Wednesday, 11 March 1992
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Wright: It is proposed to take all Stages of Item No. 1, Land Bond Bill, 1991, to 6 p.m. and to have a sos between 6 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. From 6.30 p.m. to 8 p.m. it is proposed to take Item No. 18, the Independent motion No. 44 and from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Item No. 12 — State Guarantees Act, 1954 (Amendment of Schedule) Order, 1992.
Mrs. Doyle: We have agreed the Order of Business through the Whips but I would like to ask the Leader of the House if he could indicate when the all-day debate on the subject matter of Motion 44, which will be the second half of the Private Members' motion this evening, will be held, given that the Supreme Court judgment has now issued and given also the important developments in relation to the Maastricht Protocol that we hear through the media in recent times. I would be very keen that we would have a definite commitment to debate this most important topic and to ensure that this House has on the record the views of all parties and of those who do not subscribe to a political view and, indeed, the views of members who would differ on this matter on both sides of this issue. Before we proceed with the Order of Business today we must clearly indicate when that debate will take place because as far as I am concerned it is relatively urgent.
I would also like the Leader to indicate when we will have the promised debate on Greencore. That is a very important and topical issue and one of the main concerns of the Seanad is in responding to matters that affect the people. Therefore, I think that needs urgent debate also.
In this spirit of goodwill and indeed entente cordiale, I wish the former Taoiseach the best of luck this afternoon in Cheltenham and I hope Flashing Steel and all the other Irish contenders bring home the honours.
Dr. Upton: May I ask if we are going to have statements on the matters contained  in the judgment of the Supreme Court which was given last week. I am very anxious that this House should have the opportunity to have this debate and indeed that we should try to lead opinion on this matter.
May I also ask what is the present situation in relation to the proposed debate on banking. I think this debate has been given a new degree of urgency arising from the problems which are at present being manifest in the banking world.
Os rud é go bhfuil an tseachtain seo ainmnithe mar Seachtain na Gaeilge, is mian liom a iarraidh ar an Chathaoirleach an mbeidh díospóireacht faoi leith againn as Gaeilge faoi mar a bhí againn anuraidh, nó an bhfuil aon smaoineamh aige chun an Ghaeilge a chur ar aghaidh sa Teach seo.
Mr. Howard: I wish to raise two matters with the Leader of the House. The first is: can he indicate to us a definite date on which Item No. 6 will be taken, that is, the Culliton report on industrial policy. We have raised this matter on a number of occasions here and we have been promised a debate on it. It is important that the Leader would indicate to us today when that debate can take place.
The second matter I want to refer to has already been referred to by Senator Upton. It is to request the Leader to set a firm date for a discussion on the banks and financial institutions. I am attaching particular importance to this today because currently there are two matters related to this scheme which are causing major concern. The limited industrial action taken by certain bank staffs is being dealt with by an attitude that would be more appropriate to the Victorian era.
Mr. Howard: I will not develop that point further, a Chathaoirligh. The second matter, which is one of acute concern, relates to United Meat Packers. The employment of several hundred  employees is at risk. There is a serious level of financial uncertainty as far as suppliers of animals to these industries are concerned. Both problems are caused by the attitude adopted by the financial institutions.
I want to say it reflects poorly on the relevance of this House if we are unable to deal with matters of such serious concern as and when they arise. Therefore, I am asking the Leader to treat these issues as very serious and to provide the earliest possible opportunity for a debate on them.
Mr. McDonald: I would like to raise two queries, one touching on a point raised by Senator Howard. I should like to ask the Leader of the House if he can arrange at the earliest possible date a debate on agriculture having regard to the fact that in the midlands where a significant part of the agricultural husbandry is the finishing of cattle for the factories, there is no place to sell fat cattle at present. It is causing extreme concern. Over the years the Government and the Minister for Agriculture and Food were always held responsible. I should like to know where the Government and where the new Minister for Agriculture and Food stand. What message has he for farmers who have from ten to 70 or even 100 heavy fat cattle ready for slaughter?
I would also like to refer to Item No. 7 on the Order Paper. In the very first European Bill here we were given an undertaking that we would have an opportunity of reviewing the operations of the European Community every six months. I see from Item No. 7 here that the 32nd, 33rd, 34th, 35th and the 36th half-yearly reports have not yet been discussed. Over the past year, when there was such movement in European policy and European union, we have not had  adequate opportunity to reflect on, to study and to speak on the developments in the Community. That is a disgrace. We must get our priorities right.
Mr. McGowan: I would ask the Leader of the House, and indeed the entire House, to support the case being put to the banks to save United Meat Packers on the grounds that an advertisement was put in the Irish Farmers Journal on 22 February encouraging farmers to put their cattle into that factory and now those farmers cannot be paid. That is a very serious situation and is much wider than the jobs that are at stake. Many small farmers will go to the wall if the banks do not come up——
Mr. McGowan: I much appreciate your latitude and your assistance, a Chathaoirligh. I am sure you understand fully the gravity of the matter and I ask for your help and co-operation. I hope we will be totally united in putting forward a case on behalf of the company in regard to the application to the bank.
