Wednesday, 5 November 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: Today's business is items 1 and 6, motion 9. For item 1 I suggest time limits of 15 minutes for spokespersons and ten minutes for all other Senators; Senators may share time. Item 6, motion 9, will be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Mr. Manning: Today's business is agreed. Will the Leader indicate the programme of legislation for the remainder of the session? Will he also indicate the progress, if any, that has been made in preparing the Trinity College Bill which was discussed during the passage of the Universities Act? My understanding was that a Private Bill would be introduced to put into effect what was agreed at that time.
Mr. O'Toole: The process of constituting the membership of committees has begun. It is difficult  for groups to establish the membership of committees without knowing the Government's intentions. The latest list we received did not indicate any Government decisions. It is still reviewing most of the previous committees. It is very difficult to organise business without knowing what committees are going to be established. We know about three of them but a huge number are under review. Is the Leader in a position to tell us which committees will be re-established?
Mr. Costello: I wish to bring to the attention of the Leader the hundreds of angry people protesting outside the House despite the press statement issued yesterday by the Government about delivering on public service pension parity. Obviously this is not the case and considerable clarification is needed. For example, in the teaching profession so much of the payment is for posts of responsibility, A posts, B posts and vice-principal posts, but they have not been included. This is one anomaly and we are far from parity. Seventyseven thousand public servant pensioners are affected by this.
Will the Leader clarify Government thinking on the recent decision of Judge McCracken regarding the need for every court clerk to be personally appointed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the enormous and horrendous implications this has for the entire legal process? If one step of the legal process is wrong then this would have serious implications for every person who appears at a District Court, the initial step for every case and we could have thousands of offenders in prison with questionable convictions. This decision has huge implications for thousands of cases before the courts at present. The Minister seems to be taking it very casually. When one link in the judicial process is considered faulty, the entire process may also be wrong. Will the Leader inform us whether the Government will introduce legislation to rectify this matter?
Miss Quill: In light of the confirmation we have just received about the nature and scale of the drug problem in this country, can the Leader arrange for this issue to be debated here? I have no doubt there are people who have an insight into new initiatives which might be taken to prevent drug abuse and to provide better protection for young people. It is evident that whatever initiatives have been taken to date have been unsuccessful. It is time we debated this issue. A Minister should come into this House, listen to our views and allow us to play our part in putting in place a better framework to protect our young people who live in an era where the drug culture has a strong influence.
Mr. S. Ryan: I wish to raise the abduction of Fr. Des Hartford in the Philippines on 27 October last. The safety of Fr. Hartford who is a native of Lusk, County Dublin, is a matter of grave concern to his brothers, sisters, extended family and  friends in my constituency. I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister for Foreign Affairs the fears and anxieties of everyone for the missionary who has been in the Philippines for the past 30 years. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to use his influence with our EU partners or any other agency in the area to make a joint approach to the Filipino authorities to ensure that Fr. Hartford is released unharmed as soon as possible?
Mr. Mooney: I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister for Foreign Affairs the fact that a great many people in this country continue to campaign for the transfer of prisoners from the UK jurisdiction. The British Home Secretary, Jack Straw, recently sanctioned the transfer of three such prisoners to this jurisdiction. There are at least another half a dozen applications which are currently being processed between our Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the British Home Office. This is a timely decision in view of the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland. In that context I reiterate a request I made some weeks ago that this House should, on an ongoing basis, debate issues relating to our emigrants. Is there anything in the reform initiatives carried out by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges over the past number of years which would allow such issues to be put before this House by non-Members as we have done in the case of distinguished visitors? Our most recent visitor was Professor Dooge who discussed EMU. I am sure there are many Members and others who would welcome a clarification of issues affecting emigrants which do not normally enter the mainstream of Irish political life. This is an issue which the Committee on Procedure and Privileges might address. Overall I commend the initiative and ask the Leader to convey my sentiments to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
I also commend the Taoiseach's appointment of Deputy Keaveney as a Government representative on the Irish prisoners visiting panel in the UK. It is a welcome initiative and I hope Deputy Keaveney will build on the success she has had.
Mr. Norris: I note from the newspapers that a new Indonesian Ambassador was among four Ambassadors presenting their credentials to the Council of State yesterday. That suggests it is opportune for this House to discuss the question of East Timor in order that this gentleman can be apprised of our views on this matter. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, has a distinguished and satisfactory record in this area and I believe he would make himself available. Therefore, this afternoon I will place a motion on the Order Paper, after consultation with the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign. Will the Leader indicate if it would be possible to have a discussion on this matter in which the House has shown a consistent interest?
