Order of Business.

Thursday, 8 December 2005

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 182 No. 15

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Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  The Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2 and 3. No. 1, statements on oncology services, is to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 2 p.m., with contributions from spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes, the Minister being called on to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; No. 2, Statute Law Revision (Pre-1922) Bill 2004 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude not later than 2.30 p.m.; and No. 3, the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2005 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4.30 p.m.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  We must all place on record our thanks to Senators Minihan and White in connection with the budget announcement on child care yesterday.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Let us not forget Senator O’Meara.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Statements on the budget were taken last night.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Without the Senators’ sterling work on this issue, the Government may well [342]have chosen to abandon children altogether in the budget.

Ms Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  The budget focused on families.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Government Senators are in great form this morning. They must know something is coming down the tracks. I wish to make a further comment on Senator White.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator White is not relevant to the Order of Business, although she may like to be.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  It is not fair to refer to a Senator who is not present.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  As my four year old said his prayers last night, Senator White’s name was mentioned in dispatches. Such is her status among four year old children. I had to remind my son about certain friends the Senator has down Mexico way.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator should confine his remarks to the Order of Business.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Does the Leader agree that the decision by the Government parties, in their ninth year in office, to introduce a five-year child care programme is belatedly welcome? Does she also agree that it is important to establish a system whereby the benefits we give young parents, who must pay considerable sums of money on child care on a weekly and monthly basis, are ring-fenced for the type of costs they face? My concern is that much of the increases announced in yesterday’s budget may well go towards meeting escalating child care costs.

Families with children aged over six years continue to face considerable costs. The notion that child care costs no longer arise for a family once a child goes to national school is nonsensical. I hope the budget will be a continuation of a debate on child care launched in this House because the advances made in this area yesterday are small in the context of the past nine years. The Government has finally woken up to the main issue on the agenda of many families.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  The Senator is displaying his small-mindedness.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  On another issue, as I understand it, the chief sponsor of an association in Ireland called the Centre for Public Inquiry, has decided not to fund the centre’s work in future. I welcome that decision. As I have said before in the House, it is a matter for the organs of this State, including both Houses of the Oireachtas, to determine what should be matters for public inquiry. I do not believe that any privately sponsored body established by a group of people has the right to determine what is right or wrong. Matters of public inquiry should be determined through the normal channels of investigation.

[343]I make no comment about Mr. Connolly and his dispute with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is up to others to decide whether they have shown good judgment in being associated with this centre. It is a matter for this State to determine what should be matters for public investigation and how they should be investigated.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  I must register my hurt with the House that in offering thanks and recognition all over the place, Senator Brian Hayes chose to ignore the fact that Senator Ross and myself tabled a Private Members’ motion on child care.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  The Senator is not modest.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Will it be in order, a Chathaoirligh, for me to remove from the Order Paper No. 21, motion 19, in my name, the first part of which calls for the extension of maternity leave to 26 weeks? I will now rewrite the item, although I welcome the fact that it has been delivered. That matter was proposed by Senator O’Meara and myself on a number of occasions over the last year.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  That is the beginning, not the end.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  In fact, Senator White did not even speak to the motion that was tabled by Senator Ross and myself. I was upset about that because I was looking forward to her contribution.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  The Senator did time on the Internet yesterday.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  He has other ways of doing things.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator should discuss today’s Order of Business, please.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Some of us on this side of the House would be quite willing to support a Bill on child care that has been prepared by supporters of Senator White.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  What Bill?

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  We are talking about the flexible working Bill.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  We look forward to her own support for her own Bill, but I suspect that she will not give us the honour of doing that.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  There is unanimous support from this side of the House.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Order. Senator O’Toole without interruption.

[344]Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Thank you, a Chathaoirligh. Senator White keeps interrupting me.

