Tuesday, 22 April 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Manning: Today's business is item 32 — referring a report to the Joint Committee on European Affairs — without debate; item 1 — changing the Order of the House — without debate, followed by Report Stage of the Public Service Management (No. 2) Bill, which I hope will conclude by 4 p.m.; item 2 from 4 p.m. until 6.30 p.m.; item 3, the Equal Status Bill, from 6.30 p.m. until 7.30 p.m.; and at 8 p.m. we will resume item 2, with an open ended debate.
Mr. Fitzgerald: We agree with the Order of Business. This side of the House likes to be as  responsible as possible and we will help in every way to facilitate the ongoing passing of legislation. The Leader has our support for the Order of Business.
When is it proposed to take the Adoption (No. 2) Bill, 1996? I have had, as I am sure have other Senators, a great deal of correspondence on that Bill, particularly on that part of it dealing with Paraguayan adoptions. I am now led to believe that the Minister of State at the Department of Health has the full legal advice required to clear that part of the Bill. I hope it will be brought speedily to the Seanad so that we can enact that very necessary legislation.
I am sure Senators O'Kennedy and Daly will deal with their Shannon River Council Bill, 1997. It is a very good Bill, Second Stage of which has begun in the House. I ask the Leader to make time available for this Bill next week, even if we have to sit for longer.
In regard to my Bill on fishing, I have had correspondence which stated that £2 billion worth of fish are taken out of our seas every year and brought to Europe. We take £100 million worth of fish out of our seas. I do not begrudge the farmers the special package they are getting because of their difficulties but nobody thinks of fishermen. I call on the IFA and ICSMA to support fishermen in their call for a better deal. That £2 billion is probably used to help farmers, which means they are all in the same boat. I would like the farmers to make a greater effort in that regard. Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Marine to come to the House to discuss the problems of the fishing industry?
Mr. Norris: I support the matters raised by Senator Fitzgerald. I ask the Government to look very favourably on the paramedics' claim. I know the Government has a difficulty because various Ministers predicted that when the the nurses' claim was resolved it would trigger a series of claims on a parity basis. However, these people make an extremely valuable contribution to the welfare of some disadvantaged and disabled members of our society. I would support being generous and decent to them, in light of the positive economic climate.
Senator Fitzgerald also raised the question of Paraguayan adoptions. Last night I attended a meeting of Irish people in Wynn's Hotel, and I believe we have a problem closer to home in one sense, although I strongly supported the suggestions to deal with the Paraguayan adoptions. There is still not a proper contact register. Will the Leader convey to the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy Currie, the strong view expressed on all sides of the House during a debate on the issue that a contact register is necessary and should be established as rapidly as possible, without waiting for Supreme Court  decisions? The matter should be tested. Virtually every country in Europe has such a register. Recent stories on the wireless described how a parent, a birth mother and her child, were simultaneously seeking each other and were deliberately given wrong information. That is not tolerable in this day and age.
I would like to raise the question of genetic beet. Will the Leader tell the Minister for the Environment about the serious concern many of us have about the proposal by the US based multinational, Monsanto, to establish an experimental planting of genetically engineered beet over the next few weeks or months in this country? Section 111 (1) of the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992, provides that the Minister—
may, for the purposes of environmental protection, for the prevention of danger to health or damage to property... make regulations for the control, management, regulation or prohibition of any process... involving a genetically modified organism.
Will the Leader advise the Minister that the American Environmental Protection Agency has already come down in judgment on this firm on the basis of intentional misclassification of exposed and non-exposed workers, arbitrary deletion from the study of several key soft tissue sarcoma cases, lack of assurance of untampered records delivered and used by consultants and false statements about dioxin contamination in these products? Will he also arrange for a debate on the question of genetically engineered plant life, because once they escape into the environment it will be impossible to recall them? Will he pass on to the Minister the concerns for the long-term impact of this kind of experiment carried out by a company which has been discredited in its own country?
It has been mentioned that the House may sit until 7 a.m. I propose that, in order to maintain the civilised standards of diet and debate that mark this House, we should adjourn for a light repast between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. I am sure at least one of my colleagues will support me in this.
