Wednesday, 28 January 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O'Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, An Bord Bia (Amendment) Bill 2003 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, statements on the need for continuing awareness of and actions required to improve services for victims of domestic violence, to be taken at 2 p.m.; and Private Members' business will be No. 15, motion No. 9.
The debate on No. 1, An Bord Bia (Amendment) Bill 2003, will be interrupted at1 p.m. The contributions of spokespersons will not exceed 15 minutes, the contributions of other Senators will not exceed ten minutes and Members may share time. The House is not compelled to finish Second Stage of the Bill at 1 p.m., as the departmental officials have indicated a willingness to return to the House at a later date for a resumption of the debate. Many Senators are interested in matters relating to food, which are encompassed in this Bill. I would not like Members to think there is a rush or a compulsion to finish the Bill at 1 p.m., as that is not the objective. It is an important Bill and one that should be considered by the House. I am keen to stress that there is no need to aim to conclude Second Stage of the Bill at 1 p.m.
The debate on No. 2, statements on the need for continuing awareness of and actions required to improve services for victims of domestic violence, will conclude at 5 p.m. The contributions of spokespersons on No. 2 will not exceed 15 minutes, the contributions of other speakers will not exceed ten minutes and Members may share time. The Minister will be called on to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements.
Mr. Finucane: We welcome the fact that the long saga of the proposed development of the stadium at Lansdowne Road was brought to an end yesterday. William Shakespeare once said that procrastination is the thief of time and this saga, which has gone on for about five years, is a classic example of that. In that period of time, the proposed Eircom Park was scuttled and the Government influenced a GAA decision by intervening at a vital time to offer the association £60 million. It is remarkable that it took so long to make this decision, especially as the HighPoint-Rendell report, which was prepared before the last election, scuttled the idea of building a stadium at Abbotstown because of the infrastructural deficit in the area. Now that the decision has been made, one has to welcome it. I hope the proposal is given a fair hearing in the Lansdowne Road area and that it will not be held up by any further impediments such as planning objections.
The Football Association of Ireland will be pleased that a direction has been set for the future of soccer in this country, especially because it needs to satisfy the requirements of the international ruling body. I welcome the fact that the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road will provide not only for soccer and rugby, but also for Gaelic games. This matter has gone on for a long time and I am glad that it has come to finality. One is lucky to have a partner when one is in Government. The Progressive Democrats have been in favour of the development of Lansdowne Road for a long time. It seems at this stage that it has been effective in this area as a rudder of the main Government party.
Mr. O'Toole: I remind the House that a prisoner was killed in Mountjoy Prison yesterday. I do not usually raise the issue of prison deaths, but it behoves all of us to keep a close eye on the prison service in the context of the current discussion on its future. The prisoner in question was being kept in the B wing of Mountjoy, which has traditionally been for a different type of prisoner, namely those who are serving sentences of much longer than nine months. I am aware that many changes have taken place in Mountjoy to create space for prisoners from other institutions that have been closed down. I would like the Leader to request that the Minister come to the House and explain why a prisoner with a nine month sentence was in B wing, where he would not traditionally have been placed. I seek reassurance that his being in that part of the prison had nothing whatever to do with the various rows that are going on, the transfer of prisoners and the closing of institutions. We have discussed this many times before. What is going on? Why was a man with a nine month sentence not safe in prison?
Mr. McCarthy: I refer to No. 2 on the Order Paper and express the thanks of the Labour Party group to the Leader for arranging this debate. Senator O'Meara, in particular, has been seeking such a debate for some time. It is timely and appropriate that we acknowledge the Leader's endeavours in this regard.
I concur with the remarks of the leader of the Fine Gael group. Yesterday's developments in the matter of the national stadium were welcome. The redevelopment of Lansdowne Road was always the common-sense approach. The whole saga went on for some time. The petty squabbling and different points of view associated with the project have been a lesson to us. If a decision such as this is to be made, it is not right that it is dragged on for such a length of time, allowing petty squabbling to prevail. The FAI and the IRFU deserve to be congratulated on the manner in which they conducted themselves throughout. Yesterday was an important day not only for them but for sports fans and the entire country. I wonder what would have happened to the €38 million in funding that was withheld from the GAA in 2001. It was obviously a carrot-and-stick approach at a time when the whole idea was still up in the air. It would be interesting to know the Government's intentions for that sum of money.
Yesterday my colleague, Senator Tuffy, raised the issue of parasuicide. In 2002 alone, 8,500 people were admitted to accident and emergency units suffering from injuries sustained while attempting to take their own lives. This is a frightening statistic. The issue deserves closer analysis and debate. I ask the Leader to use her offices to organise a debate on this serious issue.
