Thursday, 30 June 2005
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business is Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, motions referred to the Joint Committee on Health and Children, which has completed its discussions thereon, to be taken without debate; No. 4, motion re the inclusion of additional institutions to the Schedule of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. The inclusion of additional institutions will enable persons, who in their childhood were abused at those facilities, to submit an application for redress to the Residential Institutions Redress Board. Additions made to the Schedule as soon as possible will allow applicants a reasonable period to submit their applications before the closing date of December 2005. The Minister for Education and Science briefed the education spokespersons on this matter following completion of the Grangegorman Development Agency Bill 2005 on Tuesday. The motion will be taken without debate; No. 5, the Garda Síochána Bill 2005 — Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business until 1.30 p.m.; No. 6, the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2005 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m.; No. 7, motion re Planning and Development Regulations 2005, to be taken immediately on the conclusion of No. 6 or at 5 p.m. if No. 6 has not concluded earlier. The contribution of each group or spokesperson will be ten minutes; and No. 8, the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2005 — Order for Second Stage and All Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 7, or at 6 p.m. if No. 7 has not concluded earlier, and to conclude not later than 8 p.m. The contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage will be ten minutes and those of other Senators will be six minutes with the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to be called on to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage. There will be a sos between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.
Mr. B. Hayes: I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 1 be discussed for a period of one hour. I put the Leader on notice on Tuesday of the intention of my party and other colleagues to debate risk equalisation. The Leader is aware that whenever a report returns from a committee, she regularly asks the members of the committee who wish to lead a debate in this House to inform other colleagues about the committee debate. My party’s spokesperson on health, Senator Browne, would like to lead such a debate with other colleagues today for one hour. I would have liked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to come into the House to outline her views conclusively on risk equalisation but that does not seem likely today. Nevertheless, we should debate the issue rather than nodding it through.
In May 2005 the Health Insurance Authority made a recommendation to the Minister in respect of triggering the risk equalisation argument within health insurance. The Minister should at least publish that report. The House should have the opportunity to debate with the Minister the rationale of her decision on this issue. The House would do itself a service and in view of this I seek cross-party support for the amendment.
Many Members and the wider public were dismayed at the imprisonment of five people yesterday in County Mayo. I do not underestimate the seriousness of contempt of court and understand why the High Court made the decision to imprison these people. Discussions are under way to resolve this issue but there should be some compromise from Shell, which is a large multinational.
I do not know anyone in the west or throughout the country who opposes bringing gas onshore but the issue is the way in which it is being done in a small community and the consequent risks to that community. Calm, reasonable minds should be brought to bear on this issue. That five law-abiding, decent people had to go to prison last night and will remain there indefinitely until the issue is resolved is quite appalling. I urge the powers that be to broker a deal in this situation before it gets worse.
Mr. O’Toole: All sides of the House would welcome a discussion on the risk equalisation proposal because it has been discussed here twice in the last week. Several Members have raised it time and again and it would be helpful to allow people go on the record on this. Many of us do not understand the Tánaiste’s reasons for her decision and she has said that we have not fully understood her explanation. There is an issue we could profitably discuss.
I wish to propose a minor amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that No. 14, in my name and the names of Senators Coghlan and Norris, a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Official Languages Act 2003, be introduced as the first item for debate today, with the approval of the House. I have deliberately put it down as a First Stage debate rather than a Second Stage one because it is important that the House be involved as it moves through all Stages. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs invited Senator Coghlan and I to bring forward a Bill to amend the Official Languages Act.
Mr. Ryan: I second Senator Brian Hayes’s proposal for an amendment to the Order of Business. It is increasingly clear that the concept of a regulator was introduced to pursue not the well-being of consumers but an ideological agenda. In this instance the regulator has recommended the opposite of what the ideology demanded so the regulator is ignored.
There is a strong case for an intelligent discussion about the sorts of competition that work well in health care and those that result in the inflated health budget of the United States, leaving it with the worst infant mortality rate in the developed world and a lower life expectancy than most of the developed world. The objective evidence is that brutal market forces do not work in the health system. We are entitled to know why we are being driven in a direction opposed to the interests of most people.
