Wednesday, 7 May 2003
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O'Rourke: The Order of Business today is No. 1, a sessional order as agreed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, to be taken without debate; No. 2, motion whereby the subject matter of motion No. 15 on today's Order Paper is referred to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, concerning the revocation of three regulations which have been incorporated into sections 4 and 23 of the recently enacted Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2003, thereby rendering the regulations superfluous, to be taken without debate; No. 3, Licensing of Indoor Events Bill 2001 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude at 6 p.m. or earlier. The final item is No. 18, motion No. 30, to be taken from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Mr. B. Hayes: I welcome back to the House Senator Cummins who, unfortunately, has been absent for some months. I can assure the House he is fighting fit and ready to throw a number of scuds in the direction of the Government in the coming weeks. He is welcome back to the House following his illness.
Will the Leader arrange a debate with the Minister for Health and Children at the earliest possible juncture? The Minister is likely to get more support among Members of this House than from members of the Cabinet.
Mr. B. Hayes: The embattled Minister is doing his best to come out of the storms. We need a statement from him in the next week or so about what is happening in Dublin hospitals. We are going to lose 250 beds in five acute hospitals in the city of Dublin this year for which there has to be some political accountability.
I also ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss his new found strategy to prevent SARS from coming into the country. He was found wanting over the Easter period when pressure was applied from Opposition Senators and Deputies. There is an urgent need for him to make a statement. I can assure him of the support of many on this side, unlike the support he receives from the Minister for Finance and others.
I encourage the Leader to organise statements on Northern Ireland, tomorrow if possible. She was in the House before the Easter recess when a very useful debate took place and Members bit their tongues to make sure they did not say things which were controversial or unhelpful to the talks. However, now is a time to be reflective as the talks have clearly broken down. There is a need for the Government to set out its stall and for Members on both sides of the House to reply to the Government's statement.
The IRA has no future. All it has is a past, and a very ugly past at that. It is important for this House to reiterate its support for both Governments and their stance in the talks and to say clearly to paramilitary organisations that they have no future, that they are not part of Ireland's future, that their past is something we do not relish and that as soon as they get off the scene the better in order that we can have a peace agreement which works to all our benefit.
Mr. O'Toole: In the first week of February I raised the importance of having a debate on the health service and at least one of the reports on the service which were then due to arrive. There are now three full reports sitting on someone's desk or locked in someone's drawer. They have not been seen, apart from the selective leaks to the media. At the time I asked that the House look at and respond to one of the reports from a neutral political position but we have gone past that now. I do not know the reason the Government is hiding these reports or what people are afraid of. Are members of the Government afraid of each other? Is the Government afraid of the Department of Health and Children? Is the Department of Health and Children afraid of the Department of Finance or is the Department of Finance afraid of the Minister for Health and Children? God only knows what is going on.
There are three substantial reports which would help us to reach an understanding at a time when ordinary people are worried sick about beds being closed and cutbacks in the service. Whether that is the case is not the issue. Ordinary people do not understand what the problem is or what is the future of the health service. It is disgraceful that we do not have an open and clear debate on the matter.
There is no support in the Cabinet for the Minister for Health and Children. He has been swinging in the breeze for the last two weeks and no Cabinet Minister has come to help him. What kind of image does it give to the rest of the country if the Minister does not have the support of the Government? What is the Government's policy and where are we going? I agree with Senator Brian Hayes. We should let the Minister have his say. While I do not know the rights and wrongs of the situation, I believe we are being kept in the dark. Ignorance is the worst thing we could have. A mushroom policy is not acceptable at a time like this. We need openness, honesty, information and solid judgment. I ask for an immediate debate on the issue, as I have been doing for the last two months.
Mr. Ryan: I was on strike last Thursday as a member of the staff of CIT. I did this not to benefit myself but because the Government has betrayed the Cork School of Music. It told staff and students to vacate a building to facilitate contractors and that they would have new premises. It then negotiated a contractor into being the sole contractor and is now attempting to back out. If that happened in the private sector there would be a major court action for breach of contract by the major contracting party with all other participants. My colleagues in CIT are working in hotel bedrooms trying to teach young people in Cork how to play musical instruments because the Government promised them that if they made that sacrifice they would get a new building. This disgraceful breach of promise is worthy of debate, given that Dublin Institute of Technology also seems to be determined to eliminate the teaching of music from its curriculum.
