Tuesday, 27 January 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
The Order of Business is No. 1, Water Services Bill 2003 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and Members may share time. The business of the House will be interrupted at
Mr. Finucane: There was a crisis throughout the world about a year ago as a result of the spread of SARS in Asia. There has been a similar controversy in respect of poultry in recent times, particularly as a consequence of the linking of avian flu and human health. We have seen the wholesale destruction of chickens throughout Asia. I would like to make a few observations about these matters. The European Union has banned the importation of chickens from Thailand. Approximately 1,200 tonnes of chicken are imported into this country from Thailand each year. There is concern about the country of origin.
Mr. Finucane: The Minister for Agriculture and Food should come to the House to discuss food safety. Consumers are entitled to know the country of origin of chicken. If the country of origin of chickens which are on supermarket shelves is not known, such chickens should be withdrawn. There is a great deal of concern about what people are eating. Chickens which come from Asian countries are often brought to Europe for further distribution and are sold under the EU banner of an individual member state. This form of deception is foisted on consumers. Developments in Thailand have probably focused concern on the importance of proper quality control over what is presented to the people and what they eat. I would be interested to know the thinking of the Minister, Deputy Walsh, in this regard.
We see a spate of incidents on the streets every weekend. The focus probably shifted to Enniscorthy, County Wexford, last week. It is well known that there are flash points in provincial towns and greater city areas every weekend, where there is potential for crises and assaults. People being kicked in the head is a new phenomenon. We often heard of fights when I was growing up, but we never heard of anybody being kicked in the head. Many suggestions as to what we should do are emanating from both Houses but, fundamentally, I would like the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House to clarify the progress in achieving the proposed 2,000 extra Garda places over the lifetime of this Government. The deployment of gardaí on the beat is a vital component in trying to eliminate the problems that exist. We have to face that at this stage. I do not claim that the Minister should recruit 2,000 people this year, but I am interested in receiving more information. If one mentions something in a programme for Government, one has to be serious in one's intent. I would like to think that the 2,000 extra gardaí will be recruited in the lifetime of this Government and I would like to hear from the Minister in that regard.
Mr. O'Toole: I would also like to speak about the importation of various types of meat into this country. This is the third time in the space of a year that an issue of this kind has been raised. Along with the two matters mentioned by Senator Finucane, we spoke last year about poultry from outside the EU which is processed in Holland and sold on the Irish market. Meat is coming into this country from producers in Brazil and other South American countries, none of whom have to conform to the strict and proper production restrictions faced by Irish and European producers. Meat is being sold on the shelves of Irish supermarkets at knock-down prices as a consequence. Consumers are attracted by such prices and everybody is losing out. Such practices cause health difficulties and place our producers at a disadvantage. We have discussed this issue in the House on many occasions and it is time for something to be done. I have raised the matter with the IFA. We should stand together on such issues, which cause substantial problems.
The Minister for Education and Science recently announced the establishment of the national disability advisory board. I am astonished that the INTO is not represented on the board. I hasten to add that the INTO has not asked me to raise this matter and I am not raising it on behalf of the organisation. The omission of the INTO is astonishing because its members have been dealing with persons with disabilities since the 1950s. Everybody will lose if this is the outcome of some kind of row between the Minister for Education and Science and the INTO. The members of the INTO have much to offer and I ask the Minister to reconsider appointing somebody from that background to the board.
I draw the attention of the House to the Private Members' motion on the Order Paper in the name of Senators Norris, Ross and Quinn, which is an embarrassment to us. It states: “In view of the critical state of the nation's finances, Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to suspend the benchmarking deal with the public service immediately.”
Mr. O'Toole: It will arrive from our next pay packet. The decision has been taken and the money is flowing. It is an embarrassment to all of us that this issue is still on the Order Paper of the House.
Ms Tuffy: The Irish Times today mentions the latest annual report of the national parasuicide registry, which states that in 2002, 8,500 people, including children as young as five years, attended accident and emergency departments with injuries suffered during attempted suicide or self-harm. The report highlights the ways in which these cases were dealt with, which varied according to health board area. I would like a debate in the House on that report, when it becomes available, to consider what may be done at Government level to ensure the resources exist to help the Departments deal with these cases as best they can.
