Wednesday, 11 February 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O'Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, a motion concerning the appointment of Mr. Seán Ó Cuirreáin as An Coimisinéir Teanga, which will be taken without debate; No. 2, Immigration Bill 2004 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m; No. 3, a motion for earlier signature of the Immigration Bill 2004, to be taken immediately without debate after the conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, statements on electronic voting, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4 p.m, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed seven minutes, Members may share time and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of statements; No. 5, Civil Registration Bill 2003 — Second Stage, to be taken from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., to resume at the conclusion of No. 17, motion No. 22, and to conclude not later than 9 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes, Members may share time and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; and No. 17, motion 22, on decentralisation, to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Mr. B. Hayes: Given the botched way in which the Government has dealt with the Immigration Bill and the way in which it has been rammed through both Houses of the Oireachtas in a short period of time, particularly given the concerns of the courts about these matters, we will oppose the Order of Business. We ask the Government to remove Nos. 2 and 3 from the Order Paper to allow more time. Yesterday evening an organisation made its concerns known to me about the wording of the Bill which was debated in the other House. As the Leader is aware, all these amendments will be grouped today so we will only be able to have discussions on grouped amendments. The matter has been badly handled by the Government. I do not blame the Leader or the Deputy Leader, but this matter has been badly handled by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and by the Government. We oppose the manner in which the Bill is being rammed through the House today.
I thank the Leader for putting No. 4 on the Order Paper. I welcome a debate on electronic voting. Will she confirm to the House that the Minister will be here today to take questions from all Members of the House on the veracity of the electronic voting procedure? We need questions and answers, not statements. I would be interested to hear the Leader's reply in that regard. We need detailed answers to the questions we and Members on the other side of the House have about this issue because this is a cross-party matter. Will the Leader give a firm commitment to the House that an order under our Constitution is not necessary to allow electronic voting on 11 June, but that primary legislation is required? When the matter was first debated some years ago it was with a view to implementing it for a trial period. Legal advice to this side of the House and to the Government is absolutely clear in indicating that primary legislation will have to be introduced if we are to have electronic voting by 11 June. When is that legislation due to come before the House? I ask the Leader to ensure we have a question and answer session today on the important debate she has wisely placed on the Order of Business.
Dr. Henry: I raised objections to the Immigration Bill when it was first taken in the House because, as I said at the time, it is very bad to rush such important legislation. The Bill has come back to this House from the Dáil from a medical point of view in a worse state than when it left this House. Some of the recommendations in the First Schedule are contrary to international best practice and others, based on what the Minister said in the House on Committee Stage, are contrary to the recommendations of the National Disease Surveillance Centre. I strongly support the objections of Schizophrenia Ireland to the description in section 6 of the First Schedule, which looks like a description of a florid attack of schizophrenia. I second what the Leader of Fine Gael has said. We should give more time to this important legislation.
Mr. Ryan: I support my colleagues. As the spouse of a psychiatrist, from nothing other than listening I am aware of how difficult it is to make a diagnosis in the area of psychiatric illness. The suggestion that immigration officers at our ports would suddenly discover a competence that professional psychiatrists do not have to diagnose psychiatric illness is a commentary on the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and on the Government. This Bill gets worse as it proceeds, as often happens when a Government introduces legislation hastily, discovers what a mess it has made and tries to amend it equally hastily. The Bill cries out for a proper hearing by an Oireachtas committee which would listen to the views of everybody. Instead we are getting hasty legislation written by a Department, which as I have said often in this House believes it should not be subject to the nuisance of parliamentary scrutiny and that its job is far too important to be under the gaze of two Houses of the Oireachtas, which it believes do not understand the importance of the Department's job. We will oppose the Order of Business.
Mr. Ryan: How can we have an earlier signature motion for a Bill whose precise date of passing we do not yet know? I understood earlier signature motions were taken where there was genuine urgency. We do not know when this Bill will be passed and yet we already have an earlier signature motion. Are we to take it that earlier signature is becoming the routine practice of this House?
Mr. Ryan: I know it is not to be taken and the Leader did not mention it on the Order of Business. Why is an earlier signature motion on the Order Paper when we do not know when the Bill to which it refers will be passed? Who is playing games with us?
Níl fhios agam cén fáth nach mbeidh ráiteasaí sa Tigh faoin Choimisinéir Teanga. Duine ana thábhachtach é i gcursaí riaracháin na tíre. Níl aon argóint agam faoin duine ach nuair a toghadh agus a aimníodh Emily O'Reilly mar Ombudsman, bhí sé de cheart againn labhairt faoi agus níl a fhios agam cén fáth nach mbeidh díospóireacht againn faoi cheist na teanga, ceist an choimisinéara agus na dualgais a bheidh aige.
