Wednesday, 10 July 1991
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Fallon: It is proposed today to take Second Stage of Item No. 2 — the Competition Bill, 1991, until 4.30 p.m. There will be sos from 4.30 p.m. to 5 p.m. when we will take Item No. 2 — all Stages of the Trade and Marketing Promotion Bill, 1991. Between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. it is proposed to take Item No. 4 — the Courts Bill, 1991, all Stages — and also Item No. 5, the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) (Amendment)  (No. 2) Bill, 1990, which is dealing with amendments from the Dáil.
Mr. Cosgrave: On the Order of Business, may I mention two matters. First, I would like to welcome the decision by the IOC to readmit South Africa to the Olympic Games. As one who believes that at times, unfortunately, sport was made an innocent victim, I hope this decision will be followed by further responses in developments and in progress in getting rid of apartheid in South Africa.
Secondly, Senator Staunton mentioned yesterday Item No. 1 the Altamont (Amendment of Deed of Trust) Bill. I am wondering if this will be taken next week. It is important that it be taken before the summer recess.
Mr. R. Kiely: Yesterday I asked on the Order of Business if there would be a debate on agriculture, especially on the CAP reform and I was disappointed when I was told by the Leader of the House that it was not intended to have a debate. Everyone knows that Ireland is very dependent on agriculture, more dependent than any other EC country, and it is in the national interest that we have a viable agricultural industry. With suggested CAP reforms and other problems, the industry seems to be in a crisis. Such is the awareness that there is a special debate in the Dáil and it definitely warrants a debate in this House also. Therefore, I ask the Leader of the House to seriously consider giving time for a debate on agriculture, which is of vital importance.
Professor Raftery: I, too, would like to protest about the Order of Business and the inability of this House to debate matters that are really important. We allocated about six hours yesterday to the Temple Bar Bill but the debate collapsed because there was nobody particularly interested in it. It seems this House is much more interested in dealing with trivial matters. Effectively, we have 300,000 unemployed. Our agriculture is  being decimated by an Irish Commissioner and we are likely to lose about 40,000 jobs as a result of the proposals from the Commissioner.
Professor Raftery: I am asking the Leader of the House: is he more interested in protecting the Government from being embarrassed than he is about the real issues in the economy? There is a sense of apathy about what is going on, instead of outrage. In another era, in another time, there would be a guillotine or a gallows outside and we would have heads rolling.
Professor Raftery: I have asked the Leader of the House, and I am asking him again, would he please have the really important things debated, allocate enough time to them and cut down the time that is being allocated to trivial issues.
Mr. B. Ryan: This may be a failure in communications on my part, but may I ask the Leader of the House to confirm that the absence of Private Members' time today is by agreement, or was it by the decision by the Leader of the House or by what? There is no Private Members' time today and today is Wednesday.
Taking the lead from Senator Cosgrave but not on the same issue, may I say, first, that people will not say apartheid is ended in South Africa until everybody  has a vote, an equal vote in a free society. May I slip in congratulations to Kadar Asmal for his extraordinary achievement on his election to the executive committee of the African National Congress as a tribute to his work and indeed a tribute to this country?
May I also support my colleagues who want to debate two issues which are related, unemployment and agriculture? We need to talk about those things. I am sure that on the issue of agriculture I will be in a minority of about three in regard to my views on what should be done about it. It is extremely important that we should confront the issue. I ask the Leader of the House to confirm that there will be a debate before we adjourn on the collapsing economy of this country.
Mr. Cullen: May I ask the Leader of the House when he proposes to take Item No. 15 on the Order Paper? There are many conventions relating to this order that it is very necessary for us to have signed and implemented here. The fact that that order is on the Order Paper highlights the need for the establishment of a foreign affairs committee. There are many items included in this order that would indeed be appropriate to discussion at a foreign affairs committee. I ask the Leader of the House if he has any update on that point.
Secondly, with regard to the latest announcements on agriculture, it is necessary that we have a debate on this subject. Great fears have been raised in the country and there is much discussion on the matter. There is a lot of mistaken apprehension in some areas with regard to it. Nevertheless not just people directly concerned with agriculture, but many of the ancillary businesses and service industries related to that sector are very concerned and I think a debate is necessary. In that regard we shall be giving a lead in the Seanad.