Senator Norris will probably raise this, but in light of the fact that three of our colleagues in the Houses have recently returned from the Occupied Territories and have seen the conditions in which Palestinians are living, we should have a debate on the matter in the House. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, who was recently in talks with the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Sharon, should attend so that we may debate the role of Ireland in trying to bring both sides to the table, particularly during the European Presidency.
Mr. Dardis: I echo the remarks of Senator Finucane about avian influenza. It is essential that not just poultry meat but all meats coming into the EU, especially into Ireland, should have their countries of origin declared on them. It seems to be the case that meat brought into the EU for processing can be regarded as European Union meat. However, this meat may have come from countries in which hormones or antibiotics are used. With regard to the disease itself, it was reassuring to hear a spokesperson for the Food Safety Authority state that the danger was associated with live poultry and not with its meat, provided the meat is properly cooked. The possibility of these foods containing hormones and antibiotics is a far greater danger as these could do more pernicious damage to human health. I note we are dealing with legislation pertaining to Bord Bia tomorrow. That will be a good time to debate these issues with the Minister.
Mr. P. Burke: I endorse the remarks of my colleague, Senator Finucane, about the urgent need for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House. During the past week, some of the most savage attacks we have ever seen, particularly on women, have occurred; the horrific experience of a couple attacked in Country Clare is an example. Attacks such as these are to be deplored. Even more to be deplored is that one of the criminals concerned had been in court a few days previously, but there was no place for him to be held. Even today there has been a tragedy in Mountjoy Prison, where a prisoner was stabbed to death just a few hours ago. At what point will we call a halt to crime? The Minister has failed miserably. Within the last month he has been responsible for the closure of two prisons. There was no place to go for one person who was involved in a crime.
Mr. U. Burke: I hope the Leader will ensure there will be a debate on crime and the failure of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to do anything but twist the figures, such as those he presented last week.
Mr. Leyden: The House should recommend that the telecommunications regulator reject this proposal. I understand there will be discussions on the matter at an Oireachtas committee tomorrow. However, if necessary, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, should introduce amending legislation to control the cost of land lines. It affects every business and person in the country when rental costs are increased to the level they are at now and the cost of living will increase accordingly. I wonder where are Senator Ross and Mr. Eamon Dunphy with the protests they made against Eircom.
Dr. Henry: I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the House for a discussion on the office of the State pathologist. For decades, Professor Jack Harbison carried a great burden dealing with all the cases of murder, manslaughter and other crimes. Dr. Marie Cassidy is apparently now being asked to do exactly the same. The position of a deputy State pathologist was promised years ago. I gather from today's newspapers that the advertisements for this post are not yet published for some reason that was not made clear by the Department. We will lose the State pathologist if we do not get someone to share her work burden.
Several Senators have mentioned the rising level of violence and it is impossible for one person to adequately cover the cases that we have. In every murder and manslaughter case that comes before the courts, one sees the importance of forensic pathology. Cases can stand or fall on this evidence. I would be glad if the Leader would ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to give the House an understanding of what he considers to be the importance of the office.
Mr. MacSharry: Following on Senator O'Toole's expression of concern as to the representation on the national disability advisory group, I ask the Leader to raise the issue with the Minister for Education and Science. It appears that the representation on this worthwhile advisory group is not fully representative of the people who need to be on it. There is secondary school representation on the group but none for national schools. There are many national schools with teachers catering for special needs students. This is an important matter and I ask the Leader to take it up with the Minister for Education and Science.
Ms Terry: I support the comments made by Senators Finucane and Ulick Burke on the alarming rise in crime in the past weeks, particularly the rise in serious crimes on our streets and the lack of respect shown to the Garda. If society loses respect for the Garda Síochána, we are in serious trouble. It is up to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure that the Garda is given the resources necessary to carry out its job and to ensure it holds the respect of the community.
