Wednesday, 8 May 1991
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Fallon: It is proposed to take Item No. 2, the Environmental Protection Agency Bill, 1990, Committee Stage (resumed) — until 6 p.m. with a sos from 6 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. We will then resume the Fine Gael motion No. 45 until 8.4 p.m. At that stage we will take Item No. 3:
Mr. Cosgrave: On the Order of Business, first, on behalf of this group I extend to the Burke family our deepest sympathy on the tragic death at the weekend of their daughter, Vanessa Burke, who was a member of our staff on the Seanad.
Secondly, we are all concerned at the situation regarding the Brooke talks and all on this side hope that progress can be made. It is most important that no group or individuals would in any way obstruct the progress of the talks or use any excuse to ensure that the talks do not take place. I am sure the Leader of the House will join with me in that regard.
Finally, on behalf of this group I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Justice of the allocation for the training of an extra 1,000 gardaí. We certainly hope — it is a matter I have raised many times before — that they will appear on our streets very shortly. I hope it is not just a pre-election announcement.
Professor Murphy: I would like to support Senator Cosgrave in the concern he expressed about the uncertainty now hanging over the Northern talks. I am sure the House would like the Leader to convey the view to the Taoiseach that it does not matter and it is of absolutely no consequence where these talks are held from our point of view provided they get under way.
Secondly, it would appear from the answer the Taoiseach gave this morning to questions in the other House that the formation of a foreign affairs committee is now imminent or more imminent, if you can use that phrase. I make no apology for asking the Leader of the House once again to make sure, if it is a joint committee, that Seanad Éireann is represented on it. It would be absolutely outrageous if Seanad Éireann was not represented on such a committee.
Thirdly, in view of the depressing Bord na Gaeilge report published this morning on the rapid disappearance of the Gaeltacht and in view of the Taoiseach's masterly inactivity in this area, will the  Leader of the House ask him why he is hanging on to this portfolio as he is doing nothing at all in the job? I doubt very much if the Leader will ask the Taoiseach that question.
Finally, I regret that no information is available to date on Item No. 3, dealing with the Employment Equality Act, etc. I could not find any copy of the order; in fact, Seanad Éireann did not meet on that date. I am not sure what it means, whether females are going to be dispatched underground to work in mines, but it is a pity that we could not have some information about it beforehand.
Dr. Upton: I ask the Leader of the House if he will make time available for a debate on the services for the mentally handicapped and if he will treat this matter urgently, given the stalemate that now exists in relation to the services at Cheeverstown House, which continues to have 60 vacancies. They have not been filled over a prolonged period of time and the talks broke down last week.
Finally, I, too, would like to be associated with Senator Murphy's call for a debate on the language, given the data that appeared in this morning's papers, even if I am not particularly well equipped to contribute to that debate in the language itself.
Mr. McKenna: May I just note that Senator Murphy is being his usual cynical self. The fact is that the present Taoiseach has done more than anybody over a number of years to promote Irish music and culture and the language in general and it ill behoves Senator Murphy to make comments like that in the House. However, may I join with Senator Cosgrave in the hope that the way will be cleared for the very important talks on the North to get under way.
Ba mhaith liomsa ceist a chur i dtaobh an Bhille do Ollscoil Luimnigh. I raised this matter before. It is in relation to the proposed Bill on the University of  Limerick and the fact that as I mentioned previously, there is very little evidence of any reference to the Irish language and culture in the University Bill. May I ask the Leader of the House if he would bring that to the attention of the Minister for Education to ensure that there is the ethos of culture and the Irish language in the proposed Bill in relation to the University of Limerick? It is the least we would expect from a third level institution.
Mr. Naughten: I would like to ask the Leader of the House when the local government reform Bill will be introduced in this House and, secondly, to seek an assurance from him that every Member of the House will have an opportunity to speak on the Bill and an assurance that it will not be guillotined through this Chamber.
Mr. McGowan: May I ask the Leader of the House when we will discuss Item No. 5, the Educational Exchange (Ireland and the United States of America) Bill, because it is of fundamental importance. Now is the time we are negotiating the exchange of students and it is very useful for colleges such as we have in Donegal to have the facility of exchange of students. I would welcome the opportunity of having this Bill in the Seanad in the near future.
Professor Raftery: I would like to ask the Leader of the House if we could have a debate on the scandal of insurance costs in this country, particularly motor insurance. For a young person to get insurance now the annual premium costs more than the price of a reasonable secondhand car. Additionally, insurance costs are making our industry uncompetitive and our insurance companies are protected because of a derogation we got in the non-life insurance sector. I think the rackets that are going on deserve to be exposed and I would like to ask the Leader of the House if we could have a debate on that matter.