In regard to the return of South Africa back to the Olympic movement, supported by the ANC, the Government here should see that as a clear signal for continued urgency in regard to the matter of the rehabilitation of South Africa into  the full international community. The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Minister——
Mr. Cullen: I am putting the question to the Leader of the House to ensure that at national and EC level we move to remove all sanctions against South Africa as quickly as possible to ensure the integration of that country into the international community. I ask the Leader of the House to request the Minister for Foreign Affairs to ensure that he pursues that course of action.
Mr. Howard: I have two points to make. First, I wish to support the call that has been made for time to be provided for a debate on agricultural issues. I am sure the Leader of the House passed in the main gate and saw the spectacle of responsible farmers fasting and sleeping outside the gate. I am sure he will recall that it is 25 years since we had a similar sit-down on the other side of Leinster House and in view of the events that followed on that occasion we should not have a repeat now. For that reason I am issuing the strongest appeal to the Leader of the House to provide time for a debate on agriculture.
The second point I want to raise with the Leader is in relation to the manner in which this House proposes to deal with the Competition Bill. We are taking Second Stage today and my information, which is subject to confirmation by the Leader, is that Committee Stage of that Bill will be taken next week. I want to point out a difficulty I now foresee. The Minister has indicated that it is his wish to have this Bill through before the recess. In view of the fact that the Dáil is rising on Friday, what is the point in this House attempting to amend that Bill on Committee Stage next week if there is no Dáil to receive amendments made in this House? It is on the shoulders of the Leader of the House that the responsibility lies of ensuring that this  House can fully act in discharging its legislative duty, which will be denied to it if it is not possible for it to amend this measure in view of the fact that the Dáil is rising at the weekend.
Mr. H. Byrne: I have consistently raised the issue of the worsening income situation in agriculture since the beginning of this term. I am pleased now that everybody seems to accept that income will drop by 30 per cent by the end of this year. I have to say I am shocked that the level of reduction in incomes is meriting so little attention in this House because those farmers protesting outside this House and particularly those in agriculture look to us to——
Mr. H. Byrne: It seems to me that everybody else in the country is now debating it except this House. I am shocked that this should be the case. I ask the Leader in the national interest to have a debate on agriculture before the summer recess.
Mrs. Hederman: I thank Senator Raftery for supporting the point I made yesterday during the debate on the Temple Bar Bill that it was most inappropriate that that should be taking up the time of this House. I would not join him in his comment that it is trivial; in so far as the capital city is concerned it is extremely important. I ask the Leader of the House to urge the Government to leave matters that are properly the remit of the local authorities to them. All sides of the House are pressing for debates on agriculture, on unemployment, the economic situation, all of which are extremely urgent, but we are bogged down dealing with matters such as the Temple Bar Bill, which should properly be dealt with by Dublin Corporation. Will the Leader of the House ask the Government to leave those matters to the local authorities and introduce some local democracy in this country?
Mr. McGowan: On a day when Telecom Éireann announced a profit of £92 million, I ask the Leader of the House to provide time for a debate. on the rationalisation necessary to allow an equalisation in telephone charges where it will no longer cost five times more for a telephone charge in rural Ireland? This is a small island and there is a serious disadvantage to people in business in rural areas who have to pay five times more for their telephone charges than those living in inner Dublin. I ask the Leader of the House to view this matter with concern in the interests of business people in the rural community. A debate is now timely in view of the announced profit by Telecom Éireann.
Pól Ó Foighil: Ba mhaith liom a iarraidh ar an Cheannaire go mbeadh díospóireacht iomlán againn ar chúrsaí talmhaíochta. Tá sé seo á lorg agam i gcomhthéacs muintir an iarthair mar is cinnte go mbeidh díthiú feirmeoirí beaga na tíre seo uilig agus nach mbeidh duine acu fanta san iarthar nuair a ghabhann moltaí an EC tríd. Ba cheart go dtabharfaí am cinnte dúinn chun an cheist tábhachtach seo a phlé. Iarraim ar an Cheannaire freisin am a chur ar fáil chun cúrsaí Ghaeltachta a phlé arís, mar táimid fágtha anois gan Údarás: níl aon chathaoirleach ná bord ná airgead againn. Tá gá le cúrsaí na Gaeilge agus cúrsaí iarthair na tíre, agus go mór mhór cúrsaí feirmeoireachta, a phlé sa Seanad.
