Wednesday, 3 July 1991
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Fallon: It is proposed to take item No. 2, the Environmental Protection Agency Bill, 1990, Report Stage, until 6 p.m., with a sos from 6 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. It is proposed to take the Fine Gael motion, item No. 12, Motion No. 45, from 6.30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and we will then continue Report Stage of the Environmental Protection Agency Bill until 10 p.m.
Mr. Manning: First, may I ask the Leader of the House about his intentions regarding item No. 1 on the Order Paper. This has been there for quite some time and, in fairness, we should not bring in a Bill like this if we do not intend to move with it. We should find some way of dealing with the Bill between now and the end of this session. It may well be that it can be sent to some special committee or other, but I do not think it is right that the Bill should lie there all of that time. We should do something with it.
 Secondly, will the Leader indicate if the list of legislation which he announced here two weeks ago as being the programme between now and the end of the session still stands or if there are any changes in that? Thirdly, in view of the seemingly inevitable and sad collapse of the Brooke talks in Northern Ireland, would he between now and the end of the session, and preferably at the end of the session, make time now available for a debate on Northern Ireland?
Mr. O'Toole: There are a number of matters I wish to raise and ask the Leader of the House to allow a debate to take place on these urgent matters. I think the macho noises from the Minister for Finance over the past couple of days about the budget overrun and the Exchequer overruns is something which should be considered by this House. It is important that we have the opportunity to put on record our views on the handling of the economy and the proposals the Minister is talking about, examining public service cutbacks, etc. I appeal to the Leader of the House to allow statements to be taken on this issue this afternoon. It is a matter of urgent importance that affects the lives of many people and we should discuss it.
I also wish to have considered an item which has developed since we last met: I refer to the MacSharry proposals on the CAP. It is quite clear that this is going to be a source of discussion right through the summer. These proposals would have serious implications for and impact on Irish taxpayers one way or another. It is important that both sides of the argument are put because we are certainly getting an almost knee-jerking response from many of the interested groups at this time. It is important that we have a full and comprehensive debate on it to see where our future in Europe is tied into a future CAP.
Finally, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, I think the developments in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and that general area need to be discussed at this stage. We discussed eastern Europe, we discussed many problems  in the world, and I think we now need to look at what is happening in those areas.
Dr. Upton: May I ask the Leader of the House if he would make time available for a debate on the economy and on the impending cutbacks? It is appropriate that this House should have its voice heard on these matters before the announcements are made at the August bank holiday weekend when they will attract minimal levels of publicity.
Mr. S. Byrne: I would like to ask the Leader of the House if we could have a full day's debate on the farming crisis, which is becoming more serious by the day. We should have a full debate on this, our main industry.
Mr. McDonald: I should like to ask the Leader of the House when it will be possible to discuss item No. 1, which is the debate on a report of the European Community. Things are indeed moving very fast, as the House will know, and I feel we should have an opportunity of having an input into the policies, and especially that the Minister for Foreign Affairs should be aware of collective views of Members of the House.
I should also like to ask if the Leader will make time before the recess to discuss Motion 50, which deals with development aid and the famine in many countries. Indeed, if you look at the papers or the television news, I think if is becoming more and more important that we should have a better forum in this House, such as the much-talked about foreign affairs committee. We had one here pro tem in 1981 and 1982. Most of the policies that impinge on our lives are tied up with international policy at the present time and would the Leader of the House agree that the Members of the House should have a greater input? Surely we should have an opportunity of having a Minister listen to the views of the House, because all these foreign items are affecting our livelihood.
Mr. Dardis: May I join with other Members in appealing to the Leader to  grant time for a debate on agriculture in view of the statements from Brussels and of the fact that farm incomes are expected to decrease once again this year. May I say, through the Chair, to Senator O'Toole that the reaction is far from being a knee-jerk one, that if these proposals go through in the shape in which they are being formulated it will not be just the farmers in this country but every citizen who will feel the effect.
Mr. Dardis: I am supporting the Senator in his call for a debate. I request the Leader to put a question to the Minister for Agriculture and Food. In this House on 27 February the Minister said he would be setting up a forum which would involve consumers, producers, experts, officials and anyone else who was involved to look at the problems in the industry. When may we expect that to happen?