In the case of what has happened to the unfortunate people from County Mayo, the law must be upheld because poor people would have no rights without it. Repeatedly, however, the use of injunctions resulting in imprisonment is almost inevitably a case of the powerful against the powerless which raises fundamental questions. The multinational involved in this case has an unsavoury reputation as anybody from Nigeria can confirm. It also attempted to dump its waste rigs in the North Sea.
There is a serious issue about disproportionate power and how it is used. We have seen the most appalling abuses by powerful people of planning and other regulations, but few of them are punished. Five people want only to prevent somebody using their land.
As an engineer I can say there is no such thing as an absolutely safe process least of all where the risk is taken not by the company but by the people through whose land this pipeline will run. I am not scaremongering but if anybody says this is absolutely safe he or she is telling a lie. There is no such thing as absolute safety, therefore, these families are entitled to whatever reassurances they need or to be left alone if they wish. That they should end up in prison is a disgrace.
Mr. Ryan: We need a thorough debate on our overseas development aid and a decision from the Government to get back to a decent agenda and timescale for our achievement of the UN target. The Department of Finance wants to push it so far into the future that it will have plenty of opportunities to sabotage it again. We can afford to do this by 2007. We can definitely manage to do it by 2010.
I wish to echo the words of the former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, a member of the Progressive Democrats, that this was a Government commitment which was broken by the Government. I appeal to and expect the Progressive Democrats to remind Fianna Fáil that the country has a conscience, whatever about Fianna Fáil.
Mr. Dardis: It would be desirable for the House to debate the risk equalisation amendment scheme 2005 but it is essential that the Tánaiste is present for such a debate. She has always shown herself to be very amenable to attending this House and to debate any issues the House wishes to debate.
Mr. Dardis: She is unusually amenable, in my experience of Ministers. Perhaps the Leader knows whether she is available but I suspect that she may not be. If we are to have the debate however, the Tánaiste should be present.
Mr. Dardis: There is no question, to use Senator Ryan’s phrase, of “brutal market forces”. They have nothing to do with the health service, as the Senator knows. In addition, the Tánaiste is on record as saying that she favours risk equalisation and community rating which will happen eventually.
I share the views of Senator Brian Hayes on the imprisonment of the unfortunate people from Mayo. We cannot intervene in the decision of the court because these people are in prison for contempt, which is a serious matter. A large multinational corporation such as Shell, however, has wider responsibilities. A spokesman for the company said that it had tried to approach the people who refused to be approached. I do not know whether that is true. We might do best to give the people seeking a solution some space and hope that will be achieved speedily and the people released.
An Cathaoirleach: Before I call Senator Finucane I wish to inform the House that 14 Senators have indicated they want to contribute on the Order of Business. I ask them to be brief because a decision has been made as regards time limits on the debate on the Order of Business. Some Senators may be disappointed if we do not secure co-operation on this matter.
Mr. Finucane: In 2002, I was Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, at which time the National Aquatic Centre was in its formative stages. There were concerns regarding the contract and an investigation carried out for the Comptroller and Auditor General. Following media revelations, the then Attorney General, Deputy McDowell, issued a very critical report that led to the resignation of a prominent person involved.
Now the National Aquatic Centre is in the news for a different reason altogether. The cost overrun has reached €62 million. This week the Taoiseach flippantly said that what blew down the roof was the wind. Since last January the Taoiseach has been in possession of a report from the Board of Works, which states there are serious structural deficiencies in the building. As such, it was rather trite on his part to make such a simplistic statement. What has gone wrong with this, the Taoiseach’s pet project, is that there are structural difficulties. Senators will have seen the media revelations and the photographs. It is time we had a proper presentation of the whole sequence of events regarding the National Aquatic Centre. It would appear that many things have gone wrong with it.
