Thursday, 11 June 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: Today's Order of Business is items 1, 2 and 3. Item 1, Report and Final Stages, is to be taken today. Item 2, Committee and Remaining Stages, is to be taken today. Item 3, Second Stage, is to be taken at 2.30 p.m. with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes.
The Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill, 1998, is being taken in the Dáil today. If it is passed without amendment,  I propose to take all Stages today. If the Bill is amended in the Dáil, it may not be possible to do this as the text of the Bill, as passed by Dáil Éireann, may not be available to Senators. I will have more definite information on this later in the day and I will inform the House of the arrangements for taking the Bill and, if necessary, move an amendment to the Order of Business.
Mr. Connor: Has a time limit been set for the completion of the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill in the Dáil? It would help if we knew what time the Bill would come to this House. We do not approve of the taking of all Stages of Bills in one day. I know the Minister wants to have this Bill on the Statute Book by next week. It is important that we know when Second Stage will commence in this House because that will have implications for the remaining two Stages. I hope the Leader will be able to come back with information at a very early stage.
I again raise the matter of rail safety. While passing through a major midlands town yesterday I noticed a train going towards Dublin on the Sligo-Dublin line half an hour late. I mentioned last week that the Minister and Iarnród Éireann have received the report from consultants appointed by the Minister to look into rail safety on lines which have not been upgraded in recent years. It is important that this report be published. The Leader has promised a debate on this issue and it is important that this debate be held. In advance of that debate it is absolutely important that this report be made public. Only the Minister can do that. Will the Leader ask the Minister to publish this report as a matter of urgency?
Mr. Norris: The House will recall that yesterday I raised the question of the statements made by the Insurance Ombudsman of Ireland. I indicated my intention to table a motion in that regard. I have done so. In the light of the Leader's response, which I found uncharacteristically unsatisfactory, I will be moving an amendment to the Order of Business that item 20 be taken first. This will be seconded by Senator Ross. I do this because the Leader indicated that I could use Independent Senators' Private Members' time and he generously suggested that Fianna Fáil would do the same the next week. We have, however, plenty of time. We can certainly fit in a debate on this question without removing from the Independent group the privilege which they, unlike other sections of the House, greatly value. We recognise this fact by tabling serious and strongly felt motions. In Private Members' time I will be moving a motion on East Timor and not on the insurance industry, which is the  responsibilty of everybody in this House and for which there was widespread support when I raised it yesterday and when it was raised by other colleagues, including Senator Henry.
I also raise the question of item 21. Can we make some reference to this because of the growing number of attacks on asylum seekers and the involvement of some official and semi-official groups? I have had to deal with a number of instances in which gardaí were unpleasantly involved. This is a continuing and growing matter and one which a debate in this House should draw to the attention of the Garda Síochána. Once an unpleasant incident occurs in the lower ranks of the force it is the natural reaction of people in higher ranks to justify and protect their members. It is imperative that a message goes from the top of the Garda Síochána to the gardaí on the beat that they must not abuse the rights of people whether they are citizens or asylum seekers and regardless of their colour.
Mr. Costello: I listened with incredulity to the Order of Business as outlined by the Leader. I do not think this House has ever been presented with the hypothetical situation that all Stages of a Bill, if it comes to the House, will be taken in one day. The Bill has been discussed for two days in the other House, yet Senators are being asked to deal with all Stages if it happens to turn up at some time today. That is an insult to this House and is not acceptable.
We do not oppose the Bill. We have called for amendments to be made to the terms of reference of tribunals of inquiry. Can the Leader discover when the debate is expected to conclude in the other House? I suggest that we take Second Stage after tea-time and the other Stages tomorrow. I cannot accept the scenario outlined by the Leader.
An Cathaoirleach: My understanding was that Senator Cassidy, out of courtesy, was informing the House that he might be coming back later today with an amendment to the Order of Business. He is not making a concrete proposal in relation to the Order of Business. The Leader was, for the information of the House, advising Senators of possible developments.
 We will move an amendment to the Order of Business that item 18 be taken before the items outlined by the Leader. In view of the importance of this issue, the manner in which the Insurance Ombudsman has been forced to retire, the bullying that took place, the need for a statutory Ombudsman to protect the interests of the consumer in this sector and the censorship that has taken place, we join Senator Norris in calling for a debate on this issue.
Mr. Dardis: It must be understood that this House does not control what takes place in the other House. These circumstances are quite unusual. Both Houses wish to see the Bill pass in time to deal with these particularly serious matters. Given these unique circumstances it is reasonable that we adopt a flexible approach to ensure the passage of the legislation, which is the objective of all sides.
Mrs. Jackman: Some weeks ago I noted with concern the ongoing Garda pay dispute. I raise the issue again and ask the Leader to ask the Taoiseach to intervene. Notice has been given that the dispute may escalate with another “blue flu” day on Saturday next. I voice the concerns of the people on this issue.
Mr. McDonagh: At a time when many thousands of tourists flock to Ireland to trace their ancestral roots and to sample our good weather, will the Leader impress on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the importance of increasing the grants available to rethatch houses before the thatched house as we know it disappears? It is an integral part of our culture and heritage.