Mr. Ryan: I ask the Leader to allow us to debate music education in the two biggest cities in the State in Government time. Both cities are in danger of losing publicly provided music education. That is as close to cultural vandalism as I can imagine a Government can get.
I agree with Senators Brian Hayes and O'Toole about the need for a debate on the health services. I heard the Minister say this morning that there is no crisis. This is the familiar refrain, “What crisis? There is no crisis,” that has been in existence for most of my active political career. There is a crisis in the health service. It is very simple: either there is enough money to fund the health services, in which case the Minister should sack the management because it is not using resources properly, or there is not enough money, in which case the Minister should resign. It is as simple as that. Either there is enough money or there is not. It is up to the Minister to take responsibility and to get away from the weasel words. In the five major Dublin hospitals, 6% of all procedures are now being cancelled – 14,000 out of a total of 250,000. That is a significant number and it is less than honest to pretend otherwise. There should be a serious, open-ended debate on the health service.
Tomorrow afternoon we will be debating Report Stage of Bille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla. It is now 2.50 p.m. on Wednesday and we have not received any Report Stage amendments from the Government. I do not know why we must have Report Stage tomorrow. The Opposition is happy to facilitate the Government in this matter but we did not expect to be in a position less than 24 hours before the debate where no Government amendments have been tabled, even though we were led to believe there is a considerable number of amendments. It is not the way to deal with this House and I suggest that the Leader should postpone Report Stage until the Department is in a position to produce amendments at reasonable notice to the Members of the House. I invite the Cathaoirleach to take the appropriate action with the Department.
Will the Leader tell us when or if the Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill will be taken? Will she assure us that we will get at least two weeks notice before Committee Stage of the Bill? It is extremely complex and the Opposition is entitled to know when it will be taken.
Mr. Morrissey: Before the Easter recess, I asked the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport to come into the House. At that time the transport situation was serious but it has now reached an even more alarming stage in that the Director of Traffic recently told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport that the figures forecast for traffic in Dublin in 2016 have already been realised. If that is the position, the Minister is operating a strategy in respect of which there are insufficient resources.
We must realise that we are only tinkering at the edges of this problem. I want the Minister to come before the House to explain what he proposes to do regarding the future of Dublin Bus and the situation at Dublin Airport and Dublin Port. He must also explain his proposals with regard to the national road network. For example, will cars be allowed to use hard shoulders on national routes? Of the 27 agencies that deal with traffic in Dublin, which is the primary agency? This issue not only affects the economy of Dublin, it affects the entire national economy and I request a debate on it.
Mr. Higgins: Last week, one of the most successful radio stations in the country lost its franchise. On the surface, this appears to be a bizarre decision. The station was in existence for 13 years and was commercially successful. On the day it was announced that the franchise was to be removed, the JNLR disclosed that the station had a listenership rating of 68%.
We are supposed to be living in an era of openness, transparency and accountability. In view of the fact that the ODTR, energy regulator and aviation regulator can be held accountable, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland should also be accountable. Two problems exist in this area: first, the legislation contains a manifest defect in that there is no provision for an appeal process and this must be addressed; and, second, the BCI must issue a report on the criteria used to make what appears to be a bizarre and wrong decision.
There are three other matters on which there ought to be early debates. The first is Sustaining Progress, in which all the social partners are now involved and participating. The second involves the one mode of transport to which Senator Morrissey did not refer, namely, the fact that a substantial report has been made in respect of the strategic rail review. Given that railways will have to take most of the strain in terms of extra commuting, it is important that we should debate this issue. There is great expertise among Members on the subject in question. I endorse Senator Brian Hayes's call for a debate on the situation in Northern Ireland, including the Stevens report.
Dr. Henry: I am sure Senators would wish to congratulate the European Union Commissioner, David Byrne, on his initiative yesterday in bringing together in Brussels the Health Ministers from EU member states and applicant countries to discuss a pan-European policy on preventative health care. However, it is unfortunate that Ireland's Minister had to attend – I am sure he made a valuable contribution to the debate – at a time when the doctors involved in preventative medicine here remain on strike after four weeks. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister come before the House to explain how he proposes to deal with this serious situation.
