Wednesday, 2 June 1999
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business is Nos. 1 and 2. No. 1 is the substitute motion on the Supplementary Order Paper circulated today. The contributions of spokespersons shall not exceed 15 minutes and the contributions of all other Senators shall not exceed ten minutes. No. 2, the National Disability Authority Bill, 1998, is a Seanad Bill, the Report and Final Stages of which shall be taken today.
On a point of information the text of paragraph (IV) 1 of motion No. 1 as circulated on the Seanad agenda was amended by the Department today. The amended text was circulated to Members on the Supplementary Order Paper.
Mr. Manning: On the Order of Business I wish to draw the attention of the House to a Bill we passed here with no great enthusiasm a few weeks ago to grant immunity to anybody associated with  the recovery of the bodies of those who disappeared in Northern Ireland. It was an odious little Bill in which nobody in this House took any pleasure. Such a Bill would not have been introduced had there not been a clear understanding and a commitment from the IRA that genuine and accurate information would be provided to allow those who have waited so long to recover the remains of their loved ones, that the information would enable that to be done effectively and in a way that would allow them to lay their beloved ones to rest once and for all. Instead of that it has emerged, after a media circus over the weekend which must have resulted in increased stress for the people concerned, and which shocked most decent people, that the IRA simply does not have the information. If it does not have the information now it did not have it when these commitments were given. What we have had is a ghastly macabre charade going on over the past couple of days. Clearly there is an obligation on the IRA at this stage to say whether it has or has not got the information or are we seeing a power play going on within the IRA itself, controlled by those still opposed to the peace process?
On the Order of Business today there is a strange omission. On the list circulated to me last Thursday there was an item which stated “Private Members' Business, Progressive Democrats, wording to be decided”. I waited all day on Thursday for the Progressive Democrats wording to arrive and wondered what sort of issue they would give us. I waited all day Friday but there was no word. I reckoned there had to a crisis of conscience in the party and wondered if a special seminar was being held to work out the wording. I left my mobile phone on while I was convassing on Saturday and Sunday. I turned it off only during the final stages of the Limerick-Waterford match.
Mr. Manning: I was waiting for the wording to come through. On Monday morning I reckoned there had to be another seminar to get the wording from the Progressive Democrats but still not wording came. Great was my stress yesterday as I pondered the loss to this House in not having the Progressive Democrats motion. However, this morning I was relieved to see in The Irish Times in the schedule of business for today: 6 p.m. Private Members' time, Progressive Democrats – wording to be decided. I reckon there was a further conference today to decide on the words. Was the Taoiseach brought in to apply his negotiating skills to get the wording agreed? Lo and behold the Leader gets up and no wording has been decided by the Progressive Democrats for its Private Members' motion. It has never happened before in this House that a party would  give up its Private Members' time and not allocate it to some other group. There are a great number of serious matters. I propose that the Order of Business be amended to allow us take the Shannon River Council Bill today.
Mr. O'Toole: Members will have noted in financial reports this morning that the euro is now trading at approximately $1.03 and is moving close to parity with the US$. This has enormous implications for our balance of payments and trade and it may also impact on inflation. Currently, Ireland has the third highest level of inflation in Europe and it is crucially important that it is controlled. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance to the House to explain the implications of these changes. It is a matter of great concern to people irrespective of their position on the political and social spectrums. We need to know the Government's plans for dealing with and responding to this matter in conjunction with our European partners.
I share the concerns expressed by Senator Manning. I do not recall an occasion over the past 13 years when a party was unable to put forward a motion for Private Members' time. The Progressive Democrats set out to be the mould-breaking party in politics and a mould has been broken this week in that they have failed to come up with a motion. It is not good enough.
The decision of the Department of Education and Science to continue consultation rather than to deal with Committee Stage of the Education (Welfare) Bill tomorrow has created a gap which should have been filled properly by the Leader of the House. There is no Private Members' business this evening and we do not know what business will be taken tomorrow. Senators are supposed to address the business seriously but there is a vacuum. It smacks of a lack of process. There has been incompetence at some level and it does not reflect well on the House. I am an Independent Member and I am not standing in the local elections. However, I understand the concerns of and demands on Members who are standing and I appreciate and support their position. However, we must keep our business in order. It is not in order at this point and we need an explanation.
