Tuesday, 17 November 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Connor: The Order of Business is agreed. I wish to raise the decision already taken by the Cabinet concerning the regionalisation of the country for the purposes of regional funds. If such a decision has been taken I welcome it. However, assuming that Counties Kerry and Clare are to be included, County Kerry is part of the south-west region, which has a GVA per capita of 97.7 per cent of the EU GVA per capita. We know that the threshold is 75 per cent. I would have some difficulty detaching County Kerry from County Cork, but I take it that the average income in each county is about the same. County Clare is part of the midlands region and enjoys a GVA that is 87.7 per cent of the EU GVA. This has implications for other regions outside the counties to be decided on today, such as the south-east, which enjoys 75.5 per cent of the EU GVA.
Mr. Connor: I seek information from the Leader and, if necessary, a debate. I am giving the Leader this information so that he will be well informed on the queries I have for him. I have one more piece of information for him.
An Cathaoirleach: This type of detail is not necessary when asking for a debate. The Senator is becoming involved in points that could be raised in such a debate; this debate should not be pre-empted on the Order of Business.
Mr. Connor: The Chair will appreciate that I want to give as much information as possible to the Leader so that his reply will be as comprehensive as possible. I will desist now if the Chair wishes but I will be disappointed if the Leader cannot give a comprehensive answer on the basis of what I have said. This is a very important issue and it would be too bad if debate on it were stymied.
Mr. O'Toole: On the same point, this is an issue that requires further discussion and clarification. Much as I welcome my native county being included in any improvement that is badly needed, I understood that an element of contiguity was needed for the cohesive units. I cannot quite understand how there is contiguity between Clare and Kerry as they do not touch each other. If there was contiguity Limerick should be included and I do not understand what that county has done wrong. I know it did not deliver for Fianna Fáil in the by-election but there are decent people there. Is there any particular reason for Limerick's exclusion? This might be partially dealt with in the debate on the Western Development Commission Bill. I want Limerick people to know that they have some supporters here.
Some months ago the Leader gave Senators on both sides of the House a commitment that there would be a debate on literacy in Ireland. An OECD report shows that this is a problem. There have been significant and fundamental changes in the profile of those unemployed in Ireland, and new strategies relating to literacy are needed for those people. Literacy and unemployment are related topics, and are appropriate for discussion on the Education (No. 2) Bill to be taken tomorrow. We will want to keep the point in mind when discussing that Bill.
Last week the Leader gave a commitment to discuss the Shannon River Council Bill. He indicated that he would be prepared to discuss a progress report on it prior to introducing legislation. Will he give a commitment to do so next week?
The Government's commitment to the national anti-poverty strategy has been raised time and  time again in many different areas. Will the Government give a commitment on what it is doing in terms of the strategy, particularly where it deals with educational and rural disadvantage?
Mr. Costello: I support Senator O'Toole's request for a debate on literacy — items 18 and 19 on the Order Paper refer to this. Will the Leader ask the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy O'Dea, when the Green Paper will be published? It was to be published in the autumn and if that had happened the Seanad might have had the chance to debate it first. This is an important issue given that 25 per cent of the adult population fall into that category.
I join in the request for clarification on the regionalisation issue and I want a debate on it. The Cabinet has made a decision to go down that road and it seems that the country will be divided creating the biggest division since the Treaty many years ago but it will be an east/west division instead of north/south. We are entitled to know why this division is taking place. Will the Leader invite the Taoiseach to the House? If he cannot find the Taoiseach, perhaps he would invite Deputy Healy-Rae because he seems to the real Taoiseach. Questions need to be asked about why the decision has been made, what is the approach to regionalisation and why one man in Kerry can effectively hold the Government to ransom.
Mr. Costello: Item 17 relates to a debate on duty free, an issue which has come to the boil again. The President of the European Commission will speak in the House on Thursday and this issue is related to European funding and tax. Will the Leader examine this issue urgently as there should be a debate on this matter at the earliest opportunity?
Mr. Dardis: A debate on regionalisation would be useful but it is important that we understand that, if part of the country is not included for Objective One status, the entire country, having exceeded the European criteria, will become Objective One in transition. Rather than having the entire country categorised as such, it is desirable that whatever part of the country can maintain Objective One status should do so. Obviously, if one continues to include certain counties or areas, the intention to attain Objective One in transition status for parts of the country will not be achieved. It is important that everybody bears that in mind. Some of these matters could be dealt with this afternoon when we debate the Western Development Commission Bill, 1998.
The President of the European Commission will be in the House on Thursday and these issues could be raised during the question and answer session following his address. However, I expect  he will address them during his speech. The request to discuss the national anti-poverty strategy is relevant in the context of regionalisation. There would need to be a regional government structure in place before the European Union would agree to treating a region as a separate entity. It could be argued that regional authorities represent that structure but that is a debate for another time.
