Business of Seanad.
Order of Business.
Merchant Shipping (Liability of Shipowners and Others) Bill, 1996: Order for Second Stage.
Merchant Shipping (Liability of Shipowners and Others) Bill, 1996: Second Stage.
Message from Dáil.
Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1995 (Southern Regional Fisheries Commission) Order, 1996: Motion.
Northern Ireland: Statements (Resumed).
National Register of Bench Warrants: Motion.
Adjournment Matter. - Taxi and Hackney Licences.
 Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10.30 a.m.
An Cathaoirleach: I have notice from Senator Burke that, on the motion for the Adjournment of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:
The need for the Minister for the Environment to clarify all aspects of the setting up of taxi ranks and taxis and the need to control, if required, the number of hackney licences.
I regard the matter raised as suitable for discussion on the Adjournment and it will be taken at the conclusion of business.
Ms O'Sullivan: Today's business is items 1, 2, 3 and 17, motion 28. Item 1 will be taken until 1 p.m. and there will be a sos from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Item 2 will be taken at 2 p.m. and item 3, the continuation of the statements on Northern Ireland, will be taken at 4 p.m. Item 17, motion 28 will be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. I suggest 20 minutes per speaker on items 1 and 2. The times are already set for the other items.
Mr. Fitzgerald: The Order of Business is agreed. Item 9 on the Order Paper is in the Freedom of Information Bill, 1995, in the name of Senator Roche. Can the Acting Leader indicate when we will finalise this legislation?
Mr. Dardis: I ask the Acting Leader to convey to the Minister for the Marine our concern about the potential for pollution from the Sea Empress disaster off the coast of Wales. It is not very far from our coast and, in the event of a change of direction in the wind and tides, there is potential for significant environmental damage. I ask the Acting Leader to convey to the Minister for the Marine our request that all precautions be undertaken to ensure that environmental damage is minimised.
For some time Senator Lanigan has been raising the issue of defence and we have made repeated requests for a debate on defence. Perhaps the Acting Leader would consider that in the coming week or so.
I am pleased that the Acting Leader has left the time arrangements for statements on Northern Ireland as they were yesterday. Last week a change was made in the context of statements on agriculture. It is undesirable that time arrangements would be altered when a debate is resumed. It is a matter which might be noted in future.
Mr. Lanigan: Will the Acting Leader ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs to contact the Australian Embassy about a matter of great concern to many people in Ireland? The Australian Embassy now has a tape recording stating that if a person is looking for a working visa they should contact them after July of this year. In many cases people have booked tickets for Australia. They were told by the Australian Embassy that there was a six week term in which they could apply but when they applied they were told no more work visas were being issued. If a person rings the Australian Embassy to get a holiday work permit, they will be  told by this answering machine that no more visas are being issued.
An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing the matter now.
Mr. Lanigan: This is a convoluted question which cannot be put in one sentence.
An Cathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to put a question to the Leader.
Mr. Lanigan: Portia Robinson, a very good Australian historian, wrote a book about the women of Botany Bay many years ago.
An Cathaoirleach: We are certainly straying from the Order of Business. What is the question to the Acting Leader?
Mr. Lanigan: Why does the Australian Embassy use electronic means to tell Irish people it does not want them in Australia for a short time when they are allowing people in from every other part of the world? If it was not for the Irish women who went to Botany Bay, Australia would not be what it is today. I ask the embassy to respond positively to the many people looking for short-term visas.
Mr. Roche: I will try to be succinct and to the point.
An Cathaoirleach: That will be a welcome change.
Mr. Magner: Attack some other continent.
Mr. Roche: This afternoon there will be disruption in certain public service offices because people who are among the lowest paid workers in this State believe they must hold an industrial dispute. We all regret that. Can the Acting Leader make time for a discussion on personnel policies in the public service and the developments thereon? My  interest is very specific. I once had the honour to serve on the national executive of the union in question.
My second point relates to both Wicklow and a number of constituencies. It is has just come to my attention that the ESB is operating a discriminatory policy when compensating people for damage done to their property or lives because of problems arising from non-ionising radiation and the power lines. There is an extraordinary diversity in the amount of compensation paid. For example, a person who had 11 sites destroyed by the ESB received £11,000 in County Wicklow, while another person who had a view from a house badly spoiled received £191,000 under the same arbitration process. This has not just happened in County Wicklow, but also in Counties Sligo and Clare and elsewhere.
An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing the matter now.
Mr. Neville: What happened to quick and succinct?
Mr. Roche: Will the Acting Leader arrange a debate on the damage to life and property from power lines with specific reference to the extraordinary response to compensation claims by the ESB?
Mr. McGowan: Will the Acting Leader arrange a debate in the near future on the funding available to county enterprise boards and on Leader funding? I raise this issue because a meeting of the County Donegal enterprise board was held on 19 February. The board received applications for in excess of £1 million, which involved 25 items on the agenda. However, the board had £90,000 available to it, which covers two items, and it did not even consider the first matter on the agenda.
An Cathaoirleach: A question to the Acting Leader.
Mr. McGowan: I am advised the Leader programmes face the same problem. We listened to much propaganda about bottom up approaches and communities making decisions for themselves. However, every item — even applications for £1,500 — must go to the Department for approval. There was never more bureaucracy in the system.
An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing the matter now, Senator. A question relevant to the Order of Business to the Acting Leader.
Mr. McGowan: With respect to the Chair, I must explain why I want a debate on this issue. It is most important.
An Cathaoirleach: I am sure the Acting Leader is aware of why the Senator wants a debate.
Mr. McGowan: I am sure she is aware and I expect a favourable response from her. I am certain her patch of ground faces the same problems affecting County Donegal.
Mr. Magner: Does that include Botany Bay?
Mr. Norris: I support the calls for a debate on the ESB's policies. It has behaved in a most high handed manner.
Will the Acting Leader pass on the congratulations of the House to the American people for their wisdom in choosing Mr. Pat Buchanan and thereby ensuring the victory of President Clinton in the next election?
An Cathaoirleach: That is not relevant to today's Order of Business, as the Senator is aware.
Ms O'Sullivan: Senator Fitzgerald raised the Freedom of Information Bill. I cannot give him a definite answer regarding the timescale for the legislation, but I will get back to him on it.
Senator Dardis raised the matter of  the tanker which is causing serious environmental concerns off the coast of Wales. I understand the situation is being closely monitored to ensure it does not affect Ireland, but I will bring the Senator's concerns to the relevant Department. Senator Dardis also requested a debate on defence. There is no time for such a debate this week but I will investigate whether it can be arranged as soon as possible.
I take the Senator's point in relation to Northern Ireland. Senator Daly was in possession when the debate adjourned last night and a number of Members have indicated that they wish to contribute. As the Senator noted, two hours will be available this afternoon.
Regarding Senator Lanigan's point, unfortunately, I do not know much about the women of Botany Bay. If I did, I would be pleased to enlighten the Senator on the subject.
Mr. Lanigan: If the Acting Leader wants to know more, she should read the book about the women of Botany Bay.
Ms O'Sullivan: I have not yet travelled as far as Australia. However, I agree it is frustrating to receive information on a tape machine when one is not in a position to make one's point. The Senator's point is well made and can be passed on to the relevant Australian authorities.
Senator Roche raised the industrial action this afternoon in the public service which will close a number of offices. Notices in newspapers indicated that, for example, the Revenue Commissioners and the Passport Office will be closed this afternoon. The Senator also raised the matter of the ESB and power lines and he was supported by Senator Norris. They appear suitable matters for discussion on the Adjournment and perhaps the Senators could use that avenue to raise them.
Senator McGowan has raised the point about the enterprise boards many times. It is some time since there was a debate on enterprise and employment  in general. It is a worthwhile suggestion and I hope it can be taken up soon. The concern has been raised in other areas also, but the Senator has mentioned it a number of times.
The House does not have authority regarding Senator Norris's point about Mr. Pat Buchanan. However, it is at the early stages and the Senator cannot be sure of the outcome at this point in relation to the republican nomination.
Mr. Daly: The Senator might go for the job himself.
Order of Business agreed to.
Bill entitled an Act to give the force of law to the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims, 1976, done at London on the 19th day of November, 1976, the Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, 1974, done at Athens on the 13th day of December, 1974, as amended by the Protocol thereto done at London on the 19th day of November, 1976, the International Convention for the unification of certain rules of law relating to bills of lading done at Brussels on the 25th day of August, 1924, as amended by the Protocols thereto done at Brussels on the 23rd day of February, 1968, and the 21st day of December, 1979, respectively, and to provide for related matters.
Ms O'Sullivan: I move: “That Second Stage be taken today.”
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett): I am pleased this Bill has been initiated in the Seanad and I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the matter in the House. I look forward to hearing Senators' contributions.
The purpose of introducing this Bill is to bring Irish law in relation to the carriage of goods and passengers by sea into line with current international standards as reflected in a number of relevant international conventions, namely, the London Convention, the Athens Convention and the Brussels Convention. The intention behind the introduction of the conventions and their Protocols was to remedy a number of deficiencies concerning claims for compensation in maritime incidents that existed in earlier conventions.
This was achieved by: (i) establishing a uniform international regime for determining the limits of liability and the methods by which these amounts would be computed. The special drawing right (SDR) of the International Monetary Fund was adopted as the “currency” for the purpose of stating the limits of liability; (ii) raising the limits of liability to a more realistic level but at the same time making it possible for a shipowner to insure at a reasonable cost; (iii) making the right to limit liability virtually unbreakable unless loss is caused by deliberate negligence or recklessness on the part of the shipowner, ship operator, manager, charterer or carrier — a claimant must prove such negligence or recklessness through the courts; (iv) providing, in the case of the Athens and Brussels Conventions, a uniform means of establishing liability by clarifying the rights and responsibilities of carriers, passengers and shippers. The London Convention deals exclusively with rules in relation to limitation of liability whatever the basis of liability may be.
Shipping is vital to a small open economy such as ours. More than 75 per cent of our imports and exports are carried by sea. Shipping in general, and certainly in so far as it affects us, is an international, even global business. International  fora and conventions play an important role in setting agreed standards in respect of ships of different flags. While a small country such as Ireland could not claim to have tremendous power or influence on the international maritime front, it is important that nations large and small contribute towards international co-operation in the common interest.
Essentially, this Bill is a housekeeping exercise and it levels the playing pitch with regard to maritime law. It will introduce into our law the three international conventions and Protocols already mentioned and will enable the State to accede to them in due course. All of these instruments are in force internationally.
The London Convention on the Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims, 1976, came into force internationally in 1986, and to date 26 states, including the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium, have become parties.
The Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, 1974, and the Protocol of 1976 came into force internationally of 1987 and 1989, respectively. To date, 22 states, including the United Kingdom, Spain and Belgium, have become parties to the Convention; 18 States including the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal have become parties to the Protocol.
Regarding the Brussels Convention, the Protocol of 1968 to this came into force internationally on 23 June 1977. To date some 30 states, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, have become parties to the Convention. The Protocol of 1979 came into force internationally in 1984 and 28 states have become parties.
Ships which operate in our waters but which belong to countries that have previously acceded to these conventions already enjoy the benefit of their terms. This Bill will extend these terms to the owners of Irish registered ships — currently numbering 73. They will also  extend to passengers and shippers using Irish registered vessels, as well as to other parties subjected to damage or loss caused by Irish registered vessels.
At present, the limitation of shipowners' liability is governed by the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. Shipowners may limit liability in the case of loss of life or personal injury either alone or together with loss of or damage to vessels, goods, merchandise or other things to an aggregate amount not exceeding £15 per ton of the ship's registered tonnage; loss of or damage to vessels, goods, merchandise or other things, whether there be additional loss of life or personal injury, to an aggregate amount not exceeding £8 per ton of the ship's registered tonnage. The right to limitation, however, is subject to the condition that the occurrence takes place without the carrier's actual “fault or privity”, that is, knowledge that loss or damage will, or is likely to, occur.
Under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, 1980, a shipowner is at liberty to disclaim all liability for the payment of compensation to passengers under a contract of carriage. I understand, however, that some of our shipowners have voluntarily incorporated the terms of the Athens Convention into their contracts of carriage.
The Merchant Shipping (Liability of Shipowners and Others) Bill, 1996, will put in place a charter for the providers and recipients of maritime transport services, that is the owners of Irish registered ships and the passengers and shippers using these ships, as well as for those others who may suffer loss or damage caused by Irish registered ships.
I will now deal with the provisions of each of the conventions in turn. The London Convention on the Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims provides for the totality of claims which may arise from any one incident resulting in loss of life or personal injury, loss of, or damage to, property including damage to harbour works and navigational aids — and loss from delay in the carriage of cargo or passengers and their luggage.
 Such claims can include damage resulting from the spillage of bunker fuel from a vessel. They cannot, however, include claims arising from damage to or the loss of an oil tanker itself. The Bill does not apply to tankers carrying oil as cargo. Under the Oil Pollution (Civil Liability and Compensation) Act, 1988, oil tankers are already covered for claims of up to £14 million in respect of any one accident.
The Athens Convention deals with the carriage of passengers and their luggage by sea. The convention specifically covers the loss of life or personal injury to passengers and the loss of or damage to their luggage through establishing a uniform international regime of liability.
The Brussels Convention specifically covers the loss of or damage to cargo where goods are carried under a bill of lading. A bill of lading is a document issued by a shipowner to a shipper of goods. It serves as a receipt for the goods, evidence of the contract of carriage and document of title. As a receipt, it contains the description and quantity of the goods. As evidence of the contract of carriage, it contains the terms and conditions of the contract. As a document of title, it is used by a third party to take delivery of the goods from the ship.
The 1924 Convention is known within the shipping industry as the Hague Rules. The 1968 amending Protocol is known as the Visby Rules and the 1924 Convention so amended as the Hague-Visby Rules. Prior to the Hague Rules there was little law in existence that prevented the carrier of goods by sea trading under bills of lading from contracting out of virtually all liability in respect of loss or damage to cargo. The Hague Rules standardised the conditions of carriage set out in bills of lading and have been incorporated into the domestic legislation of most maritime countries including Ireland.
The Hague Rules were incorporated into Irish law by means of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1947. Ireland acceded to  the Hague Rules Convention in 1962. The rules were amended through the adoption of Protocols in 1968 and 1979. The 1968 Protocol amended and expanded the rules in a number of important respects with regard to prima facie evidence, time limits for claims, monetary limits of liability, liability in tort and nuclear damage.
The Protocol of 1968 provides that nothing in the Hague-Visby Rules shall affect the provisions of any international convention or national law governing liability for nuclear damage. The Protocol of 1979 substitutes the Special Drawing Right (SDR) of the International Monetary Fund for the gold franc as the unit of account. The texts of these conventions and Protocols are each included in the Schedules to the Bill.
When it becomes law, this Bill will make it possible for passengers to qualify for realistic levels of compensation for loss, injury or damage either to themselves or to their luggage. The Bill will put an end to existing inequities with respect to claims facilities as between travellers by sea and airborne passengers.
For the first time in almost 100 years, shippers may seek and expect to receive realistic levels of compensation for instances of loss, damage or delay in the transit of their goods by sea. Shipowners will enjoy the advantages of knowing in advance the absolute maximum liability of compensation for which they are liable in the event of accidents and/or delays occurring in the course of their operations; most importantly shipowners will be facilitated in being able to arrange the necessary levels of insurance cover.
In the case of a typical vessel of 3,000 registered tons, the absolute limit of liability will now be increased for loss of life or injury from the present ceiling of £45,000 to the more realistic maximum of £1,580,000. Where loss of life or personal injury occurs on a passenger ship, the present maximum possible claim is £45,000. The Bill will increase this figure to £50,000 per passenger up to an aggregate  maximum not exceeding £25 million. In instances involving loss of or damage to goods or a vessel, the present maximum claim possible is a ludicrous £24,000. Under this Bill the maximum claim possible will be a more realistic £580,000.
With regard to liability for removal of a wreck, it is important to note that while the London Convention provides for limitation of liability in cases of wreck it permits adhering Governments to opt out of this provision if they see fit. It allows for such adhering Governments to provide for no limitation to apply in such cases. This provision was availed of in section 53 of the Merchant Shipping (Wreck and Salvage) Act, 1993. The Wreck and Salvage Act provided for no limit to the liability of the owner of a wrecked or stranded vessel in respect of the cost of raising, removing or otherwise disposing of such a vessel.
It is proposed to replace section 53 of the Wreck and Salvage Act with section 11 of the Liability of Shipowners and Others Bill and to strengthen the wording to cover “the raising, removal, destruction or the rendering harmless of a ship which is sunk, wrecked, stranded or abandoned”. The new wording is designed to take account of experience to date with the enforcement of the Wreck and Salvage Act, 1993.
The London Convention further provides for an absolutely unlimited claim facility for loss or damage in respect of accidents to vessels powered by nuclear power or carrying nuclear materials. Given our position on the Sellafield nuclear processing plant, and the vessels transiting the Irish Sea on route to and from Sellafield, this provision is of particular importance.
This Bill will provide a balanced framework of obligations and rights for shipowners, shippers and passengers and will further facilitate the smooth operation of sea transport services for all the various interests involved, whether providing or availing of sea transport services.
 The Bill extends to Irish-registered vessels the benefits enjoyed heretofore only by vessels of countries which have acceded to these Conventions already. Its passing into our law will balance this anomalous exposure. Indeed, prudent owners of Irish registered vessels will have already insured against liability at a rate higher than provided for under our existing law on limitation and in line with the more practical limits which will now be introduced.
Since becoming Minister for the Marine in May 1995, I have become conscious of the need to redress the competitive disadvantages endured at international level by the Irish sector. Simultaneously, I must continue to ensure that reliable and efficient services are available to industry, that we protect our marine environment and that safety standards on our ships meet the most exacting standards. These targets, while attainable, will not easily be met.
My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Gilmore, and I are bringing legislation through the Oireachtas in relation to the management of harbours and to dumping at sea. I have also been in discussion with the various interested parties and with Government colleagues regarding possible measures to boost our fleet, maintain and expand employment opportunities and secure vital maritime expertise.
I am committed to pursuing all avenues towards achieving a level playing pitch in the international maritime sector. The levelling of the playing pitch implies a commensurate input from small as well as large countries on the international scene. In Ireland's case this includes updating our laws with due regard to our situation.
Concerning cost implications for shipowners and the export industry, the advantages derived from:
(a) a shipowner knowing the full extent of his liability whether he is involved in a marine incident in Irish territorial waters or in waters under other jurisdictions; and (b) the facilitating  of the shipping industry by way of ready availability of insurance cover, early settlement of claims etc.,
outweigh the cost implications.
I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Daly: As the Minister has outlined, the purpose of this Bill is to give force of law to a number of maritime conventions and Protocols, some of which date back to 1924. It is an indication of the general lack of political interest in marine affairs that we are only now giving legal effect to these conventions. However, I welcome the introduction of this legislation and I assure the Minister of our support in getting the Bill speedily passed.
The International Maritime Organisation, which was established in 1958 on the basis of a 1948 convention, has the purpose of facilitating co-operation between governments on regulations and practices relating to technical matters affecting international shipping. Such co-operation had been planned from around the time of the Second World War.
Through its dialogue and communication with the various member states affiliated to it, the IMO has made major strides towards putting in place a body of legislation and regulations dealing with this complex sector. The IMO encourages the adoption of high standards in maritime safety, efficient navigation, and the control and prevention of pollution, as well as a wide variety of other technical and legal matters. Ireland has played its part over the years by making a valuable contribution to the various conventions which have been ratified by this welcome legislation.
When I set up the Department of the Marine back in 1987, I drew the attention of the public and of the Government to the large body of regulation, legislation, Protocol and convention that needed to be ratified. At that time, much of our maritime law was either antiquated or, in some cases, did not  exist. I am glad to say that in the short time since the Department was established it has made major strides in modernising legislation such as that before the House today. It has also made progress in responding to the challenge which we face as an island nation to face up to and exploit the opportunities to develop our maritime business.
