Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Jun 2004

Vol. 177 No. 7

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No. 1, the rescinding of a motion which was referred to the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food yesterday — the reason for rescinding the order made by the Seanad is a technical difficulty which arose in connection with the item — to be taken without debate——

That is devolution for one.

——No. 2, the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Bill 2003 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; No. 3, Maritime Safety Bill 2004 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes; No. 4, Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Bill 2003 — Second Stage (Resumed), to be taken at 4 p.m. and to be adjourned to a later date at 5 p.m., with the contributions of Senators not to exceed 15 minutes each; and No. 20, motion No. 19, in the name of Labour Party Senators, to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2 p.m.

It is interesting, regarding No. 1, that the devolution of powers lasted less than 24 hours when the Department of Agriculture and Food took up the issue. However, we live in hope.

Does the Deputy Leader agree that the GAA should be commended on the report it published yesterday? The report produced many recommendations concerning the role of alcohol in sport. The GAA is the first major sporting body to have produced such a report and it is welcome. While it is easy to blame alcohol sponsorship for all our woes, including the number of teenage drinkers and the level of consumption of alcohol among young people, it must be recognised that sponsorship by small public houses and drinks companies is the financial backbone of many teams, particularly the county teams. Before we go down the road of banning such sponsorship, we should consider this issue carefully. Organisations depend on independent funding and sponsorship deals from companies such as these. It is important——

I do not know whether we have much control over these matters.

We have control of policy at a national level and we have previously debated this matter in the House. I am taking the opportunity to commend the GAA, which showed great courage in producing this report. I encourage other sporting bodies to do the same.

When will the Government provide an opportunity for the House to debate the latest report from the ESRI, which casts a long shadow over the next benchmarking deal? When will we see publication of the very first deal, which originally justified the benchmarking awards? It has been tucked away in a corner and now is the time for it to be published. Most importantly, however, the ESRI showed in its report that if moneys are available for tax cuts, they should be directed towards the indexation of the tax bands. A quarter of all taxpayers paid tax at the top rate two years ago, but now a third of all taxpayers pay at the top rate. If we are to do something positive in the area of tax reform, at the very least, there should be proper indexation of the tax bands in the next budget. This issue was not addressed in the last two budgets. Will the Deputy Leader provide time during the next week for a debate on the ESRI report and related issues?

The thing to remember about benchmarking is that it was such a success that we are now talking about benchmarking mark II. It is a bit like New York: "so good we named it twice". We might do it many more times.

The matter I want to raise has nothing to do with drinks sponsorship, although it is related to the issue of sponsorship in general. We had a discussion last night on the dormant accounts fund, which I will not reopen. There is currently a major debate taking place about sponsorship in education, including the sponsorship of schools, sporting events for young children, computers etc. Much criticism is focused on schools for seeking sponsorship from McDonald's, Coca Cola and other groups. It is time we took a stand on behalf of parents, communities, staff and principals. This is not a matter of choice for them. They are trying to provide a service and are being forced to take decisions they do not like. It is wrong to blame school communities and educational institutions for accepting sponsorship when the Government has left a gap to be filled. We should be very careful about criticising them.

On No. 1 in today's Order of Business, I reluctantly agreed yesterday to not having a debate on it until it came back from the committee. Over the past 12 years I have time and again raised in this House the issue of the approval and recognition of local abattoirs, which would facilitate traceability. My colleague, Senator Quinn, also has views on that issue. He and I have discussed this in the House on many occasions. It is not good enough that we are told there are technical difficulties. That proves there should be debate. We all know local butchers who cannot kill their own meat. We have seen the European Union spend €1 billion on the traceability of beef and the costs imposed on retailers and supermarkets in trying to ensure traceability. This is a very important step. It also deals with the issue of the cost to the consumer. I would like a debate, however brief, or even an explanation from the Department of where we are going on this. I feel very uneasy about taking this without debate.

Recently I was critical of the Fianna Fáil Party for not dealing with issues before they became public. On this occasion I must eat my words. I am delighted that members of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party have taken a strong line on the Aer Rianta Bill. I agree with them. There is no rush with this legislation, which was originally intended to make provision for the production of business plans and finished by providing for a group sitting around the table in Dublin to tell the management in Shannon or Cork how to do its business. That legislation is daft and is going nowhere. We should take our time until we get it right. There is no rush to get this through during this session. I hope we will not see it on the Order of Business until it has been put into proper and acceptable shape. We can deal with it in the autumn.

It is wonderful to see the Fianna Fáil Party rediscovering its capacity to stand up to the minority that has been running its business for the past five years. We on this side of the House offer it our full support as it rediscovers its clout.

