Thursday, 8 February 2001
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Agriculture Appeals Bill, 2001 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes; No. 2, statements on the Nice summit, to be taken from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed 15  minutes, and Senators may share time; No. 3, motion re Maternity Protection Act, 1994, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 for one hour; and No. 4, motion re the Adoptive Leave Act, 1995, to be taken with No. 3 for the purposes of the debate.
Mr. Manning: If Senators are still offering at the conclusion of time allowed on No. 3, will the Leader adjourn rather than conclude the debate so the matter can be resumed at a later stage? Will the Leader indicate the legislation he proposes to introduce this session? Yesterday he stated there would be a large volume of legislation and that some Bills would be initiated in the Seanad. Will he give the House some specifics as to the realistic timetable for this session?
Will the Leader also arrange a debate on the relocation of the Abbey Theatre which was raised in the House yesterday? However, the important issue is not so much the relocation of the theatre as the role it plays in national life. The Abbey Theatre receives a very high level of subvention and many people wonder if it justifies its existence and the role we expect of a national theatre. Perhaps the debate on its relocation could be widened to consider the role of the Abbey Theatre.
Mr. O'Toole: Debate on the Nice summit and related matters will be ongoing and Senators may be offering at 3 p.m. I appreciate that the Leader has extended the time somewhat, but if the debate is not concluded at 3 p.m. we should resume at a later date.
Yesterday Senator Norris raised the issue of the relocation of the Abbey Theatre. I agree with the Senator's comments and we should debate this issue. The House should immediately become involved in this issue. Perhaps we should debate the matter next week to give us time to prepare information and examine the background to this decision.
Apart from the demand that the Abbey Theatre be a cultural beacon, it also has a responsibility to the area in which it is located. It is not good enough that this decision has been taken. The House should offer a view on this matter within the next week. It is unacceptable that the theatre should take this so-called unanimous decision to move without reference to taxpayers who are, effectively, its paymasters.
There are proposals for the development of the north side of Dublin and many other areas which include the construction of theatres such as in Tallaght, Blanchardstown and other areas. The Abbey Theatre is a crucial element in the cultural life of the north side of the River Liffey and we should strongly indicate our views on the matter.
Mr. O'Toole: You are correct, a Chathaoirligh, I got carried away. On a number of occasions during the last session Senator Quinn raised the issue  of inflation and anti-inflationary measures which, no doubt, will be referred to during the debate on the Nice summit. There is a need for a continuing debate on the impact of the budget, our economic direction, the impact of the State's financial and fiscal policies, how the social partnership process is working and related matters. Will the Leader arrange for such a debate in, perhaps, two weeks?
Mr. Costello: The Order of Business is agreed. I also agree with the call to extend the debate on the Nice summit. Such an extension will be necessary as we have not yet seen a draft treaty. It is good that the Taoiseach is coming into the House. This matter is of considerable concern and may require a constitutional amendment by way of a referendum. We should discuss the matter on an ongoing basis and we should certainly return to it once we receive the draft treaty.
We are only now seeing the enormity of the decision to relocate the Abbey Theatre. The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, recommended the refurbishment of the existing site and made £50 million available for that project. The Office of Public Works and the Abbey Theatre's architects also recommended refurbishment of the existing site. Treasury Holdings offered a site on the north side of the River Liffey in the new Spencer Dock plan which has just been put on display by the Dublin Docklands Authority. However, the board of the Abbey Theatre went against all these recommendations. It is highly irresponsible for the board to act in this fashion and we should consider asking it to step down.
Mr. Costello: The Gate Theatre will be the only cultural entity left on the north side. The tourist office has been transferred from O'Connell Street to Andrew Street, which is a move from the north side to the south side of the city. Everything is moving to Dublin 2 or Dublin 4. I would like an early debate on the matter.
