Order of Business.

Wednesday, 6 October 2004

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 178 No. 3

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Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  The Order of Business today is No. 1, a motion of referral whereby No. 19 on today’s Order Paper is being referred to the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs for discussion. It concerns an increase in the aggregate limit on the horse and greyhound racing fund from €254 million to €550 million, pursuant to the provisions of section 12(5) of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001. The motion will be taken without debate. No. 2 is a motion of referral, to be taken without debate, whereby the subject matter of No. 18 on today’s Order Paper is being referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights for discussion. This concerns the implementation of the increased entitlement to adoptive leave which was approved by Government on 14 October 2003 and arises as a result of the reduction in the compulsory pre-confinement period of maternity leave as introduced by the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004. No. 3 is a motion of referral, to be taken without debate, whereby the subject matter of No. 20 on today’s Order Paper is being referred to the Joint Committee on Education and Science for discussion. This provides for the addition of 13 institutions to the 128 institutions already set out in the Schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. I have a list of the 13 extra institutions which are being added to those already in place. No. 4, Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Bill 2002 — Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business until 5 p.m., to resume after Private Members’ business and to conclude not later than 8 p.m. If remaining Members wish to speak on the Bill, I would be very anxious to facilitate them. We will watch the debate and count the numbers. With the permission of the House, I may propose an amendment to the Order of Business if we need to prolong the debate past the time allocated because many Members wish to speak on the Bill. The contributions of spokespersons are not to exceed 15 minutes, those of all Senators not to exceed ten minutes and Senators may share time. No. 21, motion No. 19, is to be taken from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  During the course of evidence given yesterday in the Special Criminal Court information was put into the public domain concerning documents found in the possession of individuals outlining the activities and move[115]ments of a number of Members of the Oireachtas over a period of time. While I do not wish to comment on the case currently before the courts, the matter is very serious in that some group of individuals or a self-styled organisation, in this case Óglaigh na hÉireann, has taken it upon itself to track the activities and movements of Members of the Oireachtas, gather information and put it into a document.

I am not sure what this group intended to do with the information. It is crucial that the Members of the Oireachtas referred to in the evidence before the Special Criminal Court yesterday are informed of this fact. A committee of this House, probably the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, should examine this matter when the court case is resolved and a verdict given.

Under the Constitution, the duties and responsibilities of Members of the Oireachtas are fundamentally clear. No organisation, either illegal or legal, has a right to gather information on Members of the Oireachtas and do with it what it wishes. I ask the Leader to comment on this matter and to ensure that Members referred to in the document before the court yesterday are informed of that fact as soon as possible. It is a very serious matter and it should be treated as such.

The second issue concerns the activities of the former chairman of Aer Rianta, Mr. Hanlon.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator should be careful.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  The Senator should watch it.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  I understand he has handed back the watches but he has not handed back the Merc he received from the semi-State company. I am not sure if the Leader appointed him as chairman of Aer Rianta——

(Interruptions).

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  I am sure the Leader did not get a watch. Does the Leader agree that we need to review the entire procedure for appointments to semi-State bodies in light of this latest incident highlighted in the Aer Rianta case? In fairness to Senator Ross, he referred to the matter in this House last year and we had a good debate. This House has some role to play in putting forward a reform procedure for appointments to these bodies. I point out to the Leader that, as she well knows, in the dying days of a number of Cabinet careers, 73 appointments were made in the last two weeks by five Ministers. Is this what we really need for our semi-State sector?

Does the Leader agree that a full debate on the question of the accession or otherwise of Turkey into the EU would be timely and useful? There are many voices in this House opposed to that proposition. A debate on this issue is required as is a full report from the Minister for Foreign [116]Affairs as to the position of the Government in respect of these accession talks.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  This is the first opportunity I have had to welcome Ms Jody Blake back to the House. I am delighted to see her in full health and back with us.

I agree with the leader of Fine Gael, Senator Brian Hayes, in the expression of his concern about the seriousness of subversive groups gathering information about the movements of Members of the Oireachtas. In the past, this has always had very dangerous and serious implications in, for example, Northern Ireland and Britain. It is regrettable and it would be a good idea for a committee of the House to look into this. Free and unimpeded access and movement for Members of the Oireachtas in pursuit of their duties are at the very heart of democracy. It would be very dangerous if this were threatened so I support Senator Hayes in this matter.

