Friday, 13 February 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: The proposed Order of Business is item 1. Contributions of spokespersons are not to exceed 30 minutes and, by agreement, spokespersons who have previously spoken on this matter may speak again in today's debate. The contributions of other Senators should not exceed 20 minutes and Senators may share time.
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed. On behalf of my party I wish the Government, the British Government and the participants in the peace process well over the forthcoming difficult days. This is the most dangerous stage in the process and nothing we should or could say in the Seanad should change anything. We must be careful in our comments and hope the current difficulties will be overcome.
I compliment the Leader of the House on his foresight in organising a debate on finance for today, when the Seanad will have an opportunity to hear at first hand the fastest U-turn in the history of Irish politics. Mondello Park will be no competition. It cannot be that the group opposite want to kick the credit unions in the teeth just weeks after a budget in which the rich were made richer. I hope the Minister will undo what the leader of the credit unions called the greatest cock up in Irish tax history. I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the opportunity to make up the forum where the Minister will perform his U-turn.
Last night I received the whip for next week from Senator Tom Fitzgerald. The Leader said yesterday there would be statements on agriculture. On the proposed whip for next week there is a motion under the guise of statements affirming the role of the Minister for Agriculture and Food and praising his work to date. That is not a statement. Statements are neutral. If the Leader wishes there could be a motion which we could amend or vote against. What we have been given is not normal practice. Would the Leader look again at the proposals for next week and give us a series of statements? If that is not what  he wants he can give us a motion which we can amend. He should not try to continue with this half way house which, in my experience, has never happened before.
Mr. O'Toole: I agree strongly with the point just made by Senator Manning. I am happy to have agriculture debated under the terms of a motion which could be amended, discussed and voted on. I would prefer that. This is a break with convention.
Forty years ago an INTO member teaching in Basin Lane school saw the poverty around her. She tried to do something about the deprivation. In her local national school she founded the first Irish credit union. It met with such success that when the credit unions were recognised by law, President de Valera invited her to Áras an Uachtaráin with a flowery speech as to the commitment of the State to credit unions and their mutual status. That woman died ten years ago this week. It seems an extraordinary way to remember her. I am a founder member of a credit union myself and have been involved with its commitment to mutuality for some years. This is the thin end of the wedge and I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this. Trade unionists everywhere will be watching with great concern, as they will be watching the concept of mutuality in building societies. I ask the Minister to clarify this matter today.
Mr. Costello: I have a problem with item 1 on the Order of Business as presented by the Leader of the House. There was no agreement that speakers who had spoken before could contribute. It is only six weeks since we debated it.
Mr. Costello: The Leader of the House said that by agreement all people who had spoken before could contribute again. As far as I am concerned there was no such agreement. It can be agreed now but there was no prior agreement.
I am glad to see the Minister for the Environment and Local Government has set up the two committees on which I had been seeking information. They are to report, one on Dublin's boundaries and one on boundaries in the rest of the country, by 1 July. The Minister did not deem it fit to make a presentation to either House on the matter but there should be ample opportunity for the Minister to come into the House so we can present to him our views on appropriate areas of reform, particularly as this is the centenary of the foundation of local authorities.
A debate on Northern Ireland has been requested at every sitting of the House for the last number of weeks. The peace process will continue  for a number of months and many developments are taking place. Since the subject is being debated in every forum, it is appropriate that this House should debate it.
We should also debate the confrontation between the United States and Iraq. We should be seen to show interest and concern by having a full scale debate on this issue which has a great effect on world peace. Those two items could be scheduled for a Friday sitting, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Mr. Lanigan: Could I draw the attention of the House to an article by John Cusack, security correspondent, in The Irish Times this morning which says that Irish troops in the Middle East are to be issued with nuclear, biological and chemical protection suits. The United States Government says its objective is to remove biological weapons from Iraq. Irish troops, who are part of UNIFIL, the United Nations Force in the Middle East, are being provided with NBC suits in preparation for any escalating regional conflict if Iraq is attacked by United States led forces. The United Nations are issuing protective suits to UNIFIL troops against an attack by United States led United Nations troops. If the security correspondent is correct, Irish UN troops are being protected from attack by their own troops. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Defence to ask the United Nations what is going on? Are United Nations troops protecting themselves against themselves?
I do not like to complain about the media but this morning we heard a sister of the late lamented Bobby Sands, a woman who represents nobody, giving a diatribe against the peace process lasting three quarters of an hour on the Pat Kenny programme.
