Wednesday, 18 February 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed. There is no mention of the foreign adoptions issue on the Order Paper. I do not intend to move an amendment today but we would like to see promised Government action on the matter by Friday.
Recent news stories about the current over-crowding in Mountjoy Prison, which continues to be a great blemish on the legal system, report that people continue to imprisoned for defaulting on debt. A solicitor from County Mayo is on hunger strike in the prison. While I do not intend to discuss the merits of his case, he is in prison because of a debt that has not been paid. There must be other ways of tackling this problem in this day and age, either through community service or attachment orders of various kinds. It is appalling that people are going to prison because of their inability or refusal to settle matters of outstanding debt. We should discuss the matter and I ask the Leader to make time available in the near future.
Mr. O'Toole: If the Employment Equality Bill, Committee Stage, is not to be concluded today will the Leader indicate when he intends to have it concluded? It is an important Bill and appropriate time should be allocated to it.
I support Senator Manning's request in relation to the Adoption (No. 2) Bill. The matter has been raised repeatedly. Too many commitments have been made about the insecure position of people who have adopted children from South America. Independent legal advice has been sought and the Attorney General has also taken legal advice. The Government knows where it stands and Members have asked for this matter to be restored to the Order Paper. If that does not happen this week, Members have a responsibility to make the Government aware of the matter every day on the Order of Business.
I asked the Leader previously to arrange a debate on industrial relations in terms of a national minimum wage and other aspects. Members need to be informed about this matter and the exact position of opposing sides. The most important aspect is the recognition of trade unions and the dispute involving Ryanair and its attempt to undermine national agreements and good faith. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this topic next week.
Mr. Costello: The Order of Business is agreed. In the context of Senator O'Toole's points about industrial relations, what is the position regarding the commission on the national minimum wage that was supposed to report by the end of December? This was to be the starting point of a  debate on the issue and perhaps the Leader could use it as a basis for a discussion on this area.
Item 5 is the Protection of Workers (Shops) (No. 2) Bill. It deals in the main with Sunday trading but perhaps it could be extended to cover the wider area of union recognition and the issue of low pay in Ryanair and elsewhere. This would be most desirable in terms of a debate on industrial relations in general. Such a discussion would be most appropriate at this time.
Does the Leader have any information on the proposed visit by Senators to St. Ita's Hospital in Portrane? This visit was requested by several Members and the Leader raised the matter with the hospital management. Senators want to make that visit as soon as possible.
Regarding item 7 and the Bill relating to the referendum on the Amsterdam Treaty, my colleague, Senator Gallagher, has repeatedly pointed out that the wording is unchanged in the Order Paper despite the Government's decision to change it. Will the Leader indicate when that referendum will take place? Will it be on a Friday? The two forthcoming by-elections will be held on a Wednesday. This is most unusual and there is no explanation for that decision. There are tremendous advantages in holding elections on a Friday because it maximises the number of votes. Will the Leader give the House information on this matter?
Dr. Henry: I wish to raise the important matter of the office of the insurance ombudsman. There has been a considerable amount of public comment on the fact that the insurance ombudsman will not be replaced. However, she is not in a position to speak about the matter. Everybody must deal with insurance companies and the office of the insurance ombudsman has offered great protection for people in the last five years. I ask the Leader arrange a debate on this topic so Members can find out if the suggestion is correct that her independence is the cause of her dismissal from office.
Mrs. Ridge: I endorse the comments of my colleague in the other House, Deputy Flanagan, about the ridiculous time at which “Oireachtas Report” is broadcast. I read an article by a journalist which did not depict Members in a glowing light. However, viewers should have the opportunity to decide whether we are good at our jobs. The quality of debate and level of courtesy in the House are examples to other politicians. The public should not be denied the interest, and perhaps pleasure, of watching us on occasions. The 2.30 a.m. time of broadcast is not suitable.
Mr. Finneran: I join with the Leader of the Opposition in his call for a debate on imprisonment for non-payment of fines and failing to meet financial obligations. Transporting people to prison with two gardaí in a taxi is also a great expense to the State and is an inappropriate way to transport prisoners. It is time we examined this matter. I join in the call for a debate on this issue. Other avenues should be pursued where people are sent to prison for not paying a fine of £25. This merits debate in this House.
Mr. T. Hayes: The workers at Seagate Technology today collected their redundancy cheques. While I recognise the Tánaiste was courteous and addressed us before she addressed the Dáil when the issue arose, could the Leader of the House ask her to come before this House so we might find out what is happening? People in south Tipperary are extremely concerned about replacement industry. Other areas seem to be getting them and, while I welcome employment being created in any area, people in south Tipperary feel left out. I request that the Leader ask the Tánaiste about this matter immediately.
