Wednesday, 7 April 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2002 — Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude at 1.30 p.m.; No. 2, statements on the CLÁR programme, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and 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 ten minutes before the conclusion of the statements; and No. 15, motion No. 20, to be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Mr. B. Hayes: There is general agreement that our Constitution has always been above and beyond party politics. When we change, amend or reform our Constitution there is usually a sense of agreement about the substance of the issue to be put to the people. Does the Leader agree the Government’s decision to hold a referendum on the sensitive issue of citizenship rights on the same day as the local and European elections on 11 June is abhorrent and wrong? Does she also agree the manner in which the Government has decided to force this measure through the Houses, bringing the other House back a week early from the Easter recess and the complete lack of all-party consultation and agreement on this matter, is a sign that some politicians want to use this issue as a glorified race card in advance of the elections?
Ireland needs a serious debate on the issue of immigration, particularly the position of non-nationals, but we will not have that debate if this minor point becomes the focus for all publicity between now and 11 June. This is a bad day’s work. The House has a fundamental responsibility, because it does not have a political mandate from the people, to point out these issues to the Government. Members on both sides of the House rightly said to the Government three weeks ago that we should not have this referendum at the same time as the local and European elections. That is the voice of the House and it is the way in which this House can be unique. It has historically played a key role in our political establishment because it has been able to guide the Government in a non-political fashion.
I ask the Government to rethink its strategy on this matter. I know we will have an opportunity to debate it later, but this is a fundamental point. We should not change our Constitution for party political ends. We remember the mistake that was made when the amendment on abortion was inserted into the Constitution 20 years ago. Now, those who say they support the rights of the unborn wish to limit their rights and the rights of their parents. It is a bad day’s work. I ask the Government to reconsider.
Mr. Quinn: I hope the Cathaoirleach will excuse me if I make a personal point, but I notice he has been in particularly good humour over the past ten days. I have also noticed that everyone else has been in a better mood. I was not sure whether this was due to the smoking ban, but I have now come to the conclusion that it is due to the extra hour of daylight in the evening. I was interested to discover yesterday that in the UK there are moves afoot to reintroduce double summer time, or to change the standard time to central European time. The campaign is called Free Britain from the Tyranny of Greenwich Mean Time.
The reason I raise this is the figure that was introduced following the worthwhile steps taken yesterday by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, to enhance road safety. In the UK it is estimated that an extra hour of daylight all year round would prevent 450 deaths and serious injuries on the roads. It is time we reintroduced this debate. Will the Leader consider inviting the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House to discuss this matter? Some years ago an effort was made to move to central European time. The opposition to this was based on the argument that the UK was not likely to do the same. We should be willing to leave the nursery even if nanny does not come with us. We should consider the benefits to the country not just in business terms, but in the area of road safety and so on, if we joined central European time rather than being hooked to the UK.
I mentioned the subject of car insurance yesterday. I was delighted to read the comments of the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O’Dea, in today’s Irish Examiner that he will not back the EU’s proposals on motor insurance. He will meet members of the Irish Insurance Federation today to explain this to them. It is estimated that if we accept this proposal, women’s motor insurance premiums will rise by an average of €750 per year. It is political correctness gone mad to insist on gender equality in this area rather than applying lower premiums to those who are safer drivers. It appears that women are safer drivers than men.
Mr. Ryan: When I see the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform demanding that the passports of Irish citizens be handed back by their parents before they are deported, as has been reported this morning, I do not think that is time wasting. It is extremely serious. I would like to know on what basis the Department, that is now landing us with a referendum without proper consultation, decided to deal with Irish citizens in that way. We all know that the racists in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform do not want black people to be Irish citizens.
Mr. Ryan: I know the record of the Department. When Eamon de Valera wanted to allow Jewish immigration into this State, the Department of Justice prevented it. If people want me to do so, I will produce chapter and verse about the activities of that Department. Why can we not have a rational debate on the issue of citizenship? Why can we not have time for such a debate? None of us believes that citizenship is an easy or simple issue with which to deal. When the Good Friday Agreement was passed by the Oireachtas, I was aware that there might be a problem about citizenship. Anybody who read the agreement would have realised that. Now that the problem has become an issue which preoccupies the Government, it would be sensible to work out a consensus. A report will be published this evening which presents a consensus view on private property. By adopting a sensible and mature approach we were able to reach a consensus on that matter. The Labour Party wants to know why we cannot take a similarly sensible approach to the issue of citizenship. Is there some crisis that we do not know about or is it, as many people suspect, that the Government knows immigration is a hot issue in an election and wants to tie us all down by indulging in a bit of immigrant bashing leading up to the local and European elections?
Mr. Leyden: Will the Leader contact the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government concerning the building regulations Bill? The legislation has been at the drafting stage for some time and will contain approximately 55 sections. I wish to declare a vested interest in the Bill, concerning the registration of architects and quantity surveyors. At the moment, there is no legislation governing the titles of “architect” or “quantity surveyor”. It is time for this matter to be dealt with by way of legislation. Discussions have been going on for some time on the issue, yet the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has not displayed any urgency in this regard. The Bill is ready for publication. The Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland and members of other professional bodies representing quantity surveyors are anxious that the legislation should be brought before the Oireachtas as quickly as possible. The legislation should receive a hearing in the Seanad first as there is widespread interest in it. With so much construction work going on and with current developments in the building industry, it is important to provide for the registration of architects and quantity surveyors. I ask the Leader to use her good offices to bring the Bill before the House as soon as possible.
