Wednesday, 14 June 2000
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Dardis: The proposed Order of Business is No. 2, Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill, 2000 – Committee and Remaining Stages, which will be followed by No. 3, International Development Association (Amendment) Bill, 1999 – all Stages, by agreement. I do not propose a sos but we will review progress at 1 p.m. and if one Bill is concluded, we can have a sos. The afternoon's business will be interrupted at 6 p.m. for item 19, motion 23 in the name of the Independent Senators. The afternoon's business will be resumed at 8 p.m. unless previously concluded.
There were requests yesterday for a debate on the economy and on inflation. I contacted the Minister for Finance but, unfortunately, he is not available today. He also has a European Council meeting next week so his availability is restricted. However, he would welcome the opportunity to come to the House if time can be found.
Mr. Manning: As regards a short debate on inflation, I accept the Minister for Finance is not available today. I also accept his good faith because he has always been willing to come into the House. This debate is urgent and vital but it should be a calm debate because the issue is too serious to be the subject of point scoring. I would like a debate early next week on this subject so people have time to prepare for it and the Minister for Finance, the Taoiseach or another senior Minister is available. I accept the good faith of the Deputy Leader on this matter. He has assured me he is doing everything he can to ensure there will be an early debate and I am willing to accept his word.
As regards No. 1, will the Deputy Leader indicate if the ongoing negotiations to try to find a compromise so this legislation can be dealt with in the House in the way all private Bills are dealt with can be expedited because we are growing tired of the sight of it on the Order Paper? I know the Deputy Leader has endeavoured to talk sense where it counts on this matter. Perhaps he could indicate today or tomorrow the present position of that Bill.
Given that we are coming to the end of this session, will the Deputy Leader indicate tomorrow what business it is proposed to bring to the House and which the Government wishes to have cleared between now and then?
Mr. O'Toole: I agree with the items to be taken today. However, I am disappointed with the Deputy Leader's reply in that he has not been able to facilitate a debate on inflation. A debate on this issue is crucially important. The answer to high inflation for the vast majority of people outside the House and for many people inside it is to give people more money. However, that will make the situation worse. An informed debate is required so the issue can be teased out to encourage people to respond in a controlled and focused way. For once I am on the same side as Senator Ross. The debate should not be dependent on the Minister for Finance. Any Minister should know  what is happening with inflation and if he or she does not, I would be extremely worried.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business so that the first item to be taken today be a debate on inflation with a Minister present. Any Minister should be able to answer our questions. With the social partnership falling apart, the situation will get worse. This type of relaxed attitude where the Minister for Finance can go away for two weeks, which he must do as part of his business, and everything stops, is not good enough. It does not give the correct signal as it appears to indicate we do not care. Whereas many of us in this House, and indeed even on these benches, would have different views about the approaches to it, that is not the issue at this stage. We need to at least focus on those points of difference and of agreement to try to give the Government an edge forward on this issue. I formally propose that amendment.
Mr. Costello: I second the proposal to amend the Order of Business so that we can have a debate on inflation today. We raised this matter strongly yesterday. We did not expect that we would have a definite date on when the debate would take place but we are now told that it is totally up in the air, that the Minister for Finance will not be here today or tomorrow and that he is not available next week either. That is not acceptable. This is the same Minister for Finance who has got it so wrong in terms of inflation over the past six months. It is appropriate that we have the Minister for Finance in this House and I want to see him here because it is the Minister for Finance who is mouthing off abroad about his position and castigating anybody who is critical of him. He is now the person who has been found to be out of order and I second the amendment that we amend the Order of Business to have a debate on inflation, unless the Leader of the House can come back to us with some definite proposal.
I call for a debate on motion No. 6, that Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to publish a White Paper on early childhood education. The White Paper has been promised for the past two years. This motion has been on the Order Paper for about a year. There was a report in the newspapers yesterday from Barnardos and UNICEF to the effect that a quarter of Irish children live in poverty and that there are serious problems to address in relation to education, child care facilities and crèches. It is very difficult for mothers to go out to work if child care facilities are not available. The whole area of early education and child care facilities should be addressed and indeed it would be relevant in the context of examining the problem of inflation and where money should be spent that would not give rise to inflation.
