Thursday, 25 March 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion for earlier signature of the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2004, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re data protection, which was referred to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service and which has completed its deliberations; No. 3, Private Security Services Bill 2001 — Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 and to conclude at 1.30 p.m., with spokespersons having 15 minutes and other Senators ten minutes, Members may share time and the Minister may be called upon to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; and No. 4, Aer Lingus Bill 2003 — Committee Stage, to be taken from 1.30 p.m. until 3.30 p.m.
Mr. B. Hayes: As the Leader is probably aware, the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings occurs on 6 June next. This was a tremendous event in the Second World War which led to the fall of the Third Reich and was significant in terms of liberating Europe from fascism. The anniversary this year is particularly significant because, for the first time in 60 years, the German Government has been invited to be part of the D-Day celebrations. This act of reconciliation between Germany and France and western Europe could not possibly have occurred were it not for the European Union.
In that regard, I strongly welcome the comments made by the Taoiseach in the context of the EU summit to be held in Brussels today and tomorrow. The Taoiseach stated he believes the political will now exists for an agreement on the new EU constitution. It is vitally important the constitution is ratified and that Europe continues to unite because a Europe which is not united is dangerous, as we know from history.
In light of the Taoiseach’s comments and the importance of the summit in Brussels, will it be possible to have statements in the House next week, following the summit, to consider the remaining issues which need to be resolved before the constitutional framework can be put to the people of Europe as a whole? It is important we recognise the tremendous strides towards reconciliation in western Europe as a result of the development of the European Union. It is also important that we do not take the Union for granted and that we continue to argue on its behalf, to show to those against integration and unity that the only way forward is through a united and strong Europe, which is the best way to secure peace throughout Europe.
Mr. O’Toole: On a related topic, Members may be aware of the comments made by Mr. George Soros over the past 24 hours on his visit to Ireland. He dealt with two issues. One represented a road to Damascus conversion for Mr. Soros, in that he said the market has failed to deliver the social structures and supports needed in a fair and equitable society. His argument is worth considering.
More important, Mr. Soros referred to Europe, about which he made two points. First, he said Europe should show more openness, in particular to the ex-Soviet states which are not nearly ready to begin the process of application for membership of the European Union. He suggested Europe should reward and reinforce their efforts towards democracy, giving the particular example of Georgia. I believe much could be done by Europe in that regard.
Second, Mr. Soros raised a challenging point which ties in with the comments of Senator Brian Hayes — that Europe needs to have a foreign policy voice. It is an issue which troubles me but I see the sense of it and it should be discussed, although it will be difficult to achieve. It is not directly tied to the debate on the constitution although it might grow from that. However, if we are to have a proper influence in supporting countries and trouble spots outside Europe, we must find some way to have an acceptable foreign policy voice for Europe, which also recognises the Irish view and commitments on neutrality, even if that means redefining neutrality.
Ms O’Meara: I support the point made by Senator Brian Hayes on the EU summit. In particular, I wish the Taoiseach and the Irish Presidency well in advancing unity and agreement on the proposed constitution. Last December, it seemed as if this would not be achieved in the six months of the Irish Presidency. However, if progress can be achieved in the coming days and weeks, we would fully support the Taoiseach. It would be useful to have a debate on the outstanding issues as soon as possible.
When is it proposed to take the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, which deals with electronic voting? The Leader should ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, to come to the House to debate the role of the consumer. This is not only in the context of price controls, as the Tánaiste seems to believe it is entirely up to the consumer to ensure there are price controls, but also in regard to the power of the consumer.
We noted last week the power of consumers in regard to the Bank of Ireland and the issue of pornography, and the issue has again been raised on national radio in the context of credit card companies. There is a useful point to be made on this, which is that consumers can have a major role to play in regard to credit card companies and their use of technology, to ensure credit cards are not used to disseminate pornography. It would be useful for the Tánaiste to come to the House to debate the issue.
