Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business is items 1 and 12, motion 29. Item 1, Second Stage to be taken today with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. Members may share time. Item 12, motion 29, to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and item 1 to resume thereafter if not already concluded.
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed. I draw the attention of the House to the great symbolic importance of what is happening today at Messines where the President of Ireland, the Queen of the England and the King of the Belgians are standing together to honour the memory of 50,000 Irishmen who died in the Great War. It is important that this House stand symbolically with the President in memory of those Irish people who have, to great extent, been airbrushed out of Irish history. Will the Leader make an hour available tomorrow for statements on this subject?
Mr. O'Toole: I return to the question of the Shannon River Council Bill and propose an alternative approach. The Government is not prepared to bring forward this legislation but there are strongly held views on the matter on both sides of the House. The Leader has a progress report on the question in his possession. Will he consider putting that report down as an item for discussion in conjunction with the recent report on phosphates in the Shannon and a further report on pollution which was published last week? These are matters of concern to all Members and would provide material for a full discussion prior to the introduction of legislation.
I am determined to ensure that the Shannon River Council Bill is brought forward and I know that Members on both sides are equally determined. The Minister has fobbed off his party and I do not understand why the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party do not take control of this matter and pass a motion calling for the introduction of the Bill. This would save the repeated embarrassment which is in no one's interest. Senators on the Government side are just as concerned about the Shannon as I and they should express that concern.
Mr. Costello: I agree with Senator Manning that the House should acknowledge the commemoration that is taking place at this time in Messines and honour the 50,000 from both sides of Ireland who died in the First World War. Many of those fought, not for king and country  but for the freedom of small nations, as did many who took part in the Easter Rising of 1916. It is important, in the spirit of reconciliation, that both traditions are honoured and the memory of those who fought courageously and the many who died are respected and honoured appropriately.
Yesterday in Dáil Éireann the Taoiseach seemed to go back on the agreed policy of giving extra powers to the Committee of Public Accounts to investigate the AIB offshore accounts and did not suggest an alternative legislative approach. Will the Leader clarify the matter for the Seanad in view of the wide ranging debate we held on this issue last week? What is the Government's current position? During last week's debate Senators spoke about the need for urgency and effective action in relation to offshore accounts.
Mr. Dardis: The Cathaoirleach and other Members will agree that it is most important, on this the eleventh day of the eleventh month, to formally commemorate the 80th anniversary of the ending of the Great War. In doing so we should remember the 50,000 Irish people who perished in the unimaginable slaughter. I agree with Senator Manning's suggestion of allocating a short time tomorrow to remember these events.
For too long an essential and important part of our history has been forgotten and, to use Senator Manning's phrase, airbrushed from history. That is wrong. It is particularly unfortunate that many of the survivors and their families did not live long enough to receive the recognition they deserved. For a long time they were forced to commemorate the war in silence. I am from a garrison town and many of the town's inhabitants served in the First World War. The war was commemorated in the town during the history of this State by parades to various churches. At some stage, however, these commemorations were deemed undesirable. These people should be remembered, not forgotten.
We should also express our solidarity with the President. It is a mark of our maturity as a sovereign nation that the President can stand beside Queen Elizabeth at Messines this afternoon and commemorate the Irish dead. The only unfortunate aspect is that the Irish Army band was not at the Menin Gate at Ypres last evening. The end of the war has been commemorated there every evening for the past 70 years.
Like Senator O'Toole, I would welcome a debate on the Shannon. However, it would be desirable to broaden its scope. Other waterways, including some of the great western lakes, are seriously polluted and it would be useful to  discuss the issue in its broadest context and not confine it to the Shannon.
Mr. Mooney: I endorse the initiative proposed by Senator Manning. Indeed, I would go further and propose that at the conclusion of today's business Members of the Seanad should stand. It is coincidental that the events taking place in Messines Ridge are happening as we speak.
