Wednesday, 15 February 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Wright: May I put the Leader on notice that tomorrow we will have up to ten speakers on the debate on flooding? I ask him to take note of that and to allocate the appropriate time. I also ask the Leader, as he himself asked, for the publication of the Price Waterhouse report. In view of the Minister's statements in the last couple of days we would be keen that this important report would be published and that we have an opportunity to debate it as it affects many areas in the country.
Mr. O'Toole: I wish to ask the Leader for an early date for the agreed debate on the education system and service. I wish to put another item on the record of the House today. Last week we commemorated the liberation of Auschwitz and this week we should note that it is 50 years and a day since the razing to the ground of Dresden. During the week we saw a good example of how communities can come together. It is relevant to what we talked about in the North that the Mayor of Coventry and the Mayor of Dresden should preach tolerance and openness to each other. It is a good example of what can happen on this island.
Mr. Dardis: In support of Senator Wright I ask that we debate the future of the Defence Forces. A report is with the Taoiseach and I ask the Leader to ensure it is published as soon as possible. We seem to be having another example of selective leaks and that is not desirable. We need to establish in this House the Government's commitment to and plans for the Defence Forces. May I ask him that at the earliest opportunity to bring the Minister for Defence to the House so that we can debate this important matter?
Mr. Magner: I draw the Leader's attention to the statements made last week in the House in relation to Auschwitz and the deplorable television coverage of these statements. What RTE decided to show was the row that broke out on the Order of Business; they did not deal, except in a most fleeting manner, with the statements that were made by all parties. It was a deplorable exercise.
Mr. Magner: My question is as follows: there is a broadcasting committee which was established to monitor the amount of coverage given to the Seanad. It is not good enough that they would highlight a row which was quite unintentional. There was no slur meant or given, I am sure, by the Senator who mentioned flooding and Auschwitz——
Mr. Magner: ——but they decided it was going to be the item for the day. It was deplorable. I ask the Leader to take this up with the relevant authorities and to make sure that whatever coverage  the House gets it is at least fair and balanced.
Mr. Lanigan: We noted today that AIB profits were listed as enormous. I ask the Leader for a debate on the operations of the banks particularly in terms of the enormous costs to small businesses. Bank charges contribute to the huge profits the banks are making. However, although they are making enormous profits they are making less provision for bad debts. It is time to address that problem.
On 1 July last a genuine welcome was given to President Benazir Bhutto at the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Chairman of the committee said that the two countries were dedicated to the values of human rights and equality in a democratic system. President Bhutto said that unfortunately, the blasphemy law was used by unscrupulous enemies to victimise minorities living in particular areas. I raise this issue because two people, one is aged 14 and the other 40, were sentenced to death in Pakistan during the past week for what was suggested as blasphemy under those laws. Not only were these people sentenced to death——
Mr. Lanigan: ——but they were also sentenced to two years hard labour and were heavily fined. The third person involved in the trial was beheaded. I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Government to take up this matter with President Bhutto who was, as I said, welcomed to the Houses of the Oireachtas. She said that when her country was founded in 1947 the founder said that everyone was free to worship at their place of worship. She also said that the Koran states that Moslems and Christians must reconcile their problems and allow the Lord to resolve all arguments.
Mr. Lanigan: I ask the Government to raise these matters because they highlight specific problems of human rights enforcement. When the President came to these Houses she said she would solve all problems relating to human rights violations and reconciliation in the community. I ask the Government to do something.
Mr. Townsend: I ask the Leader of the House to make time available for a debate on the rural environment protection scheme, known as REPS. Last year £10 million was made available for small farmers under this scheme but only £1.4 million was taken up. There was a lot of discussion about whether we would get £6 billion or £8 billion from the EU. It is a serious matter that only £1.4 million was taken up, particularly when 75 per cent of this scheme will be financed by the EU and 25 per cent by the Government. One reason this scheme has not been taken up is the adverse publicity from certain quarters. The scheme is not based on income; one could have ten or 11 jobs.
Mr. McGowan: I want a debate on funding in the Border areas, whether it is from INTERREG, the Leader programme, IFI or the county enterprise partnership boards. I raised this matter on a number of occasions and the Leader of the House also raised it when he was in Opposition. I am raising it today because I am alarmed at suggestions that only a small portion of the £200 million special EU funding may be given to the Border counties in the south. I am alarmed about this. I am not  scoring political points but there is no Government Minister from any of the Border counties. Is there a voice or an input from those areas? Is the Government concerned? This is of importance to a large section of the people. Who is making a case so that we will receive a fair allocation?