Mr. Ryan: For the benefit of Senators from Trinity College who have a problem with our first language, I said that we should have brief statements on the appointment of the Language Commissioner.
Will the Leader arrange for a debate on the Revenue Commissioners? Twice in the past ten days, they have announced they will not prosecute anybody for breaches of the tax amnesty because they cannot get enough evidence. Furthermore, in spite of the fact that approximately 140,000 people opened illegal off-shore accounts, the commissioners cannot find any evidence that any bank encouraged them to do so. If the Revenue Commissioners are so bad at finding that sort of evidence, clearly someone else should do that part of the job for them and I would like the House to debate the issue.
Mr. Finucane: I am interested in the response of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the fact that 2,000 tonnes of household waste, involving nine local authorities and private contractors, was found in 80 containers in Belgium. Given the degree of privatisation and semi-privatisation which is taking place in local authorities, what controls exist in respect of this activity? This waste was shipped out of the country in containers to Belgium for transhipment to India and Singapore. It was destined for recycling and described as “paper”. However, when the containers were opened, smelly, rotten household waste was found. In this context, it is hypocrisy when we talk about recycling. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister to come before the House to clarify what controls exist in this regard?
Mr. Norris: I imagine the House would like to congratulate the Government on the success of its negotiations on EU funding. It is a very important development which also indicates that we must now proceed with major infrastructural projects like the metro. Therefore, we must first congratulate the Government and then act on the development.
I am surprised nobody has raised the nasty item on the front page of The Star newspaper. A young woman who is employed as the Government press secretary took a libel action — to which she is perfectly entitled, although perhaps she was foolish to do so — and the court found against her. The whole front page of the newspaper has a headline which reads: “Oh Mandy”, the words of a pop song —“They sent you away and now you must pay”— and a photograph of a cheque which reads “Mandy's bank — pay The Star loads of money”.
I am indicating a context for
something I really want to say. A number of editors were asked a series of questions on the wireless today and not only did they continue to gloat in a most obscene manner, they went on to demand that this House and the Lower House pass Bills further weakening the position of individuals. It is not enough that the whole newspaper empire should crucify one individual, it now wants the libel laws weakened. I warn this House against such a thing.
This is the “sensitive” newspaper which
telephoned me at home ten or 15 years ago to find out if I could confirm that I was dying of AIDS. Those are the kinds of people we are dealing with. I strongly advise this House to consider and reflect upon whether it should weaken the rights of the individual, including those in public life. An individual may have to take his or her chance in court, but he or she should not be bullied and crucified in this obscene manner when he or she is already distressed. It is absolutely outrageous.
Regarding the Immigration Bill, we as working politicians and representatives of the people should be aware of the kinds of things with which Irish citizens married to people from abroad have to put up. I received a letter from a woman in Kildare who, with her husband, has to report every so often, even though she is heavily pregnant and she faces abuse. In the same post I received a letter from somebody who signed it just “Mags”— in the usual courageous way — drawing my attention to a letter in The Irish Times which was anti immigration and saying: “Don't go pushing your opinions on everyone, we are all tired and sick of these people. Send home the freeloaders.”
Mr. Norris: I will finish on this point. We should have been given a proper opportunity to discuss these kinds of important issues in this House because, in the absence of a proper ventilated debate, this is the type of ignorant behaviour that is going on in this country.
Mr. Bannon: Will the Leader invite the Minister for Transport to the House for a debate on the most recent report on driving test delays? As Members will be aware, the average waiting time throughout the State is 32 weeks. In some centres, people have to wait more than 12 months for a driving test.
Mr. Bannon: This is costing many young people their jobs and is coming from a Minister who promised reform of the driving test system more than five months ago. It is time for the Minister to cop on——
Ms Terry: I support Members who expressed dismay at the way in which the Immigration Bill is being dealt with in this and the other House. It is reprehensible of the Minister and the Government to deal with the Oireachtas in such a shoddy fashion on such important legislation, given that the previous legislation was before the courts on a couple of occasions. I guarantee that this will go before the courts again. Shame on us and on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if that happens.
The Cathaoirleach has advised Members on a number of occasions to raise issues on the Adjournment. I did so last week but the Minister of State's speech in reply was the very same as the reply to a Deputy last December. That is absolutely disgraceful.
Mr. Mooney: As a parliamentarian, while I share Senator Terry's concerns about ministerial replies on motions for the Adjournment, I assure her that the same practice was carried out by previous Administrations.
