Tuesday, 17 December 2002
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O'Rourke: The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion relating to the Bovine Diseases (Levies) Regulations, 2002, a measure referred to the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food which has completed its deliberations, without debate; No. 2, motion relating to the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997, (Amendment to Second Schedule) Order, 2002, providing for the insurance of objects from abroad due to be exhibited in the millennium wing of the National Gallery in January 2003; No. 3, motion relating to changing the name of the European Association of Programmes in Health Service Studies to the European Health Management Association; No. 4, Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill, 2002 – all Stages, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and all other Senators not to exceed six minutes and on which Members may share time; No. 5, National Development Finance Agency Bill, 2002 – all Stages, to conclude at 10 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and all other Senators not to exceed six minutes and on which Members may share time. Nos. 2 and 3 are also on the Order of Business for the Dáil today.
Mr. B. Hayes: The Order of Business as proposed by the Leader today is completely unacceptable. For any degree of parliamentary scrutiny, to suggest that we can take all Stages of two vitally important Bill through the House by 10 o'clock this evening is stretching the limitations of credibility just too far. The Leader has proposed to take Second Stage contributions from leading spokespersons in all groups for ten minutes on a vitally important Bill concerning domestic violence and ten minutes on the National Development Finance Agency Bill which, I understand, has a total of 23 sections. We are then expected to proceed immediately to Committee and Report Stages. My colleague, Senator Feighan, has already proposed 20 substantive amendments and it seems unlikely they will be reached. That is not the way to do business. The Leader is ramming through some very important legislation just because we are one week from Christmas.
If we have learnt anything from the Supreme Court decision in respect of the domestic violence legislation passed in 1996, it is that Bills should be considered line by line and word by word. I ask the Leader at this late stage to reconsider the order as proposed. On this side of the House, we want to do business in a serious way. The order, as proposed, does not take serious account of the contributions and amendments of my party colleagues and other Senators. I again ask the Leader to re-think the Order of Business.
Mr. Norris: I wish to propose a change in the Order of Business to take No. 20 first, namely a motion relating to licensing practices of the Dublin District Court system, especially in the light of the debate we had last week on alcohol consumption by young people. Although Dublin City Council and the Garda objected to the granting of an off-licence in respect of a shop in O'Connell Street, those objections were thrown out and I understand that Dublin City Council will not appeal that decision. This House ought to have an opportunity to express a view that this matter should be appealed, otherwise it will lead to terrible trouble in the city centre.
I also request a statement from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the issue raised on the “Today with Pat Kenny” radio programme last week in relation to a school teacher who was wrongly accused of sexual abuse of a mildly handicapped child. This has been going on for six years. The case was eventually thrown out following a unanimous decision by a jury, but the man was suspended from his job. On several occasions he was held overnight in a Garda station and when he was brought to court, the public had advance knowledge of his appearance there. He was spat upon, kicked, pushed, beaten and abused, but he was innocent. For six years his children could not have birthday parties because the mother knew none of the neighbours would attend in light of the fact that he had been accused and stigmatised as a child abuser.
We have had inquiries and tribunals about all kinds of issues, but it is only right that there should be an inquiry into this gross miscarriage of justice against a citizen of the State. We are entitled to know why this case was referred to a court by the Director of Public Prosecutions when there was apparently no significant evidence and certainly none that would stand up in court.
In recent weeks we have heard conflicting reports about the proposed abolition of the dual mandate by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. Some people say the Minister will proceed with the abolition, while others say he will not. There is much uncertainty about the matter, although according to The Irish Times today it looks as if it is going to be introduced forthwith.
I have a difficulty with the fact that the Minister can dictate, as he did yesterday, to Radio Kerry regarding his intentions for the dual mandate and wider local government reform. It was remiss him not to have informed the House, in the first instance, and, in particular, those Senators who hold seats on local authorities. Their views may differ from the Minister's proposals to abolish the dual mandate. Many reasonable people consider that local government reform goes much further than the abolition of the dual mandate. I would conditionally support such an abolition if it was accompanied by real reform of local government.