Ms Honan: I support the Order of Business. I am also very concerned about the dispute involving the paramedics. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to advise on the steps he has taken to speedily resolve it? Last night the Minister accepted that those involved had a legitimate pay claim. While emergency cover is being provided, especially by physiotherapists, vulnerable people need the services of the paramedics.
 I am very concerned that all routine orthopaedic operations are being cancelled. Speaking this morning with the administrators in the hospital in Tullamore it is apparent that most of these operations involve elderly people awaiting hip replacements and people who have already waited up to two years for surgery. It is distressing that they are being further delayed because of this dispute.
Social workers and child care workers are also involved in the strike. Most cases of child abuse or concerns relating to child care are emergency issues. Given the vital services being provided and the vulnerable recipients involved, the dispute needs speedy resolution.
Ms Honan: It is an issue relevant to women, as was the nurses' dispute, and I have no doubt a gender issue exists. If the Minister accepts they have a legitimate pay claim, will he do all in his power to resolve the issue quickly?
I support Senators Norris and Fitzgerald in regard to the adoption legislation, particularly in terms of the Paraguayan adoptee association which has waited for the Minister of State to publish the legal opinion he was offered. It has been circulated to us and I cannot see why it must be delayed further. However, a contact register is vital and this needs to be acted upon immediately by the Minister of State, Deputy Currie.
My colleague, Senator Dardis, asked me to raise the need for an urgent debate on agriculture. He has raised this on the Order of Business on a number of occasions recently and the Leader indicated that if there was time, he would accommodate it. Did he mean if there was time before the election or if time could be fixed over the next few weeks? There is great concern over the falling incomes of farmers, particularly in regard to cattle prices, and the effect it is having on rural communities.
Ms O'Sullivan: Everyone wants the paramedics pay dispute dealt with speedily. There is concern about the wide variety of services which are affected. However, I am concerned that we are being preached at by the Opposition in regard to the settlement of this dispute. On the one hand, there are continual arguments about fiscal rectitude with regard to public pay and money coming out of the public purse and on the other, we are told we should not give in to pressure groups. One cannot have it both ways. However, the dispute will be sorted out speedily by the Minister.
Miss Ormonde: I support other speakers regarding the paramedics' strike. Will the Leader do everything he can to get the Minister to resolve it? It has a huge impact on the community. I refer particularly to social workers who deal with many issues of abuse in the education field. It was stated that they should wait until the nurses' dispute was resolved and then their case would be looked at. One cannot make fish of one and flesh of the other as it is an important area. While I appreciate we should not give in to pressure groups, they have concerns which need to be raised.
Last week I raised the matter of young adolescents with mild mental handicap who are not coping in their communities. I asked the Leader to look at this and he kindly said that if I put down a motion he would ensure it would be debated during Government time. I have since put down the motion. Will the Leader indicate when time will be allocated to debate this issue? It is an important issue, as he acknowledged, which concerns many families. This problem must be tackled as individuals and families are vulnerable.
Mr. O'Kennedy: I am obliged to our Chief Whip for putting his weight behind my proposal that the Leader provides us with Government time as soon as possible to resume debate on the Shannon Council Bill. All contributions on the Bill to date were supportive, including the Minister of State's, who agreed the Bill was acceptable in principle. Will the Leader ensure that we are given Government time? It is almost three weeks since we began the Second Stage debate and we should move on and conclude the Bill. The Leader might indicate when this matter, on which there seems to be all-party consensus, can be debated in Government time.
Senator Honan referred to the crisis in farm incomes, an issue I have raised in the past. It is time the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry or the Minister of State came to the House to inform Members of the current position on the Government's action programme. Yesterday, the Minister made an extraordinary statement in Luxembourg to the effect that he was going to propose that the Government bring in a compensation package. This is months after the farm incomes crisis became rampant and despite our calls for a debate on this matter. He also said yesterday that he was going to contact, or had contacted, the Minister for Finance. Where has he been? Farm incomes are in crisis. It is time we had a debate on this and if the Minister cannot come here, the Minister of State should tell us what is being done to match the funds the EU made available a long time ago. This an urgent matter.
