Wednesday, 27 May 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: I welcome back Senator Quill after her illness. It is nice to see her in the House. Today's Order of Business is item 1 and item 10, motion 19. Second Stage of item 1 is to be taken today, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of all other Senators, 12 minutes, and Senators may share time. If not previously concluded, the proceedings will resume at 8 p.m. Item 10, motion 19, is to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Spokespersons have 12 minutes and other Senators eight minutes. Senator Manning has agreed that this item will resume in Private Members' time next week.
Mr. Manning: I join the Leader in welcoming back Senator Quill. We are pleased to see her looking so fit and well. On an aesthetic note, I draw the attention of the House to the new windows, not that Members could have failed to notice them. They seriously detract from the beauty of the finest room in Leinster House. This is a public institution but that does not mean it has to look like one. I ask that the matter be re-examined.
Everyone welcomes the enthusiastic and enormous acceptance of the Belfast Agreement and the Leader might think it worthwhile to have a debate on Northern Ireland in the near future — or perhaps he thinks we could best help the Northern process by keeping our mouths shut for the moment. I leave that to his wisdom. On the Amsterdam Treaty, there is clearly a problem about the way the Houses of the Oireachtas conduct European business. I do not say this affected the outcome one way or another but we should look at it in the near future to see whether we could better serve the public by analysing and spending more time debating European legislation.
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator will recall this matter was raised recently on the Order of Business and there was a request that this be considered by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges is meeting in the afternoon and the matter will be considered. It is obvious this experiment was carried out in order to give the Members of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges an idea of what a permanent arrangement would look like. I assure the Senator the matter will be considered by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and he should not consider this arrangement permanent by any stretch of the imagination.
Mr. O'Toole: As they say in the best quiz shows “well anticipated”. This is an item on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges agenda this afternoon and, while I always welcome people moving quickly, this was done without agreement from any group or person. I would have preferred if the Committee on Procedure and Privileges decided it wished to experiment. It is as if we are in the valley of the squinting windows where we are afraid people might look in. Until now, I had the choice of looking into Deputy Gregory's office to see what he was doing or looking out at the broad blue sky. It is hugely important that Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas should be not disconnected from the real world.
Mr. O'Toole: I wish to refer in an oblique way to the Shannon River Council Bill because the influence of zebra mussels on the water and environment of the Shannon would be the first item on the agenda of a Shannon River Council. It is a classic example of something which cannot be dealt with by just ham fisted experiments which have been carried out in a number of counties. This river is being destroyed by zebra mussels——
Mr. O'Toole: I accept that, but I wish to raise with the Leader the need for a Shannon River  Council. The Bill should be reintroduced and the letter he sent to us as a sop in áit na scuaibe an tseachtain seo caite; níl go leor ansan and we need to go much further because this matter will not go away. There is a great need for a Shannon River council. The Leader has not adequately explained the situation and we want to know why the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Parties, which were so supportive of this during the term of the previous Government are not supportive now.
Mr. Costello: I also welcome Senator Quill back and I am glad to see her in the best of health again. My immediate response to the interesting experiment with the windows is we must see through a glass darkly. It does not augur well for the deliberations of the House.
Mr. Costello: We are kept in the dark and are not going for the utmost in transparency. I echo Senator Manning's remarks on the recent referenda. I particularly welcomed the referendum on Northern Ireland. It was an astounding and tremendous result for the peace campaign on the entire island reflected by the number who voted in Northern Ireland and the 95 per cent “yes” vote in the Republic. We should wish the next obstacle — the Assembly elections — well. I hope any difficulties which arise will be overcome and that we can proceed into the fullness of dialogue towards a resolution of the conflict.
Night after night I watched equal weight being given to the “yes” and “no” campaigns in regard to peace in Northern Ireland and 95 per cent of the people voted “yes” thankfully. However, that raises questions about how we present matters in a referendum.
Mr. Costello: I have no intention of debating the outcome, but in the context of discussing the referenda on the Amsterdam Treaty and the Northern Ireland Agreement, we should also examine how information is disseminated in terms of the use of taxpayers' money and the representation of parliamentary parties in the dissemination of that information.
Mr. Dardis: It is essential the House records its approval of the vote on the Northern Ireland Agreement. Given that it was of such historic importance, it would be wrong if the Official  Report made no reference to it. I am pleased the leaders of the other groups have referred to it. We all took immense satisfaction from it and hope it will lead to an enduring peace. There are other hurdles to be surmounted, not least the Assembly elections and the formation of an Executive. In that context, we must reiterate the need for a rejection of violence by all concerned which is one of the conditions for people to join the Executive. We hope the arms will be taken out of commission in Northern Ireland.
In reference to what Senator Costello said, it is a constitutional imperative on the basis of the Supreme Court judgment that the arguments for and against a proposal be made in equal proportions. However, where 94 per cent of the people have voiced their approval, there are grounds for examining that and it would be up to the people to decide whether they wanted to change it. I welcome back to the House my party colleague, Senator Quill.
In respect of zebra mussels to which Senator O'Toole referred, this a serious problem which is not just confined to the Shannon. It is a national problem which should be dealt with in a national context because it is a threat to all the game fisheries in Ireland and not just to those on the River Shannon.
