Tuesday, 13 May 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Manning: Today's business is items 1, 2 and 3. Item 1 will take all Stages and 20 minutes per speaker with the agreement of the House. The Minister will speak for ten minutes and other speakers will have five minutes, if that is agreed. There will be a short discussion on item 2 and speakers will have five minutes or more if required.
Item No. 3 will be taken from 6.30 p.m. until 9.30 p.m. This is the motion on which Senators Kiely and Dardis have been seeking discussion for some time. I suggest 20 minutes per speaker with the Minister to conclude no later than 9.15 p.m.
I want to draw attention to item No. 4 on today's Order Paper. I had hoped to deal with that tomorrow but, for two reasons, I am proposing not to do so now. There are two net issues to be decided in that Bill. The first is a contact register. There is a Supreme Court case pending which will be material to the shape of the Bill. Senator McGennis, at the conclusion of Committee Stage, asked that Report Stage not be taken until the Supreme Court decision was available. I understand the case is due to be dealt with in the Supreme Court at the end of this month.
The second reason concerns the difficulty in relation to the adoption of Paraguayan children. There is a major legal difficulty here in that the proposed amendment is not, in the opinion of the Attorney General and his staff, constitutional. This matter concerns children and their parents and it is important that we get the right answer in this case. There are other possibilities which the Office of the Attorney General is currently examining and I have conveyed them to the parents involved. Hopefully a resolution of the human problem can be attained through those discussions. It does not make sense for the House to proceed with the Bill against the advice of the Attorney General and in the light of Senator McGennis's request. If, after the election, this Government is back in office, as I expect it will——
Mr. Manning: ——I will immediately seek the agreement of the House to reinstate the Bill on Report Stage. I am sure that, if there is a change of Government, the new Leader of the House will be amenable to that and will have the full cooperation from the Opposition benches. I will not be proceeding with item No. 4 on the Order Paper tomorrow. If the Party Whips or group leaders wish to discuss the matter with me further I will be happy to do so.
Mr. Wright: There will be disappointment that the Adoption Bill will not be dealt with tomorrow. However, the House must be led by the Leader's advice. Whoever will be Leader on this side of the House after the election will, I am sure, concur with the Leader's views that the Bill would be reinstated at Report Stage following the anticipated Supreme Court decision.
Last week a report was published on the detrimental effects of Sellafield pollution reaching Canadian waters. The House has, over a number of debates, been very supportive of the Government's moves to bring about the closure of Sellafield. That is an issue we should be taking up with our Canadian counterparts to highlight this issue, bring it on to the international stage and bring the closure of Sellafield nearer.
My colleague, Senator Bohan, raised the issue of refugees, their welfare payments, accommodation and so on last week. He may have underestimated the real effects of the situation. We heard today that a social welfare unit in Dublin had to be closed yesterday after a mini riot. The trade union has now decided that the social welfare officials will not handle the work at this centre. I know the Garda is extremely concerned about this and I have been made aware that there was a designated unit which dealt with this issue but it no longer exists. While I am aware that that is an operations issue, I ask the Leader to inquire, through the Minister, the commissioner's view on the present situation. It may be necessary to establish what is called a red unit which, in the past, dealt with immigrants coming through our air and sea ports.
Mr. O'Toole: In relation to the business of the week and Senator Wright's, I hope that whatever happens elsewhere the business of this House will continue. I am sure the Leader recalls that in 1992 when a previous Government tried to ram through legislation with unholy haste in the time between the dissolution of one House and the  election of the other, he and those on the Independent benches walked out in protest. The legislation at issue then concerned the Central Bank and building societies. I hope the Leader will plot his course in the context of this House being in session. The process of legislation and democracy should continue beyond the dissolution of the other House.
I am disturbed by what the Leader said about the Adoption Bill. The amendment he referred to was put down by me on Committee Stage and was supported by Fianna Fáil. It is down on Report Stage in the names of Senator McGennis and myself. I have met the people who hope to become adoptive parents of Paraguayan children and I know they will be devastated by this decision. I have listened closely to both sides of the House giving a commitment that this matter will be dealt with on the election of a new Government. This is heartening but I have seen this development before. For example, there was a change in Government during the passage of the road traffic legislation in 1994 and the speeches from some Fine Gael Members changed dramatically when they crossed to the Government side.