The shipping business has made a valuable contribution to the economy, but that contribution can be further expanded by more positive and active Government support to back the industry's specialist work. Scant Government attention has been paid to the shipping and transhipment business generally. I do not mean this as a criticism of the present Government because it has been a feature of many Governments. For a while, maritime affairs were treated as some type of Cinderella operation. There is little general appreciation of the volume of shipping trade that Ireland is engaged in internationally.
The Government can take some initiatives to further expand and underpin the Irish shipping fleet. In 1987, at a time of strict Government financial controls, I introduced initiatives by way of grant aid to Irish shipping companies to enable them to expand their fleets. The scheme to encourage the acquisition of new ships involved a twin approach of tax incentives and BES expansion schemes. Some of the BES provisions introduced at that time have since been restricted by the Department of Finance. The Minister can be assured of wholehearted support from all sides of the House if he can reactivate that scheme.
Arco Shipping, for instance, as a result of the initiatives at that time, including the grant scheme that was made available, has put an additional 14 ships on its register. These Irish registered vessels are helping to develop the economy in no small way. Arco's fleet now stands at 24 ships and the company plans to build additional vessels this year.
 The shipping business has been going through lean times — this is not unique to Ireland but to international shipping generally. In a climate where we have the opportunity to create further employment and to underpin the important companies in the business, the Minister and the Government would be doing a great service if it reintroduced those schemes of grant and BES support for the shipping industry. I urge the Minister to reactivate the schemes so the fleet can be further expanded and so that Ireland can have a greater share of the multi-million pound international shipping business. This would provide stability for those already employed in the business.
I draw the Minister's attention to some of the important initiatives taken by the Danish Government which have increased activity in the Danish shipping business. The Minister should look at the possibility of establishing a maritime industrial development organisation. For some peculiar reason, the IDA concentrates its activities in other areas. From my experience I know it is difficult to get it interested in the possibility of creating jobs in the maritime industry. Perhaps the Marine Institute might look at the possibility of putting in place a small high powered maritime industrial unit which would examine the possibility of creating more employment in the maritime business and which would support pioneers in the business, like James Tyrell in Arklow and others, who have made a major contribution to the development of the fishing fleet. Such an organisation might look at the training of pilots and personnel involved in the shipping business.
The Minister mentioned maritime safety and for many years IMO activities focused on that issue. The tragedy of the roll-on/roll-off ferry, the Herald of Free Enterprise, which went down in 1987 with the loss of 188 lives, brought home to everyone the urgency of dealing with safety issues. The regulations brought forward in 1988 to deal with the aftermath of that tragedy highlighted the need for improved safety measures  and vigilance. It is a lesson which we have still not learned. The appalling spate of fishing tragedies further reminds us of the urgent need for strict safety regulations and of enforcing them fully and effectively.
I know the recent fishing tragedies are not relevant to this Bill, but we should not lose this opportunity to draw the attention of those concerned to their obligations as regards safety, which is a priority. Whether vessels are large or small or commercial or otherwise, nobody has the right to take chances with people's lives in unsafe ships and boats. They are death traps and they must be controlled. People must be educated and made aware of the dangers and ways to avoid tragedies.
According to Lloyd's register, ship losses reached an average of one per day between 1970 and 1980 — in 1978, for example, 356 ships were lost. In the majority of cases, 81 per cent, losses were due to human error. I do not have the up to date figures, but I do not believe the situation has improved. Ship losses before World War II were the same as in the 1970s. Even with modern communications and sophisticated electronic equipment, ship losses have only stabilised. This underlines the need for vigilance.
The Minister mentioned insurance in relation to ships plying the Irish Sea. No level of insurance could ever cover the cost of a nuclear accident in the Irish Sea in terms of the loss of life. Despite the provision for more effective insurance in that area, the Government should not lose sight of the necessity to highlight the undesirability of what is taking place in the United Kingdom as regards the nuclear industry. The Minister should use every opportunity to try to get the British Government to see reason in relation to its policy on the nuclear business. This should not only apply to nuclear ships.
We have seen the frantic efforts being made by the British authorities to come to grips with the Sea Empress and the crisis at Milford Haven. I am reminded of the successful efforts made by our  marine personnel and the Department in removing oil from the Kowloon Bridge. At the time it cost approximately £1.5 million. Has the Government been reimbursed by the insurers? Technical people in the Department demonstrated that an effective marine pollution operation could be put in place. A highly technical and sophisticated job was done removing oil from the Kowloon Bridge. I am glad the marine services are keeping in touch with developments at Milford Haven.
This crisis brings home to us the fact that we face a similar situation around our coastline. There is an ageing tanker fleet and a likelihood of more accidents and danger to the environment. We are constantly worried about the risk to the environment from oil pollution, particularly in the Shannon Estuary through which tankers sail to Tarbert and Moneypoint. Local and harbour authorities worry about the risk of damage arising from unsafe ships plying the sea, especially ageing tanker fleets which are likely to create further problems in the future. That is why this legislation is so desirable. The volume of ship losses since the 1970s and 1980s has not stabilised. If the situation was similar in the aviation business, where aircraft where coming to grief in the same numbers, there would be an international outcry. It amazes me that so little attention is paid to this by the community.
This is an excellent opportunity for the Minister and the Department to put things right. I take this opportunity to compliment him and his staff on the work they are doing. They have brought much of the legislation up to date and have brought Ireland into the 20th century as regards its maritime policy. The Department has been unfairly criticised because of one issue, but thankfully it is no longer regarded as the rod licence Department. I welcome this technical measure. On Committee Stage we will deal with certain technicalities which require clarification but I will not go into those now.
 As an island nation we have a great opportunity to exploit and develop our maritime business. Our efforts to date have been limited. Let us hope that in the forthcoming decade we can make greater use of our marine resources thereby creating further business opportunities, increasing employment prospects and generally enhancing an industry which has been seen for far too long as the Cinderella of the Irish economy.
Irish shipping is a great industry. It can be further strengthened but it needs Government backing to make the contribution it can potentially achieve. I trust the Minister, in consultation with the Minister for Finance, will reintroduce the measures which were beginning to show effects. The single grant that was paid out put 14 additional ships on the Irish register. This shows the benefit that small grants can contribute towards enhancing and developing the Irish shipping industry.
I welcome this legislation and will support the Minister in getting it through the Oireachtas as speedily as possible.
Mr. Belton: I welcome the Minister. As has been said by Opposition Members, the Minister is doing a good day's work in introducing this Bill. Shipping is a varied and important industry across the world. As this is an island nation it is all the more important that our legislation and regulations are as modern and up-to-date as possible and, in introducing this Bill, the Minister is taking a major step in that direction.
The Minister said that a number of conventions have taken place in recent years and Ireland, to a certain extent, has been left behind. We have not updated our legislation sufficiently to become part of the general trend in regulations as a result of those conventions. It is extraordinary to hear about the huge differences that exist between the aviation industry and the shipping industry with regard to regulations and liability. Perhaps this is due to the fact that shipping is an old industry and mode of transport which has evolved  over the centuries rather than having been organised. That is probably why people tend to leave such matters in abeyance. It is important that this aspect of the industry is now being brought up to date.
This legislation will ensure that shipowners will know exactly where they stand and what their liabilities are in the event of accidents. It also ensures that passengers and owners of goods will be aware of their liabilities in the context of accidents, claims and so forth. The Minister has done a fine job with this Bill. In other areas, too, he is making major strides in updating our legislation on marine affairs. This island and its trade depend to a huge extent on shipping — 75 per cent of our trade is transported by sea. It is, therefore, vitally important that our legislation should be in line with modern developments.
I congratulate the Minister and his staff on this important legislation.
Mr. Fitzgerald: My comments on the Bill will be brief. I welcome it; it is important legislation. It is also important that this Bill is initiated in the Seanad. It is always nice to see Bills initiated in the Seanad as we have proved that this Chamber deals with such Bills in a thorough manner.
As an island nation our shipping is of vital importance to us. I am not sure of the statistics but I accept that over 80 per cent of all exports and imports are transported by sea. Regular ferries to England and the continent also play an important role. It is extremely important that not only are passengers protected by proper legislation but that shippers, agents and shipowners also have such protection. Everybody should be protected by adequate legislation.
Nobody can know or fully understand the might of the sea. Who would expect that a huge tanker such as the Sea Empress could be in trouble on the rocks off the coast of England? As Senator Daly said, about 200 ships are lost at sea every year. We never really think about the sea and what it can do to ships until we actually see it. A few  years ago a ship called the Ranga got into difficulties off the coast of Kerry. It eventually ended up on the rocks and there was a great hullabaloo about moving it. We need not have worried — the sea took care of it in a matter of two years. It disappeared and there is nothing left. It shows us what the sea can do. We should always beware the sea.
That brings to mind the recent Harbours Bill passed by the House. I regret that I was one of the Members who said that, in certain cases, we should abolish compulsory pilotage. I have changed my mind in that regard, particularly in view of what Senator Daly said. Let us suppose a ship travelling up the Shannon to Limerick or Foynes got into difficulties with a new navigator or somebody who did not know the river. Such a ship could do great damage to the environment; the Shannon Estuary could be wiped out if there were such a disaster. There is a great case to be made for the pilotage of ships. We should continue to have pilotage in all districts with the exception of rare cases where the ship's master is travelling that stretch of water every week. However, it must be the same master at the wheel every week. Accidents can happen.
On a somewhat different matter, I congratulate the Minister on his recent advertisements in the newspapers about a review of safety in fishing boats. Such a review is long overdue and badly needed. The results of that review will be startling. I dare to suggest that up to 70 per cent of fishing boats will be tied up because of safety regulations.
I was glad to hear the Minister mention nuclear power and the accidents that might happen. As Senator Daly said, the ideal situation would be not to have nuclear power and not to have Sellafield operating. The answer would be to close down the Sellafield nuclear power station completely because no compensation could be sufficient. What could compensate the people of Chernobyl for what they have endured? We still see the effects of the accident at Chernobyl on the children born there  ten years later. During the passage of the Harbours Act, 1995, which was recently before the House, the Minister of State, Deputy Gilmore, accepted an amendment to ban nuclear powered ships from our ports. In his speech the Minister referred to the nuclear processing plant at Sellafield. We should bring in legislation to make our coast a nuclear free zone.
This is a technical Bill concerning safety, the protection of passengers and their goods, the shippers and the shipowners. We will have some questions on Committee Stage but I welcome the Bill.
Mr. Calnan: I welcome the Minister to the House. This Bill is long overdue; it is frightening to consider that we are but a few years away from the next century yet we are dealing with Acts passed in the 19th century. The Bill is a technical measure to bring Irish law into line with the London, Athens and Brussels Conventions and their Protocols. Whenever we deal with maritime legislation and associated regulations there always seem to be elements from the last century to be considered. We are effectively the only island nation in the EU; 75 per cent of our goods are imported and exported by sea, yet our policy sometimes appears akin to that of Switzerland.
The issues of the cost of insurance and compensation arise daily in relation to motoring. Given the number of people and the weight of traffic that travel by sea it would appear to indicate neglect that our laws in this regard are not up to date. Although it is not within the Minister's ambit, it may be appropriate to examine the regulations regarding air travel.
In his speech the Minister mentioned that ships which operate in our waters from countries which have acceded previously to the conventions already enjoy benefits. Those benefits will now be extended to the 73 Irish registered ships. This is a welcome measure replacing the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, which  limited liability of £15 per ton of the ships registered tonnage. This Bill will put in place a charter for the providers and recipients of maritime transport services. Under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, 1980, a shipowner may disclaim liability. I am glad to see that is being tightened up as too many people are avoiding their responsibilities at present.
Under the London Convention incidents which result in loss of life will be covered. Claims may not be made for an oil tanker itself and that would seem fair. Under existing laws the absolute limit of liability for loss of life or injury in the case of a typical vessel of 3,000 registered tons, was £45,000 and that is now to be increased to over £1.5 million. This is a welcome change because we do not want to be bound by the last century when we are moving into the next. The increase in the maximum possible claim from £45,000 to £50,000 per passenger is also welcome.
It was interesting to hear the Minister refer to “the raising, removal, destruction or the rendering harmless of a ship which is sunk, wrecked, stranded or abandoned”. In west Cork the Bardini Reefer is lying in Castletownbere harbour and it is an eyesore and a danger to shipping. If this law had been in place it would not be there now.
I am glad the Minister has prepared this Bill to provide a balanced framework for shippers, shipowners and passengers. I compliment those who run ferries. The large ferries plying our waters are of great benefit for tourism and travel. The smaller ferries which operate to our offshore islands also do tremendous work. Regulations in this regard were introduced as a result of incidents in Castletownbere and elsewhere. The operators have done a good job and we must be as lenient with them as possible because they provide a necessary service although their service may not be economic at certain times of the year. There are seven inhabited islands off the coast of south-west Cork. They need a proper transport system to keep the people from feeling isolated.  I hope the legislation might lead to measures for compensation for Irish fishermen for what they lose to the Spanish fishermen poaching in our waters. The movement of foreign vessels in the Irish box should be better controlled.
Minister for the Marine (Mr. Barrett): I thank Senators for their helpful contributions to the debate. This is a technical Bill which gives rise to a number of legal complexities and it may be a little difficult for the lay person to understand. Nonetheless, it is a desirable measure required to put our marine trade on the same footing as our competitors in the EU and elsewhere. The Bill is a consumers' charter for shippers, passengers and shipowners. I have noted the points made by the Senators and I hope to deal with the issues raised on Committee Stage.
This Bill is different to other legislation from the Department in which we introduce regulatory measures. This Bill deals with civil liability between various participants in the maritime trade. In effect, it provides the Irish citizen with an opportunity to invoke the terms of the various conventions I mentioned. The House will notice that the Bill does not contain enforcement provisions as a result. It deals with civil liability and the rights of individuals, whether one is a passenger, a shipper or a shipowner.
I thank the Opposition spokesperson, Senator Brendan Daly, for his positive contribution and support for a speedy passage of the Bill through the Seanad. Indeed, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to him because he was the first Minister for the Marine when the Department was established in 1987. I share his grave disappointment that it took so long for this country to recognise the full value of the marine resource. We have concentrated on fishing down through the years but we have ignored the other potential, whether it be marine leisure and tourism, shipping or marine vegetables, such as the cultivation and processing of seaweed. All these opportunities had been ignored  for years and at long last, as a result of the establishment of the Department, an awareness has been created.
Having said that, we must also understand that the Department is only seven or eight years in existence and we have not, as yet, really got the message of this potential across to other Departments, my colleagues in Government and our colleagues in Opposition. Often, we must fight twice or three times as hard to get movement as compared with other Departments. It is an uphill battle and I welcome, therefore, the opportunity to come to this House or, indeed, Dáil Éireann, to discuss marine matters, because every time we do so we create an awareness of the marine environment, the investment opportunities, job opportunities and, in particular, the benefit to peripheral parts of this island where job opportunities are limited. It gives us the opportunity to be realistic, to face into the 21st century, to recognise there will be change and that we must prepare for it. One cannot wipe out opportunities for people living on islands or coastlines where, as I said before, job opportunities are limited. We should be preparing now to replace jobs we know will disappear with onshore related maritime jobs which are there for the asking. For that reason I assure Senator Daly that I join with him in trying to persuade colleagues of the need to provide the sort of incentives — for example, in shipping — which are necessary to build up a shipping sector which is capable of competing in today's world. I will continue to pursue those targets.
I also take on board the points made about nuclear ships. Of course, there should be unlimited liability in this respect, but even that is not sufficient if an accident occurs. We are conscious of this and are leading the charge in Europe to outline the dangers of nuclear activity on our seas and the danger this poses to the citizens of Europe.
I share Senators' interest in the whole issue of safety. Like others and as a new Minister for the Marine, it frightens me  to see what people are prepared to do when dealing with the sea. Senators have given various examples of how vicious and unforgiving the sea can be in terms of the horrific accidents which result in loss of life. I have set up the fishing vessel review group with an eye to taking on board some of the unpopular recommendations which, I have no doubt, it will produce. Either we close our eyes to the ongoing loss of life resulting from a lack of maintenance, the age of vessels, carelessness, unawareness of safety, etc. or we establish an awareness of the need for safety and precautions. I am not saying these are the causes of the most recent accidents, but there is evidence that people do not take proper care and attention when it comes to dealing with the sea. This concerns the fishing industry, the shipping industry, where we have had some disasters with roll on, roll off ferries, and the leisure area, where people are being taught canoeing or other seagoing leisure activities. Of course, the Department will do all it can to save life and establish the cause of an accident when a tragedy occurs, but that is not much use to a widow, a family and children who have lost a husband and father. Tragedies can be prevented through better facilities, a better awareness of safety, etc. and that is why this review group will be important in determining the causes of accidents to date and how we can improve matters for the future.
Reference was made to the Kowloon Bridge and whether we had recovered the costs. Efforts are continuing to recover the costs of the oil removed and of the clean up. Frankly, I find this distasteful. We should find it easier to collect the moneys which are due to us. There is a liability on those who cause damage and pollution to other people's property on shore or at sea. If you cause damage to other people's property, you should be liable and should pay up. International rules and regulations should be such that we insist, through the IMO or other organisations, that,  first, there is liability and, second, that there is cover to meet the possible liabilities which may arise in the event of an accident or disaster. The Irish taxpayer should not be expected to fund these cases and the Department, through the IMO and international fora, will continue to press for changes. Often we are on our own or in a minority, but that is not to say that we are afraid to express our view. We will continue to express our view and to try to achieve change.
Senators referred to the number of accidents and our failure to update legislation. There is a huge concern when there is a pileup on a motorway or an air accident, but the sea seems to be a topic which comes and goes. We do not have the same sense of urgency or concern when something happens at sea. It is like creating an awareness of the marine resource; for some reason it is a slow process. Maybe too few people know about the sea, whereas people drive their cars or use trains, buses and aeroplanes frequently. Perhaps that is the reason, but it is difficult to seek change in this regard.
I have enjoyed this debate. I thank all Members for their contributions, particularly those on the Government side of the House, for whose support I am grateful. I also thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, with whose permission we strayed slightly from the main principles of the Bill. This was done in a positive manner and we have hopefully grasped the opportunity to spread the gospel with regard to the potential of marine resources, etc. I thank those Senators who took part in this debate and also the Cathaoirleach and his officials for their assistance.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 28 February 1996.
Sitting suspended at 11.55 a.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Dáil Éireann has agreed to the amendments made by Seanad Éireann to the Domestic Violence Bill, 1995.
Mr. Cosgrave: I move:
That Seanad Éireann approves the following Order in draft:
Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1995 (Southern Regional Fisheries Commission) Order, 1996,
a copy of which Order in draft was laid before Seanad Éireann on 9th February, 1996.
Minister of State at the Department of the Marine (Mr. Gilmore): I propose to establish a commission to carry out the protection, conservation and management functions of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board. I propose that the board will retain responsibility for fisheries and angling development in the region as well as for licensing and fisheries rates.
In November 1995, the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1995, was signed by the President. This legislation was prompted by recurring allegations of activities of a corrupt nature which had been made against certain employees of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board. Last week, two officers of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board were charged with offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1906. For obvious reasons I do not intend to deal with matters which are now before the courts. In any event, my immediate concern has been with the adequacy of the manner in which the Southern Regional Fisheries Board addressed these allegations when they arose.
It may help if, at the outset, I say something about the boards themselves. The boards are financed primarily by  way of an annual Exchequer grant which now amounts to over £9 million. In recent years the boards have also had access to additional funding under the EU Structural Funds, INTERREG, Surveillance and other EU-funded programmes which has led to a considerable increase in their development and operational activities.
Elections to the regional boards, membership of which ranges from 20 to 22, including seven ministerial appointments, take place every five years from panels representing various interests in the region. Membership of the central board, which also has a five year fixed term, comprises 13 members, seven of whom are ex-officio chairpersons of the regional boards and the remainder, including the chairperson, appointed by the Minister.
Some 315 permanent staff are employed by the fisheries boards. They have a most difficult job to do and, with present structures and resources, they are making a major contribution. Over the past year, I have met with representatives of all the boards and I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the board members, their managers and their staff.