With regard to the watches, this type of thing is more or less inevitable. This is what happens as we move from a commitment to semi-State bodies to the market. In business, I am afraid, one gets this type of occurrence and we seem to be moving away from the commitment to the semi-State towards more entrepreneurial ways of dealing with these organisations.

I ask for a debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the involvement of the United States in Iraq, the continued killing and injuring of civilians, the alleged precision bombing which often hits women and children and the continuing worrying situation in Israel and Palestine with the incursions into the northern Gaza Strip.

Human rights are being violated in the Middle East. I have had contact over the last couple of weeks with people in south Hebron, about whose situation we hear nothing. It was described in detail to me and it is a direct parallel, only much worse, of the situation that obtained with the school children in Holy Cross convent in Belfast. Children are being terrified and attacked by settlers armed with bats and daggers while the police stand idly by. Conscientious, decent Israeli Jewish people who are trying to act as a buffer are also being attacked while the police stand by doing nothing. I would be grateful for a debate on this issue.

I agree strongly with what the Cathaoirleach said about the discourtesy of Members leaving during the Leader’s reply. I have had to do this on occasion to attend committee meetings, to which the Cathaoirleach also referred, and I have always tried to go over to her and explain. Time and again I have pointed to the disrespect shown to this House by almost all the committees which treat us in a cavalier fashion and which do not take into account that the Order of Business is one of the most important times in this House. The Cathaoirleach and the Leader should make representations to all the committees to stop this practice. One way to stop it, which I have suggested previously, would be the refusal of [117]Senators to attend committee meetings until the Order of Business is over. Those meetings would then not obtain a quorum and could not meet. That would be one way of putting manners on the committee organisers and I recommend it strongly. As I speak, I am supposed to be attending or be represented by my able colleague, Senator Ross, at the Joint Committee on Transport. However, I cannot be there because of the Order of Business.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Yesterday, it emerged that 100,000 fewer people have medical cards now than seven years ago.

Ms Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  Incomes are higher.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  There are more jobs now.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  It is interesting to note that some Members think that is good. The chorus from the Government side suggests Fianna Fáil approves of the reduction in the number of medical card holders. If Fianna Fáil Members believe that people on €142 a week can afford to pay €50 to a doctor, we know the reason they got hammered in the local elections, namely, they do not know how the ordinary people feel. The figure of 100,000 fewer people with medical cards does not include the 200,000 with which Fianna Fáil bought the election.

Since last week, US immigration authorities operating in this State photograph and fingerprint people. Will the Leader establish on what legal basis this is being done? What they do in their country is their business, but what they can do in this State is written in legislation. There is nothing in our legislation about the taking of fingerprints or photographs. Gardaí cannot ask citizens for their fingerprints unless they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. On what legal basis are Irish citizens in the sovereign territory of this State being asked to supply fingerprints to the agents of another state? Have we simply rolled over and invited George Bush to tickle our tummies, while we pretend it is not happening?

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Yes.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  This is the first time I have heard anything so succinct from Senator Norris. Normally his comments would run to at least three sentences.

On successive occasions I have asked for a debate on inequality and poverty in this State. It is particularly appropriate to have this debate now that we have a new dynamic and committed Minister for Social and Family Affairs. One hopes the machismo the Minister showed in his trains, boats, bridges and cars regime will be displayed towards the greater problem of poverty and inequality in society.

Mr. Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden  Zoom on Terry Leyden  I support the proposal of Senator Norris for a debate on the situation in the Middle [118]East, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and on the slaughter of Palestinians. It would be worthwhile having this debate as soon as possible because it is an emergency situation. We should invite the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to the House to outline his views and policies in this regard.

I ask the Leader to consider arranging a debate on the issue of undocumented Irish people in America. This issue is related to what Senator Ryan said about the fingerprinting of people travelling to the United States as and from 1 October. This makes it extremely difficult for people without proper documentation in the United States to return home for funerals, weddings or other events.

I came across a case during the summer where a person from Roscommon had to go through Canada where she was arrested and sent back to Ireland because she did not have the proper documentation. She had to return home with her boyfriend. She came to visit her father who was going for an operation.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  The authorities here are pretty good at sending people home too.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator does not need to go into such detail.

