Wednesday, 10 March 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion concerning the referral to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights of the report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. The joint committee was to report back to Seanad Éireann within three months from the date of referral but will now report back not later than 1 April 2004. This item will be taken without debate because the committee is still in session; No. 2, the Air Navigation and Transport (International Conventions) Bill 2004 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 12.30 p.m.; No. 3, statements on the draft guidelines on rural housing, to be taken at 2 p.m. until 5 p.m., with the contributions of Members not to exceed 15 minutes and Members may share time; and No. 18, motion No. 22, to be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 12.30 p.m. to 2 p.m. We hope to leave No. 3, statements on the draft guidelines on rural housing, on the Order Paper, to be resumed at a later date. That will depend on the number of speakers.
Mr. B. Hayes: I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 18, motion No. 23, in the name of my colleagues, be taken in conjunction with No. 3 this afternoon. We need an opportunity to pass judgment on one of the greatest strokes of all time pulled in recent weeks by “the stroke Cullen”.
Mr. B. Hayes: Next Thursday, the day after what is traditionally regarded as the official launch of the tourism season, the SIPTU group of unions will hold a 24 hour stoppage affecting Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann. Does the Leader agree this is an outrageous position in which to put the travelling public and tourists coming into the country? We all know the Minister has handled the negotiations with the group of unions in an appalling way — I am sure the Leader agrees — but this is not the way to proceed. If the group of unions wants to win over converts to its argument, it should not affect the very people who every day pay bus fares in this and every other city throughout the country. Negotiations are ongoing and the unions should not be engaged in this activity at this stage. It is unfair to members of the travelling public. They are not responsible for the current mess as responsibility for that lies with the Minister and the Government.
An Cathaoirleach: Before calling Senator O’Toole I wish to correct a mistake made in the motion referred to by Deputy Brian Hayes. The Labour Party members’ names should not appear in the motion. It occurred as a result of a computer error and I understand the names will be deleted tonight.
Mr. O’Toole: I do not have a problem with taking No. 1, the motion regarding the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights, without debate. The House should note the extraordinarily diligent work that has been done by the joint committee in dealing with the Barron report. I am not a member of that committee but its request for an extension of time to enable it continue its deliberations is a great tribute to the members, who are ahead in their work. They have been working at weekends and so on. They deserve our thanks and I look forward to discussing the outcome of their deliberations. It is a sign of great efficiency that they are now seeking only a fortnight’s extension and I am led to believe they will finish their work well within that time.
When industrial action is taken it is always the case that those who have to take the action — the workers or the trade union — are the first to be criticised. I do not get involved in industrial relations issues here in the Oireachtas, but I know from speaking to Jack O’Connor, the president of SIPTU, over the past couple of weeks that he is trying to do everything possible to avoid disruption and that any time there was disruption it was because they felt they were left without a choice. I also spoke to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, about it and I know he is working hard at his end to get things resolved. I just hope it will be resolved. I am sure we will have to discuss it if it gets to that point, but I hope that does not happen. The trade union movement is also a service industry looking after the needs and services of its members. Everybody should recognise this. SIPTU has been particularly open, more so than any union in Europe——
Mr. O’Toole: ——to ideas and to proposals to move things forward and takes a political view on how the semi-State company should be run. I am sure Senator Ross will have his opportunity tonight to talk about why——
Mr. O’Toole: On a different matter, legislation we passed many years ago was activated by the Minister for Transport some months ago, namely the requirement that drivers had to carry their driving licences with them. At that time it was raised by myself and many others that some thought should be given as to the size of the driving licence. The general consensus was that it should be the size of a credit card and I think the Government is moving in that direction. However, I would like the Minister for Transport to explain his thinking on that to the House. More importantly, I would like to examine what additional information could be carried on the driving licence. For instance, the driving licence should recognise the number of organ donor cards in this country and should include organ donor information, with a clause to enable people who wish to opt out. Such a facility should be included on the electronic information contained on the driving licence. I would like a discussion on that and believe it would be supported on all sides. I look forward to hearing the Leader’s view on this proposal.