Mrs. Ridge: Two weeks ago the Leader agreed to a debate on funding for the Irish Wheelchair Association before the budget. Two Members on the Government side sought the inclusion of the Central Remedial Clinic and other voluntary bodies. The Leader promised that this debate would be held. The budget will be announced on 2 December and representatives of the Wheelchair Association will march on Leinster House tomorrow. It would be nice to do something more than go out and shake hands with them. I intend to march with them as a gesture of complete solidarity rather than only meet them at the gate. I hope our esteemed Leader will have some positive information for me because the request did not only come from my humble self but from Members on his side. I am sure the Leader's heart is in the right place.
I make a plea on behalf of disadvantaged Dubs. We do not have a Deputy Jackie Healy-Rae to speak on our behalf and we will be further marginalised. I ask the Taoiseach to remember that while he comes from different parts of the country by way of parentage, he always claims to be first and foremost a Dub.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health and Children if it is the case as has been reported to me that Tallaght Hospital is refusing all general practitioner X-ray referrals until next April? I cannot get this information from anyone else and I would be interested to know the position.
Mr. J. Cregan: Regarding the point raised by Senator Connor and others, I welcome the decision, if it has been taken, to bring Kerry and Clare into Objective One status. It is a bonus for every county that receives that status. Nevertheless, I am disappointed that my county of Limerick, and particularly west Limerick, has not been included.
Mr. J. Cregan: We have a strong case and there appears to be a view that Members from the Government parties did not lobby strongly for the inclusion of Limerick and west Limerick in particular. However, nothing could be further from the truth. My colleagues and I have lobbied extremely hard and I am disappointed that we have not been listened to so far. However, I am still hopeful and I ask the Leader to bring the views I have expressed to the attention of the Minister. As Senator O'Toole mentioned, Limerick is physically tied to Kerry and Clare.
Mr. J. Cregan: We have a very strong case and the people of Limerick west should not suffer as a result of development in terms of industry in other areas in east Limerick and Limerick city. I appeal to the Minister to listen to our case. We have lobbied very strongly but we have not been as fortunate as other areas. However, we will continue to lobby on this matter.
Mr. Coghlan: As regards regionalisation, mentioned by Senators Connor, O'Toole, Costello, Dardis and Ridge, I understand the basis of the Government's decision. The Taoiseach spoke on this matter in my town of Killarney last Friday. I listened intently but I also read between the lines.
Mr. Coghlan: Obviously, there are severely handicapped and hugely disadvantaged areas throughout south Kerry. As the most peripheral part of the country, logically it is proper to include it. I appreciate the need to avoid breaching county boundaries and I ask the Leader to confirm that Kerry has been included in the Government's decision today and tell us if this might lead to an early replacement industry for the vacant Pretty Polly factory in Killarney among others.
Mr. McGowan: Will the Leader outline whether it is likely that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government will come to the House for a discussion in the near future? Will the Leader bring to the Minister's attention  the feasibility of funding local authorities to carry out repairs on national roads during good weather? When driving today I was delayed by at least two hours because of five major roadworks on the national primary route between Monaghan and Dublin. I was detained for almost an hour in the village of Collon as roadside parks, which were provided less than a year ago, were removed.
It is bad value for money to spend substantial sums on national road improvements in the kind of weather we have today. The Minister should consider the possibility of financing local authorities to enable them complete major road development schemes during good weather. It is worth our while to ask the Minister to attend the House to discuss the matter. We are spending money that is hard come by and I call for a debate on how we could get better value.
Mr. McDonagh: I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on under age drinking following the launch yesterday of a report on the subject, commissioned by the NUI in Galway, in Galway city by the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Fahey. The report contains frightening statistics. For example, many under age people, boys and girls, are being served drink. It is readily available to them in many public houses throughout the country.
It is incumbent on us as legislators to have this matter debated nationally and to ensure that legislation is enforced. I speak not only as a public representative but as a parent and as somebody who is involved in the education process. What is happening is totally unacceptable. It is one of the biggest social scandals in the country and it is time we faced up to it. A debate in this House would highlight matters and would start the process of removing this scourge.
Mr. Lanigan: I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to attend the House to debate the problem of refuse collection. A refuse crisis is developing in most parts of the country. No place in the south-east has the capacity to get rid of refuse beyond the last three years of landfill. A plan in the region has been developed but, at present day prices, the cost of changing to environmental controls in the region will cost £90 million. By the time it is implemented, in the period between now and 2007, that figure will have escalated to between £120 million to £130 million, with a cost per annum of approximately £10 million.
A major crisis is emerging which has not been addressed. The “not in my back yard syndrome” is prevalent when it comes to dealing with refuse elimination. It is time we realised that if we produce refuse we must get rid of it and if we want to do so under environmentally correct methods it will cost everybody a huge amount of money. It is time the House started the debate on this issue.
