Tuesday, 18 December 1990
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Fallon: The Order of Business for today is Item No. 3 on the Order Paper. At the conclusion of Item No. 3 it is proposed to take Item No. 3a on the supplementary Order Paper which was circulated to Senators this morning. We are having a sos from 6 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.
Mr. Manning: On the Order of Business, may I say, on behalf of my own group and everybody in the House, the great sorrow we all feel that the case of the Birmingham Six was not brought to some sort of satisfactory resolution yesterday. We hope the delay will not be allowed to continue much longer and that the voice of this House will go out to support the views of the Government and the Opposition parties in the other House this morning.
 I am a bit confused about the Order of Business. It was my understanding that we were taking Item No. 3 today and Item No. 7, the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 1990 and I am wondering why that change has taken place. I stand to be corrected on that. I am a bit reluctant to take Item No. 3a today. I have read it and it seems straightforward. The Royal Hospital is a splendid institution. The changes seem to be fairly straightforward but I do not think it is right in principle that Members of the House be handed documentation as they walk into the House and asked to approve it there and then. I would prefer to leave this item until tomorrow. I do not see any difficulty with it but in principle I have great difficulty in putting something like this through just in the way outlined.
The Leader of the House has said on the Order of Business that the Environmental Protection Agency Bill will be taken on the first day after the recess. Can he give us any indication as to when he expects us to resume after the recess? Will he also take on board the view of my group that we would be willing to come back early because we want to have debates in this House on a number of important issues which are a spill-over from this session, particularly the point raised last week by the Labour group and by Senator Neville on the question of penal reform? There is also the full debate on education which we all believe is due and, perhaps most important of all, a continuation of the debate on developments in Europe. We now have a situation where week by week enormous changes are taking place within the European Community. The other House apparently has very little time to debate these major changes and we, as the Upper Chamber, should carve out a role for ourselves and do some public service by having a continuous debate on developments in the European Community. I would suggest we come back early to make that into reality.
Mr. Mooney: I would like to support Senator Manning. I am pleased that the  issue of the Birmingham Six is once again back on centre stage and I am sure all sides of the House will support Senator Manning's call to the Leader of the House that he would convey the urgency of this case to the Government and that the matter be expedited as quickly as possible.
I also support Senator Manning in his call for ongoing debate in relation to the developments in Europe. I am sure Senator Manning and the House will be pleased to know that, as recently as one hour ago, our group discussed this matter in the context of bringing forward proposals in this area and I hope that the Leader in his reply will expand a little on that matter. Perhaps it is something which this House could address itself to in the new year.
Mr. Norris: I would like to add my voice to those who spoke on the subject of the Birmingham Six and to say that I found it a completely atrocious statement of the judge that he would not allow this to upset his Christmas. I deplore it totally and I hope that this feeling, which is shared by all Members of the House, will be conveyed by the Leader of the House.
I would like to ask the Leader just one question, that is, if it is intended shortly to bring forward amendments to the Companies Act which we just passed last week. The reason I do this is because I did not speak on it for the simple reason that it was not possible in that time to amend it. My words were proved correct by the fact that on the very day it passed into operation a defect was found in that Bill involving Government stocks. This defect was addressed by my colleague, Senator Ross, during an earlier part of the Companies Act. I think it a pity we were not able to amend it. I believe it is important that we now remedy a defect that has been dramatically underlined by events.
Dr. Upton: May I, too, on behalf of the Labour Party, associate myself with the remarks of the previous speakers when they expressed concern about the situation regarding the Birmingham Six.  I find the tone of the remarks of the British judge yesterday, when he spoke in terms of not upsetting his Christmas, extremely disturbing; that anybody should adopt that attitude in a case such as this which has received so much attention and which is so important to all of us in this country is most disturbing indeed.
In relation to the Order of Business, may I ask the Leader of the House when he proposes to accede to our request for a debate on the prisons? He very graciously outlined the principle that he was going to accede to our request. I would welcome it if he could give us some details of when that debate is liable to take place. I would also like to ask the Leader if it would be possible to allow the full day's sitting on Thursday to be devoted to the Appropriation Bill.
