Wednesday, 24 March 1999
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business is items 1 and 2 and item 23, motion 33. Committee and Remaining Stages of item 1 are to be taken today, and item 2 – motion for earlier signature – is to be taken without debate at the conclusion of item 1. Business is to be interrupted from 1.30  p.m. to 2.15 p.m., item 23, motion 33, is to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and business is to be resumed thereafter.
Mr. Manning: Can the Leader confirm that the structure of today's business has been broken down into various segments so that the Bill will not be taken all in one piece but, as has been the case over the years, will be taken in parts? Has the Leader had any response from RTE following his representations last week after the failure of “Oireachtas Report” to carry any coverage of this House for a number of days? Has he had any response from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform about the progress of the Superintendent Geary case?
I realise that for understandable personal reasons the Minister for Public Enterprise cannot be in the House today or tomorrow to discuss Telecom Éireann, but it would be wrong of us not to put on record the debt the country owes to Mr. Ron Bolger, who has given six years of unstinted, generous and expert service to the public good. It raises very serious questions when a person of the probity and commitment of Mr. Bolger feels he can no longer serve on the board of a State company. It should be remembered that he stood down as a senior partner in his own company to devote time to Telecom. This issue has not been handled well, and we need a full explanation. I understand, for reasons I have indicated, that that cannot happen this week but that time will be made available next week.
I understand there may be a change in this week's Order of Business consequent on the failure of the other House to discuss, let alone pass, the remaining Stages of the Telecommunications Bill. This was no fault of the Government, and I do not blame it, but if there are to be changes in the week's business, I ask the Leader that they be made through consultation.
Mr. Costello: Senators on this side of the House have a sense of déja vu, having indicated yesterday that the Minister for Public Enterprise's plans for Telecom Éireann were in tatters. As Oscar Wilde said, it is carelessness to lose one chairman in six weeks, but to lose Mr. Ron Bolger within a day or two of appointment shows there is something very wrong in the Telecom boardroom and in the Minister's plans. If the Minister is not available, the Minister of State should be present. This company was valued at £1 billion three years ago, and it is now valued at £5.5 billion. That is a huge amount of taxpayers' money, and we do not know what is happening in relation to the Minister's plan for a stock market flotation. Members of the board are stating openly that the company is in crisis, and the House is owed an explanation by the Minister. I ask the Leader to come back to us today with a commitment to a debate this week.
I raise the tragic murder of the Lurgan solicitor, Rosemary Nelson. Will the Leader bring to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs  the concerns of this House that there should be a full public inquiry into the circumstances of her death? The Independent Commission for Police Complaints stated that the RUC inquiry into previous complaints was completely out of order and inadequate. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has a duty to convey to his British counterpart that it is important that justice is seen to be done in this inquiry. The Chief Constable of Kent, Mr. David Philips, and the FBI have indicated that the RUC will conduct the substance of the inquiry, and that is not good enough. There should be a United States based inquiry or a Canadian inquiry or an inquiry based in some other country which will give credibility to the findings.
My final point relates to the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the match which is due to take place between Ireland and Macedonia on Saturday. Perhaps the Leader would bring to the Minister's attention the fact that no direction is being given to the FAI and the supporters who plan to travel to Macedonia as to what they should do about Saturday's match. There is a major threat of a NATO attack in the area so clarification about its implications for the health and lives of Irish citizens is necessary. The Minister should ensure that protection is given to our citizens and issue a public statement to warn people who are preparing to travel to the match about the real dangers that face them.
Dr. M. Hayes: I had intended to raise a relatively trivial matter but the death of Rosemary Nelson has been raised. I am a member of the independent commission on policing so it would be wrong of me to comment on the substance of the controversy. However, I knew Mrs. Nelson. She was a fine person and I had great respect for the work she did and the courage with which she pursued it. I, too, am concerned about the circumstances of her murder.
