Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 18 Apr 2000

Vol. 163 No. 1

Order of Business.

Today's Order of Business is No. 2, Intoxicating Liquor Bill, 2000 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed 15 minutes.

I agree to the Order of Business. In view of the fact that two senior members of the coalition parties, Senator Quill and Deputy O'Kennedy, now favour the registration of lobbyists' interests, with either a Bill or a discussion on it, I ask the Leader of the House to arrange, perhaps for early after Easter, to take the motion in the names of Senator Costello and Senator Ross.

I second the proposal, if it is put in such form, that we would deal as soon as possible with the motion that has been put down in our names. I note that Mr. Ken Livingstone has declared that if elected Mayor of London he will go a step further and ban all lobbyists within the city of London. We do not propose to go that far but we propose to regulate the process.

He hardly speaks for the Labour Party.

There is not too much open water between us.

I ask the Leader if he will facilitate us, on Thursday perhaps, with a debate on Northern Ireland. The second anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is on Friday next. The British Prime Minister is visiting Northern Ireland and Dublin today and will meet the Taoiseach. It would the most appropriate time for the debate. I know the Leader of the House has agreed to hold such a debate at some point but this would be the most appropriate time. There are so many matters to be teased out with the expectation of an impetus towards getting the Executive together again, the Patten report on policing, decommissioning and the Human Rights Commission.

I ask the Leader of the House if legislation is proposed in the context of the very damning report of the Forum on Youth Homelessness. It shows that the systems in place through the various agencies are not just ineffective but very often make the situation worse and seem to be designed more to facilitate the employees than those who are availing of the services. Are there any legislative proposals in that regard?

It would be useful to have a debate on Northern Ireland. I realise that it may not be possible tomorrow for logistical reasons but at the earliest possible opportunity we should discuss this issue. We should welcome the initiative being taken today by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who will be meeting the Taoiseach. We should commend the efforts of the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister and all associated with trying to put the peace process back on track. In particular, it would be very desirable if Sinn Féin could give a clear and unequivocal commitment that it is prepared to decommission within the timeframe of the Good Friday Agreement in order that the Assembly can be put back in place and that the normal democratic institutions of Northern Ireland can be restored.

Will the Leader of the House enlighten the House regarding his knowledge of the Government's intention on the already announced partial flotation of Aer Rianta and whether the hotels in the Great Southern Group will be involved? Will the Leader update the House on the Government 's intentions on the much talked about single regulatory authority for financial institutions, about which we have heard very little in the recent past?

In the past year, we have had statements on the Irish language on several occasions. I regret that a number of local authorities are still erecting signs in English only. I ask the Leader to convey our concerns on this to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, or Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív. There should be a regulation and it should be made mandatory on local authorities to erect bilingual signs.

I have previously raised in this House my next point, which pertains to the control of litter—

Senator Glynn should find a more appropriate way of raising these matters. These matters are not appropriate to the Order of Business unless the Senator is seeking a debate on the litter problem, although we had such a debate very recently.

I would not ask for one so soon after the last one. I defer to the Cathaoirleach's ruling. I will raise this at another time another way.

I ask that we invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Walsh, to debate the Noxious Weeds Act, legislation that stands in our Statute Books but is not enforced except on very rare occasions.

I ask the Leader to consider having a debate in the near future on the prison system. The Dublin Chamber of Commerce yesterday published a report on the efficiency of the prison system which is quite startling and worrying. I wish to give an idea of why I urge a debate on this matter. In the European Union the average is one prison officer for every 2.5 prisoners, whereas in Ireland, at the time of this report, there were 3,100 prison officers for 2,900 prisoners. It seems highly inefficient and we would benefit from having attention drawn to this. The other serious aspect is the amount of overtime being earned, £14 million, at the same time as this inefficiency in numbers. I urge the Leader to find time in the near future for an urgent debate on the prison system.

We are nearing the end of this session and I petition the Leader of the House to put two items on the agenda as soon as is possible in the next session. One is a matter that has been raised consistently by Senator Coogan, whose calls for a debate on the problem of waste management I repeat and reinforce. Every parish from Cork to Dublin has erected a sign, "No Dump Here". It is a very useful exercise because I have learned the placenames of parishes I had not known existed, not being too good at geography in my day. The country is on the verge of anarchy at present. We produce 80 million tonnes of waste every year.

We cannot discuss the matter now.

I understand that but I am merely trying to stress the urgency. We need to have national leadership, national consensus and movement towards a solution. For that reason I ask the Leader to arrange a debate early in the new session.

The second item is education. We need to debate specific elements in education, particularly teacher training and the scarcity of science teachers. We must try to come up with solutions to that scarcity, because science graduates no longer want to go into teaching but prefer to go into industry. This House is particularly suited to seeking solutions to such problems.

