Thursday, 27 November 2003
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O'Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, a procedural motion agreed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on the attendance of Dana Rosemary Scallon, MEP, in the House this afternoon, with the arrangements as outlined in the motion, to be taken without debate; No. 2, a procedural motion as agreed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges regarding the attendance of Nuala Ahern, MEP, in the House this afternoon, with the arrangements as outlined in the motion, to be taken without debate; No. 3, a referral motion whereby the subject matter of No. 12 on today's Order Paper is being referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, concerning the application of certain provisions of the 2000 European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and its 2001 protocol to Iceland and Norway, to be taken without debate; No. 4, the address by Pat Cox, MEP, President of the European Parliament, this morning, the arrangements for which were agreed yesterday; and No. 5, the Road Traffic Bill 2003 – All Stages, to be taken at 4 p.m, to conclude not later than 5 p.m, and an early signature motion for that Bill on its receipt from Dáil Éireann this afternoon. The general office will circulate a Supplementary Order Paper on notification from the Dáil that the Bill has been completed there. There will be a sos from 12.40 p.m. to 2 p.m.
There are those who would rightfully ask why we cannot deal with the Road Traffic Bill during the period allocated for the sos, but we will not have received it from the Dáil at that time. It must pass through the Dáil and then come to us.
Mr. B. Hayes: I am sure all Members were shocked to hear this morning of the stabbing of a man in his forties in Ballyfermot last night. He was defending his property, trying to stop thugs from interfering with his car, and was stabbed to death as a result of his actions. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should make a statement on this matter, although the issue will probably come before the courts. Once again we see knife-related crime in this city, perpetrated by a small, persistent group of young people who feel they have a right not only to interfere with property but to kill people who stand in their way. It is appalling. I am sure all Members want to pay their respects to the gentleman who died this morning in St. James's Hospital for doing nothing more than defending his property. It is an indictment of this society that people can pull knives on each other as quickly as they would look at each other. This House should have statements on this matter at the earliest possible time so that we may express our revulsion at what is taking place in this city and throughout the country.
Earlier this week, the Leader kindly arranged to publish the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Bill amendments and circulated them to Members. I know it is the Government's intention to take Committee Stage of the Bill next week. My spokesman has asked me to establish whether it is possible that the deadline for submitting amendments to the Bill could be extended to Monday of next week rather than tomorrow.
Mr. B. Hayes: I understand that. However, if Committee Stage were taken at a later date next week, it would allow us to spend more time on the amendments proposed by the Government. Given that the Leader told us earlier this week that the Bill has been virtually rewritten, I think we should consider it carefully. I ask the Government to consider this in consultation with the Cathaoirleach.
Mr. O'Toole: I wish to restate a matter I raised some months ago. In 1792, a Count Rice from Dingle organised a plan to free Marie Antoinette from incarceration. The count and his family organised a fleet of ships to take her from France to the safety of Dingle and a house was prepared for her there. This is the only connection between Ireland and Marie Antoinette. Rice House, currently in the ownership of Údarás na Gaeltachta, is now threatened with sale. I raised this issue before and while the cottage is still for sale, the sale was not proceeded with at that time. The Government needs to take a firmer stand and protect the Marie Antoinette residence. Rice House is one of the few surviving examples of an 18th century merchant's house in Ireland and should be protected in the national interest. I ask the Leader to raise this at the appropriate level of Government and perhaps hold a discussion on it in this House.
Mr. Ryan: While I am reluctant to go back over old ground, I have a fundamental issue that I wish to raise yet again, namely, the way in which our policy on embryonic stem cell research was reached. While a compromise is apparently being worked out, the Oireachtas will not know what this is until the vote takes place on 3 December at a meeting of the Council of Ministers. For most of my political career I have been one of the more Euro-critical Members of this House. I should point out that I am broadly in agreement with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on the matter. However, the Government should not decide this matter without authorisation from both Houses of the Oireachtas. If the Government states it is entitled to negotiate on such matters without authorisation from the Oireachtas, then the whole idea of accountability and subsidiarity in the EU is entirely meaningless. Public scepticism will grow about the European project. If people begin to believe that the big issues will be decided in secret and without accountability, they will not take the project to their hearts and it will eventually fall apart.
