Thursday, 8 March 2001
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, Social Welfare Bill, 2001 – Second Stage, with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed 15 minutes, and Senators may share time; No. 2, statements on Iraq to be taken from 4 p.m. to 5.30 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons and all other Senators not to exceed 15 minutes. Business will be interrupted from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
On the passage of the Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2001, in the Dáil this afternoon, I will ask the Seanad to agree without debate to an earlier signature motion. I hope this will be taken at 5.30 p.m.
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed as far as I am concerned. In recent times, I have been very critical of some Ministers who have come into the House with no intention of accepting amendments and steamrolling Bills through. Yesterday, it was very impressive that the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, listened very carefully to the debate and took on board amendments. It was one of the better debates and it did credit to the House.
I ask the Leader for a debate on Northern Ireland. We all send our good wishes to those engaged in the round table talks today. From the crisis last week, it is clear that certain areas along the Border are virtually lawless. From the continuing sectarian loyalist attacks, we see the urgency of having a police force in Northern Ireland, which can have the confidence of all the people there. If progress can be made today in pushing people towards acceptance of that, we may be in sight of a resolution. There is a danger that the British general election may make it impossible for progress to be made for a very long time. That is a situation everybody wishes to avoid. I send my good wishes and those of my party to those involved in the talks today. I ask the Leader for a debate on Northern Ireland in the next sitting week. It is long overdue and there are many things people would like to say on it.
Mr. O'Toole: I agree with the point about the Minister of State, Deputy Davern. The debate yesterday was handled very well, people's views were listened to and amendments were taken on board. It was a good working day from the Seanad's point of view.
On a technical point, I would not rule out the possibility of some changes being made to that Bill today in the Dáil, in which case we would need to change the Order of Business to do whatever is necessary at 5.30 p.m. If Report Stage needs to be taken again here, both that and the earlier signature motion should be taken at 5.30 p.m. Will the Leader please confirm this?
We have seen politics brought down too often by people rushing to take legal advice. We saw it again last weekend with one party, and with other parties at different times. The Minister for Education and Science is about to embark on a case concerning Jamie Sinnott, a child who has autism. He claims he is doing this on legal advice. It is time politicians realised that legal advice is part of the decision-making process but it should not be the only basis on which to make a decision. There are also political imperatives, social needs, constitutional rights and the needs of children. I plead with the House to indicate to the Minister in an all-party way that this is not an issue to make political capital on because it happens to all parties all the time that people slavishly follow legal advice when it is not the political thing to do. I am not clear whether we will meet next week. If not, we will not have time for a debate. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Education and Science to desist on this case. This is unnecessary and it reflects badly on a wealthy country when a family that has gone to such lengths to look after its child with autism should be faced with a Supreme Court challenge. It is completely wrong and we should oppose it on all sides of the House.
Mr. Costello: We agree with the Order of Business with one caveat. If the Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill comes back to this House with amendments, I presume we will have to debate it. Perhaps it would be better to agree to take the earlier signature motion, leaving open the possibility of some debate because if amendments come from the other House, this House should reserve its right to have some discussion on those amendments. We had a good discussion yesterday and I compliment the Minister on his willingness to take on board the amendments. The Labour group tabled a large number of amendments on which he was very considerate. Nevertheless, it is wrong that we should have to take all Stages of legislation on one day.
Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the teachers dispute and teaching profession? On the ASTI's call for industrial action on a wage increase, the Labour Court recommendation is due to be published tomorrow. The ASTI executive committee is due to meet on Saturday. If the recommendation is unacceptable, rolling regional  action is planned three days per week. Some have advised that there should be no debate, but the die will be cast this weekend. I ask the Leader of the House to agree a debate at the earliest opportunity.
Senator Manning raised the issue of Northern Ireland. It is crisis or crunch time. I wish the Taoiseach all the best in his talks with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the other leaders and groups in Northern Ireland in the next few days. I hope some accommodation will be reached before the delicate British general election period. Attention should be diverted from causes of division such as demilitarisation, policing and decommissioning to matters that unite such as ensuring foot and mouth disease does not spread further on the island. That could concentrate the energies of both traditions during the general election period.