I also want to raise the issue of the rise in crimes committed against women, which is extremely worrying. What is more worrying for those women who have had these crimes perpetrated against them is when they see persons found guilty of such crimes, but not given custodial sentences. This does not encourage women to bring their cases to the courts. It is an issue that needs to be debated in the House and one the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform needs to address.
Ms Ormonde: A related issue is the horrific crimes of recent weeks involving young gangs who roam our cities and countryside. While we must have a detailed debate on the factors related to such crimes, there is the fundamental question of why this is happening among the 14 to 16 age group. It is not because there are not enough gardaí, although that is one aspect. We need to increase the number of gardaí on the streets, but there is a more fundamental issue here which strikes at our homes and schools. That aspect must be incorporated in such a debate. This is a major societal issue, when one considers the horrific crimes perpetrated against women in recent days and other crimes that have been highlighted in the newspapers in recent weeks. It is a societal issue, the addressing of which involves every Department and parents. People in Ireland and elsewhere have to deal with this issue. It is too serious a matter to address only one aspect of it.
Mr. Norris: In light of the continuing violence in Iraq, the sustained interest this House has shown in Iraq, the resignation of Dr. Kay and the report from the American Government's inspectors that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we should continue to monitor the situation, especially in the interests of the civilian population of Iraq. I hope the House will continue to take an interest in that matter.
I support my colleague, Senator Tuffy, on two matters that she raised, one of which is the significance of the reports concerning suicide. I am particularly concerned because the level of suicide is much higher among young males and among young gay males it is seven times the incidence among the rest of the population. Surely that is a matter that should be highlighted because it is of concern.
I also support the Senator in seeking a debate on the situation regarding Israel and Palestine. Along with some other Members of the Oireachtas, I have just come back from that area. What is happening there is quite horrifying. It is important that friends of Israel should signal to the people there what is being done in their name because much of the time they do not know what is happening.
An enormous concrete wall that has been erected with machine gun posts and so forth is visible in reality only from the Palestinian side. On the other side, it is less than a third of the height and it has been decorated with landscape paintings. People stopped in a vox pop survey on the highway in recent weeks all said they thought it was a sound barrier. We have a duty to alert people to what is going on. On that matter, I have prepared a motion, which my colleagues are considering. I understand I will be allocated Private Members' time next Wednesday and I intend to devote my motion to this subject.
Mr. Dooley: I wish to be associated with the calls to the Leader of the House for a debate at the earliest possible opportunity on the issue of under age crime and, in particular, the incidents that occurred in recent days and weeks. In such a debate, I particularly want to discuss what happened in County Clare because it was a serious crime involving young people in what was allegedly a heinous rape of a young woman quite late in the evening. It is of particular concern that the alleged perpetrators of this crime were as young as 14 years of age. We must move away from the blame game in terms of the Garda and civil society and look to the parenting of these young people because the State assists parents in the parenting of their children. It makes social welfare payments, including child benefit payments to the parents of these children, some of whom are as young as 14 but are out and uncontrolled at 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. despite the fact that the State pays money to their parents to assist in their upbringing. We have to examine that aspect in such a debate. As a State, we cannot continue to reward parents who are not taking their responsibilities seriously enough in terms of protecting our people.
Mr. Bradford: I want to revisit the issue of electronic voting which I have raised on a number of occasions. In a little more than four months hundreds of thousands of people will cast their verdicts on thousands of candidates by way of electronic voting machines. We all welcome the concept of electronic voting, but we must recognise that there are grave concerns about the system it is proposed to use next June. Reports which have been commissioned indicate that the electronic voting machines could be open to abuse. We owe it to the democratic system and to every candidate to ensure the system we use is beyond reproach. I ask the Leader to organise a full debate on the matter to which the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government could contribute. We could then put to him the serious concerns about the possibility of the machines being tampered with and false results being given. Democracy is so vital and valuable that everything about it must be beyond reproach and beyond question. There are so many questions being asked of the electronic voting system we intend using that a full and frank debate is necessary.
