I ask the Leader to contact the relevant Minister urgently to put a stop to this behaviour.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to explain to the House why the number of early school leavers is still rising in areas of urban deprivation and the fact that gardaí are still the school attendance enforcement officers in areas like west Tallaght and Clondalkin? That matter has not been attended to and it is quite serious. By not having rigid enforcement we are losing young people to a lifestyle which will never do them or the community any good. It is ludicrous in areas where a high Garda presence is needed that school attendance enforcement should form part of Garda duties. It should not happen and it is untenable. I hope to receive a positive response from the Leader.

In view of the disturbing results published recently in a survey carried out by the National Youth Council of Ireland, which highlighted clearly that two out of three people between the ages of 18 and 25 do not vote, I call on the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to debate this issue. Last week saw the lowest turnout in the history of the State at a by-election. This is a serious matter. Surprisingly, cynicism among young voters did not rate highly in the survey. There were five or six other reasons which came before that which we should examine, debate and address to try to get those people to vote.

I support Senator O'Toole's call for an early debate on the report on the waters around Lough Derg and Lough Ree. I also ask the Leader, in light of the publication in recent weeks by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development of the White Paper, to have a debate on that issue at the earliest possible time.

I note with interest that the Government is proposing to introduce changes to capital acquisitions tax. That has been indicated by the Minister. Would the Leader agree with me that the Seanad played an important role in that when it debated the previous Finance Bill? On that occasion, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy O'Dea, on behalf of the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, gave certain commitments to the House in respect of capital acquisitions tax. During that debate detailed proposals and arguments were put forward from this side of the House to which agreement was eventually forthcoming from Members on all sides and the Minister of State gave certain undertakings. Will the Leader give a commitment to forward a copy of that debate to the Minister for Finance to refresh his mind in respect of this issue because the undertakings given by the Minister of State were fairly clear? It should be noted that the Seanad received no credit for this important breakthrough in recent articles written on the subject.

I wish to refer to Northern Ireland but I am not seeking a debate because I presume one will be arranged at some stage. It is very encouraging that discussions are taking place. However, it is not so encouraging to see the nasty attack on Poppy Day instigated by Sinn Féin which does not show that it is thinking in a forward looking manner, nor does the fact that a spokesperson for Sinn Féin in the Lower House recently spoke on the subject of Partnership for Peace – in respect of which a debate has been requested in this House – indicating that it was inappropriate for the Chief of Staff, a military person, to comment on political matters. Does Sinn Féin have any sense of irony at all?

Senator Norris will have an opportunity to make these points when the debate takes place in the House. I am sure he will appreciate that we cannot pre-empt that debate now.

I accept the Cathaoirleach's ruling in the gentle spirit of comradeship in which it was offered. I wish to make a final request for a debate on Emerald Meats and the continuing wrangling which is taking place in that regard. I do not want to adjudicate on this issue – the Supreme Court has already done so. However, the attitude of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development seems quite extraordinary. Having cost the country huge amounts of money in this case – those amounts are comparatively minor when compared to the other amounts of money that have been squandered through negligence, stupidity, carelessness and bureaucracy of all kinds – it now proposes to waste more. Will this saga ever end? Is the House in a position to play a role by instigating a debate on the issue of Emerald Meats?

I again request a debate on the availability of taxis in Dublin. The current position in this regard is appalling and people are obliged to queue for taxis for up to one hour. That is a disgrace. If it rains, one might as well forget trying to get a taxi. In addition, we are a laughing stock in the eyes of tourists. In other countries, in cities eight or ten times larger than Dublin, people can get taxis at a moment's notice. Something must be done because the situation regarding taxis in Dublin is a joke.

I also request a debate on the laws governing smoking. It has been brought to our attention that many young people are taking up smoking and there is not enough publicity about the seriousness of the health issues involved. All public buildings, including the Houses of the Oireachtas, in the interests of showing a good example should be designated non-smoking. There should be a full debate on this matter.

While I appreciate that the planning Bill, which is detailed, complex and will take a long period to debate, will be coming before the House in the next two weeks, when is it envisaged that the promised local government Bill will come before the House? The Minister for the Environment and Local Government promised to introduce the Bill before Christmas. The area of local government must be addressed and I ask the Leader to indicate when the Bill will come before the House.

I was slow to raise this issue, particularly during the summer session, but the loss of life off our shores due to leisure boating accidents is becoming serious. The loss of life on our roads is also a serious concern. I am conscious of the fact that the relevant Minister has established a committee but he did not come before the House to debate the matter. I know Members are concerned about the licensing of boats, particularly leisure craft, and the number of people losing their lives each year. It is time we had a debate on this matter and had the relevant Minister present. I am referring to our shores, loughs and lakes. It is a sad reflection on us when no one will take responsibility for this type of accident or the licensing of boats.

