Wednesday, 4 November 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: Today's Order of Business is items, 2, 3 and 13, motion 26. Committee and Remaining Stages of item 2 will be taken today. Second Stage of item 3 will be taken at 2.30 p.m. with contributions of spokesperson not to exceed 15 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. Item 13, motion 26, will be taken at 6 p.m. and debate on items 2 and 3 will resume thereafter if not already concluded.
Mr. Manning: I had the opportunity to reflect on what happen on the Order of Business yesterday and to read the Official Report. I was very disturbed by what I found therein. There was an unprovoked sustained personal attack on the integrity of a named person who is not a Member of this House and is not in a position to defend himself here. It did not happen in the heat of the moment——
Mr. Manning: I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for that comment but in my time in the House this has not happened under any other Leader. It is one thing for a Member to make an attack in the heat of the moment but for the Leader to name and attack a person who is not in the House on the Order of Business is to my mind a serious abuse of power. It never happened before and has debased the House. It has seriously damaged the relationship between this side of the House and the other side. The basis of trust and mutual respect which was there has been damaged. I call on the Leader to withdraw the remarks he made yesterday and to apologise for what he has done.
An Cathaoirleach: Yesterday I endeavoured to ensure that all Senators would comply with the rulings of the Chair and with good order in the House. There is nothing more the Chair can do, it is a matter for the Leader, when replying to the Order of Business, whether he wishes to accede to Senator Manning's request.
Mr. O'Toole: I intervened in the hope the Leader might indicate that he wished to deal with the matter. I would like to add to what Senator Manning said. I also felt what went on yesterday was unacceptable and that I was misled by the Leader. He particularly asked me before the Order of Business not to raise the Shannon River Council Bill on the basis that he had a report which he would convey to me in the course of the day. I withheld from speaking on it only to find during his reply to the Order of Business that he had the two or three page report on his person. I believe I was misled. This is not the proper way to do business. If there are difficulties on either side, the Leader should relate them to each other and deal with them.
I hope this matter is dealt with today. I ask the Leader to make a generous response to the issues raised by Senator Manning. I had my argument already with the Leader and it is past tense as far as I am concerned. However, there is a need for the Leader to respond in a generous manner and to deal with the point raised by Senator Manning  so we can return to proper working relationships as soon as possible.
Mr. Costello: In relation to the matter raised by Senator Manning and Senator O'Toole, there was an unseemly situation in the House yesterday. However, there is no value in proceeding with it in the House. It would be better if the matter was dealt with by the Leader, the leader of the Opposition and the Whips outside the House. This could be followed by a statement on the record. This may be the best way to proceed.
Education is mentioned in item 13, motions Nos. 2, 18 and 19 on the Order Paper. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Science to the House for a debate on education. Statements have been made about contributions and new initiatives in education. There are major problems in relation to adult education and literacy and pre-schools. A strike is ongoing in Waterford in relation to remedial education and there are problems in city and rural areas regarding the breaking the cycle initiative. Before final decisions are made in the context of the budget, such as in relation to the major issue of student grants, a full scale debate in the House would be beneficial and would strengthen the Minister's hand in his negotiations with the Minister for Finance for a decent deal for education.
Mr. Coghlan: I ask the Leader as a matter of urgency to pursue with the Minister for Agriculture and Food the fact that huge tracts of severely handicapped and disadvantaged land were inexplicably excluded from the recent announcement about fodder aid. The amount of £300 is paltry in any event, but why is it denied to least well off farmers who are trying to eke out an existence on the land?
Mrs. Ridge: I mentioned yesterday the need for a debate on the Irish Wheelchair Association's proposals for the budget. The Leader kindly agreed to arrange a debate but, unfortunately, he did not say when it would take place. I have tabled a motion and I ask the Leader to accede to a debate this week or next week because the matter relates to this year's budget. I hope the Leader will take note of that aspect in his response.