Mr. Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden  Zoom on Terry Leyden  I understand. On 14 July, we almost unanimously passed a motion on such undocumented people. We should have an all-party united approach on the issue because we all have a role to play. The matter affects every county and constituency. The Leader of the House raised the matter with the Taoiseach in July and he discussed it with President Bush at the time. Will the Leader arrange a debate on this issue with the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, as it would be worthwhile?

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  I support Senator Ryan’s comments. It would be worthwhile finding out what authorisation the Americans had to introduce the recent changes at Shannon Airport.

RTE recently broadcast a good programme on undocumented Irish immigrants in America. They are caught in a twilight zone because of restrictions introduced in the name of homeland security. Shannon Airport has been used for a considerable period as a stopover for the US military with the tacit approval of the Government. What has President Bush offered the State by way of recompense other than a series of restrictions on Irish people working in America, which have been reinforced by the recent changes introduced at Shannon Airport? What authorisation have US officials received for these changes?

Ms Cox: Information on Margaret Cox  Zoom on Margaret Cox  I ask the Leader to invite the new Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to the House for a debate on the [119]BreastCheck programme. Her predecessor, Deputy Martin, recently allocated €20 million for the BreastCheck programme in the west and north west. However, the implementation of the programme will take at least two more years and, in the interim, more than 200 women in that area may die from breast cancer. It is neither fair nor good enough for the women of Ireland if there is a failure to put an interim strategy in place to address this problem. I ask that the Minister, Deputy Harney, come into the House to discuss this issue so we can put our ideas to her.

I support Senator Ryan on the issue of the new photographing and fingerprinting procedures put in place by the Americans since 1 October.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  This is the new, caring Fianna Fáil.

Ms Cox: Information on Margaret Cox  Zoom on Margaret Cox  It is not acceptable in a democracy such as ours that we should be asked to stand like cattle in front of an American immigration agent and have our photographs and fingerprints taken when we have done nothing wrong. It is not good enough if the Government does not say that to Mr. Bush and the United States. It is not fair and I should not be asked to do it if I am travelling to the US. I would rather have a visa than travel and be treated like that.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I would point out, especially for the benefit of the next speaker, that 13 Senators are offering and I would like him to be brief.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  I refer to the issue of watches raised by Senator Brian Hayes. Many served but few were chosen for favoured timepieces.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator should raise issues relevant to the Order of Business. I do not like time wasting.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  I am always brief. There have been many differences between the Departments of Finance and Transport. Recently, there was a famous case of a severance package that had been approved by the Department of Finance but not by the Department of Transport. The Taoiseach assured us Government policy has not changed. He was referring to some of the more important issues and I accept that assurance. However, following the appointment of the new Dublin Airport Authority, how quickly will the badly-needed new terminal proceed?

Does the Leader agree, given her experience in this area, that there might be clarity on the question of the Great Southern Hotels whereby the Dublin hotel will remain under the control of Dublin Airport and similar arrangements will apply at Cork and Shannon Airports? Does she think decisions will be clear-cut and the remainder of the hotels will be sold individually, as expected?

I agree with the comments made by Senator Norris regarding the issue raised by the Cathaoir[120]leach before I spoke. I will explain to the Leader privately what happened on a recent occasion.

Mr. Lydon: Information on Don Lydon  Zoom on Don Lydon  I ask the Leader to consider arranging a debate on a form of abuse which, according to UNICEF, has affected approximately 140 million young women over the past ten years. Annually, 2 million women and young girls are at risk of female genital mutilation. This problem has arisen in many western countries with the influx of immigrants but is not usually discovered until something serious happens. The United Kingdom recently introduced legislation to address this matter. Perhaps we could broaden our debate to include discussion of suttee, honour killings and female infanticide. This important area is one we could do something to tackle. I hope any debate we hold will lead ultimately to the introduction of legislation to ban such practices.

Ms Terry: Information on Sheila Terry  Zoom on Sheila Terry  A recent court decision has brought the closing time of many more Dublin nightclubs back to 2.30 a.m. and resulted in the presence of increased numbers of people on the streets at one time with a consequent increase in conflict. It is therefore time to discuss once more the issues of violence on our streets and anti-social behaviour in general. We should also discuss, in light of recent events, other matters relevant to the Intoxicating Liquor Act, particularly decisions on whether to allow young children in pubs after 9 p.m. I ask the Leader to arrange such a debate.