Mr. Staunton: There are two points I want to make. First, my understanding is — and I stand open to correction — that the Leader of the House did not make any reference to Item No. 1, the Altamont Bill. Will he give us a categorical assurance that that matter, which is a very simple issue, can be dealt with next week because if it is not dealt with next  week it will not be dealt with? This is against the background of guarantees that it would be dealt with before Christmas, then between Christmas and Easter and between Easter and now. It is only reasonable to ask that it be dealt with now.
I join my voice also to those who have spoken about the necessity for a debate in this House on agriculture. It is extremely pertinent at this time, given that the European Commission yesterday endorsed the proposals of the Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. MacSharry. It is an extremely heated issue. It is very volatile. There are pickets outside this House. If the Seanad do not make unlimited time available to Senators to say what they want to say on that issue, it will hold up this institution to ridicule. If we cannot deal with what are the most pertinent and pressing issues of the day, then there is no real function for the Seanad. I appeal to the Leader of the House to make time available for an open-ended debate on this extremely important issue.
I take the point made by Senator Ryan that the issue of unemployment is absolutely crucial. Of course, there are linkages, because there are huge employment and unemployment issues, both directly in agriculture and indirectly in the agricultural processing sector. Perhaps the Leader might agree to the title of the debate being a debate on the question of the Irish economy, which would give Senators an open-ended opportunity to deal both with the agricultural question and the critical unemployment issue.
Mr. McDonald: I add my voice to that of my colleagues who have asked for an early debate on agriculture. It is quite obvious that there is considerable concern throughout the country about the whole question. I remember when the farming organisations were picketing this House many years ago. I thought that since the introduction of the Common Agricultural Policy on our joining the European Community that that day was gone by.
Since we have such provision in our  Standing Orders, I ask the Leader of the House to seriously consider inviting the EC Commissioner for Agriculture to come and explain his proposals, because he said on the media last night they were of tremendous benefit to this country. No one believes that except himself. Why not have the Commissioner come in and explain the package to us? We have the facility to do that here. I ask the Leader to give the Members of this House an opportunity to deal with this issue which is extremely important to many people in this country. The Commissioner said there would be compensatory measures through headage payments, but not one-tenth of the farmers of this country would qualify for that.
Mr. McDonald: I would just like to repeat the question. Will the Leader of the House extend an invitation to Commissioner MacSharry to come here and explain his new proposals, which he says are of benefit to the farmers, and indicate what sector or types of farmers are going to benefit? There is no point in going to the bank manager and telling him that new facilities are of benefit to the country if we are down 35 per cent.
Dr. Upton: Would the Leader be prepared to consider the suggestion made by Senator McDonald, which I think is a very good idea? I very much share the sentiments expressed by Senator Raftery this morning in relation to the manner in which we order our business. I think that extends to this whole agricultural debate, in which we now seem very anxious to get involved. Most of the time we seem to be responding or reacting to what is happening in Europe rather than generating ideas in relation to what should happen there. Much of what is happening in Europe now is going to have tremendous implications for us over the next four or five years and, as far as I can see,  with the exception of a few academics, a few civil servants and perhaps a few people in the business and the farming communities, nobody in this country seems to be interested in it as we go on being preoccupied with the analysis of potholes.
Mr. Harte: I support Senator Howard and put the question to the Leader of the House, to the Seanad and to the Government: do we ever learn from experience about agriculture? Do we want to see the tractors and the trailers again blocking the streets? Is that the state we want it to get to? If we do not want it to get to that state, the thing to do is to have an open debate here. That can be a very necessary step in the direction of letting these people know that somebody has an interest in them. I make an appeal that we have this debate; otherwise we will let a situation develop that we could avoid.