Mr. Leyden: I wish to raise the case of the Nigerian woman, Amina Lawal, who has been condemned to death by stoning for alleged adultery. I unreservedly condemn the proposed use of the death penalty in this particular case. I ask the Leader to bring our views to the attention of the Nigerian Ambassador to Ireland. We should seek a presidential pardon for this woman who has been harshly treated. I commend Amnesty International on its stand on this issue. Ms Amina Lawal has been treated despicably by the Nigerian authorities and unless we and many others intervene, she will be stoned to death. The House should condemn such a penalty, which is outrageous in the third millennium. I call on the President of Nigeria to grant a presidential pardon in this case. If, however, the Nigerian authorities carry out this penalty, we should withdraw all support for Nigeria and break off diplomatic relations. Stern action must be taken because we have historical links with Nigeria and have supported the Nigerian Government in the past.
Mr. McHugh: I wish to raise the matter of the consultancy fees for feasibility studies that have been commissioned by the Government. Yesterday, following a meeting with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, in Donegal, it came to light that many projects will not be implemented over the next two or three years. As everyone is aware, new feasibility studies will have to be commissioned after that period. A debate is needed on the issues of value for money and the basis on which projects are selected. Government expenditure must become more efficient because a great deal of money is being wasted.
The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, has undertaken to contact the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and his Department regarding the salvaging of the Downings Harbour development project in Donegal which has been halted. As it is imperative this project should go ahead, will the Leader also communicate to the Minister the support of this House for that project?
Will the Leader introduce legislation on what is rather pompously known as corporate government executive pay? It would be particularly appropriate if she addressed herself to this matter on which she has great expertise. The Leader was instrumental in the privatisation of Eircom and, to her great credit, she prevented executives of that company, as she announced in this House she would, from stealing options from the Irish people. The problem is, however, that directors, such as those who received €3.8 million in the last day or two, are allowed to run riot in paying themselves vast sums of money.
Mr. Ross: Would those in this House who are free marketeers, that is the vast majority of us, consider this an appropriate occasion to interfere in the free market, thus preventing such people from robbing small shareholders of their money?
Mr. Finucane: Discussions regarding the future of fisheries are ongoing in Brussels. The review of the Common Fisheries Policy will be regarded, if it goes wrong, as a doomsday scenario for the fishing industry. I am concerned about the retention of the Irish Box, the justifications for which have been well expounded. Various discussions are ongoing between the Spanish and Irish fisheries Ministers with regard to a phased reduction of the Irish Box. If the Government has received legal advice to the effect – and if it has never been published, I can understand why – that we have a legitimate claim to the current status quo in the Irish Box, it would be tantamount to disaster to concede on this vital aspect in the fisheries discussions which are taking place.
I welcome the Government's introduction of the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill, 2002 which addresses the issues raised by the Supreme Court. It is important that this timely legislation should not be rushed through the Oireachtas.
Mr. Kenneally: Members will agree we should send our congratulations to the ESB which celebrates its 75th anniversary today. The company has served the country well and we would not be able to operate today without it. There have been difficulties with the organisation from time to time, but by and large it has done a marvellous job. ESB staff have gone abroad to help other countries which have encountered difficulties and it would be appropriate to offer them our congratulations on a job well done over the past 75 years.
Mr. Cummins: Under the national spatial strategy Waterford is designated a gateway city and the importance of infrastructure and access has been deemed to be a very important part of that strategy. Given that the lone carrier at Waterford regional airport has decided to pull out from the airport at the end of January, and the consequent loss for the region, I ask the Minister for Transport to come to this House so that we can find out what finance will be made available to Waterford regional airport and why a PSO licence has not been granted to the airport, as has been the case in other regional airports. All we want is fair play in the region, which we are certainly not getting. I ask the Minister to come to this House to explain the position in regard to Waterford regional airport.
Ms Terry: I ask the Leader of the House to raise with the Minister for Education and Science an issue which has been causing great concern in recent days, that is, the condemning of the building at Coláiste Mhuire in Parnell Square. Parents and teachers received letters in recent days notifying them that the building is unfit for habitation or use and that when the school year begins after Christmas students will not be allowed in. It is extremely serious for all the students, particularly those doing exams, that this should happen suddenly as they were promised by the Taoiseach a couple of years ago that they would get a replacement school.