Mr. Callanan: In deference to the Cathaoirleach, I will be as brief as possible in raising two matters. Perhaps the House will join me in commending the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, on her endeavours in promoting beef and other food in Russia over the past few days. We hope for a very successful outcome, bearing in mind that Russia is our biggest market outside the EU.
I am somewhat reluctant to raise the second matter, but it is with total respect for those Members who asked last week for a debate on the sugar industry. We might have a better, more informed and more substantial debate if we awaited the outcome of the meeting of the Council of Ministers next month. Those of us engaged in growing sugar beet could have a better debate upon our return after the break. It would be a higher-quality and better-informed debate, and I hope those farmers involved in the sugar beet industry would come with a united voice. We are aware of the meetings they held this week, at which there was unfortunately grave division. The sugar industry is worthy of protection, and I am certain we will all stand by the Minister in her statements and pronouncements in this regard. We will give her our full support, and I ask that it happen.
Mr. Norris: I support Senator Brian Hayes and those others who expressed their concern at the situation regarding the five Mayo farmers who have been jailed. There should be no criticism of the judge, who has simply implemented the law as he is required to do. However, the history of Shell certainly gives us a great deal about which to be concerned. I was one of several people in this House who raised concerns at the time that this deal was struck; we thought there was something very fishy about it. It was not in the interest of the people of the west of Ireland and was an extremely bad deal from a rapacious multinational company with an appalling environmental history.
As Senator Ryan said, one need only go to
Nigeria and ask the Ogoni people. We saw what happened to Ken Saro-Wiwa and how Shell drove pipelines over the Nigerian countryside, devastating it with complete disregard for all environmental concerns. Then it tried to buy its way out of it with a PR campaign, and we were foolish and gullible enough to accept that. We should support the farmers. One must remember that it is their land, and the Constitution recognises rights to property. Historically, the Government has been extremely reluctant to intervene using the public good criterion, yet this bullying multinational can do it.
The final matter I would like to raise is the question of blood transfusions. We are once again being told there is a quite critical difficulty in the blood supply. A constituent has written to me to say that the authorities refuse to take blood from gay people, an entire section of the population, because they suspect there is an increased risk of hepatitis, AIDS and so on, something that may or may not be true. In Britain, however, they do not have that prohibition but test the blood. It is therefore rather foolish of us to complain about a lack of blood resources, which are very necessary for operations and so on, yet reject a section of the population that might be prepared to volunteer such resources, simply because we do not apply the same systems they do on the neighbouring island.
Mr. Kitt: I support what Senator Brian Hayes has said regarding the jailing of five people from Mayo. As a large corporation, Shell has responsibilities other than its own corporate image. It should engage in talks regarding this project, which is very important to the west of Ireland. I fully support it, having met both sides in the argument.
The debate on Sellafield has become more worrying with the report that there was an undetected leak at the plant for nine months. It started last July and was not discovered until April this year. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, has described the skills of management there as worthy of Homer Simpson, which is not fair to that character. I hope the Minister’s efforts to meet representatives of the British Government will succeed. I know from Senator Brady that the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is going to Sellafield in the autumn. I very much welcome that, but it is important the issue be pursued by the Minister. I am sure he has the support of this House. The incompetence of BNFL must be exposed, and in future it must not conceal information about leaks in the manner seen hitherto.
Mr. Coghlan: I second Senator O’Toole’s proposal regarding No. 14 on the Order Paper, the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2005. The House will recall that it voted down a stage payments Bill approximately a year ago. I accept the Senators opposite were under instructions and agreed with it. However, the Minister stated it was anti-consumer and that he would, within six months or so, introduce his own measure. As we know, first-time buyers are now being discriminated against. They cannot secure their stamp duty relief until after completion, and as we know, they have incurred significant site and other development costs. This is discriminatory. Not alone is this anti-consumer; it is total discrimination, and I would like to give notice of our intention to reintroduce that Bill if the Minister does not act promptly in accordance with his undertaking given to this House.