Many people will be upset that the Bill will not be processed before the election. The question of Paraguayan adoptions is causing heartbreak, worry and concern. Why can we not take Report Stage, accept the amendment and if it does need to be changed a new Government can do that in the other House if the result of the Supreme Court case causes difficulty? The current legal mess could be tidied up in this way.
I cannot comment on the constitutional implications but we need to give hope to parents who want to adopt and who have adopted Paraguayan children but who do not have legal recognition for the adoption. I am upset about this and I ask that the decision be reconsidered.
Ms Honan: It is regrettable that the Adoption Bill will not be passed through the House tomorrow. The Bill has been on the Order Paper for some time and I am concerned that it be passed as quickly as possible following the election of a new Government. As Senator O'Toole said, the parents involved are very concerned about their legal situation and they had hoped the Bill would be dealt with during the lifetime of this Seanad. I ask the Leader to give a commitment similar to that given by Senator Wright that this legislation will be processed as quickly as possible following the election.
On Thursday we will deal with the Health Compensation Tribunals Bill which will put on a statutory basis the tribunal setting the compensation to be paid to those people infected by hepatitis. The only outstanding matter in relation to this issue that remains to be dealt with is the State's strategy which was followed in the case against the late Brigid McCole. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, should this week publish details  and answer questions about the State's legal strategy in the Brigid McCole case. This is important because all the other matters that have been fought for over the last three years would appear to have been granted, but this one outstanding issue is most important. I would like to see it being dealt with before the end of the current Government's term in office.
Mr. McAughtry: Some weeks ago I asked that law and order should not be an issue in the forthcoming election. It was an innocent enough request and obviously a naive one. However, I rise now to plead that the peace process should be dropped from the electoral exchanges that are taking place. Most of these exchanges are coming from the leader of a political party here. How does he think the people of the North feel when they hear politicians down here saying “We can settle the peace process better than you can”.
An impartial observer would wonder how a State that is contiguous with such a tortured and troubled state as Northern Ireland could carry on in this way during an election. Britain has just been through the most vituperative election this century. They tore one another apart with personal attacks, yet the bipartisan policy on the peace process remained rock solid throughout the election. Is that not some sort of a lesson for politicians here where they are so much more concerned about the North? I know for a fact that they feel more about the North.
I am making a plea to politicians here, particularly senior politicians on the Opposition side, reminding them that the peace process is an attempt to cut down the rate of killing and injury in the North. It is not a means of building a politician's reputation, whether that politician is a past or present leader. Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to point out to the public the dangers of bringing the peace process into an election fight?
Mr. O'Kennedy: I would have thought that is one issue on which all parties in the House are united; to bring about peace through reasonable and proper understanding and negotiations between all the political parties. I would remind Senator McAughtry that has been the base line of our policy for well over 20 years; agreement between Governments, between North and South, and agreement within the divided communities in Northern Ireland.
Mr. O'Kennedy: That total commitment will remain the constant theme of our parties. Continuing sectarian murder of the kind we have seen, which would be a blight on any land, should renew our commitment to bring about the terms for lasting peace.
Senator Honan mentioned the Bill that will come before us on Thursday. In the course of that  debate I hope the Minister for Health will deal with the statement he made yesterday, which is at odds with the experience of every practitioner in the Law Courts, including myself. The Minister indicated yesterday that because he had been advised the State had no liability, he was not in a position to admit liability. He must surely know that the fact that liability is formally denied in pleadings is no bar whatsoever to a settlement agreeable to both sides.
An Cathaoirleach: I do not think there is any need to give notice to the Minister. The Senator will be able to give proper notice and will be entitled to make all these comments, and more, on Thursday.
Mr. O'Kennedy: I thank Senator O'Toole. As a matter of record and procedure, the vast bulk of cases listed in the High Court, even where liability is formally denied in the pleadings in the pretrial documents, are agreed by way of settlement by counsel on both sides.
Mr. O'Kennedy: The Minister's statement that he was pre-empted or prevented from doing that is palpably contrary to practice and procedure, never mind contrary to the human considerations that any Minister should bring into place. I hope we can discuss that issue.
The final issue with which I want to deal would not be quite relevant to the first item on today's Order Paper, that is, the Youth Work Bill, 1997, but it touches on it. Colleagues will be aware that one of the biggest issues for young people who may be taking up employment for the first time is the prohibitive cost of motor insurance.