Mr. B. Ryan: I do not want to repeat what other speakers have said but if we are going to have a debate on agriculture could we please address the extraordinary maldistribution of income in agriculture which leaves 20 per cent of farmers filthy rich and 80 per cent impoverished. Neither of the two parties in this House who claim to represent farmers have ever addressed that issue. I would invite them to do so if we have a debate.
On the question of the state of the economy, there are many issues but I ask the Leader of the House to appeal to the Government to keep their hands off overseas development aid if they are going to cut back. It would be taking food out of the mouths of the starving if they do so. It should be immune to all cutbacks and it should, in fact, be going in the opposite direction. I appeal to the Leader of the House to send that message to the Government.
Finally, given that the Government — at least I think it is the Government — have set up a body to review industrial  policy, may I ask the Leader of the House if at some stage we could have a discussion on industrial policy in this country, because our industrial policy has failed on a number of occasions. I would like to put on record that, given the eccentric economist who has been put on that committee, I would have no great faith in the validity or the reliability of the report of that body. I would rather have the commonsense of Members of this House look at industrial policy than some of these eccentrics.
Mr. H. Byrne: I would like to join with my colleagues in calling again for a debate on agriculture. Indeed, I have been calling for this debate on every occasion that was offered to me since this session commenced. It is now accepted generally and from all quarters——
Mr. H. Byrne: I will indeed and I will back it with facts. This year, if the proposals Senator Dardis referred to are implemented, it will bring the reduction in farmers' incomes — for the past three years——
Mr. H. Byrne: It is acknowledged now that even the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Taoiseach have expressed concern. I would, therefore, ask the Leader of the House to allow a debate on agriculture.
Mr. Staunton: Thank you. I would like to put the following question to the Leader of the House. We have been seeking the establishment of a committee on foreign affairs for some time to which the Government are apparently committed but they have not yet established it. This provokes us to seek debates on foreign policy issues independent of that committee. I support Senator O'Toole in his remarks about events in Yugoslavia. I would put it to the Leader of the House that what is happening today in Slovenia is civil war. It is the first time a city has been bombed in Europe since World War II. The situation there is out of control completely. In view of the lack of support by the European Community, to which we are a party, and of the United States which is forcing this particular policy today, I should put this question. In view of the visit of the Prime Minister of Slovenia, Mr. Peterle, to Leinster House three months ago, when he sought solidarity with this country, I put it to the Leader of the House that he should arrange for a debate so that we can respond by seeking that they can aspire to independence in the same way as countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary and Poland.
Mr. Lanigan: I agree there should be  a debate on agriculture, but it should not be confined to agriculture as such because there are so many of us in business who depend on agriculture. I think a debate on agriculture would be of benefit to those of us who are in the agri-business and I am asking that such a debate should take place. Agri-business is something we are all interested in and I think the Leader will grant that request. Yesterday I found the Standing Orders of Seanad Éireann relative to public business under the Constitution of 1930 and I think that we should all be——
Mr. Lanigan: I am going to ask a question in relation to the Order of Business. It suggests that the Cathaoirleach should examine every notice of motion — and I presume this is what everybody is asking for — to “ensure that it shall be as brief as possible and that it shall contain no preface or argument nor any personal implication upon any Member of the Oireachtas”.
Professor Murphy: I would like to support Senators O'Toole and Staunton in their references to the crisis in Yugoslavia. The fact is that we are probably not equipped to debate events in Yugoslavia precisely because of the lack of a foreign affairs committee. We are reminded once again of how inflexible our procedure is in this House — it is a point Senator Upton has made more than once — in our inability to respond to developing events. Senators will have received a letter from the President of the Parliament of the Republic of Slovenia. The least I would expect in a crisis that is in  our own backyard is that we would have a statement of Government policy or European Community policy from the Minister for Foreign Affairs——
Professor Murphy: I am just concluding. What I am saying is, if you want it in the form of a question: why could we not have at least a statement on events in Yugoslavia from the Minister for Foreign Affairs; if he is too busy, then from the Minister of State; or, even at a pinch, we could have a statement from the Minister for the Gaeltacht on events in Yugoslavia.
