Thursday, 8 October 1992
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Wright: Before I give the Order of Business I am sure Members would like me, on their behalf, to congratulate President Robinson and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, on their mission of mercy to Somalia. I sincerely  hope all world leaders and those with power to improve the lives of people in Somalia will respond appropriately.
Mr. Manning: May I join with Senator Wright in congratulating President Robinson on the major success of her trip to Somalia. I would also like to pay tribute to the Minister, Deputy Andrews, and to the Irish aid workers for the enormous contribution they are making. Since the President is a former Member of this House where she spent most of her political career, it should give this House particular pride in the role she has carved out for herself and the contribution she has made. I hope the Government will show their sincerity by moving rapidly to restore the level of ODA funding which has been cut very drastically in recent years.
On today's Order of Business, may I say specifically that I misunderstood the Leader of the House about discussion of the EC motion ending at 2 p.m. I would be happier if we gave two full hours to the EC motion and if Item No. 2 was taken after that.
On looking at today's Order Paper I have to ask myself if it was for this the Wild Geese fled given the amount of insubstantial business on the agenda. In view of the Cathaoirleach's exhortation to begin the session in a constructive way I ask the Leader of the House if he will give us, preferably today, a detailed schedule of the legislation to be taken this session. Will he also arrange as soon as possible for a full-scale debate on the financial and economic crisis and for a debate on the Green Paper on Education which debate he has committed himself to, together with a debate on the old question of overseas development aid and Somalia?
Mr. O'Toole: I join in the congratulations to President Robinson. On the Independent benches we take particular pleasure in this, since she left these benches to take on another role. We are delighted she is doing so well and join in the congratulations to her and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews. Some of our Members have put down a motion to that effect.
On this side of the House there is a view that Fianna Fáil Members spent their holidays much further away from home than the rest of us. There is a vicious rumour going around that Senator Honan is looking so well and that this means she did not stay in Clare for the entire three months.
Mr. O'Toole: It is appreciated that the Leader of the House arranged for this House to return at least at the same time as the Dáil. Perhaps a work ethic will now permeate both houses of the Oireachtas. I am not being negative about Members of this House who have always been available to do their work.
I want to raise an urgent matter and that the need for a full comprehensive debate on the Green Paper on Education which was published before the recess. At the end of the last session a commitment to a discussion was given. I know the Leader of the House is well disposed towards it and I hope he will respond positively. “Education for a Changing World” needs to be addressed at Oireachtas level at an early stage before people take up strong positions on the subject in other places.
Dr. Upton: I join in the congratulations to the President and to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and to all who went out to Somalia, including my colleague, Deputy  Michael D. Higgins. This country, unfortunately, is going to have a continuing credibility problem as long as our ODA contributions continue to decline, placing us at the bottom of the league of developed nations in aid matters. Could the Leader of the House indicate the present position in relation to the proposed foreign affairs committee? It has a gestation period longer than that of the elephant and I wonder when and if we are going to see it.
Mr. Cullen: I wish to be associated with the remarks regarding President Robinson's recent visit to Africa and the way in which she was able to focus enormous world attention on the plight of people there. I hope the Irish Government will seize the opportunity to expand the role of the President which might encompass helping other nations and representing this country in ways that hitherto a President has not been allowed to do. She is an extraordinarily credible person and capable of enhancing this country's image in many ways. I hope the Government will take note of her international standing.
I ask the Leader of the House if he will allocate for a full debate in this Chamber on the European Monetary System and the current currency crisis. There is a need for Seanad Éireann to debate this issue in the immediate future and hope it will happen next week. Members of this House have an enormous contribution to make in that area and we should not wait for the other Chamber to set the ball rolling. It is now a matter of urgency that Ministers should address this House on the issue allowing Members here to make a reasonable and important contribution to the debate.
Mr. Farrell: I congratulate President Robinson on her marvellous work in Somalia and Deputy Andrews, Minister for Foreign Affairs, who acquitted himself exceptionally well and who had been there previously.
Mr. Costello: I congratulate President Robinson on her initiative in going to Somalia and I also compliment the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Her visit showed the wonderful contribution our voluntary organisations and many individual Irish people are making there. Their efforts compare starkly with the decrease in overseas development and over the past number of years. This has undermined to a degree the President's good work and the international publicity accorded to her.
It is a pleasure to see three Bills before the Dáil at present that have passed this House. They are the Electoral Bill, the Censorship of Films Bill and the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages Bill. We took the initiative and now the Dáil starts a session by dealing with our legislation. I would like to ask the Leader of the House to ensure that this House becomes and remains a forum for the initiation of important legislation such as the Electoral Bill which we had before the summer and a forum for the discussion of important issues.