Mr. U. Burke: I ask the Leader of the House to impress on the Minister for Education and Science the urgency to call together immediately the ASTI and the school managerial bodies, so that we will not go in to 2003 with a renewed dispute on supervision and substitution in second level schools. Through the insistence and stubbornness of the previous Minister, this dispute has already cost €27 million which would have been a major bonus had it been available to deliver services at any level in education. It is essential that the Minister should take a hands-on approach in this regard to bring together the various parties to resolve the very minor issues, caused by misinterpretation or whatever, which are still outstanding. It is essential that this matter is resolved urgently.
Mr. Bannon: I support the sentiments expressed by my colleagues in regard to the abolition of the dual mandate. Reform of local authorities is a very pressing and important issue for local authorities throughout the country. It is the first time in several years that local authorities have not been allocated their full budget, which means the estimates meetings will not be held until January or February. This will delay the work programme for the following year in those areas.
Mr. Bannon: Will the Leader invite the Minister for Transport to the House to explain why Irish Rail is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum ferrying train drivers by taxi from Dublin to Longford to drive trains back to Dublin each day? It is ridiculous that such bad management is being practised and an explanation must be given.
Mr. Browne: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport to come before the House to make a statement about the legislative programme for the forthcoming year? While he has been active in announcing plans for next year, I am concerned that some of them will not happen. It has been proposed that a national driver testing agency be established. A decision to reduce the number of learner drivers on the roads would have severe implications.
On the previous occasion I raised the issue of prisoner releases under the Good Friday Agreement on the Order of Business, I called for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make a statement on the matter in the House. I am interested in finding out how prisoners have been released and whether any of them have been involved in criminal activity since their release. The Leader did not respond to my request when last I made it.
Mr. J. Phelan: I am not talking about the dual mandate. An issue that arose at the council meeting is pertinent to the Seanad and I would like to mention it in the presence of the Leader. I am concerned about the standard of accommodation available to middle-aged and elderly single men. Many such people in Kilkenny and other parts of the country live in prefabs, which is completely unacceptable.
Mr. J. Phelan: The facilities of those who lived in mud cabins in the Middle Ages were almost better than the accommodation of those to whom I refer, who do not even have basic washing facilities. The type of accommodation in which they find themselves is unacceptable.
Ms O'Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes raised his objections to today's Order of Business. Without discussing the matter at great length, I should point out that I asked that the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill, 2002, should be introduced in the House and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform kindly agreed. If Senators pass the Bill this evening it is hoped the Dáil will pass it tomorrow, its final sitting day before Christmas. I put it to the House that the Bill is needed urgently because, if it is not put in place, suitable provisions will not be made until the end of January. It is likely that many sad cases of domestic violence will not be covered by legislation if we refuse to pass the Bill before Christmas. I agree that it is not proper that Bills are rushed and we have tried not to do so in this Seanad up to now, but the Bill I have mentioned, of all Bills—
Ms O'Rourke: The Senator mentioned both Bills. I am not prepared to let violence happen to women and know that I was Leader of a House which could have passed a Bill which would have helped but did not. I note the objections regarding the second Bill. The Dáil asked us to take all Stages of it and I agreed on behalf of my party, but the matter is always open and the Opposition has a right to vote on it.
Senator Norris wants No.12, motion No. 20, to be debated in the House. I heard the programme which featured the teacher wrongly accused of sexual abuse who is now proved innocent. His wife spoke on the radio and told her story very movingly. Her children cannot leave the house. Although abuse is awful, it must also be awful to proved innocent and still be suffering. The DPP is independent. I do not know why he referred it to the courts but that is his business.
Ms O'Rourke: Senator McCarthy objected to the Order of Business and then spoke about the dual mandate. He said that many reforms were required in local authorities before we considered that one.
Senator Leyden raised the case of the Nigerian woman, Amina Lawal, who has been sentenced to death by stoning. I thank the Senator for raising this very important human rights issue, a matter we discuss all of the time. Ms Lawal became pregnant, having been divorced, and is to be stoned to death. It is appalling and I will write to the Nigerian ambassador on behalf of the House.
