Tuesday, 11 February 2003
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O'Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 2, Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Bill 2002 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to conclude at 5 p.m.; and No. 3, Opticians (Amendment) Bill 2002 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed 10 minutes and on which Senators may share time. Business is to conclude at 8.30 p.m.
Mr. B. Hayes: I am being mischievous. Five years ago the Government, with support from other parties, supported the establishment of drugs task forces in Dublin, Cork and other urban areas. The then Minister of State, Chris Flood, was solely responsible for the issue of drugs during the lifetime of the previous Government. The current Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, and colleagues from two other Departments are now responsible for the issue, which is not good enough. There is growing evidence of crack cocaine on the streets of Dublin and the supply of drugs in this city is as bad as ever. I have spoken to many voluntary drugs treatment organisations in the capital and have been informed that there have been significant cutbacks in the level of funding they can obtain from their task forces. Will the Leader permit a full debate on drugs policy in the next week or two? Such a debate could include the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is only right that we should review the progress – or lack of it – in recent years.
Does the Government have any proposals to introduce a consolidated Bill in respect of the declarations Members of the Oireachtas make to the Public Offices Commission? If one is a member of a local authority and a Member of this House, one must make four returns – two to the local authority and two to the Public Offices Commission. This is ludicrous. There should be one return and one consolidated Bill should suffice.
Mr. O'Toole: The Senator is quite right. We thought the Freedom of Information Act was overly progressive in its own way, but we will now be obliged to change it. It is always a good indication that there is no sign of an election when Fine Gael get both matters on the Adjournment.
Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes and is known as a day for miracles. Yesterday, the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, announced he was finally going to move on the question of the Shannon river council.
Mr. O'Toole: Part of the new partnership agreement on sustaining progress states, “The successful river basin strategy will be extended by promoting and assisting the establishment of integrated local authorities led river basin management projects”. I hope the House takes due note of this as it is a major step forward.
The new partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, will be published today or tomorrow. It should be debated in the House while the different pillars are considering it. The House has discussed the issue of housing on many occasions and this is included in the agreement. The views of Members should be clearly articulated on these issues. I heard a clear lack of understanding on the issue of affordable housing being aired on television last night. This is just one of a wide variety of issues and outstanding matters that could be dealt with. I ask that this matter be discussed during Government time next week.
People are continually asking why matters of this nature are not discussed in the House. The main reason for this is that people do not get involved at any stage. I have said before that committees of the Houses should receive reports on such negotiations. The Oireachtas should articulate a view before any decision is taken by the four pillars.
Mr. McCarthy: I wish to raise an issue to which I have referred on previous occasions, namely, the role of An Taisce in regard to planning permissions. Cork County Council recently granted permission to the most senior civil servant in the Department of the Environment and Local Government, the Secretary General, to build a cottage on Sherkin Island overlooking the ocean and An Taisce has lodged an appeal in respect of this decision.
The role played by An Taisce in relation to planning permission affects one-off rural housing developments, in particular, and also young people living in rural constituencies. I accept that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government came before the House recently, but he should be invited here again to discuss the role of An Taisce in relation to one-off housing developments in rural areas.
Mr. Leyden: I ask the Leader to invite the Minster for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to come before the House to outline his policy on the future of An Post, particularly the downgrading of local post offices to be operated on an agency basis and the proposed provision of letterboxes at the end of laneways – which would be detrimental to rural areas – and to allay fears that the five day delivery service will be reduced to a three day service. I will give an example of where this has occurred. The Cathaoirleach comes from a rural constituency and he will appreciate the impact of this development.
Mr. Leyden: The village of Four Roads in County Roscommon has lost its post office, which has been downgraded to be run on an agency basis. This is a major blow to a rural area that has been reclassified as a CLÁR area by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cúiv.
Ms Terry: I ask the Leader to again invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come before the House to listen to a debate on the ongoing level of crime on our streets. I raise this issue today following an interview on the Marian Finucane show this morning, which some Members may have heard. If they did, I expect that – as in my case – it brought tears to their eyes to listen to that poor man speak about his son who was viciously attacked in Cork nearly 12 months ago and who is still alive but unable to function. This type of crime is happening far too often on our streets and the Garda Síochána does not have the necessary resources to tackle it. I ask the Leader to request the Minister to come before the House to engage in a debate on this matter because the concerns expressed about it appear to be falling on deaf ears. We want to impress upon him again the seriousness of this problem.