Mr. Mooney: The House will be aware that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will meet the Prison Officers Association tomorrow to attempt yet again to inject some reasonableness into the ongoing dispute. It is now almost two years since my colleagues and I heard a briefing from the Minister regarding the difficulties in the operation of the Prison Service, especially regarding its budget. I raise this in order to ask the Leader to convey the real sense of outrage in my part of the country, which is close to Loughan House. In correspondence with me and several colleagues, the union branch secretary has pointed out that over 99% of the non-Dublin-based prison officers, which includes the staff of Loughan House and Shelton Abbey, which are the two prisons now threatened with privatisation, voted overwhelmingly for the Minister’s proposals.
It is an outrage that a group of protected, privileged people in this part of Dublin — prison officers who, according to today’s newspapers are operating a sick leave scheme for their own benefit — should put the lives of families in my part of the country, whose members will have to relocate or take early retirement, at risk, destroying its rural fabric along with that of
Shelton Abbey. It is an outrage and a disgrace, and there is a moral imperative on the executive of the Prison Officers Association, when it meets the Minister tomorrow, to end its navel-gazing and look at the national picture, appreciating the damage it is doing to families in my part of the country.
I appreciate the Cathaoirleach’s indulgence, but this is an important matter. Today’s edition of the Irish Independent carries a comment by a spokesman for TV3. I ask the Leader if she might ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, when he comes before the House in the autumn regarding a proposed broadcasting Bill, once again to clarify public service broadcasting. TV3 is making an incorrect assumption. The spokesman’s comment was to the effect that market forces rather than public service obligation should regulate the market.
I ask those in TV3 management who, like the prison officers, are pursuing their own agenda to look at the charter devised by the British Government for the establishment of ITV. That television station has a remit to produce programming that is concerned with providing a public service. Perhaps TV3 might strive to produce this type of programming instead of the pap it currently offers on a daily basis.
Dr. Henry: Ethiopia is one of the priority countries for aid from Ireland and those of us who have visited it are proud of the progress that has been made. Some Members of this House were there as observers during the recent elections. Unfortunately, there have been disputes in many areas in regard to the results of those elections. Opposition members there have asked Members to protest about the number of prisoners, mainly members of the opposition, who are imprisoned in Ethiopia. Some 4,000 have been incarcerated without trial. There were initially 7,000 in prison but following protests, 3,000 were released.
It must be made known to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi that our support for his country is not unconditional and that we were dismayed by the display of violence in Addis Ababa and elsewhere which resulted in the death of 36 civilians and a member of the opposition. I hope the Seanad will protest in this regard and ask the Department of Foreign Affairs to let the Ethiopian Prime Minister know that our support depends on his protection of democracy. The important issue in this regard is not the concerns of citizens of this country about the aid going to Africa but rather the welfare and treatment of that country’s citizens.
Mr. MacSharry: I join with others in expressing concern for the five people in Mayo who have been imprisoned as a consequence of their protest at the construction of the onshore gas pipeline. I ask the Leader to organise another debate on this matter in the next session because the message has not been received by the Minister that direct intervention is required to prevent the major crime that is being perpetrated on people in the west. Shell, with Bord Gáis as its partner, is taking an important resource out of the west and putting it into the east and south.
Ms Terry: I support the concerns expressed by Senator Finucane in regard to the National Aquatic Centre. It was brought to my attention this morning that Fingal County Council has confirmed that 3 million litres of heated and chlorinated water are leaking from the plant room in the centre. There is a cost implication in this as well as the issue of the damage that is being done environmentally. As I said earlier this week, it is urgent that a team of independent engineers be put in there and that a report be presented to the Oireachtas. I am not satisfied with the points made by the Taoiseach and Minister in regard to the faults found with the aquatic centre. This is an urgent matter. A considerable amount of taxpayers’ money has been invested in the centre and we should be concerned about how that money has been spent.
Mr. Quinn: I have been a member of the Automobile Association for many years. Some years ago, that association ceased to be a members-owned organisation and became a commercial company. I was stunned last week to discover that it has published information in Britain on the location of every speed camera in that country. When asked if it planned to do the same here, the response was that no decision has been made in this regard.