Senator Manning spoke about the soldiers being airbrushed out of history. There is even greater symbolism in the President's presence on Messines Ridge. One of the sad aspects of the last 80 years is how the Northern Unionists, a minority on this island, monopolised the memory of the bravery of all Irish soldiers. Today, the South has reclaimed the gallantry and heroism of that time——
Mr. Mooney: I have made a specific proposal relating to today's business. I hope the Leader will give it serious consideration. I apologise for the short notice but I assumed there would be some type of commemorative procedure in the House today. In its absence there should be at least a symbolic stand in memory of the Irish people, from North and South, who died.
Dr. Henry: Earlier this year the Seanad discussed the 1996 report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals and the Minister promised that the subsequent report would be published more rapidly. The Leader, with his usual efficiency, has ensured that the report was published this week. Therefore, I ask if we could debate the 1997 report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals in Government time as soon as possible.
Mr. Finneran: I join with the other Senators in mentioning Armistice Day. It is appropriate that it is given albeit belated recognition. I compliment those Irish tradesmen from the midlands who provided the wonderful stone monuments. One of them, John Reynolds, who is known well to us, has been a stonemason in the Athlone/Roscommon area for the past number of years and has worked for the local authorities  there. I understand that this monument is a credit to the craftsmanship of those people.
With regard to what Senator Henry said, I have long supported the call for debates on mental health and I have been consistent in that, whether my party was in Government. It is with alarm that I read today that the Eastern Health Board is paying close to £1 million for private rented accommodation for 25 patients. This is extraordinary. The debate on mental health needs to be broadened and I would ask the Leader to do that. To pay £1 million these days when there are conflicts in health boards about funding, against a backdrop of closing almost 2,000 beds in the service, does not make sense. It is time questions were asked. A debate here on mental health, mental treatment, the facilities being provided and expenditure is long overdue.
Today, for the first time in a long time, there was a request for a statement under Standing Order 30. I may have been the last person to table such a question. I tabled five such questions about two years ago. My understanding of that particular Standing Order was that one would receive a written reply some time later. Almost two years have elapsed and I still have not received a written reply. The reason that Standing Order is not being used is that it is not being responded to by the Departments.
Mr. Finneran: I appreciate that. As regards the other business, the extended use of that Standing Order could be helpful in this House because it would shorten the Order of Business if there was a rapid response from Ministers. The Leader should make arrangements with Departments to facilitate this. I welcome the involvement of the committee in that matter and I look forward to hearing its deliberations.
Mr. Coogan: Would the Leader ask the Minister for Health and Children to come before the House to explain why he has persistently refused to move a supplementary budget for the Western Health Board considering the grave needs in Galway Regional Hospital, where 45 nurses have been let go, beds are not in use and wards have been closed? The Minister has refused persistently to move a simple £1 million supplementary budget. In fact, he has stated that he is not allowed to do so. I ask that he come before the House and explain why he is not and if he would give due consideration to the patients who are being left in corridors and who cannot be admitted to the hospital.
In relation to the psychiatric services, it is some years since planning for the future in the psychiatric services was introduced as a policy and it has been continued by successive Governments. This House should debate that particular aspect of the service provided to people with psychiatric illnesses. Perhaps it would be opportune now for this House to invite the Minister to attend a debate on this matter.
Since I came into this House numerous Senators have called for action on St. Ita's in Portrane. It would be remiss of me and Members of this House not to offer warm congratulations to the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, for the huge allocation of money to St. Ita's, Portrane. I also congratulate the staff who have provided a great service under adverse conditions.
Mr. Burke: I support Senator Coogan's call for the Minister for Health and Children to come into this House to discuss the funding of health boards as a matter of priority. Senator Coogan referred to the Western Health Board. However, it is not only Galway but the whole western region which is deprived of medical facilities. It is outrageous that the Minister is ignoring this issue. I ask the Leader to request the Minister to come into this House as a matter of priority.