Dr. M. Hayes: Information on Dr Maurice Hayes  Zoom on Dr Maurice Hayes  Last Sunday, 30 school children from Drogheda got into severe distress in the Mourne Mountains. Luckily, nobody died. While I am not here to assign blame, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to explain why there appear to be no guidelines in this area. Very strict guidelines exist in this area in Northern Ireland about the ratio of teachers to pupils, the training of guides, clothing and other matters. While one does not want to wrap kids engaged in outward bound activities in cotton wool, it is important to put guidelines in place.

I advert to the issue raised by Senator Ryan in case he thinks my voice was part of the chorus which appeared to approve the reduction in the number of medical cards.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I know it was not the Senator.

Dr. M. Hayes: Information on Dr Maurice Hayes  Zoom on Dr Maurice Hayes  It may be a good thing but, then again, it may not. We should be aware of the poverty trap whereby people who go marginally over thresholds suffer great losses. Perhaps we could ask the Minister to address the matter on some occasion in the House as part of a discussion of a broader issue than that of medical cards.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  At the end of the debate on the transfer of tried and sentenced persons on 23 June last, I asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he had any know[121]ledge of untried and unsentenced persons transiting through Shannon Airport. The Minister said that while he did not, if such people were transiting through the airport, they would be subject to the Constitution. He said I should contact him if I had any further news on the issue. I am sure some Members read an article by Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times on 28 September in which he detailed the activities of a Gulfstream jet which takes people from Kuwait, Egypt, Pakistan and so forth to Guantanamo Bay. The article stated that the aircraft has been seen at Shannon Airport, a contention corroborated by subsequent letters to the newspaper.

Kofi Annan has said the war in Iraq is illegal and the courts in the United States of America have ruled that the detention of persons from that part of the world in Guantanamo Bay is illegal also. To avoid involving us in any illegality, which I am sure the Government would wish to do, I ask the Leader to organise a debate with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on this topic.

  3 o’clock

A ship bearing plutonium has just arrived in France and we were very careful to ensure it did not enter Irish territorial waters. While I am aware this House has no influence on the progress of legislation through the other House, perhaps the Minister would give the new Chief Whip a little nudge to ensure the Law of the Sea (Repression of Piracy) Bill 2001 which passed through this House three years ago, is addressed. That legislation is extremely important in the context of attacks by terrorists on such ships.

Mr. Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson  Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson  Having competed for Ireland at national and international level for more than 17 years, Catherina McKiernan——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator must ask a question appropriate to the Order of Business.

Mr. Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson  Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson  I wish to raise this in the context——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator may not go down that road.

Mr. Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson  Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson  May I ask a question?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator may ask a question appropriate to the Order of Business.

Mr. Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson  Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson  I merely wished to pay tribute to Catherina McKiernan, a native of County Cavan.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I have ruled on the matter and that ruling applies to everybody.

Mr. Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson  Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson  It is with regret I accept the Cathaoirleach’s ruling. Perhaps the Leader will make time available in the near future for a debate on women in sport, an area in which they are often treated as second class citizens, particularly in the sport of which the Cathaoirleach is [122]fond. I would like at some stage to have the opportunity to pay tribute to the great Catherina McKiernan.

Mr. P. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  I support Senator Ulick Burke’s call last week for a debate on public private partnerships given, as he pointed out, that instead of a reduction of 6% in terms of costs, there is now an overrun of 20% in a number of schools selected for public private partnerships. Most people believe public private partnerships involve the use of somebody else’s money. However, such funding is paid for by the taxpayer. It is time we had a full debate on the workings of public private partnerships for the provision of schools, roads, water services and so on.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  The issue of nomination to the office of President is currently causing some controversy. Will the Leader provide time for a discussion, under any guise, on how the President is elected? Members will be aware that in the past week the President was re-elected. I believe it is unfair that a President can re-nominate himself or herself while all other candidates must secure 20 signatures from Members of the Oireachtas, something which no candidate was able to do. It is an issue on which this House cannot introduce legislation as it is a matter for the Constitution but we could provide some leadership lest this matter, like that of Seanad reform, disappears from the agenda from one election to another.

