Tuesday, 15 April 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Wright: Last week I asked the Leader for an update of the business to be conducted for the rest of the session. It may be difficult for him to give an accurate account of the legislation the Government wants to enact before the end of session but I ask him to give details of next week's Business also.
I am sure the Leader is as alarmed as anybody about the present meningitis scare. I am also sure every constituency has been affected in some way by this tragedy. My colleague, Deputy Cowen, called for the establishment of a national monitoring centre and I ask the Leader to use his good offices to ask the Minister for Health to do that as soon as possible and to embark on a proactive campaign of information for all concerned.
Mr. O'Toole: I subscribe to Senator Wright's point about the business for the next couple of weeks. We all recognise that it looks as though the Government is preparing for an election which will be called on the last day of the month——
Mr. O'Toole: ——or the first week of next month. It is everybody's duty to co-operate in the passing of legislation where that is possible. The Independent Senators want to co-operate but we would prefer to have the business and likely hours of sitting laid out for the next three or four weeks so that people can plan. We should be prepared to co-operate with each other on that basis. If we have difficulty with sections or amendments to Bills, we will deal with them in the normal manner but the Leader can feel confident that he can indicate his plans to us and seek the maximum level of co-operation in trying to clear the decks. Nobody wants to have legislation lying around which needs to be debated. I also recognise that this House would continue anyway after the calling of an election.
I never enter into matters of industrial relations because it is not helpful to do so but there is a genuine concern abroad about the precise position of the different Garda representative bodies. There is confusion even among those of us who  would purport to understand industrial relations. It is necessary to clear the air.
Senators sought to raise six matters on the Adjournment today and four or five of them relate to schools in need of attention. If the Minister published a list of what was to be done, how it would be done and when on which we could depend it would save the House and the civil servants much time and would clear the air. I ask the Leader that such a list be provided.
Irrespective of how busy we are over the next number of weeks, I want to debate economic and monetary union and associated matters. I have asked time and again to have such a debate and the Leader has agreed. It is not a matter of embarrassing the Government as I have no interest in that and I am not talking about debating a motion which may cause difficulty. Points must be made on this issue and we must be informed and educated about it. A date for such a debate should be agreed in the next number of days.
Mr. Dardis: I endorse calls for the Leader to clarify arrangements for the coming weeks, state the number of days the House will be sitting and indicate the proposed programme of legislation. Will he provide assurances that time motions will not be tabled or that the Committee Stage of any Bill will not be cut short? The Leader has a good record in that respect and I am sure this will continue until the end of the session.
Last week, by way of an emergency debate, I attempted to raise the current situation relating to agriculture. The Leader is aware that, during the previous week, calls were made to deal with this matter which will be debated elsewhere this evening. Senator Honan and I tabled a motion about the crisis in agriculture — item 30, motion No. 24 — and we would like clarification in respect of the Government's approach to European export funds, special beef premia and the reopening of third country markets for carcass beef and live exports. We are also seeking clarification about an apparent contradiction in the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry's approach to national compensation. At a major meeting of the Irish Farmers Association in the Davenport Hotel, the Minister stated that national compensation would be paid for losses suffered as a result of currency revaluations. However, in reply to a parliamentary question in the Dáil he stated there would be no compensation. It is important that the Minister's exact approach be clarified.
I support Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on economic and monetary union. What will be our policy on this issue in the likely event that the United Kingdom remains outside European Monetary Union when Ireland joins? What will be the implications of such a development for exporters, in particular?
 My final point relates to Senator O'Toole's request for a resolution to the dispute involving Garda representative bodies. It was unedifying to hear each side castigate the other on national radio this morning. It is in everyone's interests to have the situation resolved. In the circumstances, perhaps we should congratulate the Minister for Justice for fulfilling one promise in getting the gardaí back on to the streets.
Ms O'Sullivan: Everyone agrees that the House should carry out as much productive legislative work as possible during the next number of weeks in case the session does not last much longer. As far as I am aware, the Dáil has almost completed its deliberations on the Working Time Bill and the Youth Work Bill. Are these likely to be introduced in the Seanad in the near future?
