Wednesday, 5 May 1999
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: Today's Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 24, motion 31. On No. 1, Second Stage shall be taken today, with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. On No. 2, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage  shall not exceed 15 minutes and of all other Senators shall not exceed ten minutes. No. 3, resumed statements on the report of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the early release of Mr. Philip Sheedy, shall be taken from 4.30 p.m. until 5.30 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes – I understand that there is one spokesperson remaining – and all other Senators ten minutes. Senators may share time on Nos. 1, 2 and 3.
No. 24, motion 31, shall be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and business to resume thereafter, if not previously concluded. The Government amendment to motion 31 will be circulated on a supplementary Order Paper later this afternoon.
Mr. Manning: With regard to No. 3, for the third time I ask the Leader of the House if a question and answer session will be included. If not, it does not make sense. There are still some questions to be asked. I am asking that the Order of Business be amended to allow 15 minutes at the end of statements for the Minister to take questions from Members of the House, as is appropriate.
I wish to refer again to what happened here last Thursday when a debate which had been arranged a week previously was scheduled to take place. However, we did not have the Minister or a Minister of State from his Department present, but a Minister from a totally unrelated Department who read from a supplied script and was in no position to contribute to the debate. If it was not for your diplomacy, a Chathaoirligh, and the hard work of the Government Chief Whip, Senator Tom Fitzgerald, the entire afternoon's business would have collapsed. At the time I put it down simply to a mistake on somebody's part in the Department. However, in the light of what has happened and the very incomplete statements we have had from the Minister, it now seems this was a deliberate evasion by the Minister of his responsibility to account to the House for his actions. It was an act of contempt for this House. In view of some of the statements we have heard about the way in which members of the Government look upon their relationship to the Dáil and to this House, it seems to have been a deliberate snub. I want to place on the record the extreme anger felt by Members on this side of the House at the way in which the House was treated last week.
Mr. Norris: I am afraid that I am going to continue the querulous tone of the Order of Business by supporting Senator Manning. Perhaps he would not like to hear his contribution characterised as querulous, but I mean it in the sense of questioning.
I also want to raise the matter of ordering Private Members' time. For some weeks I have been asking when it would come round to my turn. I was told that it was neither clear nor cer tain. At the end of last week I was told it might be this Wednesday or in a week or two. Eventually, I was given 12 hours' notice that I had to provide both a subject and a detailed wording so the Department could be informed of this. Twelve hours is simply not enough if we are to be serious about the issues we raise.
Following from what Senator Manning said, I would like to know whether we will have a Minister in the House this evening to look at the very important matter of refugees and asylum seekers – on which no less than three motions have been placed on the Order Paper – before we get to Private Members' time. If we are to have a Minister, will it be the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, or at least somebody in the area of justice?
Will the Leader ask Mother Bernadette Mary, Sinead O'Connor, to perform her first miracle by inculcating a little common sense into the partisan politicians of the Lower House? They seem to want every possible opportunity to score points, with the able assistance of journalists who seem able to smell a ministerial accident and buzz around it like bluebottles on a turd. There is every possibility of putting a good Government in jeopardy and it is time we became a little more responsible.
I am not a party politician, but I have seen good politicians done down over what turned out to be a ball of smoke or a mare's nest. This morbid appetite for sensation on the part of the public should not be encouraged by politicians involved in these matters nor by responsible journalists who may lose their impartiality – listening to the radio for the past few days one could not help but detect their eagerness and lack of impartiality.
Mr. Norris: It seemed as if people were trying to provoke an election. They positively squeaked with excitement at the possibility that they might be able to interfere and cause an election. That is not part of the journalistic profession and we would be foolish as politicians to assist them in such a process. They cannot even speak English due to their excitement – some referred to a “fulsome statement”. What is a fulsome statement? One may have fulsome apologies. It is an indication of the level of false excitement generated when people cannot speak their own or a neighbouring island's language.