The second matter I wish to raise relates not to the specific issue of the semi-State company which has caused so much controversy in the past 24 hours but to the lesson we must learn from it. The real difficulties we have with political nominations — although not in terms of their individual behaviour — relates to the instinct of a group of nominees loyal to one party or, particularly, to one Minister to thwart the wishes of future Ministers, thereby making it almost impossible for the semi-State body to function. It would be useful if this House could take a leading role in considering the abolition of political nominees and the introduction of new standards and structures to ensure new appointees carry out the wishes of the Government of the day.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  Will the Leader intervene with the Minister for Education and Science as a matter of urgency following the result of the court case yesterday that leaves a family facing costs of over €1 million, having unsuccessfully sought adequate help and educational facilities for their child through the Minister and the Department of Education and Science? It is unusual for the Minister to seek costs in such cases and I do not know why she would do so in this instance. Is this a new era or are we already implementing recently published legislation in which the previous Minister suggested court cases should be avoided in all possible instances? This is a serious case and I ask the Leader to raise the matter with the Minister to allow the family, who have a child [123]with attention deficit disorder, to live their lives and provide for the child as best they can without this crippling debt.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We have gone beyond time and I have five other Senators who wish to speak.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  I will be brief. Will the Leader ask the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss endowment mortgages? Many people with such mortgages are in a frightful situation where the insurance policy will be inadequate to pay off the mortgage when the policy matures.

Ms Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  I support my colleague, Senator Wilson, in seeking a debate on women in sport, particularly on the safety implications when a steward is found sleeping on the job.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  In recent weeks farmers received an outline statement of their provisional entitlements under decoupling and the EU single payment scheme. Some farmers got a bad deal, particularly those who were sick or had outbreaks of TB, brucellosis and other diseases on their farms. They were told that if they were not satisfied, they could submit an appeal or contact a lo-call query line, but many of them ran up against a brick wall when they tried to do so. As a result, the IFA will be coming to Dublin tomorrow to lobby Senators and Deputies on this and other farm-related issues. I am calling for the new Minister for Agriculture and Food to come to the House to debate this issue, particularly when a minority may have been treated unfairly.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator should leave any other issues until tomorrow. Three other Senators are offering and I will have to rule them out if the Senator continues.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  I will be brief. The State gave €40 million to the GAA for Croke Park last week. It is time for us to hold a debate on opening up this sporting facility to——

Mr. Lydon: Information on Don Lydon  Zoom on Don Lydon  Garrison games.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  ——other sporting organisations, particularly for international matches.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  That is not a matter for us to discuss.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  I look forward to the day when Longford Town, which performed so well last night, occupies Croke Park.

Senators:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Browne: Information on Feargal Browne  Zoom on Feargal Browne  The limit of €317 on the back to school allowance has been in place for 11 years and it should be adjusted immediately. I was amazed to find out that there was a €4 million underspend in that area. The Minister for Social [124]and Family Affairs should be called to the House to confirm an increase in that limit so families can benefit from this payment. It is ridiculous that it is so low.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We have gone well beyond our allotted time and two other Senators are offering. There will be an Order of Business tomorrow as well.

Mr. Browne: Information on Feargal Browne  Zoom on Feargal Browne  A pub in Galway was fined €7,000 this week. While the proprietor might have deserved a fine, questions could be asked about its fairness. People are getting away with assaults in our streets but this pub has been severely punished. This House should debate over-regulation.

Mr. Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford  Zoom on Paul Bradford  I support Senators Norris and Leyden who asked for a debate on Iraq and on the situation in the Middle East and Israel. Those are reasonable requests and the House should respond with urgency. Another international situation exists where the scale of killing, death, destruction and slaughter is even greater and sadly does not seem to be the subject of major public outcry or numerous letters to The Irish Times, namely, the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan. It would be important to have a full debate on this issue so that a House of the Oireachtas and the country could condemn the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in that province.

The House debated Seanad reform last week at the same time as the new Cabinet was being put in place. I ask the Leader to invite to the House in the next few weeks each of the new Cabinet Ministers to outline their policy proposals for the next 12 or 18 months. We could have the same type of discussion we had with the MEPs. Members of this House are spokespersons in various fields. It would be an opportunity for the House to hear what the Ministers are planning and for the political parties to respond in debate with them.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  That should not take too long.

Mr. Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan  Zoom on Frank Feighan  I ask the Leader to invite the new Minister for Education and Science to the House to outline her plans regarding school transport for children with special needs. I am aware of a special needs child in my constituency who has not taken up her place in the new college yet because the college cannot find suitable transport for her. This is a disgrace in this day and age. The Department of Education and Science should act sooner rather than later.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Brian Hayes, Leader of the Opposition, raised the issue of the alarming situation yesterday where documents referring to movements of Oireachtas Members were discovered. I agree with his suggestion that this matter be discussed at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. He asked about the chairman of Aer Rianta and the watches and what [125]happened the Mercedes car. I do not know what happened it; I was never the recipient of such generosity.