Ms O'Rourke: On a general principle Senator McHugh approves of the abolition of the dual mandate. It is interesting to hear both points of view. The National Development Finance Agency Bill would be an appropriate vehicle to raise the subject of the Downings project in Donegal. Senator McHugh mentioned the Minister, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, and the value for money on projects which require a new feasibility project three years later.
Senator Ross supported Senator Leyden on the matter of the Nigerian woman and has given me a good idea, a Private Member's Bill. I will work with him on that. On his other point, legislation is being brought in the UK, in January or February, which is concerned with preventing inordinate payments to executives and I would be glad to work on it.
Senator Finucane mentioned the Irish Box. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is well aware of the difficulties. We sent word to him last week. He is working on behalf of the nation and I wish him success.
Senator Tuffy is opposed to the abolition of the dual mandate and the rushed Order of Business. Senator Kenneally mentioned that today is the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the ESB. I will be glad to send a letter from the Seanad because it appears to have the approval of the whole House.
Senator Cummins asked why Waterford Airport is not getting the money for PSO routes. It is because Irish taxpayers pay for them but we have to get permission from Europe to provide them. They are only from outlying areas to the capital city of the country and do not operate from a regional airport to destinations outside the country. There has not been a consistent Waterford to Dublin route. The flights were going to various parts of the UK and perhaps further.
Ms O'Rourke: The reason they do not is that there is no permission from Europe, although it is our money which provides the subsidy. Knock, Galway, Sligo, Donegal and Kerry have these routes to the capital city. The other airports do not.
Ms O'Rourke: Senator Terry mentioned the €30 million needed for Coláiste Mhuire. I heard the debate on the radio on this matter. I do not wish to dictate to the Senator, but it would be ideal for the Adjournment because she could ask a Minister to sort out the problem. For the sake of the children attending the school, I hope this can be achieved.
Senator Ulick Burke asked about the deadlock between the Minister for Education and Science and the ASTI over supervision and substitution. I inquired about this myself out of interest – once a teacher, always a teacher. I understand that the impasse concerns the interpretation of “on call”– on call for a limited period or on call constantly. The TUI managed to resolve this and we should look to how the system is working in the community colleges and the community schools in which TUI members work. I agree with the Senator that it should be settled quickly. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will be here at some time today and the Senator may address his other point to him then.
Senator Bannon mentioned the ferrying of CIE drivers by taxi from Dublin to Longford. It would be useful to mention this to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, on the Adjournment because it is a discrete issue. Senator Browne also offered his congratulations to the ESB and wondered when something will be done about establishing a national driver testing agency. I regret that I did not reply to the Senator last week about the release of prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement. I do not know what kind of criminal background these people have but the release of prisoners was covered by legislation under the Agreement which must have been passed by this House.
Senator Phelan asked about elderly single men living in prefabs. This was also covered on a particular programme on which I appeared. There appears to be a growing number of these men, who are very far down on local authority housing lists due to their single status. That is a matter for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and also for the local authorities themselves, who have a certain freedom as long as they allocate so many houses to the elderly, so many to families and so on.
Mr. B. Hayes: On a point of order, how can people frame Committee and Report Stage amendments to a Bill if they have not heard the Minister's Second Stage response? I am referring specifically to the taking this evening of all Stages of the National Development Finance Agency Bill, 2002.
Mr. B. Hayes: Normally, the Minister replies at the end of Second Stage. It is as a result of that reply that colleagues put down amendments. Owing to this evening's arrangements it will be virtually impossible to put down amendments in response to the Minister. This is a very serious development.
Ms O'Rourke: I wish to be helpful on this matter and I see that the debate is to take place from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. We can sit later than 10 p.m. if necessary and we can break for half an hour between Stages to prepare amendments.
Mr. B. Hayes: I accept the magnanimous gesture from the Leader. I raise the issue because it is only fair to all sides that time is allowed to resubmit amendments on Report Stage if they are not accepted by the Minister.
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