Mr. Dardis: I endorse the remarks of Senator Brian Hayes and others about the EU constitutional treaty. I commend the Taoiseach and other members of the Government on their work in this area. The Taoiseach is to be applauded for making significant progress here, which is probably a tribute to his conciliatory powers. I have always taken the view that it would be preferable to have the matter disposed of very soon after accession, if not before it, because if it dragged on for a long time it would send a negative signal to the accession countries. Senator Brian Hayes has highlighted the fact that the enduring monument of the EU is that it has given us peace for almost 60 years, which is unprecedented in European history. We need to keep that in mind.
If the Leader can find time for a debate on this between now and the recess, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have been very good in attending such debates. I am not anticipating what might be said in the report on Seanad reform but a more vigorous role for this House in European matters could be envisaged and this is a suitable matter for discussion.
Mr. McHugh: I congratulate the Labour Party on putting down the motion on emigration last night. I did not get a chance to speak because time did not permit but I thank the Leader for adding to the debate, which was very constructive. I wish to put the role of ICAP, the Immigration Counselling and Psychotherapy in the UK, on the record. It is a relatively new body and I acknowledge the Government’s role in bringing it in to frame policy. It deals with the mental health of the Irish community abroad and employs 200 clinical psychologists but they do not work on a voluntary basis and the organisation needs funding. The task force recommended the organisation receive ongoing funding. It has an office in London and is opening an office in the next few weeks——
Mr. McHugh: In light of that organisation’s plans and forward thinking we need an ongoing debate on emigration. I will raise this issue on the Adjournment. If 30% of this body’s resources and energy are spent on fund-raising in Ireland, we need the task force document to be implemented. We need more money for this area. The Minister has a role in this area and so do we.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: Will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage, and Local Government to the Seanad to discuss the guidelines on rural housing? We have discussed this matter on many occasions and there seems to be unanimity here about the need for radical action to ensure the people of rural Ireland can live in rural Ireland. Submissions have been invited by the Minister and that process will continue in coming weeks. The intention is to get reaction from as many people as possible and to fine tune the guidelines. Would it not be helpful if, as part of the submission process, we could also put forward views on the guidelines rather than waiting until the submissions concluded? Having seen how accessible the Minister has made himself in this debate, he might welcome an invitation to the Seanad to discuss this issue.
Mr. Norris: On Tuesday I condemned the action of Israel in targeting Sheikh Yassin because I felt it had breached a barrier. I call for a debate on this issue because another significant barrier has been breached with the use of a 14 year old boy stuffed with explosives as a human bomb. This is a violation of every decent human feeling. What pressure was brought to bear on that boy to allow this to happen? The use of child soldiers is forbidden under every international protocol. It is absolutely obscene that this should be allowed to happen and it must be condemned. It was painful for me to condemn a country I love, Israel, and I expect others now to condemn this action. President Arafat has put his condemnation on the record but I would like to hear condemnation from Islamic clerics also. Sheikh Yassin was described as an Islamic cleric but I have yet to hear one Islamic cleric publicly condemn these suicide bombs. Perhaps the media do not cover those statements.
I also seek a continuation of our valuable discussion of Iraq. Senator O’Toole mentioned George Soros and I will be meeting him in an hour’s time. He has incisively illustrated what he describes as the pre-emptive foreign policy of President Bush, which he regards as an aberration. Instead of a debate on Iraq perhaps we could have a debate on terrorism, which we have not done to date. Let us do something new with a debate on terrorism to see who are the real terrorists. Sandy Berger, a former security adviser, Richard Clarke, a registered Republican——
They also ignored Saudi Arabia although almost all the people involved in the bombing of the Twin Towers were Saudis and the money trail led to Saudi Arabia. What did they do? They spirited out prominent Saudi families like the bin Laden family, who are friends of the Bush family.
Dr. Mansergh: I welcome the comments of Senators Brian Hayes, O’Toole and Dardis on Europe. We all wish the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs success in concluding the work on the constitution by June. Since the tragedy in Madrid it has become very clear that Europe must present a united front. I am glad there is very little talk these days of a two-tier or two-speed Europe, as that is the last thing we want. I would welcome a general debate next week, if possible, not only on the Constitution but on other issues being discussed at the summit.