Ms Ormonde: I support the call for a debate on the role of An Taisce. I would also like the House to debate the role of An Bord Pleanála and that of the NRA and the need to revisit the legislation on planning and development that was introduced in 2001. There are many areas in this regard that need to be clarified. People are questioning how the legislation is operating. Will the Leader ask the Minister to examine the legislation in the light of the problems that have arisen in the past two years and to clarify matters relating to it? It is time we revisited this matter.
Mr. Norris: Will the Leader give the House some reassurance that we will consider amending the equality legislation in light of the information that has emerged today about the exploitation of people, particularly from the Philippines? A woman was interviewed earlier and the position she outlined was appalling. It emerges that when the legislation went through the two Houses, we excluded from its provisions domestic service within a private residence. These people, often vulnerable women far away from home, have their visas entrusted to their employers so that they cannot really leave their employment. This woman was thrown out on the side of road, which was simply appalling. She was also swindled out of her bonus and so on. If we are a decent civilised country, we need to address this matter. This is something we did not envisage when the legislation went through the Houses and we should amend it. A slight amendment would remedy this situation.
While the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is in the House, I would be happy to discuss crime levels with him. However, I can say exactly what is likely to emerge from the tragic case cited. The eight young men who attacked this youth were out of their skulls on drink and it was the result of a combination of certain drinks, such as Red Bull, Smirnoff Ice and others. We know this perfectly well because the analysis has already been done. I am not familiar with the case but I would take a bet with anyone that that would be what would emerge.
I support the call for a debate on the ethics commission. It is complete and utter nonsense and a whitewash. It is cosmetic and means nothing. No one who swindles or takes bribes will state on a declaration of ethics that he or she received €17,000 from a captain of industry. It is rubbish and wastes the time of decent people like us who must fill out these declarations in triplicate, register them and have them notarised, which costs about €10 or €15. When I applied to be reimbursed, the application was returned. If our time is to be wasted, we should at least be paid for it.
I also welcome and join in calls for a debate on the role of An Taisce. This time, I hope we all tell the truth because it is much simpler, neater and cleaner. The truth is that, although An Taisce has not been great at manipulating its public image and has made several mistakes, in Leitrim, for example, where it was said it opposed the majority of planning permissions, there were 9,000 applications and the number of objections was in single figures.
Mr. Norris: However, I would like to put it on record. I wish to comment on something said by Senator McCarthy, with whom I normally agree. He complained that a senior civil servant in the Department of the Environment and Local Government had to undergo the same process as everyone else. Of course he did.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: I support Senator McCarthy's call for a debate on planning, especially in the context of rural development. I would like the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, to attend this debate.
There is significant unrest throughout the country. For example, in Mayo two weeks ago, more than 300 people attended a meeting on this issue, while in Kerry several hundred attended a similar meeting. In many areas people are not allowed to build, even on their own farms. We have discussed rural areas being denuded, yet this is an occasion when people want to live in such areas and be part of them. I will not pillory An Taisce. It should be part of the debate as well.
Mr. Finucane: There is a great deal of concern about the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the fact that the clergy has stated its component of the overall cost. I am aware that the Leader was a member of the previous Cabinet which decided on this matter. While she would not reveal Cabinet secrets, was any projection made of the State's liability? It is estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 people may avail of the redress board.
Mr. Finucane: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House and indicate the State's liability? Many people are asking this question. Surely some projections have been made.
Mr. Mooney: I thought we had passed that stage. I live within half an hour of Enniskillen and have relatives in the county and the town, which I know well. As the Church of Ireland bishop said this morning, when we hear of Enniskillen and a bomb in one sentence, it cuts one to the quick. In this House we had the legacy of the 1988 bomb in the person of the distinguished, much remembered, lamented and loved former Senator Gordon Wilson. I hope this House and others that have the moral authority can send a powerful message to those who do not represent the overwhelming desire of the Irish people for peace on this island. I direct my comments to the Leader to allow her an opportunity to comment on this issue. I hope this House will record its condemnation of this event. In spite of the fact that we are in the middle of a peace process there are evil men still around, be it in the day or at night.