Mr. Finneran: I did not interrupt Senator O'Toole, and as a good teacher he should not interrupt me. It is totally irresponsible to call on the Minister for Finance to ignore his responsibilities in Europe to come to a debate in this House. The Deputy Leader has said the Minister is willing to come and that a suitable date will be arranged. That is an important decision for the Minister and for this House and we should accept it.
I want to raise two other issues, one of which concerns the medical profession and the recent scandal that has been exposed both in this country and in the United Kingdom. I ask the Deputy Leader to bring it to the Minister's attention and perhaps he could come into the House for a debate on this matter so that we can question whether self-regulation is appropriate. Should we have a foolproof licensing system here in light of the fact that people in the medical profession travel throughout the EU, Australia, America and Canada? Public confidence in this area has been dashed and we should have an informed debate on it. Perhaps the Minister could bring in a new system of regulation and licensing for the medical profession.
Will the Deputy Leader of the House send our compliments to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach on the extraordinary deal with Libya regarding the live export trade from this country to Libya? That is a most welcome development and is worth up to £100 million to the farming community. This has been tried by many people over many years; indeed, some people thought they had clinched a deal in the past but they had not. It was done on Friday last by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I compliment him on it.
Mr. Ross: I support the amendment to the Order of Business. We are in the midst of a deepening economic crisis. It is not just one set of inflation figures. It is an economic crisis, and what is left of the Government's economic policy is in tatters. We may disagree about the benefits of what the Government calls the social contract or programme, but it is certainly in danger, if it is not dead. If that is not a crisis, and if this House does not want to debate it at this time, the relevance of this House is becoming questionable.
I acknowledge that the Minister for Finance has come into this House on many occasions to debate financial matters. However, is it not extraordinary that we should say he has been very good about coming into one of the Houses of the Oireachtas to debate a matter which concerns his own portfolio? He ought to be here, and we  should not be grateful for it. We should not even take note of it.
I accept what Senator O'Toole says. Let us welcome the Taoiseach into this House. Let us welcome the Tánaiste or any other Minister to debate this urgent matter. When the Minister for Finance has come in, he has left, quite understandably, after a very short time, leaving a Minister of State. We are used to being treated to Ministers of State in this House, and that is regrettable. Why the sudden urge to have a full day with the Minister for Finance when no Minister, or very few Ministers, stay here for a Second Stage debate or a debate on a motion? Let us have him here, and if we cannot have him, let us debate the crisis with either of the other two people who really matter, the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste. Maybe the Leader of the House could ask the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste to come in.
I do not agree with the main Opposition party's contention that it is acceptable this should be delayed. I understand we are to break up on 29 June. That is tomorrow fortnight. If we do not have a debate on it this week or next week, the Government, with its nimble political manoeuvring, will be able to kick to touch and kick inflation out into the summer. We do not want that. We want a debate before that.
Miss Quill: Exactly three weeks ago today, I asked the Leader of the House to arrange for the Minister for Education to come to the House to debate a specific educational issue – the qualification of persons selected to correct examination papers. By that I mean the State examinations, the junior and leaving certificates. That debate did not take place. I am very concerned that every possible step should be taken to guarantee ongoing public confidence in every element of our examination system and that the integrity of the examination system should be upheld.
An Cathaoirleach: We cannot have a debate on the matter now. I know it is important but it is a matter that could be raised more appropriately on the Adjournment or by way of a motion. I cannot allow the Senator to go into such detail on this matter on the Order of Business.
Miss Quill: I do not know what the situation will be in relation to this year's examination, but this is an ongoing problem. I repeat my request to the Deputy Leader of the House to ask the Minister for Education to come to the House to discuss this matter at the first opportunity.
