Thursday, 18 December 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: Today's Order of Business is items 1, 2, 3 and 4. Item 1 is to be taken without debate. All stages of item 2 are to be taken today with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. Item 3 is to be taken without debate on the conclusion of item 2. There will be a sos between 1 and 2 p.m. Item 2 will resume at 2 p.m. unless previously concluded. Item 4 will be taken at the conclusion of item 3. The contribution of spokespersons on item 4 shall not exceed 20 minutes and those of other Senators shall not exceed 15 minutes. Senators may share time.
Mr. Burke: We agree to the Order of Business. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance to come into the House to discuss the issue of the sale of the ICC, ACC and TSB? The customers of those banks, who have supported them over the years, should be entitled to a windfall in the same manner as the staff or customers of other institutions such as the Irish Permanent. Those  institutions have provided a great service to this country and we should have a debate on the issue.
Mr. O'Toole: I have previously raised the issue of mandatory reporting of child abuse and the current Government say they are considering it. I will not rehearse the cases which have been in the newspapers in recent days. The fact of the matter is that if an effective structure is not put in place in a proper legislative context, there will continue to be problems in this area. It is not clear who the appropriate Minister is to deal with this area. However, a senior Minister should be given responsibility for dealing with this issue of national consequence and should outline the Government's position on it.
Some Members of this House have been campaigning for the past 16 or 17 years for the extension of voting rights in Seanad elections in numerous ways, including extending them to all third level graduates. Lest there be any fear of unanimity among the independent group, I would personally find the idea of having one large constituency of 500,000 people very attractive indeed.
Mr. Gallagher: Yesterday, I requested a priority debate on the issue of the risk of transmission of new variants of CJD and other infections through the blood supply. I stated my belief that it is necessary to carry out a full risk assessment of blood products currently in use in the Irish medical field. I am glad to see that the medical director of the BTSB is moving towards the position of treating all blood donations for the depletion of white blood cells to lessen infection. This is an area of concern and we should ensure that a system is put in place which would ensure that if further scares arise, people would not be informed about them on the public airwaves. The Government should allocate funding to the research, which is currently ongoing, in respect of a test which would trace CJD infection in blood. Will the Leader arrange a debate in the near future as this issue continues to be one of grave public concern?
Ms Keogh: Will the Leader of the House once again bring to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the urgent need for a paedophile register? Since I first raised this issue we have seen many incidents reported in the press relating to convicted child molesters. This matter is extremely urgent and we must deal with it in the context of a legal framework. It is unfortunate that people sometimes take the law into their own hands. If this was dealt with in the manner in which I have suggested, we would not see the type of occurrences we have unfortunately seen. It is critical for our children to come first. We must take care of our children in this nation. I appeal for this matter to be brought to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform once again.
Mr. Farrell: I congratulate the Minster for Defence for visiting a soldier who had the misfortune of losing a hand in a recent accident and for assuring her that she will be welcome to continue her career in the Army. It is a far cry from the days in the early 1950s when I lost a hand and received my cards from the ESB before leaving my hospital bed. Thank God there have been big improvements for the disabled.
Mr. Farrell: In 1982 I drove a pony and trap from Bundoran in County Donegal to Dún Laoghaire in County Dublin to highlight the plight of the disabled across the country. Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment to re-examine the conditions relating to disabled drivers? If one loses a small toe one can qualify as a disabled driver, thus getting a car without having to pay car tax. One could get a brand new car every four years as well as a fuel rebate. However, if one loses a hand one gets no consideration as a disabled driver, yet when one applies for a licence one must have a certificate of competency and fitness. In addition, one's insurance premium will be loaded by 100 per cent - at least, mine was in 1952 and insurance has not improved since then — despite the fact that one has not had a car accident. Disabled people like myself are penalised as drivers and receive no consideration. They bear the brunt of the disability yet have none of the advantages.
An Cathaoirleach: I appreciate the points that have been made by the Senator and I have allowed him considerable latitude because of his particular interest in this matter. However, we cannot debate the matter now.
