Thursday, 2 December 1999
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreeable. Some of us, including you, a Chathaoirligh, had the privilege to be present in Iveagh House this morning for the signing of the agreements which emanated from the Good Friday Agreement. I compliment and thank the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, for ensuring that this House was adequately represented. It is a time of great satisfaction and there was a great sense of history at the signing.
I ask the Leader to ensure that this House has an opportunity to debate the events in Northern Ireland, particularly as they affect the Republic and relations with our neighbouring island. I also ask him to ensure that it is not a truncated debate but that every Member who wants to participate is given a chance to do so. It is not often that such an occasion arises and it would be a pity if there was a short rather than a full debate.
Mr. O'Toole: I agree with Senator Manning. We need to consider how the process moves forward. The relationship between Britain and Ireland, the North and the South, the Governments and the different assemblies will be hugely important.
We move from the sublime in terms of Northern Ireland to the ridiculous in terms of the taxis. It is ludicrous that the city might be threatened with no taxi service for a couple of hours when we have not been able to get taxis for months. The Government should respond by indicating that hackneys can use bus lanes and pick up passengers. The Government should take immediate action by bringing forward the date for the introduction of additional taxis. People are worried about the Christmas rush. If the taxi drivers have decided they want to choke the goose which has  laid golden eggs for them in recent years the rest of us should not have to suffer.
Mr. Costello: I echo what has been said about today's ceremony in Iveagh House. We were privileged to be present at the signing of the agreements. This is a significant day because this morning in Government Buildings the constitutional changes to Articles 2 and 3 came into operation and at 3 p.m. the new Northern Ireland Executive will sit for the first time in Stormont. I echo the request for a full debate on Northern Ireland so that we can discuss what has happened during a century of civil strife, which has ended with a good omen for the future. It deserves a full debate in this House.
Mr. Costello: There was no consultation with taxi drivers about the new proposals and they are now up in arms. They are marching in the streets instead of driving on them. This matter must be addressed and the Minister must come into the House to deal with it. There is a great deal of confusion about how the Government is doing its business. It granted authority to local authorities to deal with these matters and the four local authorities in Dublin had made arrangements to introduce new taxis at Christmas time but then out of the blue the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government came up with an initiative which runs counter to much of what has been decided. This has caused anger and confusion.
Mr. Dardis: I join Senator Manning in expressing delight at the events which took place in Iveagh House this morning. All of us who were privileged to be there were impressed by the signing ceremony and the words spoken by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is great to see the North-South bodies and the British-Irish institutions come into being as a result of that ceremony. It would be appropriate to give due con sideration to all the events taking place this week by way of statements in the House.
I thank the Minister for Foreign Affairs for inviting us to attend this morning. His acknowledgement of the suffering which took place over the 25 years of conflict was significant. It was important that he asked us to remember those who lost their lives, those who were wounded and their families and friends. It was important to make such an acknowledgement and to emphasise the message Mr. Mandelson passed on, that of the potential benefits of the new partnership and friendship between Britain and Ireland and between the North, Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Mr. Norris: I echo the comments of my colleagues. This is a remarkable and positive day. We should remember that it was paid for in blood and we should ensure that both Governments adequately compensate those who were left in misery as a result of this difficult period in our history.
I echo the comments of my colleague, Senator O'Toole, about taxis. I can tell him exactly where to find a taxi, parked on a double yellow line in Grafton Street with the driver absent. I ask the Leader to suggest to his colleagues in Government that they do something about clamping. The unfortunate private individual is regularly clamped but commercial vehicles are not. Vans delivering potato crisps and trucks delivering beer double park on Grafton Street.
Mr. Norris: Yes, I have been clamped by the Cathaoirleach but I ask for a debate on this or, at least, for the Leader to inform his colleagues about people's concerns because the traffic problem is made much worse by commercial vehicles.
Mr. Walsh: I join others in welcoming the setting up today of the North-South bodies. As we come to the end of the century, one hopes that we have seen the culmination of a difficult period in the history of Ireland and Britain and that the people of Ireland will be united in common cause at the start of the next century.
A recent report for ABC television's “20/20” programme in the United States dealt with the health risks of using mobile phones. The findings were disturbing. They showed that the three most common models emitted hazardous levels of energy. Will the Leader arrange for a debate on this matter early in the next session of the Seanad? This issue mirrors what happened in the tobacco industry.
