Tuesday, 25 March 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Manning: Today's business is items 1 and 2. We will take all Stages of item 1 and I thank the Opposition for its co-operation in making that possible. Item 2 is an earlier signature motion for the Dublin Docklands Bill. That Bill has been returned to the Dáil so that the “Fitzgerald amendment” can be inserted; otherwise it is the Bill as passed by this House. I ask that we move item 2 when that amendment has been made by the other House
Mr. Wright: Exactly. Perhaps he could indicate what else he intends putting through the House before the Easter recess. The Leader is aware  that Fianna Fáil launched a policy document on drugs yesterday and I am sure he will wish to afford the House an opportunity to debate the issues involved after Easter.
Mr. O'Toole: I have raised the subject of information technology in the past, in particular how it might be used in the Houses. The Leader gave an undertaking to investigate the possibility of making information technology communications facilities available to Members to contact their constituency offices. Every Member should have an E-mail address at home and in the Houses. The system has been set up in our offices and it should be extended. The Government has had a positive approach to information technology and public representatives should set a good example by being willing to use it. Schools need similar links using information technology. The Leader should raise the matter with the appropriate Ministers.
Mr. Dardis: I presume item 2 will be taken without debate. The programme of business may be quite congested after Easter but it will be important to discuss the issue of economic and monetary union. In the context of the fortieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome it would be appropriate to examine the overall progress of the EU and its future. The leading article in today's The Irish Times says that there has not been sufficient public or political attention to the constitutional changes which will take place. It states: “They should, but probably will not, figure prominently in the forthcoming election.” Those of us who stood for election to the European Parliament will recall similar lectures from The Irish Times to the effect that we should confine ourselves to European issues during the course of that campaign. However, those of us who did so found that we got no coverage from The Irish Times which has forgotten what it said and moved on to the issues of crime and taxation, which will dominate the general election campaign. I find it difficult to take that newspaper's posturing which asks us to conduct European debates and when we do so gives us no coverage.
Will the Leader convey to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs our deep concern about events in Palestine and Israel and ask him to exert whatever pressure can be brought to bear at EU level to ensure the peace process there is maintained? He should also express our distaste at the settlements being built in Jerusalem on Palestinian lands. We condemn acts of violence by Hamas and other extreme Palestinian groups and we also condemn the conduct which can lead to terrorist actions.
Mr. McGowan: Over the last few months several Members have sought a debate on the funding and structures of local authorities. I ask the Leader to treat these requests urgently. I am a member of a county enterprise board and I have received a document which indicates that the county enterprise boards are to be restructured.  The strategy groups are to be replaced by community enterprise groups; the groups are renamed every other week. These are groups without funding which can deliver nothing. The document says that local authorities will become the focus for the delivery of local development initiatives and programmes. Delivery of what? This House has a responsibility to local authorities. Most of us are elected by local authority members and we have an obligation to debate the matters concerning them. Piecemeal decisions are being made regarding them. I ask the Leader to provide us with an opportunity to discharge our responsibilities. We have a responsibility to debate this matter. No other House of Parliament has a similar obligation.
The document also says that community enterprise groups are to be chaired by a local authority member. This is a complete reversal of earlier regulations when a local authority member could not be chairman.
Mr. McGowan: I am trying to make a case which I have made on a number of occasions but I am getting nowhere. We have used and ignored local authorities and I am appealing to the Leader and Members to recognise our responsibilities. We should debate and make a recommendation on this issue which is fundamental to local authorities.
Mr. Mulcahy: I sympathise with the sentiments expressed by Senator Dardis regarding The Irish Times. The Eamon Dunphy principle now applies to The Irish Times, namely, the more it is against one the more popular and successful one is likely to become.
Mr. Mulcahy: Does the Leader have any information on or plan to debate the future of the tobacco industry given the recent settlement by 22 States in the USA with a major tobacco company? The issues arising regarding health service expenses in Ireland also arose in America. A number of issues need to be examined including the risk to health of smoking, the financial issues, advertising of cigarettes and the employment of those in the tobacco industry. We should have a clear statement from the Government whether they intend to issue legal proceedings against the tobacco companies to recoup losses to the State and the health service arising from the promotion of tobacco.
