Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business for today is No. 1, report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, to be taken without debate; No. 2, the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill, 2000 – Report Stage; No. 3, Sex Offenders Bill, 2000 – Second Stage, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes and of all other Senators not to exceed 15 minutes. No. 3 will not to be taken earlier than 3.30 p.m.
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed as far as I am concerned. Does the Leader know when the promised reports from the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General into the Arms Trial papers and other matters will be completed? We were told three weeks ago that it would be ready in two weeks. Will the Leader make inquiries on this and report back to the House tomorrow morning on the Order of Business, and will he arrange a debate on those reports when they are published?
As we are coming into exam time, will it be possible to have a debate on the wider questions of education but especially the exam system? It now looks as if there are alternative ideas on the reform or modification of the leaving certificate. There are wide issues that many people in the House would like to address. I know the Leader has many other items of legislation but there has long been a call for a wide-ranging debate on education.
Dr. Henry: It is a matter for the judgment of Solomon there – in fact for one and a half times Solomon. The Order of Business is agreeable to us also. I have asked the Leader of the House before if we could have a debate on the health services, but with the Minister for Finance here, not the Minister for Health and Children. I have a fair idea of the Minister for Health and Children's plans regarding the health services but it is the Minister for Finance's plans that appear to be important. It is more urgent than ever after Professor Miriam Wiley's speech today that we try to make a decision as to the future of the health  service and it is obviously the Department of Finance who are making the plans.
Mr. Costello: I agree with Senator Henry regarding a debate on the health services. Perhaps the Leader of the House might facilitate us with such a debate, which for some time has been called for. The latest report suggests that we need 5,000 new hospital beds. There are indications coming from Britain that 20,000 nurses are required and they will be trawling everywhere for them, and one cannot operate beds unless there are nurses. There is a huge crisis in the health service that is virtually on the radio or in media publications every day of the week.
Let us have a full-scale debate on this. I agree with Senator Henry that the Minister for Finance is the appropriate Minister to bring in here at this point as it seems clear that the Minister for Health is anxious to get some action on the subject but it does not seem nearly as clear that the Minister for Finance is prepared to make the money available.
The Minister for Defence came into this House last Thursday in response to my motion on the Adjournment regarding the sale of Clancy Barracks. It transpires following a special meeting of Dublin City Council yesterday morning that the Minister was not quite correct with the information he gave us in his very detailed reply.
Mr. Costello: The record of the House states something which is misleading when compared with the documents and letters that were supplied to us in Dublin Corporation yesterday. Will the Leader of the House bring this to the attention of the Minister for Defence so that he can set the record straight regarding the corporation's role in the purchase of Clancy Barracks? They are interested in purchasing it for social housing which is much needed.
Mr. Dardis: I agree that it would be useful to have the Minister for Finance in the House, particularly so that the House can congratulate him on the results of the report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This points to the success of budgetary policy and counters the criticisms made by the European Commission and the European Council regarding the conduct of budgetary policy. The report points to sustained growth and gives no indication that the economy will overheat. It emphasises that with our success comes attendant problems, including infrastructure problems.  These too can be debated and I am sure the Minister would welcome a debate on the matter.
Mr. Coogan: I concur with Senator Dardis's comments on the OECD report. While it praises the provisions introduced by this Government, it also notes the danger of inflation. That needs to be taken into account. The report covers a substantial number of areas, one of which, subsidised employment and FÁS schemes in particular, was examined in great detail. At a time when certain industries, including the tourism, hotel and restaurant sectors are suffering from staff shortages, the the OECD report and subsidised employment schemes are worthy of debate.
The very serious problems facing young people also deserve a debate. A recent report indicated that there is a lack of facilities for young people, a strong likelihood of an exodus from the countryside into the cities and a possibility of an increase in suicide rates and all the attendant problems of that.
Ms Ormonde: I support Senator Manning's call for a debate on the exam structures now that the leaving certificate and junior certificate examinations are approaching. I alert the Minister to the fact that in the past week third level colleges have been sending out notices of rejection to students taking the leaving certificate. I call on them to refrain from this very unfortunate practice coming up to the leaving certificate, particularly in relation to students who have applied for courses outside the CAO system. I ask that this issue be incorporated into the debate.
