Wednesday, 21 May 2003
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O'Rourke: The Order of Business today is No. 1, a motion whereby the subject of motion No. 17 on today's Order Paper, concerning the reservation of 32 places in the first year of the bachelor of education course in the Church of Ireland College of Education, Rathmines, for students who are members of the Church of Ireland or belong to the broad Protestant tradition, is to be referred to the Joint Committee on Education and Science, to be taken without debate; No. 2, a motion which was referred to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, which has completed its discussions, to be taken without debate; No. 3, a request that the Seanad adopt the report from the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges which it agreed at its meeting yesterday, giving it the power to act on behalf of Seanad Éireann and its Members in any legal proceedings, and which has been placed in the Oireachtas Library, to be taken without debate; No. 4, statements on the strategic rail review report, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, and on which Senators may share time, the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of statements, at approximately 12.50 p.m.; No. 5, statements on decentralisation, to be taken at 2 p.m. and conclude not later than 4 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, and on which Senators may share time, the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of statements, at approximately 3.50 p.m.; No. 6, statements on rural development policy and actions with particular reference to the problems of population decline (resumed), to be taken at 4 p.m. and conclude not later than 6 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, and on which Senators may share time, the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of statements, at approximately 5.50 p.m.; and No. 18, motion No. 30, to be taken from 6.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. There will be a sos from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.
We have been accustomed to Private Members' Business being taken between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. but representatives of the parties to whom I have spoken have said it is in order to postpone it to a later time today because the Private Bill from the Seanad is being taken in another venue from 5 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.
Mr. B. Hayes: Will the Leader allow the time for Private Members' Business to be extended by one hour in order that all Senators can contribute to the debate? Because of her support for the motion, will she also allow a free vote on the issue? In my opinion a further hour – or perhaps two – should be devoted to the debate on this issue so that all voices may be heard. We must not stifle debate in the House. The Government will not shut anyone up. We want a full, free and honest debate on this issue and that is the purpose of the motion.
Will the Leader agree that, as this is a crucial time for Irish tourism, those who work within the industry need to wake up to reality in terms of pricing? An article at the weekend outlined the excessive costs being passed on to domestic and international tourists. Ireland is pricing itself out of the tourism market. Will the Leader agree to a debate on tourism in the coming weeks so that we can concentrate on this issue? The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism could explain the measures, if any, the Government can bring forward to reduce the massive price increases taking place within the industry. If the tourism industry wants to get back on its feet, it must ensure that its cost structure is competitive and that it is giving good value for money. As a result of figures that appeared at the weekend, I believe that we do not compare favourably with other countries within the EU and those outside it. I ask for an immediate debate on this issue.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to come before the House to discuss a very serious issue, namely, the continued detection of cases of BSE in this country? These cases should not be occurring because meat and bonemeal were banned in 1996. I would like the Minister to outline the scientific advice he has received in respect of this matter. I am sure the Cathaoirleach is aware that, after a ten year gap, a case of BSE has been identified in Canada and this has led to the banning of Canadian beef in the United States of America. We need to consider the scientific evidence regarding this issue because it is odd that the case to which I refer should emerge at this time. In addition, instances of the disease continue to be detected here. It is all very well to say that perhaps there are old bags of meat and bonemeal lying around, but we must investigate whether there could be any other method of spread, particularly in view of the fact that the beef industry is so important to us.
Mr. Ryan: I support the call for a debate on the issue of tourism, but I suggest that we extend it to include the issue of competitiveness in general. I do not want to anticipate such a debate, and I apologise for anticipating the Cathaoirleach, but it is extraordinary that headlines in newspapers always relate to prices and, in particular, wage costs. However, the most recent statement on competitiveness from the chief executive of Intel complained as much about our appalling infrastructure as it did about costs. The National Roads Authority this week admitted that it has ten projects of major road investment ready to roll, but it simply cannot commence work because the Government will not provide the necessary funding. We have an obligation to look beyond the traditional scapegoat of wage costs in assigning blame for our competitiveness problems and admit that the Government is the major cause of such problems.
