Thursday, 2 April 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: Today's Order of Business is items 1 and 2. Item 1 will be Order for Second Stage and Second Stage with 15 minute contributions from all speakers. Item 2 will be taken at 2 p.m. also with 15 minute contributions from all speakers.
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed. I wish to raise two matters. First, the reports of a car bomb found at Dún Laoghaire this morning are disquieting. I congratulate the Garda on averting what might well have been a major and dastardly tragedy in Britain. It brings home clearly that there are powerful enemies of the peace process at large and the strongest possible condemnation of what they are attempting to do should emanate from the House in addition to a commendation for the Garda in averting a potential tragedy.
Second, we should express our solidarity with those involved in the peace process at this crucial  stage. It is disturbing that new problems have arisen at this late stage, but, hopefully, that is part of what normally happens during negotiations. There will be a few other scares between now and the finalisation of the peace process. Nonetheless, it is important that the solidarity of all sides in the House is seen to be behind the negotiators as they try to reach a final agreement over the next week or two.
Mr. Norris: I echo strongly what Senator Manning said. We were pleased the Garda acted so quickly and efficiently and the congratulations of the House should be sent. The Garda has an exemplary record in stopping such activity over the past few weeks and it is to be commended. It is a great pity there are traitors in this country. They are enemies not just of the peace process but of the people. Is there a method of charging them with treason because that is what they are about?
However, I strongly support the efforts made by the Taoiseach. He is an excellent negotiator and I wish him well. I note with pleasurable amusement that one of his assistants is Mrs. Elizabeth Carson and hope this is an omen that will make her recommended to the Northern parties in the talks.
The Leader has indicated that he will look favourably at a detailed debate on the Luas project, which is covered under item 19 on the Order Paper. Perhaps the debate will be scheduled for the beginning of the next session. I raise this issue because of a report in Business and Finance which indicates that the Public Transport in Dublin report for 1999 was suppressed because it recommended the exploration of an underground. The same consultants were involved in the Dublin Transport Initiative and yet there was no consideration of the report. This caused a delay which may lose funding from the EU for a transport project. This is a major scandal and I hope this matter will be investigated. I wish the Minister every success in implementing the report and conclusions of the Atkins report.
Mr. Costello: I, too, compliment the Garda on their success yesterday in dealing with the car bomb found in Dún Laoghaire. I also congratulate them on their success over the past few months as we come closer to a peace deal where splinter terrorist groups are determined to prevent it. The Garda have been doing a tremendous job on this side of the Border.
I am disappointed that the summit between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, held in London yesterday, did not produce a successful outcome on the crucial North-South institutions. I encourage every effort that will be made, particularly for the next week. Mr. Mitchell has stated that is the deadline for an agreement. I also encourage the spirit of compromise and generosity  on all sides because there cannot be a solution unless there is a degree of compromise.
Yesterday, I raised the issue of a freefone being advertised by the NIB. I thought it might have been an April fool's day joke about the activities of the NIB. Thankfully, the advertisement is in today's newspapers. Will the Leader facilitate a debate on the entire banking system? The system seems to be worsening on a daily basis. The authorised investigating officer has uncovered £50 million stashed away in offshore accounts in the insurance area and that far more insurance companies have been involved in this scam than hitherto expected. Eighty per cent of those cases are breaches of the Insurance Act 1989. We need to have a wideranging debate on the entire banking system, their ethics and how it operates. We should also look at the supervisory role performed by the Central Bank and other bodies.
Mr. Dardis: I was relieved to hear the Garda had discovered a car bomb at Dún Laoghaire port. I commend the Garda and the security forces on their diligent work. It is apparent that there are evil and malicious people determined to wreck the peace process and put the North back on the road to chaos and destruction. These people must be condemned. Everyone involved in the peace talks are trying hard to keep it on track. Senator Norris correctly pointed out that their actions are traitorous.
I agree with Senator Manning's comments on the peace talks. There will be a few hiccups along the way but that is to be expected. We now need steady nerves so that we are not deflected by the people who wish to wreck the peace process. I also commend Mr. Mitchell on his role in trying the move the peace process forward.