Mr. Quinn: On a recent visit to Áras an Uachtaráin I discovered that its address is Chesterfield Avenue. This House should ask the Leader to approach the Office of Public Works requesting that the name be changed to William J. Clinton Avenue, preferably this week during the former President's visit.
Mr. Quinn: Lord Chesterfield was perhaps a worthy individual in the 17th century or 18th century. In the 21st century we should honour Mr. Clinton. I understand that the procedure requires that residents of a street agree to the change unanimously or with a two-thirds majority. Chesterfield Avenue contains only two residences, that of the President and that of the Ambassador of the United States. Lord Chesterfield will turn in his grave at the change, but it would recognise the commitment, dedication and enthusiasm shown to Ireland by William J. Clinton.
Mr. Callanan: I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, my concerns regarding the objection raised by Dúchas to the plans by the Office of Public Works to make the facilities  at Áras an Uachtaráin more accessible to people in wheelchairs. The objection by Dúchas is fundamentally flawed and is a matter of grave concern. It is wrong to make people in wheelchairs third class citizens.
An Cathaoirleach: While the matter raised by Senator Callanan is important, it is not relevant to the Order of Business. Senators should be disabused of the idea that the Order of Business is a free for all during which any matter can be raised.
Mr. Norris: I wonder why my contributions are almost invariably prefaced by kind warnings from the Cathaoirleach. It is my nature to be helpful. On a matter directly related to the Order of Business, I point out to those, including Senator Dardis, who have called for a debate on the OECD report and its commendatory elements regarding the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, that No. 20 on the Order Paper in the names of Senators Ross, O'Toole and myself is appropriate. The motion states:
That Seanad Éireann fully supports the decision of the Minister for Finance to stand up to the European Union Commission and the European Union Finance Ministers in their efforts to reprimand the Irish Government for its economic policy.
I am devastated to learn that Senator Quinn is unaware of the illustrious career of Lord Chesterfield. I do not need to defend him. If I were President Clinton I would not be flattered by having a back lane in the Phoenix Park named after me. It smacks of the proceedings which we had for years in Dublin Corporation of renaming the worst blocks of flats after the 1916 leaders—
Can we have a debate on the activities of local authorities in pursuing, and persecuting, some of their tenants who have fallen behind with mortgage repayments and are not protected by mortgage protection policies? It is quite extraordinary that until recent weeks some authorities have been pursuing people and securing eviction notices. I thought “eviction” was a dirty word in this Republic. It is something on which this House, which has so many members of local authorities, could have a useful and well-informed debate.
Miss Quill: I support the call for a debate on education. We need a day-long debate on two highly important reports that have issued in recent months. One is the highly respected and significant Cromien report advocating far reaching and fundamental changes in the Department  of Education and Science. This House should seek to galvanise public support for the recommendations of that report. Debating it will heighten public opinion and create awareness.
There is an imminent report from the NCCA, which I believe was leaked this morning, recommending changes in the structure and ambit of the leaving certificate. We should debate that report with a view to expediting badly needed changes. There are a number of students across the country who are exhausted from study. Many of the skills which will be examined in the forthcoming examinations belong more properly to the 19th century. Having an all-day debate on those reports would accelerate the badly needed reforms which are now long overdue.
Mrs. Ridge: I support the call to have the Minister of Finance, Deputy McCreevy, come into this House. He is very adept at telling us how he is delivering the goods. I would like to have him tell us how he will deliver the beds.
The Garda sergeants and inspectors – of whom I am proud to be a nominee to this House – expressed a concern at the lack of Garda numbers at their annual conference last evening. The Minister defended this by giving facts and figures about money. There are fewer gardaí on the streets now that there were in 1975. The vicious and violent outbreaks of crime, which are part of everyday life in this city, will continue as long as that is the case. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come into this House and tell us what he plans to do? He claimed to be the man who would deliver us, and I am loath to mention this term, zero tolerance. The people of Dublin have reached a zero tolerance level with the Minister because of the prevalence of anti-social activities. I hope the Leader will promise that the Minister will come to this House and tell us when he will give us some relief from this distress.
Mr. Lanigan: For a number of months I have been asking for a debate on the situation in Palestine and I reiterate that we have been promised such a debate. There has been an escalation of violence in the area over recent weeks about  which we all must be very concerned. On the one hand Palestinians have been trying to hold on to the little they have and the response of the Israelis has been to send F16 bombers to take out various places. Today we have an ideal opportunity for a reasoned debate. It must be a reasoned debate because we do not want to see any further escalation of violence. We want to see the Palestinians get what they justly want and we want the Israelis to have a state of their own.
