Tuesday, 9 June 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed. I compliment the Minister for Foreign Affairs on his initiative regarding the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Ireland has an honourable record at the UN of helping to lead and move public opinion away from the use of nuclear weapons. It is to be hoped that this initiative, with the support of a number of other countries, will help to restore sanity to events in the Indian subcontinent.
I wish to convey to the Leader my concern about the way the business of the House is being conducted. I do not blame him, but he provided a list of the legislation the House will take between now and the end of the session. This side agrees in principle to the list and will do everything it can to help the Leader get through the business. However, Departments are publishing Bills at a very late stage.
The Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Bill appeared yesterday and is due to be debated tomorrow. There is a convention in the Houses of the Oireachtas that unless a matter is of urgent importance at least a week is given to  allow Opposition spokespersons and Members on the Government side time to read the legislation, hold consultations and prepare for the debate. The House has been asked to take Second Stage of the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Bill tomorrow and the amount of time available to the spokespersons is insufficient.
In addition, the House has been asked to take all Stages of the Parental Leave Bill on Friday. This is totally unacceptable. The Bill was published yesterday but only became available to most Members this morning. It is a controversial and substantial Bill and it is unacceptable that all Stages should be taken on Friday. I believe the Leader will agree to take only Second Stage on Friday; this side will oppose any move to take all Stages.
The Leader is in the position in which I and other former Leaders of the House found themselves when Departments behave in an arrogant and cavalier fashion. They produce Bills and expect the House to accept them within a day of their publication. The legislation may have been in the Department for two years but it wants the House to accept it immediately and rubber stamp its passage. This is unacceptable. The Seanad is at a crucial point in its history. It is being scrutinised from outside in terms of its performance and Senators must take their jobs as legislators seriously and we cannot do that if we do not have time to study Bills.
The Minister of State charged with responsibility for the Parental Leave Bill said on “Morning Ireland” today that she expected all parties would have a chance to consult widely with interest groups on the legislation. It is an important Bill which will affect many people. The Leader will have my full support if he tells Departments they must wait. The Seanad does not exist to act at the whim of Departments, rather to do its job properly.
Mr. O'Toole: I concur with the points made by Senator Manning. I compliment the Leader for ensuring that a raft of legislation has been initiated in the Seanad recently. In my ten years in the House I do not recall as many Bills being initiated in the Seanad in one term. However, the Leader should recognise that, as a result, there is not enough time for Members to assimilate the contents of complex legislation. I agree with Senator Manning's point about the cavalier way in which Departments treat the House in this regard.
The Parental Leave Bill was the result of a European directive and is more than a year old. The legislation has been drafted and all parties have been in discussion with two different Governments about it over the last 12 months, but Members only received it yesterday. I do not wish the Leader to defend that position; I make this point to be helpful because he has been asked to do an impossible job in terms of ensuring that legislation is passed by the House quickly. The Parental Leave Bill is good legislation but many  interest groups will want to have a say on it so, as with the rod licence legislation, putting a Bill through in one day may cause long-term difficulties, particularly if people feel they have not been heard.
I ask the Leader to recognise that this side will support him if he needs to have a Bill passed quickly in cases of genuine difficulty, but let us not be caught arguing among ourselves because Departments do not work quickly enough or do not treat us with sufficient respect to give us enough time to deal with legislation. In the interest of the House it is important that point be made.
Mr. O'Toole: I am disappointed that the Government appears to be reneging on its previous policy position and perhaps the Leader could indicate the Minister's view. Is the Government now opposed to the legislation and will not allow it to be printed? We can easily put it on the Order Paper in another way but will the Government parties support it on that basis?
Participation in the democratic process is at a low ebb and people are wondering how much influence they have. It has been decided to elect the Lord Mayor of London by popular vote; perhaps the Leader could raise with the Government the possibility that the mayors of Dublin and other Irish cities could be elected in this way. Also, this time next year we will have a new European Commission and the most important Irish person in Europe is our Commissioner. The selection of our Commissioner should no longer be a grace and favour for short-term political gain but should be elected by the people.
Mr. Dardis: I join Senator Manning in congratulating the Minister for Foreign Affairs on his initiative to restrict the testing and maintenance of nuclear weapons. The House was rightly vocal in its condemnation of India's nuclear tests and it is appropriate that we condemn Pakistan's tests in the same light. That is a volatile part of the world and the potential for disaster is high but one hopes that the agreement which the two countries appear to be reaching will resolve that difficulty. What happened in that region underlines the importance of the Minister's work.