On a serious and related point, the Budget Statement on child care was important, but there are issues which are unclear. In fairness to all concerned, there has been a serious debate on child care in this House and we should continue that.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  Hear, hear.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  It would be useful to have such a debate in peacetime, as it were.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Yes, definitely.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  We should examine how child care will be developed and what will happen next. Yesterday, the Minister commented on the importance of registration with local child care committees, in as much as they could be in a position to give grants, information and support. That is important for parents who want to know what quality of child care they can expect if they choose that option. They will also want to know what regulatory inspections of child care facilities will occur. We could indicate our views and listen to the responses in such a debate immediately after Christmas.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  Exactly.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  That is a fair point.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  It would be helpful for everybody. Perhaps Senator White could give us the opportunity to support her Bill, although I suspect she will not.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  I will. We can discuss it.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I will be looking warily to my right all through my contribution. My colleague, Senator O’Meara, was brought up not to boast so I am instructed not to boast on her behalf.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I am sick of you all.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I have an unusual request to make and my credentials on the issue of homelessness are not so weak that I will be misunderstood. I do not think we should have a debate on homelessness before Christmas. The issue and its symptoms are far too extensive to be fitted into a debate lasting one hour or 90 minutes in a crowded sitting next week. I would prefer the House to have a serious debate in the new year about inequality in our society in all its manifestations, including homelessness, with time to do so properly. Notwithstanding people’s good intentions, the idea of a Christmas debate on homelessness smacks somewhat of tokenism. I would prefer if we did not have such an inappropriate debate before Christmas, although if we have one I will participate in it.

On an entirely unrelated yet serious matter, this morning’s newspapers report an increasing [345]frequency of electricity supplies almost failing. I do not know if this is a consequence of economic growth, but I am concerned that it is a consequence of an ideology which in many cases has prevented the ESB from investing in new power plants because we were waiting to get the private sector involved.

I have no problem with private sector involvement in electricity generation. I do have a problem, however, with the fact that they keep on complaining they cannot make enough money out of it for it to be worth their while. The result is that electricity prices are being elevated partly to make it attractive to the private sector to come in and then claim that it is reducing electricity prices. That does not make much sense to me. We are in grave danger of power cuts, although we have not had a long and bitterly cold winter for quite a while. Such a situation could see us running out of electricity supplies. The failure to develop our electricity and other infrastructures is a fundamental issue for the country’s economic future. We should have a serious debate on electricity supplies soon.

Mr. Minihan: Information on John Minihan  Zoom on John Minihan  With regard to child care, I do not think there is anything more to be said.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Go on.

Ms O’Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara  Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara  The debate is only starting.

Mr. Minihan: Information on John Minihan  Zoom on John Minihan  I look forward to the debate in future.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  It is nearly worthwhile having children now.

Mr. Minihan: Information on John Minihan  Zoom on John Minihan  I endorse the comments of Senator Brian Hayes on the Centre for Public Inquiry. The news yesterday of the withdrawal of support from a body outside this State which was funding a body to investigate issues in this State, where no clear guidelines were ever laid down as to who would decide what matters of public concern would be investigated, was a serious matter. Over the last 12 months, I have spoken about this on a number of occasions in the House. The withdrawal of funding was long overdue. I hope that many people involved in this will now seriously consider their positions, having been associated with something that, to my mind, was sinister from day one. I endorse the comments of Senator Brian Hayes in that regard. It has been a good day for democracy.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  I support the call by Senator Ryan for a debate on the energy sector with particular regard to electricity. The increase in electricity charges over the years concerns all of us. Liberalisation of the energy market has not benefited domestic consumers. The public service obligation element still appears in electricity legislation. The Minister would say that is to sustain a peat-fired station in the midlands, as well as wind energy projects. With the Government [346]taking a €70 million dividend last year, it is about time we gave something back to the consumer. It would be a step in the right direction to remove the obligation on electricity consumers to pay increased prices. Today, a report by Deloitte & Touche will be produced for the Minister and I hope that document will be circulated. I have deep suspicions, however, that it may not be circulated because the report’s contents may not make for favourable reading in the lead-up to an election in late 2006 or early 2007. If taxpayers have paid for that consultants’ report, it should be published.

