Thursday, 18 May 2000
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business is Nos. 2 and 3: No. 2, the Human Rights Commission Bill, 1999 – Second Stage, with the contributions of spokespersons not exceeding 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not exceeding ten minutes; and No. 3, Containment of Nuclear Weapons Bill, 2000 – Report and Final Stages. Business will be interrupted from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreeable. Will the Leader indicate when he will have the debate on Northern Ireland? We are all conscious that the process could be close to completion. We are also very conscious that the last stages are always the most difficult. Given the enormity of what has been achieved, it would be a national tragedy if things were to break down at this stage. All we can hope is that all sides will be conscious, as I am sure they are, of the need to remain open-minded and not to do anything which would damage the overall process. It would be good to have a debate in this House. Will he indicate when that debate will be taken?
Will the Leader also indicate when he will put on the Order Paper the all-party motion on party funding and other allied questions arising out of recent controversies in order that the House could have an open-ended debate as part of its responsibility in the current climate to give leadership on this matter? I thought it was to be on it this week. I would certainly like to have a debate on that subject next week at the latest.
Mr. O'Toole: I am afraid I cannot agree to the Order of Business because it does not comply with the commitment given yesterday by the Leader of the House on the Order of Business. At that time, the Leader gave us to understand that he would place on this morning's Order Paper a motion representing all the groups of the House which would deal with the area of political funding and the debate on bribery, corruption and other matters which is ongoing outside. That  is not on this morning's Order Paper despite the commitment given by the Leader and on that basis I will oppose the Order of Business.
I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business, that, because this issue is not on the Order Paper, another motion on it in my name and those of Senators Quinn, Costello and Henry, to which other Senators will wish to put their names also, regarding this area, that is No. 19, motion No. 21, should be taken. It has to do with what I said yesterday, the need for public representatives and the Houses of the Oireachtas to do what is required of them under the Constitution and for the Oireachtas to take action to protect itself against interference through bribery, corruption or other means, and to develop a protocol to deal with it. It is not unreasonable that we would deal with these things. It seems extraordinary to me that the world is talking about the problems in this area and we are the only people who are not dealing with it. We are making a laughingstock of ourselves.
Mr. O'Toole: I accept your ruling on that. I was merely trying to make the case for having the debate and I am sorry I strayed into the debate. I should not have done so. The reason I feel it should be on the Order Paper is that this is what we need to be dealing with. There is a constitutional imperative to deal with it and this is an appropriate way to look at it. I ask the Leader of the House to accept this amendment to the Order of Business.
Mr. Costello: I second Senator O'Toole's amendment to the Order of Business regarding No. 19, motion No. 21. I also wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 14, Registration of Lobbyists Bill, 2000, an Act to provide in the public interest for the registration of paid lobbyists, be taken before No. 2 for printing purposes in order that it can be the subject of debate next week in the Labour Party's Private Members' time.
I must concur with Senator O'Toole that the Order Paper does not include what we were promised yesterday, namely an all-party motion, which was to be signed by all the party leaders, on the funding of political parties and politicians. In his response to the Order of Business, the Leader should indicate clearly when that motion will be before the House because it was promised to us.
In the general context of an open-ended debate dealing with the matters of corruption and abuses in the political and planning arenas, we should also bring into the scenario the Planning and Development Bill, 1999, which also deals with the type of criteria which will be required from local councillors in the future in order to extend the debate to cover not only national but also local abuses.
Mr. Dardis: With regard to Senator Manning's request for a debate on events in Northern Ireland, I indicated last week that it was something we should do, given what is happening at the moment. It cannot take place until next week, but that is desirable because we should await the outcome of the Ulster Unionist Council meeting on Saturday. It is hoped that the council will agree to the proposals and that we will see the early re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly, leading to normal democracy there.
I note what was said yesterday in the House of Commons regarding the RUC. I hope that difficulty can also be resolved to the extent that the Nationalist population will feel able to join the force and identify with it as the agency of law and order in Northern Ireland. It is important to discuss these and related issues at the earliest opportunity, particularly if there is an outcome, one way or the other, from next Saturday's meeting.
On the issue of the funding of parties and so on, I also said last week that it would be desirable for us to discuss those issues. However, I am conscious that in discussing them we should not impinge on the work of the tribunal, which is something the Cathaoirleach would wish to point out. Inevitably these debates tend to stray into such matters and we have to be careful about that. I hope it will be possible to devise an agreed motion which will come before House at an early stage.
Perhaps the Leader of the House would send the congratulations of Seanad Éireann to the Dublin Lions Club on its initiative in having the cataract waiting list in the midlands dealt with. It paid for pre- and post-operative accommodation in the Mount Herbert Hotel in order that patients who, for two or three years, had been unable to read could come to Dublin to have day surgery. It was a splendid initiative. I am quite sure the Government is suitably grateful.