When these allegations concerning the Southern Regional Fisheries Board were brought to my attention, I met with the chairperson and the manager of the board. Following these meetings and following an examination of the existing legislation and taking into consideration what steps had been taken concerning these allegations, it became clear that the existing legislative provision would be an inappropriate and cumbersome mechanism to deal with the issues arising. Specifically, the legislation then existing did not provide for circumstances in which the Minister might be obliged to move quickly to restore public confidence in the proper functioning of the board and, without removing a board, to relieve that board of some or all of its functions.
I therefore brought the 1995 Fisheries (Amendment) Bill to the Oireachtas last year to provide me with a means of  intervening where it appeared that a fisheries board was failing to manage its affairs effectively. As a norm, it is only in rare and exceptional cases that one would expect that central Government would have to intervene directly with possible serious difficulties in the management of a State board. It is entirely reasonable in the public interest that the Minister should have such powers. However, this right of intervention must be carefully tailored to prevent arbitrary ministerial intervention and to protect the legitimate rights of boards.
The Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1995, provides that the Minister may, by order, appoint a commission to perform some or all of the functions of a board where a board has so requested or after considering the report of a person appointed by the Minister to examine the management and organisation of a board and the performance by it of its functions generally or in particular.
Within days of the Act being passed I appointed Mr. Dermot Rochford, a personnel consultant, under the provisions of section 2 of the 1995 Act to prepare a report for me in relation to the management and organisation of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board. Mr. Rochford reported to me on 12 December 1995. He concluded that the affairs of the board were not being and, in the foreseeable future, were not likely to be, managed in an effective manner and recommended that I should consider exercising my power to establish a commission under section 3 of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1995. Having fully considered the report I moved to establish a Commission to carry out the protection, conservation and management functions of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board. I have noted that the report of Mr. Rochford emphasises “the valuable commitment, knowledge, ideas and voluntary effort available within this board” and accordingly I propose that the board will retain responsibility for fisheries and angling development in the region as well as for licensing and fisheries rates.
 In accordance with section 4 of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1995, I wrote to the chairman of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board on 13 January 1996 advising him of my proposal to appoint a Commission to carry out certain functions of the board and giving that board 14 days to make representations to me as to why the order should not be made. The chairman has since replied and indicated that he and his board welcomed the appointment of a commission and looked forward to a constructive working relationship with it. A draft version of an order entitled “The Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1995 (Southern Regional Fisheries Commission) Order, 1996” was laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on 9 February 1996, as required by the 1995 Act. I now propose to appoint a commission and accordingly I wish to move that the House approves the draft of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1995 (Southern Regional Fisheries Commission) Order, 1996.
I am confident that the appointment of a commission will help restore public confidence in the Southern Fisheries Board and address the management deficiencies which were identified by Mr. Rochford in this report. I commend this motion to the House.
Mr. Fitzgerald: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. There will be no amendments. I agree with the Minister of State in commending the value of the fisheries boards and the great work they are doing and have done in the past. I was a member of one of the first such boards, the South-Western Regional Fisheries Board. I was appointed for one year until the election process got under way. Over the years I have maintained contact with the board. Words could not put a value on the work they do nor on their sincerity. Our side of the House agreed with the Bill a few months ago to enable this Order to be introduced. It is regrettable, but I have no intention of going into all the details because, as the Minister said, this is a matter for the courts.
 Leaving that aside, I am glad the Minister is allowing the board to carry on some of its functions. The elected members believe, heart and soul, in the development of angling and the protection of fisheries. According to the Minister, the board will not totally disappear but will continue to deal with general aspects of angling.
I hold the country's fishery boards in high esteem, and one of my first nominations to the Seanad came from the Central Fisheries Board. I would like to pay tribute to those dedicated people who, over the years, have made many recommendations to Governments which have been acted upon. They are on the spot immediately to act on pollution when anything goes wrong.
When Senator Daly was the Minister in charge of fisheries I made representations to him about the pollution of lakes. This matter has nearly been resolved now thanks to the changes that have taken place over the past four or five years, including the installation of equipment as well as the dedication of board members and the Minister's own Department. We hope it will remain that way. Some lakes that were polluted by pig slurry have almost returned to normal because of the board's vigilance and the Minister's Department. We, on this side of the House, support the Order.
Mr. Belton: I welcome the Minister. Legislation enacted last year has enabled him to bring this proposal for a commission before the House. It is vital that, where necessary, a Minister can put in place a commission, especially for a fisheries board, where much important work is carried out involving both public and European funding. A fishery board must have proper management and must work in a coherent and constructive manner. What the Minister is proposing is very welcome and I have no doubt that existing problems will be sorted out. Hopefully, the Southern Regional Fisheries Board can return to normality and progress will continue.
Mr. McGowan: I support and welcome the introduction of this Order amending the legislation. Everyone is aware that infighting, disagreement, changing of boards — some of which folded up — and lack of proper control has had serious consequences for the tourist industry and, ultimately, for the fishery boards themselves.
It is easy to introduce legislation which attracts support, but I do not know if the Minister is happy that the structures and monitoring procedures are there to ensure that what is put in place will protect the fishing industry. The chairmen and members of fishery boards are not there because of their political affiliations. They are people who have devoted their lives to protecting fisheries and monitoring pollution.
I come from an area on the River Foyle which has had more than its fair share of hassle with fisheries. It was considered patriotic to challenge the authorities, to be obstructive and to poach. We had all kinds of situations, including dumping of hospital waste and DDT in the river, which caused infighting and squabbles. A couple of years ago the control of our fisheries attracted national and international news coverage. For that reason it is important to have structures in place that can be implemented and policed as well as earning everybody's respect. Our fisheries are a valuable asset and there is too much at stake to endanger them.
I welcome any improvement in the legislation but I have some concern about whether we can implement and police it. Will it stand the test of time? Those are the concerns and questions that I wish to put to the Minister.
Mr. Calnan: I also welcome the Minister to the House, and I support his Order to establish a commission to carry out the protection, conservation and management function of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board. Fishery boards have an important job to do. Their functions are wide-ranging and must be carried out in a responsible fashion. As the Minister has mentioned  that the matter is before the courts, I do not wish to discuss it any further in the House.
I compliment the manager and staff of the South Western Board for the good job they do. They cover the area in which I live and I know their work is efficient, as is the work of most boards.
The Minister took the necessary steps in appointing Mr. Rochford to submit a report. At that stage the Minister felt it was necessary to appoint a commission to deal with certain aspects of the board. Some of its functions, such as fishing and angling development in the region, will be left in the hands of the board.
I will not delay the House any longer because it is a matter of routine to pass the Order since we have already discussed the Bill. I support the Order.
Mr. Daly: I have a few comments to make on the Minister's proposal in connection with the general day-to-day operation and the new arrangement with the commissioner. Can the Minister indicate what the manager of the board's position is now? Will the manager continue to work and is there an arrangement for more than one commissioner?
I have had experience dealing with the inland fisheries over a number of years. When I left school I commenced work with the Shannon Fisheries Board. I was on that board for many years until the new legislation was introduced. Board staff, within the limits of the resources available to them, dealt with very delicate and complex matters relating to fisheries legislation.
We must keep in mind that for many years waterkeepers were poorly paid and had poor working conditions with little prospect of promotion or advancement. They also received little public support and were subject to vicious attacks, including being shot at. Yet they endeavoured to do their work in a fair and reasonable manner.
I dealt with the Shannon and Limerick boards for many years. Allegations and counter allegations were made by  various people. The netsmen complained about anglers and poachers, who did not complain at all because they were rarely seen. In such a situation it would be very unwise to take action and to put commissioners into fisheries boards on the basis of allegations. It remains to be seen whether these allegations will stand up. I believe Garda investigations are underway and I do not want to comment on those.
In my early days as Minister for the Marine and, given my special interest in inland fisheries, I took a keen interest in all the boards, including the south western board. When complaints were made to me by the then chairman, I visited the area and met with representatives of the fishermen, the fishermen in the ports, who complained that they were being harassed, and the board. I remember clearly the evening I met with the board and discussed the new legislation that would introduce a fishing licence, which the board unanimously accepted.
I noted Mr. O'Malley's recent comments on television and on other occasions. I sat across the table from him for two years and at no time did he ever approach me about inland fisheries in any area.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator should clarify Mr. O'Malley's identity.
Mr. Daly: He is the former Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy O'Malley, who made allegations earlier today in the other House. I do not believe it is in order to refer to contributions in the other House.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: It is not practice to refer to the contributions of Members of the other House who are not here to defend themselves.
Mr. Daly: Deputy O'Malley said on television that communications were sent to me and that I did nothing about them. He did not identify me, but he said the Minister of the day and he gave  the date. If he is entitled to make such allegations on RTE, the national airwaves, then I am entitled to have my say about his judgment and sincerity on this issue. He never raised this issue with me when he had the opportunity to do so in Government. He was aware from the media that these complaints and allegations had been made. The Deputy is riding the crest of a wave at present — perhaps he has nothing else to do. However, he and the Minister would be unwise to take action on the basis of allegations and counter allegations, which in most cases cannot be substantiated.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to refrain from proceeding further along those lines.
Mr. Daly: I have many years of experience in dealing with these matters. My late father was secretary of the Shannon Fisheries Board for 40 years and was the commissioner appointed by the Department to deal with Kenmare fisheries when Senator Fitzgerald and his colleagues could not sort out the problems. I have experience and knowledge of such matters and I still have in my possession the minute books of Shannon fisheries which predate the Famine. The records of the transactions and the deliberations of the Shannon Fisheries Board are complex and contain allegations and counter allegations, which nobody was prepared to substantiate.
If the new commissioner substantiates these allegations and discovers wrongdoing, then we must give him our full support. However, it is a dangerous precedent to set aside a body of elected and nominated members who fully understand their responsibility. Mr. Rochford prepared a report for the Minister and I would like to see a copy if one is available. I would like more information as regards this report, what he found to be wrong, which areas will be the responsibility of the regional manager and what are the responsibilities of the new commissioner. I believe this is a recipe for  further litigation. In such complex matters, where there are vested interests and where people are elected to boards to represent certain sections, it is unwise to take action on the basis of allegations and counter allegations which often cannot be substantiated.
Minister of State at the Department of the Marine (Mr. Gilmore): I thank Senators for their co-operation in supporting this motion and the legislation which I introduced earlier to enable me now to appoint a commission in the case of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board. I agree with comments made by Senator Fitzgerald, who said he holds the fishery boards in high esteem. I echo those comments and would like to add to them. I have met all the boards, which do a very difficult job. As Senator Daly said, it is a job which is carried out in circumstances which are often complex and infused with passion and conflict. They do their job well and the members of the boards, managers and staff are committed. I compliment them on the work they are doing in this area. Senator Calnan and Senator Belton referred to the boards in their areas.
Senator McGowan referred to the wider agenda — the way in which we manage our inland fisheries and the appropriateness of the structures in place for carrying out that task. It is appropriate that we take stock of the way in which our valuable resource, our inland fisheries, is managed and developed.
A number of initiatives are currently under way. First, there is a review of the fisheries service, including the inland fisheries area, which will look at the structure of the fisheries sector to see what structures we need as we face a new century with new challenges and pressures for our inland fisheries. In addition, a group is looking at the management of wild salmon. That group is due to report shortly and, arising from that, I expect there will be new proposals for the management of our wild salmon stocks. That area has been the  subject of many official reports over the years and it requires some attention.
It is unfortunate that we have found ourselves in a situation where it has been necessary to introduce a motion proposing the appointment of a commission to take over the management, protection and conservation functions of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board. Happily, those circumstances do not apply in the other boards. This is an exceptional and unfortunate case. It is my intention to appoint one individual as the commissioner for this board. The commissioner will be full-time, based in the Southern Regional Fisheries Board office in Clonmel and will be appointed initially for a period of six months, with the possibility of an extension of that term. The commissioner will have responsibility for the day to day management of the board. It will be a matter for the commissioner to take that forward once the appointment is made and to manage the board in the appropriate manner.
Senator Daly referred to the allegations that have been made. I do not propose either to deal with the specific allegations or with the period before I took office. My concern is and has been not so much with judging the allegations as with assessing how the Southern Regional Fisheries Board responded to and dealt with allegations that were made over a period of time. My approach was to appoint Mr. Rochford to examine the management of the board. He came to the conclusion that the board was not being managed effectively and that it was not likely in the foreseeable future to be managed effectively. He recommended that a commission be appointed and that is what I am doing. This is a response to the problems in the management of this fisheries board.
I told the Dáil this morning that, prior to the enactment of the legislation passed by the Oireachtas last year which enabled this approach to be taken, the only recourse open to a Minister or to the Department was to have a full scale  public inquiry. I did not believe such an approach was appropriate in this case. We needed a mechanism whereby the difficulties which arose could be examined at first hand by a person who would report to the Minister, following which a decision would be made to intervene in a way that was appropriate to the circumstances. That power did not exist until the legislation was passed.
Mr. Rochford's report is available. It was published by me when I announced my intention to ask the Oireachtas for its approval of the appointment of a commission. I will be happy to let Senator Daly have a copy of the report.
Mr. Daly: I wish to raise——
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The debate is concluded and I cannot allow Senator Daly to intervene again.
Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 2.35 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.
Mr. Manning: The Tánaiste will conclude statements at 5.45 p.m. and speakers may share time at this stage.
Mr. Daly: No words can express the deep feeling of shock and despair at the recent breakdown of the IRA ceasefire. One has the feeling other leaders and politicians must have had over the years when great opportunities seemed to slip away and be wasted. The tragedy for Ireland has been that when peace and a settlement appeared to be within grasp something occurred which plunged the country into deeper despair. It is hard to accept that once again, when a major breakthrough had almost been achieved, the opportunity appears to be slipping away. The opportunity must not be lost; the objective must be to return to dialogue and discussion and to turn away from death and destruction.
 Political leadership is required, such leadership as brought about the cessation of violence a year and a half ago. It must be continued and the two Governments must make a courageous effort to avoid a return to the chaos and anarchy which Northern Ireland experienced for 25 years. While no one wishes to see that scenario return, there is a prospect of a complete breakdown of the ceasefire of all the paramilitary organisations and a return to mayhem, death and destruction unless urgent remedial action is taken. Such a return must not be contemplated.
I condemn the planting of the bombs in London which have brought death, injury and the widespread destruction of property. There is no justification for these outrages and those who plan the attacks and plant the bombs must be condemned outright. These outrageous events will not advance the prospect of achieving a peaceful settlement in the North and will only serve to make it more difficult and complicated to find a way forward.
The vast majority of people in Ireland and Great Britain wish to see peace restored and want a peaceful long-term lasting settlement to the problems of Northern Ireland. To punish innocent people, many of whom have no understanding of or interest in the political problems in Ireland or the UK, is unacceptable and must be ended.
Gerry Adams has stated publicly on a number of occasions in the past few days there must be a period of calm and that view would be shared by many. However, the easiest and most effective way to ensure a period of calm would be to stop the planting of bombs which is taking place at present. I urge Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to continue to use their influence to bring about an end to the planting of bombs and the destruction we have seen in the last week. The people of Ireland, North and South, cannot afford to wait any longer for such an initiative.
The inevitable consequences of a continuation of the IRA bombing campaign will be the commencement of a unionist  paramilitary bombing backlash. The consequences of such a situation here, in the North and in Britain, would be more violence, mayhem and death — a prospect too horrific to contemplate. Such an outcome must be avoided and every political party has a responsibility to play its part in preventing such a situation. For the most part the responsibility rests with the Irish and British Governments. They must show the way and endeavour to use their influence to get to a point where all-party talks may take place to bring about a long-term permanent solution. Time is running out and no further delays are acceptable.
If the British and Irish Governments move the peace process forward by setting a firm date for all-party talks that would be a first step in avoiding a return of the death and injury of the last 25 years. With Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, politicians, such as Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley, also have a responsibility to lead their supporters along the route of political dialogue and discussion. The call by Peter Robinson for selective internment on both sides of the Border is neither constructive nor helpful in the present crisis. Such a move may be a recipe for further conflict and would put back the prospects of a resolution of the problem in Northern Ireland by years if not decades.
The restraint demonstrated by people like Gary McMichael of the Ulster Democratic Party should be reflected in the main unionist party and by its leader, David Trimble. Mr. Trimble's election as Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party was seen by many as a backward step but he has the leadership skills to lead the UUP into a new approach of dialogue with the Irish Government and the other parties in the North. He can take example from the leadership of Mr. McMichael and others who have said that a way forward must be found.
I welcome the prospect of a meeting between the Tánaiste and Mr. Trimble, restrictive as that meeting may be. It is a start to building a firm and lasting dialogue between the Irish Government  and the UUP. Such meetings can help to reduce tension and build the confidence needed to make progress.
In an Alliance Party presentation to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation about a year ago, Dr. John Alderdice stated “people are beginning to believe that a stable peace and an honourable settlement is possible”. This is an important development which we cannot ignore. We must talk about the future together.
I appeal to the leaders of the unionists and loyalists to allow this process to happen. Dr. Alderdice's point was that when he decided to come to the forum in Dublin many unionists telephoned and spoke to him about the urgency of his coming here and the desirability of his taking part in the talks. He was in no doubt that many Northern loyalists and unionists favoured the idea of being involved in dialogue and this was reflected in his presentation to the forum which he published and which forms part of its record. This is important and the leader of the unionist party should take heed of Dr. Alderdice's words. He has had the experience of being at the forum and can see there is nothing for members of the unionist party to fear in taking part in that type of arrangement.
Since his election President Clinton's has demonstrated a genuine desire to help bring about a lasting peace in Ireland and has already brought about closer working relations between the Irish and British Governments. It was plain to see, especially towards the end of last year, that the British and Irish Governments were drifting apart and taking different views and approaches and it is vitally important that both Governments be at one in so far as possible to advance the peace process. In addition, rather than discuss matters by telephone, it is vital that the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister meet either here or in London as soon as possible to examine how to advance the prospect of all-party talks.
 In the aftermath of the Mitchell report there were strong indications that the British Government's adoption of the section which dealt with elections rather than the totality of the document was the straw that broke the camel's back in so far as the IRA ceasefire was concerned. Had the British Government not opted for elections alone and taken such a public position about it in conflict with the views of the Government, the SDLP and other commentators, this breakdown might never have taken place. Nevertheless, what has happened has happened. I believe the President of the United States and Senator Mitchell can still play an important part in bringing the sides together in order to get the process of dialogue under way. I understand Senator Mitchell is in the United Kingdom today and will be involved in discussions there and possibly here. As a representative of the US President, he can play an important role in bringing the sides together and getting the peace process back on the road to steady progress again.
I do not believe any of us can play politics with this critical situation. We must all be restrained in what we say, but we are obliged to use whatever influence we have to try to find a way forward which will get all-party talks under way at the earliest opportunity and may, hopefully, chart a course away from the unpleasant road which faces us at present to one which will give a prospect of hope and a lasting peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Wall: I condemn without reservation the outrage which has occurred in London over the last week and a half. I also take this opportunity to express my condolences to the families of those innocent victims who have lost their lives and to those who are injured. While the explosion of any bomb is reprehensible and totally unacceptable, the Canary Wharf bomb was more horrific since, in effect, it marked the resumption of military operations after almost 18 months of a cessation of violence  which we had hoped and believed was permanent.
Despite the claims of some observers and as we all know only too well now, this bombing was not a symbolic act. It was not a warning shot from the provisionals which was designed to hasten the talks process. First and foremost, it was a murderous immoral outrage which killed and maimed ordinary working people and must be condemned as such.
The Provisional IRA had conducted their campaign against the overwhelming opposition of the Irish people since the early 1970s. If the Irish people have a right to self-determination, then, by extension, they must also have a right to determine the means by which that self-determination is pursued. The position of the Irish people, both North and South, on this issue is clear and unambiguous. It needs no clarification.
