Wednesday, 8 April 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: Today's Order of Business is item 1, all Stages. The contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage should not exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators should not exceed ten minutes. Senators may share their time.
Mrs. A. Doyle: The Order of Business is agreed even though the Leader indicated last week that only Second Stage would be taken today but there is an urgency to get the Bill through. We will chalk up brownie points and co-operate fully.
I want a debate, or preferably a questions and answers session, on the Year 2000 compatibility issue to be high on the agenda for the post Easter session. I first called for a discussion on it last October. It is extremely important that the House has an opportunity to put on record the Government's preparedness for this issue. There is a great deal of adverse publicity in terms of what the Government and Departments generally are doing. We are not being fair to those working on the problem by not giving it an airing. I urge the Leader to give the issue priority after Easter.
I request a debate on the bioengineering/ biotechnology issue. Debate is the wrong word because there are different views on all sides of  the House and within parties on the issue but an informed discussion is needed. We should then discuss relevant issues.
Mr. O'Toole: I accept the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill 1997, is urgent but why was there a delay with it? It could have been introduced earlier and we should have had more time to look at it. A number of issues were raised yesterday in regard to financial institutions. I raised the need to discuss future Government policy on building societies and public and mutual status. Other issues raised concerned people having difficulties with banks and the problems with the selling and misrepresentation of selling in the pensions area. There is an urgent need for a debate on that and there is no doubt people have many stories to tell. I would like to know what is the Government's position on pensions. We are giving tax breaks for pension contributions which, effectively, is giving money to financial institutions at the taxpayers' expense and very little comes out of it in the end. There are many issues which need to be looked at. Financial services will be very crucial in many aspects of our lives and we will need to have full trust and confidence in the system. We should have a full debate on this issue.
I have raised the issue of adoptions on many occasions with the Leader and the previous Leader. The House had arguments on the Adoption (No. 2) Bill and the difficulties experienced by those adopting South American children. We have had other difficulties over the years concerning children from Eastern Europe and other places. A Minister should come into the House and explain the exact position regarding adoptions — the rights of natural parents, adoptive parents, children being adopted, children from foreign countries, the possibilities of people's constitutional rights being neglected, etc. There are a variety of areas which must be unravelled. It is almost impossible to give explanations at present and we need to have a clear Government statement so that we can debate the position and determine what legislation is required.
Mr. Costello: We agree to the Order of Business. Normally we do not like to see all Stages of a Bill being taken in one sitting but this is a simple, direct Bill and it is not inappropriate that it be dealt with in a single sitting. It is sad that Northern Ireland is again marked by a tragic death as we move into recess. Clearly there are people who are determined to undermine and to smash the peace process. These people have no commitment to democratic politics and we strongly condemn this killing at a time when the peace process is entering its final decision making phase. We also express disappointment that some of the constitutional politicians have not given a more positive response to the document prepared by Senator Mitchell. At the same time I compliment the Taoiseach who has, in very difficult circumstances, made himself available to be present  and to assist to try to sort out the problems. The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has done likewise. We hope that an amicable solution will be reached over the Easter recess.
I wish to refer to item 10 on the Order Paper — the Protection of Workers (Shops) (No. 2) Bill, 1997. I was dismayed to read in today's newspapers that MANDATE has decided not to invite the Minister of State for Labour Affairs, Deputy Kitt, to its annual conference. This is the first time that the union has not invited the relevant Minister because he reneged on a commitment to introduce legislation on Sunday trading. The result has been that quite a number of small shops have been put out of business by the large multiples and there has been a huge decrease in permanent employment in the multiple sector. These jobs have been replaced by part time, temporary and casual employment.
Will the Leader arrange for an early debate on industrial relations, including trade union recognition? In this context, Parceline is denying union recognition despite a majority of workers' wishes to join a union.
Mr. Dardis: The House recently commended the Garda on discovering a bomb in Dún Laoghaire which was obviously destined for England. Senator Costello underlined the fact that evil people are determined to shatter any prospect of peace. It is probable that these evil people will still be at large even if the settlement we hope and pray for is reached. This is a time for cool heads and steady hands. In that respect we must commend Senator Mitchell, the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister and everyone else involved in the talks. The best contribution we can make at the moment is to hope that the discussions which are ongoing will be fruitful.
On the issue of genetically modified crops and the area of bioengineering, I agree with Senator Doyle that it would be useful to discuss the matter. However, as I understand it, legislation on the Food Safety Authority is in the course of preparation and a Bill will come before the House in due course. I imagine that would provide an appropriate opportunity to discuss those issues in detail.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: In recent times we have come to accept that the issue of semi-State bodies is a suitable matter for discussion, particularly in regard to partnership arrangements and joint venture proposals. A particular proposal has been made by Government in regard to selling off Aer Rianta. Given that Aer Rianta is one of the most profitable semi-State organisations, I believe it is very important that this House would have an opportunity to discuss its future and any Government proposals in this regard. I urge the Leader to place this matter on the agenda for discussion early in the next session.
Mr. Ross: I endorse Senator O'Toole's comments  on financial institutions. The future workings of financial institutions in this country should be the subject of close scrutiny in this House. It is not sufficient for us to say that an investigation has been carried out into the activities of one particular bank. Consumers are being unknowingly crucified by all banks in all sorts of ways, not just in regard to pensions.
Banks are too powerful and too big. One particular bank owns insurance companies, stock brokers and tied insurance brokers. Banks simply have too much power and, as a result, consumers are unable to stand up to them, do not know what they are being charged and are at their mercy. Irish people are cowed by the financial institutions who, instead of being their servants, are their masters. Banks have given the phrase “bank robbers” a new meaning.