I am concerned by the fact that a Minister of State tried to influence an opinion poll on decentralisation run by a midlands radio station. The question asked was, “Are you in favour of decentralisation for the midlands?” God help us if a Minister of State has to influence listeners of a midlands radio station to vote “Yes”. I do not know what we are coming to because the answer was obvious in all circumstances from radio listeners in the midlands. It is pathetic that a Minister of State had to resort to that. The same Minister of State is currently blaming the media for allegations about another Minister of State. He should cop himself on.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator should not talk about the Minister of State.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on John Gerard Hanafin  Zoom on John Gerard Hanafin  I request that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, be invited to the House so that we can commend him on the budget. All budgets belong to the people, but this budget in particular is truly a people’s budget.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I remind Senator Hanafin that we debated the budget yesterday evening, and a Minister was present.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on John Gerard Hanafin  Zoom on John Gerard Hanafin  I am aware of that. I commend those who promoted child care from an early stage. They deserve our commendation rather than our sarcasm.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  Hang in there.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on John Gerard Hanafin  Zoom on John Gerard Hanafin  Fair dues to them. Finally, I thank Senator O’Toole and the House for their warm congratulations yesterday.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I disagree with my distinguished colleague, Senator Brian Hayes, on the notion that no one should set up an inquiry except the Government. It is quite possible for people to establish an inquiry, and for the public to decide.

I am somewhat concerned at moves on the part of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, in the other House, since someone has been named. I understood that the tradition of Parliament was that one did not name those who do not have an opportunity to defend themselves in this forum. I found replies on the radio by the person in question evasive [347]and unsatisfactory. However, it was also suggested on several radio stations that the Minister had contacted what were effectively his employers, Atlantic Philanthropies, and made material from Garda sources available to them. That worries me, since, despite my deep suspicions regarding the Colombia three and all the ramifications, I am also concerned that proper procedures be followed on the basis that people are innocent until proven guilty.

Perhaps I might return to the question of Iraq. I hope that next week we will continue with the work in which the Leader has engaged, which is very important and serious. Unfortunately, it has been made clear by Lord Steyn, a former law lord who has just retired from that very senior position in Britain, that because members of the Government may well have been aware of what was going on in Britain, they could themselves be liable for prosecution in the International Criminal Court for war crimes. That worries me, since in this country there seems to be a deliberate policy of obfuscation. The report that we received yesterday from the British foreign affairs committee investigating the matter directly accuses the British Government of obfuscation and of ignoring what it categorically describes as a serious international crime committed by the US authorities.

Yesterday, however, the Taoiseach said that he must accept Condoleezza Rice’s statement. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, said in Washington that he totally accepted it. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, incorrectly stated that Ireland had no power to board those aeroplanes. It is time that we ended this three monkeys attitude whereby one hears, sees and speaks no evil. It was said openly in this House on several occasions that the people in question, including President Bush, had lied. I find it astonishing that for a minor, consensual sexual indiscretion Mr. Clinton was impeached. Now we have a man embarking on the Third World War, and yet they are not impeaching Mr. Bush in the United States.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator, we cannot have a lengthy statement.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I very much welcome and look forward to a strong and robust inquiry, properly established by this House.

Dr. Mansergh: Information on Dr Martin Mansergh  Zoom on Dr Martin Mansergh  On the morrow of a successful budget, I would very much welcome a debate on equality issues. It would have been nice had there been recognition of what the budget did to promote equality through tax concessions benefiting those on the minimum wage and the average industrial wage, together with the record social welfare package and the closure of tax breaks for the——

[348]Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  After nine years.

Dr. Mansergh: Information on Dr Martin Mansergh  Zoom on Dr Martin Mansergh  Regarding what Senator Brian Hayes had to say, after nine years child benefit has gone up from €39 a month for third and subsequent children to €150.

Mr. McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy  Zoom on Michael McCarthy  So has inflation.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Nine years is a generation of children.

Dr. Mansergh: Information on Dr Martin Mansergh  Zoom on Dr Martin Mansergh  Of course, one cannot solve all the problems, and there will be further work for future years. However, a very solid basis has been laid.

(Interruptions).

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  They should stop shouting. I cannot hear.

Dr. Mansergh: Information on Dr Martin Mansergh  Zoom on Dr Martin Mansergh  It has contributed to that end.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  Senator Mansergh registered rather high on the Richter scale. The microphone is still shaking.