On a lighter note, I mentioned several weeks ago that the Ireland and England rugby match in Twickenham on Saturday next would not be broadcast live by RTÉ. It would only be broadcast after it was shown on Sky because the English Rugby Union have sold the rights to the match to that station. The Irish Rugby Union have also benefited financially from this set up but the general public have not. Yesterday in the Dáil, the Taoiseach addressed this issue and intends to ensure that in the future the Irish public will be able to view major national sporting events on a non-payment basis on our own domestic channels. I welcome this proposal. I had asked for a debate on broadcasting in that context. Perhaps it might still be appropriate to have such a debate.
Will the Cathaoirleach contact the RTÉ authorities to find out if it is part of a national strategy to cure insomnia that Oireachtas Report is broadcast at 3 a.m.? Even the most ardent political junkies will not stay up until 3 a.m. to watch the programme.
Mr. Dardis: Even if Senator Norris was on it, I doubt even those people would stay up until 3 a.m. I commend RTÉ if it is part of a global strategy to cure the nation's insomnia, but I wonder at the relevance of broadcasting the programme at 3 a.m.
An Cathaoirleach: As is customary, I have allowed considerable latitude to the leaders of the various political groups. Regrettably, I cannot give the same latitude to the remaining Senators who wish to speak on the Order of Business.
I appeal to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to negotiate with the Garda representative organisations in relation to pay increases. It is very easy to praise their work but paying them should not be a problem. I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister my concerns about the delay in awarding the Garda their justifiable pay deal.
Mr. Coogan: I ask the Leader for an urgent debate on the European Monetary Union in view of a recent ESRI report. It stated the likely effects of joining the European Monetary Union, the possible jobs that may be affected, particularly those in the banking sector, and the concerns expressed by industrialists, importers and exporters. There is a great deal of confusion among the general public as to whether joining it is the best option.
I raised the matter of amending regulations for temporary licences for small public service vehicles. Yesterday, this matter was raised in the Dáil. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to attend this House so he can inform us when he intends to bring forward amending legislation for small public service vehicles. The current regulations are inflicting great hardship on the small operator. I ask the Leader to do this as a matter of urgency.
Dr. Henry: Will the Leader have the mental hospital inspectors' report for 1996 published? Can we also have a debate on it and the other published reports after Easter? There is a considerable amount of concern in many quarters regarding the situation in the Central Mental Hospital, where there is a tremendous shortage of space. There is also concern about the other mental hospitals where there appears to be a lack of co-ordination with the community psychiatric services.
Mr. Cregan: I agree with Senator Costello. Yesterday, the Minister for Finance was in the Dáil. He should inform this House what the current situation  is regarding the banking system and Dr. O'Connell of the Central Bank. The impression abroad is that not only NIB has a problem, but all the banks; I know the Consumer Protection Society was in some branches yesterday. Are the TSB, ICC and ACC in the same boat? It would be serious if this House were not informed of the true position. We are not getting the same commitment from the Ministers as did the other House. This is a serious matter. I ask that this House be informed urgently — today if possible but if not, then Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. Why would the Minister not come before the House last Tuesday? Dr. O'Connell of the Central Bank gave the impression that there is no problem with the other banks but we all know that is not true. Senator Costello made a good point, and I support him. This is not a nice issue for the public. We can talk about money which is being salted away in offshore accounts and the account holders not paying tax but these are customers who can barely afford to pay their taxes and who are taxed doubly by the banks. I would appreciate it if something could be done.
Mr. Farrell: I join in paying tribute to the Taoiseach for his work for peace. I sincerely hope he and Prime Minister Blair are successful because if they are not, it will be a win for the hard men and I hate to think what will happen if the peace process is a failure. I appeal to the media to play a more positive role than they have to date.
I too call for a full debate on the banking system. It appears no other bank is doing anything wrong. I do not think the NIB is as big and bad as is supposed but, unfortunately, it is the bank which was caught. We should examine all the agencies and look at the profits made by banks, insurance companies and building societies. It is immoral. An entire day should be given to a debate on banking.
Mr. Coghlan: When will we have the necessary order under the Sale of Goods Act regarding the sale of insurance products and the provision for disclosure and other costs to the customer? The Minister has already intimated in a speech outside this House that he is leaning in this direction; this is in line with our motion.
I would welcome a debate on the banking system but, in my opinion, the Governor of the Central Bank answered truthfully and comprehensively yesterday. As he pointed out, he must operate within the law. His role is primarily prudential. Many of the matters being raised here should be dealt with by the Director of Consumer Affairs. In line with the Fine Gael motion in the other House, it is my opinion that we need to give more legal powers to the Central Bank.