Mrs. Jackman: I would like to ask the Leader of the House if we could have a debate on the whole question of equal opportunity for women in the workplace. The reason I am asking is that arising from the conference last week there was the disturbing survey which showed that 40 per cent of the women surveyed did not feel they had access to equal opportunities in their workplace, that six out of ten of them reported they did not know of any policy on sexual harassment in the  workplace, and that three out of four women were not aware of any health and safety provisions for pregnant workers. In the light of the Maastricht Summit and the fact that there is only a very small proportion of women in the workforce, it is essential——
Mr. Norris: I would like to ask two questions. First, has the Leader any further information about the date on which the Taoiseach will make his very welcome appearance in this House? The Leader gave an undertaking that this would happen and he said he would give further information about the date.
Secondly, I ask the Leader if he will request the Minister for Foreign Affairs to convey the concern of the Irish people about the fate of Raoul Wallenberg arising from two simple facts. First, there is the adoption of a further report by the European Parliament which indicates specific dates in 1980 and 1986 when Wallenberg received treatment from named Soviet personnel.
Mr. Norris: In the light of the two Adjournment debates on this and the general framework of the question regarding a foreign affairs committee where these matters could perhaps more appropriately be discussed, could this concern be made clear to the Minister?
Mr. O'Keeffe: May I welcome the fact that banking status is being extended to the Agricultural Credit Corporation. In saying that I am very conscious of the fact that it is a desirable move, given that there will be no more competition on the ground vis-a-vis the Associated Banks. On that subject, I again exhort the Leader of the House as soon as possible to allow us the opportunity to debate the operation of the banking system in this country.
May I also use the opportunity to ask the Leader of the House if it is his intention to allow a debate on professional fees? We have seen over recent months that we are now quickly arriving at a situation where it will not be possible for us, as a country and as a Government, to afford investigations into matters of public importance.
Mr. O'Keeffe: It is appropriate in that we are bringing in reforms of the Seanad and it should be possible under these reforms to be allowed to make statements in this House. The public regard it as an obscenity that the cost of the Greencore investigation to date has been over £1 million. That matter needs to be redressed. I say to the Leader of the House that, given the fact that everybody else, whether it be teachers or whoever are subject to a review of pay and conditions, the time has now come in this House to call for a review body to be set up to investigate and to set fees appropriate to the functions pertaining to these professionals.
Mr. O'Donovan: May I ask when legislation is proposed to be introduced to extend the jurisdiction of the Castletownbere Harbour Commissioner? I make the point because at this stage there are about 20 “Klondikers” or large factory ships from Eastern Europe in the harbour and there is a large loss of revenue to the area. I understand that legislation is to be agreed; it is not contentious. I ask the Leader of the  House when will it be introduced, either in the Dáil, or preferably in this House? Such legislation should be introduced quickly in view of the loss of revenue to the Castletownbere Harbour.
Professor Raftery: I would like to support the call for a debate on the banks, and more specifically the banks in relation to United Meat Packers. There are 900 full-time jobs at stake, 600 part-time jobs, and only £4 million, I gather involved from the banks to save this company. In addition, if it closes there will be no competition for beef and less for lamb. There are over 100,000 farmers involved in that situation and I cannot understand why we could not have a debate today on the Adjournment on that issue.
Mr. Staunton: Let me preface what I am going to say by telling you that I was in America about two weeks ago and I met a third generation Irishman whose name was Fallon, from south Roscommon within ten miles of Athlone. When he asked me if I knew any Senators from that part of Ireland he was thrilled when I told him the Speaker of the Seanad was from there.
Mr. Staunton: If we could get on with matters more pertinent to the House, I would like to take up the point made by Senator Raftery. United Meat Packers are in Mayo. There is a massive impact on jobs in the west and in Wexford, about 900 jobs——
Mr. Staunton: I take your point, but this is a critical issue. If the Government put a fraction of the effort they put into  the Goodman empire into this one, this industry could be saved. There is a massive input needed there and it is a matter the Leader of the House should take up with the relevant Ministers.
Secondly, I called for a debate in this House sometime ago in relation to aspects of mining. Again, I ask the Leader of the House to consider a debate in this area. Specifically, I am talking about mining proposals in west Mayo. I am in favour of mining as a general principle, but there is massive conflict between a national policy and allowing mining interests to go into high amenity areas. There is very strong opposition in high amenity areas like Croach Patrick. It could be the subject of a national debate and I ask the Leader of the House to so arrange a debate.
Éamon Ó Cuív: Ba mhaith liom a fhiafraí den Cheannaire cén uair a bheadh sé i gceist aige go mbeadh díospóireacht faoi chúrsaí an iarthair. I would like to ask the Leader when there will be a debate on regional disparities, particularly the problems facing the west and the way in which western regions are effectively discriminated against in development policies.
