Thursday, 30 November 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Minihan: The Order of Business is No. 1, Statements on Further and Adult Education, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of statements; No. 2, National Development Finance Agency (Amendment) Bill 2006 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 3.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; No. 3, Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2006 — Second Stage, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 8 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage.  Members may share time. There will be a sos from 3.30 p.m. until 5.30 p.m.
Information was circulated to Senators on the amendment of today’s Order of Business and the times involved. I regret that there will be a sos between 3.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. but, unfortunately, no Minister will be available until 5.30 p.m. to take the Bill.
Mr. Coghlan: I am sure the House will agree with me. As the Cathaoirleach is aware, I am non-contentious. I congratulate that great son of County Kerry, the redoubtable Ricky Johnson, on his elevation to the presidency of the High Court.
Mr. Coghlan: That is what I am doing. I wish to refer to the very serious committee report, of which both Houses are aware, on collusion between the British security forces and loyalists in the 1970s. The Oireachtas joint committee described them as acts of international terrorism. The conclusions regarding successive British Governments and the high level of awareness of these events means that the British Government cannot refuse to co-operate. I call on the Government, as was done in the Dáil yesterday, to press the demand it has already made. I also call for a debate on the report.
When I last raised the questions of the Defamation and Privacy Bills, which are Nos. 8 and 9 on the Order Paper, the Leader assured the House that they would not be taken this term. I know that further consultations are being arranged. Will the Acting Leader confirm that the Bills will not be taken next term and that we will see neither legislation in advance of the general election?
Mr. O’Toole: I dread to make any reference to the distinguished son of Kerry who has been elevated to the leadership of the Fine Gael benches today and who is making such succinct and able contributions on behalf of Kerry, as always.
I am a former pupil of the Irish Christian Brothers, a group of people I hold in high regard but who have made some serious and significant mistakes. It saddens me, as it must sadden many people, to learn that Mr. Seán Ryan, chairman of the compensatory advisory committee established under Residential Institutions Redress Act, has criticised the Irish Christian Brothers for failing to provide documentary information to the Residential Institutions Redress Board. This is appalling and incomprehensible. Christian Brothers who are doing a magnificent job in schools throughout the country and in other work are bearing the brunt of these ridiculously unacceptable decisions by their leaders. I ask the Acting Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister.
The Acting Leader should reassure Senator Coghlan that the Privacy Bill will not see the light of day and that the Government is embarrassed by its contents. While we all approve of the protection of privacy, few people could support the excesses of the Privacy Bill. It is my view that the Government will not proceed with the Bill.
Mr. Ryan: No. 20 on the Order Paper is a Government motion regarding the procedures for the dismissal of a judge. I am surprised that this is still on the Order Paper, given what happened in recent weeks. Why has this item not been withdrawn?
We all have reason to be concerned at the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on collusion between the British Government and paramilitaries. I would be concerned about a report on similar collusion anywhere in the world. We have read of such collusion in many countries, especially in Central America where there was extraordinary collusion between state security forces and others engaged in terrorist activities. To have it happen in our country is profoundly disturbing. To have such collusion attributed to a government which we believe shares our values, and which by and large does so, is a serious matter. The joint committee has recommended that its report be debated in both Houses. I ask the Acting Leader to arrange for such a debate urgently. This issue should not be postponed for six months until we have a gap in our schedule. It should be done as a matter of urgency. It is a very urgent matter.
Why can the House not debate the draft report of the committee of the European Parliament which has reported on rendition? It would be in the country’s interest for the Houses of the Oireachtas to debate this matter so that we can hear the Government’s defences and send a transcript of the debates, giving the Houses’ views, to the committee before it makes its final report. It does not make sense to wait until final decisions are made before saying whether we agree with them.
What is the Government doing about the illegal acquisition of international bank transfer data by the Government of the United States? This has been condemned by all data protection commissioners of the European Union but was done by the banking system without the knowledge or agreement of governments or central banks. I can not accept the word of a government which steals my bank data without telling me or anyone else about it.