Ms O’Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara  Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara  Last week, the Leader may recall, I requested a post-budget debate on child care provision. I once again ask that we have that. Regarding yesterday’s package — it is certainly not a strategy — a small amount has been done, leaving a great deal more to do.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Yes, more to do.

Ms O’Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara  Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara  For instance, where is pre-school education? There is no sign of it in this package, and no sign of flexible working. I am sure that Senator White would agree with me that flexible working is an issue of great importance to many parents attempting to balance work against their obligations. One cannot have a strategy without those elements.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We had a debate yesterday evening on the budget.

Ms O’Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara  Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara  I add my support to those seeking the establishment of a committee to examine the use of Shannon Airport in the US war effort. This is an important issue for our democracy. Those campaigning should continue.

Dr. M. Hayes: Information on Dr Maurice Hayes  Zoom on Dr Maurice Hayes  I do not want to pre-empt the debate on the Finance Bill, but as a grandparent I am grateful to Senator Brian Hayes for his suggestions regarding changes to the order of service in the nighttime prayers of my grandchildren. I will ensure that Senator White’s name enters the pantheon.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Perhaps we might stick to the Order of Business.

[349]Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  I thank the Senator. It trips off the tongue.

Dr. M. Hayes: Information on Dr Maurice Hayes  Zoom on Dr Maurice Hayes  More broadly, following Senator Brian Hayes’s other remarks, I will not enter the controversy surrounding the Centre for Public Inquiry, but like Senator Norris, I would be concerned if the House drew the conclusion that no one except the Government should set up bodies to inquire into public affairs. For a democracy, that is absolutely Stalinist.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Hear, hear.

Dr. M. Hayes: Information on Dr Maurice Hayes  Zoom on Dr Maurice Hayes  We should not take that route. We should be careful of those who conduct such inquiries, but the notion that only the State can investigate the State is somehow wrong.

  11 o’clock

The Civil Partnerships Act 2004 is now effective in Northern Ireland, and perhaps the Leader might inform us of the status of Senator Norris’s Bill on a similar subject in this jurisdiction. Finally, regarding Northern Ireland at this time of year, could we ask the appropriate Minister whether steps might be taken to ensure that penalty points for driving be recognised on both sides of the Border? People in both jurisdictions are escaping punishment, and I know that both the Garda and the PSNI are concerned. We should move in that direction.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Since so many Senators are offering, I ask them to be brief.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  I ask that the Leader invite the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, to the House to outline his plans to amend the Freedom of Information Act 1997. Although it was promised some time ago, nothing has happened. That would allow Members and the general public to access information at a reasonable cost. For example, I cannot get records on prefabricated buildings in my own county, Longford, or in Westmeath, unless I pay a fee of approximately €300. I know that others in my constituency have had to pay approximately €1,000 to access information. I have been given a departmental quote of €20.95 per hour, giving a total cost of €293.30. To get it photocopied, I have been given a quote of €2.32, raising the total cost to €300 to get simple information that should be in the public domain. It is scandalous and disgraceful. It muzzles society, and allowing it to continue constitutes Government dictatorship. We must be more open and transparent in matters concerning the State.

On another matter, it is important that we invite the Minister for Transport to the House for a debate on toll charges. When the House returns after the Christmas recess, Members and the public will be burdened with extra toll charges on the new M4. A toll bridge has been constructed at Kinnegad and several other proposals are in [350]the pipeline. It is important the House debates that issue because these charges will create an extra burden on hauliers and other people who were ignored in yesterday’s budget. I was nominated to represent the Irish Road Haulage Association whose members have a major grievance in that they believe yesterday’s budget was an insult to that industry.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  There will be a debate on toll charges and the Senator can raise all the issues at that time.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  I ask that those issues be dealt with as soon as possible after the Christmas recess.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  On a previous occasion I raised a matter in the House regarding activities on our rivers and waterways. In the case of rivers and canals in particular, it involves two people putting a net across the river and removing everything from it. I raised this issue previously and am aware it has exercised the minds of a number of people, not least Senator Dardis who is a keen fisherman. I would like something done about it because nothing is put back into the river. Everything caught in the net is taken out of it. It is an outrageous practice.

