Wednesday, 1 February 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
I realise that Item 2 covers four reports of developments in the European Communities, so I suggest a time limit of 30 minutes for the first speaker for each group and 20 minutes thereafter. If there is a problem with that, given the fact that we are covering four reports, we could look at it during the course of the day.
Mr. Wright: We agree to the Order of Business. I was hoping the Leader would have made time today for a debate on the Brinks-Allied robbery. There is a need to debate the circumstances of the robbery and the aftereffects of the horrific shooting of a constituent of mine: obviously, I am pleased that she is recovering. This House should also get the chance to debate the legislation covering this issue.
Mr. O'Toole: Last week on the Order of Business I raised with the Leader the need to have a comprehensive debate on the current state of the educational servicing system. The Leader did indicate  that he would be positively disposed to that matter and I would like to hear the current position.
I note that the Minister for the Environment has announced the extension of the franchise of this House to our emigrants. As the first elected politician in this country to raise that issue many years ago, I welcome that.
With this new legislation — this issue has been raised from these benches on many occasions — I appeal to the Leader to ask the Minister to extend the franchise to graduates of other third level colleges, apart from universities, so that they would also have representation and voting on the Universities Panel.
Mr. Dardis: With regard to the last point, may I suggest to the Leader that this legislation be introduced in this House rather than begin its passage in the Dáil, as it is most relevant to this House? May we assume that we are close to a general election in view of the number of items on the Adjournment this afternoon? In a serious vein——
Mr. Dardis: To those of us not in the know, it is probably very serious. I ask the Leader to provide time for a debate on Northern Ireland. The last time this was raised — it was raised by several speakers on the opening day of the session — I thought it would be better to leave it until after the framework document was drafted. However, in view of what we have seen today and the deliberate attempts by individuals, if not organisations, to sabotage the peace process, there is a certain urgency about the framework document, there is a vacuum and it is being exploited by people for very bad purposes. For that reason and in view of the history of the House in dealing with this matter in a balanced and responsible way, we could give a very strong message of support to the Government and the whole peace process. I ask the Leader to make time  available at the earliest opportunity for a debate on Northern Ireland.
Mr. Enright: I, too, welcome the proposal for a referendum on the granting of votes to emigrants for seats in this House. It is very important and welcome step and I am certain everybody will be happy to support it. Last week I raised the question of a debate on the invasion of Chechnya by the Russian Government. I am pleased that the Minister for Foreign Affairs lodged a protest about this. It is important and necessary that we have a debate so that we can express our abhorrence at this invasion and the slaughter of innocent people. Many people would like to express their views.
I ask the Leader if there are any plans for an immediate debate on the new Road Traffic Act. I believe the Government is considering amending legislation. Before the legislation is introduced, it would be important that everybody in this House has an opportunity to express their views, whether they are for or against the Act or are proposing amendments to it and put their proposals to the Minister.
Mr. Norris: I would remind the House that the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz took place at the weekend. I understand that no reference was made to this in the House last week. That is perhaps understandable because the date of the commemoration is equidistant between the meetings of the House last week and this week. Had I been aware that no mention was made of it I would have suggested, a Chathaoirligh, that we have a minute's silence in memory of the millions of people who died, in particular because of the lamentable attitude of the Polish Government in handling these ceremonies in virtually excluding all mention of the millions of Jewish people, confining itself exclusively to the 80,000 Polish Roman Catholics and completely ignoring up to half a million gay people who were annihilated.
 I wish to mention a couple of Items on the Order Paper. Will the Leader give time for Item 2, a motion in the names of Senator Henry, Senator O'Toole and myself, about East Timor? It is a non-Government motion. A deputation from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs will attend a meeting in Portugal on this subject within the next few months and it would be useful for us to have passed a resolution of this nature.
With regard to votes for emigrants, as one of the people who sponsored this idea during a debate on reform of the Seanad some years ago, I very much welcome it. I think it is an excellent idea. However, I hope that the new Administration will not confine itself to this small measure because we need a much more wide ranging reform of the Seanad. I know there will be sympathetic minds on the Government benches in this regard.
Item 7 refers to the recent attack on a distinguished Irish journalist and follows in the wake of what my colleague, Senator Wright, said about the Brinks-Allied robbery. An important point was made in this morning's newspapers, that there should be co-ordination between the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda and Social Welfare.
Mr. Norris: Can I finish this point? Will the Leader draw to the attention of those responsible for those areas the fact that I am aware, for example, that there are people in my constituency, in the middle of a heroin epidemic, making upwards of £40,000 a week with extensive properties? I would like to know why the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda and Social Welfare are not coordinating their efforts and asking the kind of questions that might put some of these gentle persons behind bars.