Mr. Coghlan: Like every Member of the House, I was glad to hear the Minister for Health and Children announce an extension of the BreastCheck screening programme to three additional counties. However, for how much longer will the good people of Kerry and the western seaboard have to remain disadvantaged?
Mr. Coghlan: I support the comments of Senators Brian Hayes and Norris concerning the provisions and requirements of the Ethics in Public Office Act, which have become ridiculous. I support Senator O'Toole's request for a debate on the proposed national wage agreement, which the Leader might arrange for next week. I was amused by the comments of Senator Leyden, but I back him fully.
Ms Feeney: I join Senator Terry in calling for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House. There is significant concern at the escalation of juvenile crime and the fact that young people, especially young men, are targeted for beatings. Last week a 72 year old widow in Sligo was jumped on by three young men on her way home from mass. She had nothing in her bag apart from a pension book, a set of rosary beads, €5 in cash and the keys to her house. She is lying in a hospital in Sligo where she suffered a stroke. A garda in Sligo asked what people like me are doing about it. Such events no longer even make headlines in local newspapers. If we allow this to happen it is a sad day for Ireland. Other people have spoken about planning issues, but if the fabric of society is to be threatened—
Mr. Browne: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport to come before the House to explain his policy of banning all trucks and HGVs from the city centre when the Dublin Port tunnel is opened? Is the Minister aware the country comprises more than just Dublin? What plan, if any, does he have for the remainder of the country which has to suffer the same difficulties with large vehicles travelling through towns?
It is noteworthy that nearly 500 accidental deaths were caused by lorries in the past five years. This problem, which affects the whole country, not just Dublin, is linked to another serious issue, namely, rail freight. Given that Iarnród Éireann has shown a lack of enthusiasm for rail freight, it is incumbent on the Government to take action in this area.
Mr. Minihan: I join previous speakers in calling for a debate on planning, which I have requested on a number of occasions. Such a debate should concentrate on the inconsistencies between local authority planning officials, inspectors from An Bord Pleanála and the board itself. Planning decisions are turning the planning system into a lottery. Instead of playing six numbers, people are making six planning applications in the hope that one of them will be successful. We have been calling for a debate on planning since the Seanad was formed. We have now reached the stage where the issue must be debated. I urge the Leader to arrange this as soon as possible.
Mr. McHugh: I am delighted the other side of the House has finally acknowledged, albeit in a roundabout way, that rural Ireland is in a mess. Job losses, rural development and rural planning have created a nightmare.
Mr. McHugh: Before Christmas, my colleague, Senator Paddy Burke, and I ploughed a lonely furrow in our efforts to have a debate on this issue attended by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív. Last week the Leader agreed to try to arrange for the Minister to come to the House. This is a matter of deep importance for people living in rural areas.
Rural development and planning cannot be debated in isolation. There is no point living in a rural area if there are no jobs and for this reason the Tánaiste must also come to the House. We need a co-ordinated employment strategy for rural areas, not the Tánaiste's nonsensical plans and aspirations. Let us invest in indigenous rural industries and look after the people living in these areas.
Mr. Bannon: I agree with my colleague, Senator Leyden, that rural services are being dismantled by the Government. First we had the closure of rural Garda stations in many areas, about which the Senator is well informed, then the closure of rural two teacher schools and now we have the closure of rural post offices.
Mr. Bannon: —which is out of control. I also agree with Senator McHugh. We need a report on the national rural development forum established by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, as it is nothing more than a talking shop.
Mr. P. Burke: I support Senator McHugh's call for a debate on rural affairs. I ask the Leader to arrange for a full debate on funding for the BMW region. I have asked for such a debate on numerous occasions and have found the Leader to be reluctant to arrange it, although it may not be her fault.
Mr. P. Burke: I also asked her predecessor for a debate on the matter on numerous occasions and he did not oblige. One of the reasons we need to debate funding is that the costs of many of the projects in the Dublin region have escalated fourfold and this is sucking funding from the BMW region.