We must send a clear message to the Automobile Association that the prevention of deaths on the road is an issue of high priority for us. That there were no deaths on our roads the weekend before last was an occurrence that warranted a newspaper headline. However, several more people lost their lives in road accidents last night. A message must go out clearly to the Automobile Association that it has an obligation to encourage motorists to slow down. Incidentally, we should not attempt to emulate the approach taken in Budapest where a nudist colony has apparently been built along the motorway in the hope that this will slow drivers down. That venture has been somewhat successful in this regard but it has also had the effect of distracting motorists’ attention.
Mr. U. Burke: The far-reaching consequences of the Higher Education Authority’s proposals to change the funding methods for universities and other third level institutions will have serious consequences for those institutions. In this context, I call for a debate in the autumn on the issue of funding for third level institutions. There has been a serious decline in the funding provided by the Government and the Department of Education and Science to the universities.
There is a serious note of warning to be heeded when we hear it said that funding must be related to the output of particular categories of graduates to accommodate the needs of the economy. We must acknowledge that in the past we have had great support from industry for research and development in third level institutions. The latter have responded excellently to that support by producing the leaders of industry and the economy. However, this proposed change will mean that third level institutions lose their independence.
It is important that we have the opportunity to state clearly that our third level education system has been second to none and that any interference from outside will not be tolerated. Many Members have referred to the interference of multinationals in regard to other issues. I ask for a debate on this matter because the proposed changes to our education system will mean we all lose out.
Mr. Ross: I support Senator Brian Hayes’s proposal for a discussion on risk equalisation and the Tánaiste’s order in this regard. I cannot understand how an issue of such controversy could be put on the back-burner and discussion stifled. It is an issue of great importance to anybody who has health insurance. It is also an issue that is incredibly confusing and which most people do not understand. It would be useful if the Tánaiste, who is the person in possession of all the information on this matter, could come to the House to explain it to us.
Mr. Ross: For Senators to say this is a matter of ideology as though there is something wrong with that is absurd. This House is meant to be facilitate a clash of ideologies and be a forum for debate.
Mr. Ross: This is a great opportunity for such a debate. Everybody knows VHI and BUPA are at each other’s throats, not only for commercial reasons but because there is a clash of ideology between the semi-State and private sector. This topical issue presents an ideal opportunity for us to thrash it out in this House. Even if the Tánaiste cannot come, I ask the Leader to accommodate a debate with a Minister of State in order to make this House more relevant on an immediate issue.
An Cathaoirleach: We have gone over time on the Order of Business and I can call only one more speaker. I regret that I must disappoint three Members but this is necessary in accordance with the decision made.
Mr. Bradford: I support what has been said in regard to Ethiopia. Senator Henry, some other colleagues and I met yesterday with representatives of the opposition parties in that country who strongly suggested to us that the Minister and Government should protest more strongly to the Ethiopian authorities about what has happened since the general election.
We in the Oireachtas demonstrated a commitment to democracy in Ethiopia by sending election observers last May. Unfortunately, once the election was over, the Ethiopian Government has tried to fiddle the results in order to retain power. As we contribute quite significantly to the Ethiopian economy, we must make strong representations and protestations to the authorities there in demanding that the will of the people be respected and that those opposition candidates, supporters and party workers who have been jailed in the aftermath of the election be released forthwith.
Mr. Bannon: Certain issues require to be addressed. Insufficient time has been given to No. 7 in terms of planning and development for a large section of this community. I want more time to discuss that decision.
Senator Brian Hayes proposed that we would seek to have the Tánaiste here after the Order of Business to debate item No. 1. Earlier this week, he said that a debate should be held on the matter. I made inquiries but the Tánaiste is taking the Order of Business in the other House and it will not conclude until
12 o’clock at the earliest. We will endeavour to have the Tánaiste here later today or tomorrow. I also think the matter should be debated. Everyone received notes by e-mail or post but I would like to hear her speak on it. As I cannot guarantee that she will attend, the Senator has every right to propose his amendment.
