Thursday, 28 May 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: The view from this side of the House is much better this morning. Today's Order of Business is item 1, Committee and Remaining Stages, and item 2, which will be taken without debate at the conclusion of item 1.
Mr. Manning: We also welcome the new sense of transparency on the Government side of the House. I hope it is more than skin deep. Natural lighting is a major improvement and if a Minister seated on the opposite side of the Chamber is placed in a glare it is a price worth paying.
In view of the fact that the constitutional review group is again considering the future role of the Seanad, it is important that Members' views on that role should be placed on record. Will the Leader arrange a debate on this issue before the end of the session? I thank him for making available to me this morning a rough but complete guide in respect of our programme of work for the remainder of the session.
Mr. O'Toole: With regard to Senator Manning's statement, I made numerous representations to the Leader and the chairperson of the constitutional review committee about the fact that Independent Members are not represented on that committee. If there is to be progress in terms of discussion, decisions or recommendations on the future role of the Seanad, it is essential that Independent Members have an input. It is grossly unfair that we are not represented on that committee because it is an all-party body. The Standing Orders of the House recognise groups and that should be reflected in how we carry out our business. Will the Leader take note of that? As already stated, I discussed the matter with him and the chairperson of the committee and I would like to see progress being made. Apart from that, I support Senator Manning's call for a debate on the Seanad's future role.
I am aware that the Leader is putting together a list of legislation to be taken during the next month. Will he include on that list the various issues in respect of which he made commitments to discuss? For example, the Leader stated that industrial relations would be discussed during the current term and there is an urgent need to debate that issue.
Literacy among young children is another issue which has come to prominence in recent weeks. I raised it on previous occasions and the Leader stated it might be discussed. I suggest it could be debated in the context of the report of the Joint Committee on Education and Science. Members must be in a position to understand the extent of this problem and be informed about how it can be addressed and who retains responsibility for it.  Teachers believe we should grasp the nettle and eliminate unnecessary illiteracy among young people.
There has been no indication of the Government's policy regarding the excess £1 billion which will be left in the Central Bank after 1 January next when we join the euro. That money would cover the cost of two Luas projects. At a time when there is a need for investment in many areas of the public service, the Government should state what it intends to do with this money. At the very least, it should ask Members to give advice on the investment of £1 billion of taxpayers' money in the development of the State and its people. We should be informed of the Department of Finance's view on the matter as soon as possible.
Ms O'Meara: I also welcome the fact that natural light is being allowed to enter the House and I hope it will continue. As a member of the all-party committee on the Constitution I can inform Members that the potential extension of the role of the Seanad, particularly in respect of European legislation, is currently under discussion. It is the intention and desire of members of the committee that this issue will be the subject of extensive debate in the House in the context of any recommendations we might make.
Miss Quill: Most Members were appalled by the recent pollution of a section of the River Suir which resulted in the destruction of thousands of fish. Everyone is concerned that there will be a recurrence of last summer's events when several of our best rivers were poisoned because of crass carelessness on the part of certain people. I am not satisfied that the fines advocated in the Water Pollution Act are sufficiently severe to act as a deterrent. Will the Leader arrange a debate on this matter with the relevant Minister?
I support yesterday's request for a debate on litter. I am concerned that we are slipping badly in the context of the green and aesthetic environments. The relevant Minister must come before the House to hear Members' views about what I consider to be a good law, the provisions of which do not seem to have been enforced effectively enough to have an impact. I hope the House will debate these two issues at the earliest opportunity. I also support Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on the recently complied literacy report.
Mr. Coogan: I am also glad that the sticky matter of lighting in the Chamber has been resolved. I join Senators Quill and O'Toole in calling for a debate on literacy. This is an issue of grave importance and it must be resolved as soon as possible.
 Will the Leader arrange a debate on the likely threat of flooding in the area surrounding Gort? Will the Minister come before the House and state what he intends to do to alleviate the possible threat to people's livelihoods, their homes and their physical safety. Given that debates on this problem originated in the House, will the Minister come before us and provide information about how he intends to solve it?
Will the Leader make time available for a debate on Northern Ireland? We refrained from discussing this issue in the crisis period leading up to the referendum and the House might now make a useful contribution by way of a debate on it. The people of the South responded generously in the referendum and it would be appropriate that the House debate this issue which affects many counties in the northwest.
Mr. T. Hayes: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to come before the House to debate the issue of remedial education? A commitment was made in the Programme for Government that top priority would be given to the provision of remedial teachers throughout the country. However, people's hopes and expectations have not been realised. As the end of the current school year approaches, it is vitally important that the Minister for Education and Science come before the House to indicate what he intends to do about remedial education because there has been a major outcry in respect of it.
Mr. Bonner: On yesterday's Order of Business Senator Rory Kiely referred to a radio interview regarding the removal of Rule 21. As he will be attending the special conference at the weekend, will the Senator try to persuade those present to take the sensitivity of the situation in respect of the six northern counties into consideration?
I noted the delight of Members, particularly the Leader, at the removal of obstructions to the windows of the Chamber. In that context, I wish to refer to the old house repair grant. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to attend a  debate and inform the House of the up-to-date position and when it is intended to introduce a new house repair grant?