Mr. Mooney: We on this side of the House were waiting to hear if Senator Norris had any comments to make on the rubbishing of James Joyce and we were rather disappointed that he did not do so in his usual articulate way.
Mr. Mooney: I support the broad thrust of Senator Norris's comments on the media and the events of the past few days. Will the Leader consider requesting the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, to come to the House and elaborate on his public statements in the past number of weeks on the proposed legislation, for example, the specific proposal on a statutory press council?
We should be aware of the
thinking in Government on this issue. I say this not just as a parliamentarian in this House, but as the general rapporteur regarding the media for the Council of Europe, in which the
Cathaoirleach had a very distinguished role. There is genuine concern in Europe about what are mainly inventions or interpretations of what is supposedly coming out of Government. It would help to clarify the issue if the Minister came to the House to debate the libel laws, an area with which he said he intends to deal. It is important that he should do it in this House, notwithstanding the right of any Minister to explore various aspects of proposed legislation outside the House.
I strongly support Senator Brian Hayes's call for a question and answer session as part of the debate on electronic voting in the European and local elections. Some serious
questions have arisen, at least one of which is a
constitutional matter, which needs to be
Given the extent of the
difficulties the Minister for Transport
acknowledged two weeks ago in the Lower House with regard to the reorganisation of Aer Rianta, which he has ordered, does it mean that Aer Rianta will be required to sell the Great Southern Hotel chain? I would be interested to hear the Leader's view. Perhaps she will be able to arrange a debate with the Minister at an early opportunity.
Mr. Minihan: I join with Senator Finucane in highlighting today's reports on the export of domestic waste. The time has come for us to discuss waste management and I ask the Leader to arrange for such a debate. There are many myths surrounding this matter, so a debate in the House would be useful to outline clearly the overall policy on waste management.
I also join with Senator Norris in congratulating the Government on the anticipated changes to the Stability and Growth Pact. It is certainly music to my ears, given that this has been the impediment to progress on the school of music project in Cork.
Mr. Cummins: Another so-called puppy farm was discovered last week in the midlands, where dogs were found in absolutely appalling conditions. Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he intends to introduce proper legislation to regulate the size of cages that dogs are kept in, and the minimum hygiene and environmental conditions that dog breeders should be required to provide? What we saw on our television screens in recent weeks was appalling. Sizeable fines, if not terms of imprisonment, should be included under the provisions of new legislation governing the keeping of dogs.
Mr. Brennan: Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health and Children to attend the House for a debate on radiotherapy services? In the past, support has come from all sides of the House for a radiotherapy unit in Limerick to cater for the mid-west region in general. I understand the Minister met a deputation last week and it has been reported widely in the press that it received a positive response. At a time when there is surplus funding for health board staff, it is only right and proper for the Minister to clarify the situation in this House.
Mr. Hanafin: I ask the Leader for a debate on migrant workers. It is important for us to recognise the great work undertaken by such people who have taken up 47,000 visas to come here. They have assisted us by working in many sectors, including tourism and agriculture, particularly in beef processing and mushroom cultivation. At a time when intemperate remarks have been made by the Opposition about the Immigration Bill, we should recognise the contribution that many migrant workers are making to our society.
Ms O'Rourke: I wish to clarify a matter that was raised by Senator Ryan. The earlier signature motion regarding the Civil Registration Bill should not have appeared on today's Order Paper. It was included in error. I do not draw up the Order Paper but I wish to explain that is why I did not include the motion in what I said earlier. The Member is quite right to have noticed that.
Senator Brian Hayes said the Immigration Bill 2004 was rushed. It finished in the Dáil on Thursday evening, and despite being importuned to take it earlier this week, we left it until today on the basis that would leave three working days and a weekend for further consideration. None of us is happy about the matter, but that is the situation. We can provide more time, however. I notice that it runs into the sos, and for once I believe that it would do no harm to stagger it so that people can go out or come in as they wish. The Leader of the Opposition has every right to request a vote on the matter. If more time is sought, I can offer that. Perhaps the leaders will let me know if they wish to take that up.
Regarding electronic voting, I am assured that Deputy Gallagher, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, will deal with questions on the floor of the House if required. The Senator also said that a ministerial order was not sufficient and requested primary legislation, as well as questions and answers. If I have deciphered matters correctly, the Minister will be prepared to take questions and answers, and the issue in question can form the subject matter of some of those.