Mr. Lanigan: I join with other Members in calling for a comprehensive debate on the banking system. The last time there was such a debate was in 1992. At that time we received an information pack from the Irish Banks Standing Committee  and, as a result, I found out that AIB was overcharging me by 3 per cent. The bank claimed this was a mistake by a branch official. If we had not debated that issue in 1992 I would not have found that out because nobody would have told me about it. The NIB is not alone in overcharging and trying to blame someone down the line instead of blaming the system.
I also ask for an early debate on overseas development co-operation and aid. A huge amount of money is being collected for overseas development and there has been no debate on the efficacy of where that money goes or the role of the NGOs vis-à-vis the Government and co-operation between them. A group from Trócaire attended at the Subcommittee on Development Co-operation which has collected £164 million over the past 25 years and it hopes to collect £4 million from its Lenten campaign which is money well spent throughout the world. Irish people work extremely hard on our behalf in the most difficult and dangerous places to make sure the people of the Third World get sustenance and are not just left behind our economically successful society. I congratulate Trócaire on the fantastic work it has done over the last 25 years.
Mr. Burke: As one who has called constantly for a debate on banking, I support Senator Cregan's call for the Minister for Finance to make a statement to assure the House and the people that what happened in National Irish Bank is not happening in State banks. The Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Maurice O'Connell, stated he had no evidence to suggest that the practices in the National Irish Bank were being carried out in any other banks. We are responsible to the nation for the State banks and the Minister for Finance is duty bound to come into the House to allay any fears the public have in regard to State banks.
Mr. J. Doyle: While I accept fully there is a need for a debate on the banking system, nevertheless, we should be careful not to do or say anything that would undermine public confidence in it because, if that were to happen, it would have a disastrous effect on the economy.
Mr. Cassidy: I join with Senators Norris, Costello, Dardis, Ridge and Manning in congratulating the Garda on its great work this morning in discovering the evil deeds being planned by people to wreck the peace process and offer our support to the Taoiseach and his negotiating team. I also wish to be associated with the good wishes to the chairman of the talks, Senator George Mitchell.
Senators Burke, Norris, Cregan, Coghlan, Costello, Farrell and Dardis called for an urgent debate on the banking system and for the Minister for Finance to make a statement. I discussed this with him yesterday and he will be only too pleased to come in during the first week after the Easter recess.
 I also discussed at length with him the points raised by Senators concerning the year 2000 bug. He intends to spend time here on a specific day to hear the views of all Senators. He is also coming in for a full day's debate on the implications of European Monetary Union on Tuesday, as requested by Senators Manning and Coogan. Since the three items cannot be taken together as they are all important, the Minister is coming to the Seanad on three different days. On Wednesday we will debate the Local Government and Planning Bill, 1997, Second Stage.
Senator Dardis called for an urgent debate on broadcasting. I assured the House last week that I will make time available for this at the earliest opportunity. I agree that showing Oireachtas Report at 3 a.m. is ridiculous. Whoever is responsible in RTÉ will have to be told that if they do not broadcast it at a reasonable time, we will have to regulate the matter ourselves. We only ever asked for fair play. This is not fair play and I intend to take the matter up with the broadcasting committee. I will ask its chairman to convene a meeting urgently to discuss a number of problems in relation to RTÉ's respect for the Houses of the Oireachtas and the broadcasting of proceedings.
Senator Dardis congratulated the Taoiseach on his stance on the issue of major sporting events, which he said should be available to everybody, irrespective of whether they are well off. I agree with him and I wish to be associated with the Deputy Leader's remarks. It is the view of all Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas that this should be the case and the Taoiseach has the support of all sides on this matter.
Senator Henry raised the 1996 inspector's report on mental institutions. I am endeavouring to deal with this matter. I spoke to the Minister for Health and Children and he has agreed to come to the House as soon as the report is published.
Senator Lanigan congratulated Trócaire on 25 years of hard work. I wish to be associated with those well deserved congratulations. The Senator asked for a debate on overseas development aid. I will make time available for a discussion on this subject after the Easter recess.
Mr. Cassidy: ——is a matter on which I agree with Senator Norris. I will discuss the issue with my constituency colleague, the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, at the earliest opportunity and endeavour to arrange a debate on it. There was a lengthy debate just before the last Seanad elections. Another discussion would be timely in terms of updating Members on changes made to the plans and what progress has been made in the meantime.
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