Mr. Dooley: I join with my colleagues in welcoming yesterday's announcement about the proposed stadium at Lansdowne Road. Perhaps the Leader could organise for the Minister to come to the House at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss the proposals so that we may compliment him on achieving a compromise among many different groups. More important, we must look to the future and consider the development of Abbotstown as a sports campus, as originally envisaged, although the current proposal for the stadium deals with this in the short term. As sport is so much a part of our culture and life, it is important that we recognise that ultimately another stadium will be needed. I would like to hear the Minister's views on this. Perhaps this House can help to inform the Minister in the matter of the ongoing development of Abbotstown.
Mr. J. Phelan: For the third day in a row I wish to raise the issue of the national stadium on the Order of Business. I find the previous contribution somewhat remarkable. Everybody has agreed for the past five years that a national stadium was needed. The Government appeared to make a decision yesterday, but it has made decisions twice or three times in the past which have not been carried out. I hope it sticks to its guns on this occasion. Fine Gael has always adopted a policy that the upgrading of Lansdowne Road was the best option. I ask, in conjunction with Senator Dooley, that the Minister is invited to the House next week so that we may ask him the whereabouts of the estimated €200 million that has already been spent in Abbotstown. We have an aquatic centre, which is a state-of-the-art facility and is estimated to have cost more than €60 million, but a vast amount of money, spent on reports by different consultants and bodies has disappeared. If that money had been put into Lansdowne Road or other sporting facilities around the country we would be in a better position than we are. The Government cannot pat itself on the back for having wasted five years, because that is effectively what has happened.
Mr. Bohan: I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government what he intends to do about the farce in Carrickmines, where a pile of stones has held up construction of the M50 and has inconvenienced tens of thousands of people for the past number of years. A gentleman living hundreds of miles away in Kerry has been able to hold up work for years through the Supreme Court. The structure in question was built many years ago by an occupying force to keep the people of Ireland out of Dublin. I do not see why the taxpayers of this country should be further inconvenienced by something that has already cost tens of millions of euro. I ask the Minister to consider introducing legislation that can bypass objections such as this.
Dr. Henry: I support Senator O'Toole in his call for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House and explain his new policy on the mix of prisoners in our prisons. The governor of Mountjoy Prison, Mr. John Lonergan, apologised yesterday to the family of the man who was murdered in the prison. However, we should all be apologising. When people are put in prison they are supposed to be in a safe place. The mother of the murdered prisoner said that she thought at least he was safe in prison. There are some violent, dangerous men in our prisons and petty criminals should not be in the same area as these people. I am sure the prison governor is not pleased to have this sort of mix.
While the Leader is talking to the Minister, perhaps she would ask him whether the Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2002 could be brought back to the House for Committee Stage. The anniversary of Second Stage of the Bill in this House will fall on 19 February. Prison authorities, psychiatrists and people in the Judiciary are asking what has happened to this important Bill. I tabled more than 100 amendments to it, but if we put our heads down we could get something done. It is not a party political matter. We should try to straighten out the Bill so that we have some proper, modern legislation to deal with people who are psychiatrically ill and become involved in criminal activities.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health and Children whether he has prepared legislation dealing with the EU clinical trials directive? Legislation in this area is supposed to be introduced in all member states before the beginning of May. Irish research workers will be seriously disadvantaged if there is no proper legislation in place. In view of our current EU Presidency, surely we should be trying to keep up with directives, especially with all the money we are putting into Science Foundation Ireland and other areas. This matter requires urgent consideration by the Minister for Health and Children.
Mr. Minihan: People have referred to the waste of time over the past number of years, but I remind them that during that time we have seen the development of Croke Park and major investment in the infrastructure of sport throughout local communities——
Mr. Minihan: ——through grants from this Government. The right decision was made yesterday. Rather than trying to find flaws in the decision we should move forward and welcome it, as will the public and the various sporting bodies.
Ms Terry: I want to raise the issue of juveniles who get into serious trouble. Yesterday a number of people mentioned the dreadful rape case in County Clare, in which a number of young boys were involved. These boys already had a history of criminal activities. Where are the support mechanisms for these young people? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform needs to outline to the House his policy on juvenile crime. There is a new unit in St. Patrick's Institution which cost up to €12.5 million, but it remains unoccupied. This is a disgrace at a time when young boys are perpetrating serious crimes against our citizens. However, they are being released to make way for other young people. The system is in chaos and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has a duty to outline to the House how he will address this serious problem.
