Wednesday, 14 March 1990
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Lanigan: It is intended that, as agreed, we take the report on the Nicaraguan elections from Senator McKenna and Senator McDonald for half an hour, that we take the Derelict Sites Bill: Committee Stage (Resumed) to 5.30, that we take all Stages of the Decimal Currency Bill from 5.30 to 6.30 and that we take the Private Members' motion from the Independent group from 6.30 to 8 o'clock.
Mr. Manning: I was extremely pleased to know that the Irish ambassador was among the three ambassadors who spoke last weekend to the Government in Iraq about clemency for the two people who are now under sentence from courts there. I would like to urge that this House, in a way that would not unduly affect the sensitivities of the authorities in Iraq make a further plea for clemency in the case of these two people. I realise it is a sensitive matter and that the crescendo of condemnation from the West may well exacerbate the situation but there is a special relationship in some ways, in trade especially, and in other areas, between this country and Iraq. I hope we can have all-party agreement on this.
Secondly, I would like to give notice that my group will, under Standing Order 29, be raising the question of the illegal demolition of houses on Arran Quay. I will give notice now that we will be raising that issue this afternoon.
Professor Murphy: I would like to express concern at the slowness with which item No. 10 on the Order Paper, the Committee Stage of the Marine Institute Bill, is being approached. In my contribution on Second Stage I pointed out that it is very important that this Bill be passed expeditiously because there is a question of various fundings being involved which await the succesful completion of the Bill. May I also suggest, in very general terms and without any specific reference, that it is a question of the good name of this House that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges should now consider the implications of Article 15.13 of Bunreacht na hÉireann in relation to behaviour of Members of this House? Let me add my mystification that certain matters on the Order of Business are apparently approved, others are not. I am in favour of any relevant matter which has come up since the previous sitting being discussed if it is not simply a particular publicity tactic on behalf of Senators.
Professor Murphy: I offered the comment in good faith. That is a cheap retort. What intrigues me is that Senator Manning has just made quite a lengthy statement on the Iraqi issue and while I was glad to hear what he said, I would like to be assured that were I or other Independent Senators to raise a similar topic of public importance, which has nothing directly to do with the Order of Business, we would not be shot down.
Mr. Staunton: On the Order of Business, I want to make a few comments concerning the sense of frustration there is in this House regarding our lack of liaison with the European Community which I regard, and as others do, as being completely inadequate. There is no scope within the present framework of things for serious Members of the Oireachtas to  consult with the European Community. The Community committee of the House concerns secondary legislation and is thus reactive and there is scope for a committee to consider this EC situation. I want to contrast that with the powers of the Executive at present. In that context I would ask the Leader of the House to give consideration again to the establishment of the foreign affairs committee about which there was a consensus politically in this House. Since the debate last week there has been seething discontent and much public comment.
Mr. Staunton: I appreciate that, and the Cathaoirleach has been very good in giving me some latitude, but there is frustration and we are so powerless in the matter. There is even a rumour circulating at present that the Oireachtas may not sit in April and June this year——
Mr. Staunton: I would ask the Leader of the House to give consideration again to this whole question of a foreign affairs committee. In the absence of a Government initiative, perhaps we in the Seanad should now seriously talk about the formation of our own committee until such time as a wider committee gets established.
Dr. Upton: May I ask the Leader of the House if he would be prepared to allow time for a debate on developments in relation to Irish Life which were announced on Monday? These developments have taken place without any consultation with the Houses of the Oireachtas and certainly it is a fundamental change of policy and therefore I think it would be appropriate that we have a debate on it immediately, in other words, today.
Mr. B. Ryan: I fully endorse what  Senator Staunton had to say about the increasing irrelevance of Parliament in this country as a balance in the process of democracy. We are effectively an elected dictatorship which is accountable once every four or five years and in the intervening periods the role of the Oireachtas is no more than that of a classical Eastern European rubber stamp which does what it is told. I think it is time the Oireachtas reasserted itself. I would fully endorse what Senator Staunton had to say.
Mr. B. Ryan: With the sort of genial tolerance that you have shown, a Chathaoirligh, today I am sure you will not prevent me from complimenting the Supreme Court on its vindication of the rights of Irish citizens yesterday.
Mr. B. Ryan: There seems to be a great latitude to interrupt on that side of the  House. May I say, as a matter of clarification, for the Leader of the House, that the motion being taken this evening is not a motion from the Independent group, it is a motion from some members of the Independent group and he ought to be precise on these issues. We do, among the Independent——
Mr. B. Ryan: They seem to be in the humour for interrupting but the answer to Senator Fallon's question is yes, we are a group, we are actually a group who believe people are able to make up their own minds about issues and do not need party Whips or dictatorship from on high to tell them what to do.