We must all be conscious of the fact that young people are prevented from getting motor insurance because of prohibitive overloading by insurance companies. I am simply suggesting that the Leader bring to the attention of the Minister the need for a procedure which would allow young people to satisfy, perhaps through special driving courses, the conditions which would give them the same right as every other citizen to be insured so that they will not be faced with these prohibitive costs. They are being severely discriminated against.
Mr. Farrell: During the week a popular morning radio programme allowed a lady ten minutes to castigate the Garda Síochána for being unreasonable when a garda stopped her for driving an untaxed car. The big BMW was 12 months on the road untaxed. Gardaí have a tough enough job to do without radio presenters giving such people——
Mr. Farrell: Will the Leader ask RTÉ where is the balance? Why was a member of the Garda Síochána not asked to give the other side of the story? It is scandalous that RTÉ is using its air time in this way. The main reason was that the presenter wanted to be critical of the zero tolerance policy. If zero tolerance ensures that cars are taxed, I am all in favour of it because there are far too many cars without tax or insurance on the roads.
It was grossly unfair to use air time to castigate gardaí who are doing their job efficiently and properly. I ask that there be balance in future. When such a person is being interviewed, the presenter should have somebody give the other side of the story so that we can hear the two sides on the same day.
Mr. Townsend: A serious problem has arisen on the Carlow-Kilkenny border in Dranagh/St. Mullins where a local telephone company intends installing a mast. The people are very concerned and they are holding a public meeting on Thursday night.
Mr. McGowan: I support the plea to those involved in sectarian killings in Northern Ireland to cease their actions because they have not achieved anything. I hope the House will be unanimous in its condemnation of these acts. I do not take kindly to Senator McAughtry's statement that he wants to give advice to senior Members of the Opposition, among whose number I count myself. I thought the Senator was elected to the Seanad to advise the Government on how best to tackle the problems in Northern Ireland. Either Senator McAughtry or the Government has failed miserably during the past two years because matters are at a standstill.
Mr. McGowan: I believe no progress has been made since the tripartite Government took office. It is clear that serious discussions have not taken place. The Taoiseach visited the new British Prime Minister for appearance sake. There have been no negotiations of substance; the Taoiseach merely visited John Major before the election and visited Mr. Blair after. Nothing of substance has happened.
Mr. Lanigan: Concern has been expressed about the proposed amalgamation of Grand Met and Guinness. This will have major consequences in Kilkenny, Waterford, Dundalk and Dublin. It is suggested that there will be no impact on employment but, if we consider what happened during past amalgamations and rationalisations, there is no doubt that jobs will be lost. In excess of 300 jobs have been lost in the brewing industry in Kilkenny during the past number of years. The industry is now doing well as a result of the introduction of new products. However, given the size of the proposed amalgamation of Grand Met and Guinness, I fear that the directors involved——
Mr. Lanigan: I will do so in a moment. As with recent amalgamations and flotations, I fear that the directors will gain most and the workers will be left behind. I believe workers in Ireland or possibly the Far East will lose out.
Mr. Lanigan: If the amalgamation proceeds, drinkers will be obliged to pay more because the price of certain alcoholic drinks will increase. Will the Leader arrange a debate on this matter as soon as possible?
I wish to raise two further points. There has been an appalling earthquake in Iran and approximately 10,000 have been killed. I compliment the Government for sending its first tranche of aid. I sincerely hope people are as generous with aid to Iran as they have been to other areas and that they will forget there may be difficulties associated with its Government. Will the Leader convey to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the aid agencies involved that we must look at the humanitarian problems caused by the earthquake, even though certain people might not agree with the country's politics?
In view of what has been said about the North, Senators should compliment the courageous stance taken this morning by the Church of Ireland Archbishop, Dr. Eames, when he suggested that the Orange Order should look at their rules which state that they cannot talk to Roman Catholics. He got involved in an attempt to eliminate the problem in the North where Catholics and Protestants are being killed without reason. This problem was again highlighted this morning. We send our condolences to the family of the chairman of the GAA club in Derry for the loss they suffered as a result of another sectarian attack.
Mr. Magner: Does the Leader agree there has been a tradition in the House, since the time Taoisigh appointed Members from the North, that we listen and respect their views because they have a very unique perspective to offer to the House? It has been said over the past few weeks that this will be a dirty election. Many people on all sides, including Fianna Fáil Taoisigh, have made heroic efforts to try to settle the Northern Ireland question. Shouting across the floor “we did better than you” or “you did worse than us” is the height of nonsense and hypocrisy and it should not be entertained because it is not true.