Unfortunately, the resumption of the military campaign puts Sinn Féin outside the realm of normal political debate and exchange. Unless reversed, it renders almost useless two years work by people such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. However, this does not mean Sinn Féin are not totally blameless in this instance. During the debate which has taken place over the last week and a half since the Canary Wharf bombing, we have heard much criticism of the British Government's role in the peace process. Like many of my colleagues in this House, I have at times been frustrated by the attitude of the British Government, whose actions have seemed to be remiss and hidebound on many occasions. However, it must be remembered that Sinn Féin have also been unresponsive in their approach to critical elements of the peace process. The resumption of violence by the provisionals has left Sinn Féin with two options: convince the IRA to recommence the ceasefire on a permanent basis, or disassociate themselves from the military wing, which, unless the provisionals can be convinced to call off their campaign, is a decision which they must make. I take this  opportunity to commend the loyalist paramilitaries for the restraint which they have shown and I appeal to them to continue to do so.
At present we face two options: we either return to the position of two weeks ago or that of two years ago. It is not a choice. While, like others, I have been frustrated by the recent approach taken by the various parties concerned in the peace process, we must not despair and, as democrats, must continue to work for a just and lasting peace because that is what the people of Northern Ireland, the Republic and the United Kingdom want. Over the last year and a half we have all been committed to the ongoing peace. The Canary Wharf bomb and last Sunday night's bomb were not only barbaric and unjustified but a betrayal of the peoples of these islands who are in full support of the peace process. It is in light of this that I add my support to the people who have demonstrated on the streets of Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Derry and other towns in the past few days. The message they send to the IRA leadership is clear and is one I endorse fully. It is that the use of violence to pursue political means is abhorrent to the vast majority of the Irish people. The IRA have no mandate from the people of Ireland to act on their behalf and never will. As far as we are concerned, the only way forward is through peace and reconciliation. The Anglo-Irish Agreement, the joint declaration and the framework document are milestones along the road to cooperation and show the degree of convergence and solidarity which is possible when the political will and imagination are there.
A carefully co-ordinated approach is needed once again. We all have a vested interest in the establishment of lasting peace and stability and both Governments must work together to ensure this is achieved. For almost 18 months a generation of Irish citizens experienced peace on this island for the first time in their lives. Initially, the ceasefire was treated with a certain amount of scepticism and suspicion, but it was not long  before the peace was embraced fully. We cannot sit back now as that peace is blown apart by faceless, nameless people who have claimed falsely to act on our behalf. As the Tánaiste said last week, the most important thing we need to do is reinstate the ceasefire, because there was an atmosphere on this island for the last 18 months which we did not have for a long, long time. The peace was palpable and was felt, in particular, by young people, North and South, most of whom did not experience peace in their lifetimes.
There is no longer a place for the gun and the bomb in Irish politics and the outright condemnation of the two explosions in London is a welcome illustration of this. I believe the great majority of supporters of Sinn Féin and the Republican movement recognise the futility of beginning another bombing campaign. Sinn Féin and the republican movement have achieved more in the past 18 months than they did in the 25 years prior to the ceasefire. For this reason they must make it clear to the IRA that a return to violence is the wrong path to take. The two explosions in London are a violation of the moral order by which the majority of people on this island live. It is a violation which we cannot and will not tolerate. No amount of frustration can justify the taking of innocent life or breaking the ceasefire and plunging the nation once more into the grip of violence and fear.
Politics is about making choices. No one ever said that such choices would be easy. It is time for all concerned with the peace process to make a choice. They must choose between peace or violent division. In my opinion this is probably one of the easiest choices one will ever have to make. There is only one option and that is peace.
Professor Lee: My speech today will be different from the one I intended to make yesterday. This shows how fluid is the situation at present. My contribution is in response to the very important article by Vincent Browne in today's Irish Times. It is not that I have not changed my basic principles but the prize of achieving peace is so great it must take precedence over all other considerations. Therefore, I prefer not to dwell on issues of basic principle or to pronounce from a position of presumed moral superiority. Anybody who adopts such a position is demanding not compromise but victory, not co-operation with the other side but the unconditional surrender of that side. There will be no enduring peace on that basis. If there is to be enduring peace it can only be on the basis on compromise. The enemy of compromise is the enemy of peace. I utterly condemn the London bombings but condemnation in itself brings us no closer a solution.
The four standard words that litter the rhetoric of Northern Ireland question — peace, violence, consent and democracy — have been repeated ad nauseam. If one were to dwell upon their use in this debate, and in general public discourse, one could show they are far more complex and problematical in the Northern Ireland situation than appears from the way we use them. Each one has had the Northern unionist or British nationalist “spin” placed on them. They are used as propaganda terms and are verbal victims of the tragedy of Northern Ireland. I was going to deal with the inconsistencies in the way in which we use them but I will not do so because it would be divisive. There is already enough division.
I will permit myself one lapse from that resolution and wryly note the invocation of Thomas Francis Meagher, in the Tánaiste's speech yesterday, as the spokesman of conciliation and the designer of the Tricolour — with the colour white representing conciliation between the colours of green and orange. The Tánaiste was correct. However, the complexities of peace, conciliation and violence on this island can be gleaned from the fact that Thomas Francis Meagher is also known as Meagher of the Sword, having made the defining speech in opposition to the pacifist principles of Daniel O'Connell  on behalf of Young Ireland. He was the same Thomas Francis Meagher who led the “Fighting 69th” whose flag, which was presented to the Houses by President Kennedy, we pass each time we ascend the stairs to this House. Whatever principle that flag symbolises, with its sonorous roll call of battlefields from Fredricksburg to Gettysburg, it is not the principle of non-violence.
I mention this fact to hint at the potential for inconsistency in using the phrase “violence” without qualification. Unless we are pacifists — I fear there are very few pacifists among us, I am not one because I lack the courage to be — we all distinguish in our own minds between legitimate and illegitimate violence. That would return us to the issue of basic principles which I will not discuss.
I turn instead to see what, if anything, can be done to pick up the pieces of the peace process. The Mitchell report claimed that what is needed above all is the decommissioning of mindsets. There are only two fundamental mindsets involved in the Northern Ireland situation. There is that which claims the right in principle, and practice, to force others against their will into another political jurisdiction or state. This is the mindset of the IRA vis-à-vis the Ulster unionists. It is also the mindset of Ulster unionists, or British nationalists in general, vis-àvis Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland. The second mindset rejects in principle the right of anybody to impose their political allegiance on anyone else against their will. I need hardly state that this is my own position. How the second mindset can be operated in the Northern Ireland situation is the nub of the matter.
I accept that it is very difficult, given the actual distribution of populations. The main purpose of all-party talks ought to be to find a way to reconcile the reality of the Northern Ireland situation with the fundamental principle of genuine democracy. Those talks should proceed on the basis of the Mitchell report. My thinking on this matter has been strongly reinforced by Vincent  Browne's article and also by an article in The Economist, which is one of the best, fairest, most informed and judicial analyses of the situation that I have read. I hope Vincent Browne is correct about the willingness of the IRA to enter talks in the circumstances he outlines.
The British response to the report of the Mitchell Commission has been intriguing and depressing. I have certain difficulties with the mindset of the commission and with many of its assumptions. However, I accept them in the interest of compromise. The Mitchell report represents the considered views of three unbiased and highly experienced public figures. It cannot be dismissed as academic waffle. In any circumstances other than the acceptable level of British behaviour in dealing with Irish affairs, John Major's response would have been incomprehensible.
When he rose in the House of Commons Mr. Major had behind him centuries of British experience in dealing with Irish affairs — in comparative context, a record of sustained incompetence which has few parallels in the annals of history, an incompetence in which an almost infinite succession of blunders, despite occasional goodwill and sometimes because of it — was cloaked by an infinitely superior command of violence in the last resort and an invincible capacity for sanctimonious self-righteousness, a capacity of which we ourselves have our fair share, but it is he who insists on taking responsibility for the affairs of Northern Ireland. I believe that Mr. Major is a decent man but his performance only reinforced the reputation of British diplomacy vis-à-vis Ireland.
The Mitchell report is not sympathetic to the IRA. The six principles of Article 20 buy into British nationalist concepts and the vocabulary they use. It is really putting it up to the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries to decommission their mindsets. It demands no comparable decommissioning of British nationalist mindsets. If one were of a conspiratorial cast of mind — God forbid that that might be the case in this  House — one might wonder if John Major so discourteously dismissed the report, however problematic, out of fear that Sinn Féin/IRA might accept it. This would make it more difficult for him to stall on the issue of talks. The Reverend Roy Magee, appearing on the television programme “Farrell” last Sunday, informed us that these principles posed huge problems for loyalist paramilitaries but that they were on the verge of agreeing to accept them when Mr. Major made his statement.
The timing of Mr. Major's response was simply incredible. Had Sinn Féin/IRA formally and categorically rejected the Mitchell report, it would have effectively isolated itself from nationalist Ireland and international opinion. It would have made it far more difficult for President Clinton to play a role in the peace process. Mr. Major must have known, as the dogs in the street knew before Christmas, that there were dangerous rumblings within the IRA against what it perceived as the constant procrastination of the British Government on all-party talks. Nevertheless, he was prepared to take the risk of a bloody IRA response, either because he miscalculated the risk or because his concept of a peace process does not involve the idea of compromise. If he has bought into the unionist mindset of “not an inch”, the sooner we are clearer on that the better in order to avoid massive self-delusion on our part.
If one lesson has been learned from the past 17 months it is that insisting on the preconditions of any particular party before entering talks is a recipe for disaster. The conditions of the Mitchell report — I have difficulty with some of them in principle — ought to be acceptable because they were presented by so respected an international body. Any other conditions which anybody seeks to impose must be seen as purely tactical and obstructive.
It is correct that the ceasefire itself was partly tactical. As with all politics, the British response to it was also partly tactical. The tragedy of the squandered  opportunity is that statesmanship might have converted a tactical ceasefire into genuine peace. The fact that there was a tactical dimension made a constructive and far-sighted response all the more urgent. It has not received that response from the British Government. There is now perhaps a month or less to salvage the situation before the awful abyss opens. The IRA offered a ceasefire; the British Government demanded, in effect, a surrender. Repulsive though the murder of innocent people is — I hope to God it stops — it is not difficult to understand, however little one condones it, the response of IRA mindsets to that perception. Whatever little trust had begun to be built up has been destroyed on both sides. If all party talks cannot be entered into as a matter of urgency, then the consequences are bleak. What Mr. Vincent Browne said in his article offers some flicker of hope and it should be accepted by everyone. He stated:
. . . there will be a resumption of the IRA ceasefire if the two Governments announce that:
(a) all-party talks will begin by, say, Easter;
(b) these talks will go ahead irrespective of how many (or few) of the eligible parties show up, provided more than one such party show up;
(c) that eligibility for participation shall depend only (i) on the winning of an electoral mandate in elections to be held by the end of March [I regard that as silly, although I do not object to it, because if the paramilitaries do not win an electoral mandate they must still be incorporated somehow] and (ii) unequivocal acceptance of the Mitchell principles.
That is a reasonable compromise basis on which to enter all-party talks.
Yesterday Senator Norris repeated his frequent proposal that Articles 2 and 3 of Bunreacht na hÉireann should  carry the qualification that they would be implemented, in so far as they would ever come to be implemented, solely by peaceful means. I repeat my proposal, which has received as little consideration as that of Senator Norris, for what little it may be worth in an effort to begin decommissioning mindsets, it is that both Governments should revise their basic constitutional documents of legitimacy — the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and Bunreacht na hÉireann — by asserting that they do not claim in principle the right to rule over those people in Northern Ireland who wish to belong to another jurisdiction. In practice, there is British rule there but the question of principle seems to be vitally important in terms of the self images of people in Northern Ireland. We must confront the situation in practice. However, if we can distinguish principle from practice and make it clear it is not on the basis of superiority or inferiority but on the basis of practical realities that certain jurisdictions are exercised, I believe that would be a significant contribution to the beginning of that decommissioning of Irish and British nationalist mindsets which are the basis of this continuing conflict.
Mr. Cosgrave: I would like to share my time with Senator Hayes.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Cregan): Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Cosgrave: I extend my sympathy to the relatives of the people killed and the innocent people injured in the Canary Wharf and London bus bombings. I hope the debates in the Seanad and the Dáil will show there is all-party agreement for peace, that we are trying to put the peace process back on the rails and that we condemn violence.
It is possible that many of us took the past 18 months for granted. It is only in hindsight, after the Canary Wharf bombing, that the benefits of the past 18 months weigh on our minds. The people are determined to restore peace and to  achieve a lasting settlement. There were times in recent weeks and months when it was too easy to lay blame at one door or another. However, we must move forward and we must put what has happened behind us, but not before condemning it. It is important that people who come to the negotiating table with a bomb or a gun should have no part to play in how we shape our future. We should not forget that some people would not be alive today but for the ceasefire. This is particularly true when one sees the atrocities in other places.
There must be a willingness on all sides to meet and discuss the issues which divide them and to try to reach a solution acceptable to everyone. I was interested in Senator Lee's comment that the enemy of compromise is the enemy of peace. The two Governments must get together. Unless each group gets together and discusses the other's difficulties and problems and tries to make progress, it will not matter what either Government does or how much outside help we receive. There must be give and take and a meeting of minds on both sides. People saw the benefits of the past 18 months and we hope progress can be made from that.
There can be no place for any type of violence and it is important to convey this message to those who see violence as a means to an end. Attempts by criminal subversive groups who seek to destroy the hard won freedom of the people must be rejected out of hand. At times there is a certain ambivalence that particular acts may be partly acceptable depending on where they occur.
Delays cannot be accepted because we must move forward. It is imperative that all groups meet as soon as possible. I welcome the Tánaiste's meeting with Mr. David Trimble. Although there may not be much agreement between them, the fact they are talking may move the process forward. We hope the voices of those from all sides who benefited in recent months will be heard. There is no place for double talk from some groups which support peace and violence when it suits them.
 I hope those who spoke in this debate and the people's call for peace will be listened to. There is a desire to get things moving again but it will not be easy. We must support all those in positions of responsibility.
Mr. Hayes: I thank Senator Cosgrave for agreeing to share his time with me.
I was in Bundoran on 9 February and when I heard about the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire my initial feeling was of being let down by people I had trusted. I accepted what Sinn Féin told us some 17 to 18 months ago and I accepted what they said to me at meetings I had with them as a representative of my party. I enjoyed those meetings. My response as a politician is the same as that of all parties in this and the other House: it is of being totally let down by people we believed. It will be very difficult to get that sense of trust back into the peace process.
A complete cessation of military operations was what the IRA said in their statement 17 to 18 months ago. We must never allow a situation where violence can be used as a political tactic at the whim of a private army. That is an exceptionally dangerous road to travel. The response of the Government in cutting off links at ministerial level was a wise one. I accept that the Government must ensure that dialogue is kept going with republican groups. I suggest that backbench colleagues in both Houses could also keep open contacts with the republican movement. That could be a valuable role to play. However, as a Government, we must never accept the principle that violence can be used as a tactic and that we will negotiate accordingly. That is totally wrong and is the point of no return. That is something we must accept.
The peace process was more than just the cessation of violence by the IRA. It was an attitude of mind on the part of the Irish people. It was represented by the large increase in the numbers of men and women who went to Belfast for the first time and by the large numbers  of people from Northern Ireland who travelled South for their first holiday here and it was represented by the large amounts of investment from Europe and the United States. It was an attitude of mind and more than just a cessation of violence by the Provos. We must continue to work at that attitude of mind; these people have no right to take that from us. I believe passionately that the process must continue whether they are on or off side. That process where people North and South can learn to understand each other's place must continue. No one has the right to take that from the Irish people, be they Irish nationalists or Irish unionists.
Since the ceasefire ended, we have been told by many people, particularly the leadership of Sinn Féin, that the politics of condemnation will get us nowhere. However, we need to take a stand, either as an elected Government or as the Seanad within the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is vitally important that we take a stand because we want the international community to hear this loud and clear: not only do we condemn these acts but we draw a line at what these people are trying to achieve. I accept the point Senator Lee made about contact and I welcome the ongoing contact. It could be intensified through the backbench committees or other Members of the House.
The bombing which took place in London was a calculated act. It was planned by the IRA who knew exactly the damage to property and life which would result. It was not an impulsive act but rather a premeditated act on which they decided to embark. I condemn it and those who are responsible for it should be brought to justice.
It is important to remember that while the ceasefire was operational, there was not always peace in existence in Northern Ireland. Some 267 beatings took place in that period. Large numbers of young people were told to get out of Northern Ireland because they disagreed with the control the Provos had over their communities. There are countless examples of community  groups standing up to the IRA and telling them to leave their communities alone. While the peace process existed, there was tremendous violence on the streets of Northern Ireland, particularly in working class areas which the IRA tried to control. It is important that we should not forget that point.
I agree with other speakers that the focus of the relationship between both islands must be the Anglo-Irish process. The British and the Irish, through their Governments, are saying that this problem can only be resolved when both sides can come to an agreement about a future. That relationship must be restored because it is the same relationship which brought us success through the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Downing Street Declaration and the Framework Document. I encourage both Governments to come together quickly and to put together a strategy which others can bring to the republican movement and which will hopefully get us to where we were before the events at Canary Wharf.
A number of years ago Dr. Alderdice painted Northern Ireland and the way forward as a train leaving a station. At some point others must decide whether they want to be on that train as it moves towards the negotiating table. I believe that is the case today. We are all politicians and we have to make decisions for ourselves. If a tiny minority of people, maybe as few as 100, decide to perpetrate barbaric crimes against humanity in the name of the Irish people, they must be let off that train as it leaves the station.
I have total support and admiration for the small band of people who have organised next Sunday as a national day of protest against all forms of paramilitarism. I would encourage as many people as possible, North and South, to take a stand next Sunday and to participate in the nationwide demonstrations. Internationally, people will look on us and see what we are doing. People can take a stand next Sunday. They can stand against paramilitarism and they can stand for all-party talks. I encourage  every Irish citizen to do that next Sunday.
Miss Ormonde: I would like to share my time with Senator O'Brien.
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Miss Ormonde: At this stage the matter has been well debated. We have had two days of talking through all the points and I do not have much more to add to the valid points made about the tragedies of the last two weeks. There is absolute shock and horror that this has happened. I take this opportunity to sympathise with the families and relations who were affected by these tragedies which must be condemned.
We have to ask why this happened. We had peace for 18 months. It was a long haul to arrive at a point where the IRA stopped the violence. It took long hard work which came to fruition with John Hume, Gerry Adams and our leader at the time, Deputy Reynolds. That was a great achievement and those people took a great risk to make it work. It would be a shame if there is a return to violence and indiscriminate killing. All we must do to realise that that is absolutely futile is to look back over the previous 25 years.
Before we look ahead, we must examine why it failed. I studied a number of points and I feel it failed because the British Government totally ignored the framework document introduced in February. In addition, the unionists decided they would not participate in talks and that they would withdraw their support. There was also the situation in the House of Commons, that is, the reduction of Mr. Major's majority, and this became a crucial issue. The final straw was the sidelining of the Mitchell report and the proposal for elections.
A new vocabulary has emerged over the last 12 months. For a while I had great difficulty understanding the word “decommissioning”. The word “decontamination” was also used and this was followed by the word “elections”. We  are now approaching the long haul of “proximity talks” and I have great difficulty understanding this term. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation has been ongoing for the past 18 months and, given my understanding of the word “proximity”, I thought such talks were held there. There was discussion and many submissions from various people were invited to try to break down the barriers in terms of peace and reconciliation. Progress would have been made but for the fact that we were unable to get the unionists to attend and talk to us. This was a pity and was one of the reasons that, in the last six months, many delegates felt it was becoming a chore.
So much was taken for granted. People felt there was peace and nobody would restart the violence. The IRA was where we wanted it and the process would move forward from that point. This is where it all went wrong. We took the situation for granted and allowed Mr. Major to get away with everything. Mr. Trimble dictated the terms of reference and, unfortunately, this part of the country was outmanoeuvred. The Government was reactive rather than proactive. There is fault on all sides but that will not solve the problem. We must examine this aspect, acknowledge the failures and consider how best we can move forward.