Dr. Henry: In view of the alarming report from the chaplain in Mountjoy Prison this morning of the conditions endured by prisoners and staff in the prison, will the Leader request the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to request the visiting committee of Mountjoy prison to make an emergency visit there tomorrow and will the Leader arrange a debate on their report of that visit next week?
Mr. Coogan: The issue I wished to raise has already been mentioned by Senator Henry. Will the Leader ask the Minister to make a statement on the serious consequences of overcrowding in  Mountjoy Prison on the prisoners and the consequences of early releases on society?
Mr. Glynn: Yesterday I raised the question of refresher courses for drivers. Refresher courses are available for every other activity. I do not ask that drivers be asked to take a second test but refresher courses would be very useful.
Mr. Glynn: On the issue of St. Ita's in Portrane, it would be appropriate if we debated the report by the inspector of mental hospitals. As someone who is au fait with the operation of psychiatric hospitals, it is important to remember that the people working there cannot be blamed. Over the past number of years, under successive Administrations——
Mr. Glynn: Will the Leader of the House convey my concerns and ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to issue a regulation that no mature trees should grow on public roads? Many people have been killed by trees in stormy conditions.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: There have been many requests for a debate on Northern Ireland and I also urge the Leader to arrange one. There are times when the least said the better. However, this House will approach this matter in a balanced and prudent way. We are entering a crucial stage of the peace process. We may forget how much has been achieved by all the parties involved - the Irish and British Governments, Sinn Féin and the loyalists have worked together to quickly bring negotiations to this stage. A debate in this House will be just as important as the discussions on current affairs programmes on television and radio every night. Excluding any party from the talks, particularly with a May deadline in prospect, will not be helpful.
Mr. Chambers: Watching the coverage of the American consideration of the bombing of Iraq, it is chilling to see the strategic power of communication, where pressing a button can affect the lives of so many people. This House should ask the country which considers justice, equality and human rights most important, to reconsider forcing their power on the lives of innocent people.
The NESC report was published during December. Will the Leader ask a member of the Government to make a statement on the essence  and content of that report? What does the Government intend to do to right the imbalance identified in the dispersal of the next tranche of European funding?
Mr. Dardis: I note the requests for a debate on Northern Ireland. They are well intentioned and are for all the correct motives. However, I agree with Senator Manning that we are at a delicate stage in the negotiations and that the most eloquent statement was yesterday's silence which indicated our desire for a peaceful outcome. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation was to convene but, by request of one, if not more, of the parties in Northern Ireland, the meeting has been postponed. That is a prudent development. In that context, we should reflect on this matter and give it careful consideration. The House has a good record in respect of debates on Northern Ireland and Members have always approached the subject in a generous, sensitive and constructive manner. At this juncture I would be reluctant to be overly prescriptive in terms of what Members should say in respect of how the talks should proceed. I ask the Leader to bear that in mind.
With regard to the proposed agenda for next week, I regard statements on foreign affairs as extremely important. I concur with Senator Chambers remarks about Iraq. Last night it was noticeable that there is a growing body of opinion in the United Kingdom and on Capitol Hill in the United States which is intent on resisting conventional wisdom in this area. However, we can return to this matter next week.
Mr. Cassidy: I wish to be associated with the remarks made by the Leader of the main Opposition party, Senator Manning, in extending good wishes to those involved in the peace process during this sensitive period.
Senator Costello raised the issue of contributions by principal spokespersons. As the Cathaoirleach correctly stated, the motion on the Appropriation Act, 1997, is a new item on the Order Paper. I accept Senator Costello may not be aware that the House agreed to permit principal spokespersons to contribute. With regard to the Senator's call for a visit to St. Ita's Hospital, I stated yesterday that a request has been made and when the hospital authorities reply I will communicate with the Leaders of the various groups.
The requests by Senators Costello, Ó Múrchú and Chambers for a debate on Northern Ireland can be facilitated next week. However, with the negotiations poised at a delicate stage, I concur with the views of the Deputy Leader of the House and other Members in respect of the sensitivity of the situation.
I will convey Senator Lanigan's views to the Minister for Defence. Senators Henry and Coogan raised overcrowding in Mountjoy. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will return to the House on Wednesday next and  the Senators might find an opportunity to highlight this problem which was widely publicised by the media this morning.
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