Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O'Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, which is a referral motion whereby the subject matter of No. 13 on today's Order Paper is being referred to the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, concerning the licence fees to be payable in respect of salmon, eel and oyster commercial fishing licences and salmon, eel, mollusc and shellfish dealers' licences issued or renewed for the period commencing on or after 1 January 2004, to be taken without debate; No. 2, the Sea Pollution (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2003 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 11.45 a.m; No. 3, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Bill 2003 – Second Stage, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and to conclude not later than 2 p.m, with the contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes, Senators may share time and the Minister is to be called upon to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; and No. 17, motion No. 26, to be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will be an extended sos today because of the Budget Statement.
Does the Leader agree that the GAA's gesture to move the date of the 2006 all-Ireland football final from the last Sunday in September to facilitate the holding of the Ryder Cup is a magnanimous gesture that should be welcomed by everyone? Many of us are critical of the GAA, but it has shown great foresight in this matter. The Ryder Cup will be a huge sporting event for this country with a worldwide audience of more than 700 million which will bring considerable tourism opportunities. I congratulate this excellent decision by the GAA. The decision by the then Minister for Tourism and Trade, Deputy Enda Kenny, to bring the tournament to Ireland was also a great act of foresight.
Mr. B. Hayes: Will the Leader organise a debate on the Government's proposal to introduce a press council? There would be much merit in having a wide-ranging debate in this House given the experience and knowledge of many Members who either write or work for newspapers. The Government has a viewpoint, which is contested by the Opposition, that the press council should be appointed by the Cabinet. Before a decision is made on the membership of the press council, a debate in the House would be useful. The considerable experience of colleagues on all sides would add to such a debate.
Mr. O'Toole: The all-Ireland football final has moved to the first Sunday of October, rather than the last one in September. We are very pleased in County Kerry because the season will have finished and we will be able to come up for the match.
Mr. O'Toole: As today's Private Members' motion is on the budget and will take place within an hour and a quarter of the beginning of the Minister for Finance's Budget Statement, will the Leader ensure the proposer and seconder of the motion and spokespersons receive a copy of the budget speech as soon as it is distributed? This will give us time to prepare our speeches.
The Kyoto Agreement is becoming a global issue with the news that Russia has now decided that it will not sign up to it. Russia and the US are outside of the agreement, on a day when France has had huge floods and the winter has hardly started. I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, to take up this issue in Europe. It must be dealt with and Ireland can be an honest broker. Europe has acted responsibly on this issue in the past and needs to do so again. It is not just about the two big superpowers. The US must be convinced that it is a part of the world, not some separate place, and must play its part, as well as Russia.
This House passed a resolution in May on auctioneering practices. The Government agreed to pursue a report into the auctioneering sector and to ensure young people buying houses are treated properly. I ask the Leader to find out the position on this report. In other countries, developments have been made on the process of buying and selling of houses. One of the huge costs for people making a bid is the survey. In some countries, house surveys now have to be paid for by the vendor. This makes for a fair auction. People cannot be allowed to put their houses on the market with no intention of selling, as happens regularly in Ireland, to find out what price it will make so they can talk about it down the pub on Saturday night. Young people are being dragged along by these difficulties in the auctioneering area.
Mr. Ryan: In The Irish Times today, the President of the European Commission, in an interview, states that any country that does not ratify the next treaty will have to leave the Union. He says that one cannot allow one country to hold up the progress of 25. I thought the bedrock of the European Union and the reason we all were comfortable with it was that nothing could be done dramatically against our interests or wishes, but by negotiation and agreement. It is a tedious process but it has worked. Some Members know more about it as they were involved in the tedium. If the President of the European Commission makes statements such as this, we need to have regular debates in this House to respond and hear the Government's position.
It cannot be a coincidence that a country which voted against the Nice treaty is treated to an interview like this by the President of the Commission. We need to debate the processes by which the EU makes its decisions if the threat of having to leave the Union if they disagree is hanging over every individual country during the ratification of a major treaty. That will mean it is no longer a genuine free choice. This is not the way for the European project to go and win popular approval. Such a threat increases the possibility of a future treaty being rejected in this country because people will get annoyed.