The issue I wish to raise is of relevance to the Minister for Agriculture and Food. There are reports in the press of steps being taken by the United Kingdom to abolish quarantine for domestic animals and pets and to replace it with vaccinations. Are steps being taken to keep the regulations in the Republic in line? Apart from the distress caused to animals and their owners, it would be anomalous if pets could be brought into Northern Ireland under one regime but could not be brought into the Republic. At a time when we are trying to remove barriers to movement between North and South, it would be discriminatory to retain the regulations.
Mr. Coogan: Will the Leader ask the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland if it has finished its report on radon gas? I am aware the Leader is anxious to have a debate on this matter. If the report is complete, it should be made available to Members for discussion, particularly with a view to the reintroduction of grant aid for home  owners whose homes are in areas of high and dangerous levels of radon gas.
The second matter I wish to raise relates to the Minister for Public Enterprise. I understand she has received the reports on Aer Rianta and the Great Southern Hotels group and I am anxious to ascertain her intentions for those groups. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come before the House to debate this issue which, as Senator Costello said, involves a great deal of taxpayers' money?
Miss Quill: At the first sitting of this House after the Christmas recess, I raised the need for legislation to regulate the charities industry. I said that unless legislation was introduced shortly public confidence in the charities sector would be eroded. I also pointed out that there would be dire consequences, particularly for some good and deserving causes. Unfortunately, my prediction was proved right. There is well researched and documented evidence to prove that public confidence in the charities sector is diminishing daily. I repeat my request that the relevant Minister come before the House as soon as possible after the Easter break to have a debate on this issue with a view to generating urgency for putting proper legislation and regulations in place. That will ensure that good charities and the deserving causes funded by them will be able to reclaim the confidence of the public. I make my request as a matter of urgency.
Mr. Ryan: I am tempted to move a motion to rename the Minister for Public Enterprise the Minister for resignations. I agree with other Senators that we appear to have the makings of a wonderful debacle. I am also a little concerned that the same body would appoint a financial controller whose current company has seen its share price drop from 147p to 15p in the last six months. If I were a worker in Telecom Éireann, I would be worried about that level of skill in financial control.
On a more sombre note, I ask the Leader to draw the Government's attention to a story in today's The Irish Times on the admission by the State and the Eastern Health Board that they have no suitable place for a troubled and vulnerable 16 year old boy. A topic of this nature should no longer arise. It is time for the Government, which is so awash with money it does not know what to do with it, to deal with the problem of disturbed children. This is not simply a question of compassion for these children, although that is important, but it is also an issue of good sense if society is to be protected from the consequences of those children and their problems. I ask the Leader to bring this to the attention of one of the Ministers.
The problem with an issue such as this is that it falls within the remit of about three Departments. It is also relevant to a matter which arose in the other House yesterday. What is the status of the legislation to deal with juvenile justice?  There appears to be confusion about it at present and it caused considerable mayhem in the Lower House yesterday.
Can the Leader find out if the Government has made any representations to the body with which it wishes to become more closely associated, NATO, about the onslaught of mayhem in the Balkans? Most independent commentators believe this military action will make no great difference to the people of Kosovo; it will make a considerable difference to the lives of the people of Serbia but, ultimately, it will change nothing.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to send somebody to one of the NATO countries which will bomb Serbia and find out what it is doing to its own dissident minority, the Kurdish people in Turkey? The House should debate the situation of the Kurds in Turkey but we cannot do it because a member of NATO, Turkey, will not allow anybody—
Mr. Lanigan: I agree with the previous speaker's remarks about Kosovo and the imminent invasion of Kosovo not by NATO or the United Nations but by the two largest arms suppliers in the world, the United States and Great Britain. They are the countries driving this confrontation. A summit is taking place in Berlin today and an urgent message should be sent there to ask the European Heads of State to get together and see if anything can be done at the last minute.
Let us be straight about this. It is the invasion of a sovereign country in Europe by other Europeans and by the United States. For years we were told the United Nations could not become involved in Northern Ireland because it could not interfere in the affairs of a sovereign nation. Now Europe is fiddling while another European country is being burned. This will not be a subtle burning. It will be carried out in a cowardly manner. The Americans and British have said they will not put ground troops into Kosovo but will fight from the air. That is the cowardly way. A resolution of the conflict in the Balkans will not be achieved by aerial bombing. Will they take out Milosevic? No.