Mr. Lanigan: I join with Senator Dardis in asking the Government to do whatever is possible to alleviate the problems being encountered by the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere  in Palestine and to ask the Israeli Government to desist from placing a ring of steel around Jerusalem. The Israeli State is one of only two states established by vote of the UN and it is going against the wishes of the UN. If it reflected upon the ring of steel that caused the ghettoisation of the Jewish population in Europe during the Second World War, they would appreciate the consequences of it. They should be aware that what they are doing was done to them and they should have learned a lesson. The ring of steel that has been put around Jerusalem is a deliberate act and will cause friction in the area. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has worked extremely diligently on this particular issue.
There is a danger that the peace process in the Middle East has come to an end and that we are back to an Intifada type situation which is of no benefit to anyone. We, in Europe, should be cogniscent of the fact that what happened in Europe caused major problems in the Middle East and we should forget about asking the United States to solve the problems there.
I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs, as part of the Troika, to become more involved. The European Union should try to resolve the problems that seem to be on the way to resolution. Unfortunately, the situation is getting out of hand; we must appeal to everybody to do their best to deal with this problem.
I congratulate Marian Finucane on her election bid. I have just listened to Minister Howlin announce changes made at Cabinet this morning on her programme. If the Dáil and the Seanad are to be sidelined, it may as well happen on the Marian Finucane programme. I congratulate the people in the West, the rural people who put sufficient pressure on the Minister to backtrack on this issue——
Mr. O'Kennedy: As we celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, it is appropriate to acknowledge the significance of the achievement which brought peace and stability to Europe. Hopefully, it can be an instrument for peace and stability throughout the world. It is important to recognise, however, that, on the borders of Europe, we are seeing a gangster led — one could not even call it a regime — reign of terror, intimidation and oppression in Albania. This is happening on the perimeter of the European Community. Europe does not simply mean the members of the European Community at any  one time. If we tolerate this kind of inhumanity, cruelty and oppression by gangsters who have no right to, or role in, democracy, then we are weakening and diminishing ourselves. Will the Tánaiste convey to our European Community partners our total and utter frustration and dissatisfaction with the indolent attitude towards this extraordinary repression of the most fundamental human rights?
I suggest the House should adjourn and go to the Marian Finucane show as it seems to be far more relevant than what we are doing here. I acknowledge that the Government have made a very considered decision on the basis of the strong reactions they were receiving to their initial ill considered one. As the Minister for Social Welfare is coming in shortly, I would like to ask him to confirm that the statement——
Mr. O'Kennedy: The Minister for Social Welfare will have a unique opportunity to address this House as distinct from the audience of the Marian Finucane show and to confirm to us that he was gravely mistaken or misled when he said that rural Ireland did not deserve to be treated in the same manner as cities.
Mr. O'Kennedy: Is the Minister now going to explain to us a decision he has considered with his colleagues which he refused to consider at the time he made that statement. He must have attended some of the same meetings as I over the past weeks and months to get a feeling of how outraged rural Ireland was by his attitude.
Mr. Daly: I support Senator Dardis's request to the Leader to debate monetary union because it has widespread implications for employment and income, especially for farmers. In that regard some aid was provided for Ireland at the recent meeting of the Council of Ministers. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry how that finance will be broken down?
I draw the Leader's attention to the plight of small dairy farmers, many of whom have suffered a severe reduction in income because of the restrictions on milk quotas. He will be aware from previous discussions here that there is a crisis in the dairy sector. In my county 1,000 small farmers have ceased milk production in the past five or six years and another 1,000 will cease production in the next few years unless something is done about the situation, which is getting worse by the day.
Will the Leader ascertain if reports from the meetings of the Council of Ministers that the  Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry humiliated this country by going down on his knees are accurate? I ask that the Minister desist from that type of behaviour.