With regard to the jailed farmers from County Mayo, Shell claimed this morning to have asked to speak with them but the people in question would not attend a meeting. It is sad that they are in prison. Nobody can blame the justice system. The judge must do whatever is laid out or put to him. I hope and believe that Bishop Jones and representatives will use their good offices to broker a suitable arrangement.
Senator O’Toole also wants a debate on risk equalisation. He asked for a First Reading, that is, the printing of the Bill he prepared jointly with Senators Coghlan and Norris. It is a good idea to have it printed for a First Reading and we will have the Second Reading as soon as we return. I commend the industry of Members in bringing forward legislation.
Senator Ryan seconded the motion proposed by Senator Hayes and referred to the issue of Shell in County Mayo which, he said, concerned disproportionate power. He said that a safe process does not exist when transporting chemicals through lands. He also discussed child poverty and today’s protest rally and wants a thorough debate on overseas development aid.
Senator Dardis said that risk equalisation is not a question of ideology. He went on to talk about the unfortunate jailing of the people from County Mayo and expressed the hope that a solution would be forthcoming.
Senator Finucane said that when he was Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the matter of the National Aquatic Centre was fully discussed. Regardless of the structure of the roof, a violent wind blew on the days in question. He wants the report brought forward.
Senator Callanan praised the Minister for Agriculture and Food on her work in Russia in terms of selling Irish produce. He called for debate on beet sugar and the Council of Ministers. A better opportunity will arise later to hold a decent debate.
Senator Norris had no criticism of the judge presiding over the jailing of the people from County Mayo. I concur with him on this. He commented on the history of Shell and what he described as the rapacious way in which this multinational company has conducted its business. He also noted the shortage of blood for use by the health services.
Senator Mooney referred to the situation involving prison officers. I received correspondence from Loughan House, where 99% of officers voted in favour of the Minister’s proposals. A small percentage will wreck the homes and careers of many prison officers. The Senator also referred to the public service remit of RTE and the opinion of TV3 that the remit should not be a high priority.
Senator Henry raised the issue of Ethiopia. Senator MacSharry commented on the imprisoned people from County Mayo. He wants direct intervention with Shell and Bord Gáis, which bypasses the part of the north west that owns the gas reserves.
Senator Terry remarked on the 3 million litres of water which are leaking from National Aquatic Centre and called for an independent engineer’s report. Senator Quinn discussed the AA and speed cameras in the UK. He asked why could they not be pinpointed on a map here. He proposed the novel solution developed in Budapest. I will not comment further on that because it is laughable. I hope that everybody on display is perfectly formed. They would slow traffic.
Senator Ulick Burke noted the far-reaching proposal that third level funding be matched to output, which would reduce the independence of third level colleges. Senator Ross asked why we do not hold ideological debates and what would be wrong in so doing. Senator Bradford commented on Ethiopia.
Two amendments are proposed to the Order of Business, which I will address in the order in which they were proposed. Senator Brian Hayes proposed amendment
No. 1: “That No. 1 be debated for a period of one hour”. Is the amendment being pressed?
|Bradford, Paul.||Browne, Fergal.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Burke, Ulick.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Coonan, Noel.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Finucane, Michael.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Henry, Mary.||McDowell, Derek.|
|Norris, David.||O’Toole, Joe.|
|Phelan, John.||Quinn, Feargal.|
|Ross, Shane.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Brady, Cyprian.||Callanan, Peter.|
|Cox, Margaret.||Dardis, John.|
|Dooley, Timmy.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Fitzgerald, Liam.||Glynn, Camillus.|
|Hanafin, John.||Kenneally, Brendan.|
|Kett, Tony.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|Leyden, Terry.||Lydon, Donal J.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||Mansergh, Martin.|
|Minihan, John.||Mooney, Paschal C.|
|Morrissey, Tom.||Moylan, Pat.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Brien, Francis.|
|O’Rourke, Mary.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Scanlon, Eamon.|
|Walsh, Jim.||Walsh, Kate.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
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