Wednesday, 31 March 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, Private Security Services Bill 2001 — Committee Stage to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business until 1 p.m.; No. 2, Maritime Security Bill 2004 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 3.30 p.m. with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and Members may share time, and the Minister will be called upon to reply no later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; No. 3, Aer Lingus Bill 2003 — Report and Final Stages to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4 p.m.; No. 4, Transfer of Execution of Sentences Bill 2003 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage to be taken at 4 p.m. until 5 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and Members may share time. Second Stage of that Bill will not conclude and will continue, I hope, next week; and No. 18, motion No. 20, to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1 p.m. to 1.30 p.m.
Mr. B. Hayes: We currently hold the Presidency of the European Union. Our country is in a pivotal position in terms of EU development, but it seems we cannot organise a free concert to take place on our streets on 1 May. This day has been set aside for some years as the day ten new accession countries will join the European Union. The Government has already designated it as a day of welcomes for the ten new member states, yet we cannot organise a simple free concert on the streets for our citizens. I ask the Government to intervene with Dublin City Council and all of the other authorities, including RTE, to ensure this concert takes place somewhere in Dublin on this day.
It seems we have a pathetic attitude in this State when it comes to public space for our citizens. Public space should not be given over to gangs of people who are up to their necks in drink, but neither should it be taken away because of a ruling by a petty bureaucrat. It is time that members of the public reclaimed their streets. This capital has had many concerts in the past and should hold one again on 1 May. I ask the Leader to intervene with the Government on this matter to ensure the concert takes place because we have much to celebrate on 1 May.
I wish to raise two procedural matters. One relates to the Maritime Security Bill 2004. This was introduced in the post-September 11 security environment in the context of a commitment entered into in 2001 by the Government to transpose into domestic law a resolution from the Security Council, yet three years later the legislation has not been enacted. Is there any other anti-terrorism legislation, globally and nationally, which has yet to be enacted following commitments given at EU and United Nations level? It is not good enough that having entered into an agreement with the United Nations, we are only transposing the law into domestic statute three years later.
Yesterday, I raised privately with the Leader a matter regarding statements on the high level of alcohol consumption by young people. Following a request by the Fine Gael spokesperson, Senator Terry, on the matter last week the Leader kindly arranged to bring the debate back onto the Order Paper. We are now in a tangle because Senator Terry and others spoke on the matter some months ago. Will the Leader clarify if Senator Terry and others who have made a contribution can speak again? If not, could the debate be given a different title to facilitate repeat speakers? A similar situation arose with regard to a rolling debate on Iraq. We should have a rolling debate on this issue, as the Seanad has led on it in recent years. It is important that spokespersons should be able to speak tomorrow. Perhaps the Whips could have a meeting to ensure this occurs.
Mr. Norris: It is a pity the concert is not going ahead because it would be an opportunity to show the city of Dublin. On the other hand, the works in O’Connell Street, which will make it a very fine street when it is finished, are not completed and there may be security problems. I did, however, have to laugh at the bregrudgery on RTE radio when somebody said it should be cancelled because it was elitist. This concert could not possibly be described as elitist because it is open to the general public.
I have some concern, as someone who lives just behind O’Connell Street, about the possible behaviour of some people after the concert. In particular, I am concerned about the licensing laws and drinking. I have got into trouble about this and the matter is sub judice, so I will not say anything about it at this stage, but I will when the matter is resolved. However, I should like to put on the record of the House that on returning down O’Connell Street from a dinner, I went into one of the supermarkets——
Mr. Norris: Excuse me, this is a serious point. I raised this previously. I warned that people would be killed because of this kind of thing, and people were subsequently killed. I am serious about it. I went into a supermarket where there were four-packs available after 11 p.m. and bottles of wine. I asked if I could buy a bottle of whiskey and was told “yes”. The person behind the counter was not familiar with the English language. I question that in the light of the kind of concert we might have.
