Wednesday, 30 June 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
Perhaps the Leader might arrange a debate before the House rises next week on the report of the Oireachtas joint committee on the Barron inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. I understand there may be a debate in the other House and, given the report was issued about three months ago, it is appropriate to have a similar debate here. It is incongruous that, in the debate on the Iraqi situation, people purport to fight terrorism in one corner of the world but in another will not co-operate fully with investigations into serious allegations of their forces colluding in heinous atrocities committed in this country.
I fully support Senator Brian Hayes’s call for a debate on the report of the ESRI. On the matter of taxation, which has been mentioned by him, it is very appropriate and timely that we have such a report now. I join with other speakers who acknowledge and recognise that the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, given the very significant and far-reaching changes he has made to the entire taxation structure over the last few years, has made a very significant contribution to the development of the economy and that has been a very important foundation stone for the success we have enjoyed.
I also support Senator Maurice Hayes in his request for a debate on value for money in the public services. We should not confine it to the capital programme, though that is an important part. Current expenditure is also important, and it is absolutely essential we get better value for money than we are achieving across many sectors of the public service.
Mr. Cummins: I join my colleague, Senator Ulick Burke, in calling for the Minister for Transport to attend the House to explain the massive overruns in the costs of projects under the auspices of the National Roads Authority, which is employing hundreds of consultants. How can it get it so wrong, with €9 billion in overruns? It is absolutely disgraceful. We need value for money, as has been stated by speakers on the other side of the House on several issues. In this area, however, we need an explanation from the Minister and I call on him to attend the House, if he knows where it is having been absent from it for the last few years.
Mr. Mooney: It is timely that Congressman Walsh and his colleagues are in the House, particularly since the Walsh visas have proven such a marvellous advantage to us. We are extremely grateful not only for that but for the continuing support of American congressmen regarding the International Fund for Ireland. It is perhaps only those of us from Border counties who fully appreciate our American colleagues’ efforts.
The visit is also rather opportune, since the question I wished to raise with the Leader was whether he might endeavour to establish who in the Government, or what sources in this Administration, complained about the robust nature of the television interview between Carole Coleman and President Bush last week.
Mr. Mooney: I appreciate the Cathaoirleach’s ruling, to which I will adhere, but there is a fundamental question for the Deputy Leader about freedom of expression in the media and I would be grateful if he could establish why a complaint was made about the robust nature of an interview when most politicians in Ireland, and Europe generally, are well used to the type of interviewing technique that we saw last week. It is timely, with our American colleagues here, to remember there was no discourtesy towards the President and that it was a normal journalistic endeavour by an excellent journalist working in this country. I commend her on the manner in which she raised the questions.
Mr. McHugh: I would like to make a very serious point regarding Northern Ireland. Now that the dust has settled and, as must be acknowledged, our Taoiseach has carried out a very successful job in Europe and got his man elected to the Commission, the onus is on us as legislators, and it is our responsibility to have a serious debate on Northern Ireland in the autumn. That debate should not specifically concern the ongoing political problems there but the cross-Border opportunities towards which we can work. Many people in Northern Ireland feel they are not being represented. The members of the legislative authority in Stormont are not operating, and they feel left out. Perhaps I might give one example. The Derry to Coleraine railway line will close if we do not have a serious debate with our partners in Northern Ireland and put pressure on them. There is no point in us, on one side of the Border, talking about a railway line from Derry to Letterkenny if they are going to close the line from Coleraine to Derry. Some 100 people will lose their jobs. A greater onus is on us to do that as legislators. We should have a serious debate, and Senator Maurice Hayes as the lone representative of the Six Counties will be on my side too.
An Cathaoirleach: Three other Senators are offering to speak, but as we have a Standing Order that confines the Order of Business to half an hour, I am sorry that I cannot call on them. The Deputy Leader will now reply.
Mr. Dardis: I join in the Cathaoirleach’s welcome to our colleagues from the United States. It is very good to see them in the Seanad. I do not know how much time I have to deal with all the questions that have been asked, but I am running out of paper.
Senators Brian Hayes, Ó Murchú, Ormonde, Maurice Hayes and Leyden raised the GAA report into alcohol and questions concerning sponsorship by firms promoting alcohol. I take the point made about small clubs and the degree to which they might rely on local licensed premises or hostelries in their activities. It is a very difficult issue. We are obviously all concerned by alcohol abuse in society. The sporting organisations have a role to play, and the GAA, as the principal such organisation, has a dominant role. The extent to which sponsorship influences consumption is questionable. The GAA is grappling with this difficult issue. The call for a wider debate by Senator Leyden is appropriate, and perhaps we should return to it in the autumn. We have debated it before with regard to young people, and I share Senator Maurice Hayes’s view regarding the difference between rhetoric and behaviour, which is very evident and perhaps something we should examine.