We regularly get requests for debates on competitiveness. As I have often said, the problem with such debates is that they return to the single issue of price and cost competitiveness. Yesterday's edition of The Irish Times carried a grim report on foreign managers working in Ireland and their perception of their Irish counterparts. They saw Irish managers as essentially being unimaginative, unstructured and paying little or no attention to deadlines etc., whereas Irish mangers thought they were doing a great job. If we are to debate competitiveness, I would like it to encompass all aspects. Forfás reports correctly highlight the cost of living but this is not the only issue in competitiveness.
At Christmas, there are regular demands that those who were forced to leave Northern Ireland should be allowed to return without threat. All Members agree with this. However, one man forced into exile who had an impeccable record and did wonderful work is Bishop Eamon Casey. I appeal to the Catholic Church to lift this exile in order that an ageing man can return home to the country in which he served so well.
Mr. Leyden: I ask the Leader to arrange at the earliest opportunity a detailed debate in this regard. Along with Finland, Ireland now has the highest prices in the euro zone, which is some record for a country of our size. Our prices are higher than those in Italy, France or any of those high price countries.
I draw the Leader's attention to the serious allegation that Tesco has pressurised vegetable producers in north County Dublin to deny supply to the low cost companies Aldi and Lidl. This matter should be raised with the Competition Authority. Pressure should not be placed on suppliers to these low cost companies, which do not offer enough Irish goods on their shelves. In fact, they import most of their goods. If they are trying to buy Irish goods, they should be encouraged and not be threatened through some type of mafia operation to prevent them supplying the Aldi or Lidl supermarkets. Those companies have a 7% share.
Mr. Finucane: I support Senator O'Toole's point about the Kyoto Protocol. Ireland tries to conform to this protocol even though it is only a small economy compared to the US and Russia. The implications of the Kyoto Protocol, in particular the emissions directives and carbon taxes, will be felt severely by businesses in Ireland in the very near future. Given that President Bush is beholden to the oil industry, it is horrendous that a major economy such as the United States of America will not conform to the Kyoto Protocol. In the long-term interest of the environment, Europe should lead an initiative to encourage such countries to conform to these protocols.
Dr. Mansergh: The Leader may wish to raise a procedural issue at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Many motions on the Order Paper are outdated. Some of them concern matters that have been addressed. They date back to December 2002.
I support Senator Hayes's request for a debate on a press council, which would be very useful. We should also have a rounded debate on competitiveness. While I have not read the National Competitiveness Council's report, I note from the headlines that we have one of the highest industrial electricity costs. However, we have relatively low domestic electricity costs. Sometimes the negatives are exaggerated and the positives are ignored.
Mr. Norris: It was reported on the radio yesterday that a judge, in sentencing a man for downloading images, said he would be particularly harsh because he had strong feelings in this area. While I am not addressing the issue on which the sentence was handed down, it is a matter of concern if somebody is sentenced on the basis of a judge's feelings. They should implement the law of the land. I remember a previous case when a judge said he was implementing the law of God. This judge may have been misreported. However, the law of the land should be implemented, not the feelings of a judge or the law of God. We should have a debate on the application of the law and the Judiciary in general.
I strongly support a proposed press council, which is very important. I take the opportunity to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin, who, in an excellent article in the past week, made some strong points about the right of people to defend their good names against the strong forces of the media. Newspapers and other media sources should tell the truth or pay the price. It is not good enough that they are able to destroy people's reputations and claim it is in the public interest. The public interest has been so broadened as a concept that it is now absolutely and utterly meaningless.
Mr. Norris: I support the call for a debate as this is one of the areas on which President Bush does not know what he does not know about the damage that his industries are causing to the environment.
