Thursday, 17 February 2000
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business is Nos. 1 and 2. On No. 1, Shannon River Council Bill, 1998, Second Stage will be resumed. Each Senator will continue to have eight minutes for their contributions. However, I propose to give the proposer of the Bill ten minutes in which to reply instead of the usual five minutes. No. 2, statements on the new national agreement, resumed, to be taken from 1.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4 p.m. Business shall be interrupted from 1 p.m. to 1.30 p.m.
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreeable. May I have an assurance from the Leader that if Second Stage of No. 1 finishes today and is passed, it will not be referred to any other committee but to a committee of the House as is normal with Bills here?
I wish to raise the Lee case in the Supreme Court yesterday, but the contents of the case do not matter. In the course of judgment the Oireachtas was criticised for its failure to remedy defects in legislation, in other words, to find remedies to legislation which has been found unconstitutional. It has emerged, according to Government sources, that no system or procedure exists for reviewing legislation which has been found unconstitutional. Apparently each Department is asked to deal with it, but that has not been done. There is a problem for which we, as Members of the Oireachtas, have been severely criticised. I believe the primary responsibility does not lie with the Departments but with the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is the Oireachtas which makes the laws and, if found to be defective, it is our responsibility to remedy these defects. I suggest the responsibility for reviewing legislation which is found to be unconstitutional should be put into the remit of one of our committees or, preferably, that a special joint committee be established to review cases which have been found to be unconstitutional. The criticism of the Houses of the Oireachtas made yesterday in the Supreme Court is valid and we have a responsibility to see how  we can meet that criticism. Perhaps the Leader would convey this to the Government as a matter of urgency.
Mr. O'Toole: On a day when we get notice of the sad news of another elderly person in rural Ireland reaching an untimely and violent death, would it be appropriate to have a discussion here? I do not mean a reactive discussion about more laws or zero tolerance but ways in which the community can be strengthened to support independent elderly persons who want and are well able to live on their own. There is a sense of fear among elderly persons. If it is only to send out a signal that we care and are concerned, it would be a job well done. Certain things have been done in the past few years. This is not an occasion to have a go at the Government but it is a way in which we could consider how we can give strength to local communities and the elderly to communicate with each other with a view to putting safety procedures in place. In this case the woman, like the Cathaoirleach, was a member of my union, was active as a retired teacher and gave much to the community. I do not wish to dwell on the details of the case. In each case somebody will know the person and see that person as part of the community. I wish we could do something to strengthen rural communities to support such people in this day and age when people want to live independently.
In the past week Members will have received notification from the Committee on Members' Interests about the review of Oireachtas committees and allowances. We do not want people whingeing in two years' time about what came out of the allowance. Only two people have responded with views on what should be put forward. If people have something to say let us hear it. Now is the time to respond, not in two years' time.
Mr. Costello: I support Senator Manning points about the Supreme Court decision in relation to the Coroners Act, where it found the Oireachtas had been deficient in addressing areas of defective legislation. Once the Supreme Court makes that ruling, it is time for us to ensure the provision of a mechanism to remedy matters. We have a responsibility to close the loopholes we have allowed to develop over the years.
Will the Leader arrange for a debate on the alarming admission that a third children's hospital took various organs, without the parents' permission, from patients who died there? This matter is causing considerable concern. Temple Street hospital is in the news today, admitting it was involved in taking the pituitary glands of children without their parents' permission over an 11 year period. A matter of that nature and significance should be discussed by the House with the relevant Minister.
Mr. O'Donovan: Will the Leader arrange a debate with the new Minister for Health and  Children on the nursing shortage? There has been a great deal of publicity about this recently. Last year there were 5,000 applicants for nursing positions, only 1,100 of whom were offered places. Thousands of Irish girls are forced to go to England, Wales and Scotland for their nursing education. They can qualify in other countries but they cannot qualify here. I urge the Minister to examine the education requirements because nursing is more of a vocation than a profession.
Mr. O'Donovan: The sole criterion for a nursing place is points achieved in the leaving certificate. This is not adequate because nurses require other qualities to be successful. The vast majority of nurses have an average leaving certificate but they got on very well in nursing and are doing an excellent job. Unless we tackle the education criteria and move away from the notion of leaving certificate points, this crisis will deepen and continue.
Mr. Quinn: I know the Leader is considering having a debate on Northern Ireland, following a request made yesterday. It would be of benefit to focus in such a debate on the question of the cross-Border institutions, particularly in the area of food, which is close to my heart. Dr. Patrick Wall spoke last night in Belfast – I commend his words to the House for consideration – on the question of maintaining and enhancing the reputation of Irish food. It is clearly of benefit to North and South for such an institution to focus on that. This House could play a valuable part by considering that.
