Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Friday, 2 Jul 2004

Vol. 177 No. 9

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No. 1, Residential Tenancies Bill 2003 — Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 2 p.m. with contributions of spokespersons at 15 minutes, other Members at ten minutes and the Minister to be called to reply no later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage.

Has the Leas-Chathaoirleach had an opportunity to discuss with the Cathaoirleach the serious matter I raised yesterday concerning two malfunctions of the House's electronic voting system? This matter demands an urgent meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I propose that the electronic voting system be suspended until such time as Members on both sides of the House have absolute confidence in it.

The Cathaoirleach is away on official business today but there will be a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges next week.

I appreciate that the Cathaoirleach is away but a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges must be convened as soon as possible to address this matter.

I note from the Leader that the State Airports Bill concerning the future of Aer Rianta and the various airport boards is not on next week's business. Is the Leader stating the Bill will not be taken in the House next week? A number of Opposition amendments in the Dáil were not reached because the Government chose to guillotine the Bill. This House has a proud record in how it orders business. The Leader is more than honourable in the way in which she provides time for debate. It would be wrong to take the Bill in its current draft in the House next week. Will the Leader confirm it is her intention that it will not be introduced to the House next week and will be left over for the autumn?

Yesterday at the Forum for Europe in Dublin Castle, one Sinn Féin representative stated that the new constitution on Europe copperfastened the democratic deficit. For that party to lecture any of us on the notion of democracy is ridiculous. Statements like this must be challenged. This small political party is neo-nationalist with connections with other neo-nationalists in western Europe. Its eurosceptic view of the future development of the EU has nothing positive to contribute. It has literally got away with murder for the past ten years with comments such as this. This is the same political party that had the neck to oppose the Maastricht treaty, which saw the introduction of the single currency, while lecturing on the need for a one island economy in Ireland. How one can have a one island economy without a single currency is beyond me. These right-wing views from this neo-nationalist outfit must be challenged. It is incumbent on all Members to challenge such comments and highlight the complete failure on the part of Sinn Féin to offer anything positive to the country's development.

I thank the Leader and her office for giving more time to the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Bill. Members on every side are delighted that it can be debated next week. I recognise the flexible approach which the Leader showed in dealing with it. All Members believe that due to the urgency of the matter the legislation's provisions should be in operation for the start of the next school year.

However, the same urgency is not afforded to the State Airports Bill. I am amazed at the push in the Lower House to get this through on Committee Stage. The Seanad will be sitting late on each night next week and I have no doubt that someone will have a bright idea of rush the State Airports Bill through the House then. Apart from the philosophical debates on this issue, there are many different views on it. Members from the other side of the House share some of the views of Members on this side. There are issues to which we all attach importance and on which we would like to articulate views. I am utterly opposed and will not offer co-operation to this legislation being rammed through next week if there is someone somewhere who feels the business can be rushed through the Dáil and then simply processed in this House without an opportunity to discuss it. I would like to be reassured on this matter. This Bill also involves legal issues, which have not been looked at closely. The Bill was quickly cobbled together and there are possible consequences, which have not been considered. I would like those dealt with and a legal response given.

I disagree in part with the views of Senator Brian Hayes regarding electronic voting. While I agree with his views on such voting outside the House, and that there are difficulties within the House which must be dealt with by means of a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, we should not suspend the system. It is a very transparent system of voting even when it goes wrong. When that happens we see it immediately and can deal with it immediately. It carries out the functions which we wanted the electronic voting for elections to do, namely to recognise and correct errors. We can do that in this House and the system is a good example of how we can marry the traditional and modern. We should not simply dump the system now, but we should be reassured in terms of how it works.

Regarding the matter raised by Senator Brian Hayes, and the statements and comments made yesterday at the Forum for Europe, Senators Ormonde, Mansergh, Mooney, myself and some others were present at the Forum and heard the statement referred to. It was one of several tendentious and erroneous comments made about the constitutional treaty and the matter of the democratic deficit. It was dealt with very effectively by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, who described that and several other statements made as absurd. He repeated that on several occasions. While I agree with Senator Brian Hayes, I would not overestimate the importance of what was said by the Sinn Féin representative. The former Deputy Alan Dukes was there and he described the EU as the largest democracy in the world. In fact the Indian democracy is bigger but nevertheless an electorate of 450 million people electing members to a parliament can hardly be described as a democratic deficit.