Ms Leonard: I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in the House on the drugs culture in rural Ireland. Because of the increased allocation of funding to larger urban areas, a number of drug dealers are moving to smaller urban and rural areas. A debate would allow us to exchange ideas on this issue.
Mr. Coghlan: I ask the Leader to comment on the ongoing Fruit of the Loom saga. It appears there are a number of inconsistencies in the statements made by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment about job losses. Last night's television programme highlighted the fact that she briefed the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation and Deputy Keaveney about this matter; however, she did not include Senator McGowan or Senator Bonner.
The Government announced to much fanfare the £30 per ewe scheme to reduce the number of sheep grazing on our mountains. However, that scheme has run into trouble in Brussels. Perhaps the Leader could comment on how we can alleviate the hardship suffered by sheep farmers and reduce sheep numbers.
Mr. Lanigan: Since this session began I have asked for an urgent debate on foreign affairs issues. We have seen in recent weeks the biggest natural disaster ever. The problems which will be endured by the people of Honduras and Nicaragua must be faced up to by the western world. I would like Fruit of the Loom to make a huge contribution towards alleviating the poverty in that area because it and other manufacturers employed approximately 80,000 of these people as low paid workers. Some of them are dead but others have nowhere to live.
I also ask for a debate on a war which might erupt in Iraq and which will be of no benefit to anyone. There is no point blaming one side or the other for the fact the people of Iraq are dying as both are to blame. Children are so malnourished, they have no immune system and they get every disease possible.
Mr. Lanigan: The House should debate this matter and it should ask President Clinton and the Security Council to try to resolve the problems in Iraq in a peaceful manner. If a peaceful solution is not found, the people of Iraq and neighbouring Jordan will suffer. Oil wells are the only targets in Iraq that the US can bomb and if it bombs them, the price of oil might rise which would be of benefit to the western world but it would not benefit the people in the region. I request an urgent debate on this matter.
Mr. O'Dowd: Will the Leader bring to the attention of the Minister for Health and Children the shortage of speech therapists throughout the country, particularly in the North-Eastern Health Board region? Will he inform the Minister that a child aged three with a serious speech impediment whose parents hold a medical card is obliged to wait 20 months to see a speech therapist? That is disgraceful.
Dr. Haughey: I wish to be associated with congratulations to the President for her initiative in unveiling the monument to the war dead. In the spirit which prevails after the British-Irish Agreement and in light of the Duke of Edinburgh's visit and a possible visit by Her Majesty the Queen, will the Leader convey to the Minister for Foreign Affairs that perhaps the time is right for Ireland to receive an apology from the Government of the United Kingdom for that country's treatment of the Irish people during the Famine?
Mrs. A. Doyle: It is time a parliamentary question system was introduced in the Seanad, given the huge range of interesting issues being raised by Members on the Order of Business which are marginally in order. I say that in the knowledge that I am treading close to the wall.
Mrs. A. Doyle: I do not need the Senator's assistance, I am happy to be guided by the Leader. Many of the issues raised on the Order of Business could be dealt with under a parliamentary question system. Perhaps it is time to reconsider the introduction of such a system.
I support other Members' comments about the President's representation of the country today which is very important. I congratulate the media on the sensitive way it has portrayed personal and public issues relating to the Great War.
Would it be possible to again request that the House engage in a reasoned discussion about the British nuclear industry and its proposals to expand its operations on the west coast of the UK? Last week I outlined the format I wish the Leader to consider for such a debate so that there could be a proper two-way discussion of the issues.
Will the Leader make time available to debate the Government's undermining of Partnership 2000? It is time that matter was debated. Many important issues are being discussed by committees of the Houses. However, we must ensure that this Chamber continues to be seen to be a relevant forum where the most important issues are debated, not passed on to committees however effective they may be.