I support Senator O'Toole on the need to identify how neighbourhoods and communities can protect themselves. Neighbourhood Watch and Community Alert schemes can be organised by communities themselves without having to ask a great deal from the Government. However, it is a question of reminding people what can be done to help avoid the problems Senator O'Toole described.
Miss Quill: Will the Leader raise with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform my grave concern about an event that happened in a court in Kanturk yesterday? A young woman solicitor, who was acting as an advocate in a family law case, was charged with contempt of court, arrested, held in Garda custody for almost an hour, convicted of contempt of court and fined £2. Did the alleged incident merit this draconian measure? Did the judge—
Miss Quill: I fully understand that but I want to pursue this question. Did the judge consider that a conviction of this nature could prevent this young solicitor from reapplying for a certificate of fitness to practise and that, by so doing, he could have destroyed her livelihood? Did he consider that when he was making his judgment? The two people in question are solicitors. Was there any other manner in which this difficulty – if there was a difficulty – could have been dealt with, rather than by the draconian measure I described? It is important that I raise this issue here. I can accept bizarre decisions and eccentric utterances but I had to raise this issue—
Mr. Coghlan: Will the Leader update the House on the proposed new single regulatory authority for financial institutions because Government thinking on this matter is unclear? Will he outline if it is intended to subsume the Central Bank? If not, how will it interlink, if at all, with the Central Bank? This matter is too important to allow fuddled Government thinking on it continue.
Mr. Farrell: There is debate at the moment on where cigarettes should be smoked. Can we have a debate on this matter, which would include all drugs, including alcohol, which is the most lethal legalised drug? The advertising of alcohol should be banned. One drinks company spends £6 million on advertising. Given our serious problem with alcohol abuse among youths, advertising of alcohol should be completely banned.
I also call for a debate on the composition of cigarettes. Companies are deliberately putting addictive materials in cigarettes. Tobacco on its own is not so bad, the problem is the materials added to it. The materials listed in a recent newspaper were scandalous. Given the number of people marching about health issues, it is time we marched on those big companies to stop this activity.
Mr. Mooney: It is interesting that in the past two days senior colleagues in this House have raised questions about the legislative role of this House and the Oireachtas. The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Manning, referred yesterday to the Shannon River Council Bill and today he and Senator O'Toole referred to Supreme Court judgments. Perhaps the Leader or the Cathaoirleach could give guidance on the role of the Oireachtas committees and their relationship with Members of this House.
I am a member of the Joint Committee on Heritage and the Irish Language, along with Senator Ó Murchú and some others Members of  this House. The select committee is currently taking Committee Stage of the Broadcasting Bill. I had always assumed that select committees dealt exclusively with the Committee Stage of Bills. However, I discovered in the past two weeks that the committee, and possibly others, has been taking submissions from third parties. Non-elected organisations are making submissions to the select committee exclusively. I feel, as a Member of this House and of the joint committee, that I should have the same right as our colleagues in the other House to hear these submissions. It is a complex question and the whole concept of committees is relatively new to this Parliament, but in some instances they may have been created on an ad hoc basis without considering their eventual role.
Senator O'Toole is intimately involved in the pay agreements, which have now been widened to include social, economic and political matters rather than simply wage restraint and bargaining. The voluntary sector, known as the fourth pillar, has not only entered these talks – I refer to the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness – but has also taken a pro-active role in concluding agreements with the Government. There is a danger to the democratic process inherent in that development. I ask the Leader to reply on those two matters. I accept that this is a complex question. Perhaps the Committee on Procedure and Privileges might examine this and decide the best way to progress.
An Cathaoirleach: This is a procedural matter. A select committee of Dáil Éireann has the power to consider legislation referred to it by the Dáil. The terms of reference of a select committee of Seanad Éireann do not include the power to examine legislation. It arises from different Standing Orders.
Mr. Mooney: I am very grateful to the Cathaoirleach for clarifying the matter but my point is that this concerned outside bodies providing oral submissions to the select committee in the context of the debate on Committee Stage of the Broadcasting Bill.
Mr. Norris: Could the Leader provide a date for the debate which he promised on the question of a national holiday on St. Brigid's day? He could consider Wednesday, 8 March which is International Women's Day. It would be appropriate if he made provision for a short debate on that day – it would be important to celebrate it.
Could the Leader refer to the appropriate Minister the question raised on RTE Radio this morning where a garda was quoted as saying that the gardaí in Limerick had been instructed not to apply the litter laws because of pressures from commercial sources? If this is true, does it apply to other cities such as Cork and Dublin? If so, it seems to be an extraordinary subversion of the will of both Houses.
