Wednesday, 16 October 1996
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Manning: I join with you, a Chathaoirligh, in welcoming the Speaker to the House. Perhaps the two of you can exchange a few tips afterwards. I am sure he has a great deal to learn from you and vice versa.
Mr. Manning: Today's Order of Business is item 1 and item 15 on the supplement to the Order Paper. Item 1 will be taken until 6 p.m. and, by agreement, speeches will not last longer than 15 minutes and Members may share time. This debate will be taken by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs but he will not be in the House at the beginning of the debate, although a Minister will, of course, be here. He will make his contribution later in the debate.
Mr. Wright: Two of our biggest natural resources are under threat at the moment — the beef and fisheries sectors. Will the Leader arrange a debate on the beef industry as soon as possible in light of yesterday's extraordinary decision by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry which will exclude three of our major beef producing counties from the Russian deal? He should be afforded an opportunity to explain that decision to the House and allow us debate the issue.
The Minister, Deputy Barrett, in his capacity as EU President for Fisheries, is dealing with very comprehensive EU proposals for the fishing industry. Following last week's meeting, he is now on a tour of EU capitals. Will the Leader  arrange for the Minister to update this House on his proposals and how he sees the industry developing, which would give this House an opportunity to debate the issues with him?
Mr. Norris: I join in the welcome to the Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons. I agree with Senator Manning that the Speaker could learn from your gracious self, Sir, but having listened to his wise and gentle words at yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, I feel we have a lot to learn from the approach he demonstrated to us.
Will you, Sir, and the Leader agree to send congratulations to Bishop Belo and José Ramos-Horta? Bishop Belo is the Roman Catholic bishop of Dili in East Timor and Jose Ramos-Horta is the foreign minister of the Timorese people. They have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which this House, due to its long tradition of discussing this matter forcibly, would wish to recognise by sending a message of congratulations. I hope this will be followed up by some action because Bishop Belo has called once again for a referendum in East Timor on the subject of self-determination. Perhaps this could be joined with the hope that Xanana Gusmao will be released from illegal detention in Indonesia and that a representative of the Timorese people be included in the negotiations between the Portuguese and Indonesian authorities. I am sure Members will want to recognise this great and deserved distinction in a world where moral authority is not always recognised. One notes the squeals of outrage from the Indonesians at this award.
Mr. Dardis: I join in the welcome to the speaker of the Canadian Parliament. Perhaps you, a Chathaoirligh, could advise us as to whether you have any intention of swapping the Chair with him, so we could experience the wisdom of both of you.
I endorse the call by Senator Wright for an urgent and extended debate on the BSE crisis in view of the fact that beef from counties Cork, Tipperary and Monaghan has been excluded from the Russian market. Farmers have taken many blows since the March announcement in the House of Commons. This is another blow which makes life almost impossible from them. In view of that, it is essential that we discuss the matter. I hoped we would have learned last March that Russian and Iranian consumers are the same as those in New-bridge and Ballyfermot and that the are entitled to get what they demand. There seems to be some difficulty in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry accepting that fact. I heard the Minister on radio today imply that we should keep quiet about these matters.
Mr. Dardis: I note the motion from Senator Rory Kiely which addresses related matters but not this particular one. Are we meant to keep quiet about the misuse of angel dust and about people who introduce BSE into herds to get compensation? Are we meant to keep quiet about the irregularities in the beef industry?
 I endorse Senator Norris's congratulations to Bishop Belo and José Ramos-Horta on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I hope it will lead to a speed up in the right to self determination of the East Timorese people. This award has served to highlight their cause as we have tried to do on many occasions. These people should have basic human rights and I hope the Indonesian Government will experience the pressure of international opinion and that the right to self-determination of the East Timorese will be granted.
Mr. R. Kiely: I join in the welcome to the Speaker of the Canadian Parliament. I rise to support Senator Wright's and Senator Dardis's call for a full debate on agriculture, especially in view of the dangerous precedent adopted yesterday in agreeing to ban three counties from supplying beef to our biggest export market. It will mean disaster for all beef producers.
Mr. R. Kiely: As Senator Dardis said, my motion is confined to a certain matter. A motion on the Adjournment would not provide sufficient time for such a debate and it would not do justice to the crisis the beef industry faces at present. I call for a full debate; I understand there will be a debate in the other House in the near future. It is important that the Minister come to the House to explain what he did.
Miss Ormonde: As regards phase 1 of the rationalisation of the vocational  education committees, I ask the Leader to provide time for a debate and to ask the Minister for Education to come to the House to discuss this issue. Members on both sides are concerned about their role in serving the public through their local vocational education committee. When we are talking about openness, transparency and accountability, here is a golden opportunity for the Minister to allow this House to open a discussion on this important issue. With the huge volume of change taking place, the public at large is very confused. The Leader knows that many public representatives from both sides have grave concerns about this issue.
