Wednesday, 5 February 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Manning: Today's business is items 1, 2 and 3. Committee Stage of item 1 will be taken until 6 p.m. Item 2 will be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and, as agreed last week, there will be 30 minutes per speaker but Members may share time. The Leader of the House will conclude the debate not later than 7.45 p.m. Item 3 will be taken at 8 p.m. I thank the Leader of the Opposition and the other Opposition groups for their agreement to the change to today's Order of Business. It had been intended to have a debate on Northern Ireland today but the Tánaiste is meeting with Sir Patrick Mayhew and he wants to be present to lead off the debate, which will now be taken tomorrow.
 Last week, the House came together on the reopening of the inquiry into the events surrounding Bloody Sunday which is an issue of national interest. I believe Sellafield is a cross-party national issue. I ask the Leader to arrange for this House to send a message, in the strongest possible terms, to the British Government. Cumbria County Council, including members representing the Conservative Party, has called for the reopening of the inquiry into Sellafield and various Government scientists have questioned the technical measures before the British Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. John Gummer. I believe that, by means of a letter or an all-party motion of the House, we should send the strongest possible message to the British Government indicating our total opposition to the planned Nirex dump at Sellafield. I live in a constituency that is situated in close proximity to Sellafield and I believe that this issue is of national and cross-party interest. As a body, the Seanad should send a message to the British Government couched in the strongest possible terms.
Mr. O'Toole: Last week I raised with the Leader the need to recognise that the convergence criteria for Maastricht will be judged, measured or assessed this year. In that context, a debate on Partnership 2000 is required in so far as it will impact in many ways on the growth of the economy and the restraint of excesses. The Leader should make time available for such a debate in the near future. It is important that the partnership element should extend into political life. Members on all sides have views to offer and those views should be heard. At present, it appears that Partnership 2000 is being portrayed in the media as a trade union/employer agreement. The implications are much broader than that and politicians must have an impact on this issue.
Prior to the recess, the House debated the beef industry. Many Members raised the need to promote consumer confidence in the industry and for politicians to use every opportunity to identify improvements in that industry. There was agreement on all sides that this should be done. It is important that the House receive an updated report on the current position regarding outbreaks of BSE rather than receiving a drip feed from the newspapers when outbreaks in various counties are highlighted for political reasons. It would be better if the House obtained an overview of the current situation, particularly in respect of the price of beef and the markets on which Ireland is dependent. For example, is Ireland recouping money from the Russian market for the beef it sells there? This issue holds many implications for people outside the agricultural sector and we should discuss it and be informed about it on a regular basis. I ask that this be done in the near future.
Mr. Dardis: I support Senator O'Toole's call for a full scale debate on the BSE crisis and the agriculture sector in general. I did so last week and the Leader indicated he hopes to make time available for such a debate in the near future. The ban imposed by Egypt on live exports of cattle from Ireland, the extension of its ban by Russia to a number of counties, the loss of export refunds and other related topics are grounds for debate. There is an urgent need to discuss this issue.
The other matter I wish to raise involves criminal justice and the courts system. We have not debated that issue in the recent past and it is something we should debate. Last November the Taoiseach indicated that a courts service and an independent prison service would be established. However, we are still waiting. In light of the announcement that prison officers are paid on average £7,000 per annum in overtime and that we have an expensive prison service, there is a need to go into these matters in detail.
Perhaps someone will tell us the contents of the Buchanan report. Will that matter be discussed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges? I ask the Leader, as I have in recent weeks, when will we have a tribunal? Am I correct in assuming that the Government will announce the establishment of a tribunal this afternoon? Since the beginning, my party has been calling for this tribunal to get to the bottom of this affair.
Ms O'Sullivan: I support Senator Wright's comments on Sellafield. I know that Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, who is dealing with this issue, has taken a strong stand on behalf of the Irish Government. I support that and it is appropriate that this House should throw its weight behind this issue which is of serious concern to all Irish people, not just those on the east coast.
We should have a debate on training. We have a booming economy and figures announced today indicate a 30 per cent increase in the amount of tax taken in January this year compared to January last year and a 20 per cent increase in car sales. These and a number of other figures indicate a buoyant economy. At the same time, we have a high level of unemployment. This is an appropriate time to take a look at the connection between those who are unemployed and may be inappropriately trained or educated and potential for jobs in the marketplace. I am not too sure that has been assessed properly. I have raised this issue at local level where there should be interaction between FÁS, Forbairt and the various agencies and educational establishments. This is also a subject for national debate. This is a crucial time when we can either maximise the benefits of the economy for all or not take those opportunities.  Training is a crucial issue and I would welcome a debate on it.
