Wednesday, 26 February 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Wright: I take it there is no amendment from the Government side to item 24? The Leader of the House will be aware that for the last few days fishermen have been lobbying the Minister for the Marine with regard to the disastrous weather conditions the industry has been trying to deal with over the last few weeks. The fishermen feel they are the bridesmaids to the farming lobby. If the Minister is coming into the House tomorrow perhaps he would take the opportunity to comment on the efforts he will make to help the industry.
Mr. Quinn: We read in the newspapers today of an effort by the British Government to have Northern Ireland excluded from the European beef ban. The Leader should urge the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to support that move. I raise the matter not just because the benefit would be to the island of Ireland but also to show solidarity with those in Northern Ireland who have urged this move. I am concerned that it might be seen as a sop to the Unionists — perhaps it was — and as such we might not have seen fit to support it. The Leader should urge the Minister to support it.
Mr. Dardis: Last week I raised the problem Members of the House have getting the reports of various Government bodies and I referred to the report on sport in particular. Perhaps the Cabinet did not see the report either so maybe there is a reason it was not circulated to Members of the House. Will the Leader give me an assurance that the reports will be circulated to us and to make sure we get them? At times it seems we debate matters having read a version of events in  the press rather than the reports themselves, and sometimes there is a difference.
For several weeks we have been attempting to have a debate on agriculture. This week's events involving the environmental consequences of disposing of dead animals suggest we should have the debate now. Another reason for having such a debate relates to currency issues. Motions concerning economic and monetary union and agriculture are on the Order Paper and the Leader said last week he would restart those debates rather then resume them.
There is a great deal of uncertainty over whether it is more desirable to reduce interest rates or raise them, and contradictory signals are coming from the financial world. A revaluation of the green currency would have definite consequences for our export industry and for farming. For all those reasons we need to debate agriculture as well as examine fiscal policy including currency exchange rates.
I also wish to comment on the unfortunate incident in Tralee where a young man was killed and his body was left exposed in a field. On television last night I saw gardaí attempting to put a plastic sheet over him. There seems to have been an inordinate delay in getting the State Pathologist to the scene of the crime. That is totally unsatisfactory for two reasons. Principally, it adds to the trauma suffered by the victim's family. Second, one would have to question the value of forensic science when the examination of the site takes so long. I suspect that if there was an emergency in Tralee it would be easy to transport the Tánaiste there by jet or helicopter.
Mr. Dardis: I do not see why the same cannot be done in these extreme circumstances. It should be possible to get the State Pathologist to the scene of the crime much more quickly than it is at present.
Ms O'Sullivan: Newspaper reports suggest the Revenue Commissioners are targeting child care services for VAT at a rate of 21 per cent, yet I do not know of any Government decision to seek VAT from child care services. According to the newspapers this goes back to an EU directive of 1977 and, if so, I cannot understand why the Revenue Commissioners have started to implement it now. The whole child care area is obviously very important. In fact, the Minister for Equality and Law Reform has just issued a report entitled “Developing Child Care Services in Disadvantaged Areas”. These aspects of the Child Care Act have also been implemented recently. In that context, it is disturbing to see child care being targeted for VAT. The Leader, on behalf of the House, should ask the Revenue Commissioners not to pursue this until the issue has been clarified. There is a question concerning what aspects of child care are educational and which are not.  It may be that most child care activities should not be subject to VAT because of their educational element. It is a grey area and I am disappointed that this has occurred. It should cease until the matter has been examined.
Mr. Lanigan: Unfortunately, two of the three points I wished to raise have already been mentioned. They concern the State Pathologist and VAT on créches and playschools. There is a need for the State to employ more than one State Pathologist, it is nonsense to expect one man to cover the whole country. Irrespective of the number of cases involved, one person cannot deal with them adequately. There was an assistant State Pathologist in Cork, but there was a dispute because she wanted to work out of Cork rather than Dublin. I am not sure what the dispute was about. However, there is a need for more than one State Pathologist.
As regards the Kerry case, the name of the victim appeared in newspapers before either his parents or relatives had been notified. It is disgraceful that the name of a dead person should be in the public arena before the relatives have been told by the Garda.