 Could there be a debate on the European Union? We have such wide-ranging debates from time to time. It is timely in the light of the situation regarding Austria and the continual remarks by Jörg Haider, including his recent remark that Turks had question marks over them because of their lack of respect for Austrian institutions. He may be right – perhaps he was thinking of institutions such as Mauthausen concentration camp, which is sufficiently close to Vienna for the citizens to enjoy picnics in its environment.
I echo the sentiments of my colleagues who expressed concern about the comments made in the Supreme Court about the lack of response by the Oireachtas to certain gaps in the legislation, particularly on the question of compelling people to attend autopsies. Perhaps a proper channel of communication should be opened up between the Judiciary and Parliament so we do not have this embarrassing megaphone diplomacy between the court and Leinster House.
Mrs. Jackman: I support Senator Denis O'Donovan in highlighting the acute shortage of nurses. At a recent graduation of nurses in Limerick, at diploma level after two years, only ten of the 49 who were graduating intended to pursue nursing as a career. The rest were to enter teaching and some were to go abroad. Although they are entering nursing, they are not continuing with it. We must discuss this matter with the recently appointed Minister for Health and Children because there are barriers and blockages to this career, relating to the shortage of beds, the waiting lists and the pressures that have not been resolved, despite the nurses' dispute. These present a very bad image of nursing to young people. He must take a pro-active role in the promotion of nursing as a career. Incidentally, there were no males among the 49 graduates, despite pro-active measures to achieve a gender balance.
I have just attended a meeting of the Committee on Health and Children where a very large deputation from the Southern Health Board discussed the Blood Transfusion Services Board's decision not to continue with the service in Cork. That should be debated with the new Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin.
Mr. Bonner: I refer to the comments made by Mr. McGoldrick of Enterprise Oil to members of Mayo County Council in the past week. Could the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Frank Fahey, update us on this gas find off the Mayo coast? Some of us have raised this issue for over two years and eventually we succeeded in the provision of £20 million by Mr. McCreevy for the development of Killybegs Harbour, which was the preferred harbour for on-shore activity by Enterprise Oil. The people of the north-west are concerned there may be some indication that this facility will be developed in Galway. We would like to hear the Minister's reply on this matter.
 Could the Leader raise a related matter with the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, concerning the actual pipeline from the gas find? I have raised this issue before. There are no gas lines going to the north-west. This would be an ideal opportunity to pipe gas at least to Sligo, for the time being.
Mr. Bonner: A line has been developed as far as Kingscourt and it is only a matter of connecting from Sligo to Kingscourt. Access for the gas to the European market is available already. I would like to be updated on this. There is a gasline coming to Galway and there is no need to connect this line with Galway. It is a very important issue for the inhabitants of the west, particularly those in the north-west.
Dr. Henry: I support Senator Quinn's call for a debate on the cross-Border bodies. This would be very positive and useful. A great deal of co-operation has been instituted between the two parts of the island and it would be good to debate something positive. There is an amazing amount of co-operation in the area of health. Senator Quinn stressed what has been done already in the area of food.
Mr. T. Hayes: Could the Leader of the House bring the testing of cars to the attention of the Minister for Environment and Local Government? Older people must leave their cars idle rather than send them for the test because the cost of repairs is considerable and they cannot afford it. There was a scrappage scheme for cars not long ago. It is time that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government brought in a scheme to help those older people. It causes them considerable expense, which they find difficult to afford.
Ms Leonard: I support the call by my colleague, Senator Denis O'Donovan, for a debate on nurse shortages. I come from that profession and I would not agree with him that nursing is a vocation. We consider ourselves professionals in our own right.
Ms Leonard: I agree that nurses and members of the medical profession should be considered not only on their academic qualifications but on characteristics necessary for that profession. Following the establishment of the Commission on Nursing, this would be a good time for the Minister to update us on developments in the training of nurses.
Mr. O'Dowd: Could the Leader of the House bring to the attention of the Minister for Health  and Children the urgent need for a review of the charges for respite care? Where respite care is available to families and they get a rest from their caring, some health boards are charging those families for that service, which is wrong. It is retrograde and should be changed.
Mr. Coogan: Yesterday Senator Finneran sought a debate on access to public transport by wheelchair users. I also support that call. The Cathaoirleach, being from the west, will recognise that the only place that wheelchair users have access to on CIE trains is the dining carriage where they must stay for the whole journey. There are no ramps or facilities for people getting in or out of the train. By virtue of being in these carriages they are probably placing themselves in danger. It is unlikely that the new facilities will be available on the trains if they are not available in a new building such as Heuston Station, where the facilities are totally inadequate, if there at all. I call for a debate on this matter.