Mr. Ryan: I will explain to the Leader, if she wants to listen to me, that we need discussions in this House in which people take positions and have to stand over them, not waffly speeches where nobody has to take a position and which enable various people to tell their constituents, in effect, that they never voted for certain things. We want some degree of accountability on the part of those who claim credit for everything.
I support Senator O’Toole’s compliments to the Oireachtas committee mentioned in motion No. 1. I will say no more on that, but I would like to point out that another committee, the DIRT inquiry, was more successful on its own at recovering revenue that had been taken from the State than the entire activities of the Revenue Commissioners for ten years before that or indeed the efforts made by the Department of Finance. That was a committee comprising seven people whose combined salaries would not equate with that of one of the bankers they grilled so effectively. Politicians can do a good job when they are given the power, authority and resources. There are forces in some large Departments determined to ensure the Houses of the Oireachtas are never properly resourced so that we operate on a shoe-string. We will see when the Minister of Finance comes into this House with the Finance Bill, there will be 15 to 20 civil servants with him, including up to three in the Chamber, to make sure he does not put a foot wrong. If one goes to an Oireachtas committee to quiz senior bankers one is lucky to have half a civil servant concentrating on it. The Oireachtas is the most under-resourced part of the whole apparatus of parliamentary democracy in this State.
Mr. Minihan: I ask the Leader for a debate on education, given the figures published today with regard to CAO applications. The drop in numbers is significant and this is likely to continue until 2007. The points commission reported in 1999 and recommended changes to the access system, which have not been implemented. That sluggishness in implementing those changes has contributed directly to these figures, a trend that will continue. The Leader should ask the Minister for Education and Science, Mr. Dempsey, to come to the House to address the issues of the 1999 points commission report and indicate what progress has been made in implementing the recommended changes.
Mr. Bannon: I support the amendment calling for motion No. 23 to be taken today if at all possible. I am glad the Leader has not tabled an amendment to the motion. It looks as if she is in favour of its contents.
Mr. Bannon: On another issue, I ask for a debate on the future of EU cohesion policy in Ireland post-2006. I understand submissions are being made by a number of bodies as regards funding post-2006. It is important we have a debate on this issue in terms of the country’s competitiveness, growth etc. We want to see real balanced regional development. There has been much talk about this by Government, but it has not happened to date, as indicated by the infrastructure in parts of the midlands and west. I would welcome a debate on this.
On another issue, there has been an enormous growth in the unemployment figures. In the past five months more than 10,000 people have become unemployed in this country. It is important to have a debate on this issue.
Ms Ormonde: I support Senator O’Toole’s call for the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, to address the House on the new designer-type card and perhaps to indicate what information should be put on it. I would like the Leader to invite the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, to update the House on EU Presidency activities and as regards the spring summit that will take place here shortly.
I would also like a discussion on the points issue raised by Senator Minihan. However, I know the Minister for Education and Science is aware of the issues involved because that discussion is ongoing. It would be timely to re-examine the question of access to third level education. There is a golden opportunity now that the numbers are dropping.
Mr. Norris: I repeat my recent calls for a debate on foreign policy issues, particularly with regard to Haiti. The president of the University of Haiti has said every day that passes makes it clearer that the country is being occupied. This is a serious matter that we should look at in Ireland, as a friend of the United States.
I ask for a debate on public health, particularly in our cities. There has been a considerable increase recently in the noxious habit of public spitting. Some of it comes from new arrivals, but much of it is done by our own people. They appear to have forgotten the lesson that I recall from childhood of not spitting, because of the risk of spreading diseases such as TB. It is often accompanied by the filthy habit of spitting out chewing gum all over the pavements. Also, there is dog dirt all over the place. It is a real public health issue, since it spreads disease. The authorities should provide that, on production of a dog licence, they furnish dog owners with poop scoops as they do in Dún Laoghaire. It is really necessary and a serious issue for health.
Like Senator O’Toole — I accept completely what he says — I never comment on issues of industrial controversy or strife. I could not help noting that the trade union leader interviewed this morning admitted quite openly that the reason the strike is on Thursday, 18 March is that it is intended to disrupt a significant European Union meeting and embarrass the Government. However, they will also embarrass the people of Ireland, and that is a pity.