It is wonderful to be in this House because we know who is in charge. It is quite clear, on a daily basis, that the Leader is in charge. Will she find out who is in charge of the Government? It is not clear whether it is the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste or the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Mr. Ryan: The Senators on the other side of the House should watch themselves. Working people know whose side we are on and they know whose side the Government parties are on. We can be sure about that.
Mr. Ryan: I have a question that is slightly repetitious to which I require an answer from the Leader of the House. As I drove to this House this morning, I was yet again pursued by juggernauts travelling at 65 mph or 70 mph.
The NRA produced a survey last week which showed that observance of speed limits by trucks was worse than at the time of the previous survey by a marginal percentage. The spokesman for the road hauliers assured us that was impossible because all heavy goods vehicles have a governor, which means they cannot travel above 55 mph. Unless I encountered a low flying plane and thought it was a juggernaut, somebody is codding somebody.
Who enforces the position on governors restricting the speed of heavy goods vehicles, or does anybody do so? I have previously raised the question of the enforcement of the law in this area. Do gardaí have an understanding with truck drivers to the effect that as long as they do not break the normal speed limits they will not enforce the law? Truck drivers are not supposed to drive above 50 mph. Senator Jim Walsh has told me that the vehicles cannot be driven satisfactorily unless they are driven at 60 mph, yet the representative of the hauliers association said they are not supposed to be capable of being driven above 55 mph. The drivers of those vehicles are involved in three times as many fatal accidents as the number of those vehicles on the road would suggest they should be. This is a major issue in respect of which I ask the Leader to find out what is going on.
Is the Cathaoirleach satisfied that the amendment to the Private Members' motion that will be taken this evening is consistent with Standing Orders, given that it does not mention the word “fees”? The amendment to the motion seems to cover many issues that are worth discussing, but I wish the Government would at least address the issues the Opposition want to discuss.
Mr. Brady: I request the Leader to invite the Tánaiste or the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, to come before the House to discuss a worrying development, whereby some insurance companies have refused to accept that flood damage is covered by their companies' policies held by residents in the vicinity of the Tolka River. This has happened despite the expenditure of more than €10 million on flood prevention measures in the area. I am sure there are also other stretches of the river involved. There have also been incidents of people's premia being loaded by up to 50%, compared to last year, following claims. On the day when the Minister, Deputy Brennan, has successfully negotiated an agreement with a particular insurance company regarding the penalty points system, a debate on this matter is timely.
Mr. Bannon: I support the call by my colleague, Senator Brian Hayes, for an extension of the time allocated for the Private Member's motion this evening. I believe every Member on this side of the House wants an opportunity to speak on the issue of third level fees, as it is a burning issue among parents and students. We want to have a serious debate on this issue, rather than be hobbled by the House.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, to come before the House to debate the issue of rural housing, planning and design. There is an opinion among many planners and others that rural housing detracts from the landscape. However, properly designed rural housing can enhance it. It is important to maintain the population in rural areas. There is a strong view among people who live in rural areas that planners and others should not curtail the development of houses in rural parishes and townlands. Any survey shows that there were more houses in many rural townlands 70 years ago than there are today. It is important we debate this issue.
Design is an important factor. There is a problem with modern design in rural areas. We had traditional thatched cottages which were followed by cottages with slate roofs and then tiled roofs. We now have a mixture of everything. Properly designed houses can enhance the rural environment. It is important we debate this issue.
Mr. Fitzgerald: Regarding the motion on Private Members' Business, our amendment is a clear statement of our commitment and conviction regarding approaches to third level education generally. We will be glad of the opportunity to contribute to the debate, no matter how much time the Leader gives us. We welcome any opportunity to contribute at whatever length of time the Leader affords us.
Mr. Quinn: I heard on radio that there was a scandal in Britain where a school in England had to send its pupils home early because it could not afford to pay the teachers. Does that not sound familiar to something happening in the health service in Ireland? We read that the Mater Hospital will cut another 180 posts. We had a debate on this issue recently but not that long ago that we cannot again debate hospital closures and what is happening in the health service. The State has a responsibility towards the safety of its citizens, especially their health. A scandal is occurring in the health service. The Minister for Health and Children should attend debates in the House on this issue on a much more regular basis in which he could inform us if he has some plans for and hope of overcoming the problem of the closure of hospital beds and avoiding outrageous situations such as the death in hospital of a person who had been lying on a trolley for four or five days. That is a scandal. We should debate the state of the health service on a regular basis.