Mr. Cullen: I, too, on behalf of the Progressive Democrats add our voice to the remarks regarding the Birmingham Six, to express our great disappointment at the results of yesterday's proceedings and indeed to impress upon the Leader of the House if he could bring home to the Government that no effort, be spared, particularly this week to try to get the Birmingham Six released before Christmas.
Secondly, with regard to the possibility of this House focusing on European affairs, I would refer back to a speech I made here nearly 12 months ago when I spent some time emphasising the potential use of this House in looking at the current activities at European level. Obviously, we are glad to see that there is support for that point of view.
Finally, may I raise again the matter of the foreign affairs committee with the Leader of the House? It is a matter that has been consistently raised in both Houses and the Progressive Democrats are anxious to see this matter brought to fruition. As developments have shown, we are in dire need of such a committee.
Mr. O'Reilly: I would like to endorse the words of Senator Manning to the Leader of the House when he appealed to him not to give us copies of Bills and  explanatory memoranda on our way into the House. I happen to have responsibility as spokesperson for Health in our party and I find it very unsatisfactory to be given an order going in the door. It is unlikely that this matter will be contentious, but that is not the point. It is the wrong way to go about parliamentary business.
I would also like to ask the Leader of the House if, given the season that is in it, he would convey to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Finance the concern of this House at the continuing famine and great shortage of food and resources in the Sudan——
Mr. Neville: I would like to support Senator Manning and Senator Upton in asking the Leader of the House for an early debate on the changes in the penal system and also, coupled with that, a debate on the inadequate proposals of the Minister for Justice to grant an improvement in the resources of the Garda to fight crime. I would also like to ask the leader if he will allow time to debate before Christmas the serious situation developing as a result of the proposals to save the Goodman Group, whereby one of our largest and most important industries is now going to be controlled by foreign banks.
Mr. Lydon: I, too, would like to be associated with the remarks of those Senators who mentioned the Birmingham Six. It is not just the Birmingham Six; it is also the Maguires, who are waiting for justice, as His Grace, the Archbishop, said in a statement the other day. I find it extraordinary that we still  continue to extradite people to be tried in what is obviously a corrupt judicial——
An Cathaoirleach: I was lenient. I think in fairness it was correct to allow Members time to express themselves on a matter as fundamentally important as the rights of the persons involved, but I do not wish the comments being made to be expanded or enlarged in any other direction.
Mrs. Doyle: If the Cathaoirleach would allow me make a point before I ask questions of the Leader, that is, that the minor partners in the Coalition Government in this House seem not to realise that it has been Fine Gael policy for over three years now to give a right of audience to MEPs in this House and, indeed, to use this House——
Mrs. Doyle: ——as an ongoing forum to keep abreast of and to discuss the changes in the issues in Europe generally. May I ask the Leader of the House a specific question and I hope I will get a specific answer. I understood that Whips' meetings on the Wednesday or Thursday of a previous week were to agree business, if at all possible, for the forthcoming week. I understood also that this week's business was agreed by the Whips. What this group agreed to was to take No. 3 today, followed by No. 7 — the Electoral (Amendment) Bill — which was to commence. For tomorrow we were to continue with the Electoral (Amendment) Bill up to Private Members' time. No. 3 (a) has been produced as we come in the door — the Royal Hospital, Donnybrook (Charter Amendment) Order, 1990. We have no difficulty with that.
I ask the Leader of the House why the Order of Business was changed when it had been specifically agreed, without any reference to the Whips, certainly our Whip; I do not know if other Whips got any indication? Is that the way business  will be conducted in the future? Why hold Whips' meetings if they are to be totally disregarded?
I ask the Leader of the House also if he would consider taking No. 3a first thing tomorrow morning. The Whips could meet after the Order of Business today and slot it in either tomorrow or Thursday. It is not contentious, but we at least want to read it and find out what is in the order that has been circulated. The Royal Hospital order could be commenced after the Order of Business in the morning and we could continue on with the Electoral (Amendment) Bill. We must clarify the role of Whips meetings and whether they are to be overridden at the whim of the Government when business commences here.