An Cathaoirleach: That is because it is not appropriate to raise such a matter on the Order of Business. It is not relevant to the Order of Business. There are many ways in which the Senator could raise the matter in the House and be in order.
Dr. Henry: I support Senator Norris's call for a debate on the Insurance Ombudsman's office. I raised this matter on the Adjournment a couple of months ago and I was subsequently telephoned by a member of the council to ask whether I had been put up to it or duped. When I wrote to the chairman of the council to ask whether this person had telephoned on behalf of the council I received no reply. Senators will have noticed that the council maintains that it is not in dispute with the Ombudsman but the last Ombudsman's report did not contain a foreward by the chairman nor a photograph of him.
Mr. Kett: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to examine the anomaly that exists in education between pupils in mainstream education and those in special schools at school leaving age? Those in mainstream education can stay on after 18 years of age if they wish but those in special schools cannot. This could be construed as discriminatory to pupils who are disadvantaged at the outset.
Mr. Gallagher: I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Costello. The Leader indicated that the Supplementary Order Paper will propose to take all Stages of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill, 1998, today. We cannot run blind into this matter and we should wait to see what happens in the Dáil. I urge him to reconsider his proposal on this Bill. In the public interest I strongly support the request for an urgent debate on the Insurance Ombudsman. It is a matter of great concern and the House would show its relevance to the public by having a debate on the issue at an early opportunity.
Mr. Burke: Will the Leader meet with the Whips to resolve the arrangements for the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill? I support Senator Connor's points about rail services in the west, particularly the line from Athlone to Westport and Ballina. It is the worst stretch of rail line in the country and the slowest in the world.
Mr. Caffrey: Will the Leader organise an urgent debate on the crisis facing the Western Development Commission? The chief executive announced publicly last week that he is considering resignation due to the failure of the Government to put forward the legislation needed for the commission to conduct its business. It seems possible to have legislation on many other matters — yesterday the House debated legislation updating 18th century laws. However, it seems we cannot provide the Western Development Commission with the funds it needs urgently. Objective One Status is being sought for the west from the EU but the Government will not give the west what it deserves.
Ms Ormonde: I support the point made by Senator Kett with regard to children with disabilities who find themselves at a certain age in no man's land, so to speak. There should be a coordinated effort by the Department of Education and Science, FÁS and the Department of Health and Children to facilitate students with disabilities at 18 years of age. It is an issue that arises frequently but we seem unable to tackle it.
Mr. O'Toole: I support the Senator's efforts to have the Lartigue line from Listowel to Ballybunion reopened. The Leader has created some confusion with regard to the Order of Business. He spoke with the Whips earlier in the week and I support Senator Burke's request that we meet on the matter. It was my understanding that we were to take the Tribunals Bill today. At the time that proposal was made it was not clear whether the Bill would have been passed by the Dáil. I proposed that we take the Bill tomorrow, which would have avoided uncertainty. We wish to be helpful in dealing with this important legislation; it would make sense to take it tomorrow. There is no reason it cannot be dealt with then instead of today. We thought today's Order of Business was set, but now that we see it is not we feel it proper to table an amendment so that we can get in on the action.
Mr. Cassidy: Senators Connor, Costello, Burke and O'Toole have raised concerns about the Tribunals of Inquiry Evidence (Amendment)(No. 3) Bill, 1998. This Bill is expected to pass in the Dáil by 1.30 p.m., and if it passes without amendment, the Bill will be brought to the Seanad at 4.30 p.m. I will meet with the Whips and Leaders immediately after the Order of Business to clarify this matter further. I thank the various parties for their help in dealing with this urgent legislation. There is a timeframe for dealing with the Bill which will come before the House in a motion later today or early tomorrow.
Senators Norris, Henry, Gallagher, Ross and Chambers referred to the serious position the Insurance Ombudsman finds herself in. I offered Fianna Fáil and Independents' time, amounting to four hours, to deal with this. I thought this would have been sufficient——
Mr. Cassidy: ——because of the amount of legislation coming to the House. Legislation takes preference over other debates. I have no difficulty in trying to facilitate a debate on this matter and I will discuss this with the Whips and the Leaders after the Order of Business.
Regarding today's business, Senator Costello should be as realistic and fair minded as he has always been. There are three Bills before the House today, and there may be a fourth later. Senator Costello's party leader and former party leader agree on the urgency of that fourth Bill. Though item 8 is worthy of support, I ask Senator Costello to withdraw it, given the circumstances I find myself in.
 Government are doing all they can to resolve this difficult dispute. We all hope it will end at the earliest opportunity and that all parties will negotiate a settlement. All Members recognise the difficulties involved. I join with Senator Jackman in hoping that the dispute will be speedily concluded.
Senator McDonagh called for action from the Minister for the Environment and Local Government regarding thatched houses and I will pass his request on. Senators Kett, Henry and Ormonde have enormous experience in the education field and I will pass on their urgent request to the Minister for Education and Science. Senators Caffrey and Chambers referred to concerns  about the Western Development Commission and I will pass on their views as a matter of urgency.
Cosgrave, Liam T.
Ridge, Thére se.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
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