May I also ask the Leader of the House to invite the former Commissioner Padraig Flynn to come to the House? It was he who brought in the working time directive. The former Commissioner has had a considerable amount to say about the working time of non-consultant hospital doctors. He said that it was unacceptable for patients to be treated by doctors who are exhausted, that such a long transitional period was not politically or morally acceptable and that it does not take 13 years to improve work organisation.
Dr. Henry: Does the Leader of the House think it acceptable that in Mullingar Hospital SHOs are working 96 hours one week, 45 hours the next and 78 hours the next, which is more than the 65 hours the former Commissioner Flynn recommended, that there is no gynaecological registrar to take a job in July, that there is one anaesthetic—
Dr. Henry: I have been asking for a debate on the health services for so long that I have given up. That is why I am trying former Commissioner Flynn who has said he is very worried about the situation.
Dr. Henry: We have had a Commissioner attend the House before. Why not a former Commissioner? The working time directive mentions doctors in training, not junior doctors, and many of these people have completed their training. Perhaps the working time directive does not apply to them. It would be very useful—
Mr. Finneran: In view of yesterday's very important announcement by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, on child care facilities, will the Leader of the House afford us the opportunity – a short debate may suffice – to discuss the planning regulations announced by the Minister whereby a child care facility will be mandatory for every 75 houses built? This is most welcome. There are other areas of importance, for example, the provision of schools, industrial estates, national parks and so on.
One area is not covered, the local authorities who deal with the most deprived people. These regulations should apply to local authorities and I would like to see structures in place to ensure this happens. Local authorities could evade these regulations if they were to carry out piecemeal development, stopping at 74 houses and not providing facilities, perhaps in the very areas that need child care facilities. There is a national demand for child care facilities but they are needed in local authority estates more than anywhere else.
Perhaps the Leader of the House would give us the opportunity to debate these regulations. We  compliment and congratulate the Minister on these ground-breaking planning regulations. I would like to see that they apply to all, particularly local authorities.
Mrs. Jackman: I ask the Leader of the House to request the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to look again at his waste management strategy in the light of the disturbing facts from the American EPA research linking dioxins to cancers. I ask the Minister to put sufficient funds into waste reduction and recycling. He talks about it but, unfortunately, local authorities do not have the funding to do it in a pragmatic and optimum fashion. It is imperative because every local authority must adopt the waste management plan and the general public will be very alarmed as a result of the research and the draft report from the US EPA. The Minister should look again at the issue. He has said that incineration is a safe, tried and tested technology. We are in the lucky position of not having incinerators. We have time to stand back and to put our efforts into reduction and recycling.
Mr. Glynn: I support strongly Senator Finneran's comments in relation to the planning regulations announced by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey. It is a ground-breaking proposal.
Yesterday I called for a debate on water sports, especially on rivers and lakes. Perhaps the Leader of the House confused it with another call. I reiterate it today because I am deeply concerned about the activities of a small minority of people, for example, when fishing competitions are held. My native county is blessed with many natural water facilities, but a small number of people think that only they are entitled to use the water. I ask the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, to come to the House to explain what regulations are in place and what should be put in place to monitor the situation. There is no monitoring at the moment.
Mr. D. Cregan: I agree with Senator O'Toole. I ask him, however, to withdraw his amendment to the Order of Business because it does not take account of the importance of this House. I am surprised this has not been said on the other side of the House. It seems that The Irish Times can explain in detail to us what went on at Dublin County Council. If I were a member of one of the councils I would not have to look for the minutes of meetings. I could find out what went on from The Irish Times. Everything is reported in detail, yet we do not want to speak about it.
Senator Dardis is right that we should not impinge on the work of the tribunal. At the same time, The Irish Times can mention it and the public is conscious of what is going on, yet we are not prepared to debate an all-party motion on it. It is imperative, in order not to demean the rest of us, that the other side of House should demand that an all-party motion is put forward for urgent debate. This has gone too far. We cannot have a situation where The Irish Times and every other  newspaper can report in detail what is going on. If I were a member of one of the Dublin local authorities I would be embarrassed to read detailed accounts of council meetings in The Irish Times and other newspapers. There is no need of minutes of council meetings for the last 15 years. Nevertheless, we are not prepared to discuss the matter in the House. It is an insult to me and to other Senators who have been Members for as long as I have that the House is not prepared to debate this matter while everyone else is doing so.
Dr. Haughey: Like my colleagues, Senators Manning and Dardis, I wish to have a debate on Northern Ireland. However, I advise caution with regard to the timing of the debate. Matters are at a very sensitive stage and the weekend will be a telling time. If we are to have a debate I suggest it be postponed until the week after next when we can see how matters have evolved.
