Tuesday, 13 June 2000
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Dardis: The proposed Order of Business is No. 1a on the Supplementary Order Paper, Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Bill, 1999 – Committee and Remaining Stages, and No. 2 on the Order Paper, Harbours (Amendment) Bill, 2000 – Second Stage, in respect of which the contributions of speakers shall not exceed 20 minutes.
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business, as announced by the Deputy Leader, is agreed. However, I share Senator O'Toole's concerns about the latest inflation figure of 5.29% which is three times the European average. It is important to point out that the first annual wage increase under the PPF will be 5.5%, which will be subject to tax. As a result of this rise in inflation, people's wage increases have already been eroded. What is even more worrying is the attitude—
An Cathaoirleach: I am reluctant to interrupt Senator Manning but I have ruled that it was not in order for Senator O'Toole to raise this matter under Standing Order 29. In light of that ruling, it would not be appropriate to discuss the matter on the Order of Business because it would give rise to a conflict.
Mr. Manning: I accept the Chair's ruling and I thank him for it. I am working my way towards proposing an amendment to today's Order of Business to enable us to discuss this matter. There is an urgent need to discuss it, partly on foot of the reasons outlined by Senator O'Toole but, more importantly, because the Minister for Finance has consistently refused to accept the gravity of the situation. The most worrying aspect of this month's increase in inflation is that it was not fuelled by outside factors, it was caused by internal factors over which we should have some control. On this occasion the Minister cannot blame the left-wing pinkos or the creeping Jesuses for the increase because the factors which led to it come largely within our control.
Mr. Manning: I am thinking on my feet. I would prefer to provide the Deputy Leader, who is generally more reasonable in his approach to  these matters, with an opportunity to respond to my request. However, I wish to propose an amendment that today's Order of Business include statements on the current increase in inflation.
Mr. O'Toole: I appreciate the advice the Chair has offered in respect of this matter and I have no wish to undermine his ruling. However, I wish to second the proposal put forward by Senator Manning to amend today's Order of Business. I hope the Deputy Leader will accept the proposed amendment.
There is a great danger that the social partnership process will implode and that trust and confidence in the process will be lost. There has never been a more urgent need for the Government to be seen to take effective action. For that reason, it is important that this matter be debated and that the Minister for Finance be given the opportunity to come before the House to outline the position. I am sure the Minister will be as disappointed as I that the emergency motion was not taken. The Deputy Leader has the opportunity to invite the Minister to inform the House how the Government intends to deal with this matter. We need to be provided with information on Government policy in this regard.
On the Order of Business for the past two weeks, Members have raised the need to arrange a debate on the profile of Irish political life and the low esteem in which public representatives are held. I compliment the President on taking the initiative to move this discussion forward over the weekend. The President's comments, which we would all support, represented an important move and prove that the Oireachtas should be addressing this matter. The President has shown the way forward and I ask the Leader, once again, to put this issue on the agenda.
I am aware that it is inappropriate to discuss matters which are under discussion in another parliament and in tribunals. The Bloody Sunday inquiry is ongoing in Derry and the Patten report is being debated in Westminster. Those issues are having a huge impact on attitudes in and to Northern Ireland and on the future of the Assembly. We should find some way in which to express our views on these issues without interfering with the work of another parliament.
Mr. Costello: I fully support Senator Manning's proposal to hold a debate on inflation tomorrow. I know it would be inappropriate to amend today's Order of Business to provide for that. The issue of inflation has been raised over and over again in this House. This is not the first time we have sought a debate on this issue; a debate has been sought for the past six months. The Minister for Finance still has not come into the House—
Mr. Costello: On 16 December the Minister informed us that inflation for the year would stand at 1.6%, the position outlined by his officials. The entire Programme for Prosperity and Fairness was actually negotiated under false pretences.
An Cathaoirleach: We will not debate this matter on the Order of Business. Senator Manning proposed an amendment to the Order of Business seeking a debate on this matter. If that debate occurs, all these matters can be debated at that stage. We will not hold a detailed debate on these matters on the Order of Business.
Mr. Costello: I do not intend to go into detail on inflation figures. The Minister for Finance must come into the House to explain the anomalies in regard to the stated inflation figures from the Department and the reality at the time. He must also explain his view that inflation would peak at 4% and would come back to 3% towards the end of the year when that has not happened.
Survivors of child abuse who feel they are not being given proper consideration in regard to the extension of the definition of child abuse, which was refused in this House, are once again protesting outside the House. The extension of the definition would, of course, cover a huge range of child abuse which occurred in reform and industrial schools.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should come into the House to debate the very serious racially provoked attack on an English tourist in Pearse Street. Asylum seekers are being presented as bogus, dangerous people who must be fingerprinted and who cannot be allowed to work, as though they are culprits when, in fact, they are victims.