Miss Ormonde: I support Senator O'Sullivan. There is a total lack of co-ordination between the various agencies; everyone seems to be working in isolation. A national debate is long overdue on how we can facilitate the transition of students who are capable of being trained and completing apprenticeships but who do not seem to be able to grasp what they are being taught. They will eventually find themselves in the jobs market and unable to sort themselves out. This issue is linked with Partnership 2000 and youth unemployment. FÁS particularly has a big role to play; it should complement the educational establishment.
Mr. Enright: When does the Leader intend resuming the debate on item 18 — Statements on proposed legislation on food safety? There is considerable concern among the general public about genetically engineered foods and an order will soon be signed on the matter. These foods are causing considerable problems and concern. Ireland has a very good food industry of which we have to be careful.
There has been considerable discussion about the mid-term review of the economic infrastructure of the operational programme. That report needs to be discussed in this House. The EU Commission has suspended the payment of a EU grant of £21 million for the building of a peatpowered fire electricity generating station in North Offaly and South Kildare.
Mr. Enright: The Senator has changed sides again, another somersault. I want to put on record that the Government is in the process of advertising for tenders for this project. I hope we will have an opportunity of discussing the matter at an early date.
Mr. Norris: Will the Leader make provision for a debate on Luas? We have had several well informed debates on this subject and the House has played a useful role in examining it. I ask this  because we now have a new Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Dukes, who has indicated that he will look at the question of an underground system. This House specifically inserted in the legislation the question of reviewing the underground option, so it should not be excluded. However, there is still very little news about the public inquiry, in the absence of which some senior civil servants and members of the Luas group are continuing to make statements about when they will start to build the onstreet phase in O'Connell Street. They are preempting the authority of this House and of the public inquiry. It is important that we should have another opportunity to discuss this.
Will the Leader make provision at some stage for a debate on architecture and the building trade? The Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, has produced a useful policy report on architecture. It would be timely to have such a debate in view of the continuing attrition of our 18th century housing stock. We have had a series of problems in North Great George's Street, for example. Many of us visit Buswell's Hotel, just across the road from Leinster House. The devastation that is being wreaked inside that building on good early 18th century plasterwork is a reproach to anyone concerned with architecture. One of the problems is that such interiors are not listed. We should have an opportunity to discuss the report on architecture as well as the building trade because of the continuing problem of scaffolding collapsing which has caused serious injury to a number of people.
Will the Leader indicate when the Universities Bill will come before the House? Last week he said he would welcome a debate on the licensing trade. Since I raised that matter last week it seems to have become a matter of the moment with the Competition Authority looking into it. Will the Leader indicate when such a debate can take place?
Mr. Sherlock: Will the Leader arrange for a debate on the report of the Commission on People with Disabilities? I raised this question previously and wish to pursue it again now. It is a wide-ranging report containing positive steps which could be taken to facilitate those with physical and sensory disabilities. It might be appropriate to have a debate on the issue.
Ms Honan: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications to come to the House as a matter of urgency to clarify the position in relation to the future of the peat-powered electricity generating station for the midlands? As Senator Enright has said, it was reported this lunchtime that more than £20 million in grant aid for the project is on hold. Will the Government confirm whether this plant will be built? I would remind Senator Enright that when the Progressive Democrats were in Government, the then Minister for Energy, Deputy Molloy,  commissioned a feasibility study for this project. I have no doubt that if Deputy Molloy were still in Government the plant would have been built.
Mr. Cotter: Is the Leader aware of the timetable for the Education Bill which was published some weeks ago? Many groups, such as the vocational education committees and the voluntary national and secondary schools, are concerned about some of the contents of the Bill. This House should have an early debate so that some of the issues being raised outside could be discussed before the Bill comes before us.
Negotiation of the new tranche of EU Structural Funds will be getting under way over the next six months. It is widely thought that Ireland will not be included in category one because of the growth in GDP over the last number of years. It is necessary for us to have discussions with the Minister for Finance because the regions are in a different situation to that of the greater Dublin area. The level of income in the regions is generally much lower. I ask the Leader to arrange a discussion on this.