I agree with Senator O'Sullivan's view regarding VAT on créches. There are people paying £50 per week for créche and play school facilities. The introduction of 21 per cent VAT would mean a rise to £61.50 per week. Fifty pounds can be a lot——
Mr. Lanigan: We have sought derogations before. In the case of the 48 hour working week the Minister was able to get a three year derogation. Will the Leader ensure that if 21 per cent VAT is imposed a derogation will be sought? If it is imposed it is up to the State to provide facilities. We have been asking women to return to work and trying to ensure that single parents play a normal part in society. If there are extra charges for play schools and créches, which are very important in the education system and not simply child minding services——
In the context of an EU-Israeli agreement in the near future, will the Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Government to put pressure on the Israeli Government to ensure that they stop their current settlement policy immediately? The Israeli Government is to make a decision today on a huge settlement in east Jerusalem which goes against every aspect of international law. They are illegal settlers who  took over the area by force. Under UN and international agreements these settlements——
Mr. Sherlock: I do not want to be seen as reacting to what Senator Dardis and Senator Lanigan have said. I am gravely concerned that at 10.40 a.m. yesterday the body of a young man was found in a field outside Tralee. It took until this morning, 24 hours later, for the State Pathologist to arrive. This is the third time this has happened. Once in my locality the body of a young person was left in a similar manner. Recently, the same happened in the west Cork area. Now we have this case in Tralee. I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the Minister for Justice and to ask her to sort out whatever wrangling is going on in the Department's forensic laboratory system. That is where the problem lies. The boy in Tralee was identified and his parents were aware yesterday morning that it was their son. He was lying in that field all day and all night until the State Pathologist arrived very belatedly this morning. This is not good enough.
Mr. Norris: I extend my sympathy to the relatives of the late Countess of Wicklow. I recall her as a writer of very fine school books for young people. I was not aware that she was a former Member of this House. I regret her passing.
I am interested to hear that there has been this difficulty about the tragic circumstances in which the body of a young man was found. I raised this matter a number of weeks ago. I am sure that nobody who spoke here today intended any criticism whatsoever of the State Pathologist. I ask the Leader if we could have a brief discussion on the matter or perhaps it could be considered as a motion on the Adjournment. We need to urge the authorities to provide proper facilities to the State Pathologist who currently has to use his own transport. Back-up personnel should be appointed in the southern area; it is ridiculous to have an official like the State Pathologist travelling the length and breadth of a country in these circumstances. The kind of pressure he is under will eventually lead to a serious accident. To have to deal with that degree of pressure is ridiculous.
I ask the Leader if he can ascertain and inform the House whether the forthcoming visit of a certain Robert Mugabe has any official context. I understand that he will be addressing a meeting  in University College Dublin and I hope that if this visit has an official context it will be used to give some instruction in the nature of democracy. Mr. Mugabe is a well known dictator who presides over a tyranny, who has stirred up vicious hatred against sections of his own community——
Mr. Norris: ——and has presided over all the elements one expects of a nasty dictatorship. My question to the Leader is whether he can give the House some information about the proposed visit of this highly unsavoury and undemocratic character to this country.
Ms Kelly: Over the weekend news broke that scientists in Great Britain cloned a sheep. This raises huge ethical problems for many scientists. I ask the Leader if, in one of the short debates which he envisages will take place in the coming weeks, we could have a debate on ethics in science and medicine.
Mr. O'Kennedy: Despite the lack of any action or progress towards the establishment of a permanent basis for peace in Northern Ireland, I would like to draw the House's attention to the fact that the Fianna Fáil Party Leader has recently made it very clear to Sinn Féin that the only way it could be involved in, and be part of, the process towards the establishment of a permanent peace is by a declaration of an unqualified ceasefire on the part of the IRA. If Sinn Féin is to play that role, I ask the House to take note that at this moment——
Mr. O'Kennedy: I ask that the Tánaiste and the Minister for Foreign Affairs inquire of the British Government whether they or their agents, MI5, are involved in any way in promoting the American tour of Seán O'Callaghan. Whichever view one takes of what Mr. O'Callaghan is saying and acknowledging how heinous some things may have been, it is clear that the tour is calculated to denigrate the Sinn Féin political representatives and would be calculated to ensure that they could not play a part in a meaningful peace process in the event of a permanent ceasefire being established.