Mr. B. Ryan: Given the eccentric way in which business is currently ordered in the House, it was impossible for me to be present yesterday. Will  the Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to investigate the way in which the Garda is being used by the Department to do the dirty work of the immigration section? A total of 49 immigrants have been deported without public knowledge. Immigrants are threatened that if they make a fuss they will be deported even more quickly and there was a spectacle over the weekend. If the Minister does not take action to implement the Refugee Act, his Department will change from being a Department of Justice to a Ministry for racism and that will cause enormous problems. The Minister should either sort out the problem or resign and allow somebody who has the will to solve it to do so.
Mr. McDonagh: I support Senator Costello's call for a general debate on various aspects of education. Will the Leader ascertain from the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy O'Dea, when the Green Paper on Adult Education is likely to come on stream? Many interested groups would be greatly appreciative if the Leader could indicate, perhaps on the Order of Business tomorrow, the tentative date for the publication of the Green Paper.
Mr. Bonner: Unfortunately, I was not present in the House yesterday because of a sad event in my constituency. The House recently discussed the issue of safety on the roads. Following events at the weekend, I wish to raise the issue of safety at sea. I ask for the Cathaoirleach's indulgence so I can pay my respects to the two fishermen in my community who tragically lost their lives between Saturday night and Sunday morning. I knew both men and I knew the owner of the boat particularly well because I live in that community for up to four months every year. No fisherman was more careful or efficient than the owner of that boat. Unfortunately, a tragic accident took place in reasonably calm conditions. This shows the necessity for upgrading safety, particularly on small boats.
I compliment the rescue services on their work, particularly the local sub-aqua team which was on the spot immediately. It located the boat and confirmed that the bodies were not there. There is a need for much updating because, unfortunately, the skipper of the boat was not in a position to give any signal other than a very faint mayday. The issue of alarms on older vessels, which could be used in emergencies, needs to be considered. I welcome the inquiry announced by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Woods, but I ask him to ensure that the emergency services remain in the area for the next week.
The issue of student grants and the loss vis-à-vis sterling, raised by Senator Costello, is causing great concern in the education field for many people in my constituency. Most of the students in Northern Ireland are not receiving their fees.
Mr. Quinn: I wish to correct a misunderstanding which arose yesterday with the Leader regarding a request that the Government should recognise that there are 422 days to the new millennium. I said I did not want any more talk about the problems of the millennium bug, but the Leader understood I was seeking a debate. I do not want a debate on that matter because action is needed.
However, I want a debate on the euro, which is only 57 days away. I thought there might have been an opportunity yesterday to discuss the advent of the euro, but it was much more attractive to discuss banking. Ireland will be a member of the euro in 57 days but the country will not be ready to write euro cheques on 1 January. The action of the Central Bank needs to be considered now because the way in which the advent of the euro is being handled is not necessarily in the best interest of the country. I would welcome an urgent debate on the euro within the next fortnight.
Mr. Dardis: The issue of overseas development aid was raised yesterday. I would welcome a debate on that matter as would, I am sure, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs. The points made in respect of the percentage allocated to overseas development aid are true. It has been the objective of this and the previous Government to increase the percentage substantially. However, the figure must be considered in the context of the growth of GNP. An additional sum of £15 million was allocated to overseas development aid this year. It is only because of the strength of the economy that the figure as a percentage of GNP has declined by a margin of 0.2 per cent. This aspect should be borne in mind.
Mr. Dardis: Regarding the important issue raised by Senator Manning and Senator O'Toole, I can speak with a little authority on this matter because I fished for many years on Lough Sheelin and I know what happened to it. It was virtually destroyed. Given that the Leader lives close to the area, I understand why he would feel strongly about the issue. It is a matter of record that there are court convictions in respect of pollution incidents that took place on Lough Sheelin. It is also a matter of record that there was a possibility of contempt of court in respect of some of those cases. Fine Gael would not condone illegality of any description in respect of those matters.
Mr. T. Hayes: Will the Leader bring to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture and Food the problems in the area aid unit? It is closed and telephone calls are not being answered. It is deplorable as a huge number of people await their annual payments and the cheques are not coming through. When they make inquiries nobody answers the telephone in the unit. The ACC, banks and building societies await payment from farmers but the money is not getting through. There is major frustration.
