Wednesday, 14 October 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: Today's Order of Business is items 2, 3 and 12, motion 22. Item 2 will be taken without debate and the contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage of item 3 should not exceed 15 minutes with the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. Members may share time. Item 12, motion 22, will be taken at 6 p.m.
Mr. Manning: Will the Leader indicate what legislation he intends to bring before the House this session? Will he also undertake to supply the Opposition groups with a preview of the dates on which legislation is likely to come before the House? It is helpful if Members know a couple  of weeks in advance the broad outline of what legislation is to be taken.
Mr. O'Toole: At the end of the previous session I asked the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on education at an early date. I expected that the Education (No. 2) Bill would be taken this week as that was the original plan, but it is still before the other House. However, I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this area at an early date. I recognise that the Minister for Education and Science is the director of elections for his party in Cork and I do not suggest that the debate should take place before the by-election. However, I ask the Leader for a commitment that a debate will take place the week after the by-election if that is the earliest date on which it can be accommodated.
Another issue which is being discussed everywhere else should be debated in the House. There are some empty seats in the Seanad this afternoon; perhaps Members are stuck in traffic. The change that has taken place since the last session is that if one sees small groups of people huddled together in Dublin asking each other how it was for them this morning and how long did it last, they are talking about the traffic and not Viagra. It has become an extraordinarily difficult issue and the House should discuss it.
I propose this because, throughout the country, people are discussing the question of bogus nonresident accounts and how a national bank could have facilitated the defrauding of the State of tens of millions of pounds, not that it was limited to just one financial institution. This is a matter of national importance and affects every citizen in the State. It has been the main matter exercising the minds of Members of the other House over the past two days. They have discussed it at length at meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts.
We should have an input. We are the second House and such a matter of national importance should be our concern. We do not know if legislation is required at this point or how the matter is to be dealt with. The views of Members of the Seanad should be expressed on the record and should be available as decisions are made. The Minister for Finance should come to the House and hear what we have to say. This would give us an opportunity to express our views.
Mr. Mooney: Will the Leader make time for a debate on a report published during the summer recess by the National Roads Authority? Senators who are also members of local authorities will be familiar with a list of priorities which has been circulated relating to the development  of national primary roads between now and 2020. If this aim is to be achieved, it could well be the middle of the next century before we have a road network comparable with our European partners. Given the statement last week of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government that it would cost upwards of £2 billion to upgrade our national road network, it is incumbent on the House to maintain the pressure to keep this important issue on the political agenda.
We should have a proper road network and we should examine the priorities outlined by the National Roads Authority because we would have severe reservations about many of them. The N15, which I travel through several counties in the west, is one of many roads which have been downgraded for 20 years. There must be an injection of realism and that is why I ask the Leader to arrange time for a debate.
Mr. Coghlan: Will the Leader arrange an immediate debate on Objective One status? There is widespread concern and anger in south Kerry and in the county as a whole at what appears to be the Government's discriminatory intention to exclude and abandon us and remove us from the remainder of the western seaboard, and we in the most peripheral area of all. How are we to survive without access——
Mr. Norris: I am used to being surrounded by fans but not of the electrical variety. As we are coming into winter, what is the reason for the tropical decoration in the House? It is something of a distraction.
Mr. Norris: I would be happy to second Senator Costello's comments but Senator Henry will do so. This is an important area which needs to be  examined. The debate might also examine the issue of banks profiteering from dormant accounts. I welcome the fact that we are debating the International War Crimes Tribunals Bill this afternoon.
Mr. Farrell: Will the Leader arrange for a debate on the compensation culture? It is time we asked where personal responsibility ends and third party responsibility begins. Some recent decisions will make life very difficult for business people. Insurance companies are reaching settlements out of court. They have no problem reaching such settlements as they are increasing premiums for business people every year. When I ran a business I had £20——
Mr. Connor: When is it proposed to take the Western Development Commission Bill? The Bill had its Second Reading in the Dáil last week and I hope it will come before this House soon. When is it proposed to introduce legislation to ratify the international criminal court treaty which Ireland signed in Rome last July? Legislation is required before Ireland can ratify the treaty.
Ms Ormonde: Will the Leader arrange for statements on the traffic problem, particularly in Dublin? One only has to listen to the 8 a.m. news to hear of the gridlock affecting all areas of Dublin. A study group is being set up under the Dublin Transportation Initiative. However, before we receive the final results of that study, we should have statements in the House during which additional ideas might be aired as to how to address this problem. Something must be done and this is a golden opportunity for us to begin this session with a full discussion on the subject.
Miss Quill: One of the most remarkable and harrowing features of the summer was the number of people, young and old, killed on our roads. This has led to grief, loss and sadness for families, villages and communities. Additional measures were introduced during the summer and additional resources have been given to the Garda who have introduced new measures. However, these measures have not made a significant impact on the loss of life. Will the Leader arrange a debate on this issue as soon as possible so that we can put our heads together to see we can come up with new ideas and approaches which might help to tackle this appalling situation?
Dr. Henry: I second Senator Costello's motion. I heard Lord Henry Mountcharles speaking on the lunchtime news about the culling of the peers in the House of Lords. In spite of the fact he previously stood for election on the Dublin University panel, he said the Seanad was considered by some not to have a great deal of relevance. By debating a topical motion such as this, we can once again exhibit the relevance of the Upper House.
Mr. Finneran: I second Senator Farrell's call for a debate on the litigation culture which is developing in Ireland. This is a matter of grave public concern; the wisdom of the House might throw some light on it.