Yesterday Senators were unable to obtain copies of the Minister's budget speech while present in the other House for its delivery. This matter was raised last year and I raised it again last week. In view of the Leader's request on our behalf that it would be provided, the fact that it was not was both discourteous and disrespectful.
Mr. Chambers: I concur with the views expressed about the establishment of the North-South bodies. It heralds a major change in relationships and in the political development of the island. The changes in Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution are a move forward in the political process. I compliment all those concerned and commend the attitudes displayed in both Houses during the debate and the discussions. This is a great opportunity for people to heal relationships and to work toward a better future for each of us.
The Minister has decided to allow An Post to seek a strategic partner for the future. An Post is very important to the public and while establishing such a partnership, the interests of the people using the service must be maintained.
We should also mark the major shift in State policy on women which took place this week, particularly with regard to mothers and their role in the home. How must the women who had to give up work because of the marriage ban feel?
Ms O'Meara: Not all of us were able to speak during the debate last night. I am asking for a debate on the child care crisis which was not dealt with in the budget. The provisions in the budget were totally inadequate. They have gone some way to a solution but they have done nothing for supply.
Mr. Burke: I support Senator Manning and all other Senators who called for a debate on Northern Ireland. I would also ask the Leader of the House to ask the broadcast unit to stream a channel from the Assembly to here and vice versa. That would be a good idea if it is possible.
Mr. Quinn: On such a momentous day we should remind ourselves that the developments in the North will affect all of us in many ways. There is to be a joint food safety authority for North and South, for example.
To refer to something less momentous, I ask the Leader of the House to give consideration to arranging an urgent debate, which I seldom ask for, on the telecommunications sector, in which the State is no longer involved. This is an important development. There may no longer be a need for a regulator in the way envisaged. The purpose was to ensure fairness and competition. Perhaps the Department should assume this role to encourage competition and make the Irish market so competitive that it will be recognised as the telecommunications centre of Europe, if not the world. There is need therefore for an urgent debate, before Christmas rather than in the new year.
Mrs. Jackman: I wish to be associated with the statements of other speakers on the positive developments in Northern Ireland. There is need for several debates, not one, as it will be essential in coming months to give overwhelming support to ensure the Agreement works.
Mr. Cassidy: On this historic day Senators Manning, O'Toole, Dardis, Norris, Chambers, Burke and Jackman called for a debate on Northern Ireland. I discussed the matter with the leaders after the Order of Business on Tuesday. Because of the many important and historic events taking place it did not prove possible to arrange it for today, but it will take place some day next week. Our forefathers could never have foreseen the events of this day in which we are proud and honoured to participate. With the Cathaoirleach and other leaders, I was invited to Iveagh House this morning to represent Seanad Éireann and those who elected us. It is a momentous occasion which has far-reaching implications and will change the face of Ireland for the better. Like Senator Burke, I look forward to the day when the proceedings at Stormont and Leinster House are broadcast on the one service. Perhaps in the not too distant future we will have an opportunity to participate in an official or unofficial visit to Stormont.
The other requests made seem less important. Senators O'Toole and Costello expressed concern about the taxi issue which I hope will be resolved. While I appreciate everyone wants to protect their own business and industry, the Minister has been very fair in offering taxi owners a second licence to ensure their livelihoods are not endangered. On the positive side, there is massive demand. While one may have to work unsocial hours, there are also rewards.
Senator Walsh called for a debate after Christmas on the health risks associated with mobile phones. I can agree to this. On the making available of copies of the Budget Statement to Senators, to which Senator Coghlan referred, I  intend to take the matter up at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I will convey the views of Senator Chambers to the Minister.
Senator O'Meara called for a debate on child care. The positive measures announced by the Minister in the budget are to be welcomed and I look forward to debating them in coming days. The views expressed on the 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. news programmes on RTÉ were astonishing. Having sat in the Dáil Chamber for the entire Budget Statement with many other Members of this House, I could not believe what I was hearing. The utterances of Mr. Lee in particular were negative. I thank God that I have been able to play a major part in the creation and sustaining of the Celtic tiger.
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