Will the Leader point out to Senator McGowan as regards Northern Ireland that there should be no divisions in this or the other House as has been the case over the past number of years and that they should not appear now for electoral advantage?
Mr. R. Kiely: I thank the Leader for providing time for a debate on agriculture this evening and I hope it will be fruitful. I condemn the murder of the chairman of the Bellaghy GAA Club in Northern Ireland last night. It was an atrocious and sectarian act and such incidents must be stopped.
Mr. Burke: I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Education in regard to the setting up of a review body for examination papers. It is great news for those who run into difficulties with their results that there is now an independent body to which they can refer their cases.
Mr. Manning: First, I will address item No. 4 on the Order Paper which was referred to by Senators Wright, O'Toole and Honan. It does not give me pleasure to ask the House to postpone the completion of the Bill. As I said, there were two reasons for doing this. Senator McGennis requested that we do so in light of the Supreme Court case where it was indicated the Bill would be examined. The Attorney General has given strong advice that the amendment proposed is unconstitutional and clearly no Government can go ahead with such a proposal. Senators Wright, O'Toole, Honan, McGennis and I have been active on this issue.
This is not like an ordinary Bill which might be shunted to one side in the course of a change of Government. There is a possibility that the problem which is of vital importance to a small number of people can be addressed in a legally safe way. I cannot be expected to put a Bill which is not legally and constitutionally safe through the House. The Department, the Attorney General and I are committed to resolving this problem. I give a solemn commitment that if this Government is returned to power and I am back in this position, the Bill will be reinstated on Report Stage on the first or second day of the first session. Senator Wright has indicated he will give the same commitment if the Opposition is in power. It is a human problem which I want to resolve in a proper manner and one which will last. I thank Senators for their understanding on this important issue.
Senator Wright raised the business for the rest of the week. It is as circulated by the Whip. I hope we can complete outstanding business on  Friday, presuming that events in the other House, in which we take a small interest, take place on Thursday. I give Senator O'Toole an undertaking that business will not be steamrolled through a depleted Seanad. I am sure the same will apply to the Opposition. The events in 1992 should not have happened and I am sure they will not happen again.
Senator Wright also mentioned Sellafield. His suggestion is constructive, as is his interest in the subject, and I will convey it to the relevant Minister. I suggest that the issues raised by Senator Bohan last week would be more appropriately dealt with as Adjournment Matters, which may elicit a speedy response. There will be a full possibility for discussion on the points raised by Senator Honan and Senator O'Kennedy in the debate on Thursday. Senator McAughtry made his case well and fearlessly and it does not require further comment. Senator O'Kennedy referred to the Youth Bill. There will be an opportunity to make the related points about insurance.
I agree with Senator Farrell about the interview to which he referred. There is a danger that comments can be made on phone-in programmes without any great degree of responsibility. They can be unfair to politicians. Many of us have been the subject of these comments and are not in a position to respond. Comments are left hanging in the air. I heard the interview and given what has now transpired, the question has to be addressed.
Senator Townsend raised difficulties on the Carlow-Kilkenny border. I did not catch the full import of what he said but I will obtain a copy of his contribution and refer it to the relevant Minister. Senator McGowan raised Northern Ireland. Senator Lanigan raised the merger of Grand Metropolitan and Guinness. This House does not have any involvement in that but I take his concerns on board. His point on the earthquake in Iran was more relevant. It is important that whatever distaste people have for the Iranian regime should not be allowed interfere with humanitarian considerations. I am glad Senator Lanigan raised the outspoken, courageous and timely statement by Archbishop Eames this morning, which deserves the support of all parties in this House.
I agree with the points made by Senator Magner which do not need any elaboration. Senator Rory Kiely raised a question of which I was not aware. However, the murder to which he referred must be condemned by all people and sympathy must be sent to the family. We are all concerned about the spate of horrific and mindless sectarian killings in Northern Ireland in the past couple of days. It is one of the worst symptoms of a society close to anarchy that we have seen for a very long time. The condemnation and sympathy of all sides of the House goes out to the relatives concerned. With Senator Burke, I commend the Department of Education for setting up the new examination review body.
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