Leaders’ Questions.

Wednesday, 5 May 2004

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 584 No. 6

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Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Last weekend saw an unparalleled level of security and policing on the streets of Dublin. The Government had an obligation to ensure the security and safety of our citizens and visitors from Europe. The ceremonies were very important. The duty of the Government to enforce law and order applies not only when we have visitors from Europe, but for the other 51 weekends of the year also. An MRBI survey published today shows how unsafe Dublin’s streets are after dark. Of every five Dubliners, four do not believe the streets of the city are safe to walk on at night. The level of fear is highest among 15 to 17 year olds, of whom 94% are afraid to venture out after dark. Of this group, half know someone who has been attacked in the city centre in the past 12 months.

Can the Minister for Defence explain on behalf of the Government why resources have not been provided to ensure that the streets of Ireland’s capital city are safe at night? Can he explain why 86% of Dublin people believe the Garda presence on our streets is insufficient or offer them any consolation? Does not this statistic point to the broken promise the Government made through the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is absent from the House, that 2,000 extra gardaí would be provided? Of these, 121 have now been trained. Is this not devastating in its implications for public safety and level of fear felt by visitors and citizens of the capital? What does the Minister have to say about that?

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  I thank Deputy Kenny for his complimentary remarks on the security services provided over the weekend. I compliment the Garda, the Army, the OPW and everybody else who was involved in ensuring that a major international event passed off with the minimum of difficulty. It augurs very well for the capacity of our security services to deal with whatever lies ahead in this area.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  Time is up.

[1362]Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  What about the battle of the Navan Road?

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Naturally, we are all concerned with the problems of crime which affect our society. Garda strength is at an all-time high.

Mr. English: Information on Damien English  Zoom on Damien English  So is the population.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  The commitment given was to be fulfilled over the life-time of the Government. The facilities at the Garda College in Templemore are operating at full stretch to train gardaí. We have invested significantly in the reform of the prison system and the criminal justice system and undertaken unprecedented criminal law reform. There is no room for complacency.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  That is good.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  The master of the understatement.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  We must be alive to the problems we face and the need to continue to make the maximum resources available to the Garda to allow gardaí make our streets and our country as safe as possible.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Where are the 2,000 extra gardaí?

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  On the basis of our figures, the level of crime is down.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  Can the Minister count?

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  However, it remains at an unacceptably high level.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Last weekend, there were 5,000 gardaí on the streets of Dublin. On St. Patrick’s day there were 700 gardaí on duty in Dublin. It is clear that when the Garda is provided with the necessary resources, it can effectively police the city. Responsibility for these matters rests fairly and squarely with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is not in the Chamber. If Dubliners cannot enjoy the streets of this city after dark, that responsibility is not being met. Incidents of unprovoked violence on the streets of the capital have risen by 300% to 400% in recent years. It is a frightening figure that 94% of 15 to 17 year olds will not venture out after dark. Some 78% of people are frightened of the city at night, 49% of teenagers know a crime victim, 86% of people want more Garda patrols and 56% blame alcohol abuse for violence and unprovoked attacks.

The words of Dublin citizens were published today about the places they would love to walk in and enjoy as facilities on a year-round basis. That is not possible due to what Dubliners say are strange people who hang around, the level of drunkenness in the city centre, dodgy people and [1363]potential drug dealers who lurk in different areas. This is the Government’s responsibility.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  What ever happened to zero tolerance?

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Clearly, it represents another broken promise by a Government which told everybody that it would put 2,000 extra gardaí on the streets but has failed completely to protect citizens, including the young men and women of this city, from thugs, villains, unprovoked attacks and violence promoted by alcohol and substance abuse. It is time the Government answered to the people in respect of what it promised to do, but failed miserably to carry out.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Hear, hear.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Provisional figures for 2003 show a cumulative decrease of 2% compared with the corresponding figures for 2002.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Is that what they are having the Minister read out?

Mr. J. O’Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  The figures in 2002 were up.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Members opposite should listen. Figures for murder are down by 12% on 2002. There has been a decrease of 21% in the number of assaults causing harm, which is particularly welcome as it runs counter to a worrying trend in 2001 and 2002. Public order and intoxicating liquor legislation enacted by the Government has greatly enhanced the power of the Garda to deal with public order offences.

Mr. English: Information on Damien English  Zoom on Damien English  And made no difference to anybody.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  A new Garda powers Bill will be introduced in the current session to provide substantial additional powers to gardaí investigating serious crime. The Garda will continue to target the menace of organised crime, particularly through the use of the Criminal Assets Bureau and other new initiatives.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Who prepared the Minister’s script?

Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell  Zoom on Olivia Mitchell  That will stop them.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  It is unfair of Deputy Kenny to present the city in that manner.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Hear, hear.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  That is what the people are saying.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  There are problems but the greater part of the city is free of crime and people are free to walk about.