Dr. Mansergh: I also welcome the satisfactory resolution of the sports stadium issue. Like many important decisions that cost a great deal of money, one needs to examine the different options to get the right mix. Sometimes those projects proceed, like the Luas, by trial and error. We should not make any apology——
Dr. Mansergh: With regard to Senator Bohan's contribution on Carrickmines Castle, I find it significant that there is no reference to it in Peter Harbison's Guide to the National Monuments in the Republic of Ireland. There is not even a reference to it in John O'Donovan's collection Ordnance Survey Letters of the 19th century. There are hundreds of castles and abbeys in this country that would greatly benefit from the money that has been lost in the delay at Carrickmines Castle. We should put our money where it makes a difference.
Mr. Ross: I endorse Senators O'Toole and Henry's comments on the issue of the prisoner killed in Mountjoy Prison. It is a matter that should be of enormous concern to us. However, I suspect it is not really a priority on the Government's list. It is a serious problem which we are failing to acknowledge. Senator Henry quite rightly said that the prison governor, Mr. Lonergan, apologised and he did so with great dignity.
There is a problem with prison visiting committees which was raised by Fine Gael Senators in a motion recently. As long as these committees include people who are politically appointed and have no interest in prisoners, the prisons will not be supervised properly. All Members know that this is a political abuse where people in different parts of the country are put on prison visiting committees simply to get travel allowances. The result is that people who are not qualified are supervising the administration of prisoners. Their only interest is collecting the expenses involved and the result is that prisoners and prison staff suffer. If there is any lesson from yesterday's incident, it is that the prison visiting committees issue should be tackled honestly.
Mr. Morrissey: As someone who has taken a slight interest in the stadium proposal that was announced yesterday, I congratulate the Government on the decision that has been taken at long last. More importantly, congratulations should go to the FAI and the IRFU on their far-reaching agreement on the management of the stadium. These two large sporting organisations, seen as competitors, are now united in managing that function. I hope they have given the green light to every sporting organisation to ensure that facilities are shared and managed between them. In Dublin, new sports clubs are being set up, but facilities are not available due to the cost of land. We are not short of stadia, but there should be greater use of them by our sporting organisations coming together.
Mr. U. Burke: As the preparations for the State examinations come around again, students, parents and teachers are concerned that the Department of Education and Science does not have sufficient examiners to conduct the oral Irish examinations. The shortfall in numbers has never been as great as this year. This is a consequence of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Dempsey's, continuous confrontational attitude towards the teaching profession since he took office. It behoves the Minister to issue some supportive comments regarding the teaching profession so that proper oral examinations can be put in place in time. It is a serious situation because uncertainty is creeping in again directly as a result of the Minister's actions.
Mr. Scanlon: I agree with previous speakers' concerns regarding the spate of crime committed by young people, some as young as 12 years of age. I recently watched a television programme that contained interviews with parents of some of these young people. The parents had no clue where their children were on the day. Children are running wild when they should be in school until 16 years of age. If these parents were not paid child benefit if their children were not at school, it would place some onus on them to ensure their children went to school. If they are at school until 16 years of age, they will be wise enough not to get into the trouble they are getting into now.
Mr. Browne: In the last session, there was a good debate on the report compiled by Senator O'Meara on the BCI and the issuing of radio broadcasting licences. However, counties Carlow and Kilkenny face the prospect of having no local radio station from now until May or June. It is outrageous that there will be no local radio station for people to vent views that are important in the run-up to the local elections. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to come to the House to discuss radio broadcast licensing and to examine how the BCI can perform better in ensuring the smooth transition of broadcasting licences. It is important that such a fiasco as experienced in counties Carlow and Kilkenny never happens again.
Mr. Fitzgerald: I regret that Senator Ross chose to introduce the issue of travel allowances for prison visiting committees when addressing the terrible tragedy that occurred in Mountjoy Prison yesterday. There is a deep problem in social engineering that has now surfaced in the prisons. There are also problems in prison management that need to be addressed. I regret that Senator Ross sought to drag in the issue of travel allowances. I regard it is a red herring in terms of what happened yesterday. There are much more fundamental questions involved.
Mr. Fitzgerald: He is also deeply committed to the provision of services and back-up facilities. I invite Members to read the programme he launched for Ireland's term of the EU Presidency with its emphasis on teachers' professionalism and welfare.
Mr. Norris: I repeat my request that we should continue to monitor the situation in Iraq, particularly after the news programmes which make it look very much as if the British Government is again putting a spin on this matter, leaking information in the Hutton report to the Sun, underlining once again Tony Blair's indecent relationship with the Rupert Murdoch empire. It would be useful if we continued to monitor the situation in Iraq in light of whatever emerges at 12.30 p.m. from the Hutton inquiry.
Mr. Feighan: I call for the Minister for Health and Children to come into the House to outline whether his Department is one of cutbacks, given that recently members of the various health boards called to hospitals and told loyal and committed staff that their jobs may be lost due to bringing in people from various external departments. Is this a negotiation tactic or a proposal from Government?