Mr. B. Ryan: We believe in democracy. Is that not a surprise? That is our view. I fully support Senator Murphy. I think the precise meaning of constitutional privileges for Members of this House ought to be investigated with considerable urgency by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. It is a considerably more important issue than some of the trivia to which they have devoted an enormous part of their time in recent weeks. I think it is extremely important. May I say, a Chathaoirligh——
Mr. B. Ryan: I hope, through you, a Chathaoirligh, that the question of the propriety of the behaviour of a Member of this House being discussed in the other House is raised vigorously with those who do business in the other House. I think  this House is responsible for the behaviour of its Members, not the other House. We are not a secondary House to be run from somewhere else. We run our own——
Mr. B. Ryan: I am sorry, a Chathaoirligh, I am not attempting even to discuss the issue. I am discussing the propriety of it being raised in the other House which I would have thought would have been a matter of concern to you as the one who vindicates the dignity of this House. That is the view I would take of it. I would ask the Leader to ensure that matters to do with this House are not discussed in other places.
Mrs. Jackman: I would like to ask the Leader of the House if any progress has been made on the establishment of the committee of the Seanad to examine the possibility of extending Seanad voting rights to the two universities and other appropriate institutions?
Mr. Kennedy: I would like to ask the Leader of the House that motion 90 would be debated by the House as a matter of urgency. It now emerges that the particular district justice, who is no longer a justice, in fact, reached a total of 111,000 cases, and the Supreme Court has now said that the person who was accused in this case was never tried by a constitutionally competent court for the alleged offence.
Finally, there has been very strong, unanimous criticism by the Supreme Court of the effort by the Oireachtas to  convict people rather than have the courts do it. There are many thousands of citizens who are not concerned about this matter and it is a matter that should be debated as a matter of urgency by this House.
Mr. Norris: Seo é seachtain na Gaeilge. Tá slogan speisialta sa tír anois — labhraimis Gaeilge. Nuair a bhíos i Seanad Éireann ar an gcéad dul síos bhí liosta focal Gaeilge le fáil chun cabhrú linn. We used to get lists of words from the translation service. It was a great help to those of us who falteringly wished to participate in debates in the first national language. I hope that during Seachtain na Gaeilge this procedure might be reinstigated.
With regard to item No. 30, the Leader of the House gave an undertaking that he would continue to press Government with regard to what their reaction would be to the decision of the European Court. With regard to item No. 14, the Irish Nationality and Citzenship (Amendment) Bill, 1989, I would like to ask the Leader of the House if he would seek clarification on this so that those who have a personal interest in this Bill — it is a matter that affects families — could have some news on the matter. I would like to welcome the statement from Senator Manning, the Leader of Fine Gael, that he will be raising the matter of the demolition of the houses on Arran Quay, under Standing Order 29, and I look forward with great interest to the ruling that will be given on that. I hope he will be successful. It is a most important matter which many of us take to heart.
Finally, I understand provision is being made for an item which is not on the Order Paper, that is the report from certain Members of the House who were in Nicaragua. I welcome this. I think it is part of the democratic process. It would be rather more democratic if provision were also made for a member of the House who was duly selected, Senator Murphy, to make a contribution, as I took part in the process by which he was selected for that delegation. He was not  able to go and I think his views would be most interesting.
Mrs. Honan: I would like to support Senator Staunton's comment on information being fed back to us as a House of the Oireachtas from Europe. I feel strongly about information not coming directly back from Europe, whether we hold Presidencies or not, and I have many times proposed that this House should be used at times for some of our MEPs to come in and speak to us. Certainly it was relevant in the three months that have gone by. I feel strongly that ordinary backbenchers of all parties should be kept up to date on the information coming through from Europe, which is dictating nearly all of our lives now. I support Senator Staunton. I am not asking for a foreign affairs committee but I am asking for more information from our Ministers. Only the Members of parliamentary parties who are lucky enough to be selected for committees are told what is going on and the rest of us are not told at all. I support Senator Staunton and I hope this will be taken up by all parties and that we will be listened to.
Mr. O'Reilly: I would like to ask the Leader of the House whether the Government have given consideration to having a discussion in this House on one of the most serious national issues in recent times, the shocking haemhorrage of our population and the massive numbers of emigrants to England and America, in particular, and to mainland Europe. It is particularly pertinent now, as St. Patrick's Day approaches, that we should consider the fact that such large numbers of our young, talented population are now across the water. It merits discussion by this House and serious analysis.