In the context of the publication of the Mitchell report over the past couple of days, there is meat in this demand for a debate on this issue. The Palestinians have suffered so much since 1948, and before then, that it is about time that we in this House again debated their plight. There might be people in this House who would ask why we should debate the Palestinian situation when there are no beds in some of our hospitals. The Palestinians have an affinity with us and they are very close to us, and we must, in all fairness, discuss the matter. I agree with you, a Chathaoirligh, that I have spoken on this too long and too often and I apologise for doing so, but it is important that we at least debate the situation in the Middle East as a matter of extreme urgency.
Mr. Coghlan: Surely one of the greatest issues facing society today concerns the total lack of facilities for rural youth, and consequently the growing issue of isolation and, sadly, the increasing number of suicides in rural areas. Senator Coogan already touched on this. I want to commend to the House a Kerry work entitled “In from the Cold – Towards a Strategy for Rural Youth Work”, which is being launched in Dublin today by a Minister. Perhaps we could have a debate on the entirety of that subject matter. I also support the call of Senator Coogan and others to the Leader to kindly arrange a debate soon on the recently published OECD report.
Mr. L. Fitzgerald: I support the call for a debate on education, specifically the examination system. It is vitally important at least to conduct an annual review of the State examination system as a priority for our students.
I call on the Leader, on behalf of all Members of the Seanad, particularly Senator Norris, to make immediate representations to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the EU to withhold forthwith all assistance to Danish farmers until they agree to grow tulips.
I also support the call by several Senators in the past for a debate on motor insurance for young drivers. It is essential that there is a debate in the House on this issue at an early date. Recently we have seen a report which suggested that, because car insurance is too expensive for young drivers, they are now buying motorbikes  and this could prove fatal in some cases. I urge the Leader of the House to provide for a debate on this issue soon.
Mr. Glennon: I join Senator Norris in calling for a debate, in the presence of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, on the nationwide administration of the SDA loan system. It is not so long ago since the scandal of over-payments right throughout that system in almost every county. Mortgage protection, which is such a basic part of any mortgage arrangement, has not been fully implemented by the local authorities and the consequent hardship is visited upon some of the more vulnerable elements of our society. Senator Norris mentioned the word “eviction”, a very emotive word in Irish history. The thought of a local authority evicting tenants, or rather mortgagors of a property, on foot of non-payment of loans, particularly at the penal rates currently being charged, is something we could do without. It is timely that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government should come to the House to debate the matter.
I wish to draw to the attention of the House the report published today from the Environmental Protection Agency on the quality of bathing water around the coast. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to come to the House to debate the matter. It is a source of some pride to Ireland that we are fourth in the European league of compliance with EU standards. Unfortunately, there are 25 beaches nationwide which do not reach the required standards, and 16 of those are in the greater Dublin area; seven of those 16 are in north County Dublin. These beaches are a natural asset enjoyed by many thousands of the population of that area. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this important topic.
Mr. O'Dowd: I support the calls for a debate on the health services and ask that a core part of the debate should be concerned with the cancellation of operations for people on the public waiting lists. I know of a case where a person was given a written date and time for a major cardiac life saving operation. The patient was brought by ambulance to a Dublin hospital from the local hospital on the specified date. On arrival in Dublin that person was sent home because the operation had been cancelled. That is unacceptable, cruel and is unforgivable in this day and age. We must show humanity, care and concern for all ill people and particularly those on the public waiting lists for serious operations.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: The welcome extended in recent days to Mr. Bill Clinton, the former President of the United States, is quite extraordinary and unique. It is an indication of the place he occupies in the affections of the Irish people. There is a palpable appreciation for all he achieved in the Northern Ireland peace process.  It would not have happened but for him. It behoves this House to acknowledge that appreciation on behalf of the nation. I fully support Senator Quinn's suggestion. It would be generous hearted to do it in the manner he said. A symbolic area, close to Áras an Uachtarán, could be chosen.
Mr. Mooney: Several Senators have called for a debate on the recent OECD report and I urge the Leader to give that request favourable consideration. The media highlighted, as the media tend to do, the negatives rather than the positives in that report. I am concerned that in the absence of a debate, there would be a widespread and growing perception that there is something inherently wrong, from an economic point of view, with the continuance of the employment schemes.