Mr. Lanigan: I wish to ask two short questions. First, may I ask the Leader if it is possible in the near future to have a debate in the House on the Leader programme. It is an aspect of rural development that is new. This House could help play a major part in possible developments which might take place within the programme, as announced recently by the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Agriculture and Food.
Secondly, when will it be possible for the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Justice to come together and deal with the state of anarchy throughout the country where caravans are parked in every nook and cranny of every road. We are building roads and spending millions on road development, but you  cannot shift a caravan. I am not talking about poor itinerants; I am talking about traders who are taking over the highways and byways of the country.
Mr. Lanigan: I sincerely hope it does come up. Last week was National Tree Week. If one looks at the roads throughout the country one finds many of these trees are being used as clothes lines by itinerant traders, not poor itinerants. They are using as clothes lines the new oak trees, the broad-leaved trees that have been planted all over the country. It is about time the anarchy associated with these people was addressed.
Mr. R. Kiely: I would like to ask the Leader to have the debates on agriculture and on the banks as previous speakers have requested. I will not elaborate and make a speech, but I wonder if we could have a debate on broadcasting policy, especially in regard to television. I am referring to that disgraceful “Today Tonight” programme last night where a man was tried by television. It was very unfair to his family. I would like to know how much that programme cost the people of Ireland. It was a disgrace and it warrants a debate.
Mr. McKenna: Os rud é gurb í seo Seachtain na Gaeilge, ba mhaith liom aontú leis an Seanadóir Upton agus a iarraidh ar an Cheannaire díospóireacht ar staid na Gaeilge a chur ar siúl i rith na seachtaine seo nó chomh luath agus is féidir.
I would like to join with Senator Kiely in condemning out of hand the absolutely appalling and deplorable programme that appeared on our television last night. It was nothing short of an absolute disgrace.
Mr. McKenna: When something like that appears on our television screen we in this House have a responsibility to express our abhorrence that the national television station should sink to such depths by providing that type of coverage. It is absolutely appalling.
Mr. Wright: On the debate on the Supreme Court decision, I would ask the Opposition leaders to agree to a debate in two weeks time. At that stage we will have the wording of the amendment to the Protocol. The Taoiseach suggested this morning on the Order of Business in the Dáil that he would have that amendment in writing. In the interest of a full debate on every aspect of the Supreme Court decision, I think we would wait for that wording. I suggest that in two weeks time we have a full day's debate on the Supreme Court decision.
Mr. Wright: I am stating here that in two weeks' time we will have a debate on all aspects but in particular the wording of the amendment to the Maastricht Protocol on which, I am sure, many Senators would like to have a say.
In regard to the Greencore debate, I suggest that we have such a debate on Thursday of next week, subject to agreement between the Whips. That would include some of the issues raised here today by Senators, in particular the matter of professional fees. Such a debate would give an opportunity to those who wish to express their opinion.
On Item No. 6, the Industrial Policy Review Group report, the Culliton report, I suggest that, with the agreement of the Whips, we have such a debate in two weeks time. I suggest also a full day's debate for that item. It is a most important matter.
In relation to the banks dispute, because of the industrial action pending, perhaps now is not the time for us to have such a debate. However, I am extremely keen to have such a debate. The role of the banks was raised with the Minister by many Members this morning. The new  Bill announced today will give us an opportunity perhaps of making some comments on that matter.
The question of United Meat Packers was raised here today. Senator Staunton put forward a view that has been expressed by Members of the Opposition in the Dáil. I want to say that there is total Government commitment to make sure that United Meat Packers are kept open. Over 900 jobs and 600 part time jobs are involved; indeed, the whole western economy would be affected if anything happened to that company. From the latter part of last week the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Agriculture and Food— the whole weight of Government—have endeavoured to ensure that the banks come up with the right decision. It may well be that the decision will not be just based on the £4 million needed for a short term solution to the problem. It may well be that these discussions will lead to a solution in the long term interests of the company. I am sure everybody in this House would wish for a successful outcome to these discussions. Hopefully, we will have news on that before the day is out.
It might be possible to have a debate on agriculture in a couple of weeks time. The new Minister for Agriculture and Food has made it quite clear that he would be delighted to come to this House to give his views on the matter.
Senator Jackman asked if it would be possible to have a debate on legislation concerning the equality of opportunity and status of women. I met today with the Minister for Labour, Deputy Cowen. He is quoted today, and he confirmed to me, and that he will be bringing new ideas on that issue to Government. I hope that in the not too distant future we will discuss in this House Government proposals on the matter mentioned by Senator Jackman.
In reply to Senator O'Donovan I am pleased to say the Minister confirmed to me today that within a month he will introduce legislation to extend the jurisdiction of Castletownbere Harbour  Commissioner and we look forward to that perhaps being initiated in this House. Senators Lanigan and O'Cúiv mentioned the Leader programme. I am sure we can arrange for that debate in the not too distant future.
Last night I watched the programme “Today Tonight” with disdain and dismay. For the past couple of months Senator Manning has been asking for a debate on public broadcasting and, having seen last night's programme, I think we should bring that debate forward as quickly as possible.
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