Mr. Costello: The Leader referred to a supplementary Order Paper; will he clarify what this refers to? I congratulate him on getting the Companies (Amendment) (No 3) Bill, 1999, initiated in the Seanad. However, I am disappointed that this Bill was published last Wednesday. The intervening holiday weekend meant that the legislation was not available to us until yesterday.  It is not good enough that legislation initiated in the Seanad should be taken at such short notice. We are taking the Irish Sports Council Bill before the Companies Bill and that was introduced seven months ago. However, we have not had a full week to examine the Companies Bill. I am disappointed by that. The Labour Party will not accept legislation in the future if it comes at such short notice.
I echo the remarks of Senators Manning and Norris on the Sheedy case statements. It was disappointing that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was not present in the Seanad last week, despite the desire articulated in the House for his attendance and for a question and answer session. Will the Leader clarify whether the Minister will be in the Seanad this afternoon? We reiterated our request last week when a Minister from the relevant Department did not attend. It is an insult to the House. We should have a Minister who, by reason of his or her portfolio, is in a position to respond to the debate.
We will have to oppose the arrangements for No. 3 unless the Leader will make a statement to the effect that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or a Minister of State from that Department will attend and that there will be a question and answer session.
There have been considerable developments since we last spoke on this matter and I am anxious to invite the Taoiseach to the House to clarify the matter, as he is to do in the other House. The Seanad deserves that because insufficient ministerial attention, so to speak, has been paid to this House.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: In recent times I have noticed the large number of school students visiting the Houses and I compliment them and their teachers in this regard. However, we are losing a valuable opportunity and therefore, I ask the Leader to investigate the possibility of providing, in the new building, a place where visiting students could meet Members of the House for a question and answer session. It is not sufficient that students, particularly those who have travelled long distances, should meet Oireachtas Members, merely by accident, on corridors. These are the voters, if not the Members, of the future and we should provide such a service for them.
Mrs. Ridge: I ask my usual question of the Leader – where am I on his list? He reminds me of the character in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta who said, “I've got him on the list, I've got him on the list”.
Can the Leader tell the House if a decision has been made regarding the right of refugees to work? Last weekend I noticed that refugee women are still running between cars at a major traffic intersection on a four-lane motorway, carrying young babies, while selling magazines. There must be a better way to top up one's  income than that. I am very concerned about this matter.
Ms O'Meara: In light of the shocking revelations contained in the excellent “States of Fear” documentary series and the suggestion contained therein that the Department of Education was aware what was happening in the institutions in question, will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to debate this matter? Will the Leader ask the Minister to consider the necessity of an enquiry into the allegations and the role of the Department in the institutions? We have already been made aware of the abuses carried out in institutions but the most shocking feature of the current documentary series is the revelation of the level of knowledge and indeed complicity of the State regarding these abuses. Will the Leader arrange a debate on the facts revealed and allegations made in the documentary?
Mr. Bohan: Following the recent tragic death of a young man on the Lucan by-pass, will the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to consider the introduction of legislation to deal with joyriding, which is now completely out of hand? This tragic death is the second in three weeks, the other was of a Tallaght taxi driver. The driver who ploughed into this unfortunate man's car, was driving on the wrong side of the Lucan by-pass. He has a string of convictions, including some for car theft. The accident occurred while he was remanded on bail but he was, nevertheless, allowed to continue his previous behaviour.
In Drogheda recently, gardaí met a young man walking down the street one week after he had received a sentence of twelve months in prison. Such situations cause great frustration to the gardaí. I hope the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will introduce legislation to ensure that those who are convicted serve their entire sentences. They should be charged with murder, especially the individual who was driving on the wrong side of the road—
Mr. McDonagh: Recently two seven year old boys carried out acts of desecration in my home city of Galway. The parish priest, Rev. Fr. Higgins, has called on the State to provide more and adequate leisure facilities for young people. I support his call. The time has come to respond to young people's needs. Will the Leader impress on the Minister for Education and Science the need to provide more sizeable funding by way of this year's youth, sport and special project grants to vocational education committees so that they can be more generous to youth organisations? We must offer our hand to young people and be seen to give them meaningful and gainful ways of occupying their time. There should be no repeat of the sad events in Galway last week.
Mr. D. Cregan: We were told over the weekend that consideration is being given to making all social welfare payments through the banks. One can imagine the loss to post offices and the benefits to the banks. As we are all aware, if one asks a bank for anything, one has to pay for it. Many social welfare recipients do not have bank accounts. Why was the House not informed about this matter? Can this House be informed before the media of what exactly Ministers are about?