Dr. M. Hayes: I have an interest to declare as a director of Independent News and Media. I support Senator Brian Hayes's request for a debate on the proposal for a press council and ombudsman. This is an ideal debate for the Seanad at this time as it would be a pre-White Paper debate before matters are cast in concrete. Senator Brian Hayes, I am sure entirely inadvertently, was unfair to the Minister. I was at a conference on Monday attended by the Minister who, even to the satisfaction of the newspaper journalists there, showed he had an open mind on this matter, which is still subject to discussion.
Mr. McHugh: As today is budget day, which will involve considerable debate on both sides of the House, I do not want to go into this matter yet. However, the staff at Letterkenny General Hospital are experiencing a serious work overload. The nurses there are working at 110% of capacity. For the past two days they have had to close the day care unit because they do not have 40 beds which were promised by the Department of Health and Children. Rather than asking for the Minister to come to the House, I ask for the Leader's indulgence in trying to contact somebody in the Department. The nurses went public yesterday to express their concern about not only the staffing problems, but also patient care.
Mr. McHugh: While I agree this might be suitable for discussion on the Adjournment, it is serious. Even if money is thrown at us following today's budget, it will not solve the problem. There is an infrastructural deficit concerning beds that should have been provided. I call for the Leader's intervention.
Mr. Brady: I call for a debate on HIV and AIDS. As Senator Norris so eloquently pointed out yesterday, last Monday was World AIDS Day, which went relatively unnoticed. Some 40 million people are suffering from this disease and 5 million people became infected in the past year alone. Some 95% of those 5 million came from what are euphemistically called developing countries. Given that we have a very young population with a growing multi-ethnic element, this issue should be discussed as soon as possible.
Ms O'Meara: The matter raised by Senator McHugh was ignored by Mr. Hanly in his report. I support the call for a debate on a press council. There has been some very useful debate in the media in recent weeks, including some excellent contributions by Members of the other House on this matter. It is time to have such a debate, which I think would be a very well informed one and for which there is cross-party support.
I am concerned at the remarks of Romano Prodi, as reported in The Irish Times today. They certainly ups the ante on the debate on the new European constitution. His remarks were not helpful. It is important, particularly in view of the imminent commencement of the Irish Presidency, that we receive clarity from the Government on its response to Mr. Prodi's remarks.
Mr. Hanafin: I object to the derogatory remarks made in the House yesterday in connection with the teachings of my church. Not only does the church have a right to its teachings, it has a duty to express the gospel.
Mr. Hanafin: I again ask the Leader to provide time for a debate on credit institutions. As interest rates are expected to rise, the Central Bank has issued guidelines and requested the compliance of credit institutions to ensure that young people do not overextend themselves in borrowing. It would be timely for the House to participate in such a debate to ensure that rising interest rates do not catch out young people.
It struck me with regard to the Kyoto Protocol that due to Russia having large tracts of land in Siberia, sub-Arctic and Arctic regions, including the cities of Murmansk, Archangel and Verkuta at minus 40º Celsius, the Russians might find some positive aspects in global warming.
Mr. Bradford: Will the Leader arrange a debate about telephone charges, with specific reference to the cost of mobile telephone charges? There has been an indication this week of a price war between various companies which might bring a reduction in land line charges, but mobile telephone costs in Ireland remain the highest in Europe, if not the world. The costs are inexplicably high and the Leader would do everybody a favour if she were to arrange a debate on the matter.
Dr. Henry: Since the 1970s we have been warned that thinning of the ozone layer would lead to an increase in skin cancer. In this part of the world in the past ten years there has been a 64% increase in melanoma in men and a 54% increase in women. Surely this demonstrates that a debate on the Kyoto Protocol is urgently required in order to try to bring some sense into the American stance on the matter.
It is ten months since the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform brought the Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill before the House. Why bring Bills just to Second Stage? Although some Members tabled amendments, it appears we are not going any further with the Bill. It will be a year since the introduction of the Bill if Committee Stage is not taken before Christmas. Will the Leader find out what is happening with this important legislation?
