Thursday, 6 March 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Manning: Today's business is items 1 and 2. The Second Stage of item 1 will be taken from the end of the Order of Business until 1 p.m. I hope we will complete Second Stage by then. I suggest 20 minutes per speaker. Item 2 will be taken from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. I would ask that all Stages of item 2 be taken today. It is a one section Bill.
Mr. Fitzgerald: The Order of Business is agreed. We are happy to take all Stages of the Courts Bill if time allows. For the last three of four months I have been calling for a debate on the Naval Service. A review of the Air Corps and the Naval Service has been completed. Can I have a copy of this review?
There are many important reviews in circulation. I have asked for a copy of the BIM review, which was completed eight or nine months ago. This review has twice been sent back to the authors because it was considered too strong by the Department of the Marine as it told too many home truths. This review should be published. I am not complaining about the Minister as he is an honourable man. Six months ago he assured me that I would have a copy of the next review as soon as it became available. However, last week the Department of the Marine refused to give me a copy of the review on harbours, including fisheries harbours. I was informed that this was private property which would not be handed out.
This review has considerable bearing on the harbour in Dingle and the Minister told me that I would receive a copy. When harbour legislation was passed by this House a year ago, Dingle was the only fisheries harbour mentioned. Will the Leader ensure that these reviews are made available so that we can debate them in this House? We have passed Bills on freedom of information and equality, however, it appears that we are entitled to nothing.
Mr. O'Toole: The Leader gave me a commitment that we would have a debate on Partnership 2000. He also stated that developments regarding economic and monetary union and the single currency could be included in that debate. I have no difficulty with that. However, we need to debate this matter. Everyone has had their say on Partnership 2000 except politicians. It would be an important contribution to the debate if people could understand the objectives of the programme, how it works and how it might be harnessed to provide a better future. Such a debate would tie into people's concerns about monetary union and the single currency.
What is the status of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation? Is it on hold or finished? Is there a long-term plan? There may not be an answer at present but some view should be expressed that it may be reconsidered, is finished or may come into operation again, given certain circumstances. I am particularly concerned with the deterioration in this situation. The Tories have now given a commitment to a grand committee in the North  and we should try to relate the structures there to our structures.
Can the Leader inform us of the plans for Report Stage of the Employment Equality Bill? We did not conclude Committee Stage and it is scheduled for next Thursday, 13 March. Is it intended to complete both Stages then? It is important to know this so that amendments can be put down.
I have raised the issue of agricultural policy before, as have other Members. It ties into the food industry and consumer confidence in that sector. There should be regular debates on this, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry should come in to bring us up to date and hear our views. Wednesday morning would be very suitable for this.
Mr. McAughtry: I raise the issue of policing in Northern Ireland. An article will appear in tonight's Belfast Telegraph from Chris Ryder, who, with David Cook, was sacked from the Police Authority a year ago and he will put his side of the case in tonight's article. His case is that after the sacking, the new chairman of the authority, Pat Armstrong, assured the public that the Police Authority would be open and accountable. This is one side of the argument.
The Secretary of State and the Security Minister appear to be acquiescing in this. In the absence of information coming from the Police Authority — they have not even issued a report on 1994, though it was due last year — would it be possible under the Anglo-Irish Agreement, to tease out this case? The Police Authority does not appear to be speaking up for itself. It would be a delicate matter, but perhaps the Maryfield secretariat could tease this out.
Mr. McAughtry: So far we only have the statements of Mr. Cook and Mr. Ryder. The Leader might pass on my request to the requisite authorities. The Police Authority was founded to make both sides of the community proud to have a career in the police.
Mr. Roche: Can the Leader request the Minister for Education to begin procedures to deal with the disturbing level of vandalism in a number of schools? A body should be established to review school security after school hours. A school in my constituency has been very seriously vandalised on successive nights this week and it is becoming impossible for that school to pay for the smashed windows and other destroyed property from its meagre resources.
Can the Minister also put an emergency fund in place to deal with the immediate effects of vandalism and also with the installation of security devices, such as closed-circuit television, for remote schools and to pay for additional security activities? It is a distressing reality that so many  schools are being vandalised and many of them are suffering very severe financial losses because of it. Communities should also assist the Garda and school authorities in identifying the culprits.
Can the Leader arrange a debate soon on the new proposals on public service management procedures? Last night an announcement was made that another announcement would be made on this important issue today. There is an element of discourtesy to both Houses of the Oireachtas in that last night's announcement contained all the details today's announcement is to contain. I welcome any change in management procedures but the Seanad would be a good place to discuss those proposals.