Mr. Coghlan: Lask week I proposed that the Government make a significant financial gesture to pensioners in this the Year of the Elderly. The State should take immediate steps to ensure central heating is installed in all local authority houses. As we are aware, it is the older houses without central heating that tend to be occupied by pensioners. I fully concur with Senator Costello in regard to the short notice given of the Companies (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill, 1999. For some reason, I received my copy only yesterday. This did not give enough time to prepare properly.
Mr. Burke: I second the amendment put forward by Senator Manning to the Order of Business. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government should come into the House at the earliest opportunity for a debate on the state of national secondary routes in respect of which £18 million has been provided. This is inadequate to deal with an urgent problem satisfactorily.
Mr. T. Hayes: Will the Leader inquire of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in relation to an advance factory in Cashel which has been unoccupied for a year and a half? We were promised that it would be promoted. Various promotions are supposed to have  taken place but it has come to my notice in recent days that there is a file in the Department with the words “not urgent” written on it. I am concerned that nothing is being done and the matter has been put on the long finger. This sets a dangerous precedent. A huge number of people in the area are unemployed.
Mr. Gallagher: I support Senator Cregan's call for a full debate on any proposed changes in the method and means of paying social welfare. The post offices have done a very good job and I would be strongly against any changes in that system.
An príomhphointe atá agam inniu ná nach bhfaca mé aon tuairisc ar Riar na hOibre ar an tuarascáil a d'fhoilsigh an Coiste faoi stiúir an tSeanadóir Labhráis Uí Mhurchú faoin cheol traidisiúnta. Do spreag an tuarascáil sin an-suim i measc an phobail agus ba cheart go mbeadh deis againn sa Teach seo díospóireacht iomlán a chur ar siúl faoi.
Mr. Mooney: I support the point raised by my colleague, Senator Cregan. I go a little further by asking the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, who is responsible for policy in this regard, to come to the House. The Minister came to this House previously on a matter which we were told was not within her political remit which, as Senator Cassidy will recall, related to a stamp to commemorate the centenary of the Pioneer Association. At the time we were told it had nothing whatsoever to do with the political system, rather that it was a matter for An Post, that it had made a decision and the Minister could not intervene. Pressure from this House, notably from Senator Farrell and others, ensured that was not the case.
In this instance, we are dealing with the very fabric of rural Ireland. I do not want to dwell on it, and I appreciate the Cathaoirleach knows precisely what I am talking about. We are on the threshold of the millennium and if this particular proposal goes ahead, it could wipe out rural Ireland. I have every reason to believe there are plans in the Department to introduce this proposal because 12 months ago I made representations on this matter following concerns from postmasters. I did not receive a detailed reply from the Department which led me to believe it was thinking about it. Now it has become public through the postmasters' union. I strongly urge the Leader to take this issue on board. The Minister should stop this proposal; she should head it off at the pass.
Ms Leonard: I support the call by Senator Coghlan on an issue I raised last week – the installation of central heating in the dwellings of old people on local authority housing lists. This is  the Year of the Elderly and it would be an ideal opportunity for us to show how much we value older people in society.
Mr. Glynn: I support strongly the report by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Heritage and the Irish Language in which Senator Ó Murchú has been deeply involved. Given the renaissance of our teanga and ceol dúchais and everything which pertains to them, it is incumbent on Members of this House to ensure the fullest support is given to this matter.
On the issue of the Year of the Elderly, it is only fair to mark the achievement of the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs who has given as much in one year as his predecessor gave in three years. I also support the call made by Senator Leonard last week. We have a proud tradition of honouring those who built this State and that should continue.
An Cathaoirleach: Before I call the Leader to reply, I remind Senators that many of the matters raised on the Order of Business would have been far more appropriate to Private Members' Business or could have been raised on the Adjournment. I hope Senators will deal with those matters in future in the way I suggest.