Ms Terry: Recently we have been hearing a great deal about the growing problem of obesity in the population, particularly in young children. That will lead to a great many difficulties in their later lives which will result in a cost to this State in managing their health problems. For many years, we should have had PE teachers in primary schools. Today children are leading very sedentary lifestyles, sitting in front of their TVs. They are not able to go out to play because it may not be safe in the area or because their parents are working. It is therefore even more important today that children receive proper PE instruction in primary school. While it is a cost, it will save in the long run. The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Dempsey, and the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, must come here to discuss how we are to deal with this growing problem.
Dr. M. Hayes: I echo Senator Ryan’s plea for more support for committees in the House. The National Forum on Europe was very strong last year when it recommended scrutiny of European instruments and that the committee that does so should be adequately supported. A commission is now examining such matters and I hope its first priority will be to beef up the research capacity of the Library and that of all committees in the House to do their very important job. Like Senator O’Toole, I got a letter from a lady in Dingle. It always amazes me that in those letters from Dingle, every now and then there is a nugget of good sense.
Like Senator Mansergh and many others, I still bear the scars of a politically motivated strike in Northern Ireland, and I hope all those who have influence on the matter can bend their efforts over the next few days to ensure the country is not exposed to this over St. Patrick’s Day.
Mr. McCarthy: Regarding the INO debate which has been taken over the last few days, I ask the Leader for a debate with the Minister for Health and Children regarding the very serious shortfall in nurses. We now have more non-European nationals working for us in the nursing professions than we have Irish people. The vast majority of graduates leave the profession after two or three years. The report of the Commission on Nursing made several sweeping recommendations, and many of those have been implemented, for example, the degree programmes in nursing. It was also recommended that the Nurses Act 1985 be amended to include the term “midwives”. That has still not been done, though the then Minister, Deputy Cowen, received that report five or six years ago. I would appreciate a response from the Leader on those issues.
Mr. P. Burke: The Department of Health and Children has made regulations on the smoking ban. It has notified most businesses throughout the country that they must take away ashtrays and provide something outside the door of their premises. They must appoint a person to be in charge of implementing the smoking ban and someone to whom complaints can be made. Will the Leader be the person in charge of implementing the policy in the Houses of the Oireachtas?
The Taoiseach said full medical cover will be provided at all hospitals on a 24-hour basis. What did he mean in that regard? Did he mean consultants, nurses or doctors? What kind of medical cover will be provided at all those hospitals under the Hanly report?
Mr. Hanafin: I ask the Leader for a debate on competition. In light of what we have seen in the airlines industry, telecommunications and the energy market in recent years, there seems increasing evidence that competition is good. Whereas we all have a constitutional right to strike, I question whether there will be public support for a strike that seems to be politically motivated more than anything else.
Mr. Ross: I endorse what most sensible people in the House have said today, namely, that there is a real danger of a political strike next week. I ask that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, come to the House at an early stage, presumably today or tomorrow, to explain the situation to us and what stance he is taking under the threat, which is very serious. It is a political strike whose objective is that SIPTU take over and control CIE, Iarnród Éireann and the airports. That is the danger we face. This is a struggle for power, and the Government must stand up to the threat. It is not an ordinary industrial strike. The unions, owing to an inter-union squabble and power struggle, are themselves——
Mr. Ross: ——come into this House, be given a fair hearing by the representatives of SIPTU and the rest of the Senators and explain what Government policy is and that we will not yield to such threats.
Mr. Coghlan: The Leader will be aware of the continuing speculation regarding the fall in the cash reserves of Aer Rianta threatening the Minister’s plans for its break-up. Is it true that Aer Rianta’s international subsidiary posted losses for a second year running? Is the fall such that it is interfering with the plans of the Government? Perhaps the Leader might persuade the Minister to come to this House. In that regard, I would like an update on the original intention, which may now have fallen by the wayside, regarding that hotel group which we know so well. There are two glorious hotels in my constituency in south Kerry, in Killarney and Parknasilla. There is great concern——
Mr. Coghlan: I always respect the Chair. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House and give us an update on what is proposed for the hotel group in that regard? I support what Senator Maurice Hayes said with regard to the letter from Dingle. That lady made eminent sense.