All sides of the House would agree that the representative aspect of the work of both Houses in relation to the St. Patrick's week celebrations across the world should be recorded by this House. Politicians get a bad press generally whenever they leave the country but, in the context of the St. Patrick's week celebrations, I, like many of my colleagues from all sides of both Houses, had the pleasure and honour of representing my county, County Leitrim, at a number of functions on the east coast of the United States. I had the opportunity of meeting a number of Ministers, whom I compliment for the representative way in which they carried out their duties. Like the American President, we might all disagree politically at home but when people go abroad representing their country, we stand behind them and we should be, and are, proud of them.
It is in that context and because of the opportunities I had to meet with a number of emigrant groups in the US that I ask the Leader to consider giving Government time to a debate on the continuing issues which are facing emigrants, especially in the US. I had been of the opinion that the question of illegal emigrants was dead and buried but it is still a live issue. Since impending legislation in the US Senate and the House of Representatives will have a direct impact on many families in the US who have connections in Ireland, the issue crosses party and regional considerations. If, due to the alleged lack of time between now and the calling of a general election, the Leader does not have sufficient Government time available, Fianna Fáil will formulate a motion to put before the House and I hope all sides will contribute to it. I ask the Leader to consider this, especially in light of the publication of the Finance Bill and the gross under-funding of emigrant welfare organisations, particularly in the US — in Boston and New York — which are struggling on a mere pittance.
Mr. Neville: I am surprised at the negative response from Fianna Fáil. It is a real issue in rural Ireland and I, as a member of a group water scheme, am glad that these groups have been recognised by the Government. I am surprised the Fianna Fáil Party is so concerned about this because I thought it was in favour of it; I also thought it was in favour of removing water charges. Reference was made to a big mistake having been made. Will the Leader convey to the Minister and to the Government the appreciation of the people of rural Ireland for the decision that has been made?
Mr. Maloney: I congratulate the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Richard Bruton, on seeking a meeting with the chief executive of the Tesco group in relation to the takeover of Quinnsworth-Crazy Prices last weekend. Concerns have been expressed by workers, consumers and suppliers about what might happen when this takeover takes place. Tesco is coming in to take over 20 per cent of the Irish retail market. The company has excellent industrial relations but there are major concerns among workers in the companies that are being taken over. Will the Leader convey to the Minister not just our concerns but also those of people supplying these organisations? A large number of jobs are involved.
I would also like to raise the case of Danny McNamee who has been a prisoner in Full Sutton Prison in England for the last 11 years. He has been held in a special secure unit and has been treated abysmally by the British authorities. There is a major push on at the moment to have his case heard in the Court of Appeal before 31 March. I would ask all party leaders to put as much pressure as possible on both the British and Irish Governments to have his case heard. If his case does not make it to the Court of Appeal before 31 March it may well be held up for another year. Danny McNamee's mental state is far from good at the moment. One can imagine how he feels having been stuck for 11 years in a special secure unit. I would ask all parties to apply as much pressure as possible to have something done to help him.
Mr. Magner: Can the Leader have immediate discussions with Senator Wright and Senator Dardis to ascertain why, on the announcement of good news from the Government side, the combined  Opposition shows such awful signs of distress?
Mr. Manning: As to the points raised on the Order of Business, the Leader of the Opposition kindly offered a facility if there are other Bills which may need to processed rather quickly. On Second Stage of the Cancer Screening Bill the Minister promised he would include an amendment envisaged by Senator Finneran. That is being done in the Dáil today so I hope the Bill will get a speedy passage through this House tomorrow.
Senator Dardis raised the question of having a debate on economic and monetary union. If there is time after Easter — and which I believe there will be — that debate will take place. I will convey his views and those of Senator Lanigan on the situation in the Middle East to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. All sides would agree with the points made by both Senators.
Senator McGowan raised the question of local authorities. He is right in saying there is a special relationship between this House and the local authorities. We will try to reflect that in a debate after Easter.
However, it would be useful to have a debate on the tobacco industry and its effect on people's health. Senator O'Kennedy mentioned the Treaty of Rome and Albania. This matter could be developed more fully at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. His frustration, which is shared by others, will be made known to the Minister.
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