Thursday, 20 June 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. b1, Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill, 2002 – Second Stage (resumed); No. c1, Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Bill, 2002 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.
Mr. R. Bruton: I am sure the Tánaiste will have read this morning the criticism of the Institute of Engineers in Ireland of the transition year programme in schools saying that it leads to a reduction in standards in the leaving certificate and an erosion of our capacity to develop the scientific basis of the economy. Does she agree that there is growing evidence, of which this is more, of the need for a radical overhaul in our education policy in view of the fact that the system is failing many young people? Almost 1,000 children fail to enter secondary school at all, one in six leave without an adequate level of literacy for the modern economy, and 20% of the cohort of children do not sit the leaving certificate. Would the Tánaiste agree that An Agreed Programme for Government fails to consider the radical restructuring of education policy that is needed to address this matter? Will she take on board the need for radical reform?
Mr. Quinn: Regarding the value of transition year, will the Tánaiste agree that for the vast majority of young people in second level education it is a unique opportunity to explore options and develop their overall maturity as distinct from a narrow application of academic excellence or study, that part of the problem is that too many young people are under pressure to select a course which they subsequently find to be unsuitable in whatever third level college they attend, and that we have a very high and undocumented drop-out level of students in the first year of third level education because of a combination of academic and financial, especially accommodation, pressures? Could she indicate whether the Department of Education and Science and the Government intend to review the matter of  people dropping out of third level education on the one hand and, on the other, their failure to get the necessary qualifications in the first instance?
The Tánaiste: I have not read the article in this morning's paper containing the comments of the Institute of Engineers, but I share the views expressed by both Deputies that we need constantly to examine our education system to ensure it is equipping our young people with the skills required not just for the world of work but for their own personal development. I share Deputy Quinn's view that young people are under enormous pressure to secure a place in third level education. A good education is a passport to a good job and good prospects.
Our education system remains one of the main attractions for investment to take place here. It is rated either first or second by most investors as the reason they chose Ireland. There is much emphasis on this in the programme for Government and a number of reforms were made in recent years. We must continue to customise our education system to make sure it meets our needs, particularly those of young people who drop out of the formal system at a very early stage. The new Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Dempsey, proved to be a reforming Minister in the Department of the Environment and Local Government and I believe he will apply the same reforming zeal—
Mr. R. Bruton: The Tánaiste is perpetuating this self-congratulatory approach to our education system when the reality is that one in six children leave school without an adequate level of literacy. Will she agree we have what might be described as a dinosaur in the Department of Education and Science in that it is highly centralised, it stifles innovation and is not properly geared to the needs of a modern and scientific community? Will she agree we need to institute serious reform in the Department, which is not in any way reflected in the timid programme for Government her party and colleagues in Government offered the people for the next five years?
The Tánaiste: I do not accept that. Ireland has a much higher participation of those under the age of 35 in third level education than is the norm in the OECD. There has been an enormous change in recent years. I accept that too many people are leaving education early. Perhaps economic success has acted as an attraction for people to take what is unfortunately a short-term option of going into the world of work at a very early age and not acquiring a skill. Everything we are doing in lifelong learning, training and education  is very much geared towards encouraging people to continue to participate in formal education and in some of the training schemes that have been customised to the needs of the disadvantaged in particular. I agree we cannot take our eye off the ball in relation to these matters. Education is important. We have terrific schools and teachers and we need to do more as a society to encourage young people to stay in education. We need to encourage families in that regard. In communities where there is no culture of education perhaps we need to do an awful lot more to promote the benefits of continuing in education.
Mr. Quinn: Last night the country watched the “Panorama” programme, which was very disturbing in the footage it presented and the revelations it put on the screen, some of which had been referred to previously but which were brought forward in a stark manner. Will the Tánaiste agree that in the murder of the solicitor Pat Finucane there is now substantial prima facie evidence of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries? Will she agree, notwithstanding the appointment of the retired Canadian judge, Mr. Peter Cory, to investigate a number of such murders, in respect specifically of the Pat Finucane murder there is now no longer need for delay and the authorities should move to immediately establish a full and comprehensive inquiry into his murder? Will she, on behalf of the Irish people, take this matter up through the Irish Government with the British Government?
Mr. R. Bruton: I join Deputy Quinn in expressing concern at the extremely disturbing evidence that there may have been collusion, leading to the death of the solicitor Pat Finucane. Will the Tánaiste indicate to the House what commitments the Government received from the British Government that the review being conducted by the Canadian judge will result in an inquiry if, as is now very clear, prima facie evidence is in place that an inquiry is warranted? Has the Government received commitments that this will occur? Will the Government have access to the findings of that preliminary review in order that a proper and balanced judgment can be taken that is fair to all communities?
The Tánaiste: I share the views expressed by Deputies Quinn and Bruton. It has been the view of the Government for some considerable time that there should be a public inquiry. The allegations that formed the basis of the programme last night were submitted to the Government in a file given by members of the family in 1999. At that time the Government called for a public inquiry. What was agreed at Weston Park was that a judge of international standing would be appointed to examine this and other cases. The Taoiseach met Judge Cory on 11 June. The judge intends as a matter of urgency to deal first with the Finucane case. Both Governments are committed to having a public inquiry, if that is what  the judge recommends. It remains the position of the Irish Government that there exists a case for a public inquiry in relation to the circumstances surrounding the death of Pat Finucane.