Senators Brian Hayes, O’Toole, Mansergh, Ross and Jim Walsh mentioned the ESRI report on benchmarking. I am grateful to Senator O’Toole and others for replying to Senator Brian Hayes on this matter as it absolves me from the obligation to do so.
Mr. Dardis: It is appropriate that our excellent public servants, whose calibre has been demonstrated by the success of the Irish Presidency of the EU, should be adequately awarded in line with other sectors of society.
Mr. Dardis: Their performance, which is the essence of benchmarking, must be acknowledged. The Economic and Social Research Institute report acknowledges the return to significant growth in the economy and our average industrial wage of €28,000, achievements one would not have thought possible several years ago.
Mr. Dardis: Senator O’Toole mentioned the wider issue of the sponsorship of schools. I am aware from my constituency of the benefits this has brought with regard to computers and other equipment. I take the Senator’s point that the State has the primary obligation in this area but it is nevertheless good that benefits can accrue to schools through responsible sponsorship and I have no difficulties with that.
No. 1 on the Order Paper does not necessitate a debate because it is a rescindment of the order to refer to the joint committee the Abattoirs Act 1988 (Abattoirs Licences) (Transfer of Functions) Regulations 2004——
Mr. Dardis: I will endeavour to get a written explanation for the Senator later today. I take his point of yesterday that when legislation returns from an Oireachtas committee it should be debated in this House. I welcome that the local authorities will have a role to play in this area because it is at local level that the best work can be done. Senator Quinn mentioned this also and it is appropriate that we should have a debate at some later date.
Senators Finucane and Coghlan raised the State Airports Bill 2004. This Bill will go to Committee Stage in the Dáil tomorrow and it is entirely a matter for the Dáil. Once it is disposed of there it will come to this House for consideration but I cannot say when that will be.
I support Senator Dooley’s congratulations to all concerned with the initiation of the Luas and I am glad the Leader is there to accept her share of the glory for that. The line will carry 8 million passengers during the year and I hope the further development that is envisaged will take place.
Mr. Dardis: Our usage is very low by European standards. We all know, however, that science and EU decisions are not the same thing. The issue of growth hormones is a similar instance. This is a matter for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I nevertheless agree there is merit in Senator Higgins’s argument.
Regarding the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, as raised by Senators Maurice Hayes, Ulick Burke and Cummins, I am aware there are significant cost overruns. There are explanations for some of them in terms of general inflation within the construction industry and the increased price of land. It is important, however, that we should have another debate on the National Roads Authority and these matters are appropriate for discussion in the House. On the point raised about consultants, any of us who were members of local authorities are aware of the degree to which consultants are increasingly being employed. One questions the value for money afforded by some of these appointments especially in view of the perception that some consultants are on a good number without being subjected to a desirable level of scrutiny.
Regarding the questions about licensed premises, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O’Donoghue, is not prone to flying kites, as was suggested. There is a misapprehension that it is universally forbidden for young people to frequent a hotel or licensed premises after 9 p.m. This restriction applies only to the bar area and that is an important distinction.
Senator Leyden raised the issue of alcohol consumption and Senator Ross made a good effort to drive a wedge between the Government parties on this matter. He will not succeed. It was a good attempt but it failed.
Mr. Dardis: I agree with Senator Jim Walsh that it is appropriate for this House to debate the report of the sub-committee of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights, which considered the report of the Barron inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. The legislative programme takes precedence until the end of the session but we will try to accommodate such a debate before the House rises or during the next session.
Senator Mooney raised the interview by Ms Carole Coleman of RTE with the President of the United States, Mr. George W. Bush. It is unclear whether there was a complaint from the United States authorities but I agree with the Senator that media freedom is essential to democracy and must be protected.
Senator McHugh asked about developments in the Northern Ireland peace process and he can be reassured that there will be serious initiatives made in the autumn with the objective of restoring the executive and Assembly. We will debate this matter when the House returns after the summer recess.
I congratulate the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs on the work done during the Irish Presidency of the EU, which concludes today. I acknowledge their work and that of the public servants, in particular, and recognise that we now have an EU constitution, an incoming President of the Commission, Mr. José Manuel Durão Barroso, and the successful EU-US Summit.
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