Ms Ormonde: On the expert group set up to review gambling legislation, I understand that the current casino ban will hold. This review offers us  an opportunity to hold a debate to ensure that casino-type gambling will still be banned. It has been suggested that the minimum age of people using gambling machines should be increased from 16 years to 18 years. Young people, now that they are on holidays, have an opportunity to use these gambling machines. This House is an ideal forum in which to debate this issue at length, before legislation is introduced.
Mr. Norris: I take up the point just made by my colleague. We should debate the question of slot machine arcades and the circumstances under which their licences were granted without planning permission. There is a nest of them in the area where I live and they are not a positive thing.
I also support Senator Costello's call for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to make statements and to listen to the views of the House on the vicious attack on Mr. David Richardson, which threatens his life and which appears to have been prompted by racist ideas.
Senator Costello is right to raise the issue of fingerprinting. I ask the Leader to express to the Minister our concern at the introduction of police figures from Nigeria and Romania. These are the very people who may have been involved in oppressing asylum seekers who have come to this country. This represents a growing Gestapoisation and it is time we stopped it.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator, we will not have a detailed debate on asylum seekers on the Order of Business. It is in order to request a debate. If that debate takes place, those detailed points may be made.
Mr. Norris: I strongly support Senator Costello's request that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform come into the House. Anyone who thinks this should not be done should read The Irish Times today. It carries a report of the very strong concern expressed by the Church of Ireland at the inactivity and flaws of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in addressing this very serious issue.
I also support Senator Manning's call for a change in the Order of Business. I look forward to this debate and to demonstrating my independence by suggesting that the analysis provided on the Order of Business by Senator O'Toole would create a situation which would drive inflation up considerably further. It is completely the wrong road to go.
Mr. Cosgrave: Will the Leader arrange a debate on the question of the advertising of air fares? I have received many complaints about advertisements, some of which are totally misleading or even grossly false. Customers who inquire about low fares often find that they are expected to travel at four o'clock in the morning  and return on Christmas night in order to avail of them. The question of currency exchange rates and the commission charged on them should also be discussed.
Can a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges be convened to discuss possible changes by Members who may be going on loan from one group in this House to another? This works quite well in the premiership where it very often happens to people who cannot hold their place on the team, who are not getting on with other members or who wish to move to a different division. Could a meeting be convened to facilitate Members who may be going on loan?
Mr. D. Kiely: A call was made last week for a debate on blue flag beaches. I ask again to have such a debate. It is widely believed that retaining blue flag status is the responsibility of the Government. I am proud to say that we have 13 blue flag beaches in Kerry. It is the responsibility of local authorities to maintain beaches to a sufficiently high standard to win and retain blue flags. If any local authority members would like a lesson in how to achieve blue flag status for their beaches, they should come to Kerry and we will show them how to do it.
Mr. Coghlan: I support the calls for an urgent discussion on the ever rising rate of inflation. I acknowledge that it crept into the debate on the economy recently but the figure has risen since. I welcome Senator Dardis as the Deputy Leader and I know he will treat us with respect.
Mr. Coghlan: I doubt it. Hopefully, I will not because I know he will be respectful and treat us with courtesy, care and so on. The point was well made, and I will conclude on it, that for a man who is noted for his independence of thought, the Minister for Finance did not really address this specific issue in the debate on inflation when he was before the House recently. There is a need for immediate remedial steps. For those reasons, I support the calls made.
Now that the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have publicly supported the President's comments regarding certain unsavoury matters in our recent past and now that those matters are in the open and we are showing a maturity, perhaps, about being able to deal with them, action is necessary on a number of fronts. There is a motion on the Order Paper to which all groups have assented regarding lobbyists, funding and so on. Will the Deputy Leader address this and tell when we can debate No. 19, motion 22?
Mr. Quinn: I add my voice to the concerns raised about inflation because some of the suggestions made to attempt to solve the problem will compound it, as Senator Norris said. The danger is that if the Government rushes into measures and responds in a panic, it will have the exact opposite effect of what we have to do and should be doing. I support the call for a debate which would be valuable if only to make that case.
The e-commerce Bill, which was initiated in and passed through this House, appears to be delayed in the other House by an alleged filibuster to make it sure it does not pass before the end of this month. If that is so, I regret it greatly and action should be taken by whoever is involved to ensure that it passes. I ask the Deputy Leader to pass on to the Government the suggestion that the adjournment of the other House at the end of this month could be delayed, if only to make sure that some Bills, such as that I mentioned, are passed. The news in Britain is that the UK's new e-commerce legislation has a question mark over it. It is suggested today that it may cost £46 billion because they may not have thought it through correctly. This gives an idea of the importance of not losing the opportunity to have the Bill passed in the other House. I would hate it to be delayed due to political infighting.