I also ask whether we could have a debate on the role of Parliament in a democracy because, as a member of two unions affiliated to SIPTU, I was horrified that union pulled out of discussions with Government on a forthcoming pay agreement on the basis of what the leader of a democratic party in this State, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, did or did not say at her party’s annual convention. That is extraordinary. It undermines democracy. We need to look at this because of the evidence that is emerging from tribunals, for instance, that the proprietor of a newspaper, Mr. Tony O’Reilly, objected to certain acts of the Government and subsequently, in the course of an election, the front page of one of his newspapers——
Mr. Norris: ——-referred to payback time. RTE has made programmes coming up to an election, for example about the hepatitis C case which targeted Deputy Noonan. There was also a very interesting analytical programme about the splits within Fine Gael and so on. I was taken off the air a year before the Seanad election was even declared. Recently, although no election has been declared, there was a programme about Uachtarán na hÉireann. Who runs the country? Is it RTE, the unions, or the newspapers? Will the Leader arrange a debate on the role of Parliament in Irish democracy?
Mr. Ryan: I can answer one of Senator Norris’s questions. It is not a question of who is running the country. Fianna Fáil is running RTE and when Fianna Fáil says jump, RTE jumps. The character assassination of the former leader of Fine Gael was the lowest point in RTE’s history.
Mr. Ryan: It would not have been done and never was done to leaders of Fianna Fáil who have been called dreadful names by tribunals that I am not permitted to repeat here. RTE never had the guts to confront that man but it was able to demolish a good man who made a mistake. RTE is in the pockets of Fianna Fáil as we all know.
Mr. Ryan: This is a free democracy. Trade unions are free to take whatever positions they like about negotiations with Government or for partnership. I agree with SIPTU that the Tánaiste went far beyond what was supposed to be still a matter of negotiation.
Mr. Ryan: May we have a debate on transport policy because we do not know what is the Government’s policy? The trade unions, which represent people affected by this policy, do not know either. We would all like to know if the Government’s policy is the reassuring tones of the Taoiseach or the aggressive line taken by the Tánaiste. A debate is the only way to resolve that.
I do not want to spend time discussing the concert in Dublin but if people want to move it to Cork we would be delighted to host it. We can manage such events quite well. If the only problem is that the BBC is trying to tell us what we should do, the BBC can return to its own role and we will do it ourselves. I do not need to remind Senators what the acronym BBC represents. Not to host it because the BBC would not agree to it is the most ludicrous excuse of all.
Could we have a debate some time on accountability in the public service? Normally when a Minister comes in here to take Committee Stage of a Bill, he or she is lucky to have two or three officials, however complex the legislation. I recall in the previous Seanad dealing with a topic as complex as copyright legislation and the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, had two officials to help him. When we held Committee Stage on the Finance Bill here last week there were 20 officials from the Department of Finance present. According to my back-of-the-envelope calculation, that cost the taxpayer at least €4,000 or €5,000.
Mr. Ryan: Who is responsible for ensuring the Department of Finance is efficiently operated? Neither my, nor Senator Mansergh’s, egos demand 20 officials to listen to our views. I am quite happy to have one official. No other Department would be allowed to bring 20 officials into the House, no matter how complex the legislation.
Mr. Ryan: The Department seems to be very good at running other people’s business but inadequate at managing its own. This is a valid concern for the Oireachtas and we should have a debate on who will ensure the Department of Finance manages its affairs efficiently instead of perpetually trying to manage everybody else’s.
Mr. Morrissey: I seldom agree with Senator Ryan’s calls for debate but I agree with his call for a debate on transport issues. I and Government Members of this House know where the Minister of Transport and the Progressive Democrats stand on the transport issue. We want to introduce competition in both bus and air transport. The postal strike has not spread to SDS, the parcel delivery service of An Post, simply because of competition in the area with couriers across Dublin. The strike is restricted to the one area in which An Post has a monopoly. I would like a debate on transport policy. Also, because of the petulance of SIPTU, I agree there should be a debate on the partnership process in order to establish who is running this country.