Mr. Callanan: I refer to the issue raised by Senator Coghlan. The onerous task of drawing up the areas for inclusion should be given to Teagasc as it is the organisation which carries this out. I wish the Senator would note that.
Mr. Norris: Unlike some colleagues who wish to dissociate themselves from the unseemly row yesterday, I wish to associate myself with it in any way. I regret that I did not as I found it most enjoyable, stimulating and invigorating. It brought life to the House and I felt there was real passion. I congratulate the two combatants. It was much better than people reading their dull, boring pieces of paper.
Senator Ryan raised the matter of asylum. He may possibly also have been thinking of the Costina family. I raised this matter yesterday and would be glad if we had an opportunity to discuss  it. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has responsibility for this, although I do not hold him personally liable. My colleague, Senator Ross, pointed out that a series of reports from the European Parliament is listed on the Order Paper, one of which relates to the resolution on the death of Semira Adamu during her expulsion. This was an appalling case in Belgium. We are moving in that direction and it is the responsibility of this House to ensure that such a tragedy never blemishes Ireland's record.
I wish to comment on Senator Dardis' remarks. Of course, it has occurred to everybody that one can put a spin on our contribution to overseas development by expressing it as an absolute quantity but the commitment of this country has always been to the expression of that debt as a proportion of gross national product.
Mr. Kett: I support Senator Ridge's request to have the budgetary concerns of the Irish Wheelchair Association debated, but I ask that such a debate be broadened to take into account the concerns of other agencies in similar situations.
Mr. Gallagher: I support Senator Ryan's request for a debate on immigration policy and practice. Ireland is beyond the stage of needing a policy formulated by the Houses of the Oireachtas and a proper implementation agency given the current unsatisfactory arrangements between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda. There is an unanswerable case for a separate immigration and naturalisation service.
During the last session, there were a number of requests for debates on health issues, aside from the legislation brought before the House in respect of the Food Safety Authority. I reiterate my request to arrange such a debate during this session at the earliest opportunity, particularly in the context of the budgetary crisis in a number of health boards which is forcing the closure of wards despite lengthening waiting lists.
Mr. Lydon: Will the Leader schedule a debate on the enlargement issue, which I have requested on a number of previous occasions? It is an important issue facing us. Will he consider a debate on human rights on the anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights? This could prove a very timely debate in light of recent remarks by the commissioner.
Mr. Cassidy: With regard to the views expressed by Senators Manning and O'Toole, I  regret any personal imputation that may have arisen yesterday. As Senator Dardis said, Lough Sheelin is in my own parish and I am aware of everything that has happened there through my own hard work with past Ministers of all Governments. I accept most of what Senator Manning said. He is a long time Member, as I am, and that was not my intention. During the debate on the Shannon River Council Bill, 1997, and especially, in light of the report that was issued a number of days previously and my knowledge about where much of it emanated from, I expressed a view in the House. I hope this is accepted.
Senators Ridge, Kett and Burke called for a debate on the Irish Wheelchair Association. I will try to slot it in next week, and, if not, the following week prior to the budget. Senators Ryan, Norris and Gallagher requested a debate on overseas development aid and the position of refugees and I will also make time available for this. Senator McDonagh called for a debate on adult education, as he has done previously, and I will discuss this with him following the Order of Business. Perhaps, he can have it debated during Fine Gael Private Members' time.
I concur with Senator Bonner's expression of sympathy on the tragedy in Donegal. Senators Bonner and Costello asked for a debate on student grants and I will make time available for it. Senator Quinn again called for a debate on the euro. This has been debated twice in the House and the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Treacy, has been very generous with his time to discuss this. If the House feels this should be discussed further, time will be set aside. Senators Hayes and Callanan expressed their great concerns regarding area aid and cheques which may still be outstanding. I will pass on the Senators' views to the Minister for Agriculture and Food.
Senator Gallagher called for a debate on health issues and time will also be made available for this. Senator Lydon requested debates on enlargement and human rights and I will allocate time for them during this session.
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