With regards to tribunals, I do not wish to refer to the current one but to the beef tribunal. Would the Leader ask the Taoiseach to request the Tánaiste to have the bill for his costs at the tribunal, a tribunal he called for——
Mr. O'Kennedy: This matter was passed by a resolution of this House. Those who demanded that a tribunal be set up — the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte in particular — also demanded the power to send for persons and papers but did not then disclose information themselves. They should now ensure that their bills of costs for that tribunal are submitted and that that is done now rather than waiting until after the election.
Mr. Mulcahy: With regard to the paramedics' strike, I concur with my Opposition colleagues. I was bemused and amused by the retort of the leader of the Labour group. Is she having a Pauline conversion to fiscal rectitude?
Mr. Mulcahy: Tomorrow we will discuss the Bail Bill. This follows on from the constitutional amendment, but an essential part of the discussion of that Bill will be the extent of crime committed by people on bail.
Mr. Magner: The Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, does not require any time to prepare herself to deal with Senator Mulcahy. Would the Leader agree with me that there is tremendous anxiety on this side of the House, as there is on all sides, to bring the public service health workers' strike to an acceptable conclusion? There is no doubt about that. Not alone does Senator Mulcahy give his usual dose of terror in the afternoon, but he also chooses to misrepresent the contribution made by Senator O'Sullivan, the leader of the Labour group.
Mr. Magner: I accept what Deputy Ahern said at the Ard Fheis about public sector workers. That has been a tradition of Fianna Fáil and I have no problem with it. The problem I have, and the one the leader will have, is with the Progressive  Democrats, who have fought like dogs to ensure that no money is spent on anything.
Mr. Magner: That is their policy — nobody, however deserving, will get any money. Deputy Harney said she had no intention of helping anyone who cannot help themselves. What a fraud. This has happened on every single issue. On water, Deputy Molloy wanted to give £24 million they did not ask for.
Mr. McGowan: I support the call for a settlement of the paramedics' dispute. It is a pity that we have to turn the issue into a political football. People are in need of medical treatment in every hospital and institution, yet they are not able to make appointments. We have had one crisis after another in the health service. The Minister for Health should tell us what plans he has to make the health service work. We need an ombudsman to monitor the disasters in the health service in the last couple of years.
Mr. McGowan: Look at the history of it. The Minister for Health has faced one crisis after another. The House should recommend the appointment of an ombudsman to monitor the failures of the Minister and the Department rather than making a political football of it. I ask the Leader to take this matter seriously and to give an answer the public will understand.
Mr. Roche: I join others who called for a resolution to this dispute. I accept the Government has a difficulty in that it must maintain a certain line, but arbitration related to productivity might provide an opportunity to resolve this issue. I am sure Members on all sides share that view.
Mr. Roche: I agree it is unfair because I am a taxpayer. It would be in the public interest if the bills for everyone's legal team, not just the Tánaiste's, were lodged. Some legal teams have not yet lodged their bills because there is an election in the offing. It is in the public interest that we should know the full costs of that debacle.
Mr. Quinn: Will the Leader draw the attention of the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications to the concerns expressed about his intention to license the television deflector operators? This concern has not been expressed by any of the political parties. People are not only worried about the possibility of owing millions of pounds but about what could happen if the Government was accused by other countries of not keeping a contract it has signed. If industrial development authorities in other countries tell potential investors in Ireland that the Government breaks contracts, such as that made with MMDS and cable suppliers because it was afraid to upset a section of the community, it would endanger potential investment and we would lose the credibility we have established over many years. I ask the Leader to draw the Minister's attention to these concerns.
Mr. Enright: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications to come into the House to discuss the television deflector issue? I have a different view from that of Senator Quinn. Some 29 licences were sold for £20,000 each, which was like giving people a licence to print money. It is important to have an opportunity to discuss this issue. Many poor and middle income people are being asked to pay too much by MMDS operators. In fairness to Senator Quinn, it would not be good if there was only one supermarket chain in Ireland. Competition in the provision of television services is as essential as it is in respect of supermarkets, newspapers, etc.