 Would it be possible to have a report on the functioning of the litter legislation, specifically as it affects Dublin? There does not appear to have been any improvement. This is something of which we should be ashamed. A couple of days ago I stopped a young man in the street who had thrown away a lot of rubbish. I remonstrated with him and the older person who I thought was with him said, “I am not his father; I am German. There is nothing you can do; the Irish people are dirty and they drink too much”. I replied that there were some things in his background which I could draw to his attention which are slightly worse than uncleanliness. It is a common perception that we are dirty and some people are at ease with that notion. We should disabuse them of this as it is a serious and unpleasant idea. It deters tourists and gives the wrong impression.
On the question of the confusions in the law which have led to people being released, we might have the wrong end of the stick. We have wasted enormous sums of money building prisons which are not needed. If the Government could be persuaded to spend money on investment in areas such as the north inner city the crime figure could be halved. If we are to have a debate on this subject let us also have a debate on the morality of addressing crimes simply by building prisons.
I welcome that we are being treated to a programme of music in the Oireachtas. I detect this every afternoon on the Order of Business. This afternoon it was harmonicas. Could I have the address to which I might reply to join the mouth organ school?
Ms Ormonde: In relation to the trial of Louise Woodward it is time to have a full discussion in this House because there is concern about the employment of au pairs or nannies, particularly in the education field, where one is recommending a young girl, with post-leaving certificate, perhaps to take a year out to take up a position as an au pair or nanny. I examined the records and it appears that Ireland has not yet signed the Council of Europe agreement which deals with pay and conditions employers would have to provide to employ a nanny. I am concerned about this. There is a lot of sloppiness regarding this issue which makes everybody apprehensive, particularly those in the education field. We should also examine the area of child training in regard to pay and conditions. Will the Leader ask the Minister to give some time to have a full discussion on this issue?
Mrs. Jackman: I support Senator Costello's call for clarification on the pensions issue and the huge number of teachers who are confused about the announcement in the past few days. Would it be possible for the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, to say when he intends to move on the long promised heart and lung transplant unit?
Mr. Finneran: I reiterate my compliments to the Minister for Finance and the Government for addressing the issue of public service pensions that the last Government failed to address. I also compliment the Ministers for Finance and Health and Children for addressing the issue of pay for nurses and retired nurses and to undo the wrong perpetrated on them by the former Minister for Health in these negotiations.
Everyone agreed there was a need to set up a number of tribunals in recent years to establish facts and elucidate information. In the interests of civil servants, who, regardless of the composition of successive Governments, have made an excellent contribution to the State, I suggest the establishment of a new tribunal to discover the identity of the individual who leaked documents from the Department of Foreign Affairs. This would clear the good name of civil servants and establish whether former Government advisers were involved. We must discover who was responsible and re-establish the good name of civil servants.
Mr. Connor: Will the Leader bring to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture and Food matters relating to the payment of premia and income supports to farmers? Under a charter of rights agreed by the farming organisations and the Minister a number of years ago, such payments are meant to be paid by 31 October. However, only 33 per cent of them were made by that date. This is critical for farmers, particularly because research carried out by the CSO, the Department, Teagasc and other bodies has shown a continuing reduction in farm incomes. Will the Leader raise this matter with the Minister so that he might discover why the payments were not delivered on time?
Mr. McGowan: Will the Leader arrange a debate on the issue of masts and pylons? Concerns have been expressed about unauthorised pylons or those erected without planning permission. I raised this matter on previous occasions and I request that it be debated in the near future. Those people who erected unauthorised masts and pylons should be made comply with the law and apply, under the Planning Act, to have these structures retained. It is impossible for a local authority to implement strict planning regulations if large pylons are being erected each day. A number of Members represent local authorities and the House must be seen to be concerned.
The review committee of the European Union will meet in the near future to discuss the funding granted to agencies under the headings of peace and reconciliation and the international fund. The House should examine the effectiveness of the funding allocated or distributed to 74 agencies nationwide. That money is thinly spread among many organisations and community groups and they cannot deliver anything; this leads to a lack of confidence. Local authorities are also involved in this area and their members expect the House  to express a view on this important matter. Will the Leader arrange a debate on this issue in the near future?