Mr. Bannon: I call for a debate on the stealth taxes being imposed on local authorities throughout the country, namely development levies. A number of confidential letters went to county managers in May, July and October this year, over the heads of elected representatives. The development levies are both unjust and unfair and will have a negative effect on our competitiveness. Young people trying to start up business enterprises will be affected, as will young people building their first home as a charge of €12,000 will be imposed on new homes.
An Cathaoirleach: Statements on the Estimates were taken last week during which all those points were made. It is not appropriate to make speeches on such matters on the Order of Business. If the Senator wants a debate he can seek one and if it is granted he can make his contribution.
Mr. Quinn: I welcome the words of Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission, yesterday as a wake-up call. His comment that any country which does not vote in favour of the new constitution should leave should serve as a reminder to us. Senators O'Meara and Ryan spoke about their concerns, with which I agree, but we can do something about them. We need to sell the benefits we have had from the European Union well ahead of the next referendum. This will be called upon in the future. It is difficult to envisage a European Union of 25 or 27 nations allowing 1% of members to stop a development.
One of the benefits of EU membership has been infrastructural investment. However, investment in the M50 seems to have created a huge parking lot. Operation Freeflow appears to work well in Dublin but the M50 is blocked every morning. We spent a huge sum of money, both Irish and European on the M50 but it does not appear to be effective. Day after day we hear of tailbacks extending for many kilometres. Something can be done about this. I am not sure what the solution is, but the matter needs our attention.
Mr. Moylan: In view of the election results in Northern Ireland, will the Leader investigate the possibility of inviting the leaders of the main political parties in Northern Ireland to the Seanad to make them available to both speak—
Mr. Feighan: Many Senators have attended the emotive and highly charged public meetings arising from the Hanly report. The European working time directive, which will have the effect of closing many hospitals around the country, is due to come into effect next summer. In view of our imminent Presidency of the EU, I particularly urge Members from the Government parties to ask the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, to seek an extension of the directive for at least two years. This would show good faith in trying to resolve some of the problems regarding the Hanly report.
On Senator O'Toole's call for the budget speech to be made available to Seanad spokespersons, will the Leader also ensure that Senators in attendance in the other Chamber for the Budget Statement will also obtain copies of the speech? There have been problems in previous years which may now be resolved but perhaps the Leader will investigate the matter.
Mr. Browne: Last weekend 40 jobs were lost in Carlow while today a further 60 jobs have gone. Some 50 jobs are also to be lost in south Kilkenny. This is not good news for the families concerned four weeks before Christmas. Will the leader invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, to the House to ask her about her Department's plans to put pressure on the IDA to get investment around the country? She is aware that Athlone was recently turned down in favour of Blanchardstown as a factory location. We need to ensure there is development around the country and not just in Dublin. Areas outside Dublin are rapidly losing jobs.
Mr. Browne: Will the Leader discuss the matter with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform? It is despicable. Members of the House are very much in favour of the penalty points system which has helped to reduce road deaths and we do not wish to see anybody breaking the law and profiteering from setting a bad example.
Ms O'Rourke: The Leader of the Opposition raised the timely issue of the move by the GAA to put back the all-Ireland football final day in 2006 from the traditional last Sunday in September to allow for people to both view and attend the Ryder Cup. Linked with the motion which is coming before the GAA conference—
Ms O'Rourke: Senator Hayes also noted that the Ryder Cup is coming here because of his leader. The second issue he raised related to the press council, which seems to have been welcomed with warmth around the Chamber. There is no doubt that the Minister is most open to receiving and listening to views which people wish to put forward. We will endeavour to have a debate before Christmas if we can get the Minister to come to the House.
Senator O'Toole wanted copies of the budget speech to be circulated quickly. I am informed by Senator Dardis that Senators sitting in the Gallery in the Dáil will receive a copy of the Budget Statement. I do not know as I have not been in that position before.
Ms O'Rourke: Senator O'Toole also raised the matter of the Kyoto Protocol which the Russians will not sign. As we know, the USA will not sign it either. The Senator said the Department of Foreign Affairs should take up the matter. He also asked about the report on auctioneering and I will inquire as to its status and the point about the vendor carrying out the survey. I notice that a Government sponsored pack is available in the UK which provides any person who wishes to buy a property with the advice he or she needs.