Mr. Costello: I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for advising me. The commission on teaching and learning, which was announced by the Minister for Education and Science, is important. We should invite the Minister to come into the House to discuss such issues as teachers' salaries, the professional development of teachers, teacher training, structures in education, educational access, discrimination and the two-tiered system, which we discussed yesterday in Private Members' time. Now that the commission on teaching and learning has been established, I ask  the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to hear the views of Members on this matter.
Dr. M. Hayes: I thought I caught your eye yesterday, a Chathaoirligh, but the fact that I did not means I must get my cataracts examined again. You were extremely indulgent to Members yesterday. I want to speak about the Ombudsman's report as I am the only former ombudsman in the House. It is an impressive report. The depth of research, the period over which the discussions took place and the trenchancy with which it is expressed makes it an important report. We have been lucky with the ombudsmen in this State. The Ombudsman is a lonely position. He is an officer of the Oireachtas and the least we owe him is that his reports are debated quickly in this House. The Ombudsman is neutral on policy issues, but important policy consequences are unveiled in the report as a result of changes in society. I suggest that, as well as having a debate on this report in terms of administration and the constitutional interest of relationships, another debate should take place on the care and treatment of elderly people who need in-patient hospital care.
I also support colleagues who pressed yesterday for a debate on the report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals. This office has been set up to protect the most vulnerable patients in the health care system, and we owe it to them to do that.
Despite the initial cautious response – it might be overdoing it to say that – of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the issue of a police ombudsman, I would like a debate on it. The day has long gone when any great agency in any society should be allowed to police or investigate itself.
One of the most distressing things I saw during the recess was respectable men whose papers were not in order being put in jail and brought to court in handcuffs. I am pleased the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has said that will not happen again. For too long we have been looking at this as a criminal justice and an immigration issue. I ask the Leader for a debate on this issue of labour force economics and community relations.
Mr. Quinn: I ask the Leader urgently to give an explanation to this House for the reason the European Commission put a ban this morning on T-bone steaks of Irish origin but not on those of British origin. It astounds me that, while we have been told our beef is safe, we are now being told we may not sell certain beef which Britain may sell. I am not sure who should give us this explanation but it should not be the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. Yesterday the scientific steering committee in the EU, on  which we are represented, made a recommendation to the Commission to ban T-bone steaks from a number of countries, with the exception of Britain and Portugal because they have different standards. How did that happen? I do not know who should give us this explanation but it should not be someone who represents the beef or farming industry, it should be someone who represents consumers who are worried and concerned that we have different standards from those in Britain.
It appears that Britain banned all cattle over 30 months from getting into the food chain. We said we would allow cattle over 30 months into the food chain on the condition that they were tested. A number of retailers in Ireland have adopted the standard in recent years of not allowing cattle over 30 months into the food chain. We have had a different standard from that in Britain, and the European Commission now says that beef is safe in Britain but not here. We should have an urgent debate on this issue so we can put the minds of consumers at rest.
Mr. Chambers: I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to the House to discuss the recent report from the national seaweed forum which outlines the tremendous potential of this natural resource for job creation and to sustain communities. As the main shareholder in the semi-State body, Arramara Teoranta, it would be interesting to hear his views on its plans for the development of the resource in the future. He should be invited to the House to outline his views on the future of this industry.
Mrs. Jackman: Yesterday I and many other Senators raised the issue of waste management and the urgency with which we must address it. I was not full of confidence this morning when I heard the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, speaking on this issue. He had little to say except to cast doubt on whether we would be able to deal with the issue. I hope the Leader will arrange for a debate on this issue next week.
Senator Maurice Hayes made good points. Agreement was reached yesterday to a debate on the Ombudsman's report on nursing home subventions. I appeal to the Leader to extend the debate to include the matters raised by Senator Maurice Hayes so we can get to grips with this important matter for the elderly and dependent people in our society.
