Wednesday, 22 October 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: Items 1, 2 and 6, motion 4. Item 1 deals with the referral of the Taxes Consolidation Bill, 1997, to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills to be taken without debate. As regards item 2 — Merchant Shipping Commissioners of Irish Lights Bill, 1997: Committee Stage — if the House is agreeable and the time is available Report and Final Stages will also be taken. Item 6, motion 4, implementation of the Refugee Bill — to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; I propose that ten minutes be allocated to speakers.
An Cathaoirleach: Before I call Senator Manning, I point out that I have been and will continue to be lenient in the amount of time I will give each of the Leaders who wish to raise matters on behalf of their parties or groups. However, in the case of other Senators who wish to raise matters on the Order of Business, I insist that they confine themselves to questions to the Leader which relate directly to the business of the House. Lengthy contributions are not in order. While a Senator may seek to have a debate on a particular matter or to have an item included on the Order of Business, it is not in order to discuss the merit or content of that matter or item.
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed. In view of the fact that Senator Ridge's matter on the Adjournment has been ruled out of order for proper reasons, will the Leader make time available for an omnibus debate on disability? Senator Ridge has raised an issue which is one aspect of mindless bureaucracy making life more difficult for people who already have a physical disability. There were some important debates on this topic in the last Seanad and I ask the Leader to make Government time available to discuss this topic in the next two weeks.
The Leader indicated the legislation he hoped we would be dealing with in this session two weeks ago. There are now six weeks at most left in this session; can the Leader be more specific about the legislation we can expect to be introduced in the House in that period? From my experience on both sides of the House, there will almost certainly be a dearth of legislation during November. At the beginning of December Departments will suddenly discover Bills that are of the utmost importance, all Stages of which need to be taken in 25 minutes. There will be Ministers rushing in to ask if Bills can be taken. There is no way this side of the House will agree to Bills being rushed through before Christmas, as happened when, as Leader, I asked the same. This is particularly true if it follows a drought of legislation in the preceding weeks. The Leader will have the support of all sides of the House when insisting that Departments follow proper procedures.
I have already raised the problem of accommodation but, regrettably, it has not been resolved. It is now critical for my group and I believe the Fianna Fáil group is also having problems with the lack of accommodation. It is a scandal that this House does not have control of its own affairs and is not in a position to regulate the distribution of office space among parties. We must wait until a civil servant decides what we will be allowed. I ask the Leader, who is very forceful in these matters, to make this a priority and to resolve the issue. There is also the ongoing problem of the ratio of secretarial staff to Senators; it is worse than it was in the last Seanad. This will also have to be resolved urgently.
Mr. O'Toole: On the question of legislation to be taken during this session, the Leader gave a commitment on the first sitting day that we would be given plenty of notice of forthcoming legislation. It is clear from the list published by the Department of the Taoiseach, which was given to us by the Leader, that drafting of legislation is complete. I too ask the Leader to outline the legislation that will be dealt with in this session. The Leader should indicate to Departments that Bills should be initiated in the Seanad. While the Dáil is arguing about other matters, legislation which should and could be initiated here is mounting up.
It would also be appropriate for people planning for the medium term if Senators knew the sitting arrangements over the next few weeks. We will certainly find ourselves with difficulties coming up to Christmas; all the indications of that are there now. Certain legislation must be taken before the end of the year. If the Appropriation Bill, which must be dealt with, is added that effectively takes up the final week. We are running out of time. The sitting arrangements must be closely examined.
There are a number of non-legislative issues which need to be discussed at length. The taxi service for Dublin city is causing huge problems. I would appreciate a debate on this. There does not need to be a confrontation. It is difficult to raise this as an Adjournment matter because this is an area for which there is no direct ministerial responsibility; it has been handed over to the local authorities. However, we could take an overview of it in this House. Parents are worried about their children coming home at night. Some people will not come to the city because they cannot get transport home, and there are people taking risks with the driving laws.
The second issue I wish to discuss was raised by the main Government party when on this side of the House, that is, the Bill concerning the Shannon. The Government has stated that it was considering establishing an inland water authority. There has never been a national debate on that issue. We need a clear understanding of governmental direction on this. We do not need a Green Paper or White Paper but we do need to know the views of the Government. These issues could be considered for debate on a Thursday.