Mr. Coghlan: No one understands, despite so many dire warnings from different quarters over quite some time, why the Government has taken no action whatsoever to deal with inflation which is at its highest point in 15 years, in excess of 5% and still rising.
On a different issue, I read this morning about the extraordinary information which the Tánaiste said the authorised officer, Mr. Gerry Ryan, was able to find out in relation to another matter. A number of reports have been completed, according to a newspaper report. There is no record or anything that would lead us to believe that these reports have been presented to Government. If not, why not? I also wonder about publication. I ask the Deputy Leader to tell me about publication.
Mr. Coghlan: This is probably a separate subject but if the Deputy Leader wishes to link them in his response that I will understand and be appreciative. We are led to believe that some Irish citizens are sheltering behind offshore companies and, as we have come to know, this is impeding progress on the part of some State agencies or other institutions that have been set up. This is not good enough. I would like to know if the Government has any legislative proposals in the pipeline to deal with these matters, particularly in the area of company law.
Mr. Kett: I raised with the Leader some time ago an item of concern that was brought to my attention by members of the Garda Síochána in relation to the antiquated system of identification parades. I asked him to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and to ask him to make a statement or make some policy change in relation to it. The idea that a woman who has been raped or a child who has been molested should have to face down the possible perpetrator of the crime is outrageous and the system should be changed.
I congratulate the Government on the commitment it gave during the week to mainstream service delivery for people with disabilities. This measure will significantly advance the status and quality of life for these people.
Mr. Quinn: I know that Members regularly call for urgent debates. Senator Ross touched on this very clearly today when he said that we had a debate on inflation 13 days ago, but we urgently need another debate because the position has changed dramatically in 13 days. I know the  Deputy Leader will say it is only 13 days since the Minister came in here but the situation has changed. I support the call by Senators O'Toole and Costello for a debate on inflation today. So many proposals are being made that would not help improve the situation.
I ask the Deputy Leader to draw the following matter to the attention of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. This morning Senator Finneran said we should not ask a Minister to ignore his responsibilities in Europe, which is a very interesting term. On 26 June, which is less than two weeks away, the OSPAR conference will take place in Denmark. The Government has tabled a motion at that conference to close Sellafield or cease reproduction there. The Danes have also tabled a motion about it. There is a danger that we will fall between two stools if two motions are submitted. The Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise, Deputy Jacob, does not plan to attend this conference. If we want to achieve success at this conference, and the Minister of State is anxious to do that, then we should at least make sure that one motion goes forward. The Irish motion might be the best or perhaps it is the Danish one. Either way we should make sure that this matter gets our full attention. The Deputy Leader should draw the Minister's attention to the fact that it is urgent for someone to attend this conference and to make sure that we find a compromise.
Mr. Mooney: I want to echo the sentiments of my colleague, Senator Costello, in relation to the reports on child poverty that have emanated this week. I ask the Deputy Leader to request the Minister responsible or some member of the Government to come here, not to have a debate because I do not have all the answers but to make a statement on the Government's intent in this regard. All of us have represented this State abroad and have done so well. We have proudly boasted about Irish economic success but this is our Achilles' heel – 50% of Irish children live below the poverty line. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul and UNICEF have talked about the issue and I cannot understand why this problem still exists under current economic conditions.
Mr. Mooney: I do not want a debate, I want a statement from the Government about what it is doing to address the situation so that the public perception that the Government does not care will not arise. The Government does care and the Minister for Health and Children is a com passionate person. I ask the Deputy Leader to make an hour available in the short time left before the recess for statements on the matter as a sign of our concern.
Mr. O'Dowd: Will the Deputy Leader of the House bring to the attention of the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the concern of pensioners and social welfare recipients at the increase in inflation? Their incomes, miserable as they are, will have even less purchasing power unless immediate action is taken.
Will he also bring to the attention of the Minister for Health and Children the need for urgent legislation to prevent the removal of deceased persons' organs without the knowledge or consent of their relatives? This is a cause of great distress for parents. Protocols must be established in all hospitals pending the immediate introduction of such legislation. It is an unacceptable practice and we must not allow it to continue.