The other matter I wish to raise involves the disturbing anti-child practices carried out in some créches and child care facilities, which were revealed in the Sunday Tribune. I am aware that the vast majority of these facilities are well run, but I welcome the fact that this Pandora's box was opened and will be dealt with by the regulations provided for under section 7 of the Child Care Act. A great deal of discussion has already taken place among those involved in child care in respect of the regulations but they are now being debated more widely. I know the House will be obliged to use much of its available time to deal with legislation during the coming weeks. However, if time cannot be made available for a short debate on this issue, will the Department of Health issue public information advertisements or bulletins in newspapers so that people will understand what the regulations entail? I believe the health boards intend to do so and to begin their work in the near future. Fianna Fáil plans to issue proposals on child care at the end of this week and I would welcome it if these added to the debate on this matter. This important matter must be discussed and understood more widely.
Mr. McGowan: Will the Leader indicate if we will have an opportunity in this session to discuss local authority funding? I have raised this urgent matter on numerous occasions. The Taoiseach's office wrote to local authorities sending them information from the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of the Environment with regard to the establishment of community enterprise groups and the policy document “Better Local Government” which is a programme for change for local government. We need to discuss this matter, which will have a fundamental effect on the House because the changes proposed will affect the people we represent.
Mr. McGowan: I have. Are we to drift into an election with the local authorities not knowing where they stand? My local authority will be worse off by millions of pounds through the removal of water charges and their replacement with funds from motor tax. How will the difference will be made up. Where will my local authority get the funds to bridge the gap? I appeal to the Leader to give me an opportunity to put questions to the Minister, especially given that the Taoiseach has written to the Minister for the Environment——
Mr. McGowan: I ask the Leader to give us an opportunity to discharge our responsibility to the House and to those who elected us. I have raised this matter many times. I am concerned about the problem and I wonder why the Leader wants to avoid it. Is the Minister afraid to come to the House? He is not afraid to discuss the matter on RTÉ.
Mr. Cregan: I am concerned about the ongoing dispute at Irish Life which nobody seems prepared to discuss. It is a semi-State body and the dispute has been going on for more than 11 weeks. Is it possible to have information from the relevant Minister on the matter? The dispute has gone on too long. Irish Life is a semi-State body which must look to the future by involving itself in takeovers and ensuring its business is run properly. Will the Leader seek information on the matter for us?
Mr. O'Kennedy: I join Senator Dardis in asking for an urgent debate on agriculture. The agricultural sector is very important to our economy. It impinges on about one quarter of our total GNP and cannot be seen as a sectional interest. A Labour Party candidate expressed views about farming concerns in yesterday's newspapers when she said they represent strident, sectional demands and pre-election posturing by the farming sector. Is that the view of the Government parties on the interests of the hard pressed farmers? We need to discuss agriculture calmly and fully.
It is to be noted that the only EU Government which has not, as yet, given compensation from its own resources to farmers who have suffered from revaluation is the Irish Government. The Germans and Dutch have done so but Ireland has not. Perhaps that will be explained. Is it because the Government's view is that this is just a strident sectional interest making posturing demands?
My second query relates to the Government's collective responsibility. Could the Leader or any  member on the Government side confirm the statement made on television by the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Higgins, that he had no knowledge of and was not consulted on the Tánaiste's statement to the Labour Party conference?
Mr. O'Kennedy: The Senator's tone is more strident than mine. The public is entitled to know if there is consultation within the Government or within the Labour Party in Government. Are we getting rule by——
Mr. O'Kennedy: Could we have clarification from any representative on the Government side, particularly the Tánaiste, whether the programme presented to Government and the people will be pursued by themselves alone without consulting any other members of the Labour Party?