I will be writing to the Leader for advice on comments made in a recent court case arising out of the Children Act. The judge admonished the plaintiff not to make contact with certain public representatives or to divulge certain information to those representatives. This appears to be a transgression by the Judiciary into the role and responsibilities of public representatives to represent the public, listen to their views and, where they feel an injustice is being committed by a statutory agency, to correct that injustice. I will bring the correspondence in question to the Committee for Procedures and Privileges through the Leader. An extraordinary principle is being established here; judges can say to people looking for defence against excessive action by a statutory agency that they cannot contact named public representatives. I am one of those public representatives and will continue to represent the family in question. It is a serious matter and the Leader might advise me as to whether it would be appropriate to bring this to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges or the Cathaoirleach.
Mr. Maloney: Raising the issue is probably the wrong terminology for this matter. The roof of the hangar housing the air-sea rescue helicopter in Finner Camp in Ballyshannon blew off recently and the helicopter service was transferred to Carrickfinn Airport. It costs £3,000 a week to keep the staff there and the hangar will not be repaired until May. Can the Leader bring the cost of this to the attention of the Minister for Defence? I have heard of the wheels falling off the wagon but here the roof has come off the hangar.
Dr. Henry: I have written in the past without much effect to Mr. Michael Howard, the British Home Secretary, about prisoners. To show I was not defeated, I wrote again to him recently about Róisín McAliskey. Again, I have received no response. I explained that I worked in a maternity hospital where many British doctors trained, and that if he needed advice on how pregnant women should be treated he could consult one of them.
The treatment this woman and other pregnant women in British jails are receiving must be of concern. International Women's Day is almost upon us. Can the Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to note that many Irish women are  concerned about the treatment of Róisín McAliskey and to bring this to the attention of the British Home Secretary again?
Mr. Mulcahy: When we were debating the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, Senator O'Kennedy and I expressed our reservations about that Bill because of its provisions concerning the prison service. A Government announcement had informed us that there was to be a new statutory framework for prisons. Although the Order of Business has been agreed, does the Leader not feel it is vacuous and ineffective to discuss the Courts Bill, which increases the number of judges from 19 to 22, when current judges are not in a position to imprison people?
Mr. Mulcahy: Yesterday a judge of the District Court said he was not imposing a custodial sentence upon somebody because to do so would bring the administration of justice in this country into disrepute. This is a very serious matter.
Mr. D. Kiely: I ask the Leader to ask the Junior Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to come into this House for a discussion on the situation with regard to the potato industry in Ireland which seems to be in total disarray at present. There was a problem some years ago but farmers got together and we are now self sufficient. The potato industry is in chaos and farmers are only receiving in the region of £40 per tonne for potatoes. In supermarkets, potatoes are making in the region of £500 per tonne. Something is drastically wrong there. This situation is  driving the potato farmer off the land completely. When we had a serious situation with potatoes in Ireland five or six years ago——
Mr. Norris: I would like to remind the Leader that he indicated that we would have a debate on the Luas transport system at some stage. Has he come to any decision as to when that will happen? The reason I ask is that we must be getting closer to the date of the public inquiry about which I have received no information. Press headlines continually say that the Luas project is on target. That seems to effectively undermine any inquiry.
Miss Ormonde: I ask the Leader to call on the Minister for Education to make a statement on the current confusion regarding the leaving certificate applied programme. I have received several calls from around the country inquiring about the delay — because of a dispute by civil servants in the Department of Education — in assessing project work which should have taken place in February. Teachers had geared students up for this assessment and morale is very low at the moment. Large chunks of this course have not yet been completed and there is much confusion among people. This is a pilot scheme and, as a result, the confidence of teachers and students alike is being undermined. This programme was marketed to the country last September and October. It is now falling apart and morale is very low. It is important that the Minister would make a statement in order that teachers, students and the public in general would know what is happening with this new programme.
Mr. Lydon: The matter raised by Senator Maloney is a very serious one. Until recently, I understand, this service was provided by Irish Helicopters, which had the ability to hover over a craft which was in trouble. On a recent rescue off the south west coast, it took a long time to get a fisherman into shore because the foreign company which replaced Irish Helicopters do not have the ability to hover over a stricken vessel. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Defence if he intends to look into this matter? The current company were allowed a month at the beginning of February to install this facility but nothing has happened thus far. It is a very serious matter that the helicopters which we employ for air/sea rescue cannot hover over stricken craft. This is a ludicrous situation.