Yesterday in Istanbul, the President of the United States, for the second time in two days, attempted to interfere with the internal business of the European Union by telling us who should be a member of the European Union. I therefore propose tabling a motion in the House calling for the granting of statehood to the District of Columbia, which is the last colony of the United States whose citizens have no Senators or members of Congress and who have no rights to representation even though they pay taxation. It is grossly impertinent of the United States to tell the European Union how to do its business when it does not allow democracy within its own shores. I propose this House should, at an early date, discuss the deprivation of democratic rights from the citizens of Columbia. The United States should put its own house in order before lecturing the rest of us.

Could we, at some stage, have a discussion in this House on fraud and the seriousness of using somebody else's signature as a way of persuading people to take any action, whether it be to sell goods, to buy goods or to vote for people? It is a criminal offence. If large sections of our political system do not understand that it requires more than an apology to make up for a criminal offence, perhaps we seriously need a debate to clarify the ethics and the impropriety of fraud.

Does the Senator remember Moscow? A few signatures were forged there too.

I would welcome an economic debate, including one on the report of the ESRI. We were told last year that benchmarking would be the ruination of the nation and the public finances. It was nothing of the kind. We have 5,000 vacancies for nurses. We have a very high turnover in certain sectors of the public service.

Social democracy is coming out in Fianna Fáil.

The alternative to benchmarking is special pay claims.

We should have proper benchmarking. Everyone gets the same. That is not benchmarking.

Let me remind the House that less than 12 months ago the IMF said: "A more extensive use of market-based instruments such as contracting out, vouchers, internal contracts and benchmarking should help generate higher efficiency and better delivery of publicly funded services." It is quite clear that this is the modern way of doing it. We do not want to go back 20 years when economists, including some of those who might have in this House——


There are many Members offering. I am not directing this at any particular Senator, but I ask Senators to be brief.

The legislation to break up Aer Rianta was passed in the Dáil last night. Perhaps the Deputy Leader would indicate whether it is intended to bring it before the Seanad before it goes into recess on Friday week. There are indications that 13 of the 15 members of the transport committee voiced disapproval of this rushed legislation and want it deferred until the autumn for further consideration. Perhaps the Deputy Leader would elaborate on the views of his party on this legislation. Will we have it before the summer recess, or will it be deferred according to the wisdom of many people?

I join Senator Brian Hayes in welcoming the GAA report on alcohol in sport. It is a very responsible document and sets a guideline for other groups in society. Anti-social behaviour is not generally associated with sport in the GAA compared to international events, of which we are all quite critical.

Senators Hayes and O'Toole have made important points on sponsorship. Many organisations rely on sponsorship to develop their programmes. If there is any suggestion that sponsorship might be sidelined through legislation the debate should be broadened because many community organisations would suffer. The document to which Senator Hayes referred would provide an opportunity for a debate in the House. Perhaps the Deputy Leader would consider having one during the next session.

I always have shivers when I hear we are not to have a debate on an issue. I have a real concern regarding the Abattoirs Act. I do not quite understand how we can deal with the Abattoirs Act 1988 (Abattoirs Licences)(Transfer of Functions) Regulations 2004 without debate. The health of our nation depends on the traceability of the food products we eat. This is so important an issue that we must ensure we do not merely hand responsibility for it over to somebody else. I am not sure what happened yesterday or why this order has been rescinded. Clearly there was a mix-up somewhere. We should ensure we do not too readily accept that an issue as important as this will be dealt with without debate.

I wish to raise the announcement during the week that the interconnector plans are set to be abandoned. Ireland's electricity costs are 10% to 20% more expensive than in the UK. Plans to build a €400 million interconnector have had to be abandoned. I am not sure why the Commission for Energy Regulation has done so, but it is something we should not allow to pass. It was only in February that the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, announced this. That it is abandoned within months of that announcement when it had such clear benefit to Ireland should not be allowed to pass without thought.

We should not allow Luas to start today without celebrating the fact that after a long and painful process it is ready. I wish it well. I spoke to Oliver Moore who was the ticket collector on the last tram in Howth back in 1957 or thereabouts. He will be on the first Luas when it starts today at 11.30 a.m. I congratulate those who have managed to get this off the ground.

I would welcome a debate, perhaps in the next session, on the whole area of sponsorship which has been prompted here this morning. I also want to compliment the GAA report on the issue. We all know about the dedication and the commitment by the GAA and the negative impact that sponsorship can have on young people's lives. It is bigger than that and we need a debate on the whole area and on how we can find another way around anti-social behaviour and under age drinking.

Farmers and farming organisations were pleased and relieved yesterday with the announcement that Teagasc had come up with sound scientific evidence showing that the nitrates directive, which would impose a limit of 170 kg. per hectare, is unduly restrictive. It also claimed that this country would be more appropriately served and could environmentally sustain a 250 kg. limit. This is vitally important. The Minister for Agriculture and Food should address this as a matter of urgency and should go back to Brussels to make the strongest possible case to have the limit increased to 250 kg, as Teagasc have at long last produced sound scientific evidence to sustain such a case.