The Leader would have the support of everyone in the House in resisting attempts by Departments to take all Stages of Bills in one day if that was purely to faciliate them not even administratively but physically. The principle is that Parliament  is supreme, not the Executive; it is up to the Executive to accommodate the wishes of Parliament. With Bills of this nature it would be preferable that Second Stage be taken separately from other Stages. I welcome the number of Bills being initiated in the Seanad but that makes it all the more necessary that we give them adequate consideration before they go to the other House. It is one thing to deal with routine legislation, like last week's Electoral (Amendment) Bill which contained five sections and was in response to the report of the boundary commission, but it is a different matter where the Bills are contentious, complex or long. Spokespersons should have the time to study them adequately and make considered comments when they come to the House.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: I wish to raise a matter of great concern to every Member of this House — the ever increasing number of suicides in Ireland. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children into the House to discuss the issue with us. I ask for this because those who have suffered require consolation and we must find out what the difficulty is. It is of great worry to the Seanad and to all those concerned to realise that there was a 14 per cent increase in the number of suicides last year. That represents one or more suicides per day.
We must provide assistance whether on medical or financial grounds. I have discussed this with families who have suffered and with support groups and they tell me that this is still a taboo issue in Ireland. The Seanad would do these people a great service and would help avert suicides in the future by having such a discussion with the appropriate Minister.
Mr. Norris: I support Senator Manning's remarks about the anti-nuclear initiative taken by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews. Less was said about Pakistan because of the timing of the tests. It did not lead to comment here but people feel strongly about it, the fact that God was invoked in particular. The Pakistani Government described it as an Islamic bomb. In an attempt to show their macho credentials they displayed themselves as completely puerile.
It is important that we debate this matter as, apart from Pakistan and India, China has stockpiled a huge proportion of its nuclear arsenal in Tibet. That highlights the fact that we should be assisting people such as the Dalai Lama to make Tibet what he always said it should be — an oasis of peace in that area.
I would like to raise a further military matter; it is one about which Members on all sides of this House will be concerned. I would like the advice of the Leader whether it would be possible to discuss it in a way that would help. The matter in question is that of Mr. Dónall de Róiste, the brother of a former presidential candidate, who was dismissed from the Army in circumstances which raise serious questions about natural justice.  It looks like a rerun of the Dreyfuss case at the beginning of this century. Could we debate this matter in the House? It is not open to the President to intervene, although she has shown sympathy in the matter. It was clearly a violation of natural justice and the rights of this person. The case should be reopened and the Seanad may be a place where the matter could be discussed without a partisan flavour.
Mr. McGowan: I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the recruitment system prevailing within the Civil Service. While this may not be a matter for us to discuss, the present system is most unfair. A young woman with two children in Donegal passed the entrance examination but was told she will have to spend her first two years in Dublin. All people qualified to enter the Civil Service are requested to do this. That is unjust. It is anti-rural development and it is worth discussing here. Hopefully we have reached the stage where there can be a change of policy on this important matter.
Mrs. Ridge: I am aware that the Bacon report has been discussed in this House but I ask the Leader to bring us some information from the Minister for the Environment and Local Government regarding the impending housing crisis. We have surpassed the 2,000 mark for applicants for housing in my council. That means that there are 10,000 applicants in the greater Dublin area. There are no places for them. We will start building 105 houses this year. We should not respond as we did in Ballymun, North Clondalkin, West Tallaght and Mulhuddart. A reasonable approach should be made not only to discuss this crisis but to do something about it.
Mr. Finneran: I join with Senator Ó Murchú in calling for a debate on suicide, given the increasing number of people who have committed suicide. I have spoken on this matter many times in the House. Suicide should not be dealt with solely  by the Department of Health and Children; it must also be given attention by the Department of Education and Science. I have always maintained that psychological and psychiatric services have not been available at educational level. We should home in on that area. I would appreciate it if we could have a debate on all aspects of suicide, including the various reasons why people take their lives.
Ms Ormonde: I join with Senator Ó Murchú in calling for a debate on the number of suicide incidents, particularly in our schools. We must be extra vigilant now that the leaving certificate and junior certificate examinations are starting and young people are feeling the pressure of the points system. This debate is necessary to find out why there are so many suicide attempts.
I would also like a debate on the role of FÁS and the new projects which are coming on stream for young people of 18 and 19 years of age. I have asked the Leader for such a debate on numerous occasions, although I know it will not happen before the recess. I hope we are getting value for money but I am afraid that we are providing money before programmes are fully set up.
Mr. Lanigan: As regards the stance taken by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, on nuclear bombs and the threat of nuclear war, I remind the House that Iran and Israel, which has a nuclear facility, could be dragged into this nuclear race. That would exacerbate the situation. It was timely that the Minister and the other Foreign Ministers throughout the world focused on this because it is not only a threat to Pakistan and India but also to Europe.
I listened to what Senator Norris said about reopening a case of a named Army officer. However, it might be better to leave that matter to the authorities who dealt with it at the time. A debate in this House will not do anything for anyone.