Mr. Callanan: I join Senator Finneran in the congratulations he extended to the Government, the Taoiseach and the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Agriculture, Food and Rural Development for reopening the beef trade with Libya. Will the Deputy Leader provide time for a debate on agriculture before the summer recess?
Recently there has been a great deal of publicity about genetically modified rape seed in this State and in Europe. It is time to express a clear opinion on the matter. If a section of the agricultural community wants to produce food from genetically modified seed so be it, but there may be other sectors which do not wish to do so. There must be clear definitions for both genetically and non-genetically modified produce.
Mr. L. Fitzgerald: I support Senator Kett's call for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to take action on identification parades. The present system is Dickensian. This society professes concern for the welfare of victims but this demonstrates the opposite. We are causing more trauma to victims than to professional criminals. It is about time we changed the system to remove the fear and stress due process causes for the victims of crime.
There are other victims in society. Leaving certificate students can find themselves victimised by well known bullies in the middle of their examinations. The Minister for Education and Science must ask himself how he can protect students doing their examinations from being bullied.
Mr. Bonner: I agree with Senator Quill's remarks on the correction of examination papers. This time of year is difficult enough for students at second level without further stress being caused by the way their examination papers are being marked.
Will the Deputy Leader arrange for the Minister for Education and Science to come into the House to explain the situation that prevailed this  year for children with special needs who applied for assistance with examinations? Most of them applied for that assistance 18 months ago but many of them were assessed only three weeks before the examinations. They were obliged to wait until two weeks before the examinations commenced to discover whether assistance would be provided and it was impossible for them to practise using tapes, recording equipment, etc., in such a short period. I speak from personal experience in respect of this matter and, in my opinion, the system of assessing these children's needs must be changed for the future.
I support calls for a debate on inflation. We discussed this matter two weeks ago but a further debate should be held in order that Independent Senators might put forward their solutions to the problem. On the last occasion, Senator Ross, who is very knowledgeable and highly respected—
Mr. J. Doyle: I support Senator O'Dowd's request that the Minister for Finance give special consideration to people in receipt of social welfare payments, retired persons on low incomes and those on low pay. Rich people can overcome the effects of inflation quite easily. However, the essence and evil of inflation is that it is a tax on the poor.
Mr. Lanigan: The French will be taking over the Presidency of the EU at the end of the month and many of the issues which will be discussed during the next six months – including qualified majority voting and our status within an extended European Union – will have a major impact on Ireland. Unfortunately, during the past six to 12 months, 90% of applicant countries have concentrated their energies on joining NATO and drawing up a defence treaty. The representatives of these nations are obsessed with defence and they tend to ignore the problems that will arise in the agriculture industry in Ireland and other member states of the EU following their accession. There are seven million farmers in the EU at present but Poland, which is one of the applicant countries to which I refer, is home to a further seven million farmers. This matter has not been addressed in the context of the effect it will have on an extended EU.
Apparently the applicant countries are totally committed to discussing defence policies and what they perceive as their need to be defended from attack by Russia, Germany or some other state. The EU is not addressing the difficulties which will result from the extension of the Union, particularly those which will affect the economic future of farmers in Ireland and other existing member states.
 This morning the Irish bishops again criticised the Government's policy on refugees and asylum seekers. They have continually attacked the Government for what they perceive as its failure to fulfil its moral obligations. In my opinion many of the difficulties associated with the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers could be solved if the church provided such accommodation in a number of its vacant monasteries and convents throughout the country. Negotiations should take place with the bishops to discover if the Roman Catholic hierarchy has a part to play in accommodating asylum seekers while their applications are under review. There is a need to give careful consideration to this matter.
Mr. Dardis: I reiterate that it would be more appropriate to raise a number of the issues to which Members referred on the Adjournment. I note that this morning only one Member gave notice of a matter they wish to raise on the Adjournment. However, I am not stating that Members should refrain from raising issues on the Order of Business.