Mr. Lydon: Senators have spoken today and in the past about the increasing incidence of crime, particularly violent crime committed by young people and against women. While the causes are multi-factorial, Senator Tuffy spoke about one cause last week when she referred to the increase in pornography. I look at pornography and over 90% of it is anti-women. Most pornography reduces women to objects which are to be used or abused. I would hate us to return to an era of censorship, but we must look at some way of controlling pornography, particularly its availability to young people. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this matter.
Mr. Cummins: I noted recently that some legal moneylenders are allowed to charge rates of up to 169% APR on small loans. Those loans are aimed at vulnerable sections of the community, many of which have been hit by the 16 social welfare cuts announced before the last budget. This should be investigated as a matter of urgency, either by the Minister for Finance or the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, because we should not have such exorbitant rates. It is bad enough having illegal moneylenders charging exorbitant rates but when those rates are legalised, it is absolutely disgraceful.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: We all have reason to be concerned by the rise in horrific crimes, which have become an everyday occurrence, and what is most worrying about many young criminals is that they show absolutely no remorse whatsoever. Worse, they see this as a sport and they taunt the gardaí. We are making one terrible mistake, which I have mentioned before, in that we do not seem to be supporting the gardaí as we should.
I am worried by the way in which the gardaí are being portrayed at present. It is unfair in most cases and we should ask ourselves if those are the gardaí as we know them. They are not as I know them; I have always found the gardaí to be helpful, efficient and courteous. I would go as far as to say that we have one of the best police forces in the world. If we are not seen to support them, we are siding with those who are denigrating the gardaí at every opportunity. It is time to cry halt. I refer in particular to “Prime Time”, which raised many doubts in my mind as to how fair we are in our portrayal of the gardaí and in the stereotypes we are creating.
Mr. J. Phelan: Last week I mentioned the national stadium and we hear today that an announcement on that matter is imminent, although we have been told several times in the past five years that such an announcement is imminent. If there is no announcement I urge the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter as soon as possible to allow Members to discuss how the project should proceed. Media reports seem to centre on the Government accepting what has been Fine Gael's position all along, that Lansdowne Road should be redeveloped into a modern, all-seater facility. I am glad the Government is adopting that position.
Mr. J. Phelan: I join with previous speakers who have asked for a debate with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on recent violent incidents. I concur with Senator Ó Murchú's remark that we should support the Garda. We owe them a lot. The first support for the Garda should come from the Government, which was elected on a false promise that 2,000 extra gardaí would be put on the streets. If the Government does not support the Garda, how can it expect the people to support it? We should all support the Garda. The Government has a responsibility in this regard and it should not shirk its duty.
Mr. Brennan: I request the Leader to invite the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, to discuss the future venue of the 2004 national community games. At the annual conference of the Community Games in County Limerick at the weekend, tremendous uncertainty was evident in regard to a venue. A strong case has been made for the holding of these games at the University of Limerick.
Mr. Glynn: Much has been said in recent years about the responsibility of motorists in regard to road safety, to which we all subscribe. However, pedestrians also have an important role to play. There is a practice in towns and cities for young people in the main, but also the not so young, to walk across the street in front of oncoming motorists. When a motorist toots the horn at them, he or she is given the Harvey Smith sign. This may be very funny for the people concerned but for the motorist and for general road users it is an outrageous practice and should be dealt with accordingly.
Such an incident took place in my town at the weekend. I was in a taxi and do not know how the driver managed to stop. The individuals concerned turned around and gave him the proverbial sign which I will not demonstrate in the House, but Members know what I mean.
Ms O'Rourke: Senator Finucane, the acting leader of the Opposition, raised the issue of avian flu and the lack of country of origin labels on poultry and other foods. Senator Dardis made the point that legislation pertaining to Bord Bia, which has responsibility for food, is due before the House tomorrow. This will provide an opportunity to discuss this important issue, which is a source of great worry.
While grocery shopping at the weekend it was obvious that people were peering more closely at things and I overheard remarks to the effect that there was no indication of country of origin. Media images of avian flu are distressing and the fact that the virus is transferring to humans is of the utmost concern.
Senator Finucane also referred to violence on the streets, which is something about which we are all concerned. Senator Ormonde's point in this regard was apposite. As Senator Dooley said, the young people at Cratloe were aged approximately 14 and 15, although one was older. Such incidents indicate a complete lack of parental control.