Ms O'Meara: I want to comment on Judge Ronan Keane's recent remarks on informal adoptions which occurred prior to the introduction of legislation to regularise adoptions. The judge called on us, as legislators, to formalise the position in regard to the many hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who were informally adopted in the 1940s and 1950s. Such legislation is obviously required in the context of informal adoptions. We need to come to terms with this entire period in our history. It is ironic that we still have not dealt successfully with this issue. There is a long waiting list of parents wishing to adopt children and there is a need to recognise the spirit of the Supreme Court judgment in regard to foreign adoptions and to speed up this entire process.
Mr. Burke: I support Senator Taylor-Quinn's call for a debate on the sale of Aer Rianta. I have called on numerous occasions for a debate on other State assets, namely, the banks. I notice from today's newspapers that the Government has decided that RTÉ must sell its 25 per cent stake in Cablelink. I believe this will have serious consequences for RTÉ further down the road. We have not heard a whimper from RTÉ about the Government's decision to sell their 25 per cent stake in Cablelink.
I support the Leader's recent criticism of the coverage by RTÉ of the proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The time of the broadcast of “Oireachtas Report” has not been changed from 3 a.m. The Oireachtas should have its own television channel.
Mrs. Jackman: I support Senator Taylor-Quinn's call for a debate on the rumoured proposed sale of Aer Rianta. I am particularly interested in this matter because we in the Shannon region are disappointed at the lack of progress in the implementation of the compensation measures promised by Aer Lingus when the Shannon stopover was discontinued. If Aer Rianta is sold I hope specific and special concessions will be given to the Shannon area.
Mr. Gallagher: Will the Leader arrange for a debate on regional industrial policy? It is important that the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment comes to the House for that debate. I compliment all associated with the announcement of new jobs in Clonmel. I am sure Senator Hayes and other colleagues from south Tipperary will be happy to hear this news. Will the Leader remind the Minister that it is 12 months since a major employer in the midlands, Atlantic Mills, announced major job losses? Over the last six months the Minister has failed to meet Tullamore Urban District Council; as she has refused to meet the council in Tullamore or in her office she should at least discuss this question with the House. I am delighted to hear the good news for Clonmel but I would like the Minister to discuss the job situation in other parts of the country.
Mrs. Ridge: There has been a 60 per cent increase in traffic from Dublin Airport. Dublin is crying out for a second airport. Baldonnel military airport, near Clondalkin, could have a civilian section. This would relieve pressure on Dublin Airport and would solve the problem of traffic jams on the M50. Will the Leader ask the Minister to examine this suggestion?
Mr. D. Kiely: I support the call for a debate on Aer Rianta and I endorse the sentiments expressed by my colleagues on the other side of the House concerning the Shannon region. If there is traffic congestion in the Dublin area we have plenty of room in Kerry and in the Shannon region.
I support the call for a debate on the costs imposed by satellite TV companies. Customers are lured by the prospect of extra television channels and are then faced with huge costs. It is time  we had a debate on the future of television and on this form of exploitation.
Mr. Cassidy: I have already given the Senator a commitment in this regard and in her absence I informed the House that this would be discussed the first week after the Easter recess. I look forward to a lengthy debate because this will affect everyone. Senator Dardis called for a debate on biotechnology; I will consult the Minister and have this discussed at the earliest opportunity. Senator O'Toole, Senator Ross and Senator O'Meara called for a debate on adoption; I will be only too pleased to discuss this with the Minister and to make time available as soon as possible. Senator O'Toole and Senator Ross called for an urgent debate on the service offered by financial institutions. I made a commitment to have such a debate and I hope it can be taken in the first or second week after the recess.
Senators Costello, Senator Dardis and Senator Dan Kiely mentioned the peace talks. The people of Ireland have great hope because this could be the most important week for Ireland in this century if the talks are successful. On behalf of all Members I wish Senator Mitchell, the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister and the Leaders of the various parties success in the onerous task they have undertaken on our behalf. This goes especially to our Taoiseach who suffered the loss of his dear mother, this is a difficult week for him. I congratulate him and his team on their magnificent efforts. I hope and pray we have success. Like Senator Kiely, I call on people from the Nationalist and Unionist traditions to lay down their arms in the name of future generations and to give the men of peace the chance to bring the talks to a successful conclusion.
Senators Taylor-Quinn, Burke, Jackman, Ridge and Dan Kiely called for a debate on semi-State bodies. I will afford time for this. Senator Burke called for a debate on the ICC, ACC and TSB. Newspaper articles are not always true, so the story that we are about to sell Aer Rianta, the jewel in the crown, may not be correct. I cannot see how it could be contemplated and I would be surprised if it is. Aer Rianta is one of the most successful Irish companies of all time and it is creating an enormous number of opportunities for us both abroad and on the island. It can be used as an example.
Mr. Cassidy: I welcome Senator Ross back to the House. On another issue raised by Senator Burke and Senator Dan Kiely, I have mentioned that to the chairman of the broadcasting committee, the Government Chief Whip and Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, are convening a meeting after Easter to discuss the RTÉ broadcasting of the proceedings of the Oireachtas. We are taking the matter seriously and hope to have RTÉ at the meeting.
Mr. Cassidy: We hope to advance the proposal to have “Oireachtas Report” broadcast at a reasonable time. We all know how successful the programme is when transmitted in the morning and it could reach a similar number of viewers in the evening. If “The Late Late Show”, “Glenroe” or “Kenny Live” were broadcast at 3 a.m., I doubt they would obtain more than 2 per cent of the viewing audience. There must be fair play for all.
Mr. Cassidy: Senator Gallagher called for a debate on regional industrial policy. I welcome that call and I congratulate the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on her efforts in respect of the plight of the people of Clonmel.
I thank the staff of the House, the media, Members, the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Cosgrave, for their help and assistance during this session. I wish everyone a happy, holy and peaceful Easter.
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