I am not referring to SARS or anything quite as exotic. There has been a major outbreak of measles which has caused national schools to be closed in some areas. This is the sort of crisis which the public health doctors would be dealing with if they were not on strike. It is terrible that children are losing time at school because of the current situation. Nine years ago, public health doctors were promised improvements in conditions but these have not been implemented. The Minister must take a direct interest in the problem.
Mr. Minihan: I join Senator Brian Hayes in calling for a debate on Northern Ireland. It is timely that there should be statements on the matter. It would be remiss of the House not to highlight the attack on our democracy that occurred yesterday, when a terrorist device – a pipe bomb – was planted not 100 yards from the House. We should congratulate the Defence Forces on their professionalism in dealing with that device and send out an unequivocal statement that acts of this nature will not be tolerated in this State. To have the stories relating to this matter carried on pages seven and 13 of the national newspapers, sends a message that we are ready to tolerate being held to ransom by the Real IRA, the Provisional IRA or whoever. They are consigned to the history books, which is where they should be.
I also wish to call for a debate on the Cork School of Music. My views on the matter are well known and while I may not share the sentiments expressed by my colleague, I would welcome discussion of the issue.
I would also welcome a debate on the health service. It is time to make the political decisions which have to be made in light of the reports which are pending publication. We have had a number of debates on the health service and it would be interesting to see if the Opposition have anything to offer during the forthcoming debate, given that they had nothing to offer previously.
Mr. Finucane: Health seems to be the focus today. Many Members received literature about the national treatment purchase fund. Those of us with constituents who wished to undergo surgical procedures discovered that it was possible to have them carried out in Northern Ireland and the UK provided that certain criteria were complied with. It is difficult for people to accept what is happening when 250 beds in Dublin hospitals are to close and it is projected that 14,000 procedures will be postponed as a result. How can one explain to the electorate what is happening with the health system here when procedures can be carried out in the United Kingdom? It is timely, therefore, to invite the Minister to come before the House. Most people request a debate in the presence of the Minister, but it is about time we provided for a question and answer session with him. It would be far more enriching to put the pertinent questions to the Minister and invite his direct response, rather than having a large number of Members expressing their opinions in speeches.
This matter was brought home to me forcefully when I was in Dublin on Sunday. While I am not completely aware of the state of the health service in Dublin, a taxi driver remarked to me that one of his parents was on a trolley in hospital for six days. The driver told me that he lives in Cabra and that when the Taoiseach came knocking at his door he told him about the problem. He stated that the Taoiseach only realised the full extent of the problem when something happened to a person in his family.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: I would also welcome a debate on Northern Ireland, particularly if it was held in the spirit of previous debates. There is always a temptation when there is a hiccup in the peace process, no matter how large, to revert to issuing recriminations. The success of the peace process to date is that its architects have been able to involve all interested parties in Northern Ireland. That is why we were on the verge of a total breakthrough.
It would be wrong to underestimate the contribution made by republicans. They and the Nationalist community were on the receiving end on Bloody Sunday of the police collusion outlined in the Stevens report on the shoot-to-kill policy and the various manipulations that have no part in democracy in any state on this island. I suggest that we keep our cool and remain patient. We have one more mile to go and we should not feel we are incapable of travelling it. This House, like everyone who is interested in peace and justice, has a role to play in that regard.
Ms O'Meara: I agree that we need an urgent debate on what is no less than a crisis in the health service. That crisis is growing by the day. At the heart of the debate must be the question of who is accountable and answerable to the public for the growing crisis. To pick up the point Senator Finucane made regarding the national treatment fund, will all those who cannot undergo procedures due to bed closures, particularly in Dublin hospitals, be able to avail of the fund to have those procedures carried out abroad or in Northern Ireland? Does not this matter illustrate the farcical nature of the Government's management of the health service?
I assume the Taoiseach is responsible for brining forward the new code of ethics for office holders in Government, as suggested by media reports. Will the Leader ask him if the new code will cover the situation that emerged over the Easter break, in which the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is getting very large donations from the largest building companies in the country at the same time as he is bringing forward legislation that specifically affects those companies? The code should cover this.