Senator Ryan mentioned Commissioner Prodi. The leader of the Commission is sometimes very enthusiastic in what he says – I use the word “enthusiastic” as a code word. He sometimes says things which are a little off centre. To take up Senator Quinn's point, it is a wake-up call which tells us all that we must watch it. On the other hand, one cannot be dictatorial. All countries are meant to be brought along in consensus. There was also a call for a rounded debate on competitiveness. Senator Ryan raised the matter of the former Bishop Eamon Casey. The Cathaoirleach decided the matter was not to be discussed.
Senator Leyden raised the competitiveness report which we should seek to have debated in the House. He says Tesco is putting pressure on its producers to stop supplying Aldi. The Senator may have information on the matter, but I do not. Senator Leyden also praised Senator Quinn.
Senator Finucane supported Senator O'Toole's position on the Kyoto Protocol. Senator Finucane noted that the USA was almost the worst offender and it has now been joined by Russia. What hope do small nations have of making their contribution to Kyoto when two large countries have opted out?
Senator Mansergh spoke about procedural motions. Such motions should be considered as part of Seanad reform. I thank the Senator for bringing that to the attention of the House. The Senator also called for a rounded debate on competitiveness.
Senator Norris raised a matter related to the Judiciary. I do not intend to speak about the Judiciary, although I acknowledge the Senator called for a comprehensive debate on the matter. He does not want the personal feelings of judges to influence the sentences they hand down. Senator Norris praised the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Hanafin, on an article she wrote recently.
Senator Maurice Hayes called for a debate on the press council. It is something else if the Minister was able to persuade the members of the press that he still had an open mind on the matter. Like stem cell research, this is an issue on which debate would be compatible with the ambience of the Seanad.
Senator McHugh raised the matter of staffing levels at Letterkenny General Hospital. The matter is a suitable one to raise on the Adjournment. However, if the Senator wishes me to make an inquiry, I will oblige him.
Senator Brady called for a debate on HIV and AIDS. He remarked on the fact that last Monday was an international day of consideration of the issue. A debate on the matter would be useful. Senator O'Meara also called for a debate on the press council and referred to Commissioner Prodi's remarks.
Senator Hanafin was concerned and angry at remarks which were made about the church of which he is a member. The Senator called for a debate on the credit institutions. Senator Cummins brought a related matter to my attention yesterday which was quite startling. The ESB is lending people up to €3,000 with no strings attached and no need to provide references or fill in a form. Senator Hanafin also brought up the issue of global warming.
Senator Bradford spoke about the cost of mobile phones and mobile phone bills. Senator Henry said that in the past ten years, there has been a huge increase in skin cancer due to global warming. A debate on Kyoto is definitely warranted. Skin cancer is an angle we would not have considered, but the case it makes is very strong. I did not know such a huge increase had taken place.
As I told the House last week, 200 submissions have been made in respect of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill. I cannot tell Members when the Bill will come before the House. It is remarkable that almost one year on we still have not got to the next Stage.
Senator Moylan proposed that the leaders of Northern Ireland's political parties be invited to the House. That is a terrific idea which we shall follow up. Senator Feighan raised the European directive on doctors. Senator Leyden also raised the matter. I notice a strong companionship between the Senators on matters of this sort. I have heard the Senators on local radio. They are both very good at expressing their opinions.
Ms O'Rourke: Senator Coghlan called for a debate on the press council and competitiveness. I remind Members that copies of the Budget Statement circulated in the other Chamber cannot be removed from the Dáil during the debate. It would be helpful if we received copies of the Minister's speech so that we can have them to hand for the debate here.
Mr. B. Hayes: On a point of order, I wish to withdraw on behalf of my group No. 17, motion No. 16, under non-Government motions on the Order Paper. Senator Mansergh is correct about the way in which we should approach procedural motions.
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