Mr. Finneran: Last week on the Order of Business I raised a question  concerning severe flooding in the catchment area of the rivers Shannon and Suck, and nationally as well and I explained to the Leader the grave concerns that were being expressed to public representatives in the areas affected. The Leader indicated a certain line of action which has not proved to be successful. This matter needs to be debated because the situation has deteriorated to the point where families are having to leave their homes. In my county a large number of families have had to abandon their homes in the last few days, and stock and fodder have been lost. I am calling on the Leader for a debate today or, if necessary, we could sit tomorrow to debate this urgent matter after the Presidential address. This issue cannot be put aside for a few weeks; the only way it can get the attention it requires is by a Minister explaining the Government's response to the House. I am asking the Leader to honour what he said last week when he agreed that it was an important issue that should be debated.
Mr. Finneran: I went along with a certain mode of action but I now call on the Leader to have a debate on this matter and that we sit tomorrow, if necessary, to discuss it. A Minister should respond to the debate here.
Mr. Fitzgerald: Last week I asked the Leader of the House about a Bill but I made an error with the title. The actual title is the Harbours Bill, 1994. In a document issued for the session before Christmas, when we were in Government, it was listed for publication. I am amazed that in a list published today by the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Seán Barrett, there is no mention whatsoever of that Bill being published before the summer.
Mr. Fitzgerald: This is a downgrading because this Bill was to have gone through this House and the Lower House before last summer. However, at the time the junior Minister, Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan, was handling that Bill and it was delayed. I am pleading with the Leader to try to get that Bill published immediately because it is very important. I also ask him if it could be initiated in the Seanad because, in terms of volume, it is as big as the Companies Bill. There would be much debate involved in that Bill.
I also support the call by Senator Finneran for a debate on the flooding, not just in the midlands but throughout the West, indeed covering almost 90 per cent of Ireland. It is amazing to observe the publicity received by Holland, Belgium and Germany and the money the European Parliament have already said they are going to give these countries. There is no mention of the hardship people are enduring in the midlands and the West. Only the other night——
Mr. Wilson: On this, my first visit to the Seanad since the loss of our son, may I very simply but very sincerely thank you, a Chathaoirligh, and all of the Members of the Seanad who offered and freely gave of their sympathy and their support for us in so many different  ways. I thank Members particularly for what was said in the Seanad on the first meeting after his death.
Mr. Wilson: On a more serious note, I am usually the one asking for time to be spent on Northern Ireland. With great respect to Senator Dardis I suggest that we would be talking in the vacuum which he mentioned. It would be wise to postpone statements on Northern Ireland until after the framework document is published. That is my view because we would then have something to talk about. At the moment we have nothing to talk about.
Mr. Quinn: I support the Senators who urged the Leader to ensure that the legislation providing for the extension of the franchise to emigrants be initiated in this House. Those of us on the Independent benches, who have already experienced emigrant voting, are aware of the benefits this can have for our emigrants. We are probably the only people who have had the advantage of seeing the franchise already extended to graduates. The legislation for the new referendum, whenever it occurs, must be initiated in this House. I can think of no other Bill which deserves to be initiated here as much as this one.
It is likely to be quite contentious. When discussing it last night I realised that the American revolution started on the basis of no taxation without representation. Here there is clearly a view that this will constitute representation without taxation. We must ensure a full and open debate starting in this House which will tease out the flaws in the legislation before it goes any further.
I also ask the Leader of the House if, rather than having the debate called for by the Leader of the Opposition on the Brinks-Allied robbery, we could have a debate on crime, the escalation of crime and what action has been taken over the last seven years under Fianna Fáil Ministers for Justice.
Mr. Daly: Last week I also addressed the serious flooding issue and drainage problems generally. Since then there has been serious flooding in Ennis, County Clare, where the business life of the town has been disrupted. Many businesses and private houses have been  flooded and damaged. Perhaps the Leader of the House could give us some indication about the legislation which is being prepared because there is a difference of opinion as to whether it is with the Department of the Environment or the Department of Finance and whether it will have provisions to pay compensation to the people who have been badly affected by the recent flooding. We are discussing European affairs, which are important in their own way, but it is vitally important, in view of the serious widespread problems, particularly in towns like Ennis which have been flooded, to discuss this matter today.
Mrs. McGennis: I ask the Leader of the House to request the Minister for Justice to comment on remarks made by a Government Deputy that the Garda Síochána is the laughing stock of the criminal world. I am sure the Leader agrees that this remark is extremely offensive to members of the Force and I ask him to indicate in his reply if this view is shared by the other parties in Government.
Mrs. McGennis: Yes. As there are few items on the Order of Business, perhaps the Leader would request the Minister for Health to come into the Chamber this evening to make a brief statement on the increased numbers of bacterial meningitis cases which have been detected in north Dublin. This is of great concern to families with children.