Mr. Staunton: I would like to ask the Leader of the House a question in connection with the Altamont Bill, 1990, No. 2 on the Order Paper. The Leader and other Senators will be aware that recently Lord Altamont circulated to Members here and Members of the Dáil a very adequate memorandum of what this Bill is about. It would seem to me that that would be regarded by the Leader of the House as adequate documentation to allow him to reconsider the reintroduction of this Bill which would be moved by the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I would appreciate it if that could be expedited and if the Leader could advise me of his views on the present position.
I support the comments of Senator Norris, Senator Manning and other Senators, concerning the Birmingham Six. I too, found outrageous the remarks of a British judge, the jocose manner in which he suggested that sitting over Christmas might not be altogether convenient because it might upset his Christmas dinner. Having regard to what these people have been through, I found it a most appalling, facetious and unacceptable remark.
I suggest to the Leader of the House that the Royal Hospital order should not be moved today. It is entirely unacceptable that in respect of an order, a copy of which, it is stated, was laid before  this House for the first time ever today, we are expected to put it through on the nod without knowing what it is about. Procedurally it is wrong. It should be taken tomorrow or Thursday, if it is necessary to take it at all.
Finally, I implore the Leader of the House to talk again to his superiors in Government about this question of a foreign affairs committee of the Oireachtas, or, if not of the entire Oireachtas then of this House. It may seem repetitious for some of us to continually advert to this matter in the House, and no doubt it is, but we have to be repetitious if the Government are going to do nothing about it. We are apparently the only country in western Europe which does not have such a committee. There is a crying need for it for all of the reasons we have enumerated previously. In particular, I believe the time is ripe again for another debate——
Professor Conroy: I would like to associate myself with the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition and other Senators regarding the appalling travesty of justice to which we were compelled to listen over the past two days, which is just part of a very long-standing series of incidents which, I must say, make it very difficult for us. We have all on both sides of the House, with a considerable degree of sacrifice, agreed to extradition. I must say that, if this is the sort of justice people are going to get, we will have to look at that again. I rise, however, on another matter. This is presumably the last series of sittings we are going to have in his year. When we resume — perhaps a date will be stated — the situation is that on 15 January an ultimatum of the gravest importance expires. This ultimatum could conceivably mean — we all hope it will not — the greatest conflagration since the Second World War. I would like to ask the Leader of the House if there  is any intention of recalling this House in the event that that ultimatum does go through.
Mr. McKenna: I agree with the sentiments expressed by the various other Senators concerning the appalling stalemate in relation to the Birmingham Six and also the grossly insulting comments of one particular judge. I would like also to express to the Leader of the House my concern at the decision over the weekend to release a convicted child sex abuser for on whatever grounds. I am asking the Leader of the House if he would convey the concern of many people about this. As we all know, child sex abuse is one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed. I would hate to think there would be a type of leniency creeping in where people who were convicted would be released——
An Cathaoirleach: I must point out that the Leader of the House may reply and, if he wishes on a personal basis, he may convey, but for the purpose of the Business of the House a question must be put in such a way that the function of reply is the one that will be exercised by the Leader of the House.
Mr. O'Keeffe: I want to ask the Leader of the House if he would respond to the extraordinary statement made by Senator Norris, seeking an amendment to the Companies Bill when he, among other Independents, held up the ordering of business last week for three hours, when he failed to contribute to that Bill——
Mr. Fallon: Senator Manning, as did many other Senators, referred to the Birmingham Six. I share the concern of all the Senators in this House regarding this terrible problem. Obviously, our hope would be that they would be released before Christmas, which does not now seem possible, but certainly at the earliest opportunity after the Christmas recess.
Senator Manning referred to Item No. 7. That is being taken tomorrow and I will deal with it further down the list. He also asked about Item No. 3a. Like Senator Manning, I received the Supplementary Order Paper today for the first time. I agree with the Senator's view and the view of Senator O'Reilly that it is not good enough that we should get these, but it happens from time to time. I would prefer that it would not happen. While I have it ordered for today, if it can be taken. I would ask that it be taken at the conclusion of the Exchange Control Bill but, if needs be, and if the Whips agree, I have no objection to it being taken tomorrow morning if that is possible.