The peace process is limping along at present. It is damaged, but we can take the example of the former Yugoslavia. How many times has that peace process broken down in the last 12 months? We have reached a vacillation stage; we move forward, lose a little, but we have gone forward. The only way we can get the process back on the rails is if, regardless of whether we like it — as Mr. Seamus Mallon said at the forum, there is nothing wrong with talks — both Governments decide on a date. It does not matter who is there, but they should say they will sit around a table. Many unionists agree with that philosophy.
 I read an article last week by Fr. Denis Faul in which he stated this time there were different reasons for the breakdown of the peace process and the bombing. It was not Catholics blaming Protestants or vice versa, rather that the politicians have failed. I am a politician and I accept that we all took the peace for granted. However, politicians must become the leaders. If a poll was conducted in the morning, I am sure a large majority would urge peace. This is the message coming through. As Fr. Faul said, the current leaders are not reflecting what is happening on the ground. The public want peace and I do not understand why Mr. Trimble feels he is an authority on what is and what is not peace in the North.
He does not have the mandate he thinks he holds. If he faced an election in the morning and this matter was at the top of his agenda, I would put money on it that he would have difficulty securing support for what he wants in terms of elections. The holding of elections is returning to the status quo and we should not consider going down that road. We should start with parties talking and bring as many people as possible to that arena. That involves honest dialogue and patience and it is a question of how best it can be done.
The forum should not be allowed to take a back seat in this area. It should get back into action and I am sure many unionists would attend and make submissions this time. Nobody is asking the unionists or the British people to think our way. This is not what dialogue is about. It is simply a case of sitting down and talking things through. One will fail many times, but nothing succeeds like sitting around a table, thinking matters out, failing and trying again. Unless the two Governments set a target in that direction, we will take the wrong road and the situation will worsen.
We must make a commitment to the people in the South and North that the talks must start. A date must be decided, without any preconditions attached, when people can sit around a table and acknowledge their differences.  There are huge divides. I accept that Protestants and Northern unionists are different from nationalists. However, this does not mean we cannot sit around a table. It involves discussing a relationship. How many relationships break down and come together again? Divisions exist but compromises can be found. Nothing succeeds like looking at a situation from both points of view and reaching a compromise.
There must be compromise. Nobody expects to gain everything. Mr. Trimble should accept sooner rather than later that he will not win everything. The situation touches every man, woman and child in this country and in the North. Jobs, investment and tourism will be affected. The man in the street wants peace and he is saying there should be talks and compromise. The leaders must reflect this. It is the way forward and we can get down to serious business as soon as a date for talks is set.
Mr. O'Brien: I thank Senator Ormonde for sharing her time. Events of the past two weeks have saddened and disappointed every right thinking person in this land as no cause is greater than peace in any society. The benefits peace has brought to this land in the past 18 months have been enormous. I urge all those involved to commit themselves to a return to peace; not to do so would be disastrous for everybody.
When I learned on Friday, 9 February, of the London bombing and the statement from the IRA that its ceasefire was over, I was shocked that we were once more faced with totally unnecessary loss of life and injury of innocent people and that the courage and good work of so many in building the peace process could be undermined in this way. I take this opportunity to offer my sympathy to the families of the victims of the London bombings over the past two weeks. As on so many occasions in the House, I condemn this senseless loss of life. The terrible reality of a return to violence, as shown in these bombings, must make us all the more determined  to rebuild the peace process. It will not be easy but all involved must show courage and be prepared to make concessions.
Peace is worth everything. It took great courage on the part of many to give us 18 months of peace. Had all parties followed the example of Deputy Albert Reynolds, John Hume and Gerry Adams, peace would be a permanent reality today. The current breakdown in the peace process rests with those who stood in the way of all party talks. Talks hurt nobody. After 18 months of peace all party talks never commenced, as new barriers were erected in that period. This is unacceptable. It would be unforgivable if the process were to fail, with people to be condemned to a return to violence.
The British Government has once again, as on so many occasions in Irish history, misjudged and failed to show a real understanding of the Irish situation. When the IRA called an end to its military activities and the loyalist paramilitaries did likewise a historic opportunity presented itself. However, the British Government placed preconditions to talks, such as decommissioning, never agreeing in practice to the terms of the Downing Street declaration.
Senator Mitchell presented an excellent report. However, the British Government opted for the proposal by the unionists for elections, which guaranteed nothing. Peace will only emerge from all party negotiations. Early elections in Northern Ireland will not serve this purpose. By their nature, election campaigns only harden positions, especially in Northern Ireland.
Over the past week we have again seen a great demand for peace. North and South, people have demonstrated their wish for a peaceful future. The future of the peace process stands in great doubt. I appeal to all the political parties in Northern Ireland and the British Government to set an immediate date for all party talks and to the IRA to restore the peace process.
 The talks must be all inclusive and Sinn Féin must be part of the process, with all doors kept open. It is only by talking that the process will be kept alive. Everybody will have to make concessions and take risks. Our young people and history will thank those who take risks. If only one life is saved it will make it worthwhile. The loyalist parties and their leaders, Gary McMichael and David Ervine, have shown tremendous maturity. Had the main unionist parties shown the same openness and willingness to talk we would not be in the position we are today.
There have been great economic benefits from the peace to both sides of the Border, especially to the Border areas. Tourism brought prosperity to many. In addition, the Border roads were reopened, providing a tremendous boost to the Border towns and surrounding rural communities.
I urge the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to continue with their work in rebuilding the peace process. This historic opportunity must not be missed. People, North and South, deserve better. Let us get everybody talking at the one table. Exclude nobody who can play a role in bringing permanent peace to our island.
Mr. Cotter: I join with my colleagues in condemning the spate of bombings that have occurred in the past fortnight and offer my sympathy to the families of those who were killed and to the injured. The Canary Wharf bomb has changed my life and that of my friends, as it has for Senator O'Brien and others like us who live in the Border counties. It has devastated our lives.
When the news of the bomb emerged on Friday, 9 February, I was at a meeting in Monaghan. The meeting started on a joyful note at 8 o'clock. After the news filtered through the meeting resembled a wake. These feelings have not lifted. In public and in private, people talk about the peace and the joy they felt during the course of the past 18 months.
 People from the middle and northern parts of County Monaghan would have traditionally gravitated towards Armagh and would have shopped there. This came to a halt in 1969 when they were afraid to cross into County Armagh. In the past 18 months people took up their old habits and were travelling to Armagh to shop, an activity we did not decry as they were travelling to their local town, enjoying the simple pleasures of wandering around the streets and buying goods without fear.
The situation was similar in Belfast. A section of the people in County Monaghan gravitated towards Belfast as their natural shopping area. They were able to resume this during the cease-fires. One met them on the streets of the city. It was incredible and a wonderful experience to see them mixing with the northern people again after 25 years.
This has now gone and the peace we had has been sundered. Even though there were no bombs in Northern Ireland, the barriers are going up again. The armies are taking up their familiar positions and the little freedoms we had are no more. What has happened since last Friday week has had a far reaching effect.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Sherlock): There are three other speakers offering and the Tánaiste is due to speak at 5.45 p.m. Can we arrange a distribution of time accordingly?
Mr. O'Toole: In order to facilitate the House, the change of speaker should take place at 5.25 p.m. This leaves 20 minutes to 5.45 p.m. I am prepared to share this time with Senator Roche.
Mr. Cotter: I am prepared to cut back on my time to facilitate the House.
I want to give people a graphic description of what has happened since last Friday week. Last Monday I was visited by a German national who is living in Patrick Kavanagh country — Inniskeen in County Monaghan. He has spent a substantial amount of money changing the format of his house and  building a tourist centre there. During the course of last week he received many negative faxes from Germany reminding him that because the bomb had gone off in London they would not be sending people to his house this summer. That was devastating news for him because having raised loans to put a facility in place, he is now facing ruin.
The same story concerned another house 15 miles away in the heart of County Monaghan where a larger amount of money has been spent in the last 12 months putting a facility in place. Very heavy loans were taken out for that project and bookings were coming in, but I hesitate to think how that family will manage to cope now. It is incredible. Many of our hotels and guest houses which have made substantial investments over the last few years can ill afford it.
Many people have been making large investments since the peace process was agreed. In addition, plans were being made over the last 18 months for future investment. I was involved in one such plan with a gentleman who left Dublin Airport last Thursday week having spent two days with me in Dublin. We had more or less agreed an investment of about £3.5 million for the Border counties. The following Monday, however, the message I received from that source was: “Forget it for the moment”.
I was in Belfast on a number of occasions last summer and each time I went I did some research. I discovered that you could not get a hotel bed there throughout the summer unless you had booked far in advance. I investigated three times and found that to be the case. Belfast was reaping the benefits of peace in the most tangible way. People there were able to put profits in the bank and consider the possibility of building up their businesses for the first time in 25 years.
I found that incredible and we all know that the scene in Dublin was brilliant also. To a lesser extent, across the country there was an improvement. The Border counties — Monaghan in particular — earned the least amount from tourism. Friends of mine in Monaghan have been making investments on the basis that peace was going to continue. Those investments would have paid off and lifted our tourism earnings. Now, however, I am devastated to think that will not happen and that those people will have sacrificed their efforts for nothing. It is an incredible worry.
Those are the practical things we can learn from what happened in the last week and a half, but it is sad that you cannot get the message through to those who really matter. The Government fully understands the implications, but it is hard to get it through to the provisional IRA and the unionists in Northern Ireland.
I understand the unionist position in so far as they have a guarantee that what they have they will continue to have until such time as a different majority appears in the North, and in those circumstances there may well be a change. I suppose it is difficult for them to talk because once they agree to talk they will be compromised straight away. Whenever you start bargaining you must be in a position to withdraw from your position. If I were a unionist I would probably hold their views, and I can understand their position. As nationalists in this House we understand the nationalist position as well. We also understand the awful gulf there is between the two positions.
There is a depth of prejudice in Northern Ireland which most Southerners do not appreciate. We talk about the divisions there but I have first hand experience of them. For example, I know that when Northern Protestants are in your company in Dublin or elsewhere they generally do not wish to talk about religion or politics because it is unpalatable for them to do so. Their position is difficult and they do not want to discuss it. We understand the positions that people have but we want peace and peace demands that people move from their positions.
The first basic principle we must get right is the position that existed before  last October. If both Governments can agree we will have a basis for pushing forward. It will be slow, terribly painful and we will need endless patience, but unless we get unanimity at that level we will go nowhere.
I hope John Major will be able to overcome the kind of difficulties which forced him into unilaterally casting overboard an agreement he made with another Government. I hope he can get back to the position he was in before October 1995 because too much is hanging on it. The prize is enormous. Most people on this island want peace, but in order to have it difficult things must be done. Both Governments must speak as one, otherwise we will get nowhere.
Mr. O'Toole: It is important to recognise what has happened over the last 17 months. Speaker and after has outlined, in articulate terms, the benefits of the peace which followed the ceasefire. However, I go along with the proposal indicated by Senator Cotter, which is perhaps a bit unpopular. Prejudice in Northern Ireland runs deep and anybody who does not recognise that is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
I do not want to be cynical. I want this to sound like Realpolitik, a practical assessment of how I saw the last 17 months in Northern Ireland. I am the only Member of the Oireachtas who has an office in Belfast, so I know what I am talking about because I go up there every week. Through my work I know the day-to-day happenings there.
For the last 25 years people from the South went North to explore Belfast and Armagh where they met people who were Protestant. They discussed things like sport, television and the weather; but for the last 17 months they were able to discuss the peace process. Everyone talked about peace but it was a pity they did not discuss prejudice, religion, politics, beliefs, Catholicism and Protestantism. It is only when we understand our fundamental regard for each other and the way we see each other that we will make progress. That  was done at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation where one could see advances being made. Those of us who were lucky enough to participate in the forum all developed and learned something every time we took part in a debate. But that did not happen on the ground. I saw very little change in attitudes about the North, particularly in the South.
I did not see any movement, for example, from the Irish language lobby or from hard-line republicans. They should really be called nationalists rather than republicans because they cast a slur on the word “republican”. These are the people who take the narrow nationalist line and are not prepared to move. I had many rows with Irish language lobbyists over the last couple of years, i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla, and I found that they would not move one iota. As far as the language lobbyists are concerned, if Paisley's children decided to attend school in Roscommon they would be obliged to learn Irish. That is the level of movement that is there.
Let us be clear about this. There was very little movement in attitude. People liked the peace, they liked talking about it and participating in it. They liked the novelty of shopping in Belfast and the fact the country had a better image internationally. However, not enough people asked if they could change, if they could look at the Union Jack without feeling revulsion or if they could look at the tricolour and see it as a symbol of peace — the white between the green and the orange. It has only impacted on those who are close to it — the small unionist parties are a classic example. We have all seen how they have changed. They wanted to create change and they saw that if one sits down at the negotiating table, one must immediately change.
Hard line unionists in the North are inflexible and they still have the veto because no British Government is prepared to remove it. Unionists are not even happy about the right to self-determination. They want the veto because  that means they do not need to move. In any negotiations, if there is one person at the table who says they will not move because they do not need to, a compromise or consensus will never be found.
Unionists enjoyed the past 17 months because commerce was booming and it cost £105 or £110 per night to get a grade A hotel bedroom in Belfast. They were making a fortune and were happy with that. There was no pressure on them to do anything other than to maintain the situation. The peace was great because it improved commerce, nobody was in danger and there was no need for them to move forward. What they did during that period was shameful and disgraceful.
Sinn Féin, in which we placed our trust, were brought into the political system and delivered the ceasefire. It moved and changed, but not enough, as we have seen in the past week. It has not moved into constitutional politics in that it has not moved away from its background as a military organisation. Sinn Féin does not have the strength to cut itself off from the IRA by condemning it. Rather than condemn that, we should understand and accept it. If Gerry Adams has no influence over the IRA, then he is no good to us. If his condemnation of the IRA means that he has less of an influence over it, then at least we may understand it whether we agree or disagree — I disagree fundamentally with it. There is no point whinging about this. We must recognise that it no longer has the authority.
Sinn Féin has got away with murder over the past month — I do not mean that literally. It has not accepted the forum document or, I believe, the Mitchell report and it was effectively being squeezed on both sides. John Major put the ball at Sinn Féin's feet with his comments on elections, which were embarrassing to the Irish Government and which undermined it. It was a return to the failed political strategies of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s which resulted in the Troubles. He was going to reinstitutionalise the same forum through  elections. The idea of elections in the North without full nationalist and republican participation is a move backwards.
John Major is impotent because politics is the art of the possible. For him to survive in Parliament he needs the Ulster unionists and he must adopt this particular line to keep them on board. There will be no pressure on unionists as long as John Major's Government is in power in Westminster. The Irish Government cannot say that, but that is the situation. Tony Blair went to Belfast and said that he agreed with the policies of the Government. That simplistic broad sweep of the brush did nothing to move things forward. We do not want parties which have the same view but support for a move forward. Mr. Blair has handled this very badly. As somebody who would support what the British Labour Party is trying to do, I am not sure I would trust Tony Blair as Prime Minister to move the unionists. I have seen no indication of this to date.
There must be all party talks, which have resolved conflicts over the past number of years, whether in South Africa or Bosnia. Sinn Féin and the Conservative Party have not been able to deliver. This and the previous Government have discharged their responsibilities with distinction and public representatives should be proud of them. I would defend them anywhere, in particular the two Taoisigh, the Tánaiste and the leaders of the other parties.
The IRA is now setting the agenda — it sets off a bomb and we react. I believe there will be no resolution to this until the IRA begins to talk to somebody. The Government must open negotiations with those who are at the centre of this. I believe the Government was right to break off political relations with Sinn Féin — it was impossible for them to do otherwise as there were no other options. We now must recognise that it is the army council that is calling the shots and it will keep this going or will stop it. We must recognise that these people can do this — they are not subject  to democracy or to the people, but to their own whims. They are calling the shots and deciding to take or endanger lives daily.
Movement must be made to meet the IRA army council. The Government, through senior civil servants, should attempt to make direct contact with it and it should state its intentions so that we are not in the same position as other groups which will not sit at the table. To find a resolution, everybody must come to the table. If we have learned anything over the past 17 months, it must be that the IRA is part of the scenario. A person who says they cannot speak for the IRA cannot take its place. The IRA must be represented at the table, however unpalatable that is to unionists or to us. The IRA is calling the shots and we must recognise that and make contact.
Mr. Magner: I fundamentally disagree with the scenario painted by Senator O'Toole that this sovereign Government elected by the people should sit down at the point of a gun——
Mr. O'Toole: I did not say that.
Mr. Magner: These people apply their politics through the barrel of a gun.
Mr. O'Toole: I did not say the Government should sit down with them.
Mr. Magner: Civil servants represent Government. I can understand the Government doing business with Sinn Féin, which is open, active, stands for elections and campaigns on issues. Although we may disagree with it, we can understand from where it is coming. The army council of the IRA was described by Bowyer Bell as the secret army. Nobody knows where these people come from, how many there are or their agenda. If the republican army decided to hold a convention in the Point Depot, it could sell 5,000 tickets to the public because we are talking about only a handful of people, albeit a deadly  handful because they have in their control explosives capable of extracting a terrible toll on men, women and children.
This army council is obviously not the army of 99 per cent of the people of this island. We have an Army, the national Army; its Commander-in-Chief is the President of Ireland, Mary Robinson. So who are these people? Who gave them the right to decide to destroy this country once again? Did they vote? Was the result five to four or six to two or what? What was the vote when they decided that they would disrupt in the most awful way the hard won peace in this country over the last 18 months?
There are no answers. The secret army decided to make a political point by courageously killing an Asian shopkeeper and his assistant. This is what they voted for — that they would place a bomb in the heart of London which was destined to kill people. Why did they do it? They will say, presumably, that they wanted to speed up the process or to teach Mr. Major a lesson. However, these secret people took the decision in a room somewhere; they decided to kill a few people to speed up matters. Let nobody suggest that we sit around a table with those people.
We worked with Sinn Féin on the basis that if they were not representatives of the IRA, they had such an association and contact with them that they were conduits of opinions held within the IRA and its secret army council. Gerry Adams says they are not. As Senator O'Toole said, they are either in this business or they are not. The reason this Government and previous Governments not just opened Government Buildings to them but had doors throughout the world, from Washington to Australia, opened to them was because they thought they were dealing with substance and not shadows. I am not sure yet what is the truth of the situation. All I know is that Sinn Féin is the only game in town at present; we are practical politicians and they are the only people with whom we can deal. However, these bombs and  this army council vote decided that all the work done to date — Hillsborough, the Downing Street Declaration, President Clinton's efforts — should go for naught in order to make a political point.
Nobody I know of who is interested in this problem felt otherwise but that John Major was making a mess of this. He put forward the decommissioning proposal. I accept Deputy Albert Reynolds' word that it was not a precondition to the peace and, as I did before, I applaud Deputy Albert Reynolds' efforts. History shows that John Major is wrong. If one looks at recent history, particularly at the history of colonies under the control of the British Government, there has never been a single occasion where they demanded decommissioning prior to peace talks.
I am old enough to remember the British occupation of Aden. I am old enough to remember watching Mugabe and Nkomo on television as they entered Lancaster House when the British wanted to do a deal on Rhodesia. Even though there was an army in the field there was no decommissioning; the subject was never discussed. I am old enough to remember General Grevas, who led EOKA on the island of Cyprus. I am old enough to remember when the British Government arrested Archbishop Makarios, imprisoned him on an island and took him from the island to Buckingham Palace to sign the deal. There was no decommissioning then either.
Why is it different with us? Why do they always apply different standards to us? I do not know. All I know is that this bloody army council gave John Major game, set and match. It gave credence to a demand that should never have been made. It gave credence to his propaganda that if there was no decommissioning the IRA would use those arms if the political argument did not go their way. The IRA has given him his case. Whatever brilliance this army  council has it is not in the realm of strategy.
Mr. Roche: It is not in politics.