Mr. Cregan: I welcome Senator Quill back to the House. She attended a council meeting in City Hall last week. She has been through a tough time in the past ten weeks but she is looking well now and I congratulate her.
In the context of the variation in the price of drink between the country and Dublin, the Competition  Authority has brought both associations representing publicans to the courts. Is it possible for some Minister to explain why these problems are always brought to the courts and why the authority cannot meet these associations to discuss problems? It is only when matters cannot be resolved that they should be brought to the courts. I cannot understand why such matters always end up in the Four Courts. Will some Minister explain it?
Mr. Norris: I join with other Senators in welcoming the enormous vote in favour of the Northern Ireland Agreement. It is also good that almost 40 per cent of the people voted against the Amsterdam Treaty. That might teach a few people the odd lesson about democracy. We in this House are mistaken if we castigate ourselves because we had an exceedingly good debate on the Amsterdam Treaty. It was inadequately covered but we are not responsible for that.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to make a statement about reports in today's papers, particularly The Examiner, concerning proposed legislation imposing jail sentences and fines of £1,000 on leaving certificate pupils found to be cheating? I do not wish to encourage cheating but this sort of idiotic, draconian measure will only add to the appalling pressures already imposed on young people. They may get the matter completely out of proportion and, under the stress of examinations, think that looking sideways across a desk might land them in jail. We ought to take this seriously in the light of the number of suicides by young people because of exam pressure. The Minister for Education and Science ought to be asked to make a statement on this matter and to reassure young people at this time of year.
Ryanair, having attempted to fire many of their own employees, are trying in some of the European courts today to force the national airline to fire theirs as well, attempting thereby to sink a great national carrier. Would the Leader agree that no decent patriotic Irish person should travel by Ryanair again?
Mr. Finneran: In view of recent attacks on the elderly and particularly the deaths of a shopkeeper in Mayo and a farmer in Roscommon could the Leader invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House to debate this unacceptable criminal activity? I have no doubt that Members have views on this matter which may be of some assistance to the Minister and the Garda Síochána.
Mrs. A. Doyle: I trust, a Chathaoirligh, that your judgment and good taste will be sufficient to resolve the window issue with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges this afternoon. You will have the support of all sides of the House and I know you realise how strongly we feel about it.
I am delighted with the results of both referendums. This House could do a great service by  having a debriefing session with the chairman of the Referendum Commission to see what lessons can be learned by democratically elected public representatives in selling messages to the electorate. Following the Coughlan and McKenna judgments it is important to analyse the system and see if we need to revisit legislation or even the Constitution. Will the Leader arrange such a session?
It is time we had another discussion on Sellafield and BNFL. Every couple of weeks brings another headline about emissions from Sellafield. A balanced discussion in this House would be extremely important. It would ensure that Members on all sides have up to date knowledge of the Government's involvement both with BNFL and with their counterparts across the water. Given the particularly good relations between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister the British Government might be prepared to sit down and seriously listen to the concerns of this nation, particularly those living on the east coast, in relation to Sellafield and all BNFL activities on the west coast of Great Britain. I request such a discussion.
Mr. McDonagh: Will the Leader impress on the Ministers for Education and Science and Social, Community and Family Affairs the matter which Senator Avril Doyle proposes to raise on the Adjournment? I hope her motion will be taken this week. I refer to the decision to exclude VTOS students from the newly launched back to education allowance.
Mr. McDonagh: I am sure Senator Doyle. our party and I are in complete agreement on this issue. I have been asked to raise this matter by my association, The Adult Education Organisers Association of Ireland. Unless a level playing field is created urgently the VTOS progammes as we know them will die. They are the only programmes geared specifically to meet the needs of the long-term unemployed. I raise the matter now because it is urgent. On 1 June the various adult education organisers — of which I am one — will start recruitment for the new programmes and unless the Ministers in question decide to rescind their decision this week there will be no students on the programmes in September, which would be a great pity. I await the Leader's response and I hope Senator Avril Doyle's motion will be taken this week.
Mr. McGowan: I accept the Cathaoirleach's ruling on the matter I wished to raise on the Adjournment. Will the Leader provide time to debate the matter? At this time there are many  interests seeking a stake in the Irish telecommunications market, particularly for mobile telephony. If we miss the opportunity it will be unfair to rural communities.
Ms O'Meara: Will the Leader agree, particularly in light of the referendum votes last Friday, that it is ludicrous that British citizens in Ireland are not allowed to vote in referenda or presidential elections? Will he ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to consider putting forward legislation to correct this matter? There are about 5,000 British citizens in the country, many of whom have been here for many years, and they were disenfranchised last Friday.
I am delighted to find there is such widespread concern about the growth of the zebra mussel and I sure it will be reflected by the Cathaoirleach allowing me to raise the issue on the Adjournment tomorrow.