Senator Manning's proposal to take the Shannon River Council Bill this evening and, if necessary, tomorrow, would resolve the situation. The Progressive Democrats supported this measure when they were in Opposition. They should have no problem whatsoever in supporting the proposal to deal with the Bill this evening and to conclude it tomorrow. It is already the policy of all parties and groups in the House. There is consensus on the subject and the House will have no difficulty in coming to a position on it. Therefore, I second Senator Manning's proposal that the Order of Business be amended to allow the Shannon River Council Bill to be taken in Private Members' time at 6 p.m.
I ask the Leader to consider giving extra time  to spokespersons on item 1 – they should have 20 minutes rather than 15 minutes because it is a convoluted and complex issue. They should not be constrained in terms of time and I ask the Leader to provide at least 20 minutes each.
Mr. Costello: I support the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Manning and seconded by Senator O'Toole in relation to the Shannon River Council Bill if it is the case that the Progressive Democrats do not have a motion for Private Members' time. We wish to hear what they have to say before the House divides on the issue.
I thank the Leader of the House for postponing Committee Stage of the Education (Welfare) Bill which was due to be taken tomorrow. The Labour Party has an extensive list of amendments to the Bill, which is extremely important. More time for consultation is needed to ensure that justice is done to the legislation. I am delighted the debate has been postponed.
I support Senator Manning's comments about the Bill which was passed by the House to facilitate the recovery of the remains of people killed by the IRA. It is extremely disappointing that the IRA is unable or at least has been unable to date to pinpoint the exact locations of the bodies. This adds considerably to the anguish and distress of the families. Considering the manner in which we dealt with the legislation it is time we received an appropriate and speedy response from the IRA.
On three occasions the House has unanimously expressed the opinion that Saturday's match between Yugoslavia and Ireland should not go ahead. It is disappointing that UEFA has not received a formal objection from the Government to the game taking place. We need clarification from the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation or the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is a matter of extreme importance, given that the President of Yugoslavia has been indicted for war crimes and a number of Yugoslav footballers play for a team owned by “Arkan”, who has been similarly indicted. Sport and politics are clearly mixed in this case.
Will the Leader obtain a response from the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, to the prediction by Finance magazine, on foot of a survey, that house prices would increase by 20 per cent per year over the next four to five years? The Minister says he has the matter in hand and there is no crisis, yet this reputable source says the opposite. We may seek another debate on this matter at an early stage so that the Minister can either stand over his position or accept the Labour Party's proposals.
Mr. Mooney: I support the comments on what Senator Manning correctly called the ghoulish and macabre dance of death taking place at present. Throughout history even the most uncivilised of countries always ensured that the bodies  of those who died in battle were returned. What is happening is outrageous and unacceptable.
I also support Senator Costello's views on next Saturday's football match. I ask the Leader to convey to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the congratulations of many people throughout the country on the moral stand they have taken. The Taoiseach was unequivocal and unambiguous in the other House this morning on the action the Government would take if UEFA cops out, as seems likely. Perhaps the Leader could also convey to the Minister for Foreign Affairs that the people of this country, as committed Europeans, are being let down by the politicisation of this matter by France and Italy, who are taking no action to prevent Yugoslav basketball teams playing in their countries in the next few weeks. It is outrageous that while Ireland is acting to reflect the views of the vast majority of its people, two of our European partners are standing back and allowing the Yugoslavs to come into their countries. Perhaps one should not be surprised at this considering the history of those two countries – Vichy France collaborated with the Nazis and Italy remained on the Nazi side until it was defeated.
Mr. Mooney: That may sound like stereotyping but it underlines the political agenda in this case. I am annoyed about this because there is no consensus among the European partners and UEFA is copping out as a result. This country is taking a moral position.
