The Order of Business is No. 1, Equal Status Bill, 1999 – Committee and Remaining Stages. Business is to be interrupted from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Order of Business.
It is unusual to take Committee and Report Stages of a Bill on the same day but I am assured by our spokesperson that there should be no difficulty and that it is agreeable. I commend Senators Ross and Costello for tabling a motion to introduce a register of political lobbyists which we will support. Can I take it that as the Government parties are not opposed to this measure, they will be voting for the motion?
I am somewhat anxious about taking Committee and Report Stages of the Equal Status Bill today. However, there have been no objections. Others may have objections and we have some anxieties about this decision.
I support Senator Manning's comments on a register of lobbyists and that is a good idea. Last week Senators asked for a debate on Northern Ireland. Debates on this issue in the House have been very useful and perhaps we could have another such debate as soon as possible.
As I indicated yesterday, we are not happy with the manner in which the Equal Status Bill is being dealt with in this House. This is important legislation. The Bill took 12 months to pass through the Dáil, yet we are putting it through in two weeks. The proposal is to deal with Committee and Report Stages on the one day. A decent gap should be made available to allow further matters to be considered. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we take Committee Stage only today.
I hope Senator Ross and I will have the support of the House for our motion concerning a register of lobbyists. I am delighted that the Progressive Democrats have seen that changing circumstances require a changing response.
That is why we are called a progressive party.
I am delighted with the progress that has been made on this issue and I am sure the Progressive Democrats will be able to persuade its slightly larger coalition partner of the desirability of this change.
The EU has ruled that the Government has been infringing the spirit of the parental leave directive in terms of the period to which leave should apply. Is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform contemplating legislation on this issue? This Bill was introduced in 1998 and despite our efforts the Minister refused to make it retrospective to 1993 which was the norm within the EU and the spirit of the directive. The EU has now determined that the legislation should be retrospective to 1993 and the Government has been severely rapped on the knuckles. The Government's decision means that 150,000 children have been denied the opportunity of their parents having 14 weeks unpaid leave, as is the European norm.
Senator Costello is on a roll. He is rambling.
Will the Leader indicate whether amending legislation is being contemplated on this important issue?
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House for a debate on FÁS? In light of the present skill shortages and the fact that there is almost full employment, there are courses which are no longer relevant. I would like to see a review of the structure of FÁS. There should be an overlap between the Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Education and Science when courses are related to education and training. A huge amount of public money is allocated to FÁS and I would like to know how it is accounted for.
Yesterday I raised the crisis in Ethiopia on the Order of Business. Last night I attended the launch of the report, Biopatenting and the Threat to Food Security. We should debate biotechnology and its effect on Third World countries. We are very concerned about the effect genetically modified food will have for us but we seem to forget that the threat to food supplies in the Third World is far greater.
I support calls for a debate on Northern Ireland, particularly in light of the proposed Orange march in Dublin. I support that march in terms of the freedom of assembly and speech but I also congratulate the Church of Ireland for denying the use of St. Anne's Church in Dawson Street for an Orange service. This House should recommend an ecumenical service of contrition and reconciliation in St. Anne's. Until this issue blew up, I was unaware that one of the founders of the Dublin Orange Lodge was John Beresford, who was notorious for having a private police force which terrorised the people of Dublin in 1798. Outside his house in Tyrone Street, which is now of far more civilised service to the people as the Department of Education and Science, the citizens of Dublin hung a notice which said, "James Beresford, mangling done here", which demonstrates what was going on in his stables.
I also support the call for legislation on the registration of the lobbying interests on the part of Members and former Members. These people have direct access to this House and all the lobbying opportunities it offers – the bar, library and restaurants. I was horrified to discover that a person whom I had formerly regarded as progressive was engaged in lobbying for the likes of Rupert Murdoch in this House. We should know who these people are.
I support Senator Norris's call for an ecumenical service. I have had the honour of reading lessons at many of those services down the years and they are a great way of healing and bringing people together.
Will the Leader arrange for a debate on discipline in schools and the home? Recent surveys have indicated that teenagers are beating up their parents. Anyone who watches television will see how teenagers in America have got out of hand, even 12 year old children cannot be controlled. We are getting to that stage now. We have gone too far down the liberal path and it is time to re-examine the issue of discipline and reintroduce some common sense into how we look after young people.
I support Senators Manning, Quill and Norris in their calls for a register of lobbyists. Not only politicians should have to register their interests with the Public Offices Commission. This is all about power and money. The bigger the customer, the more money it has to throw at the lobbyists to perform whatever functions it wishes them to do. It is about much wanting more. The "more" we need is more accountability.
I support Senator Costello's amendment to the Order of Business. During the debate on the Equal Status Bill yesterday there were amendments from the Government side which we are still considering and which will have to go back to the Dáil. There is no rush for the legislation and we are as entitled as the other House to consider it properly. The amendments which have been tabled are critical to the operation of the Bill. This side of the House has protested on more than one occasion about rushing legislation. It is not good practice.