I regret that, our Motion No. 52, on the viability plan for An Post, was not allowed to be discussed under Standing Order 42 when we might have had it taken in Private Members' time. Unfortunately, it will be autumn now before our turn comes again. I would like to put on the record, for the benefit of people from An Post who have been lobbying us to table the motion, that it is not our fault we did not get an opportunity to discuss the matter.
Mrs. Jackman: Is the Leader of the House going to be impervious to the pleas of almost everybody who has been asking for a debate on agriculture over the past few weeks, particularly when we see that people have had to leave their jobs, come to Dublin and stay up all night, as Senator Raftery has mentioned? This is not something that can be dismissed. We are here democratically to reflect the problems of the people of the country. Unless we have a debate next week we will have to go to the farming community and say that as far as parliamentarians in this House are concerned they are not interested. We are talking in the context of adding to the 300,000 already unemployed. The fact is  the economic cake is not large enough to be able to cope with the addition of a sector of the community who have not been on dole queues but will now be. I am pleading with the Leader to have that debate next week; otherwise we will have dismissed the farming population as irrelevant. We will not be back again until the autumn and at that stage it will have had a devastating effect on the country.
Mr. Fallon: A number of Senators raised the question of the Altamont Bill. I have had discussions very recently with the Leas-Chathaoirleach and it seems clear that we should resume the debate on that. Hopefully, that will be next Wednesday.
A number of speakers asked for a debate on agriculture. I indicated yesterday that we would not have a debate on agriculture/economy this week. We have had in the past many debates on agriculture in this House. When we had Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy, in this House for a wide-ranging debate on agriculture very few Senators offered to speak. The complaint, as I can recall, that evening was that the Minister went overboard and spoke for too long. This is true: he did speak for a long time. However, as I indicated previously, I accept that it is a changing situation and that there is a need for a debate on agriculture. I hope we will have a debate on agriculture/economy next week or whatever arrangement we think is best suited. I will have discussions with the Whips on the best format and we will certainly have a debate in some form next week.
Senator Raftery's point also dealt with agriculture and with the ordering of business. The ordering of business is primarily done by the Whips. I comply with the wishes of the Whips to a large extent, and certainly in so far as yesterday's business was concerned it was not my fault that speakers did not offer. We gave plenty of time for what we thought was important legislation. I have to say that we are primarily a legislation House. I have said time and time again that my  priority at all times is in the area of legislation and that will continue to be the way. At the same time I accept that from time to time there is need for motions on agriculture, education, foreign affairs and matters like that. Certainly, I am always open for debates of that kind at any time but I want to repeat that primarily my role and the role of this House is in regard to legislation.
Senator Brendan Ryan referred to Private Members' time this week. My understanding is that this was agreed with the Whips. He also asked for a debate on agriculture/the national economy. Senator Cullen asked about Item No. 15. That item will also be taken next Wednesday.
Senator Howard asked about the Competition Bill. I accept fully the point he made but it is not the first time, as Senator Howard knows, this happened. When his party were in Government it happened also. I accept that it is not the best way forward, but that is the way it is and the way this House operates.
I have noted Senator Hederman's comments in relation to local government. I have also noted what Senator McGowan said about Telecom Éireann charges. I do not propose to have a debate on that. Senator Ó Foighil also referred to the agricultural question, as did Senator Neville. Most of the other comments dealt with a debate on agriculture/ economy. I will say to Senator McDonald that Commissioner MacSharry is not a Member of this House and it is not for me to invite him; obviously, it is for somebody else to do that. Senator Harte asked about Motion No. 52. I do not propose to take that matter. We had a debate on An Post. Senator Jackman asked for a debate on agriculture and I have replied to that.
Professor Raftery: On a point of information, may I point out to the Leader of the House that when the Minister was here speaking on agriculture he did speak for a long time but he specifically refused to comment on the proposed reforms——
Mr. McDonald: I would like to ask the Leader of the House what is the use of the previous Seanad spending almost three years dealing with Standing Orders if the Leader of the House says that by virtue of the fact that the Commissioner is not a Member of the House he cannot be asked to come here. We changed these Standing Orders to provide for that.
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