Perhaps the Leader will allow for a debate on dyslexia in order to clarify a matter affecting young people going through our education system. The provisions for allowing dyslexic students to sit the junior and leaving certificate examinations previously contained an acknowledgement of their disability, which was reflected in the marking system. That has been withdrawn. I am not sure if my academic colleagues in the House are aware of this. Dyslexic students are now being treated in the same way as all other students and that is reprehensible. It is not right and proper that it should continue.
There appears to be no acknowledgement in the Department of Education and Science that dyslexia is a handicap. Anguished parents and young people feel neglected and let down by the Department. I ask the Leader to obtain clarification on the position regarding the examinations, which are imminent, and to consider holding a debate on the issue of dyslexia in society.
Mr. Norris: Will the Leader indicate if there is any prospect of a debate on the serious situation facing the country, and especially Dublin, with regard to the strike by the fire brigade and the implications arising from the attitude of PDFORRA, which has been quoted in news  reports this morning as saying it wished to set a demarcation line as to what it will and will not do in response to ministerial direction and direction from Army leaders? It raises the important principle of the control of the Army and whether trade union matters can be permitted to intrude in this fashion in an emergency situation where citizens could be killed.
With regard to the Order of Business, I agree with my distinguished colleagues, Senators Manning, O'Toole and others. I am sorry that the Progressive Democrats could not propose a motion for Private Members' business. It gives a new flavour to a phrase I used in the House last week about political constipation.
The recovery of bodies is a very serious, unpleasant and tragic issue. The House passed legislation which has the effect of distancing the authorities from forensic examination. What have we got in return? I was impressed by Senator Mooney's remarks, but he used the phrase people “who died in battle”. It was not a battle.
Mr. Norris: I know it was not meant in that way. I am only putting a gloss on what the Senator said; I am not taking any offence or negative meaning from it. I refer to it because it raised an important point. Mrs. Jean McConville was the victim of a sectarian murder. She was a Protestant and acted in a Christian fashion by giving a glass of water to a dying man. That is what we are instructed to do. She was snatched from her family, her ten young children, just before Christmas. She was tortured, murdered and buried somewhere anonymously, apparently in a car park. No apology has ever been given. This was not honourable, decent warfare. The rings she wore and her handbag were thrown at her family, who were treated with contempt. It is an appalling situation. Pressure should be brought to bear on whoever knows where these bodies are located and they should be recovered to their families.
The House should note the killing of Private Kedian in the Lebanon. It was a tragic event. He so nearly made it to the bunker. I understand the Israeli ambassador has expressed sincere regret and condolences. I believe we all feel that and I look forward to the day when the Israelis will withdraw completely from that area. I know, as they have indicated to the United Nations, they are fully prepared and anxious to implement Resolution 425 when the Lebanese Government can guarantee them security. However, nothing of this nature will comfort the family of the young soldier who was killed so tragically and unjustifiably.
Mr. Lanigan: I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Norris with regard to the killing of a member of the Defence Forces working with the United Nations in south Lebanon. He is the second soldier from County Mayo to  have been killed. The last one was a son of Mr. Heneghan, a Fianna Fáil councillor.
The Israeli ambassador said he would not admit responsibility on behalf of the Israelis. The SLA, the South Lebanese Army, was preceded by LAUI, Lebanese armed and uniformed by Israeli. Before that there was Lahad, who were traitors from Lebanon, paid for and operated under strict control by the Israeli defence forces. We cannot accept that the Israeli ambassador will not apologise for what happened. He suggested it was something that should not have happened, but he would not accept responsibility on behalf of the Israelis. The Israelis pay these people in southern Lebanon. They take young children from their families and use those families as a ring to exert their control.