Mr. Feighan: This is a separate issue. The Department of Transport introduced a rural transport initiative under which some areas were selected on a trial basis. However, due to a bureaucratic bungle, old age pensioners cannot use this rural transport because it has not been registered. If old age pensioners cannot use rural transport in rural Ireland, that transport initiative is doomed. I ask the Minister to come into the House to explain the reason for this bureaucratic bungle.
Mr. J. Phelan: I support the calls by Senators Terry, Feeney and others for a debate on crime. I spoke to a lady yesterday who was mugged in daylight in New Ross last week. I know of another lady who suffered a similar fate the week before in Kilkenny.
Mr. J. Phelan: This is an important issue on which a debate was called for over several weeks. I urge the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come into the House and debate this vital issue which is affecting communities throughout the country.
Senator Brian Hayes spoke about the need for a debate on an updated drug policy, perhaps in combination with a debate on justice. Such a debate would be welcome because much work was done in this area and we do not know what has been going on in the meantime. I will try to arrange such a debate.
Senator Hayes also asked if there were any plans to introduce a consolidation Act in respect of the forms Members must complete when declaring their interests. I had to fill out four forms because of my previous position but I take Senator O'Toole's point. When the Bill was going through the House everybody spoke in praise of ethics and we were all delighted to be part of the purer than pure group. However, now we are fed up with all the forms we have to complete. There should be consolidation because one has to answer the same question on three separate forms, which is a little excessive.
Ms O'Rourke: Yes, and the Senator has an interest in the Shannon. He also noted that today is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, who grants miracles. It was certainly a miracle to have that issue included in the partnership agreement. We should have a debate on the partnership talks before there is a final outcome.
Senator Leyden asked that the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources come to the House to discuss An Post. I am sure that matter was raised on the Adjournment two weeks ago by Senator Mansergh and I believe Senator Feighan also contributed. I acknowledge the Senators' request to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter.
In regard to Senator Terry's call for a debate on crime, I have spoken to the Minister's office and he will come to the House. He was here last week dealing with legislation but there is a need for a debate on crime.
Senator Norris raised the issue of the need for an amendment to equality legislation because of a lacuna which has come to light in that people who go into domestic work are not covered by the legislation, which I believe was introduced by the former Minister, Mervyn Taylor. Time has moved on and there are different people in the country, so there is a need for this measure. The Senator asked why we should be bothered about ethics. Is there not a rascal among us? No? Then that is fair enough.
Senator Finucane wants the Minister for Education and Science to outline to the House the State's liability in abuse cases. I will try to get the Minister for such a debate. Senator Mooney spoke with feeling about how the mention of a bomb in Enniskillen put us all on high alert, bearing in mind what happened there in the past. I concur with his remarks.
Senator Coghlan asked when the people of his area will be able to avail of the BreastCheck programme. That might be suitable for discussion on the Adjournment in order to get a more precise answer. Senator Coghlan also supported Senator Leyden on the post office issue.
Senator Feeney described what happened in Sligo and sought a debate with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the increase in crime. Senator Browne sought clarification from the Minister for Transport on the banning of certain large vehicles from Dublin and asked whether the same ban will apply in the rest of the country.
Senator Minihan asked for a debate on planning; he has been seeking such a debate for some time. Senators McHugh and Bannon sought a debate on rural issues with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Senator Bannon also sought a debate on the National Roads Authority.
I take issue with Senator Burke, who has been sniping at me. He keeps saying I am not answering him and that I am not getting the Ministers he wants. If he can find a day when I can get those Ministers I will get them. If Senator Burke wants to come in Friday he can sit over there on his own and the Minister can sit here, but I will not be here.
Ms O'Rourke: I was forbearing and decided not to take the Senator up, but I have a cold today and I am not going to listen to him any more. He has said I did not answer him but I answer everyone because I was brought up with manners. If Senator Burke can show me a time slot when all these Ministers can appear I will get them but we just cannot get the time to do so. Next week I hope to organise some of the debates sought today. Senator John Paul Phelan also sought a crime debate and I hope we can arrange that next week.
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