I asked the Leader in 2004 and 2005, and I am sure I will be asking her in 2006, for a debate on men’s health and, in particular, type 2 diabetes. We will debate oncology services after the Order of Business but that issue affects men, women and children. There will be a presentation on diabetes next week in the audiovisual room by the diabetic federation and in the new year——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator should be brief. He should not elaborate the point.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  I would like the issue of men’s health to be treated with urgency in this Chamber as elsewhere because it does not appear to be centre stage.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Hear, hear.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  There is very little talk about it. I raised the issue with the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children because it is important. The national director of Population Health, Dr. Doorley, has agreed——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Senator, I asked you to be brief. Many Senators are offering and I want to be fair to them.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  ——to address a number of fora in the House. The issue is very important and it is time we did something about it.

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

[351]Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  We are inclined to take things for granted and it was only when Senator Ryan and Senator Finucane called for a debate on the energy and electricity problems — I support that call — that I remembered it is not that long ago since the entire New York area experienced a blackout for a few days. Around the same time the lights in northern Italy went out for almost a week. We have come to assume we will always have electricity but last year there were 25 amber alerts. This year, there have been 50, twice the number last year. There was one red alert this year which means that the amount of electricity available was reaching a precarious level. At 5.30 p.m. on 30 November, just a few weeks ago, there was a surge in power demand. There are concerns that there may not be enough electricity in January to cover not just domestic use but that of industry also. It is important that we have a debate on that issue and invite either the Minister or perhaps the energy regulator to the House.

Senator Finucane referred to the public service obligation. There was an item on the news about a disabled woman in Limerick who had telephoned 999 but had difficulty getting a reply. She then telephoned 112 on her mobile phone and got a reply immediately. I had no idea one can telephone two emergency numbers. I mention that because if the public service obligation of the telephone companies is to respond to urgent calls such as an emergency like that, perhaps there should only be one number to telephone and we should be assured that it will be answered.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  I support Senator Glynn’s call for a debate in the new year on men’s health. We have had debates on breast and cervical cancer but it would be a positive move to have a debate on men’s health since 87% of the Members of the Dáil and 83% of the Members of the Seanad are men. We should discuss their health problems.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  The Senator married one.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  And I love him to bits.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I do not like time-wasting. It is unfair to the other Senators.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  I would like to put on the record the name of Ms Nuala Nic Giobuin, who works for——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator cannot put the name of an individual on the record.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  She is a key person in——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  You cannot name her, Senator.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  I will not mention her name.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  You have mentioned it. I call Senator McCarthy.

[352]Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  May I finish?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator knows she cannot mention names in the House.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  I would like to know the status of the Civil Partnership Bill that Senator Norris will introduce. A very humane Bill was introduced in the United Kingdom in early December, although it has to be developed further. A debate on that issue in the House would be appropriate.

On another matter, I went to Colombia——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Senator cannot raise that issue.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  I am a member of Amnesty International and I was asked by Mrs. Connolly, on human rights grounds, to visit her son in prison.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Resume your seat, Senator. I call Senator McCarthy.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  Frank Connolly has nothing to do with——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Resume your seat, Senator.

Mr. McCarthy: Information on Michael McCarthy  Zoom on Michael McCarthy  I support the call by Senator Glynn for a debate on men’s health, which is an important issue but one that does not get recognition in terms of debates in this House. I appeal to the Leader to organise such a debate in the new year and I commend Senator Glynn for pushing that agenda.

Given the Taoiseach’s comments on public relations this week, will the Leader indicate if it will continue to be Government policy to spend money — I believe it is €7 million per annum — on public relations matters? The Taoiseach has said it is a waste of money. Is it Government policy to stop spending money on public relations?

The budget reminds me of a baked Alaska — it looks nice on the outside but is cold in the middle. It was very disappointing.

Mr. Browne: Information on Feargal Browne  Zoom on Feargal Browne  On the points raised by Members about the ESB, last year the amount of electricity produced in Ardnacrusha is the amount needed now to sustain the demand caused by the Christmas lights throughout the country. There is pressure on the national grid.