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Joe Walsh, to the House to prove that he has not abandoned farmers or allowed the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to railroad over the most intensive farmers in the State. Regarding the nitrates directive, he is trying to throw the national interest and good science out the window. We have been promised legislation but the Government is toing and froing with Departments contradicting each other while not accepting expert advice on the nitrates issue. A clear statement should be made. I am pleading with the Minister for Agriculture and Food to take the side of Irish farmers who are undergoing a traumatic time with so many changes being made in Europe. It is important he stands up for them and their rights.

A House debate on electricity generation would be timely. Some people may not be aware that there could be a difficulty later this year regarding the capacity of the ESB and other suppliers to meet demand. A couple of years ago, a new company, EirGrid, was set up to take over the running of the national grid. That has not yet been done. The idea was to create competition and reduce prices but it appears the opposite has happened. The electricity regulator, who appears to be answerable to nobody, now says the public service obligation must be increased by 50%, which will add 2% to 3% to the cost of each household electricity bill. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources should be asked to attend the House to discuss this matter.

I have often raised the issue of road deaths and the need for debate on the issue. I have used my Private Members' time to do that. My attention was drawn on those occasions to the statement by the National Safety Council that the main causes of road deaths are speed, the failure to use seat belts, and alcohol. It is worth reading The Irish Times today to hear of another cause, namely frustration. I did not realise that while the National Roads Authority has built many good roads it has not followed practice in other countries. The autostradas in Italy have existed for 70 or 80 years as have Germany’s autobahns. We have built very effective motorways in Ireland, of which we are proud, but there are no service stations, toilets or lay-bys on them. One can travel from Cork or Limerick to Belfast, and until one crosses the Border into Northern Ireland one cannot stop on the motorway for petrol, to go to the toilet or to get a cup of coffee. I did not realise that so I draw attention to the article in The Irish Times today by Kevin Myers.

Our road system seems to be badly designed and badly though out. Let us ensure that in attempting to debate road deaths, we take note that we can do something about them if we design our roads more effectively. There may well be a reason, but though we have only a week left before the summer recess, we should find time to ask the National Roads Authority why these roads have been built without the services on them, which should be there. The lack of such services may well be the cause of driver frustration on these roads.

I endorse all that Senator Dardis said about the discussions at the Forum for Europe yesterday. I am sure his words were reassuring for the Leader of the Opposition. We all recall the story of the emperor with no clothes. Following the robust response of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the intervention from the Sinn Féin representative, the newly elected MEP, in political terms she was left without political clothes. I am talking analogies here, and if anyone thinks otherwise I cannot account for that. The performance by the Minister for Foreign Affairs was outstanding.

Some weeks ago I raised the question of the efficiency of financial allocations to sport. Members will be aware that representatives of the Football Association of Ireland are currently appearing before the Committee of Public Accounts. They have been asked to account for the many millions of euro their sport has been allocated.

There was a report in the national newspapers yesterday that several of the sporting bodies, including the FAI, the GAA and the IRFU have made submissions to the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism regarding the €500 million development at Abbotstown. The media reports have presented a very exciting scenario whereby all the sporting organisations are contributing to this important debate about providing more sports facilities in Abbotstown and intending to relocate their headquarters there. There were also suggestions about developing medical sports science facilities, laboratories and training facilities. In light of those submissions, and because the Department, through the company set up to process those submissions, will report in the autumn, the Leader might consider it useful for this House to have a debate on sport allocations generally, since in the main it is public money which is allocated. Such a debate would give Members on all sides of the House an opportunity to suggest ways and means of improving the efficient use of the money spent.

The National Roads Authority commissioned a report on the future management of road improvement works. I understand the Minister for Transport is currently reviewing this report and I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House in the autumn to bring forward his proposals and consider the concerns expressed by this House regarding the implementation of the programme up to 2006, whereby 50% of it will not come into play. We should also ask the Minister to consider that there is no set of criteria in place regarding which projects should go ahead.

I agree with what Senator Kenneally said regarding energy. The ESB has proposed energy charge increases of 14%. I ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to consider that the low cost of energy has been very important in this country's development, and to consider the concerns of the consumer.

