Wednesday, 29 November 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Manning: Before announcing the Order of Business, I am sure all Members join me in complimenting the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste on their achievement yesterday evening. No one claimed any solutions had been found but the peace process is back on track and there is now a framework in which problems can be tackled with a hope of solution. All Members will wish them the best on a job well done last evening, which gives us hope again.
 The Order of Business today is items 1, 2 and 3. Item 1 is purely technical and will be taken without debate. We will take Second Stage of item 2 and if it finishes early we will not commence item 3, the resumption of the Harbours Bill, until 6 p.m. so that Members will know when it starts.
Tomorrow we will have the debate on the universities, which will be taken in Government time. In order to ensure all who wish to speak are given an opportunity to do so and that time is divided as equitably as possible, I ask Members to give the Chief Whip notice of their intention so that we may make arrangements.
Mr. Wright: The Order of Business is agreed. We will let the Leader know how many speakers we will have for the debate on the universities so that everyone who wishes to contribute will have the opportunity. What legislation does the Leader intend bringing to the House before the end of the session? What motions will be taken in Private Members' time in the next few weeks?
On behalf of Fianna Fáil and on the eve of President Clinton's visit, I welcome the move forward in the peace process following last night's Anglo-Irish summit. I hope the international commission's preparatory talks will provide a basis for genuine progress and a way through existing difficulties and disagreements. We must bear in mind that when a firm date is set for all-party talks in February, we cannot rely on another visit by President Clinton to sort out the impasse.
Mr. O'Toole: It is important to mark what has been a momentous week in Irish politics. It is also important to state that this is a good week for politicians. The courage to a greater or lesser extent of all the party leaders on last week's referendum is to be commended. In  terms of leadership, it is good for politicians that that should have been the case. We have often been critical of ourselves for not being prepared to take a stand on specific issues. I think the party leaders did very well over the last number of months.
Continuing on a positive note, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste deserve our heartiest congratulations for moving the peace process forward. Whether this was the result of the deadline imposed by President Clinton's visit is not relevant. Next spring we can find somebody else to create another deadline. All negotiations need a deadline anyway; it is one of the first requirements.
From a personal point of view, I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste on the work which they and their back up team have done. Congratulations must be extended to the other party leaders who have been supportive all the way.
It is important we get an opportunity over the next 24 hours to express our view on last night's developments. I have been pushing for a discussion on the intergovernmental conference, and I am pleased this matter will be dealt with tomorrow afternoon, but I would be prepared to agree to have that replaced by a discussion on the peace process if that would facilitate matters. There are many papers on the intergovernmental conference to be published over the next week and there would not be a lot lost by postponing that debate for a week. It is crucial that we find the opportunity to offer our view at this stage. This is a time when public opinion is crucial; it is a time when a topical debate on a matter of central interest could be important in moulding opinion. I ask the Leader to consider giving time for that over the next 24 hours.
Mr. Dardis: I join with other Members in welcoming the agreement which was reached last night between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. I congratulate the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the officials who have obviously worked so diligently over an  extended period to bring the situation to this point. All we can say is that it is not the whole of the jigsaw but a part of it and it is an important step along the road. It is my wish, and I am sure it is the wish of the House, that the parties in Northern Ireland will subscribe to this agreement and work with it in an effort to bring lasting peace to the island as a whole.
I am not so sure I agree with Senator O'Toole about a debate on Northern Ireland. I have been one of the people who joined him in seeking such a debate but on these occasions I always think of what the late Senator Wilson would have said. On this occasion he probably would have said we need some time and space before we actually comment. Perhaps the Leader might think about that.
The other matter I wish to raise has to do with the currency. We need a debate on the economy. Today we were told that the punt has risen to 103.3 pence sterling. That obviously imposes huge restraints on exporting industry and it is something we could usefully examine between now and Christmas.
The House can safely assume that the entire Progressive Democrats Party will contribute to the universities debate tomorrow. In the event that there are a number of people offering, I suggest the Leader extend that debate to lunchtime rather than have a sos at 1 o'clock; we might extend the debate to 1.30 p.m.
Ms O'Sullivan: On behalf of the Labour Party I join with the Leader and other Senators in congratulating the two Governments, particularly the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, on getting the twin track process moving last night. It entailed a great deal of work, determination and commitment to the peace  process and those qualities must now be shown by the political parties in Northern Ireland and particularly the political leaders. It is appropriate to evoke the spirit of Senator Gordon Wilson on this occasion because he always had a positive attitude to encouraging and developing every little step in relation to the peace process. This is the attitude which will have to be taken by all the political leaders in Northern Ireland. The message should go out loud and clear that the two Governments are committed to working and keeping the momentum going and that determination will also have to be shown on all sides in Northern Ireland.
