Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 26 Mar 2002

Vol. 169 No. 15

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No. a1, on the Supplementary Order Paper, motion regarding the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, to be taken without debate; No. 1, Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 2002 – Committee and Remaining Stages; No. 2, earlier signature motion on the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 2002, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Road Traffic Bill, 2001 – Second Stage, with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and Senators may share time; No. 4, Communications Regulations Bill, 2002 – Committee and Remaining Stages, not before 2 p.m; No. 5, Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill, 2002 – all Stages, with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and Senators may share time; No. 6, earlier signature motion on the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill, 2002, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 5: and No. 7, Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2002 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and Senators may share time.

We live in the real world and know that this is the last, or second last, week in the life of the Seanad. The Government clearly wants to clear the decks. The business for the next two days is heavy and six Bills are scheduled to go through all Stages. That is not the way to do business and we are falling down on the job if we allow that to happen. Last week there was a report on the future of the Seanad. If we become a rubber stamp for Government Bills, we will do great harm to our standing with the public. Will the Leader consider rescheduling some of the business for later in the week? If that means we must sit next week, so be it.

I am concerned about one particular aspect of today's business, No. 7, Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2002. All I know about the Bill is the Long Title which is on the Order Paper. The Bill will be welcomed by everybody in the House but it went into the pigeon holes only at 10.25 a.m. today. Normally, I would like the opportunity to discuss the Bill with the various disability organisations to get their expert view on it. Managing that today and coming to Second Stage this evening puts a constraint on all of us in getting a balanced and measured view of the Bill. I do not expect the Leader will change the Order of Business today, but it is important that we have as long a gap as possible between Second Stage and Committee Stage so that people can get their homework done on the Bill, which is an important Seanad Bill. Will the Leader consider that suggestion?

Regarding No. a1, it is clear that an extension of the time remit available to this commission is being sought. The commission is two years in existence and it is tackling an important issue. The issue is even more important since the television programme last week and it would be helpful if we got some indication of what work has been done, the problems involved and why extra time is needed. It is asking a lot to have the terms of reference extended from two years, which have now passed, to five years without some case being made for it. I do not doubt the judge's bona fides or the importance of the work of the tribunal but as one of the Houses that established the tribunal, we should be given an interim report on why the time period needs to be extended in addition to a report on the work of the tribunal to date.

I concur with much that was said by Senator Manning. It is a typical end of term difficulty that we have run into congestion in some of these areas. I am not saying anything other than that I recognise there are difficulties.

The House will recall that I wrote to every Member on the other side a year ago asking that we deal with No. 7. I am glad that it has been published as a Seanad Bill. However, I am not happy that we received it at 10.30 a.m. this morning and that it is to be discussed today. This issue is of huge significance and Members of the House will be expected to make cogent and important contributions to the debate. It was the subject of major discussion in the media and the last thing I want is a debate that is uninformed. It is difficult for Members to speak with comprehension on this difficult and complex legislation at such short notice. Some of us have been involved with the issue and can understand it, but it is asking a huge amount of Members. I would prefer if we dealt with these matters on a long-term basis.

I remind the Leader of commitments he made last week on two issues. He said there would be a discussion on the proposal from the all-party constitutional group from which the Independent Senators were excluded. We would like to have some input into that, if possible. As the only people in the Oireachtas who represent emigrant voters or voters who live abroad, we note with regret and resent the fact that there is a proposal, which was not discussed with us, not to include emigrant votes or an emigrant constituency in the Seanad elections despite the fact that this has been discussed before in the House. This is an example of why we need to discuss this matter. We have not had any input into it and although we may agree with many of the recommendations individually, that is one about which Members on this side of the House have reservations.

I asked last week that as soon as the report from the Attorney General on Campus Stadium Ireland is available, it should be discussed in the House. Whatever the pressure of business, the Seanad must be seen to be relevant and to discuss matters that are of relevance to the issues of the day. I ask that the Leader make time available for this debate.