Mr. U. Burke: Will the Leader request the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House before he moves on to a new area? In view of this morning’s report from the CAO regarding the declining number of applicants for places in third level institutions, we face a crisis in certain areas, particularly science. For the third consecutive year the number of applicants for science has declined, despite the efforts of the Minister and the Government to promote science as an important area. Declining numbers will have serious consequences for business and IT, our priority areas in industry.
Three years ago, a White Paper on education indicated that by 2006 there would be a 15% increase in the adult participation rate at third level education. However, at present, the participation rate stands at less than 5%. It is important that the Minister comes to the House to explain why he has failed in this area also, particularly with regard to access for the disadvantaged.
Mr. Feighan: Following recent events it would be appropriate to ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to come into the House to explain his actions and his lectures to a sporting organisation with regard to it undertaking a patriotic gesture by opening its doors to other sports. Why did the Government buy out that association two years ago with a bribe, thereby preventing it from opening its doors?
Mr. Browne: I also ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House in view of his recent statement about the onus on local authorities to zone land for schools. While he was correct to do so, there is an onus on the Department to work with the local authorities and guarantee that if land is zoned for schools, they will be built.
I would also like to hear the Minister’s comment on the recent decision of a school in Mountmellick to build two classrooms instead of erecting prefabs and to do it more cheaply. Prefabs are a disaster. There is much reference to decentralisation, but it is amazing our school building system is so centralised. Should we not follow the Mountmellick example, which has worked very well?
Ms O’Rourke: I point out to the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Brian Hayes, that we have always been careful in this House to use a person’s title when speaking of them. This is a matter of Members of a House of Parliament giving the proper respect to a person who has a title. I do not mean to lecture anybody but state this as a matter of fact. It is something of which I have always been conscious since I entered public life.
The Senator proposes that the Fine Gael motion — No. 18, motion No. 23 — should be taken in conjunction with No. 3, the proposal to hold a three hour debate on rural housing. He also asked that Deputy Brennan attend the House. He is away——
Ms O’Rourke: Titles are hard earned. Senator Hayes asked for the Minister for Transport to come to the House to discuss the proposed public transport strike. In anticipation of such a request, I made an inquiry this morning. The Minister is in Brussels and is expected to return tonight or tomorrow.
Senator O’Toole praised the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights for its work on the Barron report. We join in that. The sub-committee is looking for extra time which means it is hard at work. Senator Jim Walsh is a member of the sub-committee and we know from him how hard it is working.
The Senator also made the point that workers in strike situations are always accused. He asked about the inclusion of extra information on driving licences, such as organ donor information. Senator Dardis showed me his organ donor card, which is the size of a credit card. Senator O’Toole would like all the information to be on one card.
On Thursday, 4 March, Senators Bannon, McCarthy, Tuffy, O’Meara, Coghlan and Browne asked for a debate on rural housing to be held this week. They all asked for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, to come to the House to participate in such a debate. I do not know which Minister will be here but I arranged for a debate on the new guidelines for rural housing in response to an unprecedented consensus in the House that one should be held. At my request, Senator Moylan furnished me with the names of those, including I am glad to say, three of Senator Ryan’s colleagues, who called for this debate. In view of this, I do not know what is wrong.
Ms O’Rourke: I want to make this clear. I come here on a Monday and go home on a Friday and spend the week at my business as Leader. Some of those who speak here are better than others and fair dues to them, they have the gift or they learned it. On behalf of all Senators, we cannot call anybody who contributes to a debate a waffler. They may not be as good as Senator Ryan at talking but they are entitled to speak.
Ms O’Rourke: I need guidelines when there is a call for a debate. I keep a list in the office which I tick off when we get a Minister to come to the House. Should I scrap that, or what do Members want? I am annoyed at the statement about waffle.
The Senator made a good point about Oireachtas committees. I believe they are under-resourced because “authority”— I do not mean political authority — never wanted them. Deputy John Bruton was Leader of the House when I first entered the Dáil in 1982 and he set up the committee system. I recall we had a good women’s rights committee. However, for some reason the committees were never adequately resourced. I believe civil servants do not like them but like matters to proceed in their own way. The committees began to get inquisitive and to find out information. I agree they are inadequately resourced and I hope the new Houses of the Oireachtas Commission will take up the issue.