Mr. Gallagher: In light of the widespread anger and incomprehension in this House and among the public, the female population in particular, that, under current legislation, the DPP is unable to initiate prosecutions in what Judge Finlay outlined in the hepatitis C tribunal as cases of culpable negligence, will the Leader indicate if the Government will undertake as a matter of urgency to introduce the necessary reforms to allow cases of criminal or culpable negligence to be prosecuted in our courts?
Miss Quill: I too wanted to raise that matter. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Justice,  Equality and Law Reform to come to the House and explain what steps the Government proposes to take to resolve the legal difficulties the DPP claims to have encountered in relation to the hepatitis C scandal? It is not acceptable in terms of natural justice that prosecutions would not follow. There is a huge onus on the Government to resolve the difficulties if current legislation does not enable the DPP to proceed. If it is not sufficient we must put new legislation in place. This is a fit subject for debate in this House.
Mr. Norris: I would like to raise another matter which may not be comparable to other matters already raised, that is, facilities in this House. It is astonishing that we are still so restricted in our access to the House. I raised this issue before but I was misunderstood. I meant that it is astonishing that the electricians, the broadcasting people and the cleaning people are allowed into the House at weekends but we are not allowed in after 9 o'clock on a Friday evening. I do not see why. Sometimes it is much easier to work at the weekend when you can clear your desk. Will the Leader of the House raise this urgently as a matter of interest to Members? In practical terms you may be asked suddenly to go abroad, perhaps on the business of this House — and a document or passport can be in the office and it is virtually impossible to get it. We are grown up people and should be entrusted with keys to our offices, particularly when others are allowed in. I am not making a class distinction here but I do not understand why this is the case.
Would the Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if I am right in assuming that Ireland is one of only two of the 38 countries in the Council of Europe that has not absorbed the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic legislation? I find this astonishing as one of the architects of the convention was Seán MacBride, a person for whom I did not have a great deal of time, except in this instance. It seems extraordinary that such a person should have his work ignored. Perhaps we could have a debate on the matter and open up this avenue. This might require a referendum but I understand there may be a referendum on the Amsterdam Treaty in the spring. Perhaps both referenda could be held on the same day. This House might open up the debate by way of an informed discussion on the matter but, in the meantime, I would be grateful if the Leader could seek the information I request.
Mr. Lanigan: Would the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to address the House on urban renewal and designated areas? A debate has begun as to the value of this scheme, particularly regarding designated seaside resorts. I have no doubt that urban renewal has taken place as a result of what has happened in designated areas. As the present scheme will not end for another year, now might  be a good time to initiate a discussion in the House to help the Minister in his review of urban renewal and the designated areas scheme.
The reorganisation of local authorities is very much in people's minds at present. A discussion should take place on this matter, particularly regarding funding because the authorities will have to adopt new methods and new committees will have to be set up. This will not be possible given present local authority staffing levels. There is an urgent need for an early discussion on the matter.
A general debate on foreign affairs should take place as soon as possible. In the meantime the Leader might ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to ask the EU to address, as a matter of urgency, the horrific situation in Algeria during the past 12 to 15 months when more than 60,000 people were killed by Government forces in certain areas and by rebel forces in others. There is a need for intervention by either the United Nations or the EU. I believe the EU would have moved more quickly in this regard but for the attitude of France who seem to be vetoing any intervention by the EU. I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to urgently request the Organisation of Islamic Countries to intervene in this conflict. This is being seen as militant Islam fighting against the Government but what is happening in Algeria is totally against the precepts of the Islamic faith.
Mr. Connor: My question relates to the promised legislation to give statutory effect to the western commission which replaces the western development partnership board. Its headquarters is in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon, and it has recruited its chief executive officer and staff. However, it cannot proceed with its good work in developing the western region, which is the most disadvantaged in the country, until it is given statutory effect. The previous Government promised to introduce a Bill on the matter. The commission will use public funds and must also draw down funding from the private sector and the EU. As that legislation would be non-contentious and would give rise to a very good debate, I ask the Leader to have the necessary legislation introduced in this House.
Mr. McGowan: Will the Leader arrange a debate on the erection of pylons and masts? The public is disturbed that some of these have been exempted from the planning process, while ordinary developers must follow very strict planning regulations. It is important to debate this matter. The late Erskine Childers asked me a long time ago why we had let the ESB destroy Barnasmore Gap by erecting pylons there.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on Northern Ireland before the Christmas recess? Recent events here involving green books have alarmed a large section of the community in the Northern Ireland. This House has no difficulty in having a very open and honest debate on the current situation  in the North, which would make a helpful contribution.