I asked for a debate yesterday on road deaths. Listening to Senator Ryan speak about juggernauts reminded me of when I was in the Middle East recently. I discovered that, if a person's car exceeds the speed limit, a little siren attached to it lets people know that person has exceeded the speed limit. Whatever about juggernauts, it certainly could apply here. I do not know if it is possible to introduce legislation in this regard but it is something that would assist in dealing with the outrageous problem of road deaths caused by speeding motorists.
Ms Ormonde: I look forward to the magnificent debate in Private Members' time which promises to be lively. The Opposition will get as much from the Government side as the latter has received in recent weeks from the former. It will be worthwhile and Opposition Members will get the time they require.
I support Senator Ryan's call for statements on the behaviour of truck drivers. They are a disgrace and seem to be answerable to no one, especially late at night when they think they have a clear road to themselves. I have recent experience of their behaviour and was terrified by it because they were undoubtedly driving in excess of the speed limit. I do not know to whom they are accountable. They seem to be a law unto themselves when they take to the road because they have the mighty power by virtue of the weight of their trucks. I would welcome the possibility of debating this issue.
Mr. Coghlan: I support the call of Senator Brian Hayes to allow at least one hour extra for the debate in Private Members' time. The proposed amendment tonight looks like a bit of a subterfuge. There is no mention of fees and it does not address the subject matter of the motion. It talks about noting commitments in An Agreed Programme for Government, but that programme makes absolutely no mention of fees or their re-introduction.
The Leader was good enough to respond yesterday to my request. I know she did not intend to make an inaccurate response but the Tánaiste in fact mentioned the subject of my request, the groceries order and the removal of the ban on below-cost selling. As stated by the Leader, the Tánaiste also mentioned the retail planning guidelines. That will be a matter for another Minister. In the other House yesterday the Taoiseach said clearly in a one sentence response to a question that the Government has no proposals to amend the groceries order and I am very heartened to hear that. However, I was informed by a Member that in a written answer to a parliamentary question in the other House yesterday the Tánaiste said that she is giving consideration to its repeal. I heard about her answer only this morning because I was attending a meeting of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. When does the Leader anticipate we might hear the Government speaking in unison on this important matter?
Mr. Brennan: The recreation policy under the national children's strategy is in the form of a draft proposal for Government by Deputy Brian Lenihan, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children. I ask for a debate on the implementation of this plan because there are only 168 playgrounds for a population of four million. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State to come to the House to debate the matter.
Mr. McCarthy: An article in this morning's edition of The Irish Times deals with the cost of care for the elderly. According to a report initiated by the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the cost of providing nursing home care and home help for the elderly is set to jump by 60% over the next decade. That is a huge increase and should set off alarm bells. The report concludes that there is a compelling case for Government to finance long-term care for the elderly. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister to come to the House to debate the issue.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: In the past couple of weeks, the House debated the Official Languages Bill. This Bill enables those who wish to conduct business with public bodies through Irish to do so. In the course of the debate I was glad to commend in particular the Revenue Commissioners on the operation of aonad 88 which enabled people to deal with them through Irish. It was a very effective, friendly and accessible unit. I understand there is a danger that the unit will be dismantled and if that is correct, I deplore it. Such a decision would be a blow to the very intention of the Official Languages Bill and to the State's language policy. I ask the Leader to contact the Minister for Finance on this matter.
Ms Terry: I heard the Dublin city manager on the radio this morning once again defending the height of the Dublin Port tunnel. The proposed height will prevent many higher trucks using the tunnel. I cannot understand why we are not engaged in forward thinking because we must plan for the future in order to maintain competitiveness. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport to come to the House to explain his position on maintaining the present height of the port tunnel which will prevent this country maintaining its competitiveness.