Senator Minihan asked for the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to discuss the falling numbers entering third level education. He also requested a debate on the recommendations of the points committee, which reported in 1999. I will endeavour to arrange that. I have asked the Minister to come to the House and I think he is willing to do so as part of his tour around the country on education.
Senator Ormonde requested an update on progress in Europe, particularly in view of the impending EU summit. She requested the attendance in the House of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche. She also called for a debate on education. In that context she is keen to have a review of the points system.
Senator Norris called for a debate on foreign policy. I thought it would be possible to have it this week. However, I now expect we can have it in the week following our week off. Senator Norris also referred to the issue of public health and what could be done with regard to what he called the increasingly common but filthy habit of public spitting. He also raised the manner in which people handle their dogs.
Senator Mansergh said there should not be political strikes, which found an echo around the House. Senator Terry referred to obesity in children and PE teaching in primary schools. I was reminded that training for primary school teachers includes the rudiments of PE, but she is referring to a professional teacher trained in PE.
Senator Maurice Hayes made the point that committees should be well resourced. He also referred to a letter from a woman in Dingle. I think we all received one, except for Senator Ross who said he did not get one.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Maurice Hayes also spoke about political strikes. He believes in the point he made, which was interesting and well made. The friendship between Members of the Independent group is wonderful.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator McCarthy referred to the marked drop in the number of nurses. Even when they qualify and get their degrees they go abroad. He referred to the commission on nursing and called for a general debate on nursing.
Senator Paddy Burke inquired if I will be in charge of implementing the smoking ban in the Houses of the Oireachtas. I have no intention of being in charge of it. I do not smoke, but I do not have any notion of becoming the commissioner in charge of no smoking. The Senator also asked about medical cover. What was the Senator’s point?
Ms O’Rourke: He then spoke about what he called a power struggle between trade unions, which he suggested was a danger to political life. We hope this will not happen. Senator O’Toole informed us that there are serious attempts to mollify the situation between the two groups. I hope this will be successful.
Senator Coghlan called for a debate on Aer Rianta. He sought clarification on the situation regarding the hotels of the company. He refers to hotels as if he and I are rollicking around them all the time.
Ms O’Rourke: I share Senator Coghlan’s praise for Aer Rianta’s wonderful hotels. I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House to inform us about this. Well done to the Senator on his Private Members’ Bill. We were delighted to see it this morning.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Ulick Burke called for the Minister of Education and Science to come to the House before he moves on. He does not have a notion of moving on. He will stay put. The Senator also referred to the crisis in the science area, which is an ongoing one and I agree that it should be addressed.
Senator Browne referred to a school in Mountmellick, which is building two classrooms rather than erecting prefabs. Between 1987 and 1990, the then Government sanctioned work of that kind at 300 schools. It was a policy which some Members will remember. I travelled around the country to open them. There is nothing new in this in terms of the approach to education. It is the same policy as was pursued by the then Government. The then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, fully endorsed it. The first deputation that came to me said that its school required an extension which would cost £500,000. I said I did not have that amount of money, but I could offer £100,000 to build four classrooms. The offer was refused, so I then offered it to the next group upon which the first group came back to me. It was an approach that was increasingly taken up and it made a great impact. It would be a good idea to have it explained because it is a worthwhile policy.
|Bannon, James.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Browne, Fergal.||Burke, Paddy.|
|Burke, Ulick.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Finucane, Michael.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Henry, Mary.||McCarthy, Michael.|
|McHugh, Joe.||Norris, David.|
|O’Meara, Kathleen.||O’Toole, Joe.|
|Phelan, John.||Ross, Shane.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Terry, Sheila.|
|Bohan, Eddie.||Brady, Cyprian.|
|Brennan, Michael.||Callanan, Peter.|
|Daly, Brendan.||Dardis, John.|
|Dooley, Timmy.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Hanafin, John.|
|Hayes, Maurice.||Kenneally, Brendan.|
|Kett, Tony.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|Leyden, Terry.||Lydon, Donal J.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||Mansergh, Martin.|
|Minihan, John.||Mooney, Paschal C.|
|Moylan, Pat.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Rourke, Mary.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Walsh, Kate.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
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