Mr. S. Ryan: Will the Leader, with the consent of the House, enable the Local Government (Planning and Development) (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which is item 5 on the Order Paper, to be printed? This is uncontroversial legislation which will enable local authorities to take into account the track record of cowboy developers when considering planning applications. It is a problem throughout—
An Cathaoirleach: I interrupt Senator Ryan in order to clarify the matter for him. The House can only decide on the introduction of the Bill if it has been already agreed that item 5 is to be included in the Order of Business. If the Senator wants to pursue this matter now, he should move an amendment to the Order of Business to seek to have item 5 included. Does the Senator wish to formally move an amendment to the Order of Business?
Mr. Lydon: I support Senator Manning's call for a debate on disability. If the Leader agrees to such a debate, I hope it will be as wide ranging as possible, and cover mental and psychological disabilities as well as physical disability.
I hope no one minds me mentioning that. Considering I come from Ulster, I am a Catholic, a Nationalist and a member of a republican party, I hesitated to speak on the Order of Business. I hope you will excuse me.
Mr. Cosgrave: I support the inquiry made by the Leader of the Opposition regarding secretarial and accommodation facilities. The House was elected on 6 August and met for the first time on 17 September. The Leader has made some effort, but has encountered difficulties. Will he do all in his power to resolve the outstanding problems?
I also support the comments on opening the Houses on Saturdays. The Leader indicated last July that he would make inquiries on this matter. It should be possible to arrange at least a limited opening to Members. I recently needed to gain entry on a Saturday. While some of the senior officials were helpful it was a laborious way to proceed. 
The Leader appeared to indicate that the normal time allocated to Private Members' business has been changed. While it may suit some Members to extend the allocated time it would mean less time for other business. Will the Leader clarify the position?
Mr. Burke: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance to reconsider ending the car scrappage scheme, which was one of the best schemes introduced by any Government? It resulted in the vast majority of the old cars being taken off the roads. Given that the MOT testing of cars over four years of age will commence in 1998 it is wrong to end it.
The Taoiseach has indicated he will establish a high powered committee to consider the carnage on our roads. Consideration should be given to a motorist's code of conduct. For example, overtaking on the inside lanes of motorways and slow driving close to the centre of roads should be banned.
Mr. Walsh: Will the Leader explore how best the House could express its abhorrence of the recent leaking of documents from the Department of Foreign Affairs? No matter how importantly one may view the presidential election and the gains or losses arising from the leaks, it is reprehensible given the damage to the fragile peace negotiations in the medium and long term. The House should condemn it with one voice. Perhaps the Leader will also convey to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the view of the House that no stone should be left unturned to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The implications of what has happened are serious. I know from talking to people in the North that it has undermined their confidence in dealing with Departments and public officials, which is regrettable.
Will the Leader discuss with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the possibility of extending the powers of local authorities to engage and employ traffic police, who would be separate from the Garda Síochána, as a means of addressing the carnage on the roads? It is an issue of major concern.
Mr. O'Dowd: I ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Ahern, the urgent need for changes in the free fuel system which runs for 26 weeks from mid-October to mid-April. This is much too short a period, particularly for elderly people who must purchase fuel in cold weather.
I also ask the Leader to point out to the Minister that £5 is totally inadequate to purchase a bag of coal. The cheapest bag of coal in County Louth costs £6.50 but this is poor quality fuel. There is an urgent need to examine this matter because it is unfair to elderly people and other recipients.
Mr. B. Ryan: I join Senator Gallagher and Senator Quill in requesting a debate on the fact that it appears one must be poor to be prosecuted or go to jail in Ireland. Yet again people in powerful positions have been rewarded for their inadequacies and failures. I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to explain to the House what he proposes to do in terms of legislation and administrative and Garda practices to ensure that in future people in responsible positions who fail to discharge their duties will be accountable to the law and not just their consciences. It is a most inadequate response to a serious health crisis for a huge number of people in society.
Mr. Caffrey: I wish to bring to the Leader's attention the announcement by Lionbridge Technology, a major IT and computer company, of its intention to locate in Ballina. This is a major breakthrough for the Ballina area and much credit is due to many people and different organisations, including the Ballina Industrial Development Association, the IDA and the new task force set up by the Minister following the collapse of the Asahi industry. I also acknowledge the contribution of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, regarding the location of the industry in Ballina.