Like other Senators, I congratulate the GAA, but I would like to reduce Senator Brian Hayes's three cheers to two. I say this because I think the GAA has changed its rhetoric without changing its behaviour. There is something anomalous when any sporting organisation that does great work for communities has to rely for funding on bar takings and so on. There has to be some means found of raising finance. In my ideal world it would have been the national lottery or the dormant accounts fund, but that seems to have gone.

In view of the publicity surrounding the report today of the Comptroller and Auditor General, can we have a debate at some stage on the project management, estimates and control of large public capital projects? I refer not simply to the roads but to the general issue.

As a follow-on from what Senator Hayes has just said, it is important that we have an urgent debate on the National Roads Authority and its workings. It is failing to deliver on all aspects of the projects under its control. Half of the projects will not be completed within the timeframe of 2006. The national development plan estimated that it would cost €7.6 billion, yet the current cost stands at €16.5 billion. One project near this House, the final stage of the M50, is 288% above budget. The Houses of the Oireachtas created the tribunals of inquiry and we now have to look into them to find out where they are going. The tribunals have generated millionaires from the legal profession. Under the auspices of the NRA, consultants are becoming the new millionaires, parallel to what is happening with the tribunals.

I am worried that many infrastructure projects, particularly those outside the Pale, will be delayed still further as a result of the total failure of the NRA to deliver. The Comptroller and Auditor General highlighted the lack of expertise of those in charge of the NRA. I appreciate that we do not have control of the NRA. We have created a monster that is now running wild. While the NRA is delivering some projects, none of them is on time, none of them is within cost and something has to be done.

I join Senator Quinn in asking the Deputy Leader to congratulate all those involved in the construction and development of the Luas. In this House and in the transport committee, there has been much debate on the difficulties that arose with the construction phase of it. It is heartening to see that a four year project has come on stream only two months behind schedule. That is a great credit to those involved with it. We should also recognise that the Leader, Senator O'Rourke, was involved in the early stages of the inception of this project and give her due recognition for that.

In view of the Leader's answer yesterday to Senator Ross, I join with Senator O'Toole and Senator Finucane in inquiring further about the Aer Rianta legislation. Given the views expressed last night, could the Deputy Leader confirm that the Government has reversed engines on this matter, that it is going back to the Cabinet for review and that, as others have suggested, the House will not see the legislation until at least the autumn?

What is intended on the Irish citizenship legislation? There have been reported comments of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the matter and the timetable now seems to be uncertain.

The 9 o'clock rule on accompanying children in hotels is very important to those of us working in tourism, particularly in certain parts of the country. Could the Deputy Leader confirm that the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism was merely flying a kite and that the position is as enunciated by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in a response to Dáil questions?

I call on the Deputy Leader to request the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on the report by the GAA, which was chaired by Joe Connolly. The debate should be held in the autumn.

While I also welcome the report, we cannot debate reports from outside the House. The House already has many debates to organise.

I do not wish to disagree with the Cathaoirleach, but it would be in order for the GAA report to be part of a broader debate on the consumption of alcohol, soft drugs, sponsorship, closing times and other issues surrounding the licensed trade. Given what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has said regarding the extension of licences for restaurants, it is important that he attend the House in the autumn to participate in a broad debate on these issues. I am sure the GAA will not mind us discussing its report. I wish to inform Senator——

We are all welcome to read the report.

Excellent. I note Senator Ryan's concern on signatures. He should consult with Pronsias De Rossa regarding a signature to Russia for £1 million for the Workers' Party, Democratic Left, which was also allegedly forged.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

To Russia with love. The Russian Communist Party, the Workers' Party and Democratic Left——

The Senator is out of order. I call on Senator Ross.

The forging of £5 notes——


There are time constraints and we are wasting time. Is Senator Ross offering?

Yes I am. The Cathaoirleach always calls on me when he wants some calm. I support those who look for a debate on the economy. The Deputy Leader might help us by advising which Minister will come in to discuss it. There is a serious internal problem among the Government parties, touched on by Senator Coghlan when he called for a debate on Aer Rianta. There is a serious issue here and the Taoiseach should attend the House for the debate. It is widely suspected that there are people acting for other members of the Government who are briefing against the Minister for Finance in an attempt to have him removed and sent to Europe. That would be a very serious issue for the economy, not just because Fianna Fáil backbenchers are screaming about wanting to spend money prematurely on such matters as benchmarking, as became known today, but also because the eyes of foreign investors are currently on events in the Government. Particularly in view of what has happened in the European Union in the last few weeks, attempts to remove Deputy McCreevy by weak-kneed backbenchers or people above him will have an adverse effect on foreign investment and we may not have so much money to spend in the years ahead if Fianna Fáil continues to behave in this way.