I ask the Leader to draw the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to a statement made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr. James Hamilton. Yesterday he said that court cases were being delayed due to a lack of stenographers. Stenographers work in this House. We take them for granted and on occasions we forget they exist. This is the first time that I have heard of criminal cases being delayed because of difficulties in recruiting sufficient staff for stenography work. Over the years we have had many complaints about the length of time it takes for civil actions in this State. This is the first time that criminal actions have been delayed due to a shortage of staff. In this case the rules are in the hands of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I would like to make sure that the Minister is aware of the DPP's concerns and that it is in the hands of his Department. Something should be done about this right away.

I support Senator Bohan's comments on Leitrim Foods. A community is being deprived of its livelihood and local people feel vulnerable and helpless. It is important that those who are carrying out assets stripping, after having done well from the coffers of the State, should give consideration to the plight of local people.

I ask the Leader to consider a debate not only on press freedom but also on press responsibility. In recent times there is a growing tendency in the media to besmirch the characters of people who are dead and not able to defend themselves. While they are beyond hurt, it is important to remember that their families are still alive. Today it will be Eoin O'Duffy or Archbishop John Charles McQuaid but tomorrow it will be someone else. The people who desecrate the graves of Ireland for sensationalism or the sale of books should desist from character snatching. In the past we frowned on body snatching but this is a serious matter and sensitivity should come to bear because once the floodgates open we will not be able to distinguish between fiction and truth.

I support the comments made by Senator Norris about Emerald Meats. I request the Leader to arrange an immediate debate on this important issue. Last night major disclosures were made on the "Prime Time" programme. We need to address those disclosures once and for all. I ask that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development be invited to come to this House to have a full and frank debate on what we heard last night.

Earlier this session the Leader stated we would have an opportunity to debate the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder report. That report has been presented to the Minister for Health and Children and has been laid before both Houses. I listened to Senator Dan Kiely's anti-tobacco comments and I know that Deputy Alan Shatter's report will be discussed, debated and amended by Members at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children tomorrow morning. If all that work is done within the committee system it seems extraordinary that some reports can be left aside. I hope we will be able to debate ADHD this session.

I support the Senators who called for a debate on Leitrim Foods, particularly on Emerald Meats. This morning I listened to a debate on "Today with Pat Kenny". It is essential that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development comes here to explain where his Department stands in relation to this issue which has continued for ten years.

Mr. Ryan

Some weeks ago I asked the Leader to find out something but so far he has not told me. We are now at the stage where two basic decisions about future policy are being taken exclusively in the other House without reference to this House. First was the decision to send members of the Defence Forces to East Timor, which was dealt with by resolution of the Dáil without any reference to this House. The decision to join PfP was also made by the Dáil alone. That precedent is disturbing and I would like the Leader to find out the basis on which the Government has taken this position.

I reiterate the views already expressed about the taxi service in this city. I regret to say that we are becoming a laughing stock internationally. There was a 75 metre queue outside Heuston Station at 9.55 a.m. today. There was no rain and there were no serious traffic jams. There were also no taxis. I do not believe they were all busy, I believe they were all at home because the capital appreciation of taxi plates is so great that people can sit at home and still make money. That must be changed or the service for the public will get worse.

Will the Leader inform the House what is happening with the Telecommunications (Infrastructure) Bill, which has been on the Order Paper for nine months? It is extraordinary legis lation which will give private companies the right to acquire compulsorily people's property without their consent. We have heard nothing about it and we do not know when it will be taken.

Will the Leader confirm the outline which was so kindly given to the House by Senator Bohan regarding what he believes might appear in some form in the upcoming changes to the licensing laws? Will the Leader add to it the other measures he expects it to contain and let us know when it will appear in either House? Senator Bohan might be able to tell him.

Senator Manning called for a debate on the NESC report. This will be fully debated on Tuesday afternoon of next week. We can also debate the national development plan based on that report then.

Senators Ryan, Manning and Costello called for a debate on Partnership for Peace. I will arrange for that as soon as possible, next week if possible. Senators O'Toole, O'Meara, Dan Kiely and Ryan expressed concerns about the taxi and hackney services. I agree with their comments and will pass on their views to the Minister after the Order of Business. The service is well regulated in other cities. At train and bus stations in other countries there are even people who arrange transportation of passengers. With such a buoyant economy there is no reason we cannot do this in Dublin. The former Lord Mayor of Dublin is a distinguished Member of this House and I call on him to assist us in this matter to see how a debate can be framed. I invite him to my office after the Order of Business to expedite the call from the Seanad this afternoon.

It is being done.