Can something be done about the Geneva Convention Bill? Five years ago I was assured it would be dealt with urgently. We have had the 20th anniversary of the passing of the 1977 protocols to the Geneva Convention, yet the Bill has still not been brought before the House even though it has been ready since May. It should be possible to bring it before the House as I do not think the present Government has any problem with it. I would be grateful if the Leader would see if the Bill could be brought before the House early in the next session.
Mr. Glynn: I support the comments of Senator O'Toole and Senator Keogh. The House should call on local authorities to provide caretaker  facilities at all public toilets. This would eliminate at least some of the acts that are being perpetrated at local authority public conveniences.
Many doctors complain about the quality of medical cards, which appear to be written on pieces of cardboard. Medical cards should be made using state of the art technology. Health boards should take the necessary steps to ensure that medical cards are consistent with the technology age in which we live.
Mr. Coogan: I support my colleague, Senator Burke, in calling for the Minister for Finance to come before the House to debate the sale of the ACC, ICC and TSB banks. While not unexpected, it is a momentous decision which is worthy of debate in the House.
Mr. McGowan: Will the Leader arrange a debate early in the new year on the problems of regionalisation? The Taoiseach is in Brussels today defending Ireland's case against a threat to take the whole country out of the EU's Objective 1 region. Many representatives from rural areas know that a large part of the country is not yet ready to be taken out. If we sit silently and do not make our voices heard, we will deserve the treatment we receive.
The Leader should provide time for the House to debate this matter in such a way that a clear message is sent to those in a position to make decisions, both in the Government and in Brussels. That debate could perhaps be arranged along with another debate I have asked for on the various funding agencies, such as the International Fund for Ireland, the Fund for Peace and Reconciliation and other European funds. It would serve the House well if we had enough time to make a useful contribution in this area.
Mr. Costello: I agree with the call by Fine Gael Senators for a debate on the ACC, ICC and TSB banks. If we are going to change those banks into some other format, privatise them or whatever is being proposed by the Government, we should have a discussion on the matter in this House.
I support the calls by a number of Senators for the provision of a paedophile register. The incidence of allegations in relation to various forms of abuse is really appalling. We need a register to ensure we can track people who are passing from one jurisdiction to another and who are committing crimes of a very serious nature. I take the point made by Senator O'Toole in relation to mandatory reporting. We must have some mechanism in place. There is much greater support than the Government thinks for a strong mechanism for reporting abuse.
Mr. Dardis: I refer to the point raised by Senator Gallagher in respect of CJD and the association, if any, with BSE. It is important for the public to be reassured on these matters. The possibility of contamination from blood is infinitesimal, if indeed there is any possibility at all of picking up CJD from blood. There is a small possibility, if there is any at all. There is no known case involving blood to blood transfer of CJD. However, that is not to say I disagree with the Senator in respect of the treatment of blood. I noted what was in the newspaper this morning about that matter.
On 1 January 1998 we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of our accession to the Common Market and it would be appropriate to find some method of suitably marking that occasion in the new year. I recommend that to the Leader.
Mr. Norris: Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá faoin mBille Toghcháin an tSeanaid (Ardoideachas), 1997, de chuid an Theachta Dála, Risteard Mac an Earraigh. I agree with any proposal to introduce a Bill to examine this situation. I have no difficulty with widening the franchise.
Can we have a full debate early in the next session on item 11, motion 8 on East Timor? Bearing in mind that Tom Hyland of the East Timor-Ireland Solidarity Campaign is returning from East Timor, that few people from this country have managed to be there in current circumstances and that there is provision for this House to address the matter, perhaps he might be permitted to take part in a small way in that debate when it is arranged.
Mr. Cassidy: Senators Burke, Coogan, Costello and Norris expressed concern about the ICC, the ACC and the TSB and asked for a debate on the matter with the Minister for Finance. I will allocate a half day's debate to it in the first or second  week after the House resuming in the new year. It is a serious proposal and it affects small industry in a significant way. I support the call for this debate and will arrange to have it as one of the priorities when the House resumes after the Christmas recess.