Senator Dooley asked for an extra Garda presence on the streets. However, I do not think an increased Garda presence would affect such matters. A crime wave is apparent among young people in every town at weekends, which is most frightening. I will ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House for a general discussion on these matters.
Senator O'Toole also raised the issue of meat being imported from countries such as Brazil where the same high standards as apply in the EU do not pertain. He also raised the lack of INTO representation on the national disability advisory board. I am also concerned about this issue. I will send a letter to the Minister for Education and Science asking him why this is the case and if he will reconsider. Senator O'Toole also raised a matter concerning his colleagues in regard to benchmarking. He can have that out with them.
Senator Tuffy raised the issue of the number of people presenting at accident and emergency services who have tried to injure themselves. The report on this matter has been published and we will seek a debate on it. She also sought a debate on Palestine and Israel.
Senator Dardis also raised the matter of country of origin labelling as well as the important issue of hormones and antibiotics in meat that is imported. He suggested discussing this during our debate on the An Bord Bia (Amendment) Bill.
Senator Ulick Burke raised the issue of attacks on women and called for a debate on crime, which we will organise. The closure of prisons arises from an industrial relations matter and the Minister is dealing with it.
Senator Leyden called on the new telecommunications regulator, John Doherty, the former IDA representative in the midlands, to stop the proposed increase in charges for landlines. For 15 months there was an increase of between 10% and 20% in the value of Telecom Éireann shares and I cannot understand why the Senator did not sell his shares then.
Ms O'Rourke: I am being provocative. Senator Henry raised the issue of the State pathology service. With the increasing number of murders, the State pathologist will probably not stay in the job if an assistant is not appointed. I will raise this matter directly with the Minister.
Senator MacSharry called for a primary school teacher to be added to the educational advisory board. Such teachers deal with young people with various disabilities and would be of enormous help on the board.
Senator Terry referred to the lack of respect for gardaí. The Minister will soon publish a Garda Bill. Crimes against women are horrific and are increasing in level and intensity. We will seek to hold a debate on the issue of crime. Senator Ormonde spoke about crime committed by young people. Young boys of 14 and 15 are roaming the streets at 3 a.m. and there seems to be no parental control over them.
Senator Norris raised the issue of Iraq. The issue of weapons of mass destruction was always fanciful and now every shred of credibility has been taken from it. Who accompanied the Senator on his recent trip to Palestine?
Ms O'Rourke: On Sunday evening I attended a moving ceremony in memory of those who died in the Holocaust. Having suffered so much at that time, I cannot understand how the Jewish people have found themselves on the wrong side of this conflict.
Senator Dooley spoke about the incident in Cratloe. He spoke about the payment of child benefit for people such as those allegedly involved in this incident. This is a separate issue and we cannot go into it. Senator Dooley spoke passionately about the lack of parental control.
Senator Bradford expressed extreme worries about electronic voting. A Bill dealing with the change in the European Parliament constituencies will soon come before the House and may provide a useful vehicle for raising this issue.
Senator Cummins referred to the legal money-lending rate that can run as high as 169%. I am unsure whether this is the responsibility of the Department of Finance or the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I will find out which Department is responsible for it.
Senator Ó Murchú said we should support the Garda and I agree with him. While there are bad apples in every job, the gardaí generally play a wonderful role in society. They are, as the Senator said, efficient, helpful and courteous. If that is openly shown at all times, I feel the Garda Bill will be helpful.
Senator Glynn referred to pedestrians' bad behaviour towards motorists. In other countries, pedestrians wait at a traffic crossing until the green man gives the signal to cross, whereas in Ireland, people dash across the road when a gap appears in the traffic. It is a national trait to dash out when a gap appears, and I do not know how one would deal with offending sign language.
A Chathaoirligh, it is proposed to sit on Friday morning to deal with the Bill to amend the loophole in the asylum legislation, which will have passed all Stages in the Dáil on Thursday. It is proposed also that we suspend the sitting for ten minutes to allow the Minister come to the House.
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