The Senator also referred to the review of Seanad reform. The Taoiseach has informed me that the new Minister has now received the letter instructing him to set up the committee. We have suggested a procedure whereby candidates for public office could enter into a scrutiny process and I hope this suggestion may be proceeded with.

Senator Hayes also asked about the potential accession of Turkey to the European Union. I understand the debate on the potential accession of Turkey is being held in the European Parliament today. It would be useful to have a debate in this House.

Senator Norris welcomed Ms Jody Blake, Clerk Assistant to Seanad Éireann, back to full participation in the work of the House, as do all of us. He referred to the debate about Aer Rianta and asked for a debate on the situation in the Middle East and Gaza. The Senator referred to the practice of Members leaving the Chamber to attend meetings of joint committees. Senator Norris and I were in agreement not to attend meetings of joint committees when they clashed with the Order of Business in this House. Another Senator did not agree with our decision, thinking it high-handed. I thought it was quite a proper procedure. One cannot have a joint committee without Members from both Houses of the Oireachtas and meetings should not clash with the Order of Business in this House. I will make another request to the committees.

Senator Ryan stated that the number of people without medical cards has risen by 100,000 since 1997. While this is true, it is also true that there are far more people in employment. However, this does not take away from the fact that there are people on the margins of eligibility who, by reason of a few euro, do not qualify for a medical card.

I am sure the new Minister for Health and Children intends to address this matter. It is all very well to say so many more people are in employment, and thankfully they are, but the eligibility limits for a medical card are far too low. Every Member of this House comes across one or two such cases each week. It is difficult for people on low incomes to manage a visit to the doctor and then to get their prescription. I hope the budget this December will alleviate this problem for many of them.

Senator Ryan also asked about the legal basis on which Irish people will be photographed and fingerprinted in this country. What they do in the US is their own business. We must get answers to this and I will seek them. I will also seek a debate on inequality.

Senator Leyden requested that we ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, about the situation in Gaza. He also raised the situation of the undocumented Irish in the US. At the Senator’s behest, we sent a letter [126]to the Taoiseach who replied that he had informally discussed the matter with President Bush, but nothing has come of it. We should have an all-party debate on the matter.

Senator Finucane supported Senator Ryan in terms of what rights the Americans have over Shannon. They have put in place a series of restrictions which are allegedly causing discomfort for all.

Senator Cox spoke about BreastCheck. The Minister for Health and Children has extended this programme countrywide, but it will be two years before it is fully in place. Senator Cox was not here when you made your ruling earlier, a Chathaoirligh.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Why do you say that?

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I say it because I looked around and she was not there. I wondered about it.

Several women have contacted me about the BreastCheck programme. Why should the service end for women once they turn 65? One is not about to collapse and die or be put away at the age of 65. Why should the BreastCheck service end for women at that age? In the UK the service is available for women up to the age of 70 and they are considering extending it. I do not understand why 65 is the cut-off point, as if to suggest, “You are of no use after that age. Go back home and sit with your misery.” I do not understand why people are not talking about this issue. There is no reason for a cut-off of 65 because in some cases, apparently, the incidence of particular types of cancer in women goes up after that age. That is something we could address.

In reply to Senator Coghlan, the Dublin Airport Authority is in place. The Senator and I have had some jousting between us about the hotels. On all the occasions that we used these hotels, we paid our way like everybody else.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  Absolutely. There were no timepieces for us.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  There were no upgrades.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  There is no doubt about that. The Leader should continue.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I was not offered them so it does not matter. However, it is odd that members of a board receive largesse but the Minister responsible is not offered any. However, I did not want to be offered any.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Years ago Ministers just took it.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Leader should continue.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Coghlan asked what is to happen to the hotels and I will inquire.

Senator Lydon spoke about the issue of female genital mutilation and said there should be worldwide legislation against it. Some countries are [127]already bringing in such legislation. The UK has a population of many different races and we are approaching that in Ireland.

Regarding Senator Terry’s point, on Monday I received a letter from Senators O’Toole, Dardis, Brian Hayes and Ryan requesting an all-party debate on the report of the strategic task force on alcohol, which has just been released. The Senators would like such a debate to be placed on the agenda of the House as an all-party motion and I will do so. Hopefully, it will address some of the points Senator Terry raised.