Mr. McGowan: I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the National Roads Authority because local authorities are precluded from debating its functions. In particular, I refer to the north-west which has been totally neglected as regards funding and anyone who considers  the plan drawn up by the National Roads Authority for funding will realise this is an important matter; it concerns all local authorities in the north-west. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this issue. It would help if the Minister for the Environment could offer an explanation and if we could make a recommendation in this important area.
Mr. Naughten: Coming from a county which has suffered badly from emigration over the past number of years, I welcome the Government's decision to extend voting rights to emigrants. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Dardis, Senator Quinn and Senator Enright that it would be appropriate to introduce such legislation in this Chamber.
I ask the Leader of the House to arrange time for a debate on the severe hardship experienced by rural communities as a result of the terrible weather over the past two weeks. Finally would the Leader inform the House when he envisages legislation being introduced to amend the Arterial Drainage Act.
Mr. Mooney: I join with Senator Naughten in welcoming the commitment of the Government — at least it is a step forward. As the House knows Senator Manning kindly responded to a query I raised on this matter on the Order of Business last week and matters have moved on somewhat. However, this is but a halfway house. It is not the most acceptable solution for those who have been lobbying for access by emigrants to a franchise in the Irish voting system, especially Glór na Deoraí, the UK based lobby group which has taken a lead on this. I ask the Leader to give an indication of the Government's wider thinking on this matter. Is this to be the extent of the reform on the emigrant vote issue? Are we to accept this is the end of the matter when there are other serious issues surrounding this subject to be debated, analysed and discussed?
 Although I speak from a Seanad perspective I am prejudiced in my view to the extent that if I was a TD in a multi-seat constituency I might not be as vocal in looking for support for emigrant votes. The Tánaiste said in a recent article he would not like to be waiting for votes from Brooklyn to decide the last seat in Kerry North. I appreciate there are such difficulties in multi-seat constituencies but I believe it is necessary to debate this matter.
I do not accept three seats in the Seanad will adequately address those issues raised by Glór an Deoraí and other Irish people abroad. I ask the Leader to indicate whether we will get an opportunity to debate even this narrow concept or when we will get such an opportunity. Although the statement was issued publicly no indication was given of how these three Senators would be elected, under what franchise——
Mr. Mooney: In relation to a public statement by the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht on the imminent publication of a Green Paper on broadcasting, is it the Minister's intention to give this House an opportunity to be involved in the consultative process which will be initiated once the Green Paper is launched?
Mr. Lanigan: ——or an Athlone phenomenon, flooding is a recurring problem. For some reason, although the  weather has not been as bad this year a other years, the floods have been much worse. Small towns in County Carlow, County Kilkenny and throughout the country are still impassable.
There is a need to discuss this on a rational basis to see what can be done in the long term. Short-term solution will not work where flooding is concerned. There is no point putting in pieces of bridgework which will break away under the next severe flood. We will not be dealing with floods which happen only every 150 years, we want to deal with problems which arise on a day to day basis.
I ask the Leader to arrange an early debate so that the Seanad can have an input to the commission which is beginning to consider the urban districts and the extension of boundaries in these areas. Such a debate should take place in the Seanad. It will affect places like Drogheda, Clonmel, Kilkenny, Durdalk, Tralee and other large urban area as well as smaller rural towns and villages. We should have a debate before the commission properly begins it work.
Mr. Townsend: I agree that we should have a debate on the recent flooding; has affected Carlow very badly. In December and January as much rain fell as would normally fall in three and a half months. That was the primary cause of the flooding and, no matter what we do, such excessive rainfall will cause certain amount of flooding. However, we should have a debate on the issue in any case.
Mr. D. Kiely: I would also welcome debate on the recent flooding. I rarely speak in the Seanad about flooding because it is so common in my county. When the Dodder overflows or there is a flood in Carlow everybody scream about it but it happens in my county on a regular basis.
Mr. D. Kiely: On this occasion the flooding caused severe damage. It is an ongoing problem. It might he no harm if the Tánaiste and others could take time off from their duties and visit the county to see the damage.
I would also welcome a debate on the proposed votes for emigrants and I would like to know how the system will be put in place. As a founder of the movement for emigrants in the United States in the 1980s, and as one of those who put money forward with the former Taoiseach to help that movement. I would like to know if the Senators will come from the United States only or if they will come from England or other countries? Will all emigrants vote in the election? How will that be organised?
Could the Leader also tell us when we will have a debate on IMRO? There is much uncertainty about this matter. Business people throughout the country, including small shopkeepers, are concerned about the many levies and royalties they are obliged to pay for playing music on their premises.
