Wednesday, 31 May 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Manning: Today's Order of Business today is items 1 and 16, and motion No. 18. In addition to the items on the Order Paper, a Motion for Earlier Signature will be circulated in the next ten or 15 minutes and I propose to take it at the end of today's business if that is agreeable to Members.
In accordance with the practice efficiently and satisfactorily laid down by my predecessor for handling this particular Bill, it is proposed to arrange the discussion on item 1 in the following way: Part 1, sections 1 to 76, will be taken from 10.30 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will be a sos from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Parts 2, 3 and 4, sections 77 to 150, will be taken from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.; and Parts 5, 6 and 7, sections 151 to 179, will be taken from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. If these conclude earlier than arranged, they will continue consecutively from then on.
I had anticipated that next week we would deal with the Consumer Credit Bill, 1994, but the business for next week will be items 6 and 7 on the Order  Paper — Second Stage of the Package Holidays and Travel Trade Bill, 1995, and the Minerals Development Bill, 1995. The debate on Northern Ireland promised for next week will take place next Thursday morning.
Mr. Wright: I refer to the dispute at the Irish Press. Having listened to the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Richard Bruton's reply in the Dáil yesterday, I urge the Government — I know the Leader's commitment to this — following the talks today and at the weekend to do all in its power to ensure a settlement is reached to ensure the retention of the 600 jobs and that the three titles are back in print again.
Mr. O'Toole: I am not quite clear about what the Leader said on voting. I agree with the way in which the business is laid out, which is very efficient. Do I take it that we will be voting section by section rather than having three votes?
Mr. O'Toole: That is the issue which I wished to have established. With regard to the current controversy, I have been very careful not to get involved in any political rows, but I wish to say, on behalf of 40,000 teachers who have been seeking a reasonable response from the Government on the question of seeking a very minor pension after 38 or 40 years of service, that it sticks in the craw of those teachers to see what the Government can do in  other situations for people who are not doing their job properly. It is absolutely distasteful, in the light of the current controversy, how matters are being dealt with and——
Ms Honan: I support the Order of Business. Will we have an opportunity to discuss what happened in the Attorney General's Office? The Leader of the House said yesterday that the Minister for Health would come in here when the matters in the other House had been dealt with. Could he ensure that that happens as soon as possible, perhaps next week? Child abuse is a very urgent matter which we need to discuss here and I would welcome a definite commitment on that.
Ms O'Sullivan: It is appropriate this morning that we would issue a very warm welcome to Prince Charles who is arriving in Ireland today. As a senior member of the British royal family and the heir to the throne, he is very much honoured by the British people, both across the water and those who consider themselves to be British on this island. It is appropriate that we in the Seanad wish him a céad mile fáilte.
Mr. Mulcahy: Can the Leader give us an assurance that if there is a resignation today, the Taoiseach will come into this House instead of sending, his proxy in the form of the Minister for Health, as he did the last time which was not sufficient or adequate, and give a full statement to this House and do this House the honour of——
Mrs. McGennis: I support the requests of Senator Honan and Senator Mulcahy for a further discussion as soon as possible on the events of yesterday and the unfolding of the occurrences in the Attorney General's Office. However, before Official A, Matt Russell, receives his golden handshake, will somebody ask one simple question and bring the answer back to this House and, more importantly, to the people of Ireland? Will somebody ask him why he did it? I stated in November, in relation to this matter, that I wanted to know  what kind of a mind set did the kind of things which appeared to have been done in the Attorney General's Office. That one simple question must be answered.
Mr. O'Kennedy: In supporting Senator Wright in relation to the support from the Government for a resolution of the problem of the Irish Press, as a shareholder I would like to have it known that I and many shareholders feel no sense of obligation of any kind towards the management. The shareholders of the Irish Press, either today or previously, find themselves in no way obliged to support the management and their financial interests. We would certainly be prepared to forfeit the dividends which we never got in the interests of journalists and workers.
Mr. O'Kennedy: I wish to make the Government aware that it need not expect any criticism from shareholders such as myself over the fact that it is more concerned about workers, journalists and the reading public than it is about the financial interests of the management.