Mr. Farrell: I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the most appropriate way to celebrate the new millennium. We should not lose sight of the fact that it is the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. Already there are media gurus objecting to any monument connected with this. We should debate how we feel the millennium and the birth of Christ should be properly recognised.
Mr. Burke: I ask for a debate in this House on the restructuring of local authorities. Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come before this House as soon as possible? We understand he has plans to restructure local authorities and create new positions within the system which will require many changes. This is the appropriate House for an in depth debate on this subject.
Mr. Mooney: I am trying to be discreet Senator Ridge. I was going to go further than the Senator and suggest that the committee on broadcasting would convey to RTE the views expressed in the other House. This seems to be is part of an agenda within RTE. It happened first on radio and, as a broadcaster, I was annoyed for some years that Oireachtas Report intruded on my own broadcasting time. Then it was shifted to a slot very late at night. On television it was a moveable feast. This matter is of real concern as it is the  only television outlet for the proceedings of the Oireachtas and, as has been pointed out, it has a significant audience. I endorse everything Senator Ridge said.
I also ask the Leader for a debate in Government time or for time to be made available for statements on the development of digital television. Digital television will impact on this House in that proposals already in the public arena from cable operators suggest there will be several channels available with one channel dedicated to the proceedings of the Dáil and Seanad throughout the day. This will be a significant and welcome development for the general population who cannot visit these Houses unlike many of our constituents who can watch proceedings from the public gallery. Due to rapid developments in this area I ask the Leader to arrange a debate so we can all express our opinions in order that it may be of assistance to the Minister who will be bringing forward legislation in this area before the summer.
Mr. Norris: I support my colleague, Senator Henry, in her remarks about the insurance ombudsman. It seems that the insurance ombudsman was so independent that his backers have withdrawn their support. This is a serious cause for concern in ethical terms. I ask the Leader if we can have a debate on the whole question of ethics in the financial area. The debate should cover not only the insurance industry but also the banks and matters such as the use by the banks of huge amounts of money left in dormant accounts for which they make no effort to trace the beneficiaries.
Mr. McDonagh: Will the Leader indicate when the Education Bill will come before this House? Will he impress upon the Minister for Education the importance of having adequate funding provided for the implementation of the relationships and sexuality programme in our national schools? They find it very difficult to put this programme in place because of the cost of aids and so on. It would be a pity if this vital and good programme could not continue through lack of funding.
I also support Senator Norris's call for a debate on banking institutions particularly on a day when one of the two main banking forces here, the AIB, has announced record profits. I am not impressed with those profits. I know these banks have a responsibility to their shareholders but they have lost sight of their customers. I am particularly concerned about referral charges.
 Since last October I have mentioned the need to have a full audit of blood and blood products with reference to the possible risk of contracting the new variant of CJD through that process. The Leader indicated before Christmas that we could have a health debate shortly after our resumption in which that matter could be concluded. Following the latest episode whereby it seems information was communicated to the people concerned, we should have an urgent debate on health and I would like it placed on the agenda of this House as quickly as possible.
Mr. Coghlan: I, too, support Senator Henry's call in regard to insurance in view of the fact that the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment announced a month ago that disclosure would be dropped from the draft regulations on the selling of insurance products and, now that the Competition Authority has disagreed strongly, I ask the Leader if we can expect a U-turn like that announced by the Minister for Finance on another matter yesterday.
Mr. Cassidy: Senators Manning, O'Toole and Finneran expressed concern at the delay in replacing the foreign adoption Bill on the Order Paper. I hope the Bill will be discussed before the end of this week. I will endeavour to have it restored to the Order Paper at the earliest opportunity.
Senators Henry, Norris, Bonner, Costello, Ridge and Mooney requested a debate on the independence of the ombudsman for the insurance industry. I can agree to their request. I noted with great interest the number of contributions in last Friday's debate.
Senator Thomas Hayes called for the Tánaiste discuss the closure of Seagate in this House. I will relay his request to the Tánaiste's office. A debate on the millennium, requested by Senator Farrell, would be timely. This could be included in Fianna Fáil's Private Members' time. Senator Burke is consistent in his request for a debate on local authorities. I will try to have time made available for this. I will come back to Senator McDonagh this afternoon with an answer to his query about the education Bill.
Senator Gallagher added his voice to the call for a debate on mobile 'phone masts. I intend to facilitate this debate within the next two weeks. I also support his call for an update of information on new variant CJD.
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