Senators Costello, Bohan, Norris and Coghlan expressed concerns about the Intoxicating Liquor Bill. Senator Bohan correctly pointed out that closing time will be at 1.30 a.m. on New Year's Eve. This was expressed forcefully by Senator Farrell and me when it was mooted that there should be all night opening. The Seanad should take credit for this, we have made our points of view known. I am pleased to see that the churches are taking a more active role in the celebration of the millennium. In my area, all faiths will meet at 11 p.m. to celebrate the occasion as a family. I also welcome the announcement that closing time will be at 1.30 a.m. with 30 minutes drinking up time.

Senators will be aware that the Intoxicating Liquor Bill is important. The intoxicating liquor law was last amended in 1988. A great deal of progress has been made since then and I look forward to the publication of the new Bill. I hope that the various concerns and views expressed by Members over the past three years have been considered in the drafting process. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform always lis tens and pays due attention to the views expressed in the House.

Senators O'Toole and O'Meara referred to the Lough Ree report and it will be debated, possibly tomorrow week. I join with Senators Bohan and Ó Murchú in expressing serious concern about the stripping of assets from Leitrim Foods. The company is located near your constituency, a Chathaoirligh, and not far from mine. Many local authority representatives in the area are extremely concerned. Following the Order of Business, I will pass on the views of the Senators and examine how we can intervene regarding the serious allegation that has been made. Leitrim is the most deprived county in Ireland and the Oireachtas should do everything in its power to sustain this small county which has a population of 25,000. This issue is important and an urgent debate should be held on it.

Senator Ridge raised the issue of early school leavers, which is a major problem. I will pass on the Senator's views to the Minister for Education and Science and statements may be arranged on the issue as a matter of urgency. Senator John Cregan called for a debate on the disturbing fact that two out of three 18 to 25 year olds do not vote in elections. This could be interpreted in two ways, one of which is total satisfaction with the progress of the economy.

Highly unlikely.

Young people do not look to the past and vote the same way as their parents. The Government has a major job to do to get the message across in second level schools about the good work that is done by politicians. Politicians in every party should be given credit for their wonderful stewardship of the country over the past 12 years. One need only look at our neighbour and compare the progress of its economy against ours. We do not talk highly enough often enough about the job that has been done and the media should give politicians credit which is long overdue. Ireland is the envy of the world in terms of what it has achieved as a small nation and everyone deserves praise and credit. A debate will be held and we will try to tease out how the good news can be spread in secondary schools.

Senator O'Meara called for a debate on the White Paper on Rural Development and I will explore how this can be progressed. I will speak to the Minister for Finance about Senator Norris's concerns about capital acquisitions tax. Senators Norris, Hayes and Jackman expressed concerns about Emerald Meats and I will consult the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development about a debate on this matter. Senator Dan Kiely called for a debate on tobacco legislation and attitudes to smoking, although it might be more accurate to refer to the lack of tobacco legislation. The Committee on Procedures and Privileges has designated almost 75 per cent of the public areas of Leinster House as smoke free zones and I look forward to the day that percentage is increased. We will be able to increase that percentage. It is good example to be led by Parliament and Parliament is leading the way in this matter. I thank you, a Cathaoirligh, for leading us in this way by chairing the committee that passed and approved this legislation. We will have a debate in the House on enhancing this. I look forward to Senator Dan Kiely leading that debate along with other Senators.

Senator Burke made inquiries about the Local Government Bill. I will come back to the Senators on the Order of Business tomorrow morning to see what progress is being made. The planning Bill, the third largest piece of legislation in the House in the past 15 years, is definitely the priority Bill for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. Next Wednesday we will take Committee Stage of that Bill. With that in mind, I envisage and possibly expect that the Local Government Bill will not be in the House before the start of the next session due to this other legislation before us, bearing in mind that the Minister has to take it through the Dáil.

Senator Dino Cregan expressed concern that there are no licensing laws governing jet skis and pleasure boats. We had a debate in the House during the last Seanad and Senator Cregan, a long-standing and respected Member, will recall it. I will allow a debate on this matter. It is something that is a danger to communities in the lake district and anywhere people have to depend on local amenities for swimming and fishing, particularly the angling clubs that are playing such a major part in our tourism drive. These jet skis are a major danger to this tourism activity and to the ordinary person who wishes to go out for a day's fishing or a family who wish to use their local lakes and waterways for swimming. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Cregan and will allow time at the earliest possible opportunity.

Senator Quinn indicated that a lack of stenographers is causing criminal court cases to be delayed. I know his concerns and will pass on his opinions. I will see what I can do and communicate directly with him about this matter.

Senator Ó Murchú remarked on press freedom and press responsibility. While I have always been critical of a man called Browne who has a programme at 10 p.m, he was very responsible last night in taking to task those making allegations against Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. I will allow time for a debate on press freedom and the possibility of a press council. I know I have the support of Senator Manning and the other party leaders in the House.

I gave a commitment to Senator Jackman that I would get back to her this evening with regard to her query.

I will make inquiries today and come back to Senator Ryan tomorrow morning with regard to the Telecommunications Bill.

Order of Business agreed to.