 I join with my colleagues in expressing concern about regionalisation. Although County Kilkenny is perceived as being relatively well off, there are parts of the county and the south-east where GDP per capita is well below the threshold of 75 per cent of the EU average. Parts of County Tipperary through the Leinster coalfields, the top of County Laois into County Carlow and north County Kilkenny are recognised areas of disadvantage. It does not make sense to speak of other areas where GDP per capita is 89 or 90 per cent of the EU average.
Mr. Callanan: I note that people in County Kerry are very pleased with developments regarding Objective One status, which is only natural. Senator John Cregan is extremely disappointed about Limerick which is also only natural. I, too, would like to express disappointment about west Cork and many parts of County Cork which have been omitted.
Mr. Callanan: I am only going by the encouragement I got already. Will the Leader bring this matter to the relevant Minister's attention? I congratulate the people from Kerry and Clare who were successful.
Mr. Chambers: I support Senator McDonagh's proposal on under age drinking. We discussed this issue when we debated licensing hours. There is, however, a need to bring the issue to this forum again to discuss protecting young people, the need for a change in legislation and the genuine need for the introduction of a proper identification card for young people. It is an issue which should be brought to the Minister's attention. A review of licensing laws is taking place with a view to extending them. While it is a substantial business, there is a need for us, as legislators, to protect our young people.
Mr. Farrell: I, too, support the call for a debate on the abuse of alcohol. I have spoken about alcohol abuse for a long time, particularly among young people. I have come to the conclusion that the abuse of alcohol, particularly among teenagers and youth, is causing far more hardship than illegal drugs.
Will the Leader provide time for a debate on bank interest charges? Credit card companies are charging up to 22.5 per cent interest on overrun accounts; this is scandalous. Many people with credit cards will overrun during the Christmas  period and will have to pay 22.5 per cent interest at a time when interest rates are down to single figures. There should be some control over these interest rates. I appeal to people whose accounts may overrun to go the credit unions or the banks to borrow because paying interest of 22.5 per cent on credit cards in the present climate is criminal.
Mr. Glynn: I refer to the comments on under age drinking. Drink is also bought by adults in off-licences and given to children which results in what are commonly known as “cider parties”. That is a major problem. As far as I am concerned, the majority of publicans are responsible citizens but there are rogues in every sector and they would not claim to be exceptions. Some off-licences, however, have a case to answer.
Mr. Cassidy: Senators Connor, O'Toole, Costello, Dardis, Ridge, Coghlan, Lanigan and Callanan called for a debate on regionalisation and the proposed announcement by the Government this afternoon, in which Kerry and Clare might be included. Senator O'Toole, in particular, was concerned that the two counties do not border each other. The River Shannon, however, is a friendly neighbour to both counties so that may allay the Senator's fears.
Mr. Cassidy: Senator Coghlan welcomed whatever announcement might be made on Kerry — I was pleased he was at the Taoiseach's function last Friday night to hear the good news — and I have no difficulty providing time for a debate on this matter. As the Deputy Leader said, the President of the EU, Jacques Santer, will be in the House on Thursday and there will be an ideal opportunity for the leaders of the various groups to raise questions during the question and answer session. However, the President will possibly cover this matter in his speech.
Senators O'Toole and Costello called for a debate on literacy. I would like to arrange for this at the earliest opportunity and hope to have it over the next two or three weeks. Senator O'Toole also asked for time to examine the progress report on the Shannon River Council project. We will leave aside time to update the House on the progress being made in this area. I agree with everything Senator Costello said when he called for a debate on duty free. Perhaps the leaders, when they are putting their questions to President Santer, might ask about the Commission's position on duty free.
Senator Ridge expressed her concerns on behalf of the Irish Wheelchair Association and I share those concerns. After the Order of Business I will discuss with the Senator how we could make progress on her proposal. I will also pass the Senator's concerns regarding Tallaght Hospital on to the Minister for Health and Children.  Senator McGowan called for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come to the House to discuss work being done on our roads in bad weather. It is my understanding that modern technology has allowed this work to be done even in wet weather. However, I agree it could be better co-ordinated. I will pass these views on to the Minister and if he wants a debate I will arrange it.
Senators McDonagh, Chambers, Farrell and Glynn called for an urgent debate on under age drinking. I gave a commitment to Senator Farrell two weeks ago to discuss this and I will leave time aside for it. Of all those who hold liquor licences, 98 per cent are decent, upstanding citizens and it is only 1 or 2 per cent who abuse their privilege.
Senator Lanigan called for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to attend a debate to discuss the serious position in which local authorities will find themselves regarding refuse collection as the landfill sites under their control run out.
The concerns expressed by Senator Farrell about the 22.5 per cent interest being charged on credit cards by banking organisations will be passed on to the Minister for Finance after the Order of Business.
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