Mr. Finucane: We should be concerned by what happened in the United Kingdom over the past few days where eight people who were probably guilty of potential terrorist offences were arrested by the British police. In this context, the approaching visit of President Bush to this country will demand increased security. We should be alarmed by what is happening in a neighbouring country. This must also be considered in the context of Sellafield. The EU Commission has directed Sellafield to destroy half a tonne of radioactive waste and several hundred kilograms of plutonium waste matter contained in a pond. Radioactive matter from the area has polluted the Irish Sea over many years. Ireland should regard Sellafield as a future potential threat. Increased security and vigilance are required for the visit of President Bush to this country, particularly as a result of what has happened in Britain over the past few days. We will discuss the matter later with regard to maritime security measures, however overall security should be a priority for us at this stage.
Ms Ormonde: I too was saddened to hear that some of the 1 May accession celebrations may be cancelled. This is a pity. Will the Leader give us an update on the position when she has further information?
Where matters stand on the Lisbon strategy is an issue which arose at the spring Council meeting. We are at the half way point of the strategy which covers the period 2000 to 2010. I understand that progress has been made on the issues and I would like debate on this. Could we also have debate on the ratification process with regard to the constitutional treaty to establish how matters stand on it? It would be delightful if we could have the Taoiseach in the House to discuss the matter. However, knowing his busy schedule he may not be able to attend and perhaps Deputy Roche could be invited to give us a progress report. It would be useful for us and the public to know where we are on the issue.
Mr. Quinn: Last weekend seven young men died on our roads. I read yesterday that the chairman of the National Safety Authority questioned the Minister responsible on the unavailability of a central budget for road safety. This is a most serious matter. The young men who died were aged between 18 and 30 years. This matter should be on the agenda every week until something happens. According to the National Safety Council, action has been taken in other countries which has dramatically reduced the incidence of the kind of deaths to which I refer. There is criticism of the Government to the effect that it has not placed the issue high enough on its agenda. The Minister should come to the House and explain what is happening. We know we are not doing enough; we must do more. We cannot allow this situation to continue.
I also wish to refer to the death of a young sportsman last weekend, John McCall. Like other young people he gave wonderful commitment to his village, club and community. Last week Cormac McAnallen’s mother called for a full investigation by medical authorities into sudden deaths of young fit males. Brian O’Gorman from Limerick died last year in a similar situation. We cannot sit back and merely say this is a shame.
Last year the manager of one of the Limerick Gaelic teams said he did not wish to have dual players. I did not understand that point but I now realise that perhaps there is a reason for it. A great deal of pressure is put on fit energetic young people who are committed to their clubs, teams and villages. There is an onus of responsibility on us to do something about this.
Mr. Hanafin: I ask the Leader for a debate on housing. The ESRI has confirmed the current boom is expected to continue. It has projected single figure growth in the price of housing. This is on top of the exceptionally high cost of housing in cities, especially in Dublin. Auctioneers have referred to the possibility of double digit growth. In light of the situation where a large proportion of land is already designated, the debate should include an examination of the use-it-or-lose-it policy whereby builders with development land who have not used it within a set time would lose their planning permission.
The debate should also include discussion on the possibility of giving tax relief to commuters, as is done in some Scandinavian countries, on the basis of kilometres travelled. Provision was made in the national development plan and the national spatial strategy for better transport services for commuters in outlying areas. It would be a good idea to allow 30 cent per kilometre as a tax relief to incentivise people to move out from cities. This matter is once again becoming an urgent crisis.
Mr. Ross: First, I wish to ask a question which I have routinely asked the Leader of the House for some time. I gather a commission on auctioneers is being set up but we have not had any official news about it. Will the Leader pursue this matter? As a courtesy to the House, this would be the appropriate place for the commission to be announced and for a response to be made.
I gather Senator Norris raised the issue of the Tánaiste and SIPTU. Perhaps she should be invited to the House to be congratulated for taking a stand on this issue, which is Government policy. It is also time for the House to take a stand against those outside the House who seem to think they can dictate Government policy at the drop of a hat. What the Tánaiste said at the weekend was already Government policy. It is time for those of us who are democrats and who believe the Houses of the Oireachtas stand for something not to accept this sort of tantrum from union leaders with big egos. Every time something they do not like occurs——
Mr. Ross: A man as modest as Senator Ryan is entitled to make an interruption of that sort. It is time we refuse to take any more of this nonsense from the trade union leaders. It is not acceptable that they should storm out of talks in a tantrum each time Government policy on some issue in which they claim to have an interest is not to their liking.