Miss Quill: Today is International Women's Day on which I am sure every Member would like to greet the women of Ireland and the world. We express our appreciation for the great work done by women through the ages for the betterment of family and community life, the advancement of education and health care, the development of literature, art and music and in all the other areas where they have made enormous contributions. It is a sad fact that less than 15% of the membership of the combined Houses of this Oireachtas are women.
I wish to raise the issue of the number of women trapped in poverty. Older women and single parents, in particular, do not seem to be able to escape the poverty trap. At international level, a large number of women are sold into prostitution and slavery. The international community must confront this issue as a matter of urgency. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the issue to be debated in order to raise public consciousness?
Mr. Norris: I am glad to come in on the coat-tails of Senator Quill. National Women's Day is the issue I wish to raise. Last St. Brigid's Day we had a very useful debate on the question of a paid holiday for women. I have received much correspondence asking that we introduce a Bill in the Seanad providing for an annual paid public holiday for women, but that is not possible because we are not allowed to create a charge on the Exchequer through legislation in this House. To make some gesture on International Women's Day will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on women's issues? I disagree with Senator Quill. There is not a huge contribution by women in art, literature, architecture, music etc. The overwhelming contribution has been made by men because women have been sat on. It was only in the 20th century that women, with a few exceptions like Jane Austen, Mary Cassat and Sappho, were allowed to make a contribution. That is the real tragedy. Regarding slav ery and sexual exploitation, it is not only women who are affected, boys and men are also affected.
May we have a debate with the Minister for Education and Science on the matter of substandard accommodation in schools? This is very worrying. An inner city school is in a disastrous situation and may be closed down. I agree with Senator O'Toole on the question of Ministers taking advice. He is right that “advice” is only to be borne in mind, it does not overwhelm the decision-making process. The Brigid McCole case is a classic example.
Dr. M. Hayes: I wish to be associated with Senator Quill's remarks in relation to International Women's Day and her practical recognition of the role and contribution of women in society. I also support Senator Manning's request for a debate on Northern Ireland. This week's talks will either move matters forward or lead to a period of stasis. It would be timely and appropriate for the Seanad to debate the subject. I also support Senator O'Toole's request to the Minister for Education and Science and share his view on legal advice. While it should be listened to, it should not become the dominant factor in policy making. Parents coping with the appalling stresses of attention deficit syndrome should be given all the help they need. I hope the Minister will examine the matter in a more humanitarian and less legalistic framework.
Mr. O'Dowd: I ask for a debate on the high cost of car insurance, particularly for young people. Car insurance companies are discriminating based on where people live. It is very unfair that the rates charged are based on the county of abode.
I agree with Senator Quill on the need for a debate on women's issues. There is also a need for a debate on poverty and single parents. Will the Leader of the House bring to the attention of the Minister concerned the fact that many single women parents under the age of 23 years on returning to the workforce lose their rent allowance and medical cards whereas those over the age of 23 years do not? We must get rid of such unacceptable and unfair barriers if we want to remove people from the poverty trap and encourage them to return to work.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: I support Senator Manning's call for a debate on Northern Ireland. The news from the IRA on decommissioning is encouraging and the momentum should be maintained. I hope the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, will show flexibility in his talks with the Taoiseach. In recent weeks we were struck by how well people had united and worked together when threatened by foot and mouth disease. The common cause brought us all together.
I also agree with Senator Quill on the contribution made by women to the arts. I disagree with Senator Norris when he talks about their limited contribution. The one area where they  have made a major contribution, like their male counterparts, is Irish traditional music.
Ms Keogh: I wish to mark International Women's Day. It is a pity that, because of circumstances, many of the celebrations planned for today had to be cancelled. It is very important to value women's contribution to society. Senator Quill is correct, and I do not know what books Senator Norris has been reading. Women's role in the development of literature over the ages is easily seen and very easily read. This should not be a divisive issue between men and women. A great number of men value the role of women in society.