Mr. Lanigan: Will the Leader invite the Ministers for Health and Children and Social, Community and Family Affairs to appear before the House to discuss the issue of elderly people who are not members of the VHI or who did not take out insurance against old age? These people have incomes ranging from £5,000 to £10,000 and if they possess a medical card they are catered for by the State. It has been said that the State is lacking in this area but it must be pointed out that the resources are in place. However, if a person is earning between £5,000 and £12,000 a year, which is a very small income, and living alone, they will not get any help from the social services. They are treated as if they are lepers. If a local health nurse visits them, all they can do is recommend that they employ somebody to look after them but one cannot get anybody to look after an elderly person for sweatshop wages.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to address an urgent debate in the House on many matters which are problematic throughout the world. At a meeting of the UN Security Council last Thursday is was suggested that sanctions be imposed on Unita, which is one of two parties to the Lusaka agreement in Angola. People may not be interested in Angola but there are more landmines in that country than people. The most horrific civil war occurred there over a period of 12 years. Angolan Government forces have gone into Brazzaville and areas surrounding Angola, yet no sanctions have been imposed on the MPLA which is the majority Government party.
Mr. Lanigan: May I ask that the Minister for Foreign Affairs address the problems that Unita is concerned with at present? A Senator said they won the elections, but they won them in the same way that elections were won in various parts of the world where the government filled ballot boxes.
Some time ago I asked the Leader about landmines and on that occasion I agreed with Senator Lanigan. The armaments industry has killed more innocent people than drugs ever will. More innocent civilians are killed by the products of the western arms industry than by the entire Third World drugs industry. Rich people produce arms to sell to the poor while poor people produce drugs to sell to the rich. We disapprove of one and make money from the other. We should debate the issue.
In the same newspaper report that Senator Norris mentioned, I noticed that the Ambassador of Brunei presented his credentials yesterday. May I ask the Leader why we seem to have diplomatic relations with every country except Cuba, which would be regarded as one of the leaders of the Third World?
Mr. B. Ryan: Is it because we are on the side of the United States? Is there any other reason we have relations with much worse and with many better countries? The only reason we do not is that one country disapproves of us having diplomatic relations with the most significant country in the developing world. Will the Leader ask our progressive and liberal Minister for Foreign Affairs why we have not done the obvious?
Mr. Walsh: Will the Leader make representations to the Minister for Foreign Affairs about the continuing blockade by truck drivers in France? As a trading nation this dispute impacts adversely on our importers and exporters and has horrendous consequences for our transport industry because domestic and international hauliers are badly affected by it. Will the Leader raise with the Minister for Foreign Affairs the fact that those involved have been able to conduct their campaign with impunity? It is unacceptable to have such a display of anarchy in a democracy. There should be some harmonisation at EU level of the methods by which the law is administered to ensure that this never happens again.
Would the Leader suggest to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government that our  electoral system be examined? Any electoral system which failed to elect people of the calibre of Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese to the Lower House must be in urgent need of examination.
Mr. Walsh: That is true. I welcome the fact that expressions which conveyed a partitionist mentality during the election campaign were emphatically rejected by the electorate. The maturity of the electorate also contrasted with the expressions of some Unionist politicians which did not display the same level of maturity.
Mr. T. Hayes: Can the Seanad, like the Dáil, hold a debate on agriculture and the Santer proposals? It is most important to hold such a debate at this juncture. Mr. Santer visited this country last week and there is great concern throughout rural Ireland and particularly in the agriculture sector about the proposals. The issue should be fully debated in the Seanad. It is even more important that the Minister for Agriculture and Food be present for the debate. I am not casting aspersions on the Ministers of State but the debate warrants the attendance of the Minister, Deputy Walsh.
Mr. Glynn: I strongly identify with the sentiments expressed by Senator Finneran about the parity of pay issue in the public service. I also support Senator Walsh's comments about the plight of our truck drivers.
Will the Leader take up with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, the fact that the name of many housing estates is in English only? If it is not already provided for in legislation, the Minister should introduce the necessary legislation to ensure that all road signs pertaining to roads, housing estates and other such constructions are bilingual and that it be a requirement for an individual or corporate body to secure the relevant planning permission.
Mr. Ross: Senator Mooney asked that a representative of emigrants be invited to address the Seanad. That is an appalling suggestion. If we entertain suggestions of this nature, representatives of every Tom, Dick and Harry will be invited to the Seanad to give us a lecture about their hobbyhorse——
Mr. Ross: I am taking about the same amount of time to discuss it as Senator Mooney. I would not countenance a debate on the matter. It is a privilege which should be used sparingly. It was a mistake on the part of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to allow people come before the House to tell us what we should think about certain issues.