Dr. Mansergh: Greater competition is good but greater public service is good also. I do not want to see competition going so far as to gut public service where it is needed. We should wish the social partners well when they begin their talks. Let us remember that social partnership has been one of the fundamental reasons for the outstanding performance of this economy over the past 17 years.
Dr. Mansergh: I would be happy to have a debate on social partnership and transport policy. Policies should not be made by ultimatums or stand offs. Social partnership is an aid to governing and conducting well the affairs of the country.
On the open air concert, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism should come to this House and outline his real reasons for cancelling it. I do not believe we have been told the truth on the matter. I am not sure whether it is a question of security, because during the days concerned, Heads of State will visit the city. I do not believe we have sufficient Garda resources to provide security for these visitors and for all the citizens of the State who may wish to attend the concert. There are other reasons for not holding the concert other than that O’Connell Street cannot be closed for nine days. I would like the Minister to come to this House to outline the reasons for cancelling it.
Dr. M. Hayes: A Chathaoirligh, I hope I will not annoy you by saying something entirely unprovocative. I support Senator Quinn’s remarks on the two fine sportsmen who died and also the underlying problem. It would be a good idea to have a debate on the matter. It would be a better idea if a debate were held on the basis of some known facts or research. I do not know whether this form of death among young sportsmen is any higher than it is in the general population. I have come across it three or four times in my lifetime. Will the Leader encourage the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, either directly or through the Sports Council, to institute an inquiry into the matter? He could get a small group of experts to look into the issue and draw up a report, and on that basis we could probably have a sensible debate at a later stage.
Mr. Bannon: I checked with my colleague, Senator Coghlan, and he told me there was some climate change in the vicinity of Killarney last weekend. The hurricane has subsided but we should still have a debate on transport. The Tánaiste admitted in Killarney that the Government’s transport policy is a shambles and it is important the House knows exactly what is happening.
The Minister for Transport should also take time in any debate on transport to discuss the waiting lists for driving tests. In the midlands, people have to wait for up to 14 months for a test, while the average wait across the country is 11 months. Last year the Minister said he would clamp down on unaccompanied driving by those on provisional licences. What is the policy and where is the Government going on the issue? We have heard little about it in recent times while the number of road deaths is increasing. The issue must be tackled by the Government if it intends to reduce the number of fatalities on the roads.
Mr. Feighan: I join my colleagues in calling for a debate on the cancellation of the May Day concert. It comes in the wake of our condemnation of the serious disturbances at the St. Patrick’s Day parade. There is a worrying trend where drug and alcohol fuelled louts are taking over the streets and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism should come before the House to explain what is happening.
County enterprise boards were created ten years ago and have created more than 10,000 jobs but I am shocked to see that their budget was cut by 23% last year and will now be cut by a further 30%. The Tánaiste should come into the House to explain this. The latest cut will ensure that a cost effective board with four employees will have an administration budget that exceeds its grant aid budget. This is crazy. Is the Government trying to axe the boards that were at the forefront of economic success in rural counties? The Tánaiste must explain this because it is ridiculous that the administrative budget exceeds the budget for grants.
Mr. J. Phelan: I support Senator Finucane’s call for a debate on defence and anti-terrorism issues in light of President Bush’s upcoming visit. I listened with some dismay to the Minister for Defence on “Today with Pat Kenny” trying to reassure the public that he has a plan for this visit when he clearly does not and neither does the Government. Instead of a situation where the Army guards bank trucks and little else, we should ensure it is in a position to defend the interests of the country.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Brian Hayes raised the issue of the abandonment of the concert that was to take place on 1 May. We did not get a reason for it this morning other than that main streets in Dublin would be closed for up to nine days, an extraordinarily long time. We should have a debate on this to find out why such a decision was taken. The Senator then asked how many of the anti-terrorism measures announced after 11 September remain to be implemented.