Mr. O'Kennedy: As spokesperson on Northern Ireland for my party, I would like to be associated with our leader in the Seanad and our leader in the Dáil, Deputy Bertie Ahern, in their tributes to both Governments on the agreement they reached last evening on the twin track approach. Hopefully this will form the basis of a new framework for discussions which will enable all parties to engage in fruitful and positive dialogue and lay the foundation for a secure, permanent and just peace in Northern Ireland and throughout the island. There may be something in what Senator Dardis said. Even though all our debates in the Seanad have been restrained and responsible, perhaps it is a time for reflection. We will await the outcome. I pay particular tribute to my good friend, Peter Temple-Morris, who is chairman of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. At all times, he has had a positive and benign influence.
I wish to make an observation on the matter to which Senator O'Toole referred. While the referendum has been held, it is not appropriate at this point to single out one element for courage. The Senator will recognise that those few of us who spoke against the referendum proposals found ourselves — I want to put this on the record — not only in a minority in the Oireachtas  but also as far as the media was concerned.
Mr. Sherlock: I join with the Leader of the House and the other speakers in complimenting the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. The Irish people are relieved today that agreement has been reached between the British and Irish Governments. I would also like to put on record that I was proud of the fact that at 9.40 p.m. last night on “Prime Time” Deputy De Rossa, the Minister for Social Welfare and Leader of Democratic Left, was the first to speak on this issue.
I also welcome the debate on the universities to be held tomorrow. All the university Senators have just come from a meeting with the Minister for Education who has shown herself to be very accessible. The debate will really open up the argument, and for this reason I urge that the suggestion made by Senator Dardis be taken on board by the Leader of the House, that the time should be extended across lunchtime to allow everybody to participate. It is appropriate that the Bill should be introduced in the House, first, because of the university representation and, second, because of the consultative nature of this Assembly.
With regard to the visit to the Oireachtas by President Clinton, the final part of item 1 on the Order Paper states: “...the time of the joint sitting shall be 3 p.m.: provided that in the unlikely event of President Clinton being unable to attend, the Ceann Comhairle shall be empowered to postpone or cancel the joint sitting.” Does this conceal some special knowledge because I do not recall it being in the  wording, as framed, for previous visits. Is there something behind this?
Mr. McGowan: There is a company trawling the country presenting itself as an evaluation team and drawing up front money from others. It is a complete con. Major rate payers are asked to believe that they can withhold rates from local authorities. This is a serious matter and must be tackled immediately by the Minister for Justice. This company has succeeded in obtaining money up front from large companies, which are withholding the payment of rates to the local authorities.
Mr. McGowan: I purposely named the company because the Garda are investigating it at present, and I trust the Minister for Justice will take positive action with the assistance of the Leader of the House.
Ms Honan: I also wish to be associated with the tributes paid to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste for concluding last night's agreement. Has the Leader had a response from the Minister for Health to the measures I called to his attention last week to resolve the nurses disputes in Portlaoise, Tullamore and Mullingar hospitals?
Mr. Neville: I join in the congratulations to the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. I welcome a group of parliamentarians from South Africa who have been in Ireland since Sunday. They are  led by Senator Mushawana, and represent all African parties, including the ANC, of which Senator Mushawana is a member, the National Party, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Freedom Front, the Pan African Congress, the African Christian Democracy Party and the Democratic Party. I would especially like to welcome Mr. Micheál Ellis from the Democratic Party who is also an Irishman. We wish them well and hope-they enjoy themselves in Ireland. We are happy they are with us and extend our congratulations on the excellent work that has been done in South Africa. Not so many years ago, they could not have visited us but they are most welcome now.
Mr. Lanigan: I join the other Members in welcoming the initiative taken by the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. I doubt that what has happened will mean the end is near but at least progress is being made. I also join Senator Neville in welcoming the members of the South African Parliament. It is good to see that, in a short time, South Africa has emerged as a real democracy rather than becoming a fantasy democracy as is the case in other countries.
Last week I asked about the money that was supposed to be provided for flooding. Flooding has commenced again in various areas after last night's rain. I am told there are problems with the Environmental Protection Agency and other bodies. Could we have a statement from the Minister about exactly what is happening in order to allay the fears of people who are again falling victim to what happened last year?
I am delighted that President Clinton is visiting Ireland. Today is the United Nations day of solidarity with the people of Palestine. We must not forget  Palestine. The United States, the United Nations and other countries are involved in Bosnia at present. We sincerely hope there will be an initiative on the North as a result of the Clinton visit. I ask the United Nations, President Clinton and other nations not to forget that they have made agreements with the Palestinian people. There are also agreements in force between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We must not leave these matters on the back burner. On the United Nations day of solidarity with the Palestinian people, the Taoiseach should attempt to ensure that the initiatives that have been taken in that area are not forgotten and that he will ensure elections will take place on 20 January as has been agreed.
Mr. R. Kiely: We are approaching Christmas and I sought a debate on agriculture some time ago. With the reduction in export credit refunds and current sheep prices, it would be appropriate to have an indication from the Leader if there will be such a debate quite soon.
There is devastation in west Limerick and Limerick city where Neodata has announced it is closing two factories, one in Newcastle West and the other in Kilmallock. There has also been a layoff of staff at Krups in Limerick city. The Minister for Enterprise and Employment should be asked to come to the House to explain the closure of the factories in west Limerick. The headquarters of Neodata is in Limerick city. Newcastle West is 20 miles from Limerick while Kilmallock is 16 miles, yet it was decided to close these two factories and leave the factory in Listowel open although it is 50 miles away.