Mr. Dooley: I join Senator Bannon in calling for a debate on rural housing. I am very aware of the problems throughout the country, particularly in my county, Clare. There has been much difficulty in relation to the role of An Taisce. There was talk in the past regarding Dúchas and I am pleased the Minister has dealt with the issue – finally, I hope. I ask the Leader to include a discussion on An Taisce in any debate, including the role of An Bord Pleanála. There is lack of information on the difference of opinion between the inspectors and the determination reached by the board in some cases. I would welcome an early debate on the matter.
I hope we might have the Tánaiste here for a debate on the future of the community employment schemes. This is the time of year when people complete their participation on these schemes. Some people who may have done three years have been told they will not be going back on schemes. It is important to clarify the role of people over the age of 50 or 55 who I understood would be able to continue indefinitely on these schemes. I would like that issue to be debated in this House as soon as possible.
Ms O'Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes asked if we will all have a free vote. We certainly have free tongues. He sought extra time to which I am agreeable, as will our other Members. We are all very keen to speak, therefore there will be no such thing as demure people on this side on the matter.
Ms O'Rourke: It will be 9 p.m. so everyone should get their voices in order. The Senator sought a debate on tourism, which is appropriate. We hope to have such a debate next week, particularly on prices being charged by people offering tourist facilities.
Senator Henry asked to extend the debate on third level fees. That debate is being extended by half an hour. She asked for the Minister for Agriculture and Food to come to this House to debate the rising number of BSE cases. I will contact the Minister in that regard.
Senator Ryan raised the issue of competitiveness. I take the point that infrastructure was noted as a huge factor in the competitiveness debate, including the issue of juggernauts. They must be empty because they are travelling at such a speed. The drivers do not seem to worry about the speed limit. Everyone else tries to keep within the speed limit but these vehicles do not do so. I understand a special Garda unit deals with overloading if vehicles exceed the tare load allowed. They would be subject to Garda activity just as everyone else. However, we must make inquiries in this regard.
Senator Brady referred to flood relief cover. Some €10 million is being spent on the areas which encountered flooding, yet there are reports of certain insurance companies not providing cover. That is certainly the business of the Tánaiste and I will ask her to make herself available to us.
Senator Bannon asked for an extension of time to debate the education issue and this is being allowed. He also asked about rural housing. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, will speak today about a certain aspect of that. He is very strong on that issue. Senators Bannon, Ormonde and others asked for a debate on the design, planning and so on of rural housing. Senator Dooley and other Senators asked for a debate on the role of An Taisce. We will endeavour to get the Minister, Deputy Cullen, to come before the House to discuss it.
Senator Quinn asked for a debate on health and the closures. If the Minister is available he will come before the House. The Senator also spoke about the siren that went off in his car. It would be salutary if there were sirens in cars which went off if one drove at 32 mph in a 30 mph zone. There would be a lot of sirens going off. I do not mean to make a joke of this because it is a serious issue and the deaths that occurred recently were horrendous.
Senator Coghlan also asked when the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach will speak to each other. Both were telling the truth. The Taoiseach said there was no proposal at Cabinet, so there is no such proposal. The Tánaiste said she is considering it within her Department. Both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste are correct.
Ms O'Rourke: Senator Brennan wants to debate the draft programme for playing facilities for young people. We will endeavour to get the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to come before the House to discuss that.
Senator McCarthy sought a debate on the 60% increase there will be in years to come in the cost of care for the elderly and the burden that will place on everybody. I read that report and it certainly is a matter of concern. He also asked if the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, will be present for the debate. I do not know, but there will be a responsible person in the House for the debate. I will try to get the Minister.
Senator Ó Murchú asked about the Irish unit in the Revenue Commissioners which deals with people who wish to conduct business as Gaeilge. I am sure what the Senator mentioned is not what was meant, but perhaps we could speak to the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, about it when he comes before the House later.
Senator Dooley is seeking a debate on rural housing, something he has sought previously, with particular regard to the roles of An Taisce and An Bord Pleanála and the seeming disparity between inspectors' reports and final decisions in planning matters.
Senator Kitt asked for debates on the Hanly report and on the community employment schemes. It would be useful to have a debate on those schemes, for which the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, has responsibility.
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