Mr. Manning: That was quite a lengthy Order of Business. Senator Wright requested a discussion on the Brinks-Allied robbery. I spoke to the Minister for Justice earlier about that matter. She feels she gave a full statement to the other House but she will be happy to come to the Seanad, perhaps next week, should it be necessary. I join Senator Wright in condemning the shooting of Veronica Guerin who many of us on this side of the House got to know when she was secretary to the Fianna Fáil delegation to the New Ireland Forum. The shooting was reprehensible. All of us wish her a speedy recovery. We see this incident for what it was — a dastardly attempt to influence honest reporting.
Senator O'Toole requested a debate on education. The Minister for Education would be happy to attend the Seanad in two or three weeks time for a long and open ended debate on current issues in education.
A number of Senators, including Senator Quinn, Senator O'Toole and  Senator Dardis, mentioned the issue of votes for emigrants. I would dearly love the Bill to be initiated in this House. However, that is not possible. Under the Constitution a Bill to amend the Constitution must be initiated in the other House so we are precluded from initiating such legislation in the Seanad. However, there is no reason we could not have a debate before the Bill is introduced on the general question of votes for emigrants. I am sure the Government would be interested in hearing the views of Senators even at an early stage. I would see this as part of the debate I hope to initiate soon on Seanad reform. A section of that debate could deal with the question of votes for emigrants. I also take Senator O'Toole's point about the extension of the franchise to graduates of other universities besides NUI and Trinity College. That case was often made here by Senator Jackman when she was a Member. It is a matter which again should come under the general heading of Seanad reform.
Senator Dardis requested a debate on Northern Ireland. Debates on Northern Ireland in this House have always been sensitive and careful. On this occasion, while joining with Senator Dardis in total condemnation of the act of sabotage committed yesterday whose only purpose can have been to hinder the peace process, I tend to agree with Senator Wilson's view at this point. It is better to wait until the work on the framework document is complete before holding that debate.
Senator Enright raised the question of Chechnya. If we can find time for a debate on that subject we will. I am not too open minded about an immediate debate on the Road Traffic Act at present. The Government is re-examining this Act and submissions can better be made within the individual parliamentary parties and to the Minister. If the Government then proposes changes, or if it does not, after a certain time we could then have a discussion. A debate on the Act at this moment would not be helpful, but I could be wrong on this.
 With regard to the point raised by Senator Morris, I would like to discuss with other party leaders and other party groups if there was some way in which we could suitably mark the fiftieth anniversary of Auschwitz. An impromptu approach is not the way to proceed. Perhaps we could have a discussion on this, but the House should find a way of marking the event.
There are a number of requests for debates on specific foreign affairs issues. The reality is that we can do our best but we probably will not get to most of them between now and the end of the session. I could explore the possibility of a kind of omnibus debate on foreign affairs where three or four issues could be combined in one debate. Perhaps we will see if there is a way in which we can do that.
On the issue of floods, looking at the pagodas on Leighlinbridge coming from Carlow I know exactly the extent of and the damage being caused by the floods in so many parts of the country. We should have a debate on flooding as soon as possible and I will try to be more specific about that. However, as Senator Townsend so wisely said, the excessive rainfall of the last couple of months is an act of God — wherever she is — and not something that we in this House could too easily deal with. The debate should not turn into a fire fighting exercise. The causes of flooding appear to be much more deep seated than that. There appear to be long term planning and other issues which need to be addressed, and I suspect that our debate could be more useful in that context. I can give a commitment that we would have a debate on this issue next week and if I can arrange a debate earlier I will do so, but I believe Senators will agree that it is probably better to address the whole question of flooding in that wider context because there are, apparently, important ecological and other changes taking place.
I apologise to Senator Fitzgerald with regard to the legislation in respect of harbours. I do not have information on  this issue, but any request from the Senator will be treated with the utmost dispatch. There may have been some flaw in the drafting of the legislation but I will come back to him with full information on the matter.
Senator Quinn raised the question of the franchise for emigrants, which I addressed, and Senator Daly raised the question of arterial drainage. I got a bit ahead of myself last week in the House and I announced that there would be legislation on that matter fairly soon. Fortunately the Taoiseach caught up with me today in the other House. He announced that there will be legislation on arterial drainage as soon as possible, but it could usefully be part of the wider debate I am proposing on the whole phenomenon of flooding.
Senator McGennis raised the issue of meningitis which I will discuss with the Minister. It is a serious subject but I doubt if an immediate statement is possible. I will see what can be done on this matter. Senator McGowan spoke about the National Roads Authority, which was frequently raised when we were on the other side of the House. This is a serious issue. I do not know how we can deal with it, but it is a subject which could benefit from an airing in the House; perhaps an arrangement could be made with the Whips or for Private Members' Business.
Senator Naughten mentioned the question of flooding, which I have covered, and Senator Mooney mentioned the new thinking on emigrants, which I have also covered. On the issue of broadcasting, I have not spoken to the Minister on the Green Paper but I will convey the Senator's views. A debate on this issue would be welcome in the House.
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