[1364]Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Where does the Minister live?

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Members can rest assured that the Government and the Garda Síochána will do everything possible to keep it that way.

(Interruptions).

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  It is not that kind of city. The Opposition can present it that way but it is not like that.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  One is only safe inside the gates of this House.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  Two years on, where are the extra 2,000 gardaí?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Rabbitte, without interruption, please.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  The dodgy characters must be Fianna Fáil canvassers.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Allen’s leader put the case on behalf of his party. It is not necessary for the Deputy to contribute.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, must live in Dublin 4 where the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform lives.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputies Burton and Howlin should allow their leader to put his question without interruption, please.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  So much for zero tolerance.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  There is much provocation, a Cheann Comhairle.

Can the Minister for Defence name a single private company in this country, with the possible exception of AIB, that would continue to employ a manager who frittered away €52 million? Can he give any such example? Does he believe the shareholders of a company would continue with the same board of directors that frittered away €52 million? Can the Minister advance one example in that regard?

I note the Minister’s female spokesperson is in the media today stating that only €42 million has been frittered away on e-voting machines, not €52 million as suggested by the Opposition. In reply to a parliamentary question tabled by Deputy Gilmore on 29 April, the Minister stated:

[1365]Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  That is still going on.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  He went on to state, “An additional 300 voting machines were ordered on 14 January 2004.” That amounts to €51.4 million or €52.4 million, regardless of what the Government spokespersons says. Is the Minister aware the advertisements are still running?

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  Were they paid for?

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Yesterday, Deputy Howlin took part in a radio programme to try to encourage awareness of electronic voting among the electorate in Wexford——

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The interview was on South East Radio.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  ——and there was a break in the programme while it ran the advertisements. I note the advertisements are still running on E4 which ran them last night following “Friends”. Are the 300 additional machines ordered on 14 January included in the €52 million? Is there an opt-out clause in the contract with Q4, the contract which provides the lads in Fianna Fáil with €5 million to encourage awareness of the system?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy’s time has concluded.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I would also like clarification on the €8 million for warehousing and security. Will the Minister clarify if that €8 million will be in addition to the €52 million?

Deputy Allen made a good suggestion yesterday when he said the machines might be warehoused in Punchestown which is not being used for any other purpose. It would be a good place to store them.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Rabbitte should give way to the Minister.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  If the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, was free he could act as security man at Punchestown.

Mr. McGinley: Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should be stored with them.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  Perhaps then he would do something useful for a change.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Rabbitte is abusing Standing Orders.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Taoiseach have firmly indicated that the investment in the machines is a long-term investment covering a 20-year lifespan.

[1366]Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  The money is being invested in Fianna Fáil.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  I hope that, in time, when the commission recommendations have been dealt with, the people will be provided with the opportunity to use a modern system in terms of how they cast their votes.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Hear, hear.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  The new system will bring us into line with our EU partners.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  That is a new chant.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Ireland is computer literate by any international standards.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Unfortunately, there are no such people in the Cabinet.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Please allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Everybody in this House knows, though they may choose to pretend otherwise, the machines are not purchased for a day, a week or a month. They have a long lifespan.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  They were purchased for fun.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Please allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  The Opposition will have an opportunity——

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  The Government is like pasteurised milk.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  What is its shelf life?

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  The Government has gone past its shelf life.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  We have a longer shelf life than Fine Gael.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I will have to ask Deputies Ring and Durkan to leave the House if they continue to interrupt.

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  The Ceann Comhairle should ask Members of Fianna Fáil to leave the House. They are the ones who should leave the House and the Government.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Deputy Ring was going to jump ship if he got the offer.

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  Not I. I did not waste €52 million of taxpayers’ money.

[1367]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  This is Leaders’ Questions.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Members should resume their seats when the Chair is on its feet. This is Leaders’ Questions. Deputy Rabbitte submitted a question to the Minister who should be allowed to continue without interruption. The Minister is entitled to reply and it is wrong of any member of the House to try to frustrate Deputy Rabbitte receiving a reply to his question, particularly members of a party which has submitted its own question.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  The Chair should ask the Minister to speak up.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  The television advertisements have been withdrawn. Deputy Rabbitte well knows that part of the advertising campaign is to encourage people to come out to vote.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  And to press the button.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Surely the Opposition is not objecting to that.

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  The people are coming out to vote against Fianna Fáil.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  The advertising is done by McConnell’s Advertising, not Fianna Fáil.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  We have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Rabbitte has one minute remaining.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  One would not get this in the Abbey Theatre.

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  We would have to pay for it there.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Not as much as we paid for it here —€52 million and rising.

Will the Minister reply to my questions? Are the 300 machines ordered on 14 January included in the €52 million?

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Yes, as far as I am aware.