Mr. Norris: The RUC should be congratulated on finding the gun apparently used by snipers in south Armagh. I also wish to record my absolute deprecation of the burning of churches in the North of Ireland. This is a new low. We have seen the violation of a series of taboos recently by both sides: the targeting of a working mother by the IRA and the shooting up of a children's ward in a hospital. Now we have the violation of another taboo which is an extraordinary level of barbarism to which both sides seem to have sunk, particularly the loyalists. It is important that the House send a message that this behaviour is completely  unacceptable. I speak as a member of the Church of Ireland and what is being done in the name of religion in the North is not an expression of Protestantism or any kind of Christianity. It is an expression of barbarism and savagery. All civilised people should condemn the burning of churches of any religion. I hope that the reformed religions in areas where churches have been burnt will offer the hospitality of their church premises so that Mass can continue to be celebrated for their fellow citizens.
Time is very limited for a discussion on Luas but I am very concerned that we have not had a date for the public inquiry and the plans are apparently advancing. It seems that the whole democratic process is being undermined by the Civil Service being allowed to create facts which can never subsequently be evaluated, no matter what evidence exists.
I draw the attention of the House to the fact that a distinguished member of the British Labour Party, Dr. Mo Mowlam, who will certainly have a significant role to play regarding this country after the next election, was treated in a most dastardly fashion by the British press. I am glad we have not sunk to that level in this country and we should be glad we have decent journalists. This woman was castigated for her appearance by certain sections of the press and was forced into explaining that she had been suffering from a brain tumour.
Mr. Norris: It is irrelevant to Senator O'Kennedy's election campaign and perhaps a little less self interested, but it is important to put these concerns on record. It is outrageous that somebody should be criticised for their personal appearance and be forced to make a statement that they had had radiation therapy which led to hair loss. We are lucky to have a different type of press and I hope its standards will be maintained.
Mr. Mulcahy: I join my colleagues in seeking urgent clarification of the situation pertaining to the representative associations of the Garda Síochána. I have repeatedly told the House that internal matters of the Garda Síochána, especially the pay dispute, should not form part of the law and order debate during the general election campaign. People are interested in that debate but they are not interested in the internal wranglings of Garda representative associations, which ultimately might get in the way of achieving an efficient Garda force. The Minister should come before the House as a matter of urgency and explain why there is such disquiet in Garda ranks and what her response will be. What is her attitude  to tomorrow's planned march on the Dáil by gardaí? Is she doing anything to prevent it?
There is widespread public disquiet about the allegation that somebody who committed manslaughter on more than one occasion was participating in a FÁS course in Cork. The matter is being investigated by the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Richard Bruton, and it raises disquieting questions. Did the Garda Síochána know about this one year ago and, if so, did the Garda bring it to the attention of the Minister for Justice? If she knew about it, did she do anything about it?
Mr. Mulcahy: It is in so far as it might affect other criminals who might be employed on FÁS courses or other criminals who, having escaped justice in England, might be currently living in Ireland. What are the procedures in the Department of Justice to monitor this? When the Minister for Enterprise and Employment receives the report from FÁS the House should be made aware of it.
I could not believe the television pictures, beamed from the so called “peace line” in Belfast, of Catholic families being burned out of their houses by loyalist thugs. In some cases they carried their belongings in their hands, in others trailers and vans were used. Many of the families had lived in those residences for several for several decades. I thought such things happened in other countries or, to paraphrase former British Prime Minister Chamberlain when speaking about Czechoslovakia, in a faraway country of which we know little. Sometimes people in the South tend to look on Northern Ireland as a faraway country of which they know or care little.
Mr. Mooney: I am grateful to the Independent Senators for clarifying that point, although they know what I meant. If this Parliament does not speak for the people who have been driven out of their homes, the only people who will do so will be the so called defenders of the Nationalist  people in Northern Ireland — the IRA. Will the Leader convey the outrage of this House at what we witnessed last weekend and make the strongest representations, through the Maryfield Secretariat and Anglo-Irish Agreement, directly to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and, if necessary, to the Prime Minister, Mr. Major? If we allow these incidents to pass unnoticed——
Mr. Mooney: I am grateful for the Cathaoirleach's indulgence. If we allow this to go unnoticed, it will be the old story of evil being triumphant where good people say or do nothing. We should continue to condemn these outrages. I send my best wishes to those poor, unfortunate people and hope they can return to their homes.