I support the call for a debate on parental leave. It raises the wider issue of child care and the Government's failure to address it. It is a vital issue for many families.
Will the Leader ask the Ministers for Public Enterprise and Education and Science to establish a review body to examine the situation for secondary schoolchildren in rural areas and the bus shelter system? It is unchristian that thousands of children have to wait for school buses in pelting rain, sleet and snow when there is so much money available to the Government. There are problems with advertising companies but the matter should be looked into. I raise this issue on a day that students from Athenry vocational school are visiting the Houses. There are 1,200 students in Athenry and evening after evening in bad weather they must wait in the rain. The Departments must examine the idea of providing bus shelters for children from rural areas; they already exist in the city.
I support Senator McDonagh's call for a debate on the need for bus shelters and the whole area of school transport. School buses in rural areas are packed to capacity. There are three or four children sitting on seats designed for two people. The situation is deplorable. This area has been neglected for years.
A community group in Tipperary has proposed the building of a small community centre. All Members of this House will be interested to hear that it is in honour of a former Member, the late Senator Willie Ryan. The group has asked some Government bodies for help with funding. Perhaps the Leader could explain to the relevant Ministers that this is a gesture by a community to honour a distinguished former Member of this House.
I support the calls for a debate on school transport, particularly bus shelters. This is a suitable area for debate in this House in light of the Oireachtas joint committee report on school transport. Many serious issues are raised in that report and it would be appropriate to debate it. Buses have to meet the conditions for the national vehicle test for emissions, brakes and lights, but no such conditions have to be met for the carriage areas. Those are in deplorable condition and are not suitable for transporting children.
I support Senator Ormonde's call for a discussion on community employment schemes and the future role of FÁS. There is a good deal of misunderstanding with regard to community councils and the changes proposed in this area. I heard that a monitoring committee will examine the function of FÁS schemes and their relevance to the care of the elderly. Approximately 50% of community employment schemes and FÁS schemes in the western region focus on care of the elderly and those in hospital. There is a need for a debate on these schemes. Such a debate would be important from a community viewpoint and would be in the interest of the common good. It is important that the House should be advised of the outcome of the assessment of these schemes and that information should be made available to the public.
The Leader of the House told me two weeks ago that the Local Government (No. 2) Bill would be introduced in a month's time. I seek his reassurance on that. That would bring us up to Easter week and, enthusiastic as we are, I doubt if the Minister would come in to speak to an empty House. I assume that as soon as the House resumes after the Easter recess, the Bill will be introduced and dealt with expeditiously, given that it should have been introduced six months ago.
Senators Manning, Costello, Henry, Norris and Coghlan called for a debate on Northern Ireland. I can arrange for such a debate. I will pass on Senator Costello's view to the Minister concerned and I can try to investigate the points he made.
Senators Ormonde and Chambers called for a debate on FÁS to review its success and its future role. FÁS has made a magnificent contribution to the country. When times were bad FÁS was to the fore and it was able to keep people in employment and to boost the morale of people who could not secure employment. When many men and women lost their jobs, FÁS helped to retrain them and provided a facility for them to learn new skills. Senator Ormonde has requested such a debate on other occasions. I intend to allow as much time as the Seanad requires during the first week it resumes after the Easter recess to discuss the achievements of FÁS and its future role.
Senator Jackman called for a debate on biotechnology, Senator Farrell called for a debate on school discipline and Senator O'Meara called for a debate on parental leave and I can allow time for debates on those matters.
Senators McDonagh, Tom Hayes and Finneran called for a debate on school transport. Many speakers said in recent weeks that that the introduction of the school transport system in 1967 contributed a great deal to this country's achievements. Every boy and girl, regardless of how remote the area in which they lived, could avail of that system. It contributed to transforming the country. I can allow time for such a debate. Children in those areas served by the school transport system are fortunate. Parents in other areas, such as the area from where I come in north Westmeath, do not have access to this system and have to provide such a service.
I note Senator Tom Hayes's remarks about a former Government Chief Whip and one of the longest serving Senators, the former Senator Willie Ryan.
With regard to Senator Coogan's point about the Local Government (No. 2) Bill, it is still with the Attorney General's office and when it comes back to Government I hope it will be initiated in this House. I am sure we will be updated on it at a meeting of the General Council of County Councils in Monaghan tonight which the Minister will address. I am sure many Members of this House will be present to hear what he has to say.
Senator Costello moved an amendment to the Order of Business to delete the taking of Report Stage of No. 1. Is the amendment being pressed?
Costello, Joe.Henry, Mary.Norris, David.
O'Meara, Kathleen.Ross, Shane.
Bohan, Eddie.Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cregan, JohnFarrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Gibbons, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.
Keogh, Helen.Kett, Tony.Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.Ormonde, Ann.Quill, Máirín.