Mr. Farrell: Grants for alternative farming is a big problem. Many farmers were convinced by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to diversify into alternative farming but at 4 o'clock last Friday evening every Teagasc office got a fax saying that all applications had to be with the Department not later than 5 o'clock that evening. Many applications were with Teagasc and there was no way they could be delivered to the Department by 5 o'clock. Some of them were delivered on Monday morning but the Department rejected them. This is grossly unfair to the farming community and to Teagasc. Will the Leader ask the Minister to re-examine all the applications which were validly and honestly lodged with Teagasc offices, especially in Sligo?
We hear much about the problem of unemployment. I have previously called, and am calling again, for a survey of the unemployed in every area so that we would know if it there were builders, plumbers, electricians, labourers, shop assistants, etc., on the unemployment register. A list categorising the unemployed in each area would be a great addition to employers and people thinking of setting up a business because they  would know exactly where the best pool of workers were available. Until we carry out such a survey we will never come to grips with the problem of unemployment. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Social Welfare about this matter?
Mr. Maloney: I welcome tomorrow's debate on Northern Ireland. In the aftermath of the anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry an apology is needed to the families of those who were killed. A new inquiry should also be initiated. I was in Derry last Sunday and watched up to 50,000 people marching in memory of those people. Not a stone was thrown. The people were looking for justice for their own. I would like to impress upon the Leader of the House the need for all parties to keep up the pressure. One welcomes the words of people like Ken Maginnis, David Irvine and Gary McMichael who have said that if there is new evidence it should be heard. It is up to us keep the pressure on to ensure that justice is seen to be done.
Dr. Henry: The deliberations of the hepatitis C tribunal are over. I attended for part of almost every sitting day and it was extraordinarily well organised and informative. The Minister for Health said he will set up another tribunal to examine the contamination of blood products for haemophiliacs by HIV and hepatitis C. I have written asking if he would include the contamination of Factor 8 by hepatitis A which took place in the early 1990s; that was the reason I brought my worries about the imported anti-D before the House in 1994. Would the Leader ask the Minister if he will consider including this episode of contamination in the inquiry? During the hepatitis C tribunal I heard from witnesses that, to my amazement, this episode was never resolved.
Mr. McGowan: Will the Leader of the House allow the debate on the Fisheries (Commissions) Bill to cover the Foyle Fisheries Commission or will it be necessary for me to put down an amendment to the Bill? There is a serious crisis in the commission. It was fined £40,000 after being found guilty of job discrimination on religious grounds. That is a serious matter which we cannot tolerate. The House should have a voice on this issue and, if our voice is not heard, we are condoning a practice which has contributed to the serious problems in Northern Ireland. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on this matter either by putting down an amendment to the Fisheries (Commissions) Bill or by providing time for a debate on the Foyle Fisheries Commission.
Mr. McGowan: I have raised this matter about four times and I plead with the Leader to facilitate a debate in the context of the Fisheries (Commissions) Bill. If I am denied an opportunity  to debate an urgent matter such as this, I question the value of my membership of this House.
I cannot count the number of times I have sought a debate on the National Roads Authority. The authority has allocated its funding for this year and local authorities in rural Ireland have fared badly. About 73 per cent of the funding has been allocated to two cities and the rest is being distributed to rural areas.
Mr. McGowan: When the Leader sat on this side of the House he raised similar questions and spoke of the urgent need for a debate on the allocation of funds by and the performance of the National Roads Authority. Once more I appeal to the Leader to provide for an early debate on this important matter. Huge sums of money are being distributed by the authority but it is neglecting rural areas, particularly County Donegal.
Mr. Mooney: Senator O'Sullivan's remarks on unemployment surveys and identification of skills shortages were added to by Senator Ormonde and Senator Farrell. The shortage of skills is now approaching epidemic proportions in some industries in parts of the country. It might be useful to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald, to come to the House to discuss this issue. She is the Government representative on the National Economic and Social Forum, a body in which a number of Senators from all sides of the House participate.
The most recent report of the forum deals with early school leaving and related issues. A discussion on the report might also afford us an opportunity to address the reasons, despite two years of perceived activity, the excellent concept of local employment services has not yet been set up nationally.