Mr. Finucane: I want to ask a question in that context. Regrettably, over the past few months, road deaths have risen compared to the same period last year. Anyone driving to Dublin at 60 mph will see other vehicles zooming past. There appears to be an absence of gardaí to enforce speed limits. In the past, we were promised that a traffic corps would be introduced. Two weeks ago the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Michael McDowell, said it was not possible to have such a corps due to legal difficulties. In an article in the current Automobile Association’s magazine, the Taoiseach states that we will have a traffic corps, and that the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will tease out the legal aspects.
Mr. McCarthy: It is ten years since the genocide in Rwanda that claimed 800,000 lives. This was the worst case of genocide since the Second World War. The international community, through the United Nations, failed abjectly to help the people of that Central African country. Will the House observe the one-minute silence at noon today, as requested by the UN? The UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, has asked as many countries as possible to participate in that minute of silence as a mark of respect to all those who lost their lives so brutally and needlessly in Rwanda. It was a horrible incident in world history.
Before the last general election we witnessed a high profile outburst of racist remarks from a candidate who went on to win a seat and was appointed chairman of a Dáil committee. If the race card is going to be played by Government candidates in the forthcoming elections, will those candidates be rewarded by the Taoiseach after the elections?
Mr. Coghlan: I support Senator Brian Hayes’s comments about the proposed referendum on citizenship which is a matter of vital interest to every citizen, and properly so. Surely, however, the good of our democracy requires that all-party consensus should be reached on this matter. As Senator Ryan has pointed out, such consensus has already been reached with regard to the ninth progress report on private property to be launched this evening. There is no need to rush into a referendum on citizenship. We do not want to refer to what is very likely to happen as a result. We have had a taste of it.
Mr. Coghlan: Yes. Two of the most senior men in the hotel group have been rather disgracefully eased out. Is it planned to sell the chain collectively, or to sell the hotels separately? I am repeating my request for the Leader to invite the relevant Minister to attend the House to discuss this matter. It would be timely to have such a debate.
Mr. Ross: It is a position I have ambitions to resume at a future date. I wish to raise the issue of Seanad reform. I gather that a report on that particular issue has been under consideration for some time. Perhaps the Leader could tell us when the report will be presented to the House and what programme is planned for it. What principles will be established by the report? The most important principles that should be contained therein are that the immense political patronage in this House should be removed and that the university franchise should be extended.
Mr. Ross: I do not think so. I will be back. Senator Dardis depends on others in greater positions than I. Prior to the presentation of the report on Seanad reform — and this is relevant in view of what Senator Brian Hayes said about unanimity on constitutional matters — I would like to know if it has all-party support and whether it has been signed by the leaders of all parties in this House.
Mr. McHugh: Over the past 15 years, 24 post offices have closed in County Donegal. This is a stark statistic. I call on the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to intervene because this is the result of depopulation. We all have bases in rural areas and depopulation is a sickness in them. There is a way to address it. The intervention of the Minister could go a long way towards addressing this issue because a two part mechanism is available. Counties such as Donegal could be linked to the broadband grid in Northern Ireland and radio broadband solutions could be provided in rural areas. This has not happened. A seven year plan for rural areas close to gateway towns such as Letterkenny is under discussion. This plan is not good enough and the timeframe involved will not allow for a solution. The Minister should come to the House to debate a connection to the broadband grid in Northern Ireland and to provide radio broadband solutions in rural areas because the closure of post offices will continue and it is our responsibility to do something about it.
Mr. J. Phelan: I support Senator McHugh’s comments. As a rural Member, the Cathaoirleach will be familiar with the problem of rural depopulation and its effects on services, post offices, schools and various sporting organisations.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on agriculture as soon as possible, with particular reference to the recent announcement on CAP reform and the procedures for single payments? It would be opportune to hold such a debate soon. The proposals contain a number of potential difficulties and I urge the Leader to arrange a debate.
I share the sentiments of Senator Brian Hayes regarding the holding of the proposed referendum on 11 June. I do not welcome this move and I urge the Government to rethink that plan before it is put into practice.
Mr. Glynn: I lobbied against a number of post office closures in County Westmeath but the local people did not support the post offices.Depopulation was not the reason they closed. It was proposed that a post office situated four miles from Mullingar should close down and when a canvass of the area was conducted, nobody would take it on because the returns were negligible. Local people travel to Mullingar to draw their pensions.
Mr. Glynn: This is a relevant point. I bemoan the closure of rural post offices because they are part of the rural infrastructure but depopulation is not the only factor in such closures. Local people do not support post offices in the way they should.