Mr. Dardis: I share Senator Quinn's astonishment at the proposal by the EU to ban T-bone steaks. The case was well put this morning on the radio by the president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association when he said it was inconceivable that one would not be able to eat a T-bone steak in Lifford but would be able to do so in Strabane. That does not seem to make sense. Many of these decisions are increasingly being made for perception purposes rather than relat ing to the substance of the issue. We are dealing with agricultural legislation this morning and although the connection is peripheral, there is a scheme for the destruction of animals. Perhaps, with your permission, a Chathaoirligh, there should be flexibility this morning to ask the Minister for his views on this issue. The Minister has indicated that Ireland will seek a derogation and I am sure the House will support him in that. It is a matter for consumers to decide if they want to eat T-bone steaks, and if they wish to do so, they should not be stopped.
Mr. Ryan: There are regular requests by Members for a debate on waste management which tends to focus exclusively on the absence of landfill and the alternatives to it. However, it is worth putting on the record that we also have an appalling record in terms of liquid waste in that 30% of our sewage is untreated. The most recent figures show that our output of sulphur dioxide and of oxides of nitrogen are well above the European average. We get away with that because there is a convenient wind from the Atlantic Ocean which blows it elsewhere, without which we would be suffering from quite serious air pollution.
We have a waste crisis and enormous effort is necessary to address it. Blaming other people, and in particular local authority members, will not solve it. The problem requires national action as it is a national crisis. It is the most likely reason our economic development will be brought to a sudden end.
The other issue which may bring our economic performance to an end is the performance of the EU. I suspect I am the only Member of the House who voted “No” in every treaty regarding the EU. While I thought the most recent budget was cruel, daft and entirely wrong for these times, we are quite capable of dealing with such matters ourselves. We must have a debate on our relationship with the EU rather than solely on the issue being raised by the EU. In the past 12 months there have been two instances of the EU picking on small states while large states get away with precisely the same thing. They picked on Austria while Italy has had neo-fascists in Government and they are picking on us while the Italian economy is in a far greater mess than the Irish economy could even become in four or five years. The issue is one of pushing around small states, which is not what the EU is supposed to be about. The issue is the institutional arrangements in the EU to protect the interests of small states. From what I can find out about the yet unprinted—
Mr. Ryan: I would like to know whether the Nice treaty makes the situation worse, but since it is still not available we can only get people's  versions of what it contains. We do not know whether it makes the position worse.
Mr. Lydon: I welcome the debate on the Nice summit and the fact the Taoiseach will come to the House. However, will the Leader agree to a debate on the wider issues of enlargement? I have asked for this many times. An EU of 27 states has profound implications for Ireland and should be discussed in the House.
I do not want to discuss the Abbey Theatre, but the vestibule of the original theatre has been lovingly preserved by Daithí Hanley, a former city architect, who has offered it to the State free of charge and who would love to see it incorporated into any new design for the Abbey. It is a gem which has been sought eagerly by many universities in America, but he has refused to sell it. It would be a shame if it was lost to the nation.
Time and again I have asked for a debate on incineration and waste management. In view of what has happened in Galway in the past few days, where Galway Corporation accepted the waste management programme, including incineration, it is time the public were assured or that their concerns were brought to the fore regarding the possibility of any dangers from incineration.
Miss Quill: Yesterday I asked for a debate on the Abbey Theatre and I am glad there has been further demand for such a debate today. We should seek to debate as soon as possible not only the location of the theatre but, as Senator Manning requested, the role and remit of the Abbey Theatre as our national theatre, how it fulfils that role, how it relates to and serves the theatrical needs of people in parts of the country outside Dublin and how it is funded by the Exchequer and the Arts Council. Examination of these wider issues is necessary and demands a day long debate as it is an important issue.
Dr. Henry: I support the call by Senator Quinn for a debate on the BSE disaster, which is what it has become given that the EU has said T-bone steaks from Ireland should be banned. We need the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House. I have repeatedly asked the Leader to bring him to the House to discuss this issue. I understand Senator Dardis's point that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development will be in the House this morning, but the precautionary principle is beginning to go mad and we need the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House so we can discuss the  risk analysis. Were it not for the almost probable fact of transmission to humans of the prions which cause BSE and new variant CJD, we would not have this problem. Therefore, it is a public health issue and we must have the Minister for Health and Children in the House to discuss it.