Mr. Costello: I would like to support my colleague, Senator Upton, in his  request that time be given at least for statements to be made in relation to Irish Life and the implications of the steps that are being taken at present in relation to it by the Government. This is the first step towards major privatisation of the semi-State sector. It is too important a matter to go without a full debate in this House. I would like the Leader of the House to indicate if he will give time for statements to be made for a full-scale debate to take place today or tomorrow.
Secondly, I would like to raise again the question of Northern Ireland and to ask the Leader of the House when time will be made available to discuss this very important matter. We have requested this again and again since the House resumed at the beginning of November. We have an enormous number of events unfolding in relation to Northern Ireland. We had the Supreme Court case in relation to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution last week. This week we have the whole question of extradition. We had also the Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier the week before and we have the whole question of statements being made now in relation to the validity of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It is extremely important that a full-scale debate take place. This House has not yet been given any time for such a debate while one has taken place in the other House.
I would also like to ask the Leader of the House whether something is going to be done in relation to Article 15.13, of the Constitution and if the Committee on Procedure and Privileges are going to look into that matter because of the events that have taken place recently. It is, as stated by Senator Ryan, unacceptable that matters that concern this House should be dealt with solely in the other House.
Finally, I would like to support Senator Manning in relation to the unauthorised demolition of Georgian houses at Arran Quay. It is an insult to this House that while we are about to debate the Derelict Sites Bill, which is intent on closing loopholes in relation to planning permission and in relation to dealing with derelict  sites, we have developers who we can only describe as speculators——
Mr. Mooney: I would like to support Senator Manning in his comments in relation to the unfortunate affair of the Iranian journalist who has been sentenced to death in Iraq and to the English nurse who is employed by an Irish company PARC. I am rather disappointed also and I do not mean to cast aspersions on my colleagues on all sides of the House, but I have listened with interest to the various contributions on the Order of Business and nobody has, as yet, made any comment in support of Senator Manning. We are dealing with a human rights issue here. We have a very strong trading link with Iraq and here is an opportunity for a country like Ireland with enormous influence, particularly in the context of the Presidency of the European Community, to raise what is fundamentally a human rights issue.
I am a working journalist. I am a member of the National Union of Journalists so I have a certain interest in cases like this. There are many of them around the world. I wanted to support Senator Manning and I am delighted that he raised the issue in this House. I know he spoke for all of us. It is just a little unfortunate that there was not more support given to his intervention by the other Members of the House.
I hope his remarks to the Leader of the House will be conveyed to the Government that here is an opportunity for us. It is impossible at this remove to know the rights and wrongs of the case but the reality is that a man is fighting for his life and a woman has been given 15 years imprisonment under a regime which does not have a very good record in regard to human rights.
Mr. O'Toole: I would like to make a few points on the taking of the Order of Business which need to be clarified. There have been at least five or six speeches made here today on the Order of Business. The difficulty is that there is a lack of understanding among Members about how it should be taken. I think it should just be clarified that it is not a speech that is out of order. It is a speech on the topic. My understanding, and I certainly looked back over the years in the Seanad Chamber, is that there is a very strong, long tradition of speeches being made on the Order of Business but they were speeches in favour of the taking of something rather than on the Business itself. That is one issue. Today, at least three Members referred to the introduction of a Standing Order 29. This has become an increasingly accepted practice in the House and I would like to have your view on that, a Chathaoirligh. My understanding is that it is not appropriate to make a formal pre-announcement that a Standing Order 29 is going to be requested.
Finally, I would like to bring clearly to the attention of the Members on the far side of the House that a group is a group as defined in the Standing Orders of this House. There seems to be a great many problems for some people who do not know the difference between a group and a party. Parties are not envisaged in the structure of this House under Standing Orders. A group is a group as outlined under the Standing Orders of the House. That does not require people to vote the same way on every issue because they are part of a particular group. It seems unnecessary for me, as a new Member of this House, to have to bring that to the attention of a much esteemed and senior Member of the House.
Mr. Ross: I would like to respond to those who asked for a debate on Northern Ireland by just stating that I requested a matter under Standing Order 29 on the breakdown of the extradition arrangements between the United Kingdom and here as a result of yesterday's court  decision, which I have submitted for your discretion for later in the day. I would just point out that a similar type debate was allowed under the Standing Order in the last Seanad on the same issue, in similar circumstances.