Mr. Magner: That is for sure. It would have been far better off if it had placed its trust in people such as Gerry Adams and others in Sinn Féin rather than try and hasten the process by the use of semtex. I applaud the work, the effort and the long haul on the part of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, the Tánaiste, Deputy Dick Spring, the present Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, Garret FitzGerald, Charles Haughey and all the other people who brought this process to the point where we thought we had achieved at least a permanent cessation of violence. The test for Sinn Féin is the test of relevance; the test for unionists is the test of generosity and the test for the Irish people is perseverance.
Mr. Roche: The bomb that went off at Canary Wharf was a tragedy not only for those who died and their families but for those who were injured and their families. It was a tragedy for the men, women and children of Northern Ireland. It was a tragedy for hope on this island.
I agree with much of what was said by my colleagues. Responsibility for the bombs lies irrevocably with a small group of men — the army council of the IRA — who have no mandate from anybody. Culpability as opposed to responsibility lies elsewhere. It lies primarily with politics because it is up to politicians to show leadership. There has been a singular and extraordinary lack of leadership in the last 17 months.
The momentum went out of the peace process when Deputy Albert Reynolds was removed from office. I said as much at the time. I accept that a political movement should be more than one man but I believe that his removal unfortunately changed the pace. When historians look back at this they will note as much, not because there was any less passion among the people who followed  in Government but because necessarily there is a hiatus when one Administration is changed for another. There was a hiatus at that time and irreparable damage was done to the cause.
The British Government must bear a special amount of culpability. The analysis being made now should have been made in this Chamber month after month and day after day for the last 17 months. We must carry a great deal of blame because we have tolerated mediocrity and the absolutely intolerable, people playing politics with something that is more valuable than anything else — peace.
Throughout the 17 months the British Government raised prevarication to an art form. First, we had the endless, mindless and stupid debate about the word “permanent”. After three or four months, when the semantic difficulties began to look really silly, they invented a new problem — decommissioning. There is no historical precedent in any of the unfortunate colonies from which Britain has been driven over the last 60 years for putting down a precondition of decommissioning. If we are blameworthy for anything, it is for not carrying that message louder than we did.
There was the opportunity for the British Government to extricate itself from the hook of its own making through the Mitchell commission. The Mitchell report was a fine document; it provided the opportunity for the British Government to come back on board. What did the British Government do? It found a new hook on which to impale itself — elections. It fell lock, stock and barrel for the unionist argument.
Unfortunately, not only did we make misjudgments throughout that period but the most extraordinary misjudgment was shown by the leadership of the IRA. As the last speaker said, whatever capacity they have, they certainly do not have much skill in politics. They handed the game, set and match to Mr. Major.
We realise now what we have lost — we have lost something beyond value.  There is no point our dancing to the British tune and starting to condemn Mr. Adams and his colleagues. They took an honest risk for peace. In the Seanad election campaign, on a wintry night before Christmas 1993, a Sinn Féin councillor told me that the politicians of the South will take risks for peace, but that Sinn Féin was risking more than politics. He told me they were risking their heads. We did not give those people enough credit.
After a good start the British fell by the wayside and over the last year and a half we have witnessed the triumph of mediocrity and complacency. This weekend thousands of Irish people will demonstrate for peace and I will be among them. It is sad that we in Irish political life did not encourage those people to take to the streets over the last 17 months to ask politicians on both sides of the Irish Sea what they were doing to advance the cause of peace.
The Tánaiste has suggested there should be proximity talks and, although I frequently disagree with him, I agree with him and Senator O'Toole that there must be all-party talks without limitations or preconditions now. We must drag everybody who cares about peace and those who care less about peace to the table and we must do it soon. It is critically important that the political leadership on this island from all the democratic parties, particularly in the South, should have a single concerted programme. We should exercise an intolerant attitude to anybody who thinks of any more ways of prevarication or any more excuses. It is only by talking that we will have peace.
As Senator Magner said, if one looks back over the history of the post-colonial period it is intriguing to note that the only thing that resolved any conflict was talk. Ultimately, talking is the only way to resolve differences. We should be less tolerant than we have been in the past of those who would prevaricate. I wish success to the political leaders involved in trying to put together what has been fragmented. The Oireachtas must indicate its continued anxiety, frustration  and anger at anybody who stands in the way of peace.
Acting Chairman: Senator Taylor-Quinn has only three minutes.
Mr. Manning: I am sure the House would agree to give more than three minutes to Senator Taylor-Quinn — an extra five minutes perhaps.
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Manning: If we go a little late——
Acting Chairman: Speakers have already facilitated others by speaking for just ten minutes over the last hour.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: My name has been with the Cathaoirleach's office since yesterday evening and I was meant to be the first speaker from this side of the House. I hope the “old pals' brigade” carry on in relation to the application of Standing Orders ceases.
Acting Chairman: The Senator was absent when I was calling the speakers.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I wish no reflection of the Chair. I was meant to be first but I had other matters to attend to at the time.
Mr. Roche: We need peace on the other side of the House.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: This is an important debate and we are anxious to hear what the Tánaiste has to say in light of developments since the statements began yesterday. The importance of dialogue must be stressed at all times — dialogue between all parties at all levels. It is particularly important that Sinn Féin is given every encouragement from every quarter to impress on the IRA the futility of its actions and to encourage it to do everything to restore the ceasefire, so that proper discussions  can recommence and Sinn Féin can engage in all-party talks.
I compliment the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and the Government on the manner in which they have responded and for the good work they have done. It must have been extremely annoying for the Tánaiste, given the progress he had made in the US in relation to the proximity talks proposal, to find all the work scuttled by the Canary Wharf bomb.
A number of questions could be asked of Sinn Féin. Does it approve of the bomb? We gather it does not. Although it has not stated it publicly, we can deduce that it disapproves of the bomb. What influence does Sinn Féin have with the IRA? I believe it has substantial influence and it is important that we give it every encouragement to influence the IRA to desist from its current actions.
We can only deduce from its acts that the IRA had no understanding of what is politically essential to bring about a peace agreement; it does not understand the background work that is needed or the level of support it had in the Government, the US Government and among the public for the ceasefire. With the Canary Wharf bomb the IRA made it extremely difficult to get to all-party talks.
There is an onus on democratic parties, particularly the nationalist parties, to impress upon the IRA the importance of political dialogue, to steer it towards the democratic process and, eventually, the electoral process. That will involve a certain amount of education but, above all, dialogue. I appreciate why the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and senior members of the Government cannot enter formal discussions with Sinn Féin at this point. However, members of the various political parties can engage in discussions with Sinn Féin and should do so.
It would be remiss of us not to compliment the unionist paramilitaries for having shown a good level of restraint since the bombings occurred. We should not underestimate the common sense views emanating from the leadership of  the parties close to the unionist paramilitaries — they are in stark contrast to what Mr. Trimble and Mr. Paisley have been saying. These people come from the middle ground of unionism in Northern Ireland and should be listened to more carefully. They may have a lot more in common with the nationalist community and the Sinn Féin supporters in Northern Ireland than with their unionist counterparts such as Mr. Trimble.
Returning to the pre-ceasefire position may not necessarily be in the interests of advancing the peace process. We have to think of new ways and means to move forward. We have to attempt approaches that may not have previously been tried to bring the process back on track.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring): Having had the privilege of opening this debate yesterday, I am glad to have the opportunity to make some concluding remarks. It has not been possible for me to be present for every speaker but I have been kept informed of the proceedings and I intend to respond to a number of specific points.
Over and above the individual statements which have been made, it is of key significance that this House, in conjunction with Dáil Éireann, has provided a focus for national debate on the tragic events of the past 12 days. It has examined how we should seek to rebuild the peace and to work with renewed determination to seek agreement on this island and between Ireland and Britain. This has underscored the real and active commitment of the Irish people, expressed through their elected representatives, to the peace process, and their determination that the opportunity it presents to us will not be squandered or destroyed.
I am grateful to Senators for their expressions of support for the work that I personally, and the Government as a whole, are engaged in. In particular, I welcome the constructive contributions  which have been made, both in this House and in the Dáil, by Members of the Opposition. I think they have struck the right balance between emphasising the national solidarity, to use Senator Manning's term, which exists on fundamental principles and on the basic approach adopted by the Government, and fulfilling their duty to probe and question the Government.
The people's hunger for peace is being expressed in a whole range of ways, including the wearing of ribbons, letter-writing campaigns, mass demonstrations and prayer vigils. I salute the work which is being done by so many committed individuals and organisations to find ways in which the powerful emotions we all feel can be articulated. It is no surprise that the trade union movement, which has stood out through the darkest days against violence, injustice and sectarianism, is so much to the fore. The message is clear: the peace must be restored. We have too much to lose if it is not. We cannot and must not be asked to bear the cost of violence. The human toll the end of the ceasefire has already exacted, in terms of death and injury, is frightful. I join Senators in reiterating my profound sympathy for all who have been bereaved or injured.
The indirect consequences of the resumption of the campaign of violence will also be severe, not least in the economic sphere, as Senators Haughey, Quinn and Reynolds, who are well placed to comment, reminded us. I am heartened by the determination which has been widely expressed that investment plans will not be blown off course by the end of the ceasefire, but it is predictable that if violence continues there will be a negative impact on many of the initiatives which have been undertaken in the past 18 months, above all in the tourism sector. The Government and State agencies will do all in our power to minimise the damage and will continue actively to pursue all avenues of North-South co-operation, in particular.
The basic question which now must be asked is: how are we to restore the peace? This is, first and foremost, the  responsibility of those who have ended their ceasefire. Self-evidently, the IRA must decide for itself what it will do. It alone is capable of restoring its cessation of violence.
The Government, with the British Government, is vigorously taking all appropriate security measures and, in so far as there is evidence of IRA or other paramilitary activity in our jurisdiction, will seek to apprehend those involved — as has been our unswerving policy over many years but the evidence of the past quarter-century is that security measures by themselves cannot eradicate fully the threat of paramilitary violence.
As to the calls made by Senator Norris and Senator Ross for more punitive measures, including internment, I fundamentally disagree with their views. Leaving to one side the strong moral and civil libertarian case against such measures, the disastrous effects of the introduction of internment in Northern Ireland in 1971 and the political complexity of the present situation strongly suggest it would not be prudent to take such steps at this time.
The IRA's activities remain utterly morally repugnant, as they have always been since the start of the conflict in Northern Ireland. The detestation the Irish people feel for their campaign has been made clear time and again. Even in terms of their own bizarre and twisted interpretation of “Irish national aims” it is hard to understand how the IRA can justify the use of political violence. As John Hume has so pointedly said, if the Irish people have a right to self-determination, they also have a right to self-determine the methods they wish to use in the exercise of that right. I very much doubt if the IRA can ever have been unsure about where the Irish people stood on this question. They can be still less so now. Nevertheless, we must continue to make it clear that we see a clear dividing line between political activity and violence. As Senator O'Kennedy rightly argued, “no nationalist has a right to impose by intimidation, threat or violence, or  through deceit or subterfuge, political structures on our fellow unionist Irishmen.”
The particular strength of Mr. Hume's valuable proposal for referendums, North and South, is not that the results would tell us that the Irish people want peace and dialogue — we know that already — but they would, in a formal way, strip away whatever excuses those opposed to peace and dialogue may offer. Given the importance the republican movement has always attached to its own version of ideological consistency, this would indeed be a significant development.
We must condemn acts of violence and punish their perpetrators but condemnation and punishment are not enough. Running through this and other debates has been the need for the two Governments and all parties committed to peaceful means to work together for political agreement. The conflict on our island has deep roots. Throughout the ceasefire I repeatedly stated that only by the achievement of a comprehensive and balanced settlement could the peace be underpinned. The ceasefire offered us an unprecedented opportunity to construct such a settlement.
As I said yesterday, the lesson of previous initiatives is that the prospect of real peace and lasting agreement would be greatly magnified by an end to all paramilitary violence and a matching reduction in the security response, which would in turn make possible fully inclusive negotiations. I disagree with those who, like Senator Ross, would suggest that this is “clinging to a vain hope. . . which is no longer possible”.
The prospects for agreement and reconciliation would be greatly enhanced by the restoration of the ceasefire. This is not to deny, as I said yesterday, that great political damage has also been done by its breakdown. Every atrocity, and every day that passes since 9 February, narrows the room for political manoeuvre and lessens the scope for agreement. In my speech yesterday, I set out a series of questions Sinn Féin ought to ask itself, and answer, if it is  serious about winning the trust and confidence of the great majority of the nationalist tradition, let alone the unionist tradition.
Equally it is true, if we can believe the IRA, that the launch of all-party negotiations would lead to a renewed cessation of its violent activities. For the last 18 months, the Government has been working to bring about such negotiations. Our progress may have been uneven, and slow, but it was real and continuing even as the Canary Wharf bomb was being planned and planted.
We have continued to work intensively with the British Government to put together a package of options which would allow for early and guaranteed movement into all-party negotiations. Such negotiations are necessary in their own right, as I have spelled out, if we are to come to a political accommodation. They are not a sop or a means to appease the IRA. Irrespective of the views or actions of the IRA, negotiations are required at the earliest possible moment. We need to have a specific date on which they will begin, because further procrastination on any side is simply unacceptable. Clearly, if launching all-party negotiations, and fixing a date for them, leads to a renewal of the IRA ceasefire, then that will be immensely welcome in its own right and will also be beneficial in terms of the likely success of the negotiations themselves.
As the Taoiseach said in the Dáil yesterday, agreeing a specific date for all-party talks is the best route to follow with a view to restoring the ceasefire. There is no conflict between the peace process and political progress. Our two objectives — all-party negotiations and a restoration of the ceasefire — can and should be mutually supportive. The Government has indicated that it would be in a position, on the restoration of the ceasefire, to resume full political contact with Sinn Féin. It is clear to the republican movement what it must do if its political representatives are once again to play a full role and to play their  part, without further obstacles, in negotiations involving the two Governments and the parties.
I set out yesterday, as in the Dáil last week, the basic elements of the approach we are taking to the current discussions with the British Government. We need to reach agreement, as soon as possible, on how to offer the Northern parties a reasonable route into negotiations which takes account, in a balanced and sensible way, of all of their interests and concerns. We cannot force them to the table: at the same time, the two Governments need to offer strong and focused leadership.
In agreeing on the basis for negotiations, as in negotiations themselves, nationalists need to respect the analysis and proposals put forward by unionists. It goes without saying, of course, that the same is true in reverse.
The question of an elective process has been highly divisive. Several contributors to this debate, including Senator Henry and Senator McGowan, have set out, cogently, the difficulties this proposal creates. I personally share a number of these anxieties. At the same time, we must be prepared, in a spirit of compromise, to see whether there is any way in which the elective process can, in fact, help us along the route and be integrated into the preparation of negotiations. This is basically, and as a matter of common sense, for the Northern parties, which would be called upon to contest any election, to decide. Nevertheless, because it is common ground that an elective process can only work if it leads into three-stranded negotiations, the context and broad outlines of such a process, if not its finer details, have obvious implications for all participants in those negotiations, including the Irish Government.
It will also be necessary to work out a range of other matters relating to the organisation and management of negotiations. These have already been the subject of several preparatory meetings between the Governments and the parties, and there is a large body of precedent  from the 1991-92 talks, but there are still many details to be arranged.
The possibility of a dual referendum, which I mentioned earlier, is another matter which might be discussed and resolved, as has the role which the Mitchell report might play. On our commitment to bring about negotiations as soon as possible, some form of intensified multilateral dialogue is required, however it is labelled. We believe that this approach is probably the only workable way of clearing up many of the misunderstandings which exist about procedural issues and reaching a sensible compromise package which can deliver all the parties to the table.
The Government, in addition to its intensive work with the British Government, is also maintaining very close contact with the Northern parties and with other significant figures on the scene. I look forward to meeting Senator Mitchell again tomorrow and take this opportunity once again to pay tribute to the continuing close interest and commitment of President Clinton and his Administration, which continues to be an invaluable resource for peace.
As I said yesterday, I hope I will soon meet David Trimble. Following our most recent exchange of correspondence, my office has once more been in touch with his. I am puzzled, as I am sure are Senators, by newspaper reports suggesting that there may be some difficulty with my proposal that at our meeting we discuss how to proceed to all-party negotiations on a three-stranded basis. It seems self-evident that how all of us with political responsibility for the achievement of peace and agreement are to proceed forward to negotiations is a matter we have a right, and indeed a duty, to discuss together.
The Government also remains in contact with the loyalist parties, whose continuing positive role, not just in maintaining the loyalist cessation of activities but in contributing to the political debate during the past 18 months, was rightly praised earlier by a number of  speakers, including Senator Gallagher and Senator O'Sullivan.
In conclusion, this debate has helped to manifest once again the total opposition of the Irish people to the use of violence in our name and their determination that it must come to an end once and for all. Equally, we are aware of the urgent need for all-party negotiations if the conflict which has bedevilled us for so long is to be resolved. I pledge that the Government, with the support of this House and the Dáil, will continue to strive to that end.
Mr. Maloney: I move:
That, in view of the current difficulties facing the Courts in ascertaining those who have previously defaulted on bail, Seanad Éireann urges the Minister for Justice to create a national register of bench warrants.
The issue of bail has been high on the political agenda for some time. Its prominence arises from the public perception that crime has been increasing and that a new sense of lawlessness prevails in this country.
The figures indicate, however, that this is not the case. In numerical terms there has been no substantial increase in the level of crime. However, it is fair to state that while the overall level of crime may not have increased, its qualitative nature has changed. So too have the number of crimes committed by people who receive bail. According to Garda figures in 1990, it was estimated that there were 2,494 crimes committed by people out on bail. In 1994, this had risen to 4,416. For an increasing number of offenders, the law does not seem to matter. They are no longer seen to respect it. It is this brazenness that frightens the public. It gives them the feeling that these people are outside the law.
 The Irish law on bail is relatively liberal in European terms. It is set down by a number of court decisions. Most significantly, the perceived likelihood of a person offending while on bail cannot be taken into consideration when deciding whether they should be granted bail. This undoubtedly leads to a sense of frustration among gardaí who see people being granted bail who they know are likely to reoffend.
The law on bail was recently the subject of a Law Reform Commission report. A number of interesting points emerged from that report. The rate of offences committed while on bail in Ireland is lower than in England, despite the latter's stricter legal regime. This, however, is not necessarily an argument against reform, but it does help to place the debate in a proper context.
Ireland, unlike most of Europe, has a much lower number of people detained without conviction. This is something of which to be proud because it reaffirms that the presumption of innocence until proven guilty remains the central element of our legal and democratic process. Considering the pressure for existing space in prisons, an area on which the Minister recently, and correctly, took action, rates of unconvicted prisoners similar to the 32.8 per cent and 51.6 per cent which prevail in Austria and Belgium respectively are clearly untenable in the Irish context, even if some people consider them desirable.
Interestingly, the Law Reform Commission report does not contain any recommendations to guide the Minister. This is due to the fact that it was not asked to make any recommendations. It does, however, spell out alternatives to bail reform, other that those dealing with preventative detention. These need not necessarily be alternatives, some could sit just as well with a reformed law. For instance, a reduction of the delay in bringing a case through the courts appears to be desirable in itself, whether there is any change in the broader law relating to bail.
 Many of the suggested alternatives to bail reform seek to address the acknowledged problem of re-offending within the parameters of existing legislation. It is in this spirit that I bring this motion before the House. In his judgement in the People v. O'Callaghan, Judge Walsh reaffirmed that the sole purpose of bail is to secure the attendance of an accused at trial. Hence, the breaking of a bail bond is a reason to deny an accused person bail. The current situation is that the State does not have a national register of warrants issued by judges against people who have previously defaulted on bail and who could have existing warrants against them.
In many situations this does not matter, as the Garda are able to determine if a bench warrant has previously been issued against an accused person. If an individual garda is actively pursuing a case, he or she should be in a position to garner the relevant information. It is difficult to gauge how many warrants are issued in each year, but it appears to run into the tens of thousands.
However, there is also considerable anecdotal evidence that this is not always the case, the reason being that the system under which warrants are registered is inadequate. For example, if a warrant is issued against an accused it is sent to their local Garda district. If the Garda are unable to locate the accused within a period of time, the warrant is then returned to the point of issue. However, if the accused is arrested in another district for a separate offence, in certain instances it will be difficult for the arresting gardaí to determine the existence of a bench warrant against that person. It should also be noted that almost all bench warrants are issued because of failure to attend in court in breach of bail.