The House should debate the effects of gambling. Over the past ten years, bookie shops have opened on high streets and racing has been permitted on Sundays. Gambling causes severe hardship for families because people fritter away disposable income in gambling dens. Recently, a GAA club banned a number of players because they refused to participate in the club’s lotto scheme. This is a serious scenario——
Dr. M. Hayes: I will not enter into a debate on the citizenship issue or impute motives to anybody but it is a matter for calm discussion or mature reflection. People in Northern Ireland have a significant interest in this issue, as it is integral to the Good Friday Agreement. Will the Leader ensure that, whatever discussions or consultation take place, a structure will be put in place to provide for an input by relevant parties in Northern Ireland?
Mr. U. Burke: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to review the allocation of teachers on post-leaving certificate courses? PLCs have provided an important opportunity to many people from disadvantaged backgrounds to re-enter the education system or engage in training. It is of the utmost importance that such courses should be retrained. Under the new allocation, many of the courses will have to cease, thereby denying training to those who need it. The Minister has requested the House many times to allow him to provide for disadvantaged people to enter third level but, through this allocation, he will deny such access. I ask the Leader to request the Minister to review this issue as a matter of urgency in order that additional places will be provided on PLCs in the 2004-05 school year.
Ms O’Rourke: The Dáil will observe a minute’s silence at 12 noon and this House should do likewise. That does not mean everybody should be present because Members have various appointments and so on. I thank Senator McCarthy for raising this matter.
Senator Brian Hayes raised the issue of the constitutional referendum. He expressed himself forcefully on the issue and we will have an opportunity to fully discuss it later. I have given my opinion previously and many people share it. That is a separate matter. As Senator Maurice Hayes said, we must ensure plenty of time is provided for a full debate on the proposals.
Senator Quinn wants summer time all the time. The Senator must think of the other side of the coin. Children would have to go to the school in the dark for a long time if that happened. However, I agree the fine evenings are wonderful. I do not know whether one enjoys the stretch in the evenings more as one gets older, but it is wonderful that there is daylight until 8.30 p.m. The Senator says that is the reason people are in better humour.
He also said women’s insurance premia will increase by €750. This is a serious matter but the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has stated he will not allow that to happen. That is heart warming.
Senator Ryan called for the passport of Irish citizens to be returned. He has strong feelings about this issue and it is one on which people should be free to express their opinions. It is a significant issue and the Senator feels strongly about it. My fear is that it will take over the European and local elections campaign.
Senator Leyden referred to the Bill, which will provide for the registration of architects and quantity surveyors. He said it is ready in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I will inquire about this sensible legislation.
Senator Michael Finucane raised the issue of a traffic corps and commented on the photograph of Mr. Schumacher with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, and the Taoiseach. The issue of a traffic corps could be raised on the Adjournment when the Senator would get a straight answer to his question.
I thank Senator McCarthy for bringing that matter to our attention. He also fears the race card in the election. Senator Coghlan raised the question of the referendum on citizenship. Let me reassure Senator Coghlan that I do not go to these hotels all the time.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Coghlan said that two senior staff members have been forced out. I have been invited to an event to mark the departure of Mr. Feeney, who has given great service toParknasilla hotel. He was not forced out as he wanted to leave.
Ms O’Rourke: As the Cathaoirleach does not show any signs of giving it up, the Senator will have to hold his whist. The report on Seanad reform will issue on Wednesday, 28 April 2004. The text was returned three times to the printer, to deal with the print size and errata. We are all committed to a full debate on it in the House.
Ms O’Rourke: I am coming to that point. It will be fully debated. The Cathaoirleach and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges will receive it first as they set the terms of reference and then the debate will follow. I want to be quite explicit that it had all-party support until a particular point, which had nothing to do with reform itself——
Ms O’Rourke: A Member informed a meeting that it related to the way the commission was set up. It has broad support and it will be signed by four Members, including the Senator’s leader — I know one does not call him leader.
Ms O’Rourke: The report has been approved by the Senator’s spokesman. He will get a chance to debate it. I note the Senator wants a widening of the universities’ electorate, but in the referendum of 1979, some 25 years ago, the people voted for that but it was never enacted in legislation. I hope that a quarter of a century later the report supports the will of the people.
Senator McHugh raised the depopulation of rural areas and how broadband technology would provide services no longer available because of the closure of post offices. Post offices could use the broadband and make it available to people. Senator John Paul Phelan agreed with Senator McHugh on this point, but he also requested a debate on CAP reform, to which I am sure the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, will agree.
I agree with Senator Glynn that people must use the local rural post office in order to retain it. People now have cars to travel to towns and elsewhere and they do not have the same reliance on small rural post offices that they had previously. However, if people want to retain local post offices, they should use them.
Senator Feighan requested a debate on gambling. I agree with Senator Maurice Hayes that the issue of immigration deserves to be thoroughly debated. Senator Ryan requested a debate on citizenship.
I agree with Senator Ulick Burke that post leaving certificate courses are the first rung on the ladder for those who wish to progress to third level education. Certification from an appropriate course will give an exemption from the first year in a college or institute. I am sure that the teacher allocations will be strengthened as time goes on. It might be a minor curbing but as numbers increase, the needs will be met.
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