Mr. Hourigan: I would like to ask the Leader if he appreciates the worsening position of the income of Irish farmers. I would also like to ask him if he really understands and accepts that the prospects for agriculture are worsening by the day. Does he realise that the future for agriculture is very grim? Does he also realise that the statements from Brussels on the CAP and on the GATT are of a nature——
Mr. Hourigan: I am asking the leader if he appreciates the gravity of the statements from Brussels on the Common Agricultural Policy and on the GATT. In fact, I would take issue with the remark made——
Mr. Hourigan: My question is: does the Leader of the House appreciate that all categories of farmers are in the poverty trap at the moment? It is not confined to a person with 200 acres or 300 acres or more or less. Further, I ask the Leader of the House if he can give us a firm indication of when we can have a debate on agriculture, which is much needed from a national, international and every other point of view. Otherwise our farmers will be finished.
Mr. Hourigan: I have another question. I also want to ask the Leader of the House when can we expect real progress on the establishment of the foreign affairs Committee to which reference has been made already. Finally, I want to ask the Leader if he appreciates the reliance of this country on agriculture. Does he appreciate——
Mr. O'Keeffe: I want to raise an issue that I feel very strongly about. It is something that I have raised previously in this House. It relates to bank charges. I asked  the Leader of the House previously if we could have a debate on this issue. I raise it in the knowledge that in the past week we have been made aware that we are going to have consultancy charges or what I would term interview charges. I reckon that in this instance we are now going to have bank managers——
Mr. O'Keeffe: I want to finish my question because it is a very important issue. It relates to the Minister for Finance and I would like you to allow me to make my point. Bank managers, particularly in the Bank of Ireland, are going to bring into that bank on the basis of consultancy some £200,000 per week.
Mr. O'Keeffe: I am asking the Leader of the House if he would ask the Minister for Finance to intervene in some way, given that he is a man of the people, a man who understands business, a man who understands people, that he would discuss with the Central Bank some way of controlling what is happening in this country.
Mrs. Hederman: Is the Leader of the House aware that during the recent local election campaign there was a great deal of talk from the Government that we were now going to have some sort of local democracy following on the recent Local Government Bill. Now that there has been a considerable shake-up and many new faces on the local councils, and by that I mean that Fianna Fáil do not control the council's in the way they used to——
Mrs. Hederman: Can the Leader of the  House tell us when the Minister intends to get rid of the ultra vires provision of the Local Government Bill which is the only way that we will get a smidgen of local democracy in this country.
Mr. Hanafin: First, may I ask the Leader of the House to agree to the request made by Senator O'Keeffe for a debate on the banks? All of us would welcome the opportunity of having such a debate in this House and it would give us all an opportunity to point out a number of things which we feel are very wrong with the banking system.
In a question to the Leader of the House Senator Ryan said that 20 per cent of the farmers in this country share 67 per cent of the farm income. There is something very wrong in that if that figure is correct.
Mr. Neville: I refer to a question I asked two weeks ago. I asked if the Leader of the House would give time for a debate on item No. 7, the Bill decriminalising suicide. I would like to ask him if he has considered the matter and also to indicate that under Standing Orders I will be moving Second Stage of this Bill in the near future.
Mrs. Jackman: I would like to know from the Leader of the House the up-to-date position regarding the extension of Seanad voting rights to UL and other third level institutions? We have passed the Bill for the dissolution of Thomond, which means that it is integrated with the University of Limerick. It is strange that what is supposed to be a very slow process, the movement of the wheels in the Department of Education, can move far faster than we can in the Seanad, where I have consistently asked this question, with the support of other Senators, and we still do not know the situation. It is a discriminatory situation and I ask the Leader if he could give me specific information today so that we do not have to wait until October before the question has to be taken up again.
Professor Conroy: Despite all our hilarity here this afternoon we are in a very sad situation today where many people are being killed, some might say massacred, in a European country. I would like to commend the efforts of the European Community Ministers — unfortunately, not successful efforts — to avert this tragedy. If it continues I request the Leader of the House to have a debate on the matter.