I am aware of instances where this happened in Dublin and it is known to be a problem by solicitors and district justices. If it can happen in Dublin, where court records are computerised, it can also happen, and is more likely to happen, in rural areas where records are still kept manually. The obvious solution  to this problem would be the compilation of a national register of warrants issued. It would be much simpler than the current system if a garda or court clerk could instantly discover whether a bench warrant had been issued against an accused person.
I am aware that there may be problems with implementing such a proposal and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in that regard. There is still much work to be done in modernising court systems, particularly outside Dublin. If we are serious about tackling the problem of crime, however, it is an issue that must be tackled. Extra legislation is required in the whole area, some of which has already been outlined by the Minister, but we must also ensure that the existing system is capable of coping with any extra burden the Oireachtas and the Minister seek to impose on it. The national register of bench warrants is only one such proposal.
This proposal is by no means a criticism of the Minister. This problem has not developed overnight. However, I believe the time is right to take action on it. I commend the motion to the house.
Ms Gallagher: I formally second the motion and add my support to Senator Maloney's remarks. This issue warranted and received much debate in the House on many occasions. In an effort to do something immediate and practical we felt it was worthwhile to table this motion.
There is a problem with our bail laws in the light of increased crime, etc. However, there are several ways of dealing with this issue. We must take a balanced approach rather than looking for a referendum without considering the other areas which must be addressed. When we discuss bail we are talking about someone who has been accused and arrested but not convicted. The principle of justice in any democratic society is that a person remains innocent until proven guilty. Natural justice determines that a person has a  right to their liberty pending conviction. We cannot avoid discussing that crucial cornerstone of our justice system.
There have been miscarriages of justice in the past — for example, the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases. Although we have an excellent justice system, mistakes can still be made. We must remember that the criminal system requires someone to be brought to justice and tried fairly. Only then can that individual be deprived of their liberty, which is a serious infringement of any person's rights.
I listened to Judge Delap speaking on the radio this morning about this issue and he supported the decision in the O'Callaghan case. He said he had no problem with how the bail laws operated in this country.
Mr. O'Kennedy: I heard him too and he did not say that.
Ms Gallagher: We should remember that judges who have worked under the system have expressed support for it. He supported what Mr. Justice Walsh said in the O'Callaghan case, but he expressed concern that consecutive sentences are not being applied as they should be. That is a problem in our criminal law system.
The Criminal Justice Act, 1984, attempted to limit the discretion of judges in this regard, but it seems to have been ignored. It is ironic that while the legislation allows for consecutive sentencing of those who commit further crimes while on bail, it does not work in practice. This matter must be addressed. The attitude seems to be that if someone is out on bail, they might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. The example given on the radio today was that if a person is in court on trial for armed robbery, they know they will be put in prison for a number of years so they may as well commit a number of robberies while they are on bail and in this way they will be able to provide for their wife and family before they are convicted. This problem could be solved  if judges ensured that consecutive sentences were imposed.
If the Garda arrest a suspect in any part of the country they have no definite way of knowing that a bench warrant already exists. This leaves the gardaí open to prosecution. The motion suggests a practical solution to this problem. A national register of bench warrants would help the Garda in dealing with people on the move because, as Senator Maloney said, warrants are only sent to the local Garda station. Bail conditions, including reporting to the Garda station, must also be tightened up.
We must remember that in any debate on bail we are talking about people who must be considered innocent until proven guilty, regardless of previous offences. While the criteria set out in the O'Callaghan case may cause frustration for those trying to bring people to justice, we must accept that a person is innocent until proven guilty and is entitled to their liberty. The question of whether a person is likely to reoffend or is a danger to the public must also be considered. We must balance that against the possibility of the accused turning up for trial. We should also consider the lack of prison space if we hold people pending trial and deprive them of their liberty. These innocent people are taking up valuable places. This motion is a practical solution to the problem.
Mr. O'Kennedy: I move amendment No. 1:
After “warrants” to add the following:
“and calls on the Government to hold a Referendum on bail in order that the Irish people may be given the opportunity of deciding whether a Court should be entitled to refuse bail to an accused person if it is satisfied that he/she is likely to commit a class of criminal offence which is also an indictable offence if admitted to bail.”
 We have no objection in principle to the motion, but it does not deal fully and effectively with our bail laws. That is why we proposed an addendum to it.
I was a barrister for five years when the landmark decision in the O'Callaghan case and the judgment of Mr. Justice Brian Walsh was delivered by the Supreme Court. It was delivered at a time when the individual rights of citizens were uppermost in the criteria considered by the courts. I recall that the powers of the State enshrined in the Offences Against the State Act caused concern among the public. Any court which does not operate in isolation from the social conditions in which it hands down its judgment is anxious to vindicate and protect the individual rights of the citizen vis-á-vis the State.
However, nothing remains static in life or in the social evolution and pattern of crime. The pattern of crime in those days was entirely different from that which exists at present. Drug related offences were unknown to the courts then. I cannot think of one case during my first ten years at the junior Bar, until I left in 1970 to go into Government, which was drug related. This is a different situation from that which obtained in 1966. It was also a time when the powers of the State for detention without trial under the Offences Against the State Act were properly under question by the courts. Accordingly, the decision of the Supreme Court in the O'Callaghan case reviewed the corpus of law and judicial precedent on the right to bail to take account of the changing circumstances. While it may sound contradictory, the only constant in life and in law is change. Nothing stays as it was 30 years ago. We must review the decisions of 30 years ago in light of today's circumstances as our successors will, I hope, review what we decide in 1996.
Thirty years later, the social climate and the pattern of crime is entirely different from that which prevailed in 1966. The need to review the criteria in the O'Callaghan case is self evident. I read the judgment and the O'Callaghan  criteria again today. Mr. Justice Brian Walsh and the late Chief Justice Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh went back to the old judge's rules and reviewed the evolution of the bail laws. They felt obliged to update the laws in view of the changing circumstances of that time.
I was a law student in the late 1950s and 1960s. The judge's rules on bail were handed down almost like the tablets of stone handed down to Moses. They had not been changed and were there since time immemorial. It is understandable that the Supreme Court in 1966 reviewed them but it is also understandable that we should now review the 1966 decision of the Supreme Court and review our responsibility in light of the changing circumstances.
The interpretation of Article 40.4.1º of the Constitution by the courts in recent years has resulted in an unacceptable balance in favour of a person accused of a criminal charge at the expense of the victim and society generally. The Article states: “No citizen shall be deprived of his personal liberty save in accordance with law.” That means that the stringent conditions laid down in the O'Callaghan case have now been effectively enshrined in our Constitution. Note that the Constitution said “save in accordance with law”. However, law is not just the law we pass here but also judicial precedent in the higher courts, in this instance the Supreme Court.
I do not think the framers of the Constitution in 1937, much less the people who adopted and enacted it, could have contemplated that it would be used to set at large people who are on bail so they could perpetrate further offences. We have many examples of that today. It is a fact that people released on bail are later charged with similar offences committed while they were out on bail. We cannot accept that as being a protection of society. It is very significant that Mr. Justice Walsh in his judgment——
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator's time is up.
Mr. O'Kennedy: I will take three more minutes.
An Cathaoirleach: I cannot give the Senator three more minutes. I will give him another minutes.
Mr. O'Kennedy: He had particular regard for the effect which imprisonment would have on the family and dependants of the accused person. He said that in the modern complex society in which we live, the effect of imprisonment upon the private life of the accused and his family may be disastrous and have severe economic consequences for him and the family depending on his earnings from day to day or even from hour to hour. In the meantime, the State has provided a backup which was not there in 1966. Therefore, that consideration is no longer relevant.
The most striking difference is that when the Supreme Court delivered the O'Callaghan judgment the consumption of drugs and drug related offences were entirely unknown in Ireland. We must look at the reality in which we live today. It is now clear that we need to review the law on bail as a matter of urgency. Fianna Fáil proposes that a defendant need not be granted bail if the court is satisfied that there are substantial grounds for believing that the defendant, if released on bail, would fail to surrender to custody, commit an offence while on bail or interfere with witnesses or otherwise obstruct the course of justice whether in relation to himself or any other person.
If I may trespass on my colleague's time for one more minute.
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has gone well into it at this stage.
Mr. O'Kennedy: How much time does my colleague have?
An Cathaoirleach: You cannot share time. The Senator has gone well over the time.
Mr. O'Kennedy: Fianna Fáil is determined that the people should have an opportunity of protecting themselves if the State fails to do so and accordingly have proposed an amendment to the Constitution to limit the right to bail, subject to the criteria I set out above.
I finally refer to another Article in the fundamental rights section of the Constitution which is mandatory on all of us. Article 40.3.2º states:
The State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name and property of every citizen.
This is a mandatory obligation on the State. In light of recent horrific times and events, it is clear that the State — in this instance the Government — is failing to act on its obligations under that Article.
Mr. Bohan: I second the amendment. This amendment affects myself and the many people I represent in the centre of Dublin, where I have been in business for over 30 years, who have suffered at the hands of many criminals. What annoys me most is the fact that the same people are committing the crimes and this has been mentioned by Senator Gallagher and by my colleague Senator O'Kennedy.
It is crazy that bail is granted to these people time after time and something must be done about it. I would be the first to defend a person's right to bail where there is no solid evidence that the person charged should not be granted bail. It has been my experience that a garda will not oppose bail without good reason. However, it has been proved time and time again that the very people who have been granted bail against the wishes and advice of the garda have gone out on to the streets and committed the same and sometimes even more violent crimes in the certain knowledge that they would receive the same sentence as they would have received in the first place.
 Senator Gallagher referred to concurrent sentences. It is an outrage that a defendant may be charged with seven or eight offences which were committed while on bail and they will get a 12 month sentence for each offence to run concurrently. It is a joke because they know before they go into court that this will happen. The issue of concurrent sentences must be addressed. I do not know whether mandatory sentences can be imposed. There is no deterrent on people to desist from crime while on bail. Judges in our criminal courts system mean well, but they seem more concerned about the rights of criminals than the rights of unfortunate victims of crime.
Many people are under the impression that bail is a constitutional right but I do not believe this is so. In 1975 the then Chief Justice, Mr. O'Higgins, stated that there is a recognition by the courts that a person is presumed to be innocent and shall not have his or her liberty interfered with pending his or her trial on a criminal charge. When the right of bail was introduced many years ago, the level of crime, as Senator O'Kennedy said, was a far cry from what it is today. There was no abuse of drugs and rape and violent crime were rare.
I am convinced that up to 80 per cent of crimes are committed by people on bail or early release and by young thugs, some of them only 12 years old. These people are well aware that if they are convicted by the courts there are no places of detention to put them. Recently a 14 year old was convicted of stealing cars; this was his 40th conviction. This does not take into account crimes he may have committed and for which he was not caught. He robbed a car and rammed a Garda car the day after a certain institution stated it had no place for him. As far as I know, this child is operating as usual on the streets. It is high time that so called children can be prosecuted in the same manner as adults. The Minister should revise the bail laws and examine the right to silence.  The sooner he does this, the better it will be for all of us.
Mr. Neville: I welcome and support the motion tabled by the Labour Party. It is a worthy proposal and would be of assistance in the present situation. It is important to know if bench warrants are outstanding in the event of people being considered for bail by the courts. Refusal of bail can be considered on the grounds that the charged person may abscond. There is no central national register of bench warrants and the motion brings this problem to our attention. The keeping of such a register would require a great deal of organisation and the setting up a system to ensure it operates correctly and is available throughout the country. However, this should not be a great problem in this day and age of computerisation. Who should maintain the register? The Garda Síochána would be the best group to do this. It needs the information most quickly and can feed this data into the system because it will be aware of people who do not respond to bench warrants. I cannot judge how complex the system will be but it should be reasonably simple.
The wider issue of bail has been discussed and I have raised it over many years. It is heartening to see such support for that proposal from the other side of the House. It was tactically ignored for so long when Fine Gael raised the issue. The previous Minister asked the Law Reform Commission to issue a report on the matter and this is now with the Minister. She will fully consider it before bringing proposals before the Oireachtas. To do anything else would be incorrect and incompetent. Bad legislation makes for bad circumstances. We must ensure that any legislation is sensitive and detailed because it will involve constitutional change and there may be other legal requirements. It is important that the Minister fully ensures any proposals she brings before the Oireachtas will work  and will not be challenged in the courts at a later stage. The solution to the problem must be effective.
This job would have been made much easier if the previous Minister had requested the Law Reform Commission to bring forward recommendations but she did not do so. As a result, the present Minister does not have a set of recommendations to consider but must develop the correct approach. The report is analytical and is good in that context, but if it had gone one step further we may have been able to move more quickly.
The problem with bail was not an issue until 1966 when the O'Callaghan case determined that bail could be refused only on two grounds: the likelihood of a charged person absconding or if the court determined that there was interference with witnesses. The bail laws have been abused and the situation is serious; the Minister has recognised this on numerous occasions. Notorious organised criminals over the years have had little difficulty in obtaining and abusing bail. Professional criminals are the biggest abusers. Petty criminals who are charged for the first time generally do not abuse bail; it is abused by professional criminals who know how to work the system.
Under Irish law we cannot refuse bail in cases of serious offences like bank robbery and rape. We can only do so on the two grounds outlined by the court. If somebody commits a bank robbery, rape or murder and is likely do so again, he cannot be refused bail on this ground. In some cases of rape and murder, I believe it is itself a crime to release offenders on bail back into society where they are open to commit further offences.
The provisions dealing with consecutive sentences in the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, have a deterrent effect on only petty crime but have little or no effect on organised and serious crime. Organised criminals who know they are going to jail for one serious offence have no compunction about committing other crimes because they are aware  they will serve only a fixed period of time in prison.
We look forward to the Minister's proposals and I am confident these will be issued quickly because she has a good track record in bringing forward proposals. In little over a year she has introduced a comprehensive set of proposals to improve the situation. This week we welcomed the publication of a comprehensive package to tackle drugs and drugs related crime. This was well outlined by Senator O'Kennedy. The Minister presented a muti-faceted drugs package to the Government in July and legislation to implement it is being introduced. She has introduced a fundamental overhaul of the courts to reduce delays and increase efficiency. This week there were advertisements for judicial posts. This is progress. People will be interviewed for these posts, the Minister will make a decision and new judges will be active in the courts shortly. The Minister also brought forward a comprehensive prison package. Everybody recognises she had problems in Government with regard to this.
I congratulate the Minister for bringing forward a comprehensive package. She used the time over a 12 month period to examine the situation in great detail to bring forward, as with the bail issue, proposals which will work and improve the situation. The fact that 278 extra spaces will be available in prisons in 1996 and the first half of 1997 is welcome.
Minister for Justice (Mrs. Owen): I thank the Senators for this motion, the subject of which is a matter of great concern to us all at present and I am listening carefully to what is being said. I welcome the suggestion by the Labour Senators that a national register of warrants should be established.
I want to make reference to a figure which Senator Bohan quoted because, once said in this or the other House, figures have a terrible habit of gaining a life of their own and running away with themselves. Eighty per cent of crimes in  this country are not committed by people out on bail. Page 36 of the Law Reform Commission's report states that the average rate of offences for which persons were arrested during the bail period did not vary in the two years, 1992 and 1993, and stood at 9 per cent. I know he included others who may be on early release and temporary release to say that 80 per cent of crimes were committed by people in those categories but since the figures for such categories would be quite low, there is no evidence to support his view. That is not to say that people who have served sentences in our prisons do not reoffend, and I suspect that what the Senator was trying to get across. As he said, some may have 30, 40 or 50 convictions against them for particular crimes. I do not want an 80 per cent figure to be floating around because we heard figures about 60 per cent increases in murder but people were not comparing like with like and they were giving a false impression that there was a huge increase in the murder rate. I correct that not in any pejorative way but so that Senator Bohan would not use such a figure unless there is clear evidence for it.
The determination of applications for bail is a matter for the courts, who may refuse bail to a person who is likely to attempt to pervert the course of justice or who is unlikely to turn up for trial. It would, of course, be helpful to the court in determining an application for bail to know if bench warrants were issued previously or were still outstanding against the applicant for failing to turn up at previous trials. Under our adversarial system of justice the court determines matters which come before it on the evidence presented. Applications for bail are opposed by the prosecution authorities where they consider it necessary and details of previous bench warrants would form very important evidence for them to present to the court in support of their case. Under section 31 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967, the Garda can grant bail in certain circumstances and, again, details of bench warrants in existence would, of course,  also be relevant to decisions made under this legislative provision.
There is at present no centralised or national register of bench warrants issued and information on bench warrants can only be obtained through manual searches in court offices or Garda stations. Even then it would be impossible to locate records of such warrants without previous information on the possible date of issue of the warrant, the court office which issued the warrant or the Garda station to which it was issued.
There are a very large number of bench warrants issued annually and the majority of these are issued by the District Court in Dublin; it issues between 8,000 and 12,000 such warrants each year. In the District Criminal Courts in the Four Courts alone in 1995, there were 5,800 bench warrants issued and 189 bench warrants issued by the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. There are also, of course, bench warrants issued by every District and Circuit Court throughout the country. Applications to estreat bail where defendants have failed to turn up for trial is a matter for the prosecution authorities. The decision to grant or refuse such applications is a matter for the court and is one in which I have no function.
Given the very large number of bench warrants issued annually by the Dublin Metropolitan District Court alone it is clear that a national centralised register of bench warrants which would be comprehensive, reliable and accessible could not be set up without the benefit of computerisation.
Another factor to be considered in establishing a national register of bench warrants would be the most appropriate body or organisation to maintain such a register, and Senator Neville referred to this. It would appear on preliminary examination that the Garda Síochána may be most suited to this function for a number of reasons. To be effective, such a register would have to be easily accessible to those who need the information, i.e., the members of the Garda. The Garda would also have the expertise  to manage the information to avoid ambiguity in matters of identification and so forth. The knowledge of the local garda which is so important at present in identifying criminals would continue to be valid, for example, in cases where criminals are using more than one address, which is a common occurrence. The Garda already has certain centralised information systems in place and, as the House will know, the Garda Síochána is embarked on an ambitious four year information technology plan which will greatly enhance both operational and administrative systems. One of the areas which will be considered for computerisation in the course of implementing this plan will be warrants administration.
While the motion before the House is in very specific terms, there is, of course, the wider question of reform of our bail laws. Indeed, the amendment put down in the name of the Fianna Fáil Senators seeks to address the question of holding a referendum on our bail laws. The House will be aware, and it has been referred to by Senators, that the Law Reform Commission report on the law of bail was published last September. I am glad to have the opportunity to place on the record my appreciation of the work the commission put into a fundamental and complex aspect of the law.
That report, which runs to about 200 pages, contains a thorough examination of the legal issues which arise. It required detailed consideration and it would have been inappropriate for the Government not to consider fully what the commission had to say in the report. I should remind the House that the report was commissioned by my predecessor. At the time, the commission was not asked to make recommendations for changes in the law and many Members may feel it is a pity that was not done but the approach which was taken then is obviously not something which I could be expected to explain.
It would be unreal to expect the Government to be in a position to support an amendment before the House  calling for the holding of a referendum in a particular form in advance of it being given a full opportunity to consider the commission's report. I can tell the House, however, that consideration of the report is being finalised in my Department at present with a view to my bringing proposals before Government in the near future. I can assure the House too that the Government is determined to bring forward comprehensive and effective proposals to deal with abuses of our bail laws.
The amendment before the House seems to be based entirely on the wording contained in a Private Members' Bill which was introduced in the other House in advance of the Law Reform Commission report. When Second Stage was taken there, I indicated that the type of approach contained in the proposed wording might give rise to significant difficulties. I do not propose this evening to repeat my reservations about the detail of that approach, but it is worth making the general point that in approaching any possible changes in this area we have to be clear in our minds what we want to achieve and be confident that any proposals are well judged and will operate effectively in practice.