Senators Gallagher and Dardis expressed concern about CJD. I spoke with the Minister for Health and Children about this and I hope he will come to the House for a general debate on all health matters at the earliest possible opportunity in the next session. A significant number of Ministers have come here and discussed various aspects of their Departments. This is the first session of the new Seanad and, by the time the next session is over, I hope to have had all Ministers here debating their various Departments.
Senators Keogh and Costello raised the issue of the paedophile register. I agree with them and will pass on their wishes to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform after the Order of Business.
Senator Henry raised the issue of the Geneva Conventions (Amendment) Bill, 1997. This Bill fell with the dissolution of the last Dáil and it was on Second Stage at the time. I will have it reviewed to see what progress can be made towards having it included in the next session. I have an up to date report for the House to let it know what we have achieved and I am sure it will be pleasantly surprised. I will come to it after I have dealt with Members' queries.
Senator Glynn requested that medical cards be brought into line with modern technology and I concur with him. He is attending the December meeting of the Midland Health Board today and perhaps he can raise this issue and any other business at it. I will support him if he does.
Senator McGowan, one of the more experienced Members, raised the issue of funding for Ireland after 1999 from the EU and other funds, and I have agreed to have a debate on that. I share his concern for rural Ireland in this issue, as do all Members of the House. The Taoiseach is in Brussels this morning fighting the cause of future funding for our country.
Senator Dardis stated that 1 January was the 25th anniversary of our accession to the Common Market and that we should commemorate it. I have not been asked before to recall the Seanad for New Year's Day, but if the Members so wish, I will seriously consider it and let the House know early in the morning.
Mr. Cassidy: Senator Norris raised the issue of East Timor. As the Independent Senators have the second Private Members' Time in the next  session, perhaps he could arrange with his leader to have a debate on it then.
Earlier in this session I was asked to give the House an outline of what legislation would come before it. The Government promised 21 Bills at the start of this session. Some 20 Bills have been published since the Government came into office at the end of June and five have been restored or have motions for restoration. This exceeds the promised number of 21 Bills.
The 25 Bills and their current status are: Taxes Consolidation Bill, 1997, which has been enacted; Arbitration (International Commercial) Bill, 1997, which is in select committee; Air Navigation and Transport (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which is in select committee; Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which has been passed by the Dáil and will be discussed by this House today; Courts Service Bill, 1997, which is on Committee Stage in the Seanad; Interpretation (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which is enacted; Turf Development Bill, 1997, which is in select committee; Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (Powers and Functions) Bill, 1997, which is in select committee; Criminal Justice Bill, 1997, which is on Committee Stage in the Seanad; Scientific and Technological Education (Investment) Fund Bill, 1997, which is to be passed by both Houses by 18 December; Employment Equality Bill, 1997, which has been published and will be the first Bill to come before the House at the start of the next session; Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which has been passed by both Houses; Courts (No. 2) Bill, 1997, which has been passed by both Houses; Transfer of Sentenced Persons (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which has been passed by both Houses; Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1997, which is on Second Stage in the Dáil; Merchant Shipping (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1997, which is on Second Stage in the Dáil; Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997, which is on Second Stage in the Dáil; Appropriation Bill, 1997, which is in both Houses and must be passed by 19 December; Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill, 1997, which has been enacted; Children Bill, 1997, which has been enacted; Child Trafficking and Pornography Bill, 1997, which was published this morning — Senator Henry will be pleased to hear that; International War Crimes Tribunal Bill, 1997, which has been published; Plant Varieties (Proprietary Rights) (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which has been published today; Roads (Amendment) Bill, 1997, which was published today; Central Bank Bill, 1997, which will be published on Monday.
Some 25 Bills have been brought before both Houses of the Oireachtas in this session. In the first session after the previous rainbow Government came to office only six Bills came before the House. The Government is to be commended for its magnificent work in this session. I am grateful  as Leader of the House for the six Bills which were initiated here in that time.
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