In view of the laws on defamation and libel, will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make a statement on recent events in Dublin where radio advertisements about a prisoner resulted in that prisoner's tragic death?

I also seek a debate on the media and advertising. A young man recently committed suicide because he could not take any more publicity. References by the media to people by their nicknames is also to be condemned, as is the harassment of people when they are paying a price in Mountjoy Prison and elsewhere.

Senator Doyle has already called for a debate on this matter.

The way the media operate at present is scandalous, particularly when it has come to advertising newspapers at the expense of a young life.

I thank Senator Quill for her continued support. Every time I seek a debate on this matter she is 100% behind me. I have a motion on this matter and, as the Minister has quite a number of experts in this area advising him, he should come to the House and give his views on gasification and other matters. We might then be able to make a valid judgment based on as many facts as possible. Each local authority should decide whether it wants to use incineration or other methods of waste management, but local authorities should at least have an informed debate before making such a decision and the Minister should bring these issues before the House.

I support Senators Coogan and Quill in their call for a debate on waste. I agree with Senator Quill when she says there is no leadership from the Government on waste management and control and I hope the Leader arranges a debate on this at the earliest possible date.

The Leader should also ask the Minister for Finance to do something about petrol prices. The price of crude oil came down recently, but we have not seen prices lowered at the pumps. There is a significant variation in petrol prices in different parts of the country and I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance to regulate prices.

Can the Leader get information from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the growing trend of buying websites in people's names? These sites are abused by putting disgusting material under people's names, including that of the Taoiseach. Are we helpless in this matter? Can one's character be taken by somebody paying a small sum of money for a website and then demanding $1 million to sell it back?

Senator Ridge can find a more appropriate way to raise this matter.

I thank the Chair for his guidance as always and I am aware of the rules and regulations, but this matter requires a response. Nobody seems to have an answer.

Will the Leader arrange a debate after the recess on the distribution of natural gas throughout the country? I understand that the preliminary proposals in this regard exclude large sections of the country from the network. If industrial development opportunities are to be extended to the north-west and west the provision of gas lines is important. The Minister should come to the House in order that we can outline our views on the matter. She could then take those views to Bord Gáis, Enterprise Oil or other exploration companies.

And on how the licences were given away.

Senator Manning called for a debate on the registration of lobbyists after the recess. I will look at that and see what can be done. Senators Costello and Dardis called for a debate on Northern Ireland, but we have three Bills before the House on Thursday, which is Holy Thursday, so it will be very difficult to meet that request.

I join with Senators in wishing the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister and the other leaders in Northern Ireland well in the tasks ahead, particularly in the light of John Hume's statement. He has been involved for the past 30 years and is seriously concerned by the vacuum that has been left by inactivity. I welcome the visit of the British Prime Minister to Northern Ireland and Dublin and I hope some good comes of his efforts and those of the Taoiseach. Given that this week is the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, we hope a settlement is reached that will bring a long and lasting peace. In fairness to the men of violence, the guns have been silent, which is an indication that they are serious in seeking a peaceful solution. That is welcome, despite the fact that other issues will have to be addressed.

Senator Coghlan raised the partial flotation of Aer Rianta. I do not have any advance knowledge of this, but if he has perhaps he could inform his colleagues on the Order of Business tomorrow morning. I also take his point on having a single regulatory authority and I will see what I can do to address this matter.

Senator Glynn called for a debate on the Irish language and we arrange such a debate once a year, but I will see what I can do to address his request. Senator Quinn called for a debate on the prison system and I have no difficulty in allowing time for this. Senators Quill, Coogan and Burke called for a debate on waste management. We had a thorough and lengthy debate on litter and waste management in general recently. However, I was a member of the Joint Committee on Sustainable Development in the previous Seanad and the Oireachtas cannot discuss this issue often enough. I will allow time for this debate in the next session.

Senator Quill called for a debate on education, teacher training in particular, and I will allow time for that debate. Senators Farrell and Doyle called for a debate on the media and advertising, as well as expressing their concerns about the dreadful problem of suicide which faces society. I will pass on the Senators' views and arrange a debate on this issue. Deputy Neville played a major part in raising awareness of this matter while a Member of this House.

Senator Burke called on the Minister for Finance to make a statement on the price of petrol and diesel. I do not know what prices are like in the west, but they have come down in the midlands. Perhaps that reduction is on its way to the west for Holy Week.

Senator Ridge raised the issue of websites. We will debate the Electronic Commerce Bill tomorrow and perhaps she could raise the issue then. I take the Senator's point and know she is very concerned about this.

Senator Finneran called for a debate on the gas grid and the even distribution of supply throughout the country. This is a reasonable request, particularly with regard to the hard pressed areas of counties Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo and Longford which Senator Finneran represents. I will allow as much time as required to discuss this in the next session.

Order of Business agreed to.