Ms McManus: Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  The Minister for Defence should ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if they are included.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I presume the €8 million for warehousing and security is in addition to the €52 million. Is there an opt-out clause or are we stuck with Q4 and the €5 million paid to it to encourage people, as the Minister put it, to come out and vote?

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  For Fianna Fáil.

[1368]Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Is that included? I will repeat my other question. Is the Minister aware of any private company in Ireland that would continue to employ a manager who wasted €52 million of taxpayers’ money?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy’s time has concluded.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  On the matter raised by Deputy Kenny in terms of the crime figures in this morning’s MRBI poll, how many gardaí could be employed for €52 million? How many nurses could be employed for €52 million? How many home help workers would be paid for additional hours? The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, was forced to row back on widows at a cost of almost €6 million, resulting in the cuts in social welfare amounting to exactly €52 million.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy’s time has concluded.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  However, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government can waste €52 million and no action is taken by the Cabinet.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  That is not true.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Minister should allow Deputy Rabbitte to conclude.

Mr. McGinley: Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  The Minister knows it is true.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Deputy Rabbitte is a good storyteller.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  It was the Minister who was telling fairytales.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I ask Deputy Rabbitte to give way to the Minister.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Deputy Rabbitte knows well.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  It is incredible that the Minister, Deputy Cullen, is still bouncing around and giving cheek after wasting such an amount of taxpayers’ money. The brass neck on the Government side of the House is almost beyond belief. Deputy Allen is right. The Government should put the machines into Punchestown and put Deputy Cullen minding them.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  That is what Fine Gael and the Labour Party would do. It is not what we will do. We will look after the taxpayers. Perhaps we should put Fine Gael and Labour into Punchestown.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  The Minister should remain silent.

Mr. English: Information on Damien English  Zoom on Damien English  He should go for a cigarette.

[1369](Interruptions).

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  I have already made it clear, and I want to do so once more without interruption, that this expenditure is not a waste.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  It is.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  These machines will, inevitably, be used in the future.

Mr. O’Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd  Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  When?

(Interruptions).

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  There are issues which must be cleared up in the interim.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  They do not work.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  They do work, and well Deputy Burton knows it.

Mr. Curran: Information on John Curran  Zoom on John Curran  Deputy Burton was elected by electronic voting machines. She did not complain.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I ask Deputies on the Government side of the House to allow the Minister to reply.

(Interruptions).

Mr. J. O’Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  They are embarrassed.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Chair deplores the fact that the Minister was not allowed to continue the answer without interruption.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  You cannot be serious, Sir.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  This is a serious problem which occurs every day on Leaders’ Questions.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The minute the Minister opened his mouth he was interrupted.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I appeal to Deputies on all sides of the House to show the same courtesy to the Minister or to the Taoiseach——

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I agree.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  ——as they receive when they submit questions.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Now can I have an answer to my question?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Rabbitte has already used almost six minutes although he was entitled to three. We will move on to the next speaker.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I did not get a reply to the questions I raised.

[1370]Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Every time the Minister tried to answer he was interrupted.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Deputy Rabbitte has hyenas beside him who think this is a laughing matter.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The Minister, Deputy Smith, sat down after one golden minute of silence. What are the answers to the questions I raised?

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  There is no answer.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  There is no provision for a second supplementary.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  This is the ultimate in disrespect for the House.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  How dare Deputy Rabbitte say that.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The Minister will not even reply. He is a great man now sitting down. He is a windbag. He should stand up and answer.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  If the laughing hyenas surrounding Deputy Rabbitte had been quiet, he might have got an answer.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The Minister should give an answer.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  This is a new level of political debate. This name calling is typical of the Opposition.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I ask Deputy Rabbitte to resume his seat. I have called Deputy Joe Higgins. I appeal to Members of the House to allow Deputy Higgins to submit his question without interruption and to allow the Minister to reply without interruption.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  If he has a reply.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  We cannot have ten or 15 Deputies roaring and shouting across the Chamber so that no one can hear the reply.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Over the May Day weekend the Government used thousands of gardaí to put a cordon of steel around the Phoenix Park, allegedly to deal with thousands of violent hooligans whom the Government and the usual elements in the press fraudulently claimed were going to cause mayhem on the streets of Dublin. Did it occur to the Minister that gardaí may have been facing in the wrong direction on the day? The Government had as its guests the prime ministers of the occupation powers in Iraq which were responsible only five weeks ago for the slaughter of hundreds of women and children in Falluja and for the systematic torture and abuse of prisoners. Did it occur to the Ministers that the Government ought to have directed some gardaí to question these prime ministers about war [1371]crimes rather than stuffing them with duck, salmon and Chateau Lynch Bages?