Mr. Daly: I do not know whether the Leader is aware that there has been a reduction in the milk  prices offered to farmers this year. I am sure the Leader is not aware of that, but the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry will know that there has been a fairly serious reduction in the price being offered by the farming co-operatives. This seems to be the situation in all of the co-operatives in spite of the fact that they are making millions of pounds in profit. Reports have been published of their financial returns in recent days and several of them have made in the region of £50, £60 and £70 million of profit. In the light of that situation——
Mr. Daly: ——farmers have been faced with a huge reduction in milk prices. This is seriously eroding the incomes of small dairy producers, especially in the west of Ireland. I ask the Leader to endeavour to get some information from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry as to how he proposes to deal with this situation. A request has been made for some compensation because of the income fluctuation which has resulted from this price reduction; I believe that some European funding is available for this. Can we get some indication, through the Leader, from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry as to what the situation is? We are facing into the start of the milk supply year and farmers are in a very serious position. It is important that something be done about this situation soon.
Mr. R. Kiely: I am concerned with much the same subjects as those raised by Senator Dan Kiely and Senator Daly. We should have a debate on agriculture with special regard to the price of potatoes and milk. I think there is confusion with regard to milk quotas, especially in view of a court ruling which was made yesterday. There was a fear that Ireland would be way over quota but now I think it will not be. That is unfair to milk suppliers. Some co-ops are refusing to take back surplus milk. They would certainly take it if they needed it. In spite of the figures which were emanating from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, I do not think we will be over quota.
Mr. R. Kiely: I want to raise another issue and I will ask a question then. Unlike my colleague, Senator Dan Kiely, I would be happier if we could have the Minister in the House. With no disrespect to the Junior Minister — Senator Dan Kiely might feel that the Minister being from his own constituency might mean he would get better results — I would like to see the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry coming into the House because I would like to ask him why his Department attempted to stop a peaceful march  in Limerick on 29 January 1997. The march was organised by the IFA——
Mr. R. Kiely: I raised it as a matter on the Adjournment but I received very little satisfaction. Deputy Deenihan came into the House and failed to reply to the issues I raised. He merely read out a prepared statement. I think we are entitled to know why the Minister's office attempted to stop a peaceful march in Limerick.
Mr. Townsend: I support Senator Rory Kiely's call for a debate on the milk quota system. Such a debate is long overdue. It is necessary to find out what is happening on the ground in this area. Recently, a constituent of mine, who has 24 acres of land and a milk quota of 18,000 gallons, sought an increase of 1,200 gallons so that he could stay in business. He was refused on the grounds that his son was attending third level education and was unlikely to stay in farming.
Mr. O'Kennedy: This is all about consensus. I had discussions with the Leader of the House in relation to an excellent Private Members' Bill which Senator Daly and I have drafted — The Shannon River Council Bill. As it cannot be done before 3 o'clock today, will the Leader make Government time available for this important legislation? I think the House will adopt it by consensus. This legislation is urgently required because of the growing level of pollution and degradation along the Shannon catchment area. All the concerned voluntary organisations from the source to the outlet are very supportive of this type of legislation. I would be happy if the Government adopted the legislation and promoted it.
Mr. Manning: I assure Senator Fitzgerald that I will raise the problem of access to the BIM report with the Minister and find out whether it is the watered down version or the even more watered down version.
Senator O'Toole called for a debate on Partnership 2000 and I am happy to provide for that. There is no time available at present but I will find time as soon as possible. I have no function regarding the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation but I will try to find the information for the Senator. Senator O'Toole also raised the Employment Equality Bill, 1996. I have scheduled a further five and a half hours next Wednesday for Committee Stage which I hope will be sufficient. If it is not, I will provide for a further five and a half hours.
Senator Roche raised the issue of vandalism in schools. I will inquire about possible new procedures. The public service legislation will be brought before the House shortly and the Senator can contribute to the debate. The case he raised is interesting. The obvious course is to refer it to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges where it can be considered at the next meeting. Alternatively, if the Cathaoirleach so decides, a special meeting can be called to discuss it.
Senator Henry raised the matter of Róisín McAliskey. It has been raised on many occasions  by Senators on all sides of the House. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has made strenuous representations regarding the case and will continue to do so and the Irish Embassy is also taking a continuing interest in the matter. There is an obvious case for humane treatment and if the British Government was trying to incite public opinion in this country it could not have gone about it in a better way.
The answer to Senator Mulcahy's question is no. I do not agree with him. Senator Dan Kiely and other Senators spoke about potatoes and the crisis in that industry. I advise him to raise the matter on the Adjournment. I will pass on Senator Ormonde's worries to the Minister immediately after the Order of Business.
Senator O'Kennedy raised the legislation which he is introducing in a very disarming way. He was almost suggesting that we could pass it this morning before the Order of Business. The Senator would clearly like us to take the Bill seriously and to examine it in detail. I will make Government time available for discussion of it before Easter in order to begin the Second Stage.
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