I ask the Leader for a debate on the sugar beet industry in light of the changes in biofuels made in the budget yesterday. The farming organisations are bitterly split on the future of the industry. Some want compensation while others want to continue growing sugar beet. The changes on biofuels announced in yesterday’s budget will give optimism to some people to continue growing beet, which I hope might happen. I call for a debate, if not next week perhaps the first week after the Christmas recess, on the future of sugar beet and biofuels.

[353]I am disappointed there was no change in stamp duty in yesterday’s budget. That will put pressure on child care places as well.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We discussed the budget last evening. I call Senator Moylan.

Mr. Moylan: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  I support Senator Glynn’s call for a debate on men’s health. Senator Maurice Hayes made an important point about penalty points, North and South. The gardaí say that if they stop someone and they are given the name of a friend from Northern Ireland, that is the end of the matter and no fine is imposed. The Government is losing out in that regard even though people are breaking the law by speeding.

Senator Finucane made a point about a phone-in programme on Midlands Radio 3 recently.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I made an attempt to rule out Senator Finucane on that issue.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  I hope the Senator did not phone in.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We cannot discuss the content of a radio programme.

Mr. Moylan: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  It was important because it concerned decentralisation, particularly to the midlands. The radio station did not get the result it wished for but it did not check to determine who supported the result.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  We cannot discuss radio programmes in the House.

Mr. Moylan: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  The station should have checked.

Mr. Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  There was no mention of that yesterday.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  I support Senators Finucane, Ryan and Quinn in their calls for a debate on the ESB. The European Commission has issued a demand for the ESB to return up to €10 million paid in support by the Government to install additional capacity at Moneypoint. If this happens, the ESB will inevitably pass on the charge to customers. An additional charge combined with those imposed this year and in future will be of serious concern for customers.

If this is the beginning of requiring the repayment of grants Government has given to developing industries and industrialists in this country, it is time the Commission was asked to readdress its demands. If not for the support of Government resources given through the IDA, many current jobs would not have been created.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Over the years I have found that this House plays a significant role in debating public issues and bringing balance to bear on many of them. I have had an uneasy feeling for some time that there is a perception [354]abroad about the negation of due process. The House should debate this issue. Whether it is a Minister, a private citizen or whoever, everyone is entitled to due process.

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

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  This matter often develops into a national blood sport.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I agree.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  A bandwagon will eventually begin moving and we will not be able to stop it. Our justice system is one of the finest in the world. We must defend and protect it. Ordinary citizens and objective observers must know we do not conduct trials by media, public perception or whatever else the case may be. I will not refer to a specific case as there are currently a number. I strongly appeal to the Leader to find time in the new year to arrange a general debate on this matter.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I listened to Senator Ó Murchú and tried to read between the lines. Dancing on graves is never a pretty sight but we have seen much of it in the past 24 to 48 hours. It is heinous no matter whose grave one is dancing on.

Is it not nice that Senator Brian Hayes’s little child prayed for Senator White? He spoke about how we have been at this point in child care for nine years. We have a five-year plan that will unfold as the years go on and it has been given a robust financial start. I applaud this wonderful plan. More announcements will be made and the plan will progress. I congratulate the Government and whoever played a part in this matter. Under the Cathaoirleach’s tutelage, this House has played a significant role in debates on child care irrespective of who spoke or who put them on the agenda.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Hear, hear.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  We debated the issue, made our points and fought about them strongly but used the Chamber to seek various measures to good effect. Debates on child care have always been welcomed.

Senator Brian Hayes also mentioned the Centre for Public Inquiry. I know of what Senator Maurice Hayes and others referred to. I share their unease about people establishing themselves in a civic manner to pass comments and judgments on people or events when there are public mechanisms in place for dealing with such issues.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Exactly.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  We discussed how stopping the funding for this was a good move.

Senator O’Toole raised the issue of good changes to maternity leave, which will be added [355]to next year. Between this and paid and unpaid parental leave of almost 12 months, a mother or father who wishes to stay at home can do so. Flexible working is profoundly important and we look forward to the forthcoming Private Members’ Bill. Last week, Senators O’Meara and O’Toole said we should move on this issue, tease out the small print and decide on proposals to continue the initiative. Once we have started on it we cannot leave it.