Mr. Farrell: I wish to be associated with tributes to the men who died in the First World War. Many years ago a monument known as the “war memorial” was built in my hometown in County Sligo and people paraded to it each year. I am glad that President McAleese is representing Ireland in Belgium today. It is obvious that, regardless of what is stated in the media, she is intent on building bridges.
Will the Leader convey to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform — who, in turn, should convey it to the Garda  Commissioner — the fact it emerged in the High Court yesterday that a family was recently taken into custody, held in a cell for a long period and that one of the children present was not permitted to visit the bathroom but was obliged to urinate in a corner of the cell? It is unthinkable that this should happen in a civilised society. If one heard of it happening in Saudi Arabia, one might not be surprised.
I heard on the radio of four doctors coming out of a club in this city who were held for questioning. No charges were pressed but they were treated in an inhumane way. No one should be treated like that in any part of the world. I ask that this is brought to the attention of the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána to ensure we never hear of anything like it happening in Ireland again.
Mr. Gallagher: I reiterate the request made in the last session for a debate on health issues. No Minister should hide behind legislation which does not prevent the introduction of a Supplementary Estimate to the Dáil for consideration. Even if legislation was needed, it should be introduced as a matter of urgency. If emergency legislation can be introduced at a day's notice to save Larry Goodman, it can be introduced on an emergency basis to save our hospitals.
Mr. McGowan: I ask the Leader to arrange for the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment to come into the House to discuss regionalisation and regional development. I also take this opportunity to express my concern for the workers in Fruit of the Loom. I did not have to be briefed as I was one of those selected to go to the headquarters of the company. We saw the danger signs four years ago. Because there is litigation pending against Bill Farrelly and other directors of Fruit of the Loom in America, it would not be wise for me to continue to discuss the serious problems in the company. Over the last few years, however, we have been told by the IDA and other agencies that we are not too badly off, we have Fruit of the Loom. It does not look as if Fruit of the Loom will provide jobs in the future so I would welcome the Minister to the House for a debate on regionalisation. There are some in this House who shed crocodile tears when this debate is mentioned. They have two policies — one for the rural areas and one for Dublin and other urban areas, depending on where they are from.
Mr. Cassidy: Senators Manning, Costello, Dardis, Mooney, Finneran, Glynn, Haughey and Avril Doyle requested that we set aside a short period for statements on the Great War. I have given this serious consideration and will allocate time for it on the Order of Business tomorrow morning. I thank all the Senators for their  contributions. My own great-granduncle fought in the war and lived for many years after.
Senators Costello, O'Toole and Dardis all expressed concerned about various forms of pollution. I agree with Senator O'Toole that time should be allocated for a progress report on the work taking place on the River Shannon. I will arrange for this within the next two weeks. I will also pass on to the Minister the concerns of Senator Costello about AIB offshore accounts.
Senators Henry, Glynn, O'Dowd, Finneran, Coogan, Gallagher, Burke and Leonard called for debates on health expenditure and for the Minister for Health and Children to come into the House. Senator Henry called for the 1997 report on mental health to be brought before the House and statements to be made on it. I will leave time aside for this.
I will pass on to the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the concerns of Senators Coghlan and McGowan about Fruit of the Loom. Senator Leonard called for a debate on drugs in rural areas. Priority will be given to allocating time for that urgently needed debate.
I will convey Senator Farrell's shock and horror about the family in custody to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Senator Lanigan called for an urgent debate on foreign affairs and I will allocate time for that as a matter of urgency in the next two to three weeks. I will meet with Senator Lanigan after the Order of Business to arrange a convenient time for the Minister to attend the House.
I agree with Senator Haughey and I will pass on his sentiments. Senator Avril Doyle called for a debate on the British nuclear industry for which I will allocate time. We have already discussed Partnership 2000 but I have no problem with allocating more time for a debate, particularly for those who may end up in the European Parliament.
Mr. Cassidy: As a long standing substitute Member of that Parliament I will set time aside for Senator Avril Doyle. Senator McGowan called for a debate on regionalisation for which I will allocate time.
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