Again, I raise the unresolved issue of the debt of Cork Airport. I have referred to classical phraseology used by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The inability to make a decision about the future funding of our airports is a classic example of a government that can not make up its mind about anything. I do not expect the Acting Leader to agree with me on that but I do expect to be told of the resolution of this issue some time soon. We have been waiting for months for a decision about whether Cork Airport has a future. If the airport is forced to accept a debt of €200 million, it does not have a future. If Shannon Airport is forced to accept a proportionate debt, it will not have a future either. This is a fundamental issue of regional development which must be resolved. I ask the Acting Leader for information on this matter.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: The murderous and mischievous involvement of Britain in acts of terrorism in Ireland will come as no surprise to many people. While others endeavoured to find a solution to the difficult Northern problem, Britain was at the heart of the problem, fuelling it and obstructing democrats trying to find a solution. While they were butchering the people of Ireland on the streets, their leaders were lecturing the rest of the world on the essence of democracy and how civilised nations should behave. We were a friendly country, which makes the matter all the worse. There is no fundamental difference between what happened in the United States on 11 September 2001 and the international terrorism perpetrated by Britain in Ireland.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: In other circumstances the British Government would be before a tribunal accused of war crimes. However, we know that will not happen. We also know Britain will not be held accountable because this matter will end in a fudge.
I am sick and tired of the hypocrisy of world leaders. Language has lost all meaning and people have been denied just, reasonable and accountable leadership. Debate on this issue must be based on a sense of outrage at what has been done to our nation by another government.
Ms Terry: At 7 a.m. last Saturday an act of outrageous vandalism was carried out by a developer on a building in Terenure in Dublin. Having bought a convent and three acres of land, this developer brought bulldozers onto the site and demolished the convent without planning permission. This is unacceptable behaviour by a major developer. I hope he will be made an example of, be made to suffer the consequences of his actions by being brought to court. I read in the newspapers that he could be fined up to €12.5 million for carrying out this unauthorised action. I hope that happens. This type of action is being carried out by developers and must stop. I hope Dublin City Council and the courts will do their duty to ensure the developer in question will suffer for the action he has taken and that others learn from it.
As Deputy Stanton recently ascertained from the Minister, some women have been forced to wait for up to six months for the results of cervical smear tests in Cork University Hospital. This is outrageous, as women’s lives are at risk. A woman with pre-cancerous cells or even advanced cancer should not have to wait six months for her results, as it could make the difference between life and death. Something is wrong with the health system if we allow women to die in that manner or not receive the treatment they deserve to help them get back to good health speedily. As I am sure the Acting Leader will be familiar with this matter, perhaps he would like to comment.
Dr. Mansergh: I strongly support the call for a debate on the report on collusion. While the two Governments have substantially shared values regarding Northern Ireland, that was not the case in the 1970s when it seems Britain viewed the situation through the lens of various distant colonial wars it had been fighting. It had very different attitudes. Unfortunately, even today’s shared values do not seem to extend to an honest getting to grips with what happened 30 years ago.
Dr. Mansergh: I would welcome an opportunity to express the point of view from the Government side of the House. In the past this House has debated Turkey’s accession to the European Union. I welcome the Pope’s statements on the matter which make it clear that he does not oppose and, if anything, would welcome in principle Turkey becoming part of the European Union under the right conditions.
Mr. Norris: I support my colleagues who have called for a debate on the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on collusion. It is a matter of grave concern and there seems to be strong evidence that there was such collusion. It is an appalling vista. However, unlike Lord Denning, I believe appalling vistas must be confronted as otherwise they will continue to recur. It pains me to think the British Government was involved in this kind of business, but it seems that it was. On the other hand, it would be helpful to consider the whole matter of collusion. I welcome what Senator Mansergh said that we ought to investigate the whole business, including the CIA involvement at Shannon Airport. In that matter I call on the Taoiseach to withdraw the statement he made in Brussels last night that Shannon Airport was not used in any way in rendition. This is so blatantly untrue that it damages the country. It has been absolutely factually established beyond any question of doubt that Shannon Airport is used and has been consistently used.
Mr. Norris: The European Parliament committee deplored the stopovers in Ireland of aircraft which have been shown to have been used by the CIA for the extraordinary rendition of Ahmed Agiza, Mohammed El-Zari, Bisher Al-Rawi, Jamil El-Banna, Abou Elkassim Britel, Khaled El-Masri, Binyam Mohammed, Abu Omar and Maher Arar, the nine cases which have been clearly, factually and evidentially established.