Mr. McGowan: I am sorry if I am being long winded but my point is important, as the Leader understands. This House is entitled to debate this matter. I have been asking for this debate for some time but it is now of crucial importance in view of this large amount of money. All of Ireland, especially the Border counties, will be much less attractive to someone setting up a business if there is to be £200 million in EU funding in addition to the IFI funding. This House should provide a voice since the Government will not provide one. We should have a debate as soon as possible.
Mr. Finneran: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to come to the House for a debate on hospital waiting lists. This week it was confirmed by Western Health Board officials that 2,000 operations had to be postponed in the last number of months and that up to 200 patients were kept on trolleys overnight. This is a serious problem.
While I appreciate there is no immediate answer to this problem other Senators may have suggestions. The concentration of acute procedures in the Galway area is contributing to this problem. If we had a debate Members could make proposals which would be of benefit to the Minister.
Mr. Quinn: It is a short time since we debated Europe but events are moving quickly. I ask the Leader to consider the movements which have occurred in Europe in this week alone which we have not debated here.
One example is immigration policy, which has already caused the resignation of a Minister in Britain. The removal of passports within the EU will be combined with a decision that we must all carry identification cards and this may happen shortly. It will be our fault if we do not take the opportunity to debate longer term issues in the EU such as passports, immigration, the single currency, etc.
These are not issues which will arise this week but I urge the Leader to find time to debate the long term implications of EU membership and how it is beginning to affect us. It has been talked about in Britain and has caused crises but we seem to be ignoring it.
Ms Gallagher: I endorse the call by Senator Lanigan for a debate on the banks. The Seanad is an ideal Chamber in which to have a debate which affects every citizen whether he or she likes it. We have a role to play in examining how lending institutions are regulated and controlled and how they impinge on our lives. It is ironic that the call has been taken up by Fianna Fáil in a belated adoption of a long held policy of the Labour Party. It is never too late to learn.
Mr. Sherlock: Yesterday, the Government Chief Whip indicated that in excess of 50 items of legislation are on the legislative programme. More of that legislation should be initiated in the Seanad.
I support Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on education. However, particular reference should be made to the problem of young people leaving national school and not attending secondary school. There is nowhere for such young people to go. They cannot take part in Youthreach programmes. They have opted out.
Mr. Wilson: I support Senator Magner's comments on the media. He should, through whatever committee or other means are available to him, see what can be done about what happened last week. During one of the most moving hours of my life — and I suspect this is true of every Member — we talked about the greatest atrocity committed in living memory. While I respect the freedom of the press, that freedom carries responsibilities. Surely editors must accept that responsibility and not report a dozen or so words by a Senator who was speaking on the Order of Business.
Mr. Fitzgerald: It has been reported that the Government has published a list of 50 Bills which will be brought before the Oireachtas before the summer. Could that list be circulated to the Members of the House?
Mr. Norris: I welcome Senator Wilson's comments. Unfortunately, however, it frequently happens that some small degree of controversy overwhelms serious matters as far as the media are concerned. It is regrettable but it has become part of life in the Seanad and I deplore it.
Mr. Norris: I am very glad he did so. I support it because I have learned to my surprise — and I presume the information is accurate — that a considerable proportion of our national debt is held by our domestic banks. Nationalising the banks seems to be one solution to part of our economic problems.
Mr. D. Kiely: Last week I asked the Leader when we would hold a debate on IMRO but I received no reply. When our party was in Government it was promised that a debate would be held on the issue. Senator Howard was also interested in having a debate on Irish music copyright. Perhaps the Leader could arrange for such a debate at the earliest convenient time.
Now that we have a Minister of State with responsibility for the West, would it be possible to have a debate on the development of the Shannon Estuary which has been highlighted on numerous occasions? Last year the Shannon Estuary handled more tonnage than any other port in Ireland. Perhaps the Leader could arrange for the Minister to come to the House——
Mr. D. Kiely: I can be parochial when the need arises. Any developments made in this country will be on the Shannon Estuary, and these would have been highlighted by the last Government. In view of this I ask for a full debate on the estuary, with the Minister in attendance.