Mr. R. Kiely: That decision is very strange. Can the Leader ask the Minister for Enterprise and Employment to come to the House today — that is how urgent the matter is — and explain why these two factories are being closed?
Mr. Cassidy: I join other Members in offering best wishes to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the British Prime Minister, John Major, and everybody concerned in their work over the last few days and since the peace initiative 15 months ago. I concur with Senator Dardis's remarks on the serious situation that faces manufacturers and exporters due to the recent strength of the punt. I told the Leader many months ago that, as an exporter, I could see major problems ahead and there will be serious difficulties. It is a serious matter for our export industry and we should debate it. The punt seems to be heading towards £1.05 sterling.
I also want to ask the Leader about the Green Paper on broadcasting. Various programmes will be broadcast about it on radio and television this week. It has been discussed in many sections of the media and it is about time we discussed it as a matter of urgency. Many worthwhile contributions could be made here.
Mr. Byrne: I join with you, Sir, and other Members in congratulating the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Government and everybody concerned in the progress made last night with the peace process. I agree with Senator O'Kennedy. We would want to be careful about what we say on this matter both inside and outside this House over the next three months in case we upset the framework. This is a delicate area.
Mr. Norris: I want to raise a point of order. I seek your protection, Sir, from the remarks made by Senator Cassidy. The record will show precisely what I said last week and I invite the Senator to read it.
Mr. Finneran: I join with you, Sir, and other Members in welcoming the delegation of parliamentarians from South Africa. I had the experience and privilege, with other parliamentarians, of being there during the elections less than two years ago. We were based in Beaufort West and the people there were kind and treated us excellently. I wish South Africa well and am delighted with the progress it has made to date.
The Leader of the House will be aware that I have asked for a debate on health on numerous occasions this session but, to date, it has not come about. Many issues could be dealt with under this heading. A White Paper on health  was published but we have not yet debated it. However, our psychiatric service is working under a 50 year old legislative framework. I call for a debate on health which is long overdue. Many other matters come under the heading of health — the new health cover insurance companies, the crisis in nursing homes, the nursing profession——
I join with Senator Kiely's call for a debate on agriculture. Up to 10,000 sheep farmers demonstrated outside the House yesterday. There is a crisis in the sheep industry and the EU must respond to the call from the Government and farmers for an increase in the EU premium. The change in EU structures for export credit could have a knock-on effect and result in a loss of £150 per head of cattle. This is important. We should have a debate on agriculture to address those matters.
Mr. Manning: I will pass on to the Government the good wishes and compliments from Members on both sides of the House on last evening's achievement. The debate on the Harbours Bill, 1995, will be taken until 8 p.m., although Second Stage may not be completed. Senator Wright asked about the legislation for the rest of the session. I hope the Harbours Bill, 1995, the Powers of Attorney Bill, 1995, the Civil Legal Aid Bill, 1995, a Seanad Bill from the Dáil and to which a few amendments need to be made, the Courts and Court Officers Bill, 1995, the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1995, and the Appropriation Bill will be completed by the  end of the session. I expect that the House will rise on 20 December.
As regards Northern Ireland, I would go along with the view expressed Senator Dardis and Senator O'Kennedy that tomorrow might not be the best time for a debate. I assure Senator O'Toole that I will not postpone statements on the intergovernmental conference. However, if he wishes to postpone the debate on the universities, I might be prepared to listen more sympathetically. I will extend the debate on the universities tomorrow if a sufficient number of speakers offer. I agree with Senator Sherlock on the contribution of the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa. Last evening's achievement was a team effort. I will find out about the Waste Bill, 1995, but it will not be taken in this session.
The last sentence in item 1 was included in case President Clinton was called away to Bosnia and rather than have both Houses assemble simply to be adjourned, the Ceann Comhairle included that. I notice that this morning the House of Lords took precedence over the House of Commons. It is a pity we do not have the same rank order in this House.
Mr. Manning: Senator McGowan raised a serious matter and I will convey the information he has given to the  Minister for Justice. I communicated the matter Senator Honan raised with the relevant Minister and he will have further information for me shortly. Senator Lanigan referred to flooding. I had hoped the Minister would come to the House today to give an up date but I guarantee he will do so before the end of the session; I will give the House a specific date shortly. I will also convey Senator Lanigan's views on Palestine in the appropriate way.
I am sorry I have not been able to arrange a debate on agriculture. I doubt if I will be able to do so before the end of the session but I will see if time can be found. It is an important issue and I would like to oblige Senator Kiely. Senator Cassidy asked for a debate on the Green Paper on broadcasting which would be an appropriate subject for this House. I will discuss this with him, although a debate will probably not take place until the next session.
Senator Finneran raised the possibility of a debate on health. I have sympathy with the Senator as he has raised this matter on a number of occasions. I will try to arrange a debate before the end of the session, although I am not hopeful in that regard. However, I will give it priority next session given that the Senator has raised the issue previously.
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