The Government, for the first time in the history of the State, ordered water cannons to be used against demonstrators. Some said this was an over-reaction. In fact, a calculated decision was made that, at the slightest excuse, the Garda would test the equipment which the Government had supplied. When a few plastic bottles and empty beer cans were thrown by foolhardy individuals, and they should not have been——

Mr. Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  And bricks.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  May I put the incident in context? Some 23 young people were arrested and all have been charged with extremely minor offences. A constituent of mine was arrested because he got off the bus to make his way home. Far more people were arrested at the rally of the lakes in Killarney during the same weekend and it did not take two thirds of the Garda force and two water cannon to take care of the situation. Most of the people arrested at the demonstration were detained in jail until today. One is charged with the serious offence of being in possession of a Garda cap — receiving stolen property.

How can the Minister justify that? Corrupt colleagues of his who have robbed the State of millions have never darkened the doorway of a courthouse, yet the Government treats young people like that. Did it occur to the Government to send the water cannon into the boardrooms of the major banks to flush out millionaire executives responsible for the real theft of €1 billion of taxpayers’ funds?

The Government set out to thwart civil rights this weekend. It did it to frighten people away from their democratic right to protest and to keep numbers down at demonstrations against President Bush. It will not work.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Last week in the House, Deputy Joe Higgins was asked to request people who wished to dissent or protest to do it in a peaceful way but he refused, quite blankly, to do that.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  That is wrong.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Higgins must allow the Minister to reply. He will have an opportunity to reply in due course.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  I cannot take up my minute correcting the Minister’s representation of the record. I will have other matters to deal with.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy has made his disclaimer. It is on the record of the House.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  The Minister must withdraw that remark. The Official Report shows that I asked that no one should throw a stone or anything else. I ask the Minister to withdraw his remark.

[1372]Mr. F. McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  The Minister should withdraw that remark.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  I have always respected the law of the country and I ask Deputy Higgins to do the same. As far as last weekend was concerned——

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Before the Minister goes any further——

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  It is not acceptable to allow that allegation to stand on the record of the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  It is a political charge. The Deputy’s disclaimer is on the record. The practice of the House is that a disclaimer is accepted.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  The remark is on the record of the House and the Minister cannot employ the tactic of deliberately evading the question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Political charges have been made since the foundation of the State.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  That is unfair and partisan.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  I am happy to withdraw the remark. The people to whom I have spoken in the Garda and the security forces, everything I have read and people I have met from many different countries have been complimentary of Ireland and of the way the events of the weekend were managed. It is with some regret that I listen to Deputy Higgins decry people who worked overtime——

(Interruptions).

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  They were paid the overtime.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  A number of the people involved gave up their weekend holiday.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I remind Deputies that they are not in the school crèche. This is the national Parliament. The Minister is entitled to have his contribution on the record.

  1 o’clock

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Again, I compliment the Garda, the Defence Forces and everyone associated with the handling of a wonderful weekend for this country. No one in this House has the right to decry it or present it in any other way. The problem associated with the dissent of protesters was dealt with in an efficient and speedy manner, with minimal problems for protesters. On behalf of the Government and people, I am proud of the manner in which the security services handled the situation over the weekend.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  It is the last good weekend the Government will have for a while.

[1373]Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  I notice the Minister withdrew the allegation. I insist that, in fairness, the thousands of members of the security forces on duty over the weekend should be paid their overtime.

For a full month before May Day, there was a deliberate and orchestrated campaign by the Government, members of the security forces and sections of the media to terrify the citizens of Dublin, particularly families, so they would not exercise their right to peaceful protest. This was because the Government was seriously embarrassed on 15 February last year when more than 100,000 people came out in protest against the impending invasion of Iraq. In response to this protest, the Taoiseach tried to convince the Dáil that the 100,000 protesters were virtually card-carrying members of Fianna Fáil who took to the streets to support him. That did not work and will not work on the occasion of the Bush visit when, I have no doubt, massive numbers will want to protest against the outrageous atrocities taking place in Iraq and the disaster which Bush has brought on its people.

The Government campaign is to stop peaceful protest and to do so on the occasion of the Bush visit. This is why the Government brought in water cannon and used them without legitimate excuse, and had a ring of steel around the Phoenix Park. Despite this, I call on the people not to be frightened out of their right to peaceful protest and to come out again in large numbers.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy’s time is concluded.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  The Minister said nothing about the fact that 20 young people have been scandalously kept in jail for the most minor of offences. Will he address this?

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  The Government has no problem whatsoever with peaceful protest.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  That is great to hear.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  While it will always happen, it should be conducted peacefully.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  It should be democratic.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  However, it is wrong of the Deputy to present members of the Garda and Defence Forces as having over-reacted in any way over the weekend.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  They do what you tell them.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  They acted appropriately, speedily and effectively.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  The Government abused the gardaí.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  I stand over all their actions.

[1374]Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Will the Minister justify keeping young people in jail for three days?

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  That is for those who break the law.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  This country has division of powers. We do not live in a Stalinist regime.


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