It is high time for a debate in the House on early retirement for all people working in the social services to enable them create vacancies for our young people who are in need of employment. There is a scheme in operation in the USA where one can retire after 20 years in the police force, the Army, the electricity and phone services and so on. This is especially relevant at present given that these people work under such stress and strain. When the country is crying out for jobs for young people it is high time for such a debate.
Ms Kelly: I note on the Order Paper a publication by the Minister for European Affairs and Local Development of the Designated Areas of Disadvantage under the Operational Programme for Local Urban and Rural Development. As this affects many areas in Ireland I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this as soon as possible.
Mr. Cregan: I agree with Senator Lanigan's suggestion that there should be a discussion on the banks. I ask the Leader of the House to obtain the joint agreement in principle of both sides of the House to put down a motion in the name of all parties. We should have a day long discussion on the banks to see what arises and to show that we are, as a nation, prepared to talk about those who believe we will not talk about them.
Mr. Manning: On the question of flooding raised by Senator Wright, the debate will begin tomorrow, but as there is plenty of interest in the issue it is my intention that it will not conclude  tomorrow but will go on for as long as is useful.
On the issues of the Price Waterhouse report and defence matters, I am meeting the Minister for Defence today. I have already invited him to attend the House and I will extend the invitation further and provide whatever information is appropriate.
Mr. Manning: I am sure that the Minister will be delighted to attend the House and listen to the Senator. Senator O'Toole also mentioned Dresden, one of the worst war crimes of the Second World War, and spoke about reconciliation, a point well worth noting.
Senator Magner made an important point about coverage by RTE, with which I agree. What was a moving and important discussion in the House last week should not have been dismissed as it was by RTE as an addendum to a small spat on the Order of Business. It was out of proportion; I will refer the matter to the Broadcasting Committee of the two Houses.
Senator Lanigan has taken up the mantle of Deputy Batt O'Keeffe on the banks. We had a long series of discussions on the banks in the last Seanad and certainly within the last couple of years. The banks sent in people with notebooks to listen to what was being said, for all the difference it seems to have made. A debate on this issue would be worthwhile, and perhaps we might discuss later how to structure such a debate.
 On the question of Pakistan and blasphemy, I am not aware of the facts but they are very disturbing as Senator Lanigan has outlined them. Perhaps I will find some way of communicating with the Department of Foreign Affairs after the Order of Business and ascertain our position on the matter.
Regarding the issue raised by Senator Townsend, I will do everything I can to accommodate the Senator on having the rural environmental protection scheme debated; perhaps we can talk later to see how this can be done.
Senator McGowan raised the question of funding for Border areas, although he stressed on a number of occasions that he was not making a political point. I said to him previously on this issue that he is grouping together six or seven different issues and I asked him to give me the wording for a motion. If he does that perhaps we could find some way to fit it in.
Senator Finneran raised the question of hospital waiting lists. I appreciate that there is a wide range of expertise in this House on the whole health area. I will communicate with the Minister to see if we can make time available to discuss those issues.
Senator Quinn raised an issue which highlights one of the problems we have in the House, which is how to have ongoing debates on current issues. The motion on developments in the European Communities is on the Order Paper and perhaps we will resume that discussion next week. However, I take his point and when we start our debate shortly on reform of the Seanad, I would like all Members to look at how we could put in place a structure to allow for short debates on current matters which do not have to be too elaborate or heavy. If there are ideas on that we could look at them. However, I take his point that events often pass without this House having a chance to comment.
Senator Gallagher raised the question of banking, on which there would be agreement on all sides. Senator Sherlock mentioned the 50 pieces of legislation  which I will arrange to have made available to Senator Fitzgerald and other Members. I will also try very hard to get as many of these Bills as possible initiated in this House.
Mr. Manning: He may well have been. I do not have information available on the publication of the Bill on abortion but I will see if I can get it. In reply to Senator Kiely, there is already a motion on the Order Paper on IMRO which would be ideal for Fianna Fáil Private Members' time, which is coming up again shortly. I will convey his request for a debate on the west to the Minister of State with responsibility for the west.
Senator Kelly raised the issue of designated areas, which I would like to invite the Minister to the House to discuss. Senator Cregan also raised the issue of the banks. I will take up his suggestion of an all party approach to this as it is a major national question.
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