Dr. M. Hayes: I, too, support the request for a debate on Northern Ireland, which is timely. There is never a good time to do it but there is no point in putting it off. We did have a truncated debate just before the adjournment and the peace process is in rather worse condition that it was then and than we had hoped and anticipated. Like other Senators, I hope we can have a debate that avoids recrimination. The parties are recriminating each other too much already. A mutual trend among them is that one sees the other as offering too little too late and itself as offering too much too early. Although the Easter break was a disappointing period and some silly things were said, we recognise that some useful things were said also. It is important to try find our way out or help the parties to find their way out of the impasse.
I support Senator Ó Murchú in saying we should not bring emotion into the debate. One cannot begin to talk about Bloody Sunday and the Stevens report without also talking about bloody Friday, bloody Wednesday and every bloody day of the week during the years through which we all had to live. Equally, while we deplore yesterday's attack on democracy, we must recognise that any bomb anywhere is an attack on democracy and we should not be more self-important about the fact that it takes place outside the back door of Leinster House than other instances.
It is important for the Government to try to tell us where it sees the process going, what people can sensibly do and whether it is time to batten down the hatches and make complaints. A quiet, reasoned, sensible debate which seeks answers, recognises that we are where we are and progresses without recrimination would be helpful and should be expedited.
Mr. Bannon: There is an insurance crisis throughout the country and nowhere is it more evident than in the Leader's town of Athlone, where a public meeting was held recently on the issue. I call for a debate on the issue because a number of hackney drivers, small businesses and hauliers are being put out of business. The small family business is collapsing because of the astronomical and spiralling costs of insurance. I know of several instances in the past 12 months in which insurance premiums have increased by 400%. This is very serious and people are frustrated about it. It is important that we have a serious debate because we cannot afford to lose the small businesses and hackney services because the public depends on them, as do hospitals and health boards. We should clamp down on the spiralling increase in the cost of insurance premiums.
Mr. Scanlon: I support, for different reasons, the sentiments of Senator Higgins on the granting of a new licence to a new consortium for the north-west region. I know that the station has been very well run over the past 13 years and has been very successful. It has been one of the top local radio stations in the country. We know that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland is an independent body and that it is its job to decide who gets new licences. It was wrong, however, that a decision was taken and that the reasons for it were not given for up to three to four weeks. I say this because 15 people are employed by the radio station in question. It is also wrong that the recipients of the new licence will not take over until December of next year. That is wrong because the 15 people employed by the station at present must continue to work there for 14 or 15 months while being aware that they will probably lose their jobs at the end of that period. I wish to express support for the raising of this matter.
Mr. Ross: I would like to briefly endorse the calls for a debate on the health service. There is little doubt that the crisis affecting the service is financial in nature. It would not be right, however, to have a debate in the House without recognising that, if this can be resolved or alleviated by injecting money into the health service, we cannot ignore the fact that there is a source of this money, from which some Members are benefiting. I refer to the fact that a massive payout of benchmarking money will be made this month to all public servants, including Members.
People may feel strongly about the underfunding of the health service, but I have yet to hear Members speaking out against this exorbitant payment, which is a luxury for people who are paid out of the public purse and which most people can afford not to take. If Members wish to express these heart-rending views about what is happening in hospitals, let us hear what they have to say about where the money should be saved and let us hear them say that this 10%, 12% or 13% increase should not be paid and should go to the health service instead.
Ms White: In response to Senator Ross, I have requested, at the Committee on Finance and the Public Service, that we get information on how the productivity quid pro quo arrangements will be made in respect of public service payments. It must be remembered that public servants have permanent pensionable jobs and, in many instances, have longer holidays than people in the private sector.
Ms White: We need to be informed about productivity. If workers receive an increase, they must give something back in return. It is about time that the health service was privatised and that hospital authorities were given the money to run their institutions.
Ms White: So much is going astray and there are so many inefficiencies. A colleague visited her husband in the intensive care cancer ward in St. Vincent's Hospital this morning and asked why we do not give the hospitals the money to run themselves as they are so brilliant?