I do not know why but whenever the political focus turns to operations that are run by Kerry people like Hugh O'Flaherty or Paddy Teahon, the tenets of natural justice seem to go out the window and people rush to judgment on them. I would like a discussion where we can debate the issues and if someone from Kerry is at fault, let them pay the price. However, it is appalling that their reputations are being scalped in the media without clear allegations being made or conclusions reached. I will not go into the issues involved, but I and other Members would like to go on record—

This matter is on the Order Paper under No. 11.

I know. It is important that the Leader meets the commitment he made last week and that we have an opportunity to discuss this matter and put forward our views on it because it is of huge national importance. It is not without relevance that No. 7 on the Order Paper, which relates to education for people with disabilities, also refers to the question of people with disabilities participating fully in the light of the proposal to host the Special Olympics in Ireland next year. I intend to use today's Order Paper to make reference to some of these issues. I ask the Leader to take those matters on board and to respond to the request to have a discussion on Campus Stadium Ireland and the Attorney General's report.

Perhaps the Leader of the House could let us know when we will deal with No. 11 – statements on Campus Ireland. We might add an amendment to the Order of Business to examine any possible discrimination against Kerry people. As previous speakers indicated, today's Order Paper is certainly overloaded. We are dealing with five substantial items, four of which involve all Stages and the fifth which involves Second Stage. I am not sure what the Leader intends for tomorrow but we will probably be taking the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill. That represents a very short space of time in which to have an opportunity to reflect upon the legislation.

I am delighted that, for the first time in legislation, the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill contains a formal assertion of rights. People with disabilities have been seeking legislation that would reflect the same right—

The content of the Bill can be discussed on Second Stage. It is not in order to do so on the Order of Business.

—to benefit from education as their peers. I welcome the fact that we will soon have a Bill of that nature before us. We need a greater opportunity to examine it in detail, however, and to consult on it. I do not know if we will have an opportunity to discuss the stories in today's media concerning the report on higher education that was conducted by Professor Patrick Clancy. This academic has done sterling work over a number of years in producing regular reports on third level access. Will the Leader provide such a debate? Perhaps he could get the Minister for Education and Science to agree that when we take the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill there will be an opportunity to hear statements on third level access.

It is disgraceful to have such inequality of access to third level education. For example, in Foxrock, there is a 77.1% rate of access to third level education, whereas in the inner city area I represent the corresponding rate is only 8.9%. The rate of access for County Dublin is the second lowest of all 26 counties. Those inequalities demonstrate that there is a two-tier society when it comes to educational access, yet it is claimed that Ireland is one of the best educated countries in Europe. Young people here do not have equal opportunities.

The Senator has made the case for a debate on that report.

We should not go to the teachers' conferences, and the Houses of the Oireachtas should not go into recess, without first discussing this scandal. The Leader should either arrange such a debate or get the Minister to agree that when taking the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill there is an opportunity for statements on access to education.

I wish to add my voice to the concerns expressed by Senators O'Toole, Manning and Costello regarding the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill. Traditionally, this House has always ensured that vocational interests are represented and that various groups representing the disabled can seek nominations for the Seanad. That concern should be reflected in such a manner that would allow full discussion of this issue. The Government has already done a U-turn on the Disability Bill.

The Senator can make these points in his Second Stage contribution.

It is an improvement, not a U-turn.

My concern is that the time between Second Stage and Committee Stage should be extended. The Opposition has offered the Leader an opportunity to discuss this matter by sitting next week, if he so wishes. It is vital that the matter receive full and frank discussion.

Will the Leader indicate whether he will be able to provide some time for a discussion on foreign affairs? This is one of the most important aspects of the work of the House and Members may wish to raise many issues in this regard. One issue in particular that should be raised urgently is our relationship with Uganda in light of the murder of Fr. Declan O'Toole. One of his colleagues in the same order said on radio today the two people directly involved in the murder should not be held responsible, but rather the Ugandan army. We are aware of massive corruption in Uganda, the pillaging of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the involvement in corruption of members of the family of President Museveni.

