Thursday, 23 October 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
Item 1 on the Supplementary Order Paper circulated this morning is a motion establishing the foreign affairs committee. The matter can be taken without debate if that is agreed. Business will be interrupted between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.
Mr. Manning: Could the Acting Leader ascertain, for the information of Members, the committees that will be established for this Parliament, particularly the ones on which Members of this House will serve? Many Members will wish to serve on committees and at this stage we do not know what committees will be set up.
Mr. O'Toole: On that point, it is important to recognise that the reason for setting up committees was to allow for full participation by Members. The idea was that, rather than having debates in the House with a lack of direction, there would be committees where Members could participate. A certain number of Members would attach to each committee. It is important to decide who will participate in committees, but that cannot be done until we know what committees will be set up. I ask the Acting Leader to ensure that the numbers of Members participating in these committees will not be less than was the norm for such committees. It is unfair to Members if they cannot participate fully in committees. Could the Acting Leader indicate what Government thinking is on the number of committees it intends to establish?
I ask the Acting Leader to raise with the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance their commitment to restoring parity to retired public servants regarding pensions. We have discussed our commitment to the elderly on many occasions. This commitment was given and I wish to know where the matter stands at this point. If necessary we should have a debate in this House on the matter. An injustice is being perpetrated because commitments were given which should be honoured during the course of this financial year.
Mr. Connor: I have a query in relation to the difficulties encountered by people involved in the meat industry in bringing their facilities up to standard to meet the requirements of the Abattoirs Act which was initiated in this House ten years ago. The Act is only coming to fruition now and the rather costly imposition on the operators of bringing their premises up to standard is a major problem. The Government is committed to this as a result of a statement in its election manifesto, which I take is now Government policy, which speaks of “providing an incentive package to assist in the necessary upgrading of abattoirs as a component of the overall emphasis on food quality and food safety”. People in the trade are finding it very difficult to access that undertaking. I ask the Acting Leader to make inquiries in this regard.
Mr. Finneran: I support, to some extent, Senator Connor's argument on the implementation of the Abattoirs Act. Operators are having difficulties in meeting the regulations. A debate on the matter would highlight those points.
Will the Acting Leader arrange a debate on health? A number of issues have arisen in that area recently, one of which was mentioned by Senator O'Toole, which is the pensions of retired public servants, particularly nurses. Some 1,000 nurses protested outside the gates of Leinster House recently. They are very aggrieved at their mistreatment in the nurses' pay settlement. Could we have a broad debate which would include issues such as the shortage of nurses and the  emergence of an unusual strain of TB? Will the Acting Leader consult with the Minister for Health and Children on having an open debate in which Members could raise relevant issues?
Mr. McGowan: Will the Acting Leader arrange a debate on the current situation in the North of Ireland, which becomes more urgent every day? The statement made by Lord Molyneaux in the House of Lords is an attempt at scaremongering people who are already on the edge in the North. It would be useful for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come to the House and allay the fears of such people, who perhaps find it easy to believe the wild statements made by Lord Molyneaux. Only good can come from an open debate in this House.
Mr. Kett: Will the Acting Leader clarify the basis of a notice placed in the newspapers two weeks ago by the Minister for Finance to the effect that a £5 million fund was being set up from the proceeds of the national lottery to compensate charities which were in direct competition with the lottery? Can the many charitable organisations which could not coexist with the national lottery and went out of business with heavy losses apply to that fund for compensation? The early stages of setting up a lottery are the most expensive, given the need to promote the product and so on. Will those organisations have the option of applying to that fund on a one-off or ongoing basis? The national lottery affects their ability to fundraise on an ongoing basis.
Mr. O'Dowd: Will the Acting Leader bring to the attention of the Taoiseach and Government the need to reform the Seanad, in particular to increase the electorate to include graduates of all third level institutions, including regional technical colleges? Will he also bring to the attention of the Government the fact that hundreds of thousands of emigrants, particularly in Britain and the US, have no voice in the Oireachtas? It is important to give them a voice in any proposed reform of the Seanad.
Mrs. Ridge: I am sorry I was not present when you responded to my previous request for a debate on disability. I ask you to proceed quickly with that important debate. I am becomingly increasingly aware of the lack of attention given to the most vulnerable in society. For example, visually impaired students in one third level institution may not have their guide dogs in residence on the campus, although they are allowed have them during the day. That is disgraceful. We talk about equality but it does not exist. I hope you  will include the matters to which I referred in that debate.
Mr. T. Fitzgerald: Many questions were raised about issues which will arise over the next few weeks anyhow. Everything seems to be urgent. Members will agree there has been a great change in the Seanad over the past couple of years. The Leader of the Opposition set an example when he was Leader of the House whereby statements were taken on Thursdays. We will try to continue to air matters which might otherwise have had to wait for Private Members' Time.
Senators Manning and O'Toole asked about committees. I cannot enlighten them at this time because our office also encounters the difficulties outlined by Senator O'Toole. Many Senators wish to serve on committees but we have not yet established the full list. As soon as the Leader's office receives that information we will pass it on to the Senators.
Senators Connor and Finneran raised the issue of the meat industry. By coincidence, last week I asked the Minister of State with responsibility for food to come to the Seanad for a debate on food production, including the meat industry. I hope to arrange that debate soon and it will include the issues raised by the Senators.
Senator Finneran asked for a debate on health issues, including the shortage of nurses. As I said earlier, there were demands today for four or five debates which could take four or five weeks. However, health issues are very high on that list and we will endeavour to have such a debate.
I concur with Senator Manning's remarks yesterday regarding the amount of legislation the House is asked to consider in December. In cooperation with the Chief Whip of the other House I will endeavour to stem and manage any onrush.  Senator Kett referred to the £5 million fund available from the national lottery for charitable organisations. The Lower House debated the lottery recently. I will endeavour to answer the Senator's inquiry.
Senator O'Dowd raised the issue of extending the franchise for the university seats to Regional Technical Colleges and other third level colleges. A document on the Seanad was produced by a group chaired by Deputy Jim O'Keeffe. We will consider debating it and the question raised by the Senator.
We would be happy to arrange a debate on the points made by Senator Ridge. We need to discuss the position of people with disability. A number of Senators on this side of the House, especially Senator Kett, requested such a debate.
|Last Updated: 21/05/2011 02:59:31||Page of 8|