Professor Lee: We waxed effusive in this House recently over the importance of a cultural institutions Bill, the importance of the National Museum and the National Library and their respective roles in our heritage industry, etc. and  we devolved a lot of extra responsibilities on them. The directorship of the national library was advertised during the past week and I was appalled to see the salary advertised was £10,000 to £15,000 below what university and chief librarians earn. I ask the Leader to ask the relevant Minister — I do not know whether it is the Minister for Education or the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht — if something could be done about this because that would be a more relevant indicator of the value we lay on the National Library and our cultural institutions than the legislation we are enacting.
Mr. Mooney: I concur with everything Senator Lee said. This advertisement was placed because a vacancy occurred due to the premature retirement of Dr. Patricia Donlon who was an outstanding public servant. The State received much more from her than she was paid. The salary offered is an appalling reflection on the people who framed the advert.
Mr. Mooney: It reminds me of what the Minister for Finance, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, said last week to some businessmen. He said he welcomed their input because there were no businessmen in Upper Merrion Street. It would seem he was correct if the librarian's salary is being pitched at that level.
Will the Leader give time over the next few weeks for a debate on rural development? I and a number of my colleagues on both sides of the House who are members of the National Economic and Social Forum are currently finalising a report on rural development. The Leader may wish to wait until that report is in the public domain; it will not be delayed much longer.
It is in that context that I wish to raise an appalling situation which has developed in the small village of Geevagh on the Sligo-Leitrim border where the local post office is threatened with closure. This is in a community which has taken——
Mr. Mooney: ——I, like many of my colleagues in this House, have a deep commitment to the development of rural Ireland. Can the Leader find out about this because we have passed on a great deal of the autonomy to semi-State bodies  and the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications can now say he has no responsibility in the matter. He should have and the chief executive of An Post should be asked if he is going to proceed——
I would like to ask about VAT on créches. I have asked the Minister for Finance in several budget debates if child care costs could not be allowed against tax. I have been informed that this is not possible but I gather that, since it is Fianna Fáil policy, it will be possible when it is in Government. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance to ensure that, in his next budget on 29 October, child care costs are made allowable against tax?
Mr. Daly: We recently passed a motion from Senator O'Toole regarding primary education funding. Will the Leader indicate what response he has received from the Minister for Education? The Leader may not be aware that there was a dispute in the Ennis gaelscoil during the week because the teachers are very dissatisfied with conditions in the school. There are also a number of other primary schools in County Clare in a similar position. There must be a list of schools which are in urgent need of remedial repairs or new buildings. There is dissatisfaction in the community at the lack of funding.
Mr. Daly: Will the Leader take up this matter with the Minister for Education? She said she would create a priority based list on which these matters would be decided. She seems to have drifted away from that and other schools are now taking priority over those on the list. Schools in Tulla, Kilkee and other places which were listed in 1993——
Mr. O'Toole: I am glad Senator Kelly raised the ethics of cloning. As a trade union secretary I also have an ethical problem with it. If I were cloned would I be on double or half salary? What is the impact for trade unionists of the future?
Mr. O'Toole: We have had a number of debates on the broadcasting laws and authorities. Over the past three mornings, I have been entertained and regaled by unfettered and untrammelled broadcasting on 105.3 FM, Virgin Radio, the largest commercial station in the UK. It seems ironic that, at a time when we wonder about getting a second Irish commercial station on the airwaves and the years of discussion about deregulation and access to the airwaves, the largest commercial station in the UK seems to be able to broadcast to the entire city of Dublin and perhaps beyond. I presume it is being rebroadcast by one of the local pirate stations because I do not think the FM broadcasting facility of Virgin could stretch to Dublin. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications to investigate the matter?