Mr. Browne: Yesterday we debated the Finance Bill. There were 20 civil servants in the House but we did not have enough time for the debate. We should learn from this and extend the time for the debate in the future, as we were just getting going when we had to stop.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Seanad to discuss his policy banning shooting on State lands, a policy which came in after the outbreak of foot and mouth. The gaming lobby is irate about the ban and we should have a debate on it. If there are valid reasons for the ban let us hear them but if not we should re-examine the matter.
We debated the Public Health (Tobacco) Act recently but I was not aware that smoking was to be banned in company cars. That is going too far. If someone is driving a company car with no other person in the car, then he or she should be allowed to do whatever he or she wants within reason.
Mr. Feighan: I join Senator Norris in condemning the use of a 14 year old boy for such a horrific, attempted crime yesterday. I am also concerned about yesterday’s deadly firebomb attack by the Real IRA in Cork. Three of the suspects were out on bail from the Special Criminal Court. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should attend the House to explain the situation.
Ms O’Rourke: I thank the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Brian Hayes, for reminding us that 6 June will mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day. It is a point upon which all Members may care to reflect because it was during the past 60 years that the inclusiveness of Europe came about. In addition, the prevailing spirit of reconciliation among formerly warring parties will allow German representatives to attend the forthcoming commemorations.
In anticipation of a request for a debate on the EU constitution and Europe generally, following this weekend’s summit, I have been in touch with the office of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche. As he has to attend a three day plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg next week, I am hoping the Taoiseach can attend the House for an hour to discuss these matters. It would be great if he could as it would end the term satisfactorily. It is proving difficult to arrange such a debate but I hope it can be done. I will keep Senators informed.
Senator O’Toole shared Senator Brian Hayes’s views, and also mentioned Mr. George Soros’s opinion that the free market had failed to deliver, although he hedged his comments somewhat. Senator O’Toole said Europe should be more open to the democracies that have emerged from the former Soviet bloc, particularly those whose economies lag behind the EU accession states. It is a fair point. It would be a good idea to have a definitive voice on foreign policy in Europe, which could establish an agenda and follow through on it.
I thank Senator O’Meara for conveying the Labour Party’s good wishes to the Taoiseach for the summit of EU leaders in Brussels. She has sought a debate on the matter which I will endeavour to arrange.
Senator Ó Murchú raised the draft guidelines on rural housing, and the relevant item, No. 16, is still on the Order Paper. I hope the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will be able to attend the House to continue the debate.
Senator Norris referred to the 14 year old Palestinian boy arrested yesterday with explosives strapped to him. The use of child soldiers is forbidden under the terms of the Geneva Convention but we all saw it happening in full colour on television yesterday. The Senator also sought an ongoing debate on Iraq as well as a debate on terrorism and its causes. We are witnessing outbreaks of terrorism all over the world and it is important to discover why this is happening. The Senator quoted the former US security official, Mr. Richard Clarke, whose comments are riveting. There is no denying what he has said.
Senator Mansergh said we had to present a united front, which we are doing, following the tragedy of the Madrid bombings. If anything good can come from such an awful event, perhaps it is that Europe is united in its response and that, yesterday, people united to express their sorrow in Madrid.
I agree with Senator Browne that the Finance Bill ended too precipitately, given that a very fine debate was continuing at the time. I hope the Senator does not think I am being condescending in saying this but I followed the debate on the monitor and the Senator did well in the first real test he has had in dealing with a major Bill.
Senator Browne also mentioned that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, had banned shooting on State lands. I am not aware of that issue but will make inquiries about it. In addition, the Senator said the proposed ban on smoking in company cars would be unenforceable. For the most part, however, the new smoking regulations will be self-regulating because it is expected that people will be imbued with good ideas about health. I hope the letter of the law will be followed, since it will not be possible for gardaí to check on everyone in company cars.
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