Mr. Mooney: If there was an expansion of that service many of the issues mentioned in the House this afternoon would be constructively debated by employers, educationalists, potential employers and the various State agencies. That is not happening. It would also be useful for the House to learn, as I discovered last week at the forum, that the CSO——
Mr. Mooney: Yes. In putting the request to the Minister of State, we might ask the Central Statistics Office to operate a new system of statistics gathering. Senator Farrell's point is valid in that there is one statistic for Dublin and another for the rest of the country, it is not localised or regionalised. The answer I was given was that the economies of scale would give a distorted figure. If we cannot find out where the skills shortages are how are we going to address the unemployment problem?
Mr. Daly: I support the comments made by Senator O'Sullivan. I am glad she is showing an interest in this area because there is much apprehension and confusion about our job creation programme. A sizeable number of announcements have been made about projects which never commenced. There is growing concern, especially among young graduates, about their inability to get jobs.
Mr. Daly: Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Enterprise and Employment or someone else to address these issues to give us some indication of how the Government proposes to provide the opportunities which young people need? In some cases they are over-qualified and cannot find employment in their own areas. This is particularly relevant to the mid-west and western regions.
The Minister of State at the Department of the Marine recently introduced a by-law to eliminate salmon drift and draft net fishing from some of our estuaries. Would the Leader arrange for a debate on this by-law which will deprive many people of their livelihood and which introduces controls which are detrimental to people who have been involved in this activity for generations? There is as much widespread concern about this law in the areas dependent on this type of fishing as there are about salmon stocks.
Mr. Fitzgerald: I support the Leader's call for a resolution to be passed by this House on the scandalous events at Sellafield. It is only 30 miles across the sea and if anything were to go wrong it would be as if it had occurred in Dublin. We  need a united front on this issue as happened last week on the call for an inquiry into Bloody Sunday. That would be of immense value.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the Naval Service and its role in fishery protection and drugs enforcement. There is a need for investment in the Naval Service to purchase new ships and recruit more people. If this is not done soon there will be no navy left as a result of the depletion in numbers which is taking place.
Mr. Manning: Senators Wright and Fitzgerald called for an all-party motion on Sellafield. I welcome that and suggest we have a debate tomorrow similar to that held last week. I will put aside a half hour for an all-party motion the contents of which we can discuss before then. It might be a useful addition to our work to have half an hour set aside every week for issues like that.
Senator O'Toole asked for a debate on Partnership 2000 and I will do that in the near future if I can. He, Senator Dardis and Senator Enright spoke about consumer confidence. I have said I will make time available for that issue.
Senator Dardis raised the issue of criminal justice. There are at least two criminal justice Bills coming before the House in the next two to three weeks so there will be ample opportunity to discuss the matters he raised. I have no information about a tribunal. That is a matter for the Government of which I am not a member but I am sure whatever is needed to get to the truth will be provided.
I do not know what is happening to our normally decorous Senators from Laoighis-Offaly. Senator Enright was like an old war horse pawing the ground and waiting for the off and Senator Honan was not far behind him. I can assure them both that there will be plenty of time to resolve the issues and I will——
Mr. Manning: It will be before the inquiry. I am intrigued by the Senator's suggestion that we have a debate on architecture. I would be very open to such a debate and completely agree with him on the subject of dangerous scaffolding in Dublin. I  saw the collapse in Waterloo Road and it is a miracle that many people were not killed. There is a clear cause for concern about safety standards and some of the building practices which have crept in. I intend to raise the matter myself and make time available in the House for discussion on this very serious matter. It is a miracle there have not been more fatalities before now.
The Universities Bill, 1996, will come to us when the other House has passed all Stages and there will probably be only a week between the conclusion of the debate in the other House and the start of it here. I look forward to that as well.
Mr. Manning: I will make time for such a debate in the future. I agree with Senator Sherlock that we need to discuss the Report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. We had such a debate about a year and a half ago and I would like to resume it.
Senator Henry raised an important point about the hepatitis C tribunal. Anything the Senator says on this issue will be carefully listened to by the Minister. On behalf of the House, I compliment her for the important part she played in the tribunal and in bringing issues to public light.
I have no control over what is or is not allowed in the debate on the Bill this evening. That is a matter exclusively for the Cathaoirleach but I am sure he will be as understanding as he always is to Senator McGowan's needs. There will be a debate on the National Roads Authority but I am not sure when.
Senator Daly raised the question of draft net fishing. I do not know if I can make time available for that in the near future. To answer Senator Fitzgerald, I would love to have a debate on the Naval Service. I dealt with Senator Mooney's issue when I answered Senator O'Sullivan.
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