Ms Gallagher: I support the call for a debate on BSE. The Minister's proposals are unworkable because I cannot see a border being set up between County Cavan and County Monaghan in order to divide beef herds. Since this is a random selection, I would be concerned about it.
I ask the Leader to point out to the relevant Minister my concern that the women's All-Ireland Final is not being held in Croke Park this year because of a commercial deal involving a baseball match which takes precedence. It was previously postponed because of the men's All-Ireland Final.
Ms Gallagher: It appears any old pitch will do for the women's final. I am disappointed that an organisation such as the GAA, which is backed to the hilt by the women of this country, should do such a thing.
Mr. Mooney: I endorse the call from this side of the House for a debate on  agriculture in the light of what happened yesterday. I want to point out gently that comments being made about the fact that Senator Kiely will have an opportunity to raise this issue on the Adjournment may be fine in that it will certainly go on the record of the House but I am afraid there will be very little media attention mainly because of the timing of the Adjournment debate. Any Member who has been present for Adjournment matters will testify that, while monitors may be available in the various press rooms, rarely is there a physical presence of the media in the House when Adjournment motions have been taken. These motions are taken after the media deadlines and they do not appear in the public arena.
Mr. Mooney: Yes, but you commented that the matter can be raised tonight. The purpose of raising it is to ensure that the voice of this House will be heard outside. I am just making the general point that it is a sad reflection that matters on the Adjournment, which are an important element of the business of this House, rarely get into the public arena because of their timing and other deadlines. The people of County Leitrim will be affected by what has been decided.
However, the main reason I rose was to express my gratitude to the Government, which is rather unusual on this side of the House, in the context of the decision transmitted by the Minister for the Environment last week that the Government has finally decided to drop the farcical notion of setting aside three Seanad seats for emigrants. The matter was debated in this House so I ask the Leader to convey our thanks.
Mr. Mooney: I hope the Leader will convey our thanks. The counsel of this House has prevailed yet again and a decision has been taken. However, in the context of that decision it seems there is some confusion. Will it be discussed in a constitutional committee under the wider area of Seanad reform? This would be a dangerous precedent and a move to which I would be strenuously opposed. Can the Leader clarify who should be asked to come into the House to talk about emigrant votes?
Mr. Mooney: Many Members on all sides of the House are anxious that this issue be settled once and for all. There is a real and genuine desire on the part of emigrants to be involved in the electoral process. Will the Leader consider giving Government time this session to discuss emigrant issues? The Leader responded favourably when I raised this matter prior to the summer recess and I am anxious to know the present position.
Mr. Byrne: I join with my colleagues in demanding a full debate on agriculture next week. The motion put down by Senator Rory Kiely will not give everyone in the House an opportunity to discuss this crisis which is escalating by the week. We would like to hear the thinking behind the Minister's decision. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry must not know there are two separate constituencies in Tipperary; there was only one outbreak in South Tipperary. Tipperary,  Cork and Monaghan have been named. To date, partition applied to six counties; now it seems to apply to nine. The implications are horrendous——
I support Senator Ormonde's comments on the seriousness of the proposed changes in vocational education committees and the manner in which they are to be implemented. The matter should be debated here before a major decision is made; it should not be done through back door methods. I and many of my colleagues met members of the IFA an hour ago; they are angry with this typical nonsensical regulation by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Now there are nine counties instead of six——
In relation to the rationalisation of the vocational education committees, I am a member of the IVEA standing council and I am a great believer in the vocational education committee system. A debate in this House at the appropriate time would be important. The Minister will engage in serious discussions with the IVEA on the proposals that have emanated from the commission. I remind colleagues on both sides that these proposals have been trotted out by successive Governments as far back as Dick Burke, Deputy Séamus Brennan, Deputy O'Rourke, Gemma Hussey et al.
Mr. Magner: In relation to BSE and the extraordinary decision to exclude three specific counties, I am happy to wait for an explanation from someone who has proven himself to be a consummate Minister for Agriculture. Deputy Yates has been one of the best Ministers to hold that portfolio for many years. Senator Dardis has been preaching here that the consumer will always make the choices. It is possible that the consumer made a choice which does not suit.
Mr. O'Brien: I support Senator Rory Kiely's call for a full debate on agriculture next week. We should have had it this week because the actions of the Minister yesterday in separating Monaghan, Tipperary and Cork from the rest of the country is unbelievable. The implications for the farmers in these three counties are incredible.
Mr. O'Brien: I am supporting a debate but I think the Minister and the Taoiseach should have answers. They should rectify the situation before they come into the House because next week will be too late.