I call for a debate on Northern Ireland and for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to kindly come before the House to discuss the status of the proposed public inquiry into the Stevens report. On 26 April, The Economist referred to this matter as Britain's “dirty war” and argued that a public inquiry is needed into army and police collusion in murders in Northern Ireland. In the Financial Times of 3 May, the chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales called for a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane and noted that the Stevens report found that members of the RUC and the army colluded with loyalist paramilitaries to murder Catholics. Two British publications are calling for public inquiry so I would like to know when one will be forthcoming.
I know the Minister made a statement when the report came out. I have read a great deal about Sir John Stevens who stated that when he showed his report to people, they said one would not read about such collusion in a book. What we really need to know is how far up the line this collusion went, who knew about it and who spoke out. We all know about the Member of Parliament, Mr. Hogg, who spoke out and that three weeks later Pat Finucane was killed. The bottom line in what Sir John Stevens said is that people knew.
Mr. Coghlan: I join in the call for statements on Northern Ireland. It is vital that the stalled talks are resumed quickly, particularly for the pro-Agreement parties. As has been said by others, everyone should concentrate on what has been said constructively and usefully, not on other matters.
Since we were last here the Government announced the disbandment of Duchás, a decision with which I heartily concur. Embodied in that decision was the important transfer to the Office of Public Works of responsibility for the built heritage. Reading the Government statement, one would assume – I would like to think it was the Government's intention – that responsibility for the entire built heritage would transfer to the Office of Public Works. It would be invidious if that was not the case – in fact, it would be crazy if there was a division in the presentation to the public of our built heritage. I say this because of something which I think is a little more than a rumour and on which the House might unite. An important heritage property in my county and another in County Donegal are, for some inexplicable reason, to be excluded.
Mr. Glynn: I, too, would welcome a debate on Northern Ireland. It would be remiss of everybody in this House not to clearly recognise the great strides which have been made by all the pro-Agreement parties and to note, in particular, the contribution which some members of the security forces have made towards aggravating the situation during the years.
I am sure Members will agree with me in asking the Leader to convey the concerns of this House to the Minister for Agriculture and Food about the refusal of the Turf Club of Ireland to renew the licence of Kilbeggan racecourse to the race committee there. This facility contributes significantly to the economy of mid-Westmeath. I ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food take an interest in the matter. I am sure the concerns and reasons expressed—
Mr. Glynn: Yes, I do. This decision will cause serious damage to the economy of mid-Westmeath and the Kilbeggan area, in particular. This racecourse has been a contributor to the economy of the area for many years and we should compliment the committee on the great work it has done in keeping it going.
Mr. Cummins: The back-to-education allowance scheme was introduced to tackle disadvantage in education and give a second chance to those in receipt of a number of social welfare allowances. It has now been abolished for postgraduate students and cut by 25% for remaining recipients. This is having a devastating effect on those in receipt of the allowance. Will the Minister for Social and Family Affairs come into the House with a view to reviewing this situation? The Union of Students in Ireland has made a strong and coherent statement in relation to the allowance and the cutback which was not heralded or advertised in the newspapers. People only found out about it in due course which is totally unacceptable. Will the Minister come to the House to explain the reason this cut was not publicised and there was no consultation? Will she review the scheme?
Mr. Hanafin: I join in the calls for a debate on Northern Ireland. Many Senators mentioned different aspects and injustices done during the many years of the troubles. There is no doubt that the Good Friday Agreement has been the answer and that we are now on the final furlong. I would like to see mention in the debate of something missed in many places because of the focus on final acts of completion from one side: there seems to be a train of thought in some quarters in the North of Ireland that the Good Friday Agreement – or agreement in general – is up for renegotiation. I would like to see it restated, not only by people outside this House but inside it too, that the Agreement is the only cross-party agreement with the support of the majority and the world community which sees the justice that it brings.
I also welcome the question raised by Senator O'Meara about the code of ethics for officeholders. We must remember that the vast majority of officeholders in the State have never needed such a code. However, it is to be welcomed. We always like to see people upholding the highest standards, as very many have done during the years.
Mr. McCarthy: I wish to raise an issue with the Leader of the House regarding an article which appeared in The Sunday Tribune last Sunday week. According to this story, it is possible that the Minister for the Environment might receive extra funding from the Minister for Finance for the local government fund. I would appreciate if the Leader would clarify whether there is any truth in the article, for if so, some local authorities, as is the situation in Cork, will no longer be proposing to the trade unions, as at present, that they lay off some temporary workers.
