Tuesday, 30 May 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business today is item 1, without discussion, and item 2. On item 2, the first speaker from each group will have 30 minutes and each speaker thereafter will have 20 minutes. For the information of the House, item 1 is simply rectifying a mistake  made last week in ordering the business for the wrong day.
Mr. Wright: I do not believe there is a need for one. Having listened to the Leader before lunch speaking about the unfortunate situation in the Irish Press Group, I call on him, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil party and I am sure everybody else in this House, to ask the Minister and the Government to do all in their power to ensure that the 600 jobs are saved and that the three titles are back in print again. It is an issue which is at the forefront of everybody's mind.
Mr. Norris: I support what Senator Wright said about the disastrous situation in the Irish Press Group which I attribute principally to absolutely rotten management. I am very concerned, as I am sure all Members of this House are, at the attempt to extinguish freedom of speech by the dismissal of a distinguished journalist who simply expressed his views in a sister newspaper.
I would also like to refer to Bosnia. I know there will be provision for a foreign affairs debate but it is worthwhile to put the situation there on record. The European states recognised Bosnia, stood back and allowed the invasion to take place and then rewarded a legitimate state by denying it arms. I hope we will have an opportunity to discuss this fully during the foreign affairs debate. Perhaps I am anticipating the Leader's reply to what is not after all a question but simply exploiting the opportunity to make a point.
Ms Honan: I support what Senator Wright and Senator Norris said about the Irish Press Group. I ask the Leader again if he could confirm when the Minister for Health will come into this House in view of the court case last week involving the farmer from the west of Ireland. It is essential that the Child Care Act is implemented as soon as possible. We also need a debate on the abuse of children and the recommendations which need to be implemented. We have been asking for this for quite a long time and I hope we will get an answer.
Mr. Mulcahy: Will the Leader again ask the Minister for Justice to come into this House to discuss the important issue of bail? Our Justice spokesman in the Lower House, Deputy John O'Donoghue, tabled a Private Member's Bill to reform the law of bail but that was voted down. The Minister who originally pledged a commitment to reform the law of bail, has said — there have been leaks from the Department to the effect — that because the prisons are so overcrowded there will be no reform of the law of bail. Would the Leader ask the Minister to come in and make a statement on the bail issue?
Mr. Mulcahy: Will the Leader of the House give us a commitment that, if there are any resignations today, we will be informed as a matter of urgency so that we can make our contribution to that debate as well?
Dr. Henry: Some months ago the Minister for Justice said she was considering altering the situation where the only punishment for non-payment of fines is imprisonment. In view of the fact that a woman who is seven months pregnant was imprisoned recently arising from a dispute over the non-payment of a fine, may I ask the Leader if he can find out what progress is being made regarding this legislation? Naturally, it costs far more to put someone in prison for the non-payment of a £25 fine than collecting the fine itself. None of us would like to see a woman in this condition being imprisoned. Members of the Garda Síochána have to do their duty in this area but it is not a desirable situation.
Mr. Mooney: I hope I am echoing the sentiments of this House in saying that we welcome the initiative by President Clinton in Washington. Like many other colleagues in this House, I was honoured and privileged to have been in Washington for the investment conference. Is any follow up planned by this Administration? Does the Leader feel he could facilitate us by arranging a statement either by the Tánaiste or the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Richard Bruton, both of whom were present in Washington? I ask the question in the context of an important follow-up initiative by the American Administration. In the coming weeks the US Commerce Secretary, Mr. Ron Brown, and his Assistant Secretary, Mr. Chuck Meisner, will be visiting  this island, North and South, to discuss further initiatives. I appreciate that at this remove, 3,000 miles away, the full historic import and impact of what happened in Washington last week might be under-estimated or lost. For that reason I cannot over-emphasise the importance of the historic nature of last week's conference. I would welcome the Leader's thoughts on that, and perhaps a motion for debate could be tabled. I would ask the Leader to provide an opportunity so that we can learn the Government's views.
Mr. Daly: Some time ago we had a discussion on the conditions of county roads. The Minister for the Environment came into the House and made some commitments as to how he could deal with the situation. The Leader will be aware that some local authorities are laying off personnel who should be carrying out county road works, because of a lack of finance. Our county roads are seriously deteriorating and the Minister indicated that some action would be taken to deal with them. Could we get a clear indication from the Leader of the current situation? Is additional funding likely to be provided for the local authorities? Can we avoid a situation where people are being laid off at a time when the roads are in a very bad condition?
Mr. Manning: I agree with Senator Wright on the question of the Irish Press. We all understand that it has an important part to play in Irish life. There are hopeful signs; people are beginning to talk. Matters are at a delicate stage and while we may have views on how we got to this point, nothing should be said which might hinder or damage an already delicate situation. We hope the talks which appear to be starting will be approached in a constructive way by both sides and that three important titles will be saved in their entirety.
Senator Norris raised the question of Bosnia. We are all baffled and find it difficult to comprehend what is happening. I will ask the Minister for Foreign  Affairs, Deputy Spring, if he would like to report to the House at an early date and allow a debate on the recent developments there. Senator Honan raised the question of health. I spoke to the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, and he is anxious to come to the House for a full debate on health. As soon as the local difficulties have passed in the other House, he will be able to give a definite date to debate the issues which Senator Honan and Senator Finneran raised on a number of occasions.
I will convey Senator Mulcahy's message to the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen. She is always pleased to received messages from him and I will convey her answer to him as soon as I receive it. As regards joining the debate in the other House, I thought the electorate of Dublin South-Central put a temporary stop on the possibility of Senator Mulcahy doing that.
Mr. Manning: If there is a need for a debate in this House, it will be discussed. I do not want to comment directly on the case to which Senator Henry referred. We are all long enough in politics to know that it is often dangerous to comment on what one reads in the newspapers, but I was surprised by what happened. I will convey Senator Henry's message to the Minister for Justice and I will see when that legislation is due to be introduced.
Senator Mooney raised an important point on the conference in Washington; it was by all accounts a wonderful success. While it is important that it is followed up, it might be better to let the dust settle for a week or two. Time will be provided for a debate and I will ask the Government to send the relevant Minister. We all would like to hear the views of our colleagues, who had the privilege of attending, on what happened and the possibilities arising from it. An announcement is imminent on  county roads, but I will get further information for Senator Daly on that.
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