Mr. McGowan: I join with my party Leader and the Leader of the House in extending a warm welcome to the Speaker of the Canadian Parliament. He should return with a message of gratitude for the tremendous contribution Canada has made to the International Fund for Ireland. Canada understands the difficulties in Northern Ireland and has contributed generously. I would like the delegation to convey that message to its Parliament and people. We are eternally grateful for Canada's tremendous contribution.
Mr. O'Toole: I thank the Leader of the House for agreeing to a prompt debate on Northern Ireland. I wish to raise the issue of mandatory reporting, this matter is on the Order Paper by way of a report from the Minister of State. The House dealt with this issue on previous occasions and Members need to be fully informed about it. I would welcome the opportunity for a debate on the matter. I would prefer that it took place now when a high profile child sexual abuse case is not in the news or it does not form part of a fire brigade reaction. I am in favour of this House investigating mandatory reporting. I regret that most of the arguments against it are on the procedure rather than the principle. It is crucial that Members are clear their minds in that regard.
In deference to the GAA, and as a person who attends each year, I was not aware that the women's All-Ireland Final will not take place on Sunday. I received tickets and an invitation to the Ard Chomhairle box so the match must be taking place at another stadium.
Mr. O'Toole: I wish to raise a matter of great concern to the Independent Members. Before item 3 on the Order Paper comes before the House, I request that the term “such substitute may be a member of the Opposition”, should be altered to include the words “or Independent groups”. Independent Members are very sensitive in the run up to elections. We wish it to be known that we are independent of all others and we would like that to be reflected in any Orders placed before the House.
Mr. O'Toole: I also wish to raise an issue of great concern to people living in coastal areas, particularly in the west. The crisis in such areas relates not only to agriculture but to the marine. European developments in the area of the marine will impact on the welfare, prospects and potential of the fishing industry. The House has engaged in a number  of fruitful debates on this issue and it would be useful if the Minister for the Marine would give his point of view on a battle well fought in Europe. He should also indicate the future direction of his Department's policy in this area. I am sure that the Canadian delegation would be very interested in the European view on the fishing industry.
Mr. Farrell: I support Senator Ormonde's request for a debate on the rationalisation of vocational education. It is important that such a debate take place. The Minister seems to have established a group of experts but how many of them graduated from the vocational education system? As a graduate of that system, I believe the House should debate that matter.
Will the Minister for Justice put in place a strategy to deal with the problem of old people being attacked in their homes? Every winter it seems the criminals' hobby is to be to beat up old people. Last week an old man was shot in the knee and the villain who did it said “How do you like that?” That is awful treatment for an old person.
Mr. Farrell: I want to stress the importance of this issue. The Cathaoirleach will be aware of this as he comes from the west where more old people have been beaten up than anywhere else in the country.
Mr. Farrell: What provision is the Minister for Justice making to ensure old people can sleep safely in their homes? What is being done with those who are caught for such crimes? They are put in jail one day and let out out the next. When will a system be put in place so that they will be put away for a long time?
Mr. O'Kennedy: I am sure the Speaker of the Canadian Parliament is impressed with our procedures which enable us to deal with so many the issues on the Order of Business. I had the privilege of meeting him yesterday at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Order of Business allows us an opportunity to express our concerns and to ask for matters to be put on the agenda.
I support Senator Kiely. As the Minister for Agriculture and Food at the time, I put the most stringent regulations in place in relation to BSE. I always insisted that our island status was the best guarantee we had of what is called “white country status”— the highest disease free status in the world. The decision by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to accept a Protocol which distinguishes Counties Tipperary, Cork — I am glad to have Senator Magner's support on this occasion — and Monaghan from the rest of the country is unnatural and foolish.
Mr. O'Kennedy: It is a matter of urgency. This is not just an issue for farmers or just for the farmers of Counties Cork, Tipperary and Monaghan. The counties excluded represent 40 per cent of the country's beef herd. Anybody who travels from Limerick, Clare or Kerry to Dublin will pass through parishes between Toomevara and Moneygall where farmers may have cattle on both sides of a road in two counties.
Mr. O'Kennedy: I hope the Minister will recognise that this extraordinary reaction, which he might see as a short-term strategy, undermines the status his predecessors have built up over the years which is a unique advantage for us. This will be an economic disaster.
Mr. Daly: I support my colleague's call for a debate on the BSE crisis. With regard to the ESB, the Leader will be aware of a proposal from the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications to sell and lease back the Moneypoint generating station in County Clare. Will the Leader indicate to us if that matter has been decided by the Government? I find it extraordinary that the Labour Party might agree to such a proposal. We should have an opportunity to discuss this proposal which has come to light through media reports. It is not clear whether there has been a Government decision on it. There is widespread concern among the workers at Moneypoint and the people of west Clare. We would like clarification of what the Government proposes.