Ms Feeney: I join Senators Higgins and Scanlon in asking the Leader whether we might get a report from the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland on what happened with North West Radio. The BCI is an independent up-front body chaired by an eminent senior counsel, and I believe there is nothing untoward in its dealings. However, such a report would help alleviate the shock, sadness and upset to which counties such as Mayo and Sligo were subjected last Thursday. I was inundated with calls from people in Sligo who were terribly saddened and shocked at the NWR licence not being renewed. It is fair competition but perhaps, since there is no appeal system, there should be a mechanism whereby a report could be issued to the present incumbent outlining where it might have slipped up or what went wrong.
Mr. Browne: I agree with those Senators who looked for a debate on the mishandling of the SARS virus scenario by the Minister for Health and Children and his Department. This morning we learned that SARS had a 20% mortality rate and that it was increasing every day. Will the Leader ask the Minister to confirm that the long-term effects of SARS are still unknown? It is unhelpful to dismiss it as if it will not affect us when it is doing so every day of our lives. We still do not know its full mortality rate or long-term effects. What steps does the Minister plan to take at airports and other entry points regarding those travelling from affected countries?
Ms O'Rourke: On everyone's behalf, I welcome Senator Maurice Cummins back after his little accident with his ankle which clearly has not affected his mind or vocal chords. We are delighted to see him.
Senator Brian Hayes, Leader of the Opposition, wants a debate with the Minister for Health and Children, with particular reference to the Dublin teaching hospitals and SARS, something taken up by many others. There was also a call for a Northern Ireland debate which I hope we will have next week. We have submitted a request. I agree that it is very important that we have one.
Senator O'Toole raised the Brennan, Prospectus and Hanly reports. While the Hanly report has not been produced, I have been told that the Prospectus and Brennan reports are in draft and final form, respectively, and will be out very soon, perhaps next week. As soon as they are issued, we should have the Minister here to discuss them.
Senator Ryan mentioned the delay regarding the Cork School of Music and the reasons behind it. That matter was given a good airing in the Seanad by another Senator from Cork. I am sure the Senator was joined in it by Senator Minihan and other interested people. I do not how we can push this matter forward. It seems to have reached an impasse of amazing proportions. I do agree, however, that a debate is needed. There were calls for a general debate on music education. Bearing in mind the difficulties at the Dublin school of music, it would be proper to couch the debate in that way. I will seek to have the relevant Minister from the Department of Education and Children to come to the House to discuss it.
I want to be clear on the amendments for the Official Languages (Equality) Bill and put it on the record of the House. On Tuesday last, I was contacted by telephone by the office of the Minister who will be taking the Bill and asked if it could be put down on today's Order of Business. I asked if the amendments would be sent on and was informed they would. Today has come, but there are still no amendments. My office telephoned again this morning. I want to say it here quite clearly as there is no point in trying to hide behind something. The request for the Bill to be taken was made, directly to me, eight days ago. I said that it could, if the amendments were received. I intimated that fact to Senator Ryan when we met earlier in the day. I do not know what has happened to the amendments. There is no likely excuse, apart from the fact that someone may have fallen ill – a matter about which we would be sympathetic. However, responsibility surely does not rest with one person. It is not correct that we should be asked to debate a Bill with no amendments having been received.
Ms O'Rourke: Senator Ryan asked about the Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill. I inquired about that because the newspapers keep indicating that there are difficulties about what different people have said. However, we do not know what are those difficulties.
Senator Morrissey asked for a debate on transport. He went through all the modes of transport for which the Minister for Transport has responsibility. The Senator asked which of the 27 agencies was the primary one in dealing with transport problems and inquired when can we have a debate on the matter. I want the various transport reports debated and, in particular, the Booz-Allen report. I have made several requests for this and we hope we will get a debate soon.
Senator Higgins raised the issue of local radio franchises. Clearly, a situation where a commission that does not have group regulator and does not allow an appeal is incorrect. If one cannot pay water rates, one can make an appeal to the local county council. If there is a stipulation and it cannot be fulfilled, there should be a way of appealing. I do not know the ins-and-outs of the North West Radio's licence but I was amazed to hear from another Senator that the current radio group will remain in place until September of next year. It is extraordinary that the group will be required to enthusiastically provide a full service when it has been informed that its licence will not be renewed. I will write to the chairman of the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland inquiring about the situation. I cannot dispute the decision, but I will ask why there is no appeal process.