I agree with Senator Ryan that holding a debate on homelessness would be schmaltzy leading up to Christmas, the tradition of which is based on a mother being unable to find a home in which to have her child. The Senator would like a debate on inequalities in society and I hope to arrange it. Concerning worries about ESB supply outages were the winter to become colder, the stated examples occurred during a brief cold snap of nine or ten days. If we experienced a very bad winter before or after Christmas, the situation would be serious. Therefore, I will seek to arrange a debate on power supplies early in the new year.

I agree with Senator Minihan regarding the Centre for Public Inquiry. Senator Maurice Hayes’s contribution was truthful but one establishes institutions in a democratic sense and hopes to abide by how they conduct their business. Senator Finucane asked for a debate on the supposed liberalisation of energy production and the PSO. If not for the PSO and peat stations, we would have been in a very bad way during those outages. I do not agree that we should do away with the PSO.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  The Government receives €70 million in dividends.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I know.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  It would be better to give something back.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Leader, without interruption.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I agree with Senator Hanafin, who the House remains in admiration of, that it is a people’s budget. Senator Norris also mentioned the Centre for Public Inquiry, his ideas on which are similar to those of Senator Maurice Hayes. He mentioned his wishes in respect of Iraq and we hope to have that matter resolved to everyone’s satisfaction by next Tuesday. I thank the Senator for his letter, which was given to me by the Clerk Assistant of the Seanad.

Senator Mansergh highlighted the recognition of social equity and said child benefit has quadrupled since 1997. Senator O’Meara asked for a debate on child care and pre-school education, which I hope will be forthcoming. She also spoke about flexible work patterns. If the Private [356]Members’ Bill is passed, this will be included. The Senator referred to Shannon Airport. CIA manoeuvring was also mentioned.

Senator Maurice Hayes spoke of an idea concerning the Centre for Public Inquiry similar to that of Senator Norris. He also asked about what is happening in respect of the Civil Partnership Bill 2004, a similar version of which is operating in Northern Ireland. I am informed by Senator Norris that he has tweaked, changed and inserted more measures in his Bill. I note in newspaper reports that the constitutional review committee will shortly produce its report on what it will put forward in that respect and I hope there will be a congruence of the ideas of the Senator and the committee.

Senator Maurice Hayes raised the need to align the penalty points systems of the North and South. Senator Bannon outlined how much it costs him to avail of freedom of information provisions concerning prefabricated buildings in counties Longford and Westmeath. He also spoke about toll charges, which we will all experience. Senator Glynn referred to people taking stock from rivers and canals and leaving nothing in them. He also asked for a debate on men’s health. When we went to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children and her officials, they suggested that under the statements on oncology services one can talk about either men or women. All are subject to the supply of chemotherapy and radium services.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  Many matters other than cancer affect men’s health.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  The Leader without interruption.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  If Senator Glynn wants a debate on another matter, he may continue to raise it. If he does not want to debate it, that is all right.

Senator Quinn called for a debate on electricity services. We were all surprised when New York and parts of Canada were completely blacked out. We have become accustomed to turning on a switch and the light or cooker coming on. Senator Quinn is correct to raise the matter.

Senator Quinn spoke of the use of the emergency number 999 versus 112. I received a call from a woman who told me she dialled 999 and could not get a reply. The authorities told me that 999 was still operative, that it is the signal for distress and is being used as such. I was surprised to hear what Senator Quinn had to say. The position must be clarified because I am sure there are many who say to themselves that at least they can dial 999 if something happens.

Senator White raised the civil partnership Bill. She praised Senator Glynn for raising the issue of men’s health and she also wished to debate that matter.

Senator McCarthy raised expenditure on public relations. He does not need any. He is great.

[357]Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  Senator McCarthy is a star.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I did not hear the Taoiseach’s remark on that. One can take them or leave them; that is the way I feel about them.

Senator Browne raised the issue of the sugar beet industry and called for a debate on biofuels.

Senator Moylan wants to debate men’s health. We would like to indulge all of the Senators. I agree with the Senator that there is a need for convergence on penalty points, North and South.

Senator Ulick Burke called for a debate on the ESB. Senator Ó Murchú called for a debate on due process, which is where I began by answering that I agreed. I know what he means. I feel the same.

Order of Business agreed to.


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