I come from a part of the country where there are no other alternatives, where there are no training schemes and even if there are training schemes, there are no jobs within travelling distance. There is no public transport and taxis are expensive. Many of my colleagues from rural areas will testify to that reality. Employment schemes are a vital part of the rural fabric. Until there is an example of the Celtic tiger hitting certain parts of the country, it is important that these schemes continue in their present form.
I hope that the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, will address what has been a controversy over the last number of months, the plans to implement a reduction in the amount of time available on these schemes. The timespan between ending participation in one scheme to commencement in another is causing a great deal of concern in rural areas. I hope the matter can be addressed in that context. I strongly urge the Leader to arrange a debate as a matter of urgency on the OECD report and all its ramifications but specifically in the context of the issues highlighted, the social employment schemes.
Mr. Cassidy: I can accede to Senator Manning's request for an update to the House on the progress on the investigations being carried out by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Attorney General's office regarding the papers on the Arms Trial. Senators Manning, Ormonde and Quill called for an all-day debate on education, particularly on the whole new education policy for the future. I can certainly allow time for this matter.
Senators Henry, Costello, Norris, Fitzgerald, O'Dowd and Mooney called for a debate on the health services. Given that tens of thousands of people are not emigrating each year and that tens of thousands are returning to work in Ireland, this is creating a challenge for the Government in regard to services. Last year in excess of 70,000 more patients were attended to compared to 1996. However, this could not happen at a better  time as there is much buoyancy in the economy. I shall discuss with the leaders how we can facilitate the request from all sides of the House for a debate on the Government's policy on health services. We are all here long enough to know that finance for all Departments has to come through the Department of Finance. When times were more difficult, going to the Department of Finance seeking funding for one or other requirement was extremely difficult. However, the single biggest issue facing the Government is the challenge of the health services. I shall certainly arrange to have the longest possible period made available to Members who wish to debate the matter.
It is heartening to see the OECD report published yesterday. I want to be associated with the congratulatory messages of the deputy leader to the Minister for Finance in regard to matters contained in that report. I shall also have time allocated for this matter to be debated in the House. Senator Coogan asked for a debate on the OECD report. We can certainly have that debate.
I shall convey Senator Costello's views to the Minister for Defence. Senators Quinn and Ó Murchú made certain proposals in regard to former President Clinton's contribution to the Good Friday Agreement and to peace in Ireland in general and to assisting our Government in whatever way he could during his presidency. Ireland has had no greater friend as President of the United States of America than former President Bill Clinton. I understand the Taoiseach will make an announcement tonight on how he should be honoured. I know of one or two other major projects that various corporations and friends of Ireland want to have happen here so that he will be remembered for all time for his wonderful contribution. We appreciate everything he has done for us here in Ireland.
I shall convey Senator Callanan's views to the Minister in charge of the Office of Public Works. Senator Norris asked for a debate on item 22, motion No. 20. I have no difficulty in allowing time for such a debate. Senators Norris and Glennon called for a debate on mortage protection policies. Senator Glennon asked about local authority loans and stated people on medium to low incomes who have to avail of them should be protected. I can have time allocated for such a debate.
Senator Ridge, who is on the Labour Panel correctly raised justice matters. There have been many achievements under the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform since 1997. I have no difficulty having him come to this House to discuss the various changes he has made and the future policy of the Government. He will listen to the views of Senators who wish to make points. A significant amount of legislation has come before us since 1997 and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has had more Bills than any other Department.
Senator Lanigan called for an urgent debate on the Middle East. I have given this careful con sideration and with the agreement of the Whips and the Leaders will propose to the House tomorrow morning that time be made available at the end of business tomorrow evening to facilitate the Senator's request.
Senator Coghlan called for a debate on the lack of facilities in rural areas. This is exacerbated by more people leaving Dublin and moving to places like the midlands where facilities are not available. I can have time allowed for this debate. Related to this, I note the launch today by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of a magazine aimed at young people in Kerry. This is very worthwhile. I have noted Senator Fitzgerald's comments.
Senator Burke called for a debate on the motor insurance industry. I have already given a commitment to the House that time will be given to debate this subject. Senator Glennon called for a debate on the report published today from the Environmental Protection Agency on the quality of bathing water around the coast. I can have time allowed for this also.
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