Mr. Mooney: I join with the other Members in calling for a debate on European issues. Keeping in mind that there is a Joint Committee on European Affairs, of which Senator Lydon, my distinguished colleague, is a member, and a Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, what has happened in the European context over the past few weeks has focused people's minds on the relationship between Ireland and Europe as never before. This is an excellent development as for too long people's eyes glazed over whenever we talked about European matters. In that context I ask the Leader to give consideration to increasing the frequency of debates in the House on European matters notwithstanding the work of the joint committees. I am talking about using the mechanism initiated by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of inviting people to the House. Jacques Santer was here on one occasion, the only person from the Commission at that level who has visited the House.
Finally, and I am not being a poor mouth, in the context of regional development I attended the launch in Sligo last Monday of Enterprise Ireland's regional industrial strategy. I understand this is part of a rolling launch by Enterprise Ireland. In light of the report it published for the north-west – I understand there are similar reports for other regions – will the Leader consider initiating a debate on regional strategy in advance of the Government's launch of its national spatial strategy? Those of us who live in the regions are very concerned about the ratios of expenditure on infrastructure and economic development in general between the BMW region and the rest of the country.
Ms O'Meara: I support calls for a debate on BSE, in particular the handling of the issue at EU level. I agree the announcement this morning is driven more by PR considerations than considerations of public health or the future of the beef industry. It may be a measure designed to restore public confidence, like the slaughtering measure, but it is having the opposite effect. There is a genuine crisis which must be addressed urgently, and I hope the Leader will respond to the calls for a debate from all sides of the House.
Regarding waste management, which I raised yesterday, I too heard the Minister for the Environment and Local Government on radio this morning giving quite a broad ranging interview. He is capable of giving such an interview on RTÉ radio and of speaking to the nation, and I hope he shows the same courtesy to Members and comes to the House at an early date so we can have a wide-ranging debate which is clearly necessary. He should listen to members of local  authorities and get feedback from them. We need to get a leadership position from the Minister. I was astonished to hear him say that new legislation being brought forward this year will contain a provision to put a tax on plastic bags, something we initially heard about two years ago.
Mr. Farrell: I ask the Leader for a debate on tourism, particularly with regard to hill walking and tourists walking through private property. Hill walking is becoming very popular but many people are trespassing on private property against the wishes of landowners. In some cases, tourist boards have featured such walks in their literature. We should have a national policy on this matter because landowners could be in trouble if somebody falls and is hurt, or if their dog worries sheep or cattle. Such walks must be regulated properly and farmers must be compensated for the use of their private property.
Mr. Bonner: I support the call by my colleagues for a debate on BSE and particularly the banning of Irish T-bone steak. Donegal County Council discussed this issue last week and we have arranged a meeting with the Minister for next Wednesday. While most council members were happy with the cattle destruction scheme which was introduced by the Minister, there are other problems they wish to discuss with him. I was astounded to hear on the radio last night about the banning of Irish T-bone steak.
I also support yesterday's call by my colleagues for a debate on the National Roads Authority. I accept that much work is being done and the authority is providing substantial funding. When I approached the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, however, he told me it was a matter for the National Roads Authority, yet when I approached the authority it pushed me back to the Minister. I find it difficult to understand that.
My complaint concerning the authority is that substantial projects are receiving priority while smaller ones that could be done with much less money are being left behind. I would mention, in particular, the N56 which traverses west Donegal.
I support the call by Senator Chambers for a debate on the seaweed industry. The report by the national seaweed forum indicated substantial  potential for that industry. As the main shareholder in Arramara, the Minister should attend the House for a debate because while there seem to be substantial supplies, there are also difficulties in the marketplace about which I would like to hear his views.
Mr. R. Kiely: I support the call for a debate on BSE. Such a debate is needed because there are conflicting views as to the purpose and benefits of the cattle destruction scheme. While I suppose the banning of Irish T-bone steak will be mentioned in today's debate, we need a separate debate on all the issues relating to BSE.