Mr. Ross: We should not make a blanket condemnation of the public service as a whole. The point applies specifically to teachers. If the Minister had not capitulated, they would have been demonstrating outside the gates of the Houses next Wednesday.
Mr. Ross: I am tired of seeing teachers demonstrating outside these gates. The next thing they will do will be to seek a day off to picket outside the gates because they get a day off for everything else.
Mr. Ross: I would be grateful if the Cathaoirleach would ask my associates and friends not to interrupt me. We ought to distinguish between those in the public service who really need it, such as the nurses, and those who do not need it and are the spoilt brats of the public service, such as the teachers.
Mr. S. Ryan: I am not setting a precedent. I apologise if I get emotional over this matter, but I ask the Chair to be generous and allow this Bill to be printed so it may be discussed in Private Members' time.
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator's proposal is not in order and he is out of order. I like to be as fair as possible to every Senator and I will allow him to raise that matter on the Order of Business on the next sitting day.
Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business is not getting any shorter, but I know the Members' concerns are great and I am only to pleased to respond. In reply to Senator Manning's query about the Trinity College Bill, I will investigate the matter and reply to him this afternoon.
Senator O'Toole asked about the establishment of committees. I understand one or two of  the larger committees are to be announced today, and I know our select committee is sitting today under the chairmanship of the Leas-Chathaoirleach. As regards other committees, I will inquire and reply to the House on the next sitting day.
In reply to the issue raised by Senators Costello, Jackman, Finneran and Glynn about the public service pensions announcement, there are conflicting views but I, and most others in the Oireachtas, wholeheartedly welcome the announcement.
As regards Senator Costello's point about the court clerk appointments by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, he can discuss the matter with the Minister when he is in the House next week. This is a young Minister of whom much is expected. He introduced 13 Bills when Opposition spokesperson on Justice.
I will accommodate Senator Quill's call for a debate on drugs. We will have such a debate within the next two weeks. Senator Seán Ryan spoke of Father Des Hartford who has been a missionary for 30 years and we sympathise with his position in the Philippines. This morning's news stated that a member of the Filipino Government has gone to see how this matter is progressing. Deputy Wright has expressed concern on this matter in the Dáil and I share that concern as do all Members of this House. I will pass on those concerns to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Senator Mooney welcomed the transfer of prisoners and the House would concur with that. He also suggested an annual debate on emigrants and I would be pleased to accede to that request. I will facilitate Senator Norris's call for a debate on East Timor. I also agree with his comments on the Litter Act and the need for tighter enforcement of its provisions. Like me, the Senator will welcome the improved proposals for O'Connell Street. Hopefully we will see a marked improvement.
Senator Ormonde called for a debate on the pay and conditions of au pairs and nannies. This is in the context of the Louise Woodward case which has captured the world's imagination and I will facilitate this request. Senator Jackman inquired about the heart and lung transplant unit. I will raise this matter with the Department of Health to see if I can obtain the information she requested. Senator Finneran called for a tribunal on leaks and the protection of the good name of the Civil Service. I will have to think about this to see how it can be progressed.
Senators Connor and Hayes called for a debate on agriculture. We will have such a debate. I will discuss this with the Minister for Agriculture and Food to see when it can be arranged. I hope it will be in the very near future.
 Senator McGowan called for a debate on the 74 agencies overseeing the disbursement of EU funds. This is a very good idea and I will confer with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. He was in this House a few weeks ago and this is a timely proposal from one of the fathers of the House.
Senator Lanigan made a good proposal about senior citizens who find themselves in dire need. I will contact the Departments of Health and Social, Community and Family Affairs on this matter and arrange to have a debate. Senator Brendan Ryan asked me to inquire from the Minister for Foreign Affairs why we do not have diplomatic relations with Cuba. I will do so and contact the Senator.
The House will support Senator Walsh's point regarding the French truck drivers' strike. This is a serious matter for our economy and that of the EU. It must be looked at by individual member states as well as at EU level. The Taoiseach spoke to the French Prime Minister yesterday evening in relation to this serious matter.
Senator Glynn made a good point. I did not realise that some of the names of our towns, streets and public places were not in both languages. I will pass on his comments to the Minister and the Taoiseach.
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