With regard to the call for a debate on inflation which was made by Senators Manning, Costello and others and in respect of which Senator O'Toole has tabled an amendment to the Order of Business, a statement was made that the Government is taking a relaxed attitude to recent increases in inflation. That is not the case because the Government could not afford to adopt such an attitude.
Mr. Dardis: The Government is aware of the implications of increases in inflation on the Partnership for Prosperity and Fairness and the economy. I will make every effort to ensure that a debate on this important issue takes place. I note that the Government intends to meet the ICTU and the social partners to discuss this matter and measures will be announced tomorrow in respect of the housing problem. That is an indication of the Government's concern about the problem of inflation. I will make every effort to ensure this debate will be held at the earliest possibly opportunity. It would be preferable for the Minister for Finance to be present for the debate but, in the event that he is unable to attend, we will seek another senior Minister to take the debate.
Mr. Dardis: On the Trinity College Bill, No. 1 on the Order Paper, I am anxious to expedite and dispose of this legislation. I will see what progress  can be made on when we might be able to order the Bill and will come back to Senator Manning on that.
Senators Costello and Mooney raised the White Paper on early childhood education and the issue of child poverty. Senator Mooney stated that he would be anxious to see the Government producing a statement on the matter. Senator Costello has tabled No. 19, motion 6 in regard to the White Paper, and I will endeavour to see whether this debate can be arranged. We have only two weeks left in the session and we must establish priorities in regard to our legislative programme which overrides all other matters. It will be a question then of trying to find time to debate secondary matters, inflation being the primary topic to be dealt with.
Senator Finneran raised an important point about the medical profession. Obviously, there is concern about a particular individual and the issuance of incorrect pathology results. The Government is currently reviewing the medical practitioners legislation and a working group has been established to consider how recruitment procedures for locum consultants might be tightened.
I join Senators Finneran and Callanan in welcoming the announcement of the reopening of the live cattle trade to Libya. This should not come as a surprise to the Opposition because Deputy Yates, when he was Minister for Agriculture, announced that the market was opening on the morning of the general election.
Senators Quinn and Bonner raised the matter of the qualifications required to correct examination papers and Senator Bonner spoke about the treatment of students with special needs. I heard the Minister for Education and Science speaking earlier this morning about the possibility that final year students or new graduates would be brought in to correct papers. It must be emphasised that the papers in question are junior certificate papers, not leaving certificate papers. Some 60,000 students are sitting papers in civics, social and political science and it may be necessary to  recruit additional people to mark those examinations. That will be done under strict supervision and I am sure high standards will be maintained.
Senator Coghlan raised the issue of the inspectors' reports for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The Senator will be aware that several of the reports are the subject of High Court proceedings, thereby precluding us from commenting on them. I will certainly inform the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment of his concerns to ensure that this matter is expedited. The Minister would be very concerned that that should happen.
Senators Kett and Liam Fitzgerald raised the matter of identification parades. I share their view that it is completely inappropriate that somebody who has been raped or a child who has been molested should be required to confront the possible perpetrator of those terrible crimes. I will bring the Senators' views to the Minister's attention.
I will bring Senator Quinn's views on the environment and on the OSPAR conference to the attention of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to try to ensure that we attend and that the points made by Senator Quinn are raised.
I have already dealt with the question of child poverty which was raised by Senator Mooney. I share Senator O'Dowd's concern about the effect of inflation on pensioners and social welfare recipients. It would be wrong of me not to. However, the increases granted in the budget are broadly in line with the present level of inflation, high as it is. This is not to say that increases should not be in advance of inflation. It is important that people who have contributed so well to the State should be taken care of.
It is totally inappropriate that organs should be removed from dead bodies, other than with the  consent of the next of kin. Senator Callanan raised the question of genetically modified foods. This subject has been discussed in the past but it would be useful to debate it in the wider context of agriculture and the debate has been requested.
Senator Liam Fitzgerald raised the matter of  leaving certificate students. I will bring that to the attention of the Minister for Education and Science. With regard to Senator Lanigan, I note what he had to say.
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