Mr. Glynn: I raise the matter of the comments here pertaining to the racial attack made on an individual recently in Dublin. I deplore that attack, as would all right-minded people, but I also draw attention to the fact that the Minister has put great resources into ensuring that the processing of applications from asylum seekers is expedited, which is to be applauded. I also point out, and I think Senator Norris referred to it, that some of the people coming here may be or have been involved in serious crimes themselves.
Mr. Glynn: I defer to the Chair's ruling but that point has to be made. On the call for a debate here on rural crime, it is time to remove the green man from rural Garda stations. The Garda presence in rural areas, as in all areas, where the individual garda knows just about everybody, from the child to the old man, is the way to keep down crime. It proved to be a success in the past and we should return to that practice.
Mr. Dardis: With regard to the matter of inflation, I am sorry but we will not be able to take that matter today, whatever about tomorrow. I will make inquiries to see if it can be taken. However, for Senator Costello's information, it was debated in full recently when we had statements on the economy including inflation. When he addressed the House, the Minister dealt with these issues. I bow to Senator Coghlan's state ment on this because at least he participated in the debate, unlike others.
Mr. Dardis: There is disquiet about the figure of 5.29% and we are aware that there are implications for the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. There are important issues but the matter was debated in full. The Minister dealt with inflation among other matters. I do not know how much matters have changed since, other than in regard to the headline rate of inflation. It was discussed thorouoghly.
I am aware of the fact that Senator Manning has tabled a motion which has been seconded by Senator O'Toole. Senators Costello, Norris and Coghlan have also given their views on it but again we are running into the end of the session over the next three weeks and it is difficult to find time. I will inquire whether time can be made available tomorrow and I will report back in the morning to Senator Manning.
The President's statement on standards in public life was raised by Senators O'Toole, Coghlan and others. I agree with what the President had to say. I am aware that No. 19, motion 22, is on the Order Paper and again it is a question of finding time to discuss it.
The future of the Assembly in Northern Ireland was also mentioned and it would be useful if we could find time to debate these issues now that the Executive has been restored and matters have moved on. I will ascertain whether time can be made available.
Senators Costello, Quinn, Norris and Glynn raised the attack on the tourist in Pearse Street. Any right thinking person would have to deplore what took place and the fact that there was a racial dimension to it makes it even worse. One is conscious of the trauma that was inflicted upon the family who were partaking in a family celebration. One can only condemn this. The Garda has already made an arrest and four other files have been referred to the DPP. The matter has been dealt with but tying that into the issue of asylum seekers seems to be a very tenuous connection. The State has an obligation to protect itself from criminals. There is every possibility that people could come to this country who are criminals and should not be here and nobody wants them here.
Mr. Dardis: That is not to say that the State will not make every effort to ensure that people entitled to be here should stay here and be  entitled to all the privileges that citizenship confers upon us.
Mr. Dardis: I am sorry, a Chathaoirligh, I must respond to that. I have not suggested that there is any higher proportion of criminals among asylum seekers than in any other section of the population.
Mr. Dardis: I cannot reconcile the contradiction in seeking that criminals who assault people on the street should be dealt with decisively while, on the other hand, suggesting that somebody who might be a criminal should be allowed access—
Senators Ormonde and Norris raised gambling legislation. There is concern about young people using gaming machines but some of these issues can be dealt with on the Adjournment, which is something I point out whenever I have the opportunity to occupy this chair.
The matter of air fares was raised by Senator Cosgrave. Something seems to be amiss. When one seeks suggested fares, which are low, they are not available and in addition there are taxes and other associated hidden costs which increase the fares quite substantially. The Senator has a point.
Regarding exchange rates and the costs imposed upon people going on holidays, a few weeks ago Senator O'Donovan raised the valid point that the levies charged by the banks in Ireland are the highest in Europe. That is not desirable. Senator Cosgrave also raised an issue that should be referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. You, Sir, and not I deal with these issues, so I leave that to your good offices to dispose of.
Senator Dan Kiely raised the question of blue flags and beaches. Some counties have a very good record. It is a matter for the local authorities. It appears that beaches were ruled out not by a deficiency in water quality, but because they had not provided certain information with regard to the environment, and so on. The county secretary in Wexford regretted that this had taken place.
Mr. Dardis: Senator Glynn raised the issue of rural crime. His remarks on the green man are noted. Some of these issues could be dealt with by community policing rather than by the green man in Garda stations.
Mr. Manning: The Deputy Leader has promised to return to the House tomorrow morning with the possibility of a debate and I will await his advice. With so many people in Tipperary South today I would not like to catch the Government off-side, so I will not press the amendment.
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