For the past two weeks I have raised Partnership 2000 which requires a full response from the Leader. It is a month since it was agreed to and it has not been discussed by the House. It is essential it should be discussed in the light of economic and monetary union, monetary policy and other aspects of taxation. It is important that  Members of the House are aware of this, that they offer a view and engage in the debate on the social partnership in a way which informs them and the general public of the issues involved.
Mr. Manning: Senator Wright raised the plight of fishermen due to adverse weather conditions. I will convery his concern to the Minister for the Marine who is aware of the problem. It may be better to wait a short time before there is a response on the matter.
Senator Quinn raised BSE in Northern Ireland. The Senator will be aware that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, has been consistently supportive of the Northern Irish farmers. He made a stronger case for them than their own Government, which got a certain amount of appreciation in Northern Ireland. I am sure that policy will continue.
Senator Dardis raised the circulation of official reports. I have investigated that matter and the position is not satisfactory. We do not have an automatic right to have all official reports circulated to us. A circular dating back to around 20 years ago states that the Department of Finance is responsible for deciding what reports we should receive.
Mr. Manning: If reports are concerned directly with legislation, we receive them. If they are not, circulation depends on the grace and favour of the Department of Finance. That is not satisfactory. All official reports should be sent directly to all Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas. We are obliged to keep ourselves informed and the Department is obliged to prepare these reports to ensure we are. I am putting the matter down as one of urgency for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. There will be a strong recommendation that the matter be reviewed and the regulation which governs the circulation of reports repealed.
Senator Dardis and others raised the issue of the State Pathologist. I understand he visited Tralee last night in connection with the murder of a young man but it was too late to begin work. I also understand that a vacancy for a second State Pathologist was advertised six weeks ago. I believe Members would want to place on record their appreciation of the work carried out for many years by Dr. John Harbison, often in very difficult circumstances. No one is satisfied with the conditions under which he is obliged to operate or the level of resources at his disposal. I will convey the unease of the House in respect of this matter to the relevant Minister.
I would like to make time available for a debate on agriculture and I will deal with that matter later. Senator O'Sullivan raised the issue of child care services. There is need for clarification and a restoration of the status quo in this regard. If the matter is not clarified in the near  future I will take steps to make time available for a debate. Senator Lanigan raised the issue of current events in Israel and I will convey his concerns to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Senator Norris raised the issue of President Mugabe. I understand he is visiting Ireland at the invitation of The Irish Times to participate in The Irish Times/Harvard symposium on the future of Africa. This major debate will be held at University College Dublin on Monday next. I may be wrong but I believe the visit is not official.
Mr. Manning: Yes. I would welcome a debate on this matter which involves important ethical questions and implications but I am not sure the House is an appropriate place for such a debate. I believe the matter would be better dealt with by a committee of the Houses where experts could be invited to contribute. With a number of exceptions, I do not believe Members are in a position to expound a great deal of expert knowledge on this subject. I would prefer that it be dealt with by one of the committees.
Senator Lee referred to the salary of the librarian in the National Library. The salary on offer is a disgrace. The Library was fortunate to have the services of Dr. Pat Donlon and it is a great shame she is leaving. However, had Members been aware of her remuneration package they would have been horrified. The salary on offer would not be adequate to employ a middle to lower level executive in any major organisation. This reflects extraordinarily badly on our attitude to the National Library and the matter should be urgently reviewed.
Senator Mooney raised the issue of rural development but we must await the publication of the relevant report. Senator Henry looked forward to the introduction of the budget in late October. I am sure the Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, will take account of her concerns.
Senators Daly and O'Toole raised the question of schools. I communicated with the Department of Education on this matter and I am awaiting a reply. Senator O'Toole also referred to broadcasting and he can raise that matter with the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht during this evening's Private Members' debate.
I would welcome a debate on Partnership 2000 but, as Members are aware, the House must deal with a heavy programme of legislation in the coming weeks. However, I would be happy to arrange for the House to sit an additional day to deal with a debate on the programme. I will discuss the matter with the Whips and, if agreement is reached, I will make time available for such a debate.
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