The House will be aware that following the O'Callaghan judgment in 1966, bail may be refused only on two grounds: the likelihood that the accused will abscond or will interfere with witnesses or evidence. That position was confirmed by the Supreme Court in its judgment in the Ryan case in 1989. In particular, the possibility that the accused might commit further offences if granted bail is not a factor which the courts can take into account in deciding on a bail application.
In its analysis of our law in this area the commission mention that by international standards Ireland remands few persons in custody pending trial. The report contains a very useful analysis of the law on bail in a number of other countries. A point which emerges is that  they all permit custodial remand, at least to some degree, in order to prevent the commission of further serious offences. I should also say that almost every country in Europe also allow for a generous compensation scheme if people are remanded and subsequently found to be innocent. So, the issue of compensation would arise if we introduced a system whereby people were kept in custody while awaiting trial.
There is an absolutist view that no person should be held in custody prior to conviction. But, however liberal our bail laws are perceived to be, the fact is we do not go that far. The courts may refuse bail to a person who is unlikely to turn up for trial or will attempt to pervert the course of justice. I believe that most people would support that approach as a minimum. That does, however, involve the courts imprisoning someone who may or may not be guilty of a crime and in doing so on the basis of a view of the likely behaviour of someone if he or she were released on bail.
A fundamental issue is whether society should reserve the right to protect itself by providing for a situation where a person is deprived of his or her liberty awaiting trial because of fear that the person involved will commit further offences if released. It is a difficult question of balancing competing rights, but I have already made clear my approach to devise proposals that will tilt the balance towards the victims of crime.
Before leaving the subject of the report, it is worth noting that decisive action has already been taken in relation to aspects of it. In particular, the commission referred to the need to reduce delays in court proceedings and suggested that this would significantly help the situation. The Court and Court Officers Act, 1995, contains a series of substantial measures in this regard.
I look forward to having the opportunity of coming before the House again in the near future to discuss the proposals  which the Government will be bringing forward to address the issues that have been raised in this House.
Dr. Henry: At the end of her speech the Minister said she had already taken action on some of the commission's recommendations. These recommendations are important because of the dismay caused by the delay that often takes place between the time a person is charged and when their case comes up in court. The Court and Court Officers Bill, 1995, contains a substantial number of measures which should help change this.
I support the laudable proposal by Labour Party Senators for a national register of bench warrants. It could not be opposed by any civil libertarian and it would not involve anyone who is entitled to bail being deprived of it. If someone does not turn up in court when they are supposed to, however, that is a crime in itself. There is already a register in Dublin, but it is apparently in an appalling mess and consequently it is impossible to know whether people appearing in the Dublin jurisdiction have unexecuted bench warrants before them. Putting that situation right is a big task.
I am not sure that Senator Neville is right when he says it is a simple matter to set up such a register, even with computerisation. It will probably be an extraordinarily difficult task to set up a proper register and it will require an enormous amount of money. For example, the computerisation of Garda Síochána operations is costing millions of pounds.
Mrs. Owen: Twenty six million pounds for the programme.
Dr. Henry: I imagine that setting up a bench warrant register would cost just as much. I have been involved in the computerisation of hospital patient registers where the cost has been staggering.  A bench warrant register would have to include data from every court in the country. The Minister has already indicated the figures involved in District Court criminal cases in Dublin alone. Tying in all the country's courts will cost a lot of money.
A real time computer is needed because there is no point in having one where half the information is out of date. Therefore, a constant updating of the computer's database will be essential.
The Minister's suggestion that the Garda Síochána should keep the register is correct because the problem of providing addresses is a serious one and local gardaí are in the best position to know who lives where or if they have moved elsewhere. The Minister may have to increase Garda numbers in rural areas to keep the computer updated with names and addresses of those on bench warrants.
I would like to make one practical suggestion for setting up our own computer system. Northern Ireland already has a computerised bench warrant register; and all bench warrants there are executed, unlike so many in this jurisdiction which are dormant. I am a great believer in trying to undertake all-island initiatives, so perhaps we could start by examining how the North's computerised register is operated so efficiently. The excellent suggestion for having a register, while not cheap, is preferable to putting more people in prison simply because we suspect they may skip bail.
I understand how Senator Bohan feels and, living in the centre of Dublin myself, I sometimes feel that the same criminals come around every night. However, as the Minister pointed out, only 9 per cent of people on bail commit crimes. Sadly, serious crimes like robbery are carried out by those who are efficient in dealing with the court system and who realise that far too often they may get concurrent rather than consecutive  sentences. Such sentences leave the general public in a state of amazement. It gives us the feeling that offenders can skip in and out of jail and do what they like while on bail. We have to address this issue practically rather than in the emotional way most of us feel about it. I support the Government's proposal.
Mr. McGowan: I join with other Senators in welcoming the Minister to the House, and I also welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. My first reaction was that the Minister could accept the motion as well as the addendum to it. This debate gives the Minister an opportunity to send a message to the criminals. Crime is at an all time high. Thousands of small business people dread going to the bank to lodge £1,000, while individuals living on their own are afraid to keep even £100 at home. No matter how the statistics are applied, the average citizen realises that crime in Dublin is now on a par with any other city in the world. A parent who sends a student to this city realises that it is dangerous at night and even during the day.
I would have thought that this would be an opportunity for the Minister to be clear and decisive. There is nothing controversial in the addendum to the motion. It has not been tabled by a political party which believes it has a better solution. We want to help the Minister and we accept her sincerity and intentions. I am sure the Minister would not claim to have all the answers to this problem. I appeal to the Minister not to press a vote on this issue because it will send the wrong signal.
We must support those implementing the law. However, the Garda is demoralised. While a register, computerisation and new legislation may be introduced, the structure on the ground will change very little. Gardaí on the beat in Dublin are up against professional criminals. The only protection  and help we can give them is to strengthen the law. I live in a rural area near the Border with a lower crime rate than this city. Nobody is safe carrying small sums of money. There is a new breed of successful criminals and people are alarmed by this. A visitor cannot walk about this city without being attacked.
Introducing new legislation is a slow and difficult process. The Minister would accept that it is difficult to get it right because of the changing situation. I would like to think that we are all committed to strong laws which can be implemented. It is easy to pass legislation, but it is difficult to administer it effectively. I appeal to the Minister not to press a vote. She should accept the addendum because it would send the right signal. Our jails are full and the criminals are roaming the country. I ask the Minister to look at this again.
Ms O'Sullivan: As regards Senator McGowan's call for the Minister not to press to a vote, I think the wording of the Fianna Fáil addendum is very specific in terms of the type of referendum on bail we should have. The Minister received this report only last August and it needs detailed examination. She said we need to be clear on what we want to achieve and be confident that proposals are well judged and will operate effectively in practice. Whatever we do, we do not want to change the Constitution so that the situation becomes unworkable and ineffective. As Senators have said, there is a balance between civil liberties and miscarriages of justice. We do not want to detain people only to discover that they have not committed a crime.
The Minister referred to compensation in other countries with different systems. The Law Reform Commission report, when trying to balance what would be put to the people in a referendum, stated:
 Perhaps the strongest argument against preventive detention takes issue with it on its own territory. It challenges the very benefit it is supposed to confer. In order to operate effectively, a system of preventive detention would either have to select among persons charged those who would commit further offences or detain everybody. However, it is argued, the empirical evidence suggests that such a selection would not be possible, with the result that a preventive detention policy might not be effective at all in isolating potential offenders. It also suggests that preventive detention would probably have minimal effect on the crime rate. Moreover, to detain everybody would be so disproportionate to the benefit achieved, not to mention costly beyond belief, that it would not be acceptable. Accordingly, it is argued, preventive detention either fails the efficacy test, or at least, has not yet been shown to score higher than the existing system of deterrence.
Obviously, the Law Reform Commission has put forward for and against arguments. We must take cognisance of the negative side of the argument. There is a positive side to looking at how our bail laws are administered and to the possibility of referendum. Whatever we decide on, we should favour the victim as opposed to the perpetrator of the crime. When we spoke on this issue a couple of weeks ago I and other Senators said that the question of violent crime, where people are hurt, must be given precedence over robberies and crimes against property.
The report suggests other options to which Senators referred — for example, consecutive sentencing, which is provided for in the 1984 Act, making it a separate crime to commit an offence while on bail and the introduction of a law resulting in the immediate detention  of somebody who commits a crime while on bail.
The Minister and Senator Henry said the best thing we can do is to bring a person to trial more quickly. The Court and Court Officers Act, 1995, has gone some ways towards achieving that by providing for more judges. There is an onus on solicitors and barristers to ensure that there are no unnecessary delays. We are all aware of cases which have been called off because somebody has not prepared their case or where witnesses are not available. There is an onus on the legal profession to come up with suggestions on how the court procedure could be more efficient than it is at present.
We should not confuse those who commit crimes while on bail with recurrent offenders. To some extent, Senator Bohan was labelling them all together. Only 9 per cent of crimes——
Mr. Bohan: My figure would be closer than that of the Minister.
Mr. O'Sullivan: We all share the Senator's concern. We all know that people commit crimes again and again and we are as frustrated as the Garda that this is happening. However, it should not cloud our views on how many commit crimes while on bail. However, it should not cloud our view as to how many of them are committing crimes when they are out on bail. Is there a possibility of obliging people to report more often when they are out on bail? I wonder if there are more options within the system already, even the possibility of imposing curfews, so that people are more under the eye of the Garda, as it were, when they are out on bail.
Our motion was put forward as a practical suggestion. Obviously, there are costs involved but, as the Minister said, the four year information technology plan is already being implemented. When she was in the  Chamber previously she told us how that will operate in making the system more efficient. What we are proposing would contribute to the attempt to make the system work more effectively in bringing criminals to justice. At the end of the day, that is what everybody is seeking — to ensure that those who are at present committing crimes and terrorising people will no longer be able to do so. We are seeking to produce a system that is effective in bringing such people to justice as soon as possible.
What happens to them if or when they go to prison should make it less rather than more likely that they will offend again. That is an area we cannot discuss tonight but there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that people leaving prison are more likely to reoffend. Whether one takes a carrot or stick approach and whether one believes prison should be harder on criminals or offer them more opportunities for rehabilitation is an argument for another day but it is an important issue as well.
We are putting forward a constructive suggestion. It obviously is not the definitive answer but it is part of the answer.
Mr. Enright: I welcome the Minister. I am pleased that whenever debates on justice have taken place in the Seanad the Minister has attended. It is wonderful that she is taking the time to listen to what is being said by Members of this House. She understands that what we have to say is important and she is prepared to listen to it. I pay tribute to her and her good example; many of her colleagues would benefit from following it.
I agree with the motion's call for a register of bench warrants. That is important whether it is compiled through a computer system or otherwise. As the Minister said, the Garda Síochána are best suited to carry out the duty of keeping records of people who are out on bail or for whom there are  bench warrants. I read recently that the Civil Service has succeeded in getting the most up to date modern technology. That is a good development which will benefit the Civil Service. It is essential that the most modern technology is provided for the Garda Síochána. Technology changes so quickly that every effort must be made in this regard. I am confident the Minister will provide that technology.
In fairness to the Garda Síochána, they maintain reasonably good records. I attend the courts regularly and the gardaí keep accurate records of people who have previous convictions. They also have good methods of ascertaining whether a person has defaulted on bail or has failed to return on a bench warrant. They have a good system but if it can be improved and streamlined I would be happy to see that happening.
There was a change of Government just over one year ago. About two days later I listened to Deputy O'Dea in the Dáil and a number of Fianna Fáil Senators in this Chamber. The impression was given that overnight there had been a major escalation in crime — it was as if the James' gang had run rampant across the country. This escalation in crime did not happen overnight. There is an ongoing problem with crime and we want to do all we can to solve it. Although there may be some degree of political point scoring, overall, public representatives speak with a great deal of common sense. The political parties in general have a good approach; they appreciate the problems faced by the current Minister and by her predecessors and realise that those problems will also face future Ministers.
This motion has been put down because of crime. The most important area we must focus on is prevention; the prevention of crime is an absolute priority. As we have seen in recent years, the vast majority of serious crimes — 85 per cent to 90 per cent — are committed by people in their own  localities. About 15 per cent of serious crime is carried out by people who travel long distances to commit crime. The Garda Síochána's record for apprehending people who have committed serious crimes is quite good; they generally succeed in bringing such criminals before the courts. Once criminals are brought before the courts and prosecuted, the job of the Garda Síochána is, to a large extent, over. It is up to the courts to find the accused innocent or guilty.
I congratulate the Minister on her efforts in response to the crimes that took place in the west of Ireland. She ensured that road blocks were put in place and that traffic movements were monitored. It is essential that some form of monitoring of traffic should take place on a national basis. It should not happen only on main roads but through spot checks carried out by the Garda. If serious crimes have been committed the Garda Síochána should be provided with all the necessary back-up. The information yielded by spot checks, the monitoring of traffic movements and inquiries made by the Garda should be computerised. It is hard to apprehend people who travel long distances and regularly use aliases, so it is essential that a record of traffic movement be kept.
In Britain and on the Continent traffic movements are regularly monitored. A certain amount of surveillance is used in addition to checkpoints in order to ascertain where people and their vehicles are from. That is an important system and we should follow it up in this country. It is vital that we monitor traffic movements so the Garda could build up a large body of information over a period of time which will be of help in the event of a serious crime being committed.
Many minor offences, debt collection and so forth, are dealt with in the District Courts. We will have to look at that and see if many of these matters can be taken out of the courts. In cases were  people are caught with bald tyres we should examine the possibility of imposing on the spot fines. If a person has not paid their car tax there could be a system whereby they receive a notice giving them 21 days in which to pay it and if it is not paid some type of fine could be imposed. Such a system could be organised through statutory instrument or by passing new legislation.
I regularly attend the District Courts and they are usually crammed with gardaí. Their time is taken up giving evidence in the most petty, minor cases. The gardaí are demoralised having to hang around such courts all day. It is a waste of their time and everybody's time. A medical bureau can provide a certificate that somebody was over the limit with drink and there is no need for the doctor to prove that in court. The accused can lose his or her licence for a minimum of two years and possibly more. I see no reason why a garda has to come into court to give evidence that a person had a bald tyre when the doctor need not come into court to give evidence that he or she took either a blood or a urine sample from somebody. This is an important matter and it would save a great deal of time if we could pass legisation to that effect.
We need to examine the right to silence. The Irish legal system rightly allows a person accused of a crime access to expert legal advice under the free legal aid scheme. In addition, the Garda can record or videotape an interview with a person. An innocent person has nothing to fear from accounting for his or her movements. Society should consider whether a person suspected of having committed a serious crime is entitled to an absolute right to silence. A person who has proper legal representation during questioning should be legally obliged to account for his or her movements.
With regard to the motion before us, it is essential to examine the bail laws over a period of time and to consider a  referendum. The Minister has not responded to crime with a knee-jerk reaction, rather she has taken a slow, methodical and efficient approach. I would prefer if the Minister was to do whatever she does properly rather than do something for its own sake. I have confidence in the Minister. Having studied the report and consulted her advisers she should consider a referendum at a future date. I wish the Minister well in what is a difficult portfolio.
Mr. Maloney: I thank the Minister for attending this evening. The motion proposed is well intentioned and should benefit the issue in question. I welcome the views expressed sincerely by speakers from all sides. The motion is a response to circumstances in which people are perverting the course of justice by not turning up in court and it suggests a way forward to deal with the matter. I welcome the Minister's reference in her speech to the information technology programme being set up in the Garda Síochána at a cost of £26 million, which is a large amount. The bench warrants could be included in the computerised system.
I worked in the psychiatric service before being elected to the Seanad. Many hospitals are computerising all their patient records so that once one is admitted to a hospital the problems identified and the treatments given would be put on computer and the next time one is admitted the information will be available at the touch of a key. A similar arrangement could apply in the case of bench warrants and once an information system is up and running it would not cause any great problems.
I commend what the Minister has said and I have no doubt she will take on board the proposals we have made. I commend the motion to the House.
Amendment put and declared lost.
 Motion put and agreed to.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Mr. Enright: It is proposed to sit again at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
Mr. Burke: I raise this matter to ask the Minister to clarify some issues in relation to the setting up of taxi ranks, taxis and the control of hackney licences. I am sure the Minister is aware of some of the problems which have come to light in the last year or two when the Minister transferred powers in this regard to local authorities. Urban areas need to extend their areas of control to set up taxi ranks. The fear among taxi services is that hackney services will be set up in small towns at a lower cost than the taxis have to pay to local authorities.
There is a problem with regard to the priority list the Minister has set up for issuing taxi plates if taxi ranks are put in place. The circular on this issue suggests that those who are longest in the business would be the first to get the taxi plates. This would not necessarily mean those who are providing the service at present; indeed, they may not have been providing the service for many years. If the local authority was to set a limit, all those who are already providing a service may not get a licence. Could the Minister comment on some of the inadequacies in the system? He may be able to do something in relation to them. All public representatives appreciate the giving of those extra powers to local authorities and public representatives. Again I thank the Minister for coming to the House to explain.
Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin): I thank Senator Burke for raising  the issue. Last year I made public service vehicle regulations which provide for the licensing and operation of taxis and hackneys. The main thrust of the regulations is the devolution to local authorities of all the significant functions relating to licensing of taxis and hackneys.
The primary functions of local authorities as public service vehicle licensing authorities are the licensing of taxis, wheelchair accessible taxis and hackneys, including grant and renewal of all licences. The creation of the new taximeter area and the alteration of the boundaries of existing taximeter areas, the determination of the number of taxis to be licensed in any particular taximeter area, decisions in relation to the maximum fares which may be charged by taxis, and decisions relating to the fees to be paid for all licences are all matters to be determined now by the local authorities themselves. All major policy decisions are vested in the locally elected councillors. These decisions are best made by local representatives who know the area rather than as heretofore being made centrally by a Minister or Department well removed from the experiences of each local authority.
Local authorities under the 1995 regulations have maximum discretion to decide how to cater for the need of taxi and hackney services in their own functional areas. It is a matter for the local authorities to monitor the quality and adequacy of the service being provided in order that they may respond to any unmet demand for this type of transport service in their areas. When the new taximeter area is being created it is up to the licensing authority to determine the optimum number of taxis which should operate in the area. The regulations provide a mechanism for assessing applications for new taxi and wheelchair accessible taxi licences on the basis of a points system. This system gives priority to holders of hackney licences. It is right and proper that  people who run a hackney business and who want to become taxi drivers should have priority over somebody who is not in the business at all.
Under the Road Traffic Act, 1961, the Garda Commissioner makes by-laws in relation to taxi ranks, or stands for street service vehicles, as they are referred to in the Act. These by-laws are made with the consent of the Minister for the Environment and must be the subject of consultation with the local authorities concerned. Such by-laws can appoint the places to be used at taxi ranks and fix the maximum number of taxis which may use any particular rank at any one time.
On the question of controlling the number of hackney licences, the position is that the licensing authority — the local authority — is empowered under the regulations I made to grant hackney licences in its own functional area. No limit is set by the regulations on the number of hackney licences; but any local authority is free, where it considers it appropriate, to decide that additional hackney licences will not be granted in its area. If any local authority feels there are sufficient licences for the area, it can simply decide not to issue any more.
The 1995 regulations came into effect last September. I made those regulations following consideration of the report of an interdepartmental committee, examination of the response to that report from local authorities, interest groups and the general public and discussions with representatives of the various interest groups. It is now a matter for the local authorities concerned to apply the regulations as I have set out and as they deem them appropriate in their own functional areas. I have no proposals to amend the regulations at this early stage. I intend, however, to review the position in the light of experience of the operation of the regulations. It would not be right to initiate such a review at least until one year  after the commencement of the new system.
Mr. Burke: If there are no taxi ranks in a county, could they control hackney licences?
Mr. Howlin: Yes. Each local authority has total discretion since last September to determine whether a taximeter area  is to be created or not. If a local authority decides to create no taximeter area, then there will be no functional taximeter area in its area of operation. Independently of that, it can decide to issue hackney licences or not to issue hackney licences as it deems it appropriate.
The Seanad adjourned at 7.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 22 February 1996.