I suggest to the Leader that we have an early debate on the economy specifically orientated towards job creation. If we can deal with job creation all the other elements of the economy will fall into place. We must have an early debate on the Green Paper on Education. We have only got until the end of the month — according to the Minister for Education — to put forward proposals if we are going to have any say in the White Paper.
Mrs. Jackman: I ask the Leader of the House to nominate a specific time for the education debate? We may be the last forum for that debate. The teacher  unions are holding conferences on it and have been doing so.
I would like to congratulate President Robinson on her tremendous work in Somalia and to stress that it is not sufficient for us to say that the Irish are a giving people on a voluntary basis. We are not showing the appropriate lead in Government when we fail to increase overseas development aid. I also request an early debate on the White Paper on marital breakdown.
Mr. O'Donovan: I would like to ask the Leader of the House to ascertain when the Solicitors Bill, which I understand has been debated in the other House will be introduced to this House. Will it be introduced this term? Secondly, will the Leader of the House ascertain from the Minister for Justice if he will intervene further in the free legal aid dispute which is creating problems in Cork?
Mr. B. Ryan: No doubt, you will agree with me that this House is not a place where major announcements are usually made. May I thank Senator Honan for announcing that the Government have taken a decision to retain the Shannon stop-over? I was glad to hear it. I am not sure the Minister will be pleased that Senator Honan told us before the Minister announced it but I am sure Senator Honan, knowing her formidable talents, would not have made the announcement if it were not correct.
I agree with my colleagues about the wonderful work undertaken by our President and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. As a frequent critic of the Government, I should like to compliment the Minister for Foreign Affairs on his positive action on Somalia. I hope the Government will follow through. Can I say to Members that it is insufficient to tell the Government to increase ODA, if, at the same time, people demand that the Government reduce taxes. The consequence of doing our duty at home and abroad is that we have to maintain a high level of taxation. I support that and I invite my colleagues to be consistent and not to play games about important matters.
If we debate overseas development aid and listen to the people in the Third World we will realise that we have to move beyond aid to human rights and solidarity. We will not solve their problems by financial aid alone although it is the immediate necessity.
May I also ask the Leader to allow us to debate social welfare expenditure so that we may invite the Minister for Social Welfare to the House to clarify some of the more ominous comments he made during the past few months about what we can and cannot afford? The State is spending a smaller proportion of gross national product on social welfare now than it did six years ago. If the Minister thinks we are spending too much, he takes a different view from the rest of us and we could do with a detailed debate on that matter, where the Minister could explain many of his comments, perhaps unscripted, made outside the Houses of the Oireachtas. His comments have  frightened many Irish people regarding their future prospects of a secure income. I would welcome an assurance from the Leader on such a debate.
Mr. O'Reilly: I join with the call by Senator Manning for a programme of legislation from the Leader and I hope it will be forthcoming. I am anxious that the debate on the economic/financial position be divided into a debate on currency difficulties and then a separate debate on the jobs issue. I hope the Leader of the House will ensure that a senior Minister such as the Minister for Labour or the Minister for Finance will be present when we give a specific response here concerning job creation. Our proposals should go to Government and a response follow. The country expects that from this House.
We have talked about the role of the Seanad. Nothing would do more credit to the Seanad than such a debate. We could not take a better initiative than to have a comprehensive detailed discussion on jobs shortly and to come up with specific solutions rather than a statement.
Mr. Neville: I praise President Robinson for her excellent work and support calls for a debate on overseas development aid. I also support my colleagues who called for a debate on the White Paper on marital breakdown.
I would like to refer to Motion 41 on the Order Paper. Prior to the summer recess the Leader of the House agreed to a debate on the Sixth Report of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies dealing with Bord na gCon and I now ask the Leader of the House when that debate will take place.
I seek two points of information from the Leader of the House. I support the call by Senator Manning for an urgent debate on the recent and continuing difficulties in the financial markets and the resulting economic difficulties. It is a very  serious issue and it is only right that such a debate be given priority in this House.
The Minister for Finance has indicated that there will be a second Finance Bill this year, dealing principally with the Single Market operative from 1 January 1993. Could the Leader of the House indicate when that Bill is likely to come before the House? I suggest to him that the Seanad might be the appropriate forum for the introduction of that Bill.
Mr. Harte: I congratulate President Robinson on her wonderful work during her trip to Somalia and on her approach to her position as President. She has been true to her promise to make the Presidency a more reflective and open office.