Mr. Enright: I will not comment on the current tribunal. However, if it ran for some time and the Taoiseach decided to postpone the general election  until it had reached its conclusion, Fianna Fáil would accuse him of being unconstitutional.
Mr. Townsend: I support calls for a debate on agriculture. We must take action to solve existing problems in that area. The largest problem experienced by the sheep and beef industries resulted from the GATT Agreement negotiated by Ray MacSharry some time ago. New Zealand is allowed to export large quantities of sheepmeat to the EU as it sees fit and this completely distorts the market. It would be helpful if the GATT Agreement was renegotiated so that New Zealand was permitted to send only a specified monthly quota of sheepmeat to the European market. As far as beef is concerned, export refunds were reduced at the wrong time for beef producers whose cattle were coming out of the sheds between January and March. If such reductions were on a planned basis during the year the market would not be distorted. Will the Leader make time to debate this matter as soon as possible?
Mr. Sherlock: Senator Quinn's statements are usually profound and accurate. However, that is not the case on this occasion. I do not wish to correct the Senator, it is merely my intention to set the record straight. Senator Quinn referred to the contracts in respect of the television system and I must point out that the High Court judgment gave South Coast Community Deflector Systems the right to apply for a licence. The main issue involved was that the deflector system would interfere with the UHF frequency but that argument has been rebutted.
Mr. Manning: I welcome Senator Fitzgerald's statement that the Opposition will be helpful and adopt a responsible approach to the business of the House in the coming weeks. The reality is that there is a considerable amount of business, including a number of Bills, to be discussed and processed by the House during that time. There are two ways this can be achieved. We can try to be responsible in our contributions and engage in as full a debate as possible while moving briskly through our work or, alternatively, the House can sit late into the night or sit five days a week. I do not want to ask Members to comply with the latter suggestion because many of them will be candidates for re-election to this House or election to the Lower House. I will not declare the date of the election but we must assume that it will take place at the end of either May or November.
Senator Fitzgerald and others raised the issue of the paramedics dispute. Those of us who met the people on strike are conscious that they did not take that course of action lightly. They have a case to make and the Minister for Health will do his best to end the dispute as speedily as possible. However, that must be done in an orderly way. Senator Roche was right in his suggested approach.
The Adoption (No. 2) Bill, 1996, was also raised. There is some confusion in that regard and it is important to clear it up. I will come back to the House on the issue over the next two days with definitive information on the Bill.
Senators Fitzgerald and O'Kennedy raised the Shannon River Council Bill, 1997. There is general agreement on it and we should be able to conclude the Second Stage next week. Senator Fitzgerald raised the fisheries issue and I will do my best to have a debate on the issue before the end of this Parliament.
Senator Norris raised the issue of genetic beet, which is a matter that might be raised on the Adjournment of the House. I regret I cannot accept the Senator's proposal for a sos from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. I would like to do so but we have a large amount of work to do today and it would not be possible to break in another hour and three quarters for an hour. If we sit early into tomorrow morning I will try to arrange breaks so that Members and staff may refresh themselves.
Senator Honan raised the issue of agriculture and I will try to find time to debate it next week. Senator Ormonde mentioned item 33 motion 26 on the Order Paper. I will try to arrange at least an hour next week to begin a discussion on that motion. It is an important matter and I will try to find time for it.
Senator O'Kennedy raised the Shannon River Council Bill, 1997, to which I have referred, and the issue of agriculture. I will try to have a debate shortly on the important issue of agriculture. I have no function in the other matter the Senator raised.
Mr. Manning: Senator McGowan raised the suggestion of an ombudsman for the health services. If the Senator has a specific proposal on how such an office might function it might be best put forward in a Private Members' Bill.
To add a little spice to the proceedings Senator Quinn raised the issue of TV deflectors, which drew out different points of view. I will convey his views to the Minister. If we can find time, a debate on the issue would be worthwhile.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Norris has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, '“That business be interrupted from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.” be inserted after item 3'. However, the amendment was not seconded and, consequently, falls.
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