Mr. Coghlan: The Leader undertook to circulate a report commissioned by the Department of Finance which dealt with growth projections for a number of towns and proposals for other towns. How does this fit with previously announced Government policy, and if it does not, why not? Perhaps he could enlighten us about how the Government intends to proceed.
Mr. Cassidy: Senator Manning asked about the proposed structure of the debate on the Finance Bill. I propose dividing the Bill into its parts. Part 1, from section 1 to section 93, has 19 amendments and covers income tax, corporation tax and capital gains tax; Part 2, from section 94 to section 118, deals with Customs and Excise; Part 3, sections 119 to 139, deals with value added tax; Part 4, sections 140 to 197, covers stamp duty; Part 5 section 198, is on residential property tax, to which there are no amendments. Part 6, section 199 to 206, covers capital acquisition tax. The remainder of the Bill is in Part 7.
In response to Senator Manning's query about RTE, yesterday I received a phone call and a fax from Mr. Kevin Healy, on behalf of the director general, regretting that two days' proceedings were not broadcast on radio and television and assuring me that to the best of their efforts this would not happen in the future. I can give the leaders of the groups a copy of this letter after the Order of Business.
Senator Manning and Senator Costello made known their views about Mr. Ron Bolger's contribution to Telecom Éireann. I wish to pay him tribute also. I have been a great admirer of his work for many years and I regret he found he was unable to continue as a member of the board but I understand the dilemma in which he found himself. I associate myself with the words of thanks to him for his contribution which other Senators expressed this morning.
I will propose a change to tomorrow's business. The Postal and Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill was not passed by the other House yesterday, for reasons best known to Members of that House. I propose that it come before this House next week, and that it be replaced in this week's business by the Bretton Woods Agreements (Amendment) Bill. This will be done in co-oper ation and after consultation with the leaders of the other groups, after this morning's Order of Business.
Senator Costello and Senator Maurice Hayes expressed strong views about the murder of Rosemary Nelson. I wish to be associated with them in condemning the murder in the strongest terms. It was an appalling tragedy, to say the least – the killing of a brilliant and able person who represented so well both her profession and the minority Nationalist community in Northern Ireland. I convey to her family and husband our shock that this should have happened to someone who made such a contribution to the community in the North. I will convey to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the views expressed by Senators who sought a full public inquiry.
I note Senator Costello's comments. I understand FIFA is making a decision at 12 o'clock on the question raised by the FAI. I heard Mr. Mick McCarthy on “Today with Pat Kenny” this morning. He said the team does not want to travel but it does not want to lose European Championship points either, which is understandable.
I will inquire from the Department of Agriculture and Food about question of quarantine of domestic animals. This issue was raised by Senator Maurice Hayes. It would raise problems on this island if the quarantine was abolished in Northern Ireland and not in the South.
I will convey Senator Coogan's query about radon gas to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. As I said before, I will afford time for a half day debate on this subject because my part of Ireland, particularly north County Westmeath, is one of the danger areas for this gas. I agree with the Senator that extra money must be granted to new house builders and young couples to deal with this problem, which is quite serious in certain parts of the country.
Senator Quill called for a debate on charities soon after the Easter recess. I have promised this to the Senator and will leave time aside for it, possibly in the first three weeks after the House returns. I will convey to the Minister this afternoon Senator Ryan's views about juvenile justice and the Eastern Health Board.
Senators Lanigan, Coughlan and Ryan expressed views about what may be about to happen in Kosovo. I associate myself with the sentiments expressed and will make their views known to the Minister for Foreign Affairs immediately after the Order of Business.
Mr. Cassidy: That is my intention. I had hoped to do so prior to the Order of Business but  Members had to be briefed on this massive legislation. I will make arrangements immediately after the Order of Business is agreed.
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