He also raised an issue on which people have spoken previously, namely statements on alcohol abuse. This matter needs to be discussed at a short meeting under the aegis of the Cathaoirleach. The last statements on alcohol abuse were——
Senator Norris expressed regret that the concert will not take place, but I hope it can be salvaged and this decision was only an immediate reaction to it. The Senator talked about the licensing laws and how he was able to purchase alcohol in a small local supermarket——
Senator Ryan talked about the Department of Finance and who had financial responsibility for it. I have found over the years that the people there are extremely stringent and they run Departments and themselves very well. Revenue issues were discussed last week. When I asked one of the gentlemen present if he was from the Department of Finance, he said quite tartly that he was from Revenue. Those people were there for a purpose, but there appeared to be a large number of them.
Senator Morrissey also called for a debate on transport. It is interesting that in the dynamics of politics there are varying views on this matter. One Senator talked about the petulance of unions, but they have a right to state their positions. We are in a partnership arrangement.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Finucane raised the threat of terrorism in London and the concern about Sellafield, echoing what Senator Brian Hayes said. I will endeavour to get a list of those measures which have yet to be implemented by law or by ministerial order.
Senator Ormonde raised the matter of the concert being cancelled. Following a request last week in the House, we spent most of a day trying to contact the Taoiseach. We fully understand how busy the Taoiseach, the Minister of State, Deputy Roche, and the Minister, Deputy Cowen, are. It is great we have got to where we are without major disruption and that we have been able to get a raft of Ministers to come here during the difficult times they have had going hither and tither. I thought we would have nearly had to fold up when matters at work got very hot. We are still endeavouring to have a major debate on the European constitution, the Lisbon strategy and other issues next week and I will revert to the House in this regard.
Senator Quinn referred to the seven people who died on the roads last weekend and called for a line budget for road safety and asked if we could do more. We could work such issues into the transport debate if we were to have it. The Senator also referred to the sudden deaths of John McCall, the young rugby player, and Cormac McAnallen. Clearly, there must be a medical connection between such deaths and extreme exercise and pushing the body at a particular age, which is having such a sad result. Mrs. McAnallen asked for a debate on the issue and we will ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to come to the House for such a debate.
Senator Hanafin referred to housing. Most Senators will have received an invitation this morning to the launch next week of the report on property rights. We will seek to have a debate on the issue at that stage. The Senator also referred to tax relief for commuters.
Senator Ross asked about the committee on auctioneering, about which he wrote an interesting article two weeks ago. I have been told and hope the committee will be announced this week. The Senator also referred to the Tánaiste, SIPTU and a debate on democracy. He put forward his point of view. We are all here to do the same. The Senator has strident views on this matter.
Senator Mansergh said greater competition is good but good public service is also needed, and I agree. When I am asked how Ireland got to be where it is with decent growth rates when the rest of Europe is faltering, I say it is because of social partnership. It is easy to cast it to one side if a tremor occurs, but it is the bedrock of how the economy has prospered.
Ms O’Rourke: It is because of the very good partnership arrangement between the parties. Of course it is not a cut and dried, Cinderella or happy ever after scenario. How could it be with the varying aspirations and ambitions of the different parties involved? Nonetheless, social partnership is strong, steady and must be maintained as such. I cannot speak strongly enough in its defence and I fully adhere to its principles and we are lucky that, under various Governments, its tenets have been preserved.
I am glad the issue of speaking to which Senator Terry referred has been settled. She also spoke about the concert which was to take place on 1 May and asked if it was cancelled because so many gardaí would be occupied guarding visiting heads of state. She asked if there was a need for extra Garda resources for this purpose.
Senator Maurice Hayes referred to the three young sports people who died at the pinnacle of their prowess and asked if the Sports Council would institute an inquiry and if the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism would come before the House to speak on the matter. It would be an appropriate tribute to the young people to have such a debate.
Senator Coghlan has a very interesting Private Members’ Bill — the Housing (Stage Payments) Bill — before the House. I am prepared to allow Government time for that debate and I will revert to the Senator on the matter.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Bannon requested a debate on transport. On a passing note, the Department has advertised on two or three occasions for driving instructors but there have been no responses. Candidates for the posts are not coming forward.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Feighan referred to the cut in funding to county enterprise boards. I know the enterprise boards have been hugely successful on a county level. Senator John Paul Phelan requested a debate on anti-terrorism issues.
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