Mr. McAughtry: I must respond to Senator Mooney's comments on the displacement of Catholics from their homes in the Tiger's Bay and Limestone Road areas of Belfast. This is one of the oldest problems. It is not much good condemning those who carried clubs and drove those people out. Sixty years ago, when I was only a young boy at school, my uncle, who was a Catholic and lived in the same area, was driven out of his home; 20 years ago, my brother, a Protestant, was driven out of a Catholic area by young men wielding hurley sticks. We should not condemn the mobs who do this; we should do something concrete about the politicians who put the idea to carry out these acts into those people's heads. This is where inaction seems to exist. What have politicians on both sides done by words and promises to stir up these people? We should ease up on promises made that these people will be introduced to talks at short notice. Lengthening the notice the Foreign Secretary gives them is one way the problem can be handled at source.
Mr. Manning: Senators Wright, O'Toole, Dardis and others asked about the programme of legislation for the rest of the session. I would like to be more specific but I cannot. I am working on the assumption the election will be in October with the possibility of it being in June, so I must make provision for both possibilities. Colleagues can be assured that, over the coming weeks, we will sit three days per week at least and maybe four. I do not know when the election will be and I will have to work on the best guess available to me.
I hope the legislation on the Order Paper will be dealt with in that period — the Equal Status Bill, the Universities Bill, the Adoption (No. 2) Bill, the Organisation of Working Time Bill and the Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill. Other Bills will be coming to us from the other House, — the Bail Bill, the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability,  Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Bill, the Bill dealing with the replacement of water charges and a number of others. We will not be dealing with the Geneva Conventions (Amendment) Bill.
I will do my best, as I have during the past sessions, to keep colleagues abreast of the timetable. I am not completely in control of my destiny in this matter. It will be my job to try and deal with as much legislation as possible. In that context, I greatly welcome the offer of co-operation from Senator O'Toole and others in providing for the orderly conduct of business. I assure Senator Dardis there will be no question of shortening any Committee Stage debates.
Senator O'Toole and others raised the issue of the confusion caused by the continuing squabbling between the Garda representative bodies. I do not know what anyone can do at this stage. There have been many initiatives, many people have tried to sort out this problem and people have still left some of the organisations. The Minister has produced legislation but, if the people involved do not want to sort out the matter themselves, there is little anyone else can do. This is an unedifying scandal and a bad example to the rest of the community. This morning's spectacle of the leaders of two major Garda organisations squabbling over the airwaves does no credit to anyone.
Last week the Minister for Finance said he is keen that we have a debate on economic and monetary union. However, I have difficulty finding time for the debates already requested. If possible I will make time available for a debate on agriculture. The Minister is anxious to address the House. However, legislation is my first priority.
The Working Time Bill has been ordered for Second Stage and will take place soon. We should not be alarmist about creches but there are questions to be answered and we may find a forum for such a debate.
We had a debate on local authority funding within the last few weeks; it is on the Order Paper. The Minister put the Government's policy on the record of the House. I will continue this debate if I can find time. Senator Cregan might raise the strike in Irish Life on the Adjournment. There are questions to be answered. Senator O'Kennedy would not expect me to comment on the content of a late night television chat show and I will not do so.
Some Senators referred to Northern Ireland. I applaud the seizure of the deadly weapon of destruction by the RUC and the recent arms finds by the Garda Siochána. The more of these weapons that are taken out of commission the better. The burning of churches is deeply sinister. It is  hard not to believe that there are evil forces at work whose intention it is to stir up inter-communal hatred to an even greater level. This is one of the worst developments since the Troubles began.
Senator Mooney and Senator McAughtry were right; I do not agree with Senator McAughtry were that there is no point in condemning those who use weapons of terror to drive people from their homes. I accept his point that deeper forces lie behind these events. There is a vacuum in political leadership and political malice may also exist. Both sides of the House are close on this issue.
I cannot give Senator Norris a date for a discussion of Luas. Senator Mulcahy raised the issue of the individual apprehended in Cork yesterday. There is something disturbing about this but we should wait until the Minister establishes the facts and then hold a discussion.
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