With regard to today's business, namely, reports on developments in the EC, the time for this debate will probably be extended since the Order of Business has taken so long. In the present climate I do not think these reports can be separated from the overall economic situation. Senator Cullen called for an open debate on the economy. Much of the economic situation is interlinked with Europe with regard to unemployment as distinct from job creation and many developments in social welfare are unbelievably bad. If anybody were to document it is would make frightening reading. These developments are tied into the European scheme and I support Senator Cullen in his call for a full debate on the economy. With regard to a debate on marital breakdown, I would be prepared to wait a little longer.
Mr. Norris: I would like clarification on the proposal to end the EC debate in two hours. Will it be continued next week? Is there a time limit proposed on contributions? I realise there is a generally positive and cheerful atmosphere here this morning and I do not want to break that too harshly but there are matters of a much more urgent nature to be debated than this pallid fare. I refer to the disastrous economic climate, the fact that international speculators are gambling with jobs——
I congratulate Her Excellency, the President, and Deputy Andrews and point out that the Independent Senators have a motion down to this effect. I would have thought that we could have looked at that today. It need not necessarily be the motion in the name of myself and the other Independent University Senators but we ought to respond to what the President and the Foreign Minister have done.
If I might make a suggestion, I realise the President has already addressed a meeting of both Houses of the Oireachtas but there is provision in our rules for this House to be addressed by distinguished personages who are not Members of this House. Would it not be an idea to invite the President to brief this House formally some time during the next few weeks on the visit to Somalia in order to keep up the pressure? What I think she is trying to do is to keep up the pressure of publicity in the international arena and I suggest the Leader might consider this as a method of assisting both the President and the Minister for Foreign Affairs who has done extraordinary good work and visited Somalia prior to the Presidential visit.
As regards motion 35 on the Order Paper, the response of the Government to the European Court judgment, I am sorry to say, is still relevant to this House. I am going to be very well behaved, a Chathaoirligh, as you realise I almost always am and I am not going to move an amendment to the Order of Business but I cannot guarantee that I will not in future because since we last met and had some discussion on his matter, in direct contradiction to what the Irish Ambassador told the European Commission on Human Rights that it was intended to deal with this matter effectively and comprehensively before the end of the year, the Taoiseach said it was at the bottom  of his list of priorities — a matter of fundamental human rights.
Mr. Mooney: I would like to ask the House if it would recommend that the Chair would send a get well message to the Speaker of the Federal Assembly of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic who was a distinguished visitor to this House and since the recess has been involved in a very serious car accident. I am sure all sides of the House would agree to this.
My main reason for speaking is that I am somewhat disappointed that the announcement made in the past two days about the county enterprise boards has not been raised here this morning. I would like to ask the Leader of the House if he would arrange a debate on the announcement because I am seriously concerned at yet a further erosion of the role, power and status of local representatives. There is room for only one representative, the chairperson of the local authority concerned, on these proposed enterprise boards. It seems to me that a trade union-business axis with no political input at all and what it is now doing is giving power without responsibility to people. It will discourage quality people from getting involved in local government at the lowest level.
Mr. Mooney: Very briefly, one example, we have an administrator in our part of the country allegedly going around public meetings saying that if he receives representations from elected public representatives he will throw them in the bin. What sort of a State are we living in?
Mr. Mooney: I repeat the request that we have a debate at an early stage on the proposed enterprise boards. I do not wish my remarks to be misinterpreted. I fully applaud and encourage the initiatives of the Government in trying to tackle the unemployment crisis.
Mr. McKenna: I welcome the proposed introduction by the Minister for Justice of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill whereby sentences that seem to be too lenient can be referred to the DPP. It is most appropriate at this time in view of the absolutely ludicrous decision of a justice last week.
Mr. McKenna: Very briefly, it was an absolutely appalling decision where a convicted rapist was given a suspended sentence. It is high time that such lenient sentences were dealt with. It is absolutely crazy and I would ask——
Mr. McKenna: We are the people who will decide on that legislation and we must have an input into it. I ask the Leader of the House if he will arrange to have that legislation introduced in this House first.
Mrs. Hederman: I join with other Senators in congratulating the President on her visit to Somalia and thank her for representing the people of Ireland so splendidly on what was quite clearly for her a very harrowing experience. I support the suggestion made by my colleague, Senator Norris. It is an excellent idea that the President should be asked  to come here and address the House on her visit. I am sure it is something that she would welcome.
In relation to the Green Paper on Education, it was published at a time when schools were just breaking up and teachers were involved in examinations. The new term has now started and I know there is concern is some education circles that adequate time would be given for people to consider and comment on education in a changing world and that it would not be unduly rushed.
Mr. Lydon: If this is not the place to raise this matter, perhaps the Chair could tell me the appropriate forum? I have been thinking for a long time that although the Chair is a very distinguished gentleman, his Office might be enhanced by having a gown similar to that worn by the Ceann Comhairle?