I agree with the other Senators who have asked the Minister for Education and Science not to listen to the hard-headed and perhaps hard-hearted lawyers but listen instead to his own political judgment in relation to the Sinnott case. The whole humanitarian view of that case should be uppermost.
Mr. Chambers: I support Senator Quill in her recognition of International Women's Day. A debate would be worthwhile on the contribution made by women to the development of the country, its life and family structures.
There is a new Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development with responsibility for rural development. It is important that we look at the whole aspect of Government policy in relation to rural proofing. We should take the opportunity to invite the Minister to the House to discuss rural development and rural proofing policies.
Mr. Burke: I support Senator O'Toole and others who have spoken about the Jamie Sinnott case in Cork. It is ludicrous to think that the Minister for Education and Science is taking this case to the Supreme Court. I ask that the Leader of the House convey to the Minister that it is the unanimous decision of Seanad Éireann that he should abide by the existing court decision and leave it at that.
Mr. Ryan: One of the most impressive things in Irish politics over the past few weeks has been the national solidarity that has been shown about the foot and mouth crisis. The exceptionally unpatriotic position of Ryanair in its refusal to offer refunds where events have been cancelled ought to be highlighted. Aer Lingus has shown solidarity with the country by deciding to refund fares without question, even when there is no cancellation. Ryanair is no longer a poor struggling airline. It is a rich, profitable and very successful airline and it could well afford to take whatever small loss would be involved. It is a dis graceful display by Ryanair and one that deserves to be commented on. I invite the Leader to ask the Minister for Public Enterprise to directly contact Ryanair and ask that the decision be reconsidered.
Ms Ormonde: I acknowledge International Women's Day. It would be a good idea to have a debate in the House, not on women's issues but rather on societal issues which affect men and women. We should acknowledge the role of women in this republic going back to the 1920s. It would be a worthwhile subject for debate. I object strongly to Senator Norris's request that the debate reflect women's issues. I would prefer to see a broader debate. Women have made a huge contribution to society.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I ask the Leader to provide time today to discuss a serious matter of national importance. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has abdicated his responsibility in north Kerry. A report in a recent issue of The Kerryman states clearly that Sinn Féin has taken on board a number of investigations in relation to larcenies in towns in north Kerry. As a result of the investigations, goods have been restored to the lawful owners. This is a very serious matter and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has very serious questions to answer. The Minister should give the House an explanation.
I support the request for time to recognise International Women's Day in this House. There are still inequalities within the system and this debate could be used as an opportunity to highlight those inequalities. A debate could also be used to highlight the serious situation that exists internationally in relation to the exploitation of women as bonded labour. International conventions are being contravened across the world.
Mr. Mooney: I am pleased there is consensus in the House in acknowledging the contribution of women. I heartily endorse Senator Ormonde's comments about the contribution women have been making since the foundation of the State. I take this opportunity to remind Members of the book Women in Parliament which Maedhbh McNamara and I wrote. The research undertaken for that book informed my own view. I do not think there should be another bland debate just to acknowledge the role of women. We should talk about the empowerment of women in society, in the institutions of this State where they are abysmally under-represented. I firmly believe that there should be a quota system operated by all political parties to ensure that women have access to the political system. This is a controversial view, but this view and others of a controversial nature should be debated. The debate should be framed in such a way that something positive will come of it and that all women who wish to be empowered and to be involved in the decision-making process would have the proac tive support of the political system rather than just us men saying how wonderful women are.
Mr. Coghlan: I support the request of my colleague, Senator Manning, for a debate on Northern Ireland. There is need for a greatly improved police force north of the Border. I support Senator Taylor-Quinn in her request for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to this House. A serious situation has arisen in the northern part of Kerry and that matter needs to be addressed. There is but one lawfully recognised police force in this State and the Minister must uphold this position.