Ms O'Rourke: Senator Finucane, the acting Leader of the Opposition, spoke about the procrastination in his view regarding the announcement of the national stadium, but he wished it fair wind for which I thank him. Senator Minihan answered the accusation Senator Finucane laid at the door of the PDs, but I am sure there will be more about that anon.
Senator O'Toole raised the matter of the recent prison death and why the prisoner in question was on B wing. There is a general consensus that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should come into the House to address this matter. We have requested his presence and I hope he can come to the House shortly.
I thank Senator McCarthy for his kind words about arranging a debate. We should congratulate him on being our style guru and on being far better than the Dáil gurus in that regard. He raised the matter of the national stadium in regard to which the IRFU and the FAI wholeheartedly supported the decision yesterday. The Senator called for the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to come into the House to explain the position regarding the finance that was allocated. We have asked
the Minister to come here and we hope he
will be able to do so next week now that the decision has been announced and his report released.
Senator Dooley raised a fair point regarding yesterday's report, namely, that ongoing development will take place at Abbotstown, which will lead to greater development there in time. As more sports are played and more professionalism enters sport, there is a need for development at Abbotstown and such development was announced by the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, yesterday. That point is worth noting.
Ms O'Rourke: I refer to Senator Mansergh's point that we need to consider these matters in great detail. Fine Gael has kept to its brief in this regard. Deputy Deenihan has spoken about this matter for some years and put forward his viewpoint and I give the party credit for that.
Senator Bohan raised the matter of the farce at Carrickmines and called on the Minister to introduce legislation in this area. I understand a type of fast-track legislation has been mooted designed to get around these infrastructural, farcical delays. Everyone wants people to have their say in a proper way, but the latest developments at Carrickmines, about which I read this morning, make fools of us all.
Senator Henry referred to the governor of Mountjoy Prison, John Lonergan, and the mother of the man who was murdered. The mother's statement that she thought her son was safe in prison was poignant. One would think prison was a safe place. That death lies at our door, so to speak, because people are sent to prison in our name to ensure there is justice and reform.
I almost give up on the Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill. While we had a full debate on the Bill on 19 and 20 February last, I am not sure whether the will has gone out of the Department or the civil servants and political heads dealing with it because every time I ask about it I hear there are 400 or 500 amendments to it. It would be as well to prepare a new Bill given the extent of the changes proposed. Nevertheless, I will keep a check on it.
On a serious note, Senator Terry asked that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform outline his policy on juvenile crime, given that a unit that cost a great deal of money lies idle. That is the position because care staff to man the unit cannot be found. A focused debate on juvenile crime in light of recent events and plans would be useful, and I will request that.
Senator Mansergh raised the point that the money wasted at Carrickmines could have been usefully put towards preserving hundreds of castles and monuments around the country. That is a matter on which we should concentrate. He also mentioned that while it may seem that a long time is spent on projects, such time is well spent if one is considering a major project such as the national stadium.
Senator Ross raised the matter of prison visiting committees. It is not right to lay the blame for a prison death at the door of a visiting committee. That is a far-fetched connection and does an injustice to the members of a visiting committee. Such members may be politically appointed, but I decry the notion that anyone who is politically appointed is somehow not able to do anything or not capable of any sense of care or justice. It is an odd connection to make and one I do not believe.
Senator Ulick Burke was a teacher, as was I, and he has the good of teachers at heart when he speaks. There is an amazing article in one of this morning's newspapers on the number of schools that closed early for Christmas. I understand it was some 179. I refer to that because the Senator raised the matter of how he thought the Minister was mealy-mouthed about the schools. A fair number of schools closed early. I hope examiners for the oral Irish examinations come forward. Oral Irish is a feature of second level education. There are some three or four weeks remaining and I hope examiners will come forward to fill those positions.
Senator Scanlon requested that child benefit payments should be stopped in respect of youths who do not attend school. I would not agree with that proposal. Such payments are intended for the upkeep of the children concerned. That is my view but it may not be shared by others. The point was made some years ago that it would not be correct in a social setting to refuse child benefit payments. However, there must be more parental control.
Senator Browne raised the matter that people of his area will be without the service provided by the Carlow-Kilkenny radio station for some months. That would be a good motion to raise on the Adjournment.
I share Senator Fitzgerald's sense of great regret at the remarks made about prison visiting committees. Senator Norris raised the matter of the situation in Iraq and the leaking of the Hutton report.
I did not quite get the point Senator Feighan raised concerning health board staff being told that their jobs are at stake. I imagine the staff are a bit edgy in light of the forthcoming changes. Perhaps that is giving rise to some tremors.
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