Senator Henry also raised the Immigration Bill 2004, particularly the interpretation of diseases, which she understands not to be correct. I bow to her medical knowledge on that matter. Senator Ryan said more time was needed for the Immigration Bill 2004. I have offered the sos, and I wait to hear from the leaders on that.
We are all delighted that the Language Commissioner has been appointed as laid out in the legislation. We recently had a very good debate in the House as Gaeilge agus as Béarla on the all-party motion regarding recognition of Irish in the European Union. I have no difficulty, if the Senator wishes, perhaps for a short period tomorrow or early next week — again, the leaders might let me know what would suit them — with having a debate on the appointment of the Coimisinéir Teanga. Senator Ryan praised him in his statement and also called for a debate on the Revenue Commissioners. I do not know if the Government indemnified the press secretary; I very much doubt if it did.
Senator Finucane raised the question of the container in Belgium, which was supposed to have contained paper but turned out not to. I feel rather bad that our dirty waste is going all over the world when we have to come to some business arrangement for dealing with our own. The waste was dirty and smelly, but we created it. The sooner we implement full-scale arrangements for the disposal of our waste — as the Minister is endeavouring to do — the better. Clearly, shunting it all over the world is not a good idea. We now realise that tip heads, as we call them, are not a good idea either, certainly from a health point of view.
Senator Norris raised the EU decision; I was waiting for someone to do so. It is marvellous, since it means that major infrastructural works can be carried out without impinging on the Stability and Growth Pact. Senator Minihan is clearly ready to blow the trumpet, and he is right. For a long time, he has been pressing about Cork School of Music, as has Senator Norris about the metro. It takes that barrier away. Senator Norris also spoke about gloating in a certain newspaper. I hate gloating about anything. If one is right, one should feel a sense of satisfaction, and if one is wrong, one hangs one's head for a while. However, I hate gloating, which is an awful characteristic in anyone. The Cathaoirleach has ruled that we are not to talk about a certain newspaper.
The Senator spoke about the Immigration Bill as well. He mentioned getting anonymous letters. If a letter is anonymous, I just tear it up and do not read it. I have saved myself a huge amount of annoyance over the years. If a person does not see fit to put their name to a letter, it would give one a headache for a half an hour if one was to read it. My late father told me never to read anonymous letters and that if someone has something to say, he or she will put their name to it and that if he or she does not, it is not worth reading. I offer that advice to budding, upcoming politicians — throw such letters away.
Senator Bannon called on the Minister for Transport to deal with the driving test delays. The Cathaoirleach was wise when he said that could be taken as an Adjournment debate or in Private Members' time. It is tailor-made for such debates. Senator Terry spoke about the Immigration Bill and complained about the Adjournment debates. The Cathaoirleach said he has no control over who is put forward to respond to those debates. Senator Mooney spoke about the statutory press council but, apparently, that is not wanted either. It would be a good idea if the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, came to the House to outline his thinking on libel laws as this matter is evolving.
Ms O'Rourke: I enjoy going to Kerry. The Senator called for a debate on the Aer Rianta hotel chain and I will endeavour to organise one. Senator Minihan spoke about waste management and the school of music. He should rush in now with renewed proposals. Senator Cummins spoke about the provisions for the size of cages for dogs. I think that is already covered by legislation, but I will inquire about it.
Senator Brennan continually raises the issue of the radiotherapy unit for the mid-west, as does Senator Finucane because it is his area. I am sure the Cathaoirleach would raise it if he could speak up. Of course, he can talk; I am not saying he cannot. We will give him permission to raise it.
Senator Hanafin made a powerful point about migrant workers and what they have contributed to our economy in various ways. There is a large mushroom enterprise outside Athlone where over 100 Latvians are employed. They are doing great work for a good employer who is paying good money and they are giving a good return. A debate on that issue would be good.
|Bohan, Eddie.||Brady, Cyprian.|
|Brennan, Michael.||Callanan, Peter.|
|Cox, Margaret.||Daly, Brendan.|
|Dardis, John.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Fitzgerald, Liam.||Glynn, Camillus.|
|Hanafin, John.||Kenneally, Brendan.|
|Kitt, Michael P.||Leyden, Terry.|
|Lydon, Donal J.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|Mansergh, Martin.||Minihan, John.|
|Mooney, Paschal C.||Moylan, Pat.|
|O'Brien, Francis.||O'Rourke, Mary.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Scanlon, Eamon.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
|Bannon, James.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Ulick.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Finucane, Michael.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Henry, Mary.||McCarthy, Michael.|
|McHugh, Joe.||Norris, David.|
|Phelan, John.||Ross, Shane.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Terry, Sheila.|
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