Mr. Burke: I support Senator Bonner's proposal to invite the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to update the House on the gas find off the west coast, particularly on the plans of Enterprise Oil to bring the gas ashore. Enterprise Oil has given a commitment to bring the gas ashore on the coast of County Mayo and I hope nothing will interfere with that plan. I support Senator Bonner's call for a debate on the matter.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on national primary and secondary routes? It was recently said that the Taoiseach and various Ministers are taking urgent measures to make our road network more streamlined and to have roads constructed more quickly. As the Government has given sole responsibility for our national secondary and primary routes to the National Roads Authority, will the Leader arrange for that body to come to the House and outline its plans for our national routes?
Mr. Cassidy: Senator Manning asked for an assurance about further debate on No. 1. This will take its normal course on Second Stage and will then be debated by a full committee of the House as it progresses. I am sure all Members will welcome this, in view of the long-standing request from both sides of the House.
Senators Manning and Norris expressed their views on yesterday's ruling of the Supreme Court. The Courts Service Act includes a provision to establish a committee to deal with this question and the matter is already in hand. I am assured by Senator O'Donovan that this is the case. If a debate is required I will see that time is allowed for that.
Senator O'Toole and Senator Quinn called for a debate on community alert measures, following the tragic deaths which have taken place and which were not commonplace until a few years  ago. We are all appalled by these horrific deaths. I attribute them to the bad example of television and to the cruelty depicted on that medium which provides ideas for many of these terrible crimes. Of course I will allow time for this matter to be debated.
I will pass on to the Minister the views of Senator Costello regarding the removal of organs from children who have died, without the consent of their parents. Senators O'Donovan, Jackman and Leonard called for a debate on the shortage of nurses, the difficulty of recruiting nurses and the need to create extra nurse training places. Senator O'Donovan and Senator Leonard, who is very experienced in this profession, have expressed their views strongly. I cannot understand why, if 5,000 students apply to train as nurses, at least 2,500 places cannot be provided. I will allow time for a debate on this matter at the earliest opportunity.
Senators Quinn and Henry called for a debate on the cross-Border bodies. An open-ended debate on Northern Ireland will be held next week and I ask Senators to use this opportunity to express their views on all aspects of this question. The debate need not end next week. One or two Members have told me they will not be available next week and I can allow further time the following week. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has agreed to attend for the debate. On the Order of Business yesterday I said I would inform the House today when the debate would take place. However, events are happening by the hour. I will inform the House of the time of this debate at the beginning of the Order of Business next Wednesday.
I will pass on to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the views of Senator Quill regarding the events of yesterday. The matter raised by Senator Coghlan has been passed to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, some of whose members are party colleagues of his.
Senator Mooney raised a valid point. If the Senator puts his proposal in writing it can be placed on the agenda for the next meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, with your permission, Sir. Senator Norris called for a debate on 8 March, International Women's Day, on the holding of a national holiday. I will do my best to accede to his request. I will pass on his views on the allegation regarding litter in Limerick to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. As you said yesterday, Sir, many matters are raised on the Order of Business which would be more appropriately dealt with in Private Member's time or on the Adjournment.
Senators Bonner and Burke both expressed their concerns regarding the gas find off the coast of County Mayo. I was interested to hear Senator Bonner state that a line now comes to Kingscourt and may have to be continued to Mayo, Galway and Sligo. I am sure that line will come through  County Westmeath and I will be very interested in pursuing that matter.
Mr. Cassidy: I will certainly allow time for a debate on it. Senator Hayes expressed his views on the new car testing measure, which everyone must welcome. The purpose of the scheme is to ensure that vehicles are roadworthy. Road safety is vitally important. There are many marketing schemes which include £1,000 to scrap an old car and they provide good value.
I will pass on the views of Senator O'Dowd to the Minister. Senator Coogan called for an improvement in wheelchair access to public buildings, as Senator Finneran did yesterday. This is something all Members support.
Mr. Cassidy: We also came to power in 1987. In 1997, the Government's first Private Members' time was devoted to a debate on the National Roads Authority. I will be happy to allow time for a discussion on national primary roads and all related matters. The national development plan stipulates that only one contractor may be appointed for all major projects. For instance, one contractor would be appointed for a dual carriageway or motorway from Dublin to Galway and it would not matter where the contract started. Local authority members have an opportunity to begin real investment in their areas immediately, if the land has been acquired. Westmeath County Council has shown a lead in this and the Mary Nea's Bridge and the Mullingar bypass are great examples for other authorities. Local authority members have real power in this area and I urge them to take this opportunity, in the interest of their country. The Government has money to give local authorities if they have acquired the necessary land.
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