Mr. McGowan: Could the Leader arrange for the Minister for Justice to come to the Seanad for a debate on an urgent matter, that is, the farcical situation where somebody is arrested on a warrant, taken to jail at high expense to the State and let out again? In one case where a prisoner was taken from Donegal on a warrant, there was no room in the prison for him, he got a lift home and was home before the garda who arrested him, at a cost of hundreds of pounds to the State. I am sure that all Members of the House share this concern that vast amounts of public money are being wasted on trying to bring people to prison for small debts. It is not  physically possible to imprison such people if there is no space in the prison. I think that the Minister for Justice would welcome a contribution from the House on this very urgent matter. Hundreds of pounds are being spent daily on bringing people to prisons where there is no space for them.
Mr. Magner: On the same point but with a different angle, we have discussed here with previous Ministers for Justice the lunacy of the custodial policy of all Governments of locking people up for owing minimal sums of money such as £20, £30, £50 or £100. We need to look at that and I suggest to the Leader that perhaps it would be appropriate for the House to simply debate the issue of custodial policy rather than the much wider issue of prisons and so on. For example, if the Government was to allocate another £50 million to build a prison, we would have equally condemnatory remarks on the waste of money and or that the money could be used in a better fashion. It is high time that the custodial policy of all Governments was looked at in the light of new ways of imposing punishments and attaching salaries to recoup fines imposed by the courts. It is a daft system.
Mr. Mooney: Could the Leader of the House, some time between now and the summer recess, make Government time available for an overall discussion on the interests of emigrants and their welfare? To the best of my knowledge, I do not think that this House has debated the interests, concerns and objectives of the emigrant community, particularly in the United Kingdom, to any great degree. What has prompted me to request this debate is that the Federation of Irish Societies, which is the umbrella body for all Irish societies operating in the United Kingdom, held its annual general meeting last weekend at which a number of pertinent issues  arose which we on this side of the water could help to progress. I do not wish to delay the House, but there are a number of issues to which this House could give effect and it would be important from a psychological point of view.
Mr. Manning: I thank the Opposition for agreeing to the arrangements for today's business. The Irish Press matter is one of great seriousness and there is no doubt that the concern of all sides of this House is for a speedy resolution. This message has gone out loud and clear and the Minister is very aware of it.
Senator Honan raised the question of the debate on health. That debate will take place and I am trying to find a slot in the Order Paper as there will be a great deal of legislation over the next couple of weeks. I am committed to having that debate and I will communicate with Senator Honan on the matter.
Senator Honan and Senator McGennis asked for a further debate on the events in the Attorney General's office. I am not sure such a debate would be helpful today or tomorrow. My view is the matter is over. Other people have a different view. I suspect that in terms of making a helpful contribution to the debate, it would be better if we wait until next week. If there are matters outstanding then, we can discuss them in the calm and reflective way characteristic of the Seanad. I do not have plans for a debate today.
I join with Senator O'Sullivan in welcoming Prince Charles. The fact that the visit is taking place in such an uncontroversial way is indicative of how important the peace process is to all of us. It is a symbolic visit and if it can further the process of peace in Northern Ireland the better will be the relations between our two islands. It is a welcome sign of maturity all round.
Senator Mulcahy asked me for categorical assurances. Under the Constitution, with which I am sure the Senator is very familiar, the only categorical assurances I can give concern myself. I  cannot give such assurances on behalf of anybody else and I do not intend to resign today or in the near future.
Mr. Manning: Senator Calnan's point on rural development is important and I will try to find time for a debate on it. Senator McGowan and Senator Magner raised a point which is of concern to all of us and we will try to find time to discuss broader custodial policies.
Senator McGowan raised a point last week to which I did not give a total answer. He raised the question of the Seanad holding a meeting outside this Chamber. I said I thought this was not possible under the Constitution. However, Article 15.1.3 states:
I have forwarded Senator McGowan's request that the Seanad meet in Lifford, which he has given to me in written form, to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and Senator McGowan can take it up with that committee to see if he can bring it any further.
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