The Senator asked when we will be coming back after Christmas. My intention is that we would come back before the Dáil, which I understand will be back on Budget day, and I understand that is 30 January. We will certainly be back before that and the Environment Protection Agency Bill will be with us for discussion at that time.
The Senator, as did other Senators, also raised the question as to whether we should have debates on education, on Europe, and on law and order. I have no objection to trying to arrange discussions on the important matters Senator Manning has raised as soon as we get back to business after the Christmas recess. Senator Mooney also referred to the question of the Birmingham Six and raised the question of debates on ongoing problems in Europe.
Senator Norris also raised the matter of the Birmingham Six and expressed his  concern, as we all do. He referred to amendments to the Companies Bill. My understanding is that this Bill has now been passed and there will be no amendments to the Bill. In fairness, I want to support what has been said. On last Thursday we had the leak regarding the inflation rates and we had the subsequent controversy, which is still ongoing. It was ironic that on the very day this happened — something we are trying to eliminate in the Companies Bill, which was being discussed in the House on that day — many people, particularly the Independent Members, who had been calling for this Companies Bill to come to us, did not even attend during the debate——
Mr. Fallon: I can say that our speakers on this side of the House found very little difficulty with the Minister in going through the Bill. I am sure when Senators Doyle and Howard got into the Bill they could probably say the same. I know they would have liked to have had more time and that they asked for more time. My only criticism of the Minister is that he went overboard in his explanations to the House about what was going on.
Senator Upton also asked about the Birmingham Six, the prison system and the Appropriation Bill, in particular. I would prefer a form of adjournment debate on the Appropriation Bill such as that mentioned some time ago by Senator O'Toole. The procedure over the past seven or eight years has been that we take the Appropriation Bill, have one speaker from each side, and the Minister, pass the Bill and then we come back for a day's debate after the Christmas recess. That is something we will be pursuing.
Senator Cullen also mentioned the Birmingham Six and the European situation. He also asked about a foreign affairs Committee, as did Senator Staunton subsequently. That has been requested many times, not just here but in the other House. It has been spelt out that the Joint  Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the EC assumes in many ways the role of a foreign affairs Committee. That is the Government's standing at present.
Senator Staunton referred to the Altamont Bill. While we did receive a letter from Lord Altamont, we are waiting, I understand — I have to discuss it with the Leas-Chathaoirleach — a more detailed explanatory memorandum and when we have that we will discuss what we might do.
Senator Conroy raised the question of the Birmingham Six. He also asked about the Gulf crisis and I certainly hope that what he indicated in regard to any plans for reconvening before 15 January will not arise. Senator Reilly asked about the Royal Hospital and I have explained that. He also made a statement on the famine in the Sudan. Senator Neville referred to the penal systems and crime, to which I have referred. He mentioned something about the Goodman Group, which is not appropriate to the Order of Business. Neither was Senator Lydon's point, apart from his reference to the Birmingham Six.
Senator Doyle asked about the ongoing discussions on Europe and also about times agreed with the Whips for today and for the rest of the week. I hope that when we come back after Christmas more of the Whips will attend these meetings, because it is the way forward. It leads to a better understanding of what is happening in the House and gives the House a better opportunity to run on the proper lines.
Mr. Fallon: I accept that. I want to make it clear that Senator Howard was present, and always is, as my Whip is now saying to me. I understand that, while a general programme was arranged, there were no specific times laid down. In fairness to Senator Doyle's Whip, I think that because she is spokesperson for Finance I have a feeling he wanted Senator Doyle to have as much time as possible on the Exchange Control Bill today.
An Cathaoirleach: The Leader of the House has replied. He has stated the facility he is prepared to make available in relation to Item No. 3 (a) and if the House orders the business that discussion can take place, as I understand it, between the Whips as to whether it should be taken this evening or in the morning.
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