I also wish to draw the Leader's attention to a statement made yesterday by the Minister for State, Deputy Fitzgerald, with regard to a committee she set up to co-ordinate the activities of various Departments that, in various ways, have responsibility for matters connected with violence against women, including attacks on women and children in the home. The Minister of State indicated yesterday that there were 16,000 such vicious attacks last year. She has established a committee to co-ordinate long-term national policy on the matter. Can the Leader indicate what the Government's intentions are because we have only seen short statements in the media about them?
Mr. Finneran: Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister for the Environment about service charges? I understand that councillors from two Government parties — perhaps from all three of them — indicated at a county council meeting in Dublin last week that service  charges will not be imposed next year and that they will be removed in the budget. That is a source of worry for county managers, revenue officers and councillors. The matter should be cleared up so that the opportunity for local authorities to raise finances will not be undermined.
I support the call for a debate on the decision of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to impose restrictions on beef exports to Russia from three counties. The decision is extraordinary if it was based on actual outbreaks of BSE because I understand that in County Monaghan there were only three outbreaks of the disease while in the Minister's own county of Wexford there were four outbreaks. Is there a particular reason Monaghan was included but Wexford was not?
Mr. Finneran: I certainly am. The Minister has conferred leper colony status on these counties. The statement made by one of my colleagues brings home to us the daft thinking behind this decision. We have a second partition of the country with three counties being given leper colony status as regards the sale of beef outside the country. It is totally inoperable. The sooner the Minister realises he has made a mistake and rescinds it, the better. I hope we will have the opportunity for an early debate.
Mr. Farrelly: What would Opposition Senators be saying if the market was completely closed? On the basis of ongoing discussions I am hopeful that this market will not be closed and I welcome the opportunity to have a debate on it. We should get the record straight on what exactly happened in these markets. Some of our colleagues wish to forget that when Deputy Walsh was Minister the market was closed for two years. Is that what our colleagues on the Opposition benches want? If it is, let them stand up and say so.
Mr. Cotter: I know the Leader has not yet replied, but I assume he will be making time available for a debate. People in County Monaghan have been devastated by the outcome of the discussions over the last week. It is necessary for us to have this debate but we should be careful that our statements do not do further damage because we have many other healthy markets which are still open. We should take an overview to limit whatever damage might be done.
Mr. Manning: The issue raised by the Leader of the Opposition was repeated by virtually every other speaker, which is the need for an urgent debate on the beef situation. I will make efforts to ensure there is an early debate on that topic. I will discuss that with the Leader of the Opposition later. I join with Senators who have paid tribute to the  Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry who has been an outstanding Minister in difficult circumstances. There will be no difficulty in having the Minister into the House where we can a full debate on the facts.
Senator Wright also raised the question of fisheries. The Minister has an arduous schedule, but he is anxious to come into the House to discuss these issues. That will be done as soon as I can arrange it.
Senator Norris raised the question of the House sending its congratulations to Bishop Belo and the other winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. This House should send its warmest congratulations to the winners of this prize. We have had a number of debates in this House on East Timor and I am open to having a further short debate in the near future should Senators so wish.
Senator Ormonde raised the rationalisation of the vocational education committees. We are fast approaching a position where we can have such a debate. The information is available and, as soon as I can, we will have that particular debate. There is wide ranging consultation going on at present. Senator Gallagher mentioned the women's All-Ireland Football Final. I have no intention of involving myself in this controversy; anyway, I will be supporting the non-Monaghan team. It is a matter for the GAA.
Senator Mooney raised the question of votes for emigrants. I dealt with that at some length last week and I do not have anything further to offer. Senator O'Toole raised the question of mandatory reporting. He is right when he says that this debate should take place in a calm atmosphere. I will discuss the matter with him later to see if we can find a time for this debate. He said he is not a member of the Opposition; he could have fooled me. However, I can get clarification for him on that particular statement on the Order Paper.
Senator Farrell raised the question of old people at risk. Everyone's heart  goes out to the unfortunate people who were brutalised last week but there is a wide range of measures in place encouraging people not to keep their money at home and providing extra protection through volunteer groups and the police in combating this particular rural scourge.
Mr. Manning: I was under the impression it was his party's thinking. I agree with him that if there is a question of a sale and lease back of Moneypoint, it is worthy of discussion in this House. Perhaps we need more information on that. I am not sure what he wants me to do about Minister of State, Deputy E. Fitzgerald's committee, but I will discuss the matter with her. Perhaps we could debate it here.
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