A month or two ago, I raised the issue of the national theatre and trying to get a new site for it. I read in today's newspaper that the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, indicated yesterday that we are no closer to a solution on the issue — he certainly did not spell out a solution. Will the Leader arrange a debate on the matter as soon as possible?

Regarding the national roads programme, I support the plans set out and the need to build new roadways connecting the major cities to Dublin. However, serious concerns have been voiced to me by people who are affected by the N9 and N10 route through County Kilkenny and County Carlow about the apparent reduction in compensation paid to people who will lose houses and land as a result of the building of these roads. There have been reports in recent days that the cost of building these roads is spiralling out of control. We are also aware that the cost of the land is a relatively small portion of the cost of road building. I would hate to think that those who will be affected most, people whose lives will be changed forever as a result of motorways being built right beside their homes, or people whose homes will be removed, will be the ones who will suffer while we continue to pay large fees to consultants and others involved in drawing up these schemes.

On the issue of roads, while I fully support Senator Quinn's proposal, we should bear in mind that we have only had substantial lengths of motorway in the country for 12 months. It is clearly the next logical step to be taken.

I agree with Senator O'Toole on the issue of electronic voting. We have a verification trail in the House and, therefore, it is an entirely different situation from others.

Senator Bannon raised the question of the nitrates directive. I am confident the Minister for Agriculture and Food will work out a pragmatic rather than a dogmatic solution which will meet the needs of the country and farmers. In that context, I congratulate the Minister on obtaining agreement in Brussels to give us the power to require the labelling of beef in pubs and restaurants. I hope the Department of Agriculture and Food will deploy the occasional inspector to verify this and not just leave it to the IFA.


Hear, hear.

I support Senator Bannon's request for the Minister for Agriculture and Food to come to the House. It should be put on record that in 1992 the Departments of the Environment and Agriculture and the IFA, representing farmers, signed up to a document, Good Farming Practice. It was accepted at the time that 170 kg. per hectare would be the target. The country has ignored that directive for the past 12 years. I understand Ireland has been taken to court in this regard and lost the case. Therefore, we have no choice but to ratify the directive. The Minister assures us that he can get a derogation on the directive and I am sure he will do so. He has succeeded in everything else he put his mind to so I am sure he will also succeed in this instance.

I wish to raise the issue of the economy. Two nights ago, during Private Members' time, Senator Ryan lambasted the Minister for Finance, stating that in his experience he was the worst Minister for Finance the country ever had. The figures published yesterday by the CSO and the Department belie that fact.

Is the Senator back on side today?

I compliment the Minister for Finance. All the money the Opposition parties would like to spend is being collected by the Minister for Finance.

The Senator has been criticising the Minister for Health and Children.

I hope there will be a debate on the issue in the early autumn. God help us all if there was an alternative Government and the Labour Party took over the Department of Finance.

The Senator is looking for a move.

The Senator's application must have been refused last night.

I commend the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the passage of the citizenship referendum by a margin of four to one. The early indications are that the number of asylum seekers has fallen by a further 50% since the referendum was passed and prior to legislation coming before the House. When the Opposition parties are asked to negotiate the terms of reference for the legislation, I hope they will do so wholeheartedly.

I share in the calls for a debate on the economy. It would give us an opportunity to thank the Minister for Finance for the excellent work he has done.

Fianna Fáil should thank the electorate for giving it a resounding result in the local and European elections.

We should reflect on where we were and where we are now. Genius is in the simple things. Giving money back to the business community and the public has created a vibrant economy. Money has been put into the national pensions fund for our future.

What about Punchestown?

Senator Hanafin, without interruption.

The Minister has ensured the economy is on a sound footing, which is why countries around the world have tried to copy the Irish model.

There is a global upturn.

We do not give enough credit to those to whom it is due, which is the Government and the Minister.

It is getting like the Kremlin here today.

It is difficult to follow that. Senator Brian Hayes asked about e-voting. There will be a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges next week. It is an urgent matter, which we must get right. The Senator also asked about the State Airports Bill. I understand Report and Final Stages will be taken on Tuesday. We have a full agenda next week but I do not see how we can take Bills at 10 p.m. I do not intend to operate that type of regime. We have worked very hard this term so we will see how the matter develops.