Mr. B. Ryan: I support Senator O'Toole in pointing out again the extraordinary anomaly that the Independent group, the third largest group in the House, is not represented on the constitutional review committee. The Independent group was very flexible in facilitating membership of Oireachtas committees by Labour Party Senators when it did not have to. Perhaps my Labour Party colleagues might reciprocate that generosity by reminding the constitutional review committee of our existence. There is a job to be done and we would like to be involved in it.
Will the Leader consider the holding of a debate on the freedom of the press and the need to maintain a diversity of press ownership? It is interesting that the story which has dominated two of the national newspapers and the national broadcasting media is almost absent from one national newspaper, which happens to be owned by the company involved in this controversy. If newspapers suppress news stories because they do not like the implications for their owners we are rapidly moving away from freedom of the press. Why is it necessary to have an Early Signature Motion for the Local Government Bill?
Mr. Lanigan: Over many months the House has debated the issue of traffic control. Unfortunately, most of the emphasis has been placed on the situation in Dublin. Senator O'Toole mentioned two Luas schemes.
Mr. Lanigan: Will the Leader arrange an urgent debate and ask the NRA or the Minister on behalf of the NRA to attend the House to discuss the chaos in traffic outside Dublin which is being created by Dublin?
Will the Leader also arrange for an urgent debate on the situation in the Middle East? I doubt if there is any Senator who does not have a relative serving in the Lebanon. A huge number of soldiers from Counties Kerry, Cork, Donegal, Dublin and elsewhere are living in bunkers because of the illegal bombing of the Lebanon by Israel.
The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, will travel to Sudan the week after next to look at the horrific occurrences taking place there. This week she has been able to increase the moneys available for  overseas development aid. Will she attend the House and provide an explanation as to how the moneys given by Ireland are being spent in the most deprived areas of the world? It would be an illuminating and useful exercise.
Mr. Coghlan: Will the Leader arrange a debate on the PRSI system, especially when more than 20,000 citizens, including farmers, small shopkeepers and others, who were legally obligated to make PRSI contributions from 5 April 1988, have reached the age of 66 years before the 5 April this year and thereby do not have the necessary qualifying ten years? Surely equity, justice and fair play indicates that they are entitled to receive pensions on a pro rata basis.
Mr. D. Kiely: Will the Leader arrange for the appropriate Minister to attend the House to debate the position of Esat Digifone telephone masts around the country? I am concerned that such masts have been erected without planning permission in a number of towns and villages in my constituency, such as Tarbert and Ballybunion. Legislation introduced by the previous Government needs to be debated because the masts have been erected in population centres. There is a public outcry on the matter. The masts should be erected outside populated areas. Perhaps new legislation is required to resolve the problem.
There is also a need for a debate on the MMDS system, where a radical overhaul is required. The Minister should attend the House for the debate. People have been ripped off by those involved in the system. RTÉ may be the proper authority to take it over.
Mrs. Ridge: The House has already debated education matters, especially literacy. Could the Leader arrange an urgent and meaningful debate on the latest report on school truancy? It would appear from the report that no figures have been kept for the past 20 years. I and every local authority member in the greater Dublin area have appealed for the provision of school attendance officers in the greater urban areas where there have been none. It is ridiculous. Their absence is a contributory factor.
Mr. Chambers: Will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to outline the steps he has taken to improve and protect the resources in our waters, lakes, rivers and streams? The Munster area has the worst quality water in the country and it is gradually deteriorating. There is a move towards environmental agricultural development in the present planning process. It is important for the Government and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to introduce policies to monitor the quality of our freshwaters and streams on a national basis. Will the Leader ask the Minister to outline the Government's plans for dealing with this important resource?
Mr. Lydon: I repeat my call to the Leader for a debate on the implications of EU enlargement for Ireland. Does someone in the Office of Public Works come into the Chamber at night to change the window panes? I thought the glass was opaque yesterday.
Mr. Cassidy: Senators Manning, O'Toole, Ryan and O'Meara asked for a debate on Seanad affairs for the constitutional review group. I have allocated a full day to that urgently needed debate on Wednesday, 24 June. It would serve this House well to have such a debate.
Senator Quill and others called for a debate on environmental matters. We will have a debate on all environmental matters, including litter, water quality control and the other matters which were raised.
Mr. Cassidy: Senator Lanigan called for an urgent debate on the serious situation in the Middle East. We will take statements on that issue next Friday afternoon from the leaders or spokespeople of the various groups in the House.
 Senator Coghlan called for an urgent debate on the position of self employed people's pensions and the enormous difficulties created by the PRSI system, particularly for those who have reached old age pension age. For example, people who have been paying into this pension fund for eight years still do not qualify. I will have this matter investigated and I will try to have a debate on it. However, I urgently request him to seek the agreement of his party before the end of the session for me to allocate extra Private Members' Time to the Fine Gael Party to debate the matter. We on this side of the House would agree to such a debate.
Senator Dan Kiely called for a debate on broadcasting and MMDS. There are great concerns in this area. I am trying to have a debate on this issue in the House but I do not see it happening before the summer recess. However, it will be debated at the beginning of the autumn session.
Senator Lydon asked for a debate on EU enlargement. I said in the House yesterday that I wanted the Seanad to be used to inform the public about what is happening in Europe. Such a debate was also called for by Senator Manning yesterday. I am discussing the matter with the leaders of the various groups and I hope to return to the House soon with a proposed plan on how the Seanad can act as a conduit to the public for information on the progress being made in Europe and the debates which take place there.
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