We cannot have a debate on foreign affairs on the Order of Business.

Announcements were made this week about overseas development aid. We know that massive amounts of that money are being subverted into corruption. I would like an opportunity to discuss whether we are helping to finance corrupt regimes involved in this type of activity, the murder of priests, the violation of neighbouring countries and the exploitation of their natural resources.

I join my colleagues in expressing concern about the way the business of the House is being managed. I do not blame the Leader entirely, but all parties should get together to try to negotiate with the Civil Service in the different Departments to try to find out the reason this perpetually happens. It is not good for the democratic passage of legislation through the House.

When we hear a vast amount of money is being spent by this country on overseas development aid and that this will corrupt governments we must address this problem because it is not one of Ireland Aid sending money to corrupt governments. The agency is doing an excellent job and the review group report will be delivered tomorrow. Anyone, such as Senator Norris, who has travelled to the priority countries will know that we are not sending money to corrupt governments. We are trying to aid and assist the poorest of the poor in the world.

The money should go to non-governmental organisations.

They are doing a good job. Ireland Aid, Ireland's review group and those involved in the countries in question are doing an excellent job.

The government and civil servants in Uganda are corrupt. There will be evidence to that effect in the report.

I listened to "Morning Ireland" this morning and heard the priest to whom Senator Norris referred. When it came to the sports slot, we had a blast of egoism from Des Cahill. The sporting public would prefer to hear sports news instead of what shares that man has in Manchester United. Perhaps a debate on sports coverage by RTÉ and the organisation in general would be appropriate, although I suppose it would be impossible to hold it at this stage. Early June might be appropriate.

Senators Manning, O'Toole and Coogan expressed their views on No. 7, Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2002, which is long awaited legislation. I am pleased it is being initiated in the Seanad. Of the more than 400 Bills processed by the Seanad and the 61 initiated here in the past five years, this is one of the most important. I know from the great concern of Senators over the five years that it has been long awaited. I am pleased it will come before the House before the general election.

I thank the leaders of the groups in the House, Senators Manning, O'Toole and Costello, and the Deputy Leader, Senator Dardis, for their co-operation and understanding in the great amount of business before the House this week. It is the end of term and we have a Whips' meeting scheduled for 11 a.m. tomorrow to assess progress and see how we will schedule the remainder of business. If needs be, I do not have any difficulty with sitting next week.

On No. a1, I agree with Senator Manning that a short report should be published on the extension of time sought on this matter. Senator O'Toole called for a debate on the report of the all-party review committee on the Constitution, which was published last week. I do not recall anybody other than myself mentioning this on the Order of Business last week.

I mentioned it.

I did not hear the Senator on that occasion. I will have no difficulty in having this matter discussed. Perhaps it would be a fitting way for the Seanad to conclude its business before the general election by allowing an opportunity for Senators to express their opinions on the matter, on which I also hold very strong opinions. This would be particularly appropriate following a very productive session of the Seanad which has really excelled itself in processing legislation.

Senators O'Toole and Costello called for an allocation of time to discuss the Campus and Stadium Ireland report and that of the Attorney General which is due to be discussed by the Cabinet today, particularly in view of the timeframe regarding the requirements for the Special Olympics. I gave a commitment last week on the Order of Business that I will forgo Fianna Fáil Private Members' time tomorrow night to provide time for a debate on the matter. In a radio interview which I heard this morning there was much food for thought in many of the points dealt with. I am convinced the taxpayer is getting value for money in what is being proposed.

Senators Norris and Lanigan called for a debate on foreign affairs. We were all appalled by the murder of Fr. Declan O'Toole of the Mill Hill Missionaries in Uganda last week. This is not the first time we have experienced such tragedies, including my very good friend, the late Fr. Larry Timmons from Delvin. There are far too many such incidents. I will see if time can be provided for a debate, even if it is only 45 or 50 minutes. I will discuss this at my meeting with the party leaders in the House tomorrow morning.

Order of Business agreed to.