Tuesday, 19 October 1999
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2 and 3; No. 1, motion to be taken without debate; No. 2, Report Stage and Final Stage; No. 3, Report Stage resumed; and business is to be interrupted not later than 10 p.m.
Mr. Coghlan: The Leader might come back to the House on the matter of a sos. Will he provide for a debate in this House on Partnership for Peace? It is important this matter should be dis cussed in the House and it would be rather bizarre if it were not, given that every newspaper is carrying articles on it and it is being discussed on the chat shows on every radio station. It is important Members should be allowed to air their views and I call for an urgent and immediate debate on the matter.
Dr. Henry: I, too, think we should have a sos at some stage during the afternoon, otherwise I agree with the Order of Business. I support Senator Coghlan's call for a debate on PfP. It is astonishing we have not had a debate on it when it has been debated in the other House and everywhere else around the country.
Will the Leader change tomorrow's night Private Members' motion to allow us to debate the health services again, given that the nurses' strike is taking place and we are aware of the dissatisfaction in other areas of the health service, for example, with the paramedics and the junior hospital doctors? After the debate on this matter last week, I spoke to one of the nursing union's leaders. She told me she wished the debate in the Seanad had been given more coverage because she thought it was useful and less contentious than debates in the other House. The Minister might welcome the opportunity to come into the House to continue the discussion we had last week, which brought some issues to the attention of the public that had not been highlighted previously. I ask the Leader to seriously consider changing the motion tabled for tomorrow night so that we can continue the useful debate we had last week.
Mr. Costello: I agree with the two previous speakers that there should be a sos during the debate on the Copyright Bill. This debate has been intense and if it is to continue until 10 o'clock it is appropriate there should be a sos.
With a picket outside the Dáil and Seanad every day this week and last week and the debate on Partnership for Peace taking place in the other House, it is ludicrous this House has not had an opportunity to debate a matter that will have a long-term effect on defence policy in terms of how we deal with matters that, traditionally, were associated with peacekeeping as distinct from peace-making. It is appropriate this House should have an opportunity to discuss this matter.
The point raised by Senator Henry is valid in that we have an opportunity now to discuss the health issue. For the first time in the history of the State, Senators will have seen pickets outside hospitals in the cities. That is unique. A total of 27,000 nurses are on strike. It is one of the most serious industrial actions that could have taken place and it is unnecessary. It was only at the eleventh hour the Minister for Health and Children made any effort to bring about a meeting between the unions, management and the Government. The Minister with his bullish and provocative manner has shown an insensitive and uncaring attitude towards this issue. It is  important that he comes before this House to tell us why he acted this way a month after the initial vote was taken by the nurses to reject the Labour Court recommendations and 11 days after the vote to strike was taken. A preliminary invitation was not sent out until yesterday. It is important that we have an opportunity to discuss this issue and the wider health implications.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: I ask the Leader to arrange a debate to mark the foundation of the credit union movement which has made a major contribution to the social and cultural life of Ireland. It has helped people with limited resources when other financial institutions would not do so. I am sure Members could point to the work it has done in many parts of Ireland. It is only right that we mark this occasion
Mrs. Ridge: I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Health and Children to come into the House to discuss the alarming number of pre-teen children who are sleeping rough, particularly now that the weather is turning colder. These children, who are not travellers but who come from broken homes, are at great risk on the streets. I often wonder when travelling through Dublin at night if I am in Dickens's London or in Dublin coming into the third millennium. We must tackle this problem now and not leave it to fester and grow. I know the Leader is concerned about such issues so I hope he accedes to my request for an urgent debate.
Mr. Quinn: This week the National Safety Council published its cost benefit analysis of the Government's road safety strategy. This weekend it is involved in what it calls the “fly the flag” weekend, an idea mooted in the Seanad two years ago, which aims to eliminate road deaths. This is a perfect opportunity to have a debate on road deaths. It is a scandal that road deaths happen so regularly that we have almost become accustomed to them. We must find a solution to this problem.
We could help to solve the traffic problem in Dublin if we allowed cars with four or more passengers to use the quality bus corridors, many of which are not being used because there are insufficient buses. This would encourage people to share transport. We should also introduce competition for taxis. I spoke to tourists last weekend who had to wait three hours at night for a taxi. It is possible for us to do something about this. I would like the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come into the House to discuss these issues.
I support Senator Coghlan's call for an urgent debate on Partnership for Peace, for which we have been calling for some months. I know the Leader has done his best to have such a debate but it is important to have one before it becomes a fait accompli.
Mr. O'Dowd: I ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Minister for Health and Children the need to radically overhaul our speech therapy services and the fact that there are only 30 graduates per annum from the one speech therapy course in this country. Young children of school going age are unable to attend school because they cannot speak and therefore cannot communicate or participate. These children are normal in every way other than their severe speech difficulties and most must wait a minimum of one year before seeing a speech therapist initially.
Mr. Bonner: In view of the visit of the new Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson, to Dublin today, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the House in the coming weeks to update us on events in Northern Ireland. There are delays and stagnation in the peace agreement. The Minister said he raised some issues today with the Secretary of State. Some of them – such as the Bloody Sunday affair and the case of Pat Finucane – have had the cobwebs wiped off them over the summer. I would like to hear more on the sad death of Robert Hamill. The Minister raised this issue today. This item has been pushed aside; I hope it will not be pushed aside for ten years as other issues have been.
Mr. Norris: I also join in calling for a debate on the nurses' strike. Everyone feels they should be treated better. I have recent experience which suggests they deserve it. The problem is that the Government feels their claim would trigger claims on the grounds of relativity. There is one way around this and, if the Leader considers it appropriate, he might suggest it. The one way is to have a referendum. Let the people of Ireland decide if the nurses are a special case and authorise the Government to make a deal. I would like to see a union bypass the wishes of the people.
