Thursday, 2 March 2000
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Dardis: The proposed Order of Business is No. 1, statements on nursing in Ireland, which will be taken between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and other Senators 15 minutes. Senators may share time. There will be a sos between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. No. 3, statements on Sellafield, will be taken between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and other Senators 15 minutes. Senators may share time. As the Government Whip, Senator Fitzgerald, is always anxious to facilitate requests and be helpful, statements on a national women's day have been deferred to another day. They will be taken during Independents' Private Members' time.
Mr. Manning: I hope statements on a national women's day will not be deferred inordinately and that the House will have an opportunity to debate this very serious matter. I wish to refer to two items on the Order Paper. Will the Deputy Leader undertake to resume No. 4, statements on Northern Ireland, shortly? An undertaking was given the last day that the debate would not conclude. There are many Senators who would like to address the issue, which is at a very fluid stage. This is the right time to express our thoughts.
I wish to be helpful but I have received a large number of inquiries about the Shannon River Council Bill, 1998. People were given much hope that it would make a difference. In the absence of the Leader of the House yesterday, the Deputy Leader did not seize the day. Will he give a clear indication, either today or next week, when the Bill will be taken?
Dr. Henry: The Order of Business is agreeable. I understand there will be statements on a national women's day on International Women's Day next week. This is very satisfactory. I support Senator Manning's call for a resumption of statements on Northern Ireland. The debate last week was useful and I hope there will be further contributions next week.
I seek a debate soon on EU Commissioner David Byrne's White Paper on the proposed EU food commission, the establishment of which will be extremely important to us in Ireland. It would be worthwhile taking the time to study and debate it in the House.
Mr. Costello: I support Senator Henry's request for a debate on the White Paper on the proposed EU food commission. Item 18, motion No. 7, in the name of the Labour Party reads, “That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to publish a White Paper on Early Childhood Education”. At 81%, EU figures show Ireland well down the graph in terms of EU and OECD countries which have achieved the target second level education rate of 90%. This needs to be debated. It seems that we are coasting along on the view that we are the young professionals and the educated young Europeans, despite the fact that in very large areas of the country the numbers of drop-outs and early school leavers are enormous and despite the lack of resources, a psychological service and a pre-school system of education, access to which can only be gained by those who can afford it.
Mr. Bonner: Would it be possible for the Minister for Arts, Culture, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, to come into the House to  explain what is happening with the broadcasting Bill? I was alarmed to read in the media in the past week that RTÉ would no longer be involved with Digico, the private company formed to deal with terrestrial television. In recent years there have many discussions on this matter at the Oireachtas joint committee. Major difficulties are being experienced in County Donegal with television reception and deflectors. It was understood that following the introduction of competition a number of companies, including Digico, would be provided with licences. From my research it appears that terrestrial television would be the most appropriate option in County Donegal and we were assured by RTÉ that the cost involved would be very reasonable. It alarms me therefore to read that RTÉ will only be involved in providing a network for this private company. The Minister should come into the House to explain what is happening.
Mr. Coghlan: I join Senator Bonner's call for a debate on the Broadcasting Bill, 1999. It appears that the Minister has done a U-turn and set the good work of that committee at nought. It would be important that the Minister would come before the House and give us an exposé on the matter.
Mr. Dardis: In answer to Senator Manning, it is proposed that the statements on a national women's day will take place at an early date. Senator Henry is correct in that it is the Independent Senators' intention to take it during their Private Members' time on International Women's Day.
It was agreed that the statements on Northern Ireland would be left open ended and that they would resume, and I would agree with the Leader of the Opposition that it would be appropriate to keep this matter under continuous review in view of the pace of events. We will try to take statements again at the earliest possible opportunity.
I regard the Shannon River Council Bill, 1998, as a serious matter. We all are concerned about the flooding of the River Shannon and the difficulties there. I think there would be general agreement that the best way to handle the situation would be through a single authority. As Senators will be aware, the House has completed Second Stage of the Bill and I hope we can take Committee Stage at an early date.
Senator Henry asked about the EU White Paper. One possible way of dealing with this might be to ask the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to investigate the possibility of the Commissioner coming to the House. There are precedents for that. We have had European Commissioners here before.
On Senator Costello's query about item 18, motion 7, regarding the White Paper on Early Childhood Education, perhaps one way to deal  with this would be to have a wide ranging debate on education because there have been calls for other aspects of education to be dealt with.
In reply to Senator McDonagh, who yesterday raised a query regarding the White Paper on Adult Education, I understand that the document in question is at an advanced stage of preparation and should be available within the coming weeks.
The Broadcasting Bill, 1999, is with the Select Committee on Heritage and the Irish Language. Obviously when it completes its passage through the Dáil, it will come to the Seanad when there will be an opportunity to raise these issues.
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