Given what Senators said about Sinn Féin, it appears to have been a right put down, and rightly so. Well done to the Minister, Deputy Cowen. In Sinn Féin's mind, the proposed EU constitution would allegedly copperfasten democratic deficits. That representative will learn some difficult lessons when she travels across the water. The question was answered amply by the Deputy Leader. It is good to air the matter because, the more it is aired, the more shallow the argument appears.

Senator O'Toole asked about the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Bill. I understand an education council is being set up to deal with the issue of children with special needs. The Bill is a fine one. I understand 700 amendments were tabled and the Bill is completely different from when Second Stage was taken in the Dáil. The Minister has done a fine job on the Bill. He asked the Seanad to deal with it so that the children, particularly those with clear needs, will have their needs addressed in September. I spoke to all the leaders on the matter because I regard it as very urgent legislation.

The Senator asked about the State Airports Bill. I cannot see how we can fit it into our schedule for next week. However, the matter will evolve and we will see what the outcome will be. As of now, the schedule is as it stands. We will take the Barron report and the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Bill next week, which must be dealt with urgently. Committee and Final Stages of approximately seven other Bills must be taken. We will have a very busy week, beginning on Tuesday morning and sitting late in the evening. As I stated, the matter will evolve but, as of now, the schedule is set.

Senator Dardis spoke capably on the subject of the Forum for Europe. With regard to Senator Bannon's comments on the nitrates directive, I could not provide as good an answer as that provided by Senator Scanlon.

Hear, hear.

Going back to 1992, the Senator explained the matter clearly and I thank him for it.

The Senator should tell it to the farmers of County Sligo.

That is not the point. He laid out the facts.

I thought none of them was left in County Longford.

Senator Bannon is beginning to like the role the Leader recently gave him.

I thought that. Senator Kenneally referred to electricity generation and pricing, and issues regarding the electricity regulator. I will ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to come to the House. It is clear this will not be possible next week but it can be dealt with in the autumn.

Senator Quinn referred to the lack of motorway services such as lay-bys, petrol stations or toilets which are necessary on long journeys. I have not read Kevin Myers' column today. He is sometimes annoying but always an enjoyable read. There is general consensus that we want a debate on the NRA. There will not be time to have this next week but it can be slotted in early in the autumn.

Senator Mooney also referred to the Forum for Europe, and said that the Sinn Féin representative had been left with no political clothes. The Senator also discussed the financing of sport. I have recently discussed with the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, the matters of the Abbey Theatre and the funding of the FAI, GAA and IRFU, particularly with regard to Abbotstown. Early next week, I will agree a time with the Minister for the autumn. Senator Brennan called for a debate on the NRA which will be lined up for after the recess.

Senator Phelan called for a debate on the arts. As I said, I met with the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, and he is keen to come to the House and could deal with both of the issues referred to. The Senator also mentioned the cost of land which, due to the agreements worked out, has apparently risen to 14% of the total cost of the national roads programme. The NRA debate will highlight such matters. Senator Mansergh also referred to the roads programme and stated that he agreed with Senator O'Toole on the efficacy of e-voting. Senator Scanlon gave us a tour de force for which I thank him.

Let us hope he is the next Minister for Agriculture and Food. The other fellow has been there for 15 years or so.

It is 18 years. Senator Morrissey was in great form and I fully agree with his strong praise for the Minister for Finance. The calls for an early Santa Claus in June or July are foolish. Without the current Minister for Finance, our economy would not now be the shining light of Europe.

The Leader should not go too far.

Is the Minister perhaps preparing to shine his light in Europe?

No. The Senator is very funny today. Senator Morrissey also praised the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform with regard to the citizenship referendum. I have always said of the Minister that he is prepared to come to the House when we ask him to. He gives fair hearing to the points of view of Senators and tries to introduce amendments. Unlike others who want to rush in and out, he comes and stays.

Senator Hanafin joined in the chorus about the Minister for Finance and the economy, which is on a sound footing. It would be totally wrong to have Christmas in June. We should be glad to have the current Minister and glad of his and the Government's work. Senators may have heard the Taoiseach's dress sense praised this morning on radio. It was said that his hair and clothes were lovely. Where does that leave us?

It is sure to wipe 5% off the Stock Exchange.

He is better off than the Sinn Féiner.

Order of Business agreed to.