Mr. Lanigan: There will be a change in Nigeria because the military dictator has died, although we do not know under what circumstances. People might ask how appropriate that is to the Order of Business but a number of Irish people have worked in Nigeria for many years. It is about time that Ireland, as a so-called friendly  nation, should approach the new Nigerian Government and find out why senior politicians from this House and the other House have been refused visas to go to Nigeria.
Mr. Lanigan: I will conclude on this: it has been suggested by senior officials that the best way to get a visa to enter Nigeria would be to go to Shell, and that is a disgrace. We should ask the new Nigerian Government, whether it is a dictatorship or whatever, to take into account that Irish politicians who have a friendly interest in their country should be let in.
Mr. Burke: I call on the Leader for a debate in this House on tourism. In the aftermath of the peace process, now is an ideal opportunity for a debate on tourism and co-operation between North and South on tourism projects.
The call of my colleagues, Senator Norris and Senator Ó Murchú, for a debate on suicide is timely. There are not many families who have not been touched by the cold hand of suicide, and my own recently. The current spate of suicides has exploded the age old myth that it pertains to people who are known to have psychiatric illnesses. That, of course, is not now the case because there are people committing suicide who have never been known to be in touch with any aspect of the psychiatric services. The sooner we have this debate, the better.
Mr. O'Brien: I support the call of Senator Ó Murchú for a debate on suicide. The appropriate Minister should come in to debate the issue of the high rate of suicide at present, particularly among young people.
I ask the Leader to bring the appropriate Minister into the House to discuss the drugs issue. How come we do not have gardaí or people to deal with this issue and the people who are pushing drugs? Many suicides come from the use of drugs. Yesterday a young man of 24 was buried in Carrickmacross as a result of what I am talking about. I ask the Leader to bring the appropriate Minister into the House as a matter of urgency to debate this important subject.
Mr. Bonner: I also support Senator Ó Murchú's call for a debate on suicide. I want to state two simple facts: there are now more deaths by suicide in Ireland than deaths by accidents on the roads, and the rate of suicide is particularly high in Senator McGowan's and my county. I know of three young people in the past fortnight who have committed suicide, so it is a major issue.
 In congratulating Minister Andrews, I welcome the announced closure of Dounray nuclear station in Scotland. I ask the Leader to have the relevant Minister come into the House to debate this issue and to apply pressure so that Sellafield might be closed, particularly when we see the number of dangerous canisters which have been found on the east coast over the past couple of weeks. Now is the time to discuss this issue seriously.
Mr. Cassidy: I appreciate the remarks of Senator Manning, Senator O'Toole and Senator Dardis on the difficulty in which the Leader of the House finds himself from time to time. I can now confirm that on Friday, the Parental Leave Bill, Second Stage — and Second Stage only — will be taken. I fully agree to the requests of the Leader of the Opposition and the Leaders of the Groups. All other Stages of this Bill will be taken next week, with the permission of the House.
Mr. Cassidy: The Shannon River Council Bill is a Fianna Fáil Bill of which we are very proud. The Senator may not be aware, because he was not in the House when I gave a comprehensive reply, that the pilot scheme is being undertaken in Counties Clare and Roscommon.
Mr. Cassidy: The Bill was very well put together by former Senator Brendan Daly, who is a Minister of long standing, having held eight portfolios. He was, in my opinion, the most outstanding Member of the last Seanad.
Mr. Cassidy: He was ably assisted by former Deputy Michael O'Kennedy, another long standing Member of both Houses. It is only right that this pilot scheme be carried out in two counties which need investment. As I told the House a few weeks ago, millions of pounds have been committed by the Government. If the Senators are patient, we on the Fianna Fáil side will bring this Bill before the Seanad. I look forward to the support of all Senators when that happens.
Mr. Cassidy: I would like to be associated with Senators Manning, Dardis, Bonner, Norris, Lanigan and Glynn in congratulating the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I join Senator Dardis in his condemnation of Pakistan's testing of nuclear weapons.
 Senators Ó Murchú, Finneran, Ormonde, Glynn, O'Brien, Bonner and McGowan called for a debate on suicide. Senator Ó Murchú expressed alarm at the increase of 14 per cent in the 1997 figure over that of 1996. I will contact Deputy O'Dea, Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, to see if time can be found before the summer recess for this debate.
Senator Ridge called for a debate on the housing crisis. She and her colleagues in the Dublin local authorities have much experience of this problem as have councillors in other counties. I will try to facilitate her request.
Senator Burke called for a debate on tourism. That debate would last for half a day and we would not have time to take it before the summer recess. We will hold it at the earliest possible time after the summer recess.
Senator O'Brien asked for a debate on the drugs issue, one of the most serious matters to be raised in this session. Last year there were 400 hospital admissions of patients with drug related diseases and 7,000 first admissions of patients with alcohol related diseases. Such figures put this matter into perspective. I read in this morning's newpapers that many more public house licences are to be issued. I do not agree with this.
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