There will be a short Bill before the House next week concerning a loophole in the law. It does not address the issue of adolescents accompanied by their parents but the holding of discos in a hotel or bar at which no alcohol is served. Apparently, such events can still be challenged and the Bill will close this loophole. However, I will arrange an all-party debate on the task force report.

Senator Maurice Hayes raised a matter concerning 30 school children from Drogheda and the need to issue guidelines for children on school trips. I am aware that guidelines are in place in the North and the United Kingdom but not here. The Senator also raised the issue of medical cards, particularly the position of people with incomes marginally above the eligibility threshold. Income limits need to be raised and the issue of margins must also be addressed.

Senator Henry called for a debate on a matter she raised with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in June. She also referred to ships transporting plutonium to France and a Bill the House passed three years ago which remains on the Order Paper.

Senator Wilson called for a debate on women in sport, which provided a good opportunity to mention the fine person he wished to praise.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I remind the House that individuals may not be singled out.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Paddy Burke supported Senator Ulick Burke’s call for a debate on public private partnerships. Senator Ross requested a debate on the Presidency. Is the matter subject to——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  A constitutional issue arises regarding legislation.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I do not know if legislation would have to be introduced to amend the Constitution. Although I would welcome a debate, I am not sure the Houses may debate the matter.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  In my opinion, it would be subject to direction. Perhaps Senator Ross could table a motion.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  I should, therefore, introduce a motion rather than a Bill.

[128]An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator could introduce a Private Members’ Bill.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  I understand that, as a matter for the Constitution, that is not possible, although I would be delighted to introduce a Bill.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  One would need to introduce a Bill to amend the Constitution.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  I understand a Senator may not introduce a Bill to amend the Constitution.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I understand a Bill to amend the Constitution may only be introduced in the Dáil.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  That is correct.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  We will seek advice on the matter and get back to Senator Ross.

The Senator also called for the abolition of political nominees. There is nothing wrong with having political beliefs and it is silly to believe that those with none have a halo. It is admirable to have political beliefs. To exclude everybody with a political persuasion from appointments and insist that everybody must be holy, whiter than white and declare they have no political beliefs would be rather odd. I have always believed it is good to hold, display and discuss one’s political beliefs.

We have had a media fracas about events in a particular semi-State company. Many other issues arise regarding such companies. There are vested interests which remain hidden but wield influence in many telling ways, as I know well. These interests are to be equally abhorred but people appear to be afraid to discuss the issue or bring it into the open. I am aware of instances of vested interests exercising considerable influence over various people in authority. They are reckoned to be wonderful, assertive, abrasive and dynamic — all highly charged adjectives — and are not condemned.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Will the Leader decode that statement for those of us who are a little simple?

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I would do so for the Senator in private, although he knows well to whom I am referring.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  We should have the debate now.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Order, please. Allow the Leader to reply without interruption.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Ulick Burke referred to a court case involving a family. I understand certain facts which have not yet emerged will emerge shortly, although it appears dreadful on the face of it. I am indebted to Senator Minihan for that information. Senator Burke also asked for a debate on endowment mortgages. This would be helpful.

[129]Senator Feeney raised the issue of women in sport and supported them in this regard. There was some sort of addendum to what she said, the point of which I did not get. Maybe she will tell me in private.

Ms Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  It was in the newspaper——

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Bannon alluded to decoupling and the appeal system. However, I understand appeals are a matter for the relevant Minister. The Senator wants to open up Croke Park but that is another day’s work.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  That is not a matter for this House.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Exactly. I note Senator Browne’s point on the back to school allowance. He also referred to the heavy fine imposed on the pub owner, but I believe the publican courted that fine very blatantly.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Hear, hear.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Bradford referred to the lack of public outcry over the conflict in Darfur in Sudan. On the Senator’s request that each of the new Cabinet Ministers be invited to the House in the next few weeks to outline their policy proposals for the next 12 to 18 months, I made such a proposal last week. I said we would have each new Minister before the House on a rolling basis to lay out his or her stall and state what he or she wants to do. I am delighted the Senator agrees with me.

Senator Feighan asked that the Minister for Education and Science be invited to the House to debate school transport for children with special needs. If the Senator has a particular case in mind, it would make a very good matter on the Adjournment.

Order of Business agreed to.


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