Mr. Quinn: I welcome what the Tánaiste said, but in light of what has been put into the public domain in a comprehensive way and will be followed up no doubt by the second part of the programme on Sunday, will she raise with the relevant authorities in Britain that Judge Cory, as a matter of priority, should examine the Finucane case following which he must surely come to the conclusion that a public inquiry is necessary? If we are to maintain trust, faith and belief in the peace process and the security system both sides of the Border, it is absolutely essential that such an inquiry proceed as quickly as possible. Will the Tánaiste give an undertaking that the Government will raise this matter with the British Government and Judge Cory to prioritise his investigation into the Finucane case and make a recommendation leading to a public inquiry?
The Tánaiste: The Taoiseach raised with Judge Cory when he met him last Tuesday, 11 June, the need to deal with this case as a matter of priority, and I understand that will happen. It is important that it happens. The allegations contained in the programme were the basis on which the file given to the Government was passed on. That is why since then the Government has called for a public inquiry. It is important that we should have one, but we must await the publication of the Stevens report and the outcome of the deliberations of Judge Cory. I hope that will happen very quickly.
Mr. Stanton: With reference to the useless Bill put forward yesterday by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and pronouncements by the Minister for Health and Children of concern about alcohol use, does the Government propose to introduce legislation to limit or regulate the advertising of alcohol, in particular in relation to sport?
The Tánaiste: In relation to the second matter, no legislation is planned. In relation to the abuse of alcohol, the Minister for Health and Children and others have expressed their about this matter for some time. It is one the Government intends to examine, but we have not made a decision in relation to specific measures. Substance abuse generally and particularly the abuse of alcohol in our society by young and old is something that must concern us all. In addition to what it does to public health, it places enormous financial and other pressures on our health system and causes  major problems for families in our community, as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said yesterday. These matters will be examined, but no commitments have yet been made on the matters raised by the Deputy.
Mr. Quinn: I understand the Government will publish legislation next week to deal with a second referendum on the Nice treaty. Is it the Government's intention when the Dáil resumes in September to take, in conjunction with this legislation, the European Union Bill, passed on Second Stage in the previous Oireachtas and which was recommitted to the Order Paper as it deals with some of the concerns about the democratic deficit expressed during the campaign?
The Tánaiste: Yes, the Deputy is right. The Government will publish the Referendum Bill next week to provide for the enlargement of the European Union. In agreement with the parties in the House, that debate will not take place until September when the Dáil will be recalled early for that purpose. I do not think it was the intention to take the Bill to which the Deputy referred, but I am sure that can be discussed between the Government Whip and the party Whips.
Mr. Sargent: My question relates to the programme for legislation. I ask the Ceann Comhairle to understand that it is difficult for the Green Party, Sinn Féin and the Independents to remain in order when one of the few opportunities we have to contribute is on the legislation programme. However, we do not have a new legislative programme as yet. At this point we are looking at legislation which may be promised. Will the Tánaiste ensure we have an early or interim legislative programme that might make it clear on the Order of Business what it is we are asking to be published? There is no consensus as to how the House does its business because the larger parties have not ensured that the smaller parties can be facilitated. It is important that the Oireachtas be given the respect to which it is entitled.
Mr. Sargent: It is not a Second Stage speech. I am simply saying that we do not have the wording of the declaration on neutrality, we do not have any arrangement with the smaller parties, we do not have a legislative—
Mr. R. Bruton: What is the state of the proposal for legislation to reform the Road Trans port Act, 1932 which was promised by the Government in 1997 and again in 2002? The Minister is aware that there has been no serious bus competition in Dublin and the number of bus passengers in Dublin is in decline.
Mr. M. Higgins: Will the Tánaiste inform us about the completion of the legislative programme that arises from the Good Friday Agreement? Recently, a monitoring committee in Geneva in relation to human rights rejected Ireland's suggestion that it could not make social and economic rights justiciable. It had made a previous conclusion in 1999. In view of the Good Friday Agreement and the British legislation in relation to rights and its commitment, is it the intention of the Government to bring forward human rights legislation that will ensure the same level of human rights across the same spectrum will be available to all citizens in all parts of the island? When will such legislation be introduced?
Mr. J. Higgins: The language equality legislation is to guarantee the rights of citizens to do business with State bodies as Gaeilge más mian leo and to help expedite the setting up of Gaelscoileanna. Will the Tánaiste bring it forward as a matter of urgency? Also, will the Minister for Education and Science intervene to prevent the sacking of the principal of Gaelscoil Dún Bóinne?
Mr. Hogan: In view of rising costs in our economy will the Tánaiste indicate, in relation to promised legislation, when she will bring forward proposals regarding deregulation of professional and other services?
Mr. Stagg: Deputy Quinn raised the issue of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1982, with the Taoiseach on Tuesday and with the Tánaiste yesterday. An indication was given that legislation might be introduced on an emergency basis to prevent protected tenants from being evicted during the summer when their protection runs out. I understand the heads of Bills were prepared last February but have not gone beyond that. Has the matter been examined and will the slot for this legislation be taken up and the legislation be brought in next week to ensure the protection of tenants?
The Tánaiste: I checked that since yesterday and I understand that regulations are to be drafted under the Rent Restrictions Act to protect those affected by the changes coming on 26 July. Perhaps I will ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to communicate with the Deputy in relation to that matter.
Mr. Hayes: In view of the fact that incineration is part of the programme for Government is it the Government's intention to incinerate the growing amount of meat and bonemeal stacking up all over the country?
The Tánaiste: The Government gave a commitment to build a world class national stadium in the programme for Government. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism will bring proposals to Government shortly and I must await those before I can comment.
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