Senator Mansergh referred to Sustaining Progress, in respect of which we have requested a debate for next week. The Senator also asked for a debate on the strategic rail review and I hope we will have it soon. He also asked for a debate on Northern Ireland.
Senator Henry raised the issue of the public health doctors' dispute. I agree with the Senator that it is not so much the issue of SARS – dreadful as that prospect might be – but the daily epidemics, particularly those to which young people are exposed. I understand that the parties involved have gone before the Labour Relations Commission and have been requested to return to it. If that is the case, we should let them resolve the problem by that avenue.
Like other Members, Senator Minihan requested debates on Northern Ireland and the health service. Senator Michael Finucane raised the issue of the national treatment purchase fund. I was also struck by the incongruity relating to the fund, about which we received smart looking notifications at the same time that beds are being closed in our hospitals. I know they are different procedures – clearly, one is elective, where one needs treatment for a particular ailment and it can be customised and provided through this procedure. However, an incongruity definitely exists. When we get the three reports and the Minister comes before the House, we will discuss those issues.
Senator Ó Murchú reminded us that in any debate there are two sides to the argument. We all pay tribute to those who took so many steps forward, particularly in recent weeks. I am sure that hefty debates took place in all parties and that much was given up in terms of various rights. We need a balanced debate on Northern Ireland. If we do not receive the amendments to the Official Languages (Equality) Bill, we could have a debate on Northern Ireland tomorrow.
Senator O'Meara asked for a debate on health issues and wondered about the code of ethics which I understand is an amplification of a code we already have, in respect of which Ministers and all involved in public debate will declare personal interests and say they are working pro bono publico rather than from any self-interest or involvement.
Senator Maurice Hayes referred to the debate on Northern Ireland. I agree with him when he says there should be no recriminations as to who said what, to whom and when. That is now behind us. We have come a long way and the problem now is to take the last step.
Senator Bannon raised the question of the insurance crisis, on which we have asked for a debate. We have five items to discuss, of which that is one. I hope to bring them forward in the House as quickly as possible. The Tánaiste has made considerable strides in this area. This term she will bring forward the legislation which is to be addressed immediately. We look forward to the debate.
Ms O'Rourke: I mean it. He asked who would do it. Benchmarking is based on individual productivity. Senator White also brought this up and wondered how the productivity of public servants would be monitored and measured. If one signs up for it, one signs up to deliver. Clearly, we all have a responsibilty to say how we see ourselves conforming to benchmarking. The Senator also wanted a debate on Northern Ireland, as did Senator Coghlan who also raised the disbandment of Dúchas, with which he agreed, which is very interesting.
Senator McCarthy brought up the matter of the report he read in The Sunday Tribune on 27 April to the effect that extra money would be given to the local authorities and wondered whether it was true. I will endeavour to find out because clearly it would have an effect on his county council.
Senator Glynn referred to Northern Ireland and brought up the matter of Kilbeggan racecourse which is under the remit of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy John O'Donoghue, not the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Joe Walsh. I have spoken to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism and his office about the matter. All politics are local at the end of the day. It is a very fine racecourse. While it seems extraordinary, safety is at the root of the decision. However, I think it can be completed, not circumvented.
Senator Cummins mentioned the back-to-education allowance which was included in the Book of Estimates. If he does not mind me saying so, it would be a very good matter for debate on the Adjournment because we want clear answers on the matter. While I understood it was going to be settled in some way, there has not been movement on it.
Senator Hanafin mentioned Northern Ireland and welcomed the code of ethics. Senator Browne referred to SARS and the airport. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, said there would be no screening of people here but that they would have to give an account of how they were screened in the countries from whence they came.
With the Cathaoirleach's permission, I would like to inform Members that advertisements for submissions from interested parties on the matter of Seanad reform will appear in the newspapers tomorrow, Friday and Sunday. I do not want anyone to open their newspapers tomorrow and find the notice and wonder from where it came. The papers are available on the table in the anteroom.
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