Mr. Lanigan: I accept that. On this matter, I took exception to reports in this morning's newspapers which suggest that rookies were killed in the Lebanon. The Irish Army trains its soldiers extremely well before they go to the Lebanon or to any overseas posting. It is unacceptable that reporters in this country would suggest that those soldiers were rookies. The word “rookie” depicts somebody who was not prepared, but these soldiers were very well prepared. Our soldiers have done a superb job in the Lebanon over the years. I cannot accept the use of the word “rookies” by newspaper reporters to describe them. We should send our sympathy to the Kedian and Rushe families.
With regard to the issue of Saturday's match, I suggest that Hitler wanted a different result in the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1938 when Jesse Owens won four medals at a time when Germany was preaching that the master race was white. That was an indication to Hitler's master race that it did not matter whether one was white or black as long as one was good enough. During the Olympic Games in Mexico the issue of black power was also raised.
Mr. Lanigan: During the past two weeks I asked for action by RTE in regard to sports coverage and I asked that we have a debate on tobacco sponsorship of Grand Prix racing. The tobacco industry has got its way. There will be more snooker coverage on television. I would love to see Ken Doherty and others earning a good deal of money, but the reason for more snooker coverage is tobacco sponsorship. I would like the Leader of the House to approach RTE on this matter and to ensure that if there is coverage of the snooker championships, there will be no mention of Benson and Hedges or other tobacco sponsors. Let us eliminate tobacco advertising from television because the tobacco industry are the only ones who want to extend such sports coverage.
Mr. Coogan: Senator Lanigan likes to play extra time and he is noted for it. Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Woods, to come to the House to tell us what is happening about the gas find off the west coast? I understand it will outstrip Kinsale and, according to some reports, the gas field is between 1 trillion and 5 trillion cubic metres. Will the jobs that accrue from the gas find go to Ayr in Scotland or will the find result in a benefit to the west in terms of ensuring jobs will be created there and lower energy costs will result in the location of more industry there? Is it intended that we will have to buy back our own gas from the Scottish? I remind the House that it was the former Minister, Ray Burke, who sold off the licences for this wonderful find. Will the Minister consider repurchasing some of the licences so that we can benefit from this gas find?
Mr. Ryan: I would like to correct what a number of people have said. This House did not pass a Bill giving immunity to people who committed murder. It passed a Bill prohibiting the use of the forensic evidence assembled following the discovery of the bodies of the disappeared. I would not support immunity for anyone who committed murder and I hope at some stage people will be convicted for these murders. The best we can do in light of this awful business is to restrain ourselves because anything we say will add to the hurt of the families involved.
The tragic murder of an Irish soldier in Lebanon is a definition of the heroic work our soldiers do, which is to protect civilians. This contrasts with those who bomb civilians with immunity and impunity.
I am surprised at the Progressive Democrats. I thought they had given up on the notion of abolishing the Seanad. Perhaps they are taking a new  tack of death by a thousand cuts or it may be they have given up altogether. It is unusual, to say the least, not to have Private Members' time.
I ask the Leader to find out when Report Stage of the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention against Torture) Bill, 1998, will be taken. We have been waiting for some months. I believe the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has some problem.
If the Leader is in communication with RTE, will he educate the genius from 2FM masquerading as a sports reporter who announced to the nation that Waterford were down to ten men when a player was put off during the hurling match on Sunday? There are 15 players on a hurling team.
Mr. Quinn: Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to ensure that a debate on genetically modified foods takes place. There is a threat today by a group of 19 of those opposed to genetically modified foods to withdraw from the Government consultation process. I hope he will urge these people to continue to take part in that process. There cannot be a debate unless both sides make their case. If one side decides they do not wish to enter into discussion or debate the matter, we may end up with a crisis. I mention this because yesterday two Belgian Ministers resigned because of a cancer scare in eggs in Belgium. This is an example of what can happen to the food industry if we take our eye off the ball regarding the importance of food safety. Ireland has a strong Food Safety Authority and I want to ensure that the Minister for Agriculture and Food is reminded of the importance of maintaining that strength and the ability of the organisation to protect us from problems that might otherwise occur. If not, I hope the Minister will be willing to resign as the Belgian Ministers did.