Mr. Cassidy: In response to Senators Manning, Costello, Burke and Norris with regard to No. 3 on the Order Paper, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will come to the House for this matter. As we all know, he was in Templemore last Thursday. My wish was to accede to the requests of Senators for a debate at the earliest possible opportunity. The Minister will respond to the points raised last Thursday and today. I do not envisage time being available for questions and answers as so many Senators seek to contribute.
Senator Norris made remarks about various people in the media and elsewhere trying to provoke a general election. I hope such people are wrong in their predictions. I know the Senator and most reasonable people agree that we have a good Government which is working very well. The economy is going well and the unemployment figures announced yesterday are the lowest since 1983. Yesterday the Taoiseach was in discussion with the British Prime Minister on two occasions and I understand they will meet later today on the serious situation in Northern Ireland with regard to the Good Friday Agreement. Never has there been such an important time for  a Government to remain in power in the context of progressing the Good Friday Agreement and finding a solution to the issue of decommissioning. I wish all parties well and know I am joined in doing so by Members on both sides of the House.
Senator Costello and others raised the short notice given for the introduction of the Copyright and Related Rights Bill. In one sense I agree with their sentiments. However, I am pleased that the Bill is being initiated in the House. It is a wonderful opportunity for the Seanad to show its qualities and to highlight the good and very experienced parliamentarians in the House. I look forward to many contributions on the Bill and will allow up to 4 p.m. on Thursday for Second Stage. I will allow one hour for spokespersons on Second Stage and 30 minutes for all other Senators. It is one of the most important Bills to come before the Seanad in my 17 years as a Member and is the second largest Bill in terms of volume to come before the Seanad in that time. I know how seriously Senators view the legislation and look forward to their contributions.
Senators Ó Murchú, Glynn and Mooney expressed various concerns. The proposal by Senator Ó Murchú that we have a special assembly area for students and other visitors to the House where the history of the House and the workings of Parliament can be explained is very good and I will raise the matter later at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges if the Cathaoirleach allows me to do so.
Senator Ridge asked for a debate on censorship legislation and regulations. I will afford time for this next Tuesday evening. Tonight is an ideal opportunity for the Senator to air her views on the other matter she raised.
Senator O'Meara referred to the documentary series, “States of Fear”. Everybody who watches these documentaries is shocked, horrified and saddened to think that such things happened or allegedly happened. The evidence being presented to us every Tuesday night is horrific to say the least. I will allow time for a debate on this matter with the Minister for Education and Science.
Senator Bohan raised the death of a young person on the Lucan by-pass. I am sure all Members share Senator Bohan's views in this regard. However, the Cathaoirleach pointed out a court case will follow and I take that on board. However, I will allow statements with the Minister present on Senator Bohan's request. I will  convey Senator McDonagh's views to the Minister.
Senators Dino Cregan, Gallagher and Mooney called for a debate on the future of payments of social welfare benefits through post offices. It would be the death knell of the post offices if this function were to be taken from them. I will contact the office of the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs this afternoon and see when time can be allowed to discuss this as a matter of urgency. We have all witnessed the decline in rural Ireland. It was never more evident than in the local electoral areas, many of which have lost a seat because of population decline. The post office has been the centre of activity in rural areas, especially on Fridays and other days important to rural communities. We would be turning our backs on the public representatives who elected us if we were not to take this motion seriously. I will allow time for this in the coming weeks.
Senators Coghlan, Leonard, Glynn and Liam Fitzgerald recommended that the Government's contribution to the Year of the Elderly be the provision of central heating to all homes of the elderly. As Members know, especially those who are local authority members, central heating will now be supplied in all local authority housing for the elderly which is under construction. While it would take a number of years for the project to be completed, I nonetheless agree with the sentiments expressed and will allocate time to discuss the issue.
Senator Tom Hayes expressed concern about the advance factory in Cashel. He spoke some time ago about another part of Tipperary. I remember the Tánaiste travelling back specifically to take the debate that evening and she took it in this House before the Lower House. The Senator cannot question the Tánaiste's bona fides. She is an excellent and efficient Tánaiste and Minister and will examine this matter seriously.
Cosgrave, Liam T.
Cregan, Denis (Dino).
O'Meara, Kathleen. Ridge, Thérèse.
| Kett, Tony.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
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