Mr. Norris: I would like to add my  support to what has been said about the Northern Ireland talks and pass on to the Leader a suggestion I heard on the wireless this morning made by Deputy Proinsias De Rossa of the Workers' Party. It seems to me to be an excellent one. It is that one phase of the talks should take place in the British Embassy in Dublin, which would satisfy the unionists, and another phase should take place in the Irish Embassy in London. That seems to me to be an eminently practical suggestion which would satisfy the sensitivities of people.
Secondly, I would like to support what Senator McGowan said about the Educational Exchange Bill. I would certainly welcome this because, among other things, I am frequently made aware of the fact that in America they have educational evaluators who evaluate Irish degrees, and they do it all wrong. Irish University degrees do not get the kind of recognition they ought to get in the United States educational service. I have raised this with the Minister for Education and she said it would be a matter requiring legislation and all kinds of research. I would like to add my voice to Senator McGowan's request that this important matter should be taken as soon as possible.
My final question is simply a matter of information. I plead ignorance of Item No. 6 and I wonder if the Leader would be able to explain its purpose. The item reads that Seanad Éireann resolves that certain sections of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, shall remain in operation. I am not quite sure what it is, what its impact is or when it will be taken and perhaps the Leader would be able to give me some information on that.
Mr. Cullen: May I ask the Leader of the House if he can clarify whether there is to be any alteration to the normal schedule of sittings of the Seanad in the month of June? There are various rumours circulating in this regard and if this position could be clarified now I think all Members of the House would apprecite it. As a follow on to that, if there is to be some alteration, perhaps the Leader  of the House would discuss with the Taoiseach the possibility of this House at least returning in September this year. I think it is a nonsense that we have to wait until the end of October, with only a matter of ten week or less left until the Christmas recess.
Secondly, on the question of the foreign affairs committee, which I have raised on many occasions, I am asking the Leader if he could clarify whether Members of the Seanad are to be included on that committee. I feel very strongly that that should be the case and I ask if he has any information on those matters.
Mr. Hourigan: First, I would like again to ask the Leader of the House when we may expect a meaningful debate on health. I have in this House on a number of occasions referred to the urgency for a debate on the whole health services area. Quite frankly, the position has worsened as time has gone by. My question is: when can we expect a meaningful and in-depth discussion on the worsening health services in this country?
Secondly, may I ask the Leader again when we can have a full debate on agriculture having regard to the fact that the position is again, unfortunately, worsening as time goes by. May I remind the Leader and everybody else that winter weather has extended into spring and this has drawn severely on the reserves of Irish farmers and the position is extremely serious in that regard. We need a debate on agriculture, even though I acknowledge and accept that we have had a discussion on this not too long ago in this House.
He also raised the question of the Brooke initiative and talks. All I can do  is repeat what I said previously, that we live in hope that commonsense will prevail in these talks and that they will be successful. I noted that Senator Cosgrave welcomed the recent announcement regarding the training of gardaí and I can tell him that the date of starting was announced. I would certainly like to put his mind at ease: it would never be a political pre-election ploy or anything like that.
Senator Murphy asked a question on Northern Ireland similar to Senator Cosgrave and he also raised the question of the foreign affairs committee. I have been told and have been saying that this committee will be formulated this session. I can assure Senator Murphy that I have made repeated representations for Seanad representation on that committee. I have noted also what the Senator said in relation to Bord na Gaeilge. If the Senator wants to ask the Taoiseach questions on that one, I will not do so.
Senator Upton asked about a debate on the mentally handicapped. Much indeed as I would like at this time, I have no proposals or plans for that. The Senator asked about the programme for next week; we will have a busy week. We will have the Foreign Adoptions Bill; a debate on the prison system, as promised to Senator Costello and others and we will have the local government reform Bill. Those will give us a very busy schedule indeed. I have no proposal for a debate on the Irish language, as I indicated.
Senator McKenna asked about the University of Limerick Bill, which is a Bill which provides for the amalgamation of Thomond College and the University of Limerick. As I pointed out last week to Senator Ryan, I have indicated to the Minister for Education the views and concerns of Senators regarding cultural aspects and the Irish language aspect of that legislation.
Senator Naughten asked about the Local Government Bill. I understand the Whips of the other House are still having discussions, so obviously the Whips of  this House will meet to arrange a suitable and appropriate time for a debate on the matter.
Senator McGowan asked when Item No. 5 would be taken. It is not an Education Bill, but a Foreign Affairs Bill. It is now completed in the Dáil and it will be taken, I hope, in this House within the next two or three weeks.
Senator Raftery asked about a debate on motor insurance. It is, of course, suitable for discussion in Private Members' time. If it is not taken in Private Members' time, we could look at Motion No. 11, which deals with the report of the Joint Committee on the Secondary Legislation of the EC on life assurance and motor insurance. That would be one way forward, but the best way would be by way of Private Members' time.
Senator Cullen asked about sitings in June. All I can say on that is that the Whips will meet. We are, of course, guided at all times by the legislation that comes to us from the other House and legislation that is initiated here. I am aware that there is a certain event, but the Whips will meet to discuss June sittings.
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