Now that there has been a breathing space, the Government should table a motion for debate in both Houses that states its position and seeks the approval of the Oireachtas. That is functioning democracy. My views on the EU have been consistent for 20 years and I have not changed my position. I see it as a good project done badly.
Last week I sought a debate on child poverty in this country. The Taoiseach and the Combat Poverty Agency appear to have different views on the extent of child poverty. Measured by the same indices used by the Combat Poverty Agency in Ireland, we have the second highest level of child poverty in Europe. We should be profoundly ashamed of this and should debate and try to remedy it rather than pretending it is not a problem. I ask the Leader for a debate on the issue before Christmas.
Before Christmas every year the Government side calls for a debate on homelessness. Given that public policy is now deliberately creating homelessness, can I at least request the honour of their silence on the issue for the next six weeks?
Mr. Morrissey: I have a question for the Leader on this. Paul Farrell gave 30 years of his life to teaching in an institution and was principal of an inner city school in Dublin. He was convicted on the flimsiest of evidence and the judge was found to have erred in three matters of fact—
Mr. Morrissey: That is not the point I am making. Some years ago, the Taoiseach rightly made a full apology to victims of institutional abuse in this country. This case is an example of similar institutional abuse of a former Christian Brother. I ask the Leader to consider asking the Taoiseach if he will make an apology to people who have been similarly abused by the institutions of this State.
I appeal to the Leader to use her good offices regarding a place dear to her and countless thousands of people, including me, namely, Dinis Cottage. The cottage is at the meeting of waters in the heart of Killarney National Park and is badly in need of reconstruction and renovation. Money had been set aside this year to do this. Sadly, there has been an appeal from someone living quite far away from the cottage, although that is neither here nor there as he is apparently within his rights. I ask the Leader if, with the support of the House, we can assure the moneys that have been set aside for these important works might be made available next year. The appeal will mean that the works will not be carried out this year.
Mr. Leyden: This House should send a protest to the Israeli ambassador to Ireland regarding the erection of a new Berlin Wall around the State of Palestine by the Israeli Government. A photograph in today's Irish Independent graphically displays an 8 m high concrete wall around the city of Qalqilya that is cutting off—
Mr. Leyden: I expect most people will have seen page 17 of today's Irish Independent. This is the new Berlin wall, built by Israelis whose people were treated in a particularly difficult way during the Second World War. Now they are imitating the East German authorities in building a wall three times higher than the Berlin wall. They have cut off the city of Qalqilya. I spoke to the Palestinian ambassador this morning about this issue.
Mr. Leyden: There should be an emergency debate in this House prior to the recess. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, will be assuming the Presidency of the European Union from 1 January and will have tremendous influence as regards the Israelis. However, they have turned down the United States of America which has withdrawn $290 million in loans from Israel because it was being used to build this new Berlin wall.
Mr. Leyden: It is already built and is 900 kms in length. When the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Pat Cox, comes into the House, he should be told that he, too, can play a role in this regard. We should condemn in the strongest possible manner the approach of the Israeli Government and its treatment of the Palestinians. Finally—
Mr. Norris: There was a shocking incident last night in Ballyfermot when a man was followed into his own home by people because he dared to defend his own property. I find that astonishing and strongly support Senator Brian Hayes's call for a debate on this matter. I am sure he is supported on all sides of the House. It is not just a matter for this side of the House.
Does the Leader share my concern and revulsion at the attacks on polling stations in Derry by republican mobs? These were people attacking their own community's right to vote. It is from that source that we got this stuff about “one man one vote” when that merely reflected what we had down here with regard to property qualifications; it was always one man one vote. It is interesting to see how democratically certain elements take this right.
I support Senator O'Toole as regards Rice House. This would be a wonderful development in Dingle because it is a marvellously romantic story. I did not realise until Senator O'Toole raised it in the House about a year ago that there was a connection with an attempt to smuggle Marie Antoinette out of revolutionary France. It is significant that this fine building is an unusual example of a Roman Catholic merchant's house of that period. I support a debate on that and measures to defend the house. We had a descendant of Colonel Rice in the House yesterday as a guest, Professor Valentine Rice of Trinity College Dublin, who met the Leader.