Mr. Glynn: I join in welcoming Senator Quill on her return. She has had a tough time but the old adage “when the going gets tough the tough get going” applies to her. With regard to the requests for a debate on Northern Ireland, while I would contribute to such a debate this is not the right time for it. We should let matters settle down. Will the Leader arrange a debate on litter? The best efforts of the present and past Ministers and of local authorities do not seem to have had an impact. We should debate this issue because litter is a blight on the country.
Mr. O'Dowd: Will the Leader bring to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, the need to implement the commitment in the Fianna Fáil manifesto to fund the STAD case against BNFL? He states in today's Evening Herald that it is the Government's intention to have Sellafield closed but after almost a year in office there is no evidence of the Government proceeding to support the STAD case. Alternatively, the Government could take a case against BNFL.
Mrs. Jackman: I join in welcoming the result of the two referenda. Despite the high percentages who voted in favour, it would be worth considering why only 50 per cent of the eligible population decided to vote. There is compulsory voting in other countries; we should examine that option.  People do not appreciate the right to vote and treat it in a cavalier fashion.
Mr. Coghlan: There is great discrimination and disparity regarding the 4,700 square miles of Kerry and Cork. That is the area of the Southern Health Board which is seriously underfunded and which has fallen behind other health boards. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health and Children if he will redress the imbalance and ensure parity?
Mr. R. Kiely: I endorse the remarks of Senators Manning, Dardis and Costello on the results of the referenda last Friday, particularly that on Northern Ireland. However, this is still a very sensitive area, and commentators should be very careful. I listened to a radio interview conducted yesterday by Pat Kenny with Seán O'Callaghan and it was very disappointing. It was irresponsible, provocative and could lead to incitement. Broadcasting the interview should be condemned.
Mr. B. Ryan: I welcome the suggested debate on the popular perception of Europe as I come from the constituency which had the highest “No” vote in the Amsterdam Treaty referendum. There is a gap between the people and Europe, and we should address it. I am astonished that one part of the House wants to abolish the McKenna judgment, which means there would be no debate, while another part wants to make voting compulsory. Compulsory voting with no debate sounds like the old days of Eastern Europe.
Mr. Burke: I support Senator Glynn's call for a debate on litter. Such a debate is necessary and could be coupled with waste management. I also call for a debate on tourism; this is an ideal time the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation to debate tourism north and south of the Border.
Mr. Cassidy: Many views have been expressed regarding the windows. My information is that these windows have been installed for the duration of the renovations outside. One factor is the elimination of the visual effect of the construction and another is that the glass is stronger.
Senators Manning, Costello, Dardis, Norris, Avril Doyle, O'Meara, Jackman, Rory Kiely and O'Toole all welcomed the result of last Friday's referendum. I wish to be associated with those remarks. Last Friday was a historic day and, I hope, the start of a new beginning. It was beyond our wildest dreams. I have been involved in politics for 30 years and I welcome the decision wholeheartedly. I congratulate all who made it  possible. The eyes of the world were upon us and the media came from the G8 Summit last Wednesday. It was wonderful to receive the bouquets and praise for Ireland as a place for business and tourism. I hope this is the start of a new beginning for generations to come.
I will discuss the possibility of giving a new focus to European matters with party leaders. We will see if the Seanad can help to relay European information to our constituents and to other interested parties.
Senator O'Meara mentioned her concern about the 5,000 British passport holders who could not vote last week. I will look at that problem to see how we can enhance the discussion. In the referenda, the South voted within 5 per cent of the turnout for the general election last summer. The people are to be congratulated for this.
Senator Cregan raised his concern about the Competition Authority. I will discuss this with the Senator after the Order of Business to see how I can help. I will relay Senator Norris's call for the Minister for Education and Science to clarify the report in The Examiner today. I will also convey the Senator's views on Ryanair to the Minister for Public Enterprise.
I will facilitate Senator Finneran's request for a debate on attacks on the elderly. Senator Avril Doyle called for the chairman of the Referendum Commission to come to the House for a questions and answers session. I will discuss this with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and you, a Chathaoirligh, later today. Senator Doyle and Senator McDonagh called for a debate on Sellafield which I will arrange at the earliest possible opportunity. Senator McDonagh was also concerned about the VTOS programme. I will convey his views to the Minister and find out what is the position.
Senator McGowan called for a further debate on the safety implications of telephone masts and mobile phones. Such a debate was held in the House within the last month and the issue was given a good airing. I will get back to the Senator to see how we can progress on this. Senator Glynn and Senator Burke called for a debate on litter; I will allow time at the earliest opportunity. Senator O'Dowd raised his concern about BNFL and the funding of the STAD campaign. I will convey his views to the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob.
Senator Coghlan called for a debate on health funding; I am sure all Members agree with him. I will make time available for this later in the session. Senator Burke called for a debate on tourism; we already had one with the Minister present. If the House wants a further debate we can facilitate that in the early autumn.
The following Bills will be initiated in the Seanad in the present session — the Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, the Investor Compensation Bill, the Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill, the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill and the Parental Leave Bill — and will hopefully be passed before the summer recess.
Mr. Cassidy: This legislation is of a serious nature. Other legislation initiated in the Dáil and expected to be passed by the House by the summer recess include the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, the Urban Renewal Bill, the Copyright (Amendment) Bill and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Bill.
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