Mr. Bonner: I ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources the proposals being put in place by the European Commission in relation to the blue whiting quota. The proposals are flawed, discriminatory and unfair to Irish fishermen. The decision will permanently determine our quota in this very valuable fishery, particularly as the majority of this type of fish is off the Irish coast. The Norwegians, who are not members of the EU, have been allowed to catch up to 250,000 tonnes, yet Irish fishermen can catch only approximately 10 per cent, or 14,000 tonnes, under the new proposals. There is a substantial fishery of over 2 million tonnes of blue whiting. I would like the Minister to take this issue seriously because most fishermen in Donegal will have to rely on this fishery in the future due to earlier decisions made under the Common Fisheries Policies which have plundered our waters and taken this national wealth from our fishermen.
I concur with Senator Mooney's comments on dyslexia. I was shocked to hear about the pro posal to withdraw the facility for children with dyslexia in the leaving certificate and intermediate certificate examinations. I have raised this issue with the Minister on numerous occasions and I would be surprised if he agrees with this proposal. This is an extremely important matter and I would like it clarified immediately.
Mr. Burke: It is in a deplorable state and is costing car owners and motor taxpayers a fortune. I ask the Minister to postpone indefinitely the compulsory MOT testing which is to be introduced in January 2000 until our county roads network is brought up to the same standard as those in the UK and Europe. No car over four years old will pass a MOT test. This is not the position in Europe. Our motorists will be at a great disadvantage compared to our European partners. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government as a matter of urgency to either make a substantial amount of funding available before 2000 or else postpone the compulsory MOT testing of cars until our roads are brought up to the European standard.
Mr. Glynn: I join with Senators who expressed their abhorrence at the killing of Private Kedian from County Mayo and the injury of Private Rush from Castledaly in County Offaly. I ask that this House would unanimously express its abhorrence at this dastardly act. Nothing can be said which mitigates the circumstances.
I support Senator Mooney's request for a debate on dyslexia. Recently, on my initiative, the Association for Children with Learning Difficulties addressed the Joint Committee on Education and Science. I attended that meeting and I assure you, a Chathaoirligh, and Members that the number of those suffering this serious condition is far beyond what many of the public appreciates. A debate on this matter, with the Minister present, would be appropriate.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on schoolbus services as a matter of urgency? This is a marvellous service, particularly for those living in rural areas. Unfortunately, a great deal could be done to improve it. However, one would bend concrete quicker than one would get Bus Éireann to make changes. It is important that the children of rural Ireland have the best possible service and that the appropriate authorities would be a little more flexible when difficulties are experienced throughout the country, particularly in my county, which need to be addressed positively.
Ms Cox: Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to ensure that all polling stations used for the elec tions on 11 June are accessible to those with disabilities and wheelchair users? In the last election some polling stations were not accessible. I ask the Leader to ensure that the Department of the Environment and Local Government is reminded of this. While we are on the subject of disability, I suggest we have a debate on—
Ms Cox: While I am speaking about disability on the Order of Business, I suggest we look at the appointment of more enforcement officers by all local authorities, to ensure building regulations are enforced in planning permissions so that the disabled will have a better chance of accessing buildings.
I join with Senators Manning, O'Toole, Costello, Mooney, Norris, Lanigan and Ryan in expressing our disappointment and sadness at the events which took place at the weekend. We express our heartfelt sorrow to the relatives of those murdered by the IRA. This is a very stressful and difficult time for them. I hope, as do all Members, the bodies of those who were murdered will be found quickly. Many people have felt the relatives' pain, horror and stress and understand what they must be going through.
Senator Manning raised the issue of the Education (Welfare) Bill which was due to be taken tomorrow. A request was made to me in that regard yesterday afternoon by the Department. The Minister gave his word to the House that there would be consultation with many interested groups before Committee Stage. One of the groups asked to meet the Minister on Friday morning. I was asked to postpone Committee Stage until the week we return after the elections, if that were possible. I agreed, on the understanding that the other Leaders would also agree to it. There is enormous interest in this Bill, which is why I ask Senators and the Leaders of the various groups in the House for their understanding about tomorrow's Order of Business. It was my wish that we should discuss the legislation tomorrow but I know it is the wish of all Senators that the Minister be allowed carry out his promise to consult all groups, which he is doing.