Mr. Norris: I strongly support my colleagues with regard to No. 19, motion 21, on the Order Paper which calls for the indefinite suspension from the Seanad of Members found to have accepted bribes or to be corrupt. It was not possible to contact me in last couple of days. Otherwise, I would have added my name to this very important motion. I will add my name to it this morning. The motion must succeed because the Constitution and the most ordinary standards of decency are invoked. If the House does not discuss corruption in Irish politics, we will stand convicted by our silence in the public imagination. It will be assumed that every one of us is guilty. In our own interest, we must address this issue clearly and honestly, even if it is painful.
I am not one to gloat in another's discomfiture. I feel a sense of real shame when I see what has gone on in public life. I do not wish to see people I know embarrassed, humiliated and distressed and their families put through the wringer. However, if that is the price of a clean public life it is one we must pay, without taking any sadistic pleasure in the discomfiture of others.
People have learned nothing from the current debate. I hear people say there should be funding for political parties. That is mere self-interest. There should be funding for the whole political system and not merely for the major political parties.
Mr. Norris: Will the Leader arrange for a general debate on foreign affairs? I ask this in the context of the visit of Denis Halliday, a senior United Nations official and an Irishman, who resigned in order to speak about the genocide being committed against the innocent children of Iraq and appealed today for the Government to take an independent position on this matter. The matter is so serious that our former Foreign Minister, Deputy Andrews, has signalled his willingness to lead an Irish delegation to Iraq. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this matter so that Members can add their support to this very distinguished representative of Ireland.
Having asked for a debate on inflation so often I make the unusual request that we should not debate the subject at present. I do so because while a debate on this subject would have been very useful in recent months, to hold one now would add to the growing sense of panic which has developed in recent times. Some of the suggested cures could be worse than the disease itself. We need less talk and more action on this matter.
However, we could usefully have a debate on the economy. We should focus on the opportunities afforded by the strength of the economy to address the inequalities in Irish life. We have never had a better chance to do so and we may never have as good a chance again. We can now lay the foundations which would enable us to eliminate those inequalities and create the respect for politics which is the aim of the motion proposed by Senators O'Toole, Costello, Henry and myself. Such a debate would draw attention to inequalities in Irish life and to the plight of those who are left out of the current prosperity and, at the same time, gain respect for politics at this very dangerous time.
Mr. Coghlan: I have anticipated your suggestion, Sir, and have taken that step. However, as the matter cannot be reached until next week I hoped the Leader might pay me the courtesy of referring to the matter in his response.
Mr. Cassidy: Senators Manning, Dardis and Haughey expressed their opinions regarding a debate on Northern Ireland. It has been agreed to hold a debate on this matter and, if everything goes well this weekend, it will be held next week or on Tuesday week at the latest.
Senators Manning, O'Toole, Costello, Cregan, Norris and Coghlan expressed opinions regarding the motion on funding for political parties and politicians in general. The Taoiseach will issue a statement to all party leaders this morning, setting out his proposals on party funding and related issues. This is in line with the amended motion debated in the Dáil last night. I have arranged a meeting with the leaders of the House after the Order of Business this morning. I am determined to proceed with speed. This matter will be debated without a time limit so that every Member can express an opinion. I respect the views of all Senators, particularly those of Senator Cregan who has been a distinguished Member for a very long time. No Member will be prevented from expressing his or her views on this very serious matter.
Senators Finneran and Glynn welcomed the announcement by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government regarding child care facilities, particularly in housing estates. I can allow time for this matter to be discussed.
I am grateful to Senator Henry for pointing out the cataract service being made available to patients from the midlands. Everybody in the midlands appreciates it. As a member of the Midland Health Board I am very grateful that this day care surgery unit is available, as are the other members of the health board. I also note the Senator's comments on Mullingar Hospital. I agree with most of her sentiments and I welcome any help and assistance any Senator can give to improve waiting lists or the health care system.
Senator Jackman called for a debate on waste management strategy. I can leave time for that. Senator Glynn called for an urgent debate on water sports, especially as we are coming into the summer season. They are an integral part of the inland waterways activity and the lakelands district. I will have time allowed for a debate in this session.
Senator Haughey called for a debate on control in the newspapers. We are grateful to all the Senators who contributed to the Private Members' debate over the past two weeks. I will allow time for this matter to be debated in this session.
Senator Norris called for a debate on foreign affairs and I can have time allowed for that. Senator Quinn again called for a debate on the  economy. I am pleased to inform the House that there will be an all day debate on the economy on Thursday, 1 June in which everyone can express their views, their satisfaction with the work of the Government and with its programme for the future.
Mr. O'Toole: I am happy to see if we can get an all-party approach to the matter on the basis proposed by the Leader, but I do not agree to the Order of Business. Commitments were given on the Order of Business and I insist they be adhered to.
Cosgrave, Liam T.
Cregan, Denis (Dino).
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