I agree with the comments of Senator Morrissey and it is something I intended to raise, but I would like to put it in a slightly different way. We all sympathise with victims of sexual abuse, whether it be from clerical sources or within the family or wherever. However, there are other victims. It is worrying that a small number of people have been unjustly accused. If I was one of them I would not give a damn about an apology, but there should be compensation. People have been deprived of their income and position in society and held up to contempt and abuse. In cases where there is an injustice of this kind, some rectification should be made.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: I would like to support Senator Morrissey in his comments regarding the former Christian Brother, Mr. Farrell. I commend his compassion in so doing because we are living in an age where many members of religious orders feel they no longer have a voice. Everyone in this House accepts that the vast majority of the religious gave great service and have not done anything wrong. Mr. Farrell is now an innocent man, but as he has said, his life is ruined. I commend RTE for the exposure it has given him. This House has given plenty of time to defending the rights of those who have been abused. It is time for us to provide a voice for those who have been wrongly accused and whose lives have been ruined. I would go as far as Senator Morrissey did in his contribution. This is important in that the only hope we have to save the good names of those people – there are other cases – is if an apology in this case is offered from the highest voice in the land, namely the Taoiseach.
Mr. Browne: The National Roads Authority is due to have a board meeting on 9 December about the roads project for the year. It might be fitting if we could debate the issue in the House next week with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan. He has spoken about plans to fast-track the Cork-Galway motorway but he has not indicated how this will be done. We need to know which projects will be shelved in order to facilitate this motorway. A debate on tolling should be included.
A debate in the House next week on the Northern Ireland elections would be apposite because the outcome will be known. I have spent some time in Northern Ireland this week canvassing, as did many other Members. From what I heard many of the bad old ways have not gone away. We heard about racketeering and intimidation by certain factions. We should have a debate on that entire issue.
Dr. Mansergh: Yes I have one question for the Leader. I would like to support Senator Leyden's request for a balanced debate on the Middle East. If the way the security fence is drawn is unacceptable so are the suicide bombings which kill many innocent civilians.
Mr. Quinn: I was struck, coming up to Christmas, with the number of fundraisers with open buckets on the streets of Dublin. I was reminded that the same fundraisers seem to operate with different charities. I am not sure what the position is in regard to our charity legislation. One wonders what proportion of a donation is received by the charity, given that fund raisers very often are paid on a percentage profit basis. Is it time to review our charity legislation as the British are doing? I read yesterday in the Queen's speech in Britain that a charities Bill is being introduced to secure some control over collections. In the case of some charities such as St. Vincent de Paul one knows that every euro donated goes to the charity. Others might not have the same constraints.
I was impressed, on seeing a list of the 23 Bills in the British legislative programme and the seven draft Bills they have introduced, to see in many cases that they are following us. There are some that we should consider following. They intend, for example, to have a Bill for the House of Lords to remove some of the hereditary peers. The aim is to select some non-party members. I am not suggesting that should become part of the review of the Seanad, but perhaps it should be considered.
Dr. M. Hayes: I would like to support Senator Quinn's call for a discussion at some stage on charities legislation. It is time something was done about that. It is long overdue. The Senator is right to pinpoint the people on the streets with boards who are paid and make money from this.
I also support the proposal of a debate on Northern Ireland before Christmas. We will know the result of the election by tomorrow but it is optimistic to think that we will know the outcome. That will take some months. I support Senator O'Toole's remarks about the house in Dingle.
My view of the religious orders is similar to that of Senator Ó Murchú. I was educated by a religious order and I worked for one. I have enormous respect for the work the orders have done. At the same time, to assert that the Taoiseach should apologise personally every time a case is overturned on appeal is to trivialise both the office of the Taoiseach and the legal system. We should not ask him to do it.
Mr. J. Phelan: I support Senator Brian Hayes's request for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to discuss the incident that occurred last night. While the Minister is here he could also discuss his proposed reforms of the Garda Síochána. This has been raised by a number of Senators over the past week but the Leader has not responded adequately. I urge her to invite the Minister to the House to discuss these reforms. It would be devastating for rural areas to have any more Garda stations closed.