Mrs. Doyle: If I may take up a point that has just been made, as each week goes by this House is perceived as being more irrelevant because we do not appear to have the structures to debate quickly and to respond quickly to the issues that are important to the people of our country. I ask the Leader of the House, with some urgency, to try to find out what is holding up the establishment of a foreign affairs committee. We have consistently, on all sides of this House, pressed the Leader on this for a long time now. There were some utterances in the other House by the Taoiseach just a week or two before the local elections which left us in a position that perhaps we will have no foreign affairs committee. I would like to know exactly the Government's intentions in the matter. We need a vehicle where we can discuss and respond to issues, particularly those as close to home as Yugoslavia. This is what we should be talking about this week, or at the latest next week, and yet we appear not to be able to do so. This is just not good enough.
As finance spokesperson for Fine Gael in this House, I also support the call for a debate on the economic and social impact on our country, both rural and urban, of the proposed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. We are not opposed to reform; we are just opposed to the particular proposals that apparently are before us and, indeed, the implications of GATT. GATT and the Common Agricultural Policy can be taken together and should not be isolated and perhaps a debate could be structured in such a way that we could include the  budgetary overrun in that debate. I would prefer two separate debates but given the date we may not have time for two separate considered debates on the social and economic implications for agriculture and on the budgetary overrun. We must turn our minds to issues which are relevant to the people. I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that we are perceived as being relevant and respond quickly to the issues.
Has the Leader of the House plans to allow a debate, even for a few hours, on ODA policy? There is a contnuing problem worldwide with starvation particularly on the African continent. Our small contribution in terms of official ODA needs some consideration by this House and I ask the Leader to allow us to debate that matter in the next week or two.
Mr. Fallon: If I were to accede to all the requests from Senators for debates on the many issues raised, we would sit well into the month of August. I had planned, as I am sure others had, a short break in August. It is unrealistic to ask for so many debates at this time, however important they may seem.
I agree with Senator Manning that Item No. 1 is on the Order Paper for too long. It is not my fault. If we kept it moving obviously it would have been disposed of by now. I will do something about that before we adjourn for this session. Senator Manning also asked about the programme for the rest of the session. We are pretty much on target as regards the taking of items. I indicated that the Sea Pollution Bill might be taken but it will not be taken before the summer break. The Competition Bill will be taken as will the Courts (No. 2) Bill, the Trade and Marketing Promotion Bill, the Temple Bar Bill and the Courts (No. 1) Bill. We hope to conclude those in the present session. As I indicated previously, we will be sitting into the third week of July.
Senator Manning asked for a debate on the Brooke talks. We all live in hope in regard to the talks. I will keep the  matter under review and see what happens but I cannot promise a debate at this time. Many Senators raised the question of the economy. We are not unique in respect of this problem and many countries near us are worse off. Our inflation rate, interest rates and trading figures are all good and I am confident the Government will rectify the position in due course. Having said that, in a spirit of cooperation, I will investigate the possibility of having a debate on the economy. I favour the point made by Senator Doyle that we would have a debate on the economy/agriculture. Two weeks ago we had a debate on the developments in the EC and there were only three speakers.
Mr. Fallon: The debate was adjourned. I favour Senator Doyle's idea and perhaps we will arrange for that. That might suit Senator O'Toole and other speakers who raised the question of the CAP and other budgetary matters.
Senator Ryan referred to a review of industrial policy. I will investigate that. Senator Dardis queried the forum that Minister O'Kennedy referred to. I will investigate that and find out the present position. Other Senators referred to matters I have dealt with. In regard to Standing Orders, I have to work within the rules of the House and will continue to do so. In regard to Senator Hourigan's point, I do not wish to offend him but he seems to think that my personal views on issues determine if they are relevant. They are not relevant to the Order of Business. I would prefer if that did not arise and I say that without in any way trying to cause offence.
Senator O'Keeffe referred to bank charges. While it is an important matter, I have no plans to raise that subject in this session. It seems to be a very suitable matter to raise on the Adjournment. On the Local Government Bill, I am not aware when the ultra vires rule will be implemented but I will make inquiries  and inform Senator Hederman. Senator Hanafin also referred to bank charges and agriculture. I have no plans for a debate on item No. 7 which Senator Neville referred to. I will further investigate the Seanad voting rights for Senator Jackman. I have no plans for a debate on Yugoslavia or on overseas development aid mentioned by Senator Doyle.
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