Secondly, I would like to ask the Leader of the House a non-contentious, factual question from which nobody could take any offence whatsoever, on any side of the House, which is something fairly unique I suppose, and that is whether we will be taking the B & I Bill today or tommorrow. I gather it is an emergency Bill for early signature and is going through the Dáil at this moment. I imagine we might be taking it tomorrow. I would like to know when we are taking it so that we are prepared for it. I would also ask the Leader of the House to ensure that we are given substantial time to debate it. I know it is something which has to be passed fairly quickly because it is a matter of money which the company need but I hope we will be given time for a full debate on it because it is a very important issue.
Finally, I would like to support Senator Manning's appeal for mercy for the journalist in Iraq. I would like to say to Senator Mooney that I am sure everybody on this side is extremely apologetic that they did not get up in support of Senator Manning. It is a human rights issue but I do not really see why this side of the House should take lectures from the other side of the House on human rights and I do not see why this side of the House should take lectures from the other side of the House on Iraq because one of the reasons why that man is condemned to death is because whatever offence he committed was committed in a tyrannical fascist regime. I have not heard the Government here raise their voices——
Mr. Ross: ——as condemned by Amnesty International and others. So let us not take lectures from that side of the House on human rights, especially on Iraq. I would ask the Leader of the House if we could possibly have, when this matter is resolved — I regard it as sensitive and I accept Senator Manning's assurances — a full debate in this House on our relations with Iraq? It is a very evil country and a country on which we have refused to take a stand.
Mr. Neville: I would like to support Senator Kennedy's suggestion that item No. 90 be discussed and I urge on the Leader of the House the importance of this issue, the importance of maintaining confidence in our courts system. I want to emphasise, as much as possible how urgent it is that this item should be taken and that the Government would make a statement to clear the matter.
Mr. Lanigan: On the last intervention by Senator Neville, may I just point out that Supreme Court decisions are made by the Supreme Court and it is up to the Supreme Court to make their decisions. I think, in all fairness, that the Supreme Court acts exceptionally well in its decisions. I was asked what the Government's attitude is on this motion No. 90. I will pass that question on and request a reply for Senator Kennedy and Senator Neville on that.
On the first item raised by Senator Manning, I concur with him that this House should, on humanitarian grounds, ask the Iraqi Government to rescind the death penalty which has been imposed on the journalist from The Observer newspaper. I do not think the comments made by Senator Ross will do the case very much good. It was unfortunate, when we were speaking on a humanitarian issue, that other extraneous issues should have been brought into the argument. I do not think it was helpful.
With regard to the B & I Bill, this Bill has to be taken eight days after it finishes in the Dáil. We will be taking it on Wednesday of next week. There will be ample time to discuss the matter in full on that day. Standing Order 29 applications are not a matter for me as Leader; they are a matter for decision by the Cathaoirleach. The question of Arran Quay is a matter for decision by the Cathaoirleach.
I accept what has been said by Senator Murphy on the Maritime Institute Bill and the need to have it passed as speedily as possible. I had hoped that we would have it this week, but hopefully we will finish it next week. I will put it to the Whips to try to make arrangements for that for next week.
The question of co-ordination between the European Parliament and the Houses of the Oireachtas was mentioned by Senator Staunton and Senator Honan. It is a matter of concern that there is not a better liaison between the European Parliament and the Houses of the Oireachtas. We will raise this matter with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and we will see how best that matter can be——
Mr. Lanigan: Again, I am sorry. I thought the Senator was speaking about the European Parliament in particular. On the question of a foreign affairs committee, there was a vote in the House last week on this and it was voted down.
The question of Irish Life was raised by Senator Upton and by Senator Costello. We must remember that the matter of Irish Life was raised only this week and I would suggest that it will be at least 18 months before any conclusion is reached  on that matter. I have no doubt, since it is a Government body, that the matter will have to be raised in the Houses of the Oireachtas before any decisions are finally arrived at. I do not think it is a matter of urgency at this stage but I accept what the Senators said and I have no doubt that it will come before the House at some stage before the matter is concluded.
Mr. Lanigan: I am not accepting that it is a matter of urgency. If the Senator considers it to be a matter of urgency, it can be taken as a matter of urgency under Standing Order 29, over which I have no control.
In regard to Senator O'Toole, he said that they are a group. I accept that they are a group and there is nothing further I can say on that. Article 15.13 of the Constitution is not a matter for the Order of Business. Senator O'Reilly asked for a debate on emigration. The Senator is entitled to put down a motion on this and he can put it down as a matter of priority if Fine Gael decide to do so.
Mr. Lanigan: The Committee on Procedure and Privileges will be discussing it and they will set up a committee in the very near future. It is then up to each party to decide who is going to be on that committee.
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