Mr. Cassidy: I join with other speakers in congratulating our President and also the Minister for Foreign Affairs on distinguishing themselves in the eyes of the world over the past number of days. I, too, would like to call for a debate on the financial situation and on the Green Paper on Education. I concur with my colleague, Senator Mooney, in relation to calling for a debate on the county enterprise boards.
Will the Leader allow time for a discussion in this session on the situation in relation to copyright legislation which is being discussed at EC level. In my opinion, a senior official, of the Department erred in taking a stance at a recent  meeting. However, the meeting has not been concluded and——
Mr. McGowan: Will the Leader of the House provide for a debate on the Foyle Fishery Commission report on the grounds that it is the one joint venture that has been in place for some time throughout a difficult relationship. I ask the House to consider it, examine its success and perhaps make further recommendations.
Mr. Hourigan: I ask the Leader if it would be possible to have an early debate on the whole question of international finances which are fluctuating very seriously as the days go by and also to encompass in that debate the position of the Irish economy including the matter of jobs. All these areas are interlinked. A debate is needed urgently and should be held very quickly. I understand there will be a debate on jobs next week but I would see included the wider issue of the international scene and the economic climate outside Ireland. Will the Leader arrange for such a debate at the earliest opportunity possible?
I would like to be associated with the tributes paid to our President on her excellent work in recent days representing this country and to our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, for the part he played in the Third World area as Minister for Foreign Affairs, and indeed long before he was appointed Minister.
Mr. Dardis: I join in the request for a debate on the Exchange Rate Mechanism as an aspect of the total economy. The influence that such a debate might have on the markets or on the parasites who have been feeding off those markets in recent weeks is questionable. In fact, it  is even questionable whether this Government or any other Government have an influence on those people who are serving only their own interests and not the interests of society as a whole.
One aspect which has not been covered and which we might usefully debate is the whole future of the bloodstock industry. The Minister for Agriculture and Food has brought forward proposals in respect of how the industry should be regulated through the Turf Club and the Racing Board and has proposed a new authority. It would be very useful for the Members of this House to examine those proposals in detail and to give their views on them. This morning I visited Goffs bloodstock sales and I know the depths of depression which exist in that industry at the moment and anything we can do to advance its cause will be welcome.
An Cathaoirleach: Before I call the Leader to reply, I have allowed Senators considerable latitude this morning. It has been a bit like the first day back at school as it were but I must point out that we have the reforms which Senators looked for to deal with the matters we are talking about. There are new ways of introducing motions, matters of concern and so on and we will adhere more rigidly to it in the future.
It would be remiss of me if I did not pay tribute, as Cathaoirleach, to Deputy Andrews, Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was the first Foreign Affairs Minister from Europe to visit Somalia in August and, of course, a very warm tribute to a former Member of this House, President Mary Robinson, on her initiative in going to Somalia and becoming, as she said herself, the voice of the unfortunate people of Somalia. Ireland can certainly be proud of her and, indeed, I think in international terms it was a fantastic week for this lovely country our ours. I now call the Leader of the House.
Mr. Wright: On today's Order of Business,  we will carry over Item No. 1. I have arranged for the Minister for Finance to start the debate on the Report of the Ombudsman at 2 p.m. If it is agreed by the House, we will conclude today on Item No. 1 at 2 p.m. and come back next week on it or whenever suits the Whips.
With regard to a detailed list of legislation, in the last 10 days I have written to each Minister seeking support in initiating legislation in this House. It would be fair to say it was successful in the last session and I have no doubt that again we will have legislation initiated in this House. Next week I hope to have the up-to-date situation regarding what we will deal with between now and Christmas.
The economy was mentioned by several Senators today and it would be our intention to have a debate on that subject next week and obviously on issues such as the jobs forum, the economy itself, the money markets and the new enterprise boards. I agree with Senators on this issue and have no doubt that the expertise in this House should be considered on the setting up of these important boards before they actually come into being. I hope that next week, again subject to agreement with the Whips we will debate that.
With regard to the Green Paper on Education we will have a full day debate on that on 22 October and more time if it is needed. Before the Minister left on his latest visit to Somalia he made contact with my Office through the Chief Whip, Senator Ryan, and said he would be very pleased to be afforded an opportunity of coming to this House on his return. Unfortunately with flights and so forth he only arrived back this morning. It was our intention for him to come in today but I hope as soon as it is feasible for him to do so he will give us a briefing on his visit to Somalia with the President.
As regards the foreign affairs committee I am still extremely confident that committee will be established as soon as possible. Between the Northern Ireland talks, Somalia and other commitments, the Minister involved had a very busy schedule.
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