I ask the Leader to request the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, to use her office to bring to a successful conclusion the negotiations, which have been ongoing for the past three years, with the consortium of industrialists and FÁS regarding a major auto training centre. Unfortunately, this matter has reached crisis proportions and the consortium of industrialists is almost at the point of breaking off negotiations. This will lead to the loss of the centre in Mayo. I ask the Leader to urge the Minister to try to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion.
Mr. T. Hayes: I ask the Leader to bring to the notice of the Minister for Agriculture and Food the problems regarding the legislation on dairy hygiene which is being implemented in Ireland by officials on behalf of the EU. They are being much more stringent in terms of the implementation of the Act in Ireland than in any other European country. This is causing serious hardship, financial and otherwise, to farmers and, as a result, many people are getting out of dairying. This is very sad and I ask the Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister.
Senators Manning, O'Toole, Norris and Cosgrave asked about facilities in the House. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges will meet at 4 p.m. today and, with the Cathaoirleach's permission,  I hope to discuss the matters highlighted which Senator Fitzgerald, the Government Whip, and I, have tried to bring to a conclusion. Perhaps we could progress matters at the discussion today. It is not good enough and I support everything that has been said.
Senator Manning and Senator O'Toole asked for the list of legislation. Senator Manning is speaking with much experience as he was the Leader of the previous Seanad during which legislation was introduced two or three weeks before the end of each sitting. That is how the legislative process worked in the past and I do not foresee it operating any differently between now and Christmas. The joint legislative committee, which meets each Thursday morning, is trying to address and streamline the process. I hope to have the definitive list for Senators this day two weeks. I have a fair idea of the legislation but I do not want to commit myself. However, if Senators have a particular interest in any legislation, I will let them know the position.
As the presidential election will be held next week, there will be no sittings. We will sit again the following Wednesday and Thursday. Senator Ryan called for a debate on taxis. The Local Government Bill will be brought before the House in a couple of weeks and that may be an opportune time to discuss this matter. However, if the Senator does not consider it to be such, we will address the matter in another way. Senators Gallagher, Quill and Ryan were disappointed with the outcome of the DPP's findings. I have no objection to the Minister for Justice coming to the House to discuss the matter but since he was recently bereaved, I will discuss it with him next week.
Mr. Cassidy: Senators Norris, Lanigan and Walsh raised a number of points on foreign affairs. I will allow a debate on that subject as soon as the Minister is available. We are in an extremely difficult situation but I will ask the Minister to make himself available at the earliest possible opportunity.
Senator Lanigan called for a debate on the urban renewal scheme with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. Such a debate is timely as the urban renewal scheme ends on 31 July next year. This is an opportune time to let the Minister know the success it has been in most of our towns and larger cities. The scheme has changed the landscape and created employment. It was a positive idea and I would be delighted to ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss the scheme. The reorganisation of local authorities is a priority of this Seanad. We all represent local authority members and should give this matter priority. With the permission of the House, I will make a lot of time available at the earliest opportunity to have full  discussion on this topic which is near and dear to our hearts.
Senator O'Dowd asked about the free fuel scheme. He is fortunate that the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs is a constituency colleague in County Louth and I am sure he will take those matters into consideration when I bring them to his attention. I will communicate with the Senator directly.
Senator Caffrey asked about matters pertaining to Ballina and future factories there. I will contact the office of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment this evening and communicate with the Senator before the close of business to inform him on this serious subject. I sympathise with the Senator in this regard.
Senator Hayes asked for a debate on agriculture. I hope to have such a debate early in the next session. If possible I will make time available this session but, if not, I will have it at the earliest opportunity in the next session. As agriculture is one of our most important industries it should be debated at least once a year in this House and as long as I am Leader I will facilitate Members in that regard.
The Cathaoirleach referred to the number and urgency of matters raised on the Order of Business each Wednesday; I hope Senators will bear his comments in mind. From time to time Ministers are kept waiting outside the Chamber. However, if I give them a specific time to be here they will not have to wait between half an hour and three quarters of an hour while we are deliberating the Order of Business. I will try to accommodate them on Wednesdays and Thursdays and I hope to have agreement among our leaders on this favourable arrangement of our business.
Mr. Cassidy: I have tried to have agreement with the various groupings before the Order of Business. I ask Senator Ryan to leave the amendment for another day when I will look at it sympathetically and do everything I can to facilitate him.
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