Senator Quinn referred to the traffic problem. There is an item on the Order Paper in our name calling on the Minister to come to the House to debate the Luas and explain what is happening there. That would be a useful context in which to have that debate. I also strongly support his call for a debate on Partnership for Peace.
Mr. T. Hayes: The most urgent and pressing issue is, without doubt or fear of contradiction, the nurses' strike. I understand from reports around the country that there is absolute chaos in hospital wards and I am afraid this situation will deteriorate. I support Senator Henry's call to change the Private Members' motion tomorrow evening to continue the very useful debate of last week.
Mr. J. Doyle: I also support Senator Henry. We are scheduled to discuss a motion in Private  Members' time tomorrow relating to consultations on the National Development Plan. This is not a burning issue but the nursing situation is. I do not want to make this a political issue. However, the Minister has a duty to come to the House and explain what cover is being provided for the seriously ill, the mentally handicapped and the aged, and the progress made in trying to solve this dispute.
Ms Leonard: I refute Senator Hayes's claim that there is chaos in hospital wards. Coming from a nurse's perspective, I have no doubt the nurses are providing care to the best of their ability, as they always do, regardless of the strike.
Ms Leonard: We all know paramedics and other public sector workers will wait to view their pay claims in the light of how nurses are treated. Perhaps if the dispute had been settled two years ago when the Opposition parties were in Government, we would not be facing this problem today.
Mr. D. Cregan: Will the Leader allocate time for a debate on the difficulties being experienced by many publicans in having their licences renewed? This is happening because of an interpretation of equality legislation. If this legislation was introduced to eliminate discrimination, it has failed. Many rural publicans are being discriminated against and are experiencing great difficulties.
Mr. Cassidy: Senators Coghlan, Henry and Costello also requested a debate on Partnership for Peace. I do not have any objection to that. I will consult with the party leaders after the Order of Business and perhaps we can have that debate on Thursday evening.
I have considered the many requests to raise matters on Private Members' business. Last week's Private Members' business was possibly  one of the best debates in my 17 years in the House. The Minister's address was the best to which I have listened in a long time. He was forthcoming and participated in a frank exchange of views with Senators. I accept Senator Henry's request for statements on the nursing strike. I will try to allocate time for this before the conclusion of this week's business, possibly on Thursday afternoon. I will confer with the Whips following the Order of Business. Senator Ó Murchú requested a debate to mark international credit union year. I will facilitate the Senator and allow time to this worthy debate.
I will also facilitate the request of Senators Ridge and Norris that time be allocated for statements on the homeless. Senators Quinn and Doyle and Senator Norris, whom I am pleased to see back in the House, expressed their interest in traffic safety. Road safety regulations are one of the biggest problems facing us as legislators especially given the huge number of road deaths, the majority of which take place late at night and in the early hours of the morning. I agree there should be an urgent debate on this matter. I support Senator Quinn's request regarding traffic corridors, although I do not know if bus corridors are the answer. We should look at the experience of San Diego, where there are three lanes of traffic, one for cars carrying one person, another for cars carrying two or three persons and a third fast lane for vehicles carrying four or more passengers. Something should be done in this regard.
There are only about seven main roads leading to the city centre. If Dublin Corporation is interested in solving the traffic problem, I do not understand why corporation workers cannot erect bollards to create three lane roads in the morning and the evening. The deployment of ten or so workers to do this would alleviate a huge part of the traffic problem, especially in the next four or five years when ring roads are being built. Members travel to this House from various directions and we see how on one side of the road there are two lanes with hardly any traffic. However, in the other lanes, one is waiting for 15 to 20 minutes for lights to change. Perhaps Senator Doyle, a former Lord Mayor whom I know to be an influential member of Dublin Corporation, might pass on my suggestion. I will allow him time to make a special contribution which will then be followed by a debate on how this can be achieved. I welcome suggestions on how to bring this issue to a higher plane and perhaps to a successful conclusion—
 I will convey Senator Dowd's request regarding speech therapists to the Minister for Health and Children. I welcome the views expressed by Senator Bonner, particularly his concern about the death of Robert Hamill. I will discuss this issue with the Minister for Foreign Affairs who already has agreed to come here to take statements on another issue. I will see then how I can progress the Senator's suggestion.
Senator Cregan called for a debate on the success or otherwise of equality legislation with regard to the current position of publicans and hoteliers, particularly in relation to the reissuing of their licences. Equality should be given all round. Time will be allowed for a debate on this issue.
Last week Senators O'Toole, Manning and Costello asked me to state the Bills to be published during this session. Nineteen Bills will be published in this session. They are as follows: the Teacher's Council Bill; the Insurance Bill; the Nitrogen Éireann Teoranta Bill; the Parents Act (Amendment) Bill; the Local Government Reform Bill; the Appropriations Bill; the ICC Bill, that is to provide for the sale of the ICC Bank; the Stamp Duty Consolidation Bill; the Health (Amendment) Bill, to amend section 59  of the Health Act, 1970; the Mental Health Bill, which was requested by many Senators, particularly Senator Henry; the Children's Bill; the Courts Bill; the Criminal Justice Sex Offenders Bill; the Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill; the Prevention of Corruption Bill, to allow ratification of the OECD, EU and Council of Europe Conventions on combating corruption; the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill; the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill; the Marine Casualty Investigation Bill and the Comhairle Bill. Many Senators will look forward to the passage of these Bills through this House. I hope that, as usual in this Government's term of office, we will have a high allocation of Bills being initiated.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Cregan, Denis (Dino).
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