Will the Leader condemn the unprovoked attack on our Defence Forces, which have served this State with loyalty and dedication, by the presenter of a morning radio chat show? The call to abolish the Defence Forces is unwarranted and——
Mr. T. Hayes: Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come into the House to address urban renewal? Earlier this year, local authorities underwent a very difficult screening process and presented reports to the Department of the Environment and Local Government. They were assured they would be informed by July which towns and areas would be given urban renewal status. The matter was then postponed until August and subsequently until September. Local authorities have still not been notified and there is a great deal of concern about the matter, both in local authorities and among people prepared to invest in certain towns throughout the country.
Mr. Lanigan: Prior to the summer recess, I requested an early debate on foreign affairs. There is an urgent need for such a debate given the situation in Kosovo and other places. We must seek to have an input into the resolution of the problem. The situation in the Middle East will possibly blow up in our faces again with Turkey threatening to invade Syria and with the formation of a military alliance between Turkey and Israel. I welcome the fact that we are dealing with the International War Crimes Tribunals Bill today.
I concur with the call for a debate on the important report published by the National Roads Authority. Many people think the report's findings will be implemented in the next few years. However, this is not a plan; it is merely an aspirational report. The need for millions of pounds to be spent on roads infrastructure is being highlighted each day, not least by the number  of accidents which are occurring on roads which are incapable of carrying the number of cars travelling on them or of withstanding the speed at which the cars are travelling. A figure of £673.8 million is required to keep up to date with the existing backlog, even if we do not carry out any improvements.
We should also have an early debate on the changes which will take place in the next few years in regard to the amount of funding we will get from Europe and whether Ireland should stay as a single unit or be split into regions. The Government has not made any decision on this matter yet.
Senators O'Toole and Ormonde called for a debate on education. As Members are aware, we expect the Education (No. 2) Bill to come before the House within the next two weeks and it is only fair that all matters be debated at that time. It is a very substantial Bill and this is the fourth week it has been debated in the Dáil. I look forward to the important contributions of all Senators when it comes before the House in two weeks.
Senators Costello, Norris and Henry proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. The item being proposed — namely, that motion 23 be taken today — is currently being dealt with by the Committee of Public Accounts. I have no objection to having the matter debated in the House at an early date in the future. I will make the required time available through the Whips. I ask the Senators, in light of our very busy schedule for today, to leave this matter to see how their request can be facilitated through discussion with the Whips once the Order of Business is agreed.
Senators Mooney and Lanigan called for a debate on the proposed plan of the National Roads Authority for the period 1998 to 2020. Members will recall discussing, debating and expressing various views on what was important in the context of our own areas and nationally during a motion which came before the House in the first month of the 21st Seanad. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government came before the House and gave a very full outline of his wishes. I will certainly make time available within the next four weeks to have the issue debated in the House. I will see when the Minister is available to come to the House to discuss the issue.
I have no difficulty with Senator Coghlan's request for a debate on Objective One status. Senators Farrell and Finneran called for a debate on the claims culture and the insurance industry in general. I will allow a debate on this matter at the earliest opportunity.
 Senator Connor expressed concern regarding the Western Development Commission Bill, 1998. It is currently at Second Stage in the Dáil and we will take it when the debate on all Stages concludes.
Senator Tom Hayes called for a debate on urban renewal. I agree with the sentiments expressed by the Senator. I know many large towns, and others which are not so large, are awaiting word from the Government in this regard. I understand there is a requirement which involves the EU and I think this is holding things up.
Senator Lanigan called for a debate on foreign affairs. I thought this would be one of the most requested debates on the Order of Business. Of course I will make time available at the earliest opportunity for such a debate.
Senator Quill called for a debate on road safety. Private Members' time next week is being given to the Progressive Democrats Party and I would welcome a motion concerning this matter. It is a very worthy request and I agree with Senator Quill's call for a debate on the issue. She has my full support in bringing the matter before the House next week during Private Members' time.
The Bills currently before the Dáil are the Western Development Commission Bill, 1998, the Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road Bill, 1998, the State Property Bill, 1998, and the Tourist Traffic Bill, 1998. We are awaiting these Bills in the Seanad.
The following is a list of Bills we expect to be published from the start of the Dáil and Seanad sessions up to 31 December 1998: the National Inventory of Archaeological Heritage Bill, the Broadcasting Bill, the Companies (Amendment) Bill, the Copyright and Related Rights Bill, the Local Government Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, the Appropriations Bill, the Voluntary Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill, the Eastern Regional Health Authority Bill, the Illegal Immigrants Trafficking and Employment Bill, the Family Law International Protection of Children Bill, the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill, the Data Protection (Amendment) Bill, the National Disabilities Authority Bill, the Criminal Law United Nations Convention Against Torture Bill, the Sea Pollution (Amendment) Bill, the Radiological Protection (Amendment) Bill, the Electricity Supply Regulations Bill and the Irish Sports Culture Bill. There are 22 Bills in all. As one can see, the Seanad has a very busy schedule, and contrary to what Lord Henry Mountcharles — a distinguished gentleman and a good colleague and friend of mine — might say, this has been the hardest working Seanad in the history of this House. It sat the same number of days as the Dáil this year so far and I believe this will continue  into the future. As a legislative body, the Seanad will play an important role in running the affairs of the country for many years to come in the interest of those who elect us.
Mr. Costello: I understood the Leader of the House to say that there would be a meeting of the Whips after the conclusion of the Order of Business in order to arrange an early date for a debate on this matter. Therefore, I withdraw my amendment.
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