Ms White: I support Senator Maurice Hayes's call for a debate on Northern Ireland before Christmas. We have deliberately delayed having such a debate for diplomatic reasons but it is critical now that such a debate be held.
Ms O'Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes brought the murder last night to our attention. The starkness of the murder was terrible. Any of us might go outside the house at night to check if the car has been locked or to get something from it. To be murdered for the simple act of looking after one's property is appalling. I have been endeavouring to bring the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House. He wishes to come here but timing is the problem for both sides.
A question was asked about the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Bill. A total of 55 amendments have already been put down and, to an extent, the Bill has been redrawn. It is an important Bill and one we are anxious to discuss fully. If that is to be done, the debate will have to commence next week. It is scheduled for Tuesday because we will deal with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Bill on Wednesday. We would be prepared to continue discussing the Bill into the following week to ensure it is given adequate time.
Senator O'Toole referred to the Rice House in Dingle and asked that it be preserved. Last evening Senator Norris and I met Val Rice, whom I know well, in the House. Senator Ryan asked for statements in each House before the next vote takes place on the embryo stem cell research programme in Brussels. I will consult with the Whips in the Dáil to see if that can be done. They will point out that Senators have already debated it, which is true, but the controversy on this matter has hardened somewhat. It might be necessary to discuss it again.
I take the point that citizens are critical of Europe. If decisions are taken which are not transparent, open and debated, they will believe things are being done in a furtive fashion. However, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has been very open with this House and she answered questions for almost two hours in the Dáil this week. She has not been found wanting in that regard. Nevertheless, I agree there is a need to have greater transparency on such issues if we hope to get the support of citizens.
Senator Ryan also sought a debate on child poverty. We hope to hold that debate the week after next. Senator Morrissey raised the issue of the Judiciary but I am reluctant to enter into that debate. All my life I have refrained from commenting on judgments.
Ms O'Rourke: I will answer his point when responding to Senator Ó Murchú. This House should not discuss who made a judgment or what way it was made. Senator Norris tackled this matter in another way by referring to the need for compensation. However, it is a matter for citizens to take their case.
Ms O'Rourke: I said we had libations, nothing else. Senator Leyden referred to the new Berlin Wall in the city of Kalkilya which is photographed in today's Irish Independent. He asked me to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the House. I have written to the Minister and told him that all Members of the House want him to come to the House for a debate on international matters. I hope he will come to the House for that debate. The Senator also spoke about access to Bethlehem.
Senator Norris supported Senator Brian Hayes and Senator O'Toole. He spoke about people who are wrongly accused of seeking compensation. Senator Ó Murchú supported Senator Morrissey. I do not wish to comment on that case. I hope he and Senator Morrissey will excuse me from discussing the judicial statement. In general, however, the issue of abuse in institutions is becoming unbalanced in several cases. Of course, there were dark days. However, there were also sunlit days when great education was given. I am thinking in particular of women who received a proper education, which they would never ordinarily have received. We need to keep a sense of perspective in such a debate but because the abuse was so horrific, our minds tend to focus on that. Nevertheless, we need to look at both sides.
Senator Browne raised the NRA and the fast tracking of roads. He also wants a debate on Northern Ireland. I have asked the Taoiseach to come to the House to debate Northern Ireland. In fact, two letters have been sent, one to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and one to the Taoiseach. If time permits and they have the time to come to the House, both debates will be held before Christmas. That is what I requested. Senator Mansergh supported Senator Leyden's call for a balanced debate. I will find out later what was meant by his remark about chivalry.
Senator Quinn referred to the overlapping of charities, comments which were supported by Senator Ormonde. A clear statement is needed on the matter. He spoke about the list of 30 Bills in the UK, which I hope to read today. He said that the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, hopes to abolish hereditary peers, but I do not know what who will replace them.
Ms O'Rourke: I do not know how he will replace them. They are setting up a mechanism for non-party members. Appointing 600 non-party members to the House of Lords would result in mayhem. However, we will see what happens.
Senator Maurice Hayes referred to Northern Ireland, on which I hope to have a debate. He voiced a note of caution on the point made earlier by another Senator and he spoke in general about religious orders.
Senator John Paul Phelan asked if the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would come to the House. We pursue him up and down the corridors and he is anxious to come to the House, which I hope will happen.
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