Mr. Cassidy: Senators Manning and O'Toole raised the question of the debate on the Nice summit which the Taoiseach is attending from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. I would have no difficulty in adjourning that debate if speakers are offering to participate. Senators may share time during that debate.
Senators Manning, O'Toole, Costello and Lydon expressed strong views in calling for an urgent debate on the role of the Abbey Theatre as our national theatre. They mentioned the enormous cost it represents for taxpayers. I have listened to requests for such a debate, both yesterday and today, and I am pleased to inform the House that on Tuesday, 20 February, I intend to allow an all-day debate on this matter. It is a serious situation when £100 million of taxpayers' money is being spent, in addition to the millions that have been spent on that theatre in the past. I take the point that Dublin must be allowed to develop equally and that we must no longer permit a “have” and “have not” situation. The north inner city of Dublin has long awaited its development opportunity.
Senator Manning sought a timetable for the coming session, including a list of forthcoming legislation and on next Wednesday's Order of Business I will inform the House of that. Next week we propose to sit for two days and the House will sit for three days each week for the three weeks leading up to St. Patrick's week.
As I informed Members yesterday, an enormous amount of business is being initiated in the House, in addition to legislation coming from the Dáil, concerning serious reports and other mat ters for debate that have been requested and which the House must consider.
Senators Quinn, Dardis, Ryan, Henry, O'Meara, Bonner and Rory Kiely expressed serious concerns about the EU Commission's ban on T-bone steak. In five minutes' time, the Minister will be in the House. I take it that the principal spokespersons can make the point.
Mr. Cassidy: The Minister will be in the House in five minutes' time. It would be an ideal opportunity if spokespersons for the various groups would refer to that, and perhaps he will be forthcoming. Many people are extremely concerned about the ruling to ban T-bone steak. As the Deputy Leader of the House said this morning, one cannot eat a T-bone steak in Lifford but one can do so in Strabane. It does not make sense. We pride ourselves on our green and clean environment. Whatever has to be done will be done in the interests of safety, but I have no difficulty in eating Irish beef.
Senators Jackman, Ryan, Coogan and O'Meara called for a debate on waste management. As I said yesterday, I give my word to the House that this will take place. That is a bit rich, however, coming from people who have not been members of local authorities and who do not understand the commitment of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, who is a former secretary of LAMA. There is no more experienced person in the Oireachtas for dealing with local authority issues than the Minister.
Mr. Cassidy: His attitude has been most forthcoming so it is very unfair to say otherwise. I take the point from local authority members who have enormous experience in this regard, but I take exception to those who do not. I have found the Minister to be co-operative and understanding. The greatest single-issue challenge to local auth orities is waste management and I am pleased it is being addressed by local authority members of all political parties.
Senator Coogan inquired about local government legislation and I understand that it will come before the Dáil in the next week or two. We will have it passed in the Seanad, I hope, before Easter. Members can inform local authority members, the General Council of County Councils and LAMA, that the House will take no longer than two weeks to pass the legislation, after which it will be sent to the President for signature.
Senators Lydon and Mooney called for a debate on the proposed enlargement of the EU. I will certainly allocate as much time as is required for this matter. The request is a most worthwhile one. Senator Mooney also called for a debate on regional development, particularly in the BMW region, and on the Government's regional strategy policy. This is a very worthwhile subject and I will allow time for it to be discussed.
Senator Farrell mentioned the importance of hill walking and tourism. I will raise this matter at the Joint Committee on Tourism, Sport and Recreation this morning, which will be attended by many of the top people involved in the tourism industry.
Mr. Cassidy: I have always facilitated the House and it is very unfair of the Senator, who knows very well I do everything possible to get whatever Minister is requested to come to the House to discuss a matter, to make such a comment. I will consider the matter and will come back to the House early next week, possibly on Wednesday's Order of Business.
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