Will the Leader announce the intended sitting arrangements for the next two weeks? I wish to refer to the ongoing serious situation of the sub-standard condition of Rathmore boys' school. When will the Minister attend to this?
Dr. Henry: It is good to hear Members so enthusiastic about International Women's Day and about getting more women involved in the political process. I ask the Leader to suggest to the Taoiseach that we in this House would like all future Taoisigh, when nominating their 11 Seanad Members, to nominate six women and five men as this would help restore the balance in this House. I am sure I have the support of all Members.
Mr. Bonner: I support Members in their call for a debate on Northern Ireland and I wish the Taoiseach and other participants well in today's talks. I recently saw the new sculpture at Strabane in recognition of the troubles, and thought it ironic when I was crossing the Border from there that the only security visible was that of the Garda and Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development officials. There was not a policeman or British soldier in sight.
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Taoiseach to come to the House to give an up-to-date report on the Finucane and Nelson cases, and the Robert Hamill case in which I have a special interest. The Taoiseach called for a judicial review of this matter and I would be obliged if the House could have the most up-to-date information on that case.
An Cathaoirleach: On the point raised by Senator O'Toole and Senator Costello about the Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill, 2001, which is before the Dáil today, under Standing Order 103 if the Bill is amended by the Dáil it must come back to the Seanad on Report Stage.
Mr. Cassidy: Senators Manning, O'Toole, Costello, Maurice Hayes, Ó Murchú, Coghlan and Bonner called for a debate on Northern Ireland. I wish the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, well in their talks with  the various northern party leaders over the coming days. I also welcome today's IRA statement that it has resumed contact with the de Chastelain international decommissioning body. It is not for want of effort that there is little movement in the North, considering the effort put in by the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister and all others involved.
I will pass the views of Senator O'Toole, Senator Ryan and other Senators to the relevant Ministers and especially the concern of Senator Ryan that Ryanair is charging for air fares where movement is not allowed due to the foot and mouth crisis. I will pass this concern on to the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, and ask her to contact Ryanair and use her powers to ensure action is taken. I will also ask her to congratulate Aer Lingus for playing its part, and I congratulate the public for their stance at this time. The loss and inconvenience suffered in these weeks is nothing to what would be suffered if foot and mouth disease reached the Republic. It is to the great credit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, the Government, the political parties and the vast majority of citizens who have all played a magnificent part in the effort to keep foot and mouth disease at bay.
I will pass the views of Senators O'Toole, Norris, Maurice Hayes, Keogh and Burke to the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, on the proposal in regard to the Supreme Court in the Sinnott case. I agree with Members that a humanitarian rather than a legalistic view is best. Senator Costello called for a debate on education and this will be held soon after the St. Patrick's Day recess.
Senators, Norris, Maurice Hayes, Ó Murchú, Keogh, Chambers, Taylor-Quinn, Mooney and Henry congratulated women on International Women's Day and I wish to be associated with those congratulations. We can be proud of the position of women in Irish politics, where the positions of President, Tánaiste, and Minister for Public Enterprise are held by very capable women.
In regard to the sentiments expressed by Senator Quill, I will allow for debate on that. I was pleased with the beautiful arrangement of music on “Open House” yesterday, and women are now playing a major role in the world of commerce, music, art and many other areas. The new release “Mother” was very timely, and I congratulate Senator Quill and all other Senators who spoke on the subject. I would like to mark International Women's Day on an annual basis in the House and to find ways of enhancing the major contribution made by women in so many areas.
Senator O'Dowd called for a debate on car insurance, particularly the high cost for young people, and I can leave time aside for this. Senator Chambers called for a debate on rural development policies. This and other issues can be dealt with in a day-long debate.
 I will pass the views of Senators Taylor-Quinn and Coghlan on the allegations surrounding larcenies in north Kerry to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Senator Coghlan's views on the sub-standard condition of Rathmore boys' school will also be passed on to the relevant Minister. He was obviously listening to the radio bright and early this morning.
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