Private Member's Business was, as many Senators, including Senator Manning, correctly outlined to the House, to be taken by the Progressive Democrats. This is election time and, while this should not happen, it did. The Progressive Democrats have been very good contributors, attenders and voters in the House. They are very good Senators and I am proud to lead a  Government side of which the Progressive Democrats are members.
Mr. Cassidy: Senator O'Toole called for an urgent debate on the fall in the value of our currency against the dollar. I agree with him in that regard and we will have a debate on it at the earliest possible time – I suggest the first week we return after the elections.
Senators Costello, Mooney and Lanigan outlined the position in regard to the proposed match at the weekend. As Senators know, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, is, as we speak, in discussions with UEFA and FIFA about the match. I will pass on the views of Senators. I join with Senator Mooney in congratulating the Taoiseach and the Government on their attempts to sort out this very difficult problem with which they are faced.
Senator Norris expressed his grave concern about the proposed fire brigade strike. I agree with everything he said. I hope it does not happen and that common sense will prevail. It is a unit of our community which has given outstanding service over the years, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year. The contribution of the fire service is not fully appreciated, recognised or realised. I have been close to this type of work for many years through my family and I appreciate everything Senator Norris said about it today.
Senators Norris, Lanigan, Ryan and Glynn expressed their sympathy on the killing of Private Kedian and the serious injury to Private Rushe. As Leader of the House I express our deepest sympathy to the relatives of Private Kedian who was murdered recently. We recall our worst fears many years ago in the Congo. I will the ask the Minister to pass on to the family, the Army and everyone concerned, our deepest sympathy on the death of Private Kedian. I join with the expressions of support for the Army and what it is trying to achieve in peaceful missions throughout the world.
Senator Lanigan called for a debate on RTE, its sports coverage and its association with sponsorship of tobacco companies. I will have time left aside for this. Senator Brendan Ryan also mentioned RTE. He spoke of the broadcaster who thought there were only 11 players on a Gaelic team last Sunday. I will pass on his comment. I was in Croke Park last Sunday and RTE said there were 25,000 people at the pioneer rally. I believe there were approximately 47,000 there. RTE got all their figures wrong last Sunday.
Mr. Cassidy: Senator Coogan called on the Minister, Deputy Woods, to make another statement on the proposed gas find in the west. As the Senator knows the Minister was in the House approximately seven weeks ago and talked about his excitement at the prospect of a major find off the west coast. If the Senator wishes the House to ask the Minister to come to the House on Friday morning I would be pleased to do so.
Senator Quinn called for an urgent debate and expressed very serious concerns on genetically modified food. I fully agree with his sentiments and if he requires it we can have an urgent debate on this topic in the coming weeks.
I will pass on to the Minister the views expressed by Senator Bonner. Senator Burke called on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to make more money available for county roads. A call in this House was never answered so pleasantly as I will answer the Senator now. There has been a 17 per cent increase in the allocation for these roads by the Minister over the past two years since taking office. No Government has allocated more money for roads in the history of the State. All Governments did their best and spent as much money on roads as possible. I acknowledge the concern expressed by Senator Burke, particularly at local election time.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on school bus services. I agree; this is very relevant to County Westmeath. Senator Cox raised a very relevant issue regarding polling booths. A statement on accessible booths by the returning officer in Dublin recently appeared in the newspapers. It might not be a bad idea if the Department and the Minister were to examine this and carry out a similar exercise throughout the country. All Members, particularly those in rural areas, have had experience of this. I am pleased the Senator brought it to the attention of the House.
Mr. Manning: Could I raise a point of clarification as my attention slipped slightly during the Leader's reply? Did the Leader of the House give a commitment that the Shannon River Council Bill will be taken in Government time during the first week's sittings after the election?
Cosgrave, Liam T.
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