Mr. Norris: I shall bring myself back into order to pursue briefly one other matter. I ask for a debate on the age of consent. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, indicated that his inclination was to reduce the age of consent to 16 years. Following widespread consultation, young people have said the same. I signal a warning to Fine Gael. When dealing in this House with the decriminalisation of homosexuality, a very fine Minister on the other side made a significant point about her refusal to introduce discrimination. Members on this side disgraced themselves by attempting to introduce a discriminatory age of consent for the purposes of political advantage. Unfortunately, I see Fine Gael tacking into the wind again on such issues. For example, it has come out against a reduction in the age of consent without any particularly good argument. It seems to believe it will be popular. Given our responsibility for young people, we must ensure our laws reflect the reality of what is happening on the ground and not introduce something for electioneering purposes that may garner a few votes from reactionary sources. Similarly, I understand a spokesperson in the other House opposed sections of the Colley report because they provided for adoption by same sex couples. This is done without any examination of the matter.
Mr. Norris: These are people adopting their own children. I gave Fine Gael a bloody nose on this issue when it tried to do this during the discussion of the decriminalisation of homosexuality and would be very happy to do so again from this side of the House if it continues with its cheap electioneering.
Mr. J. Walsh: I echo and support the call by Senator Coghlan for a debate on the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on the Barron inquiry which paints a most alarming picture. As Senator Norris said, it fulfils the appalling vista envisaged by Lord Denning. Any definition of collusion covers not only those involved in the acts either by omission or commission at the time but also covers those who subsequently sought to cover it up. As a member of the sub-committee which has dealt with four of the reports, I have no doubt that the Northern Ireland Office and the Secretary of State have done their bit to ensure there will be the minimum co-operation and information flow to the inquiries. Therefore, it must be said the current British Government is as guilty of collusion today as those involved in the 1970s.
The MacEntee commission of investigation was established by the Government on foot of a previous recommendation. When we schedule the debate, it would be opportune if the report of the commission of investigation was available. It may well indicate the measures which should be taken to ensure we get to the bottom of these terrible atrocities and the extent to which the British authorities were involved.
I refer to Senator Norris’s call for a debate on the age of consent. This afternoon the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Child Protection will publish its report which will outline a good background to the issue. Other Members of the House have been involved in dealing with the matter.
Mr. Bannon: Each year, more than 6,000 people — approximately 20 per day — die as a result of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. Will the Acting Leader request the Minister for Health and Children, who is a member of his party, to come before the House to debate the possibility of providing defibrillators in every parish and community centre throughout the country? At a time when the country is awash with money, the Government should provide such important items of medical equipment in community and sports centres in every parish. Many of the people to whom I refer would survive if this life-saving equipment was readily available.
I support calls for a debate on the report of the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report as it relates to collusion. I was shocked, dumbfounded and could not believe such things happened less than 30 years ago in this country. I would welcome a debate on this matter.
I support Senator Terry’s comments regarding the destruction of listed buildings by unscrupulous developers in the early hours of the morning or late at night. Certain developers throughout the country are engaging in such behaviour. The law should come into play and local authorities should deal with developers who destroy listed buildings because such buildings cannot be replaced. It is important that those who engage in such behaviour be subjected to the full rigours of the law. I compliment Senator Terry on raising this issue in the context of the demolition of a convent in Terenure to which she referred.
Mr. Daly: Will the Acting Leader arrange for the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to provide the House with an outline of how it is proposed to deal with the final tranche of the Cohesion Fund, the process in respect of which is due to conclude at the end of the year? Such funding has been responsible for the provision of many community facilities, assisting small farmers in rural areas and the provision of after-school courses for young children in disadvantaged areas. Approximately 90 children in County Clare will be affected if the Cohesion Fund is not maintained after the end of the year. This is a serious matter and we might not have an opportunity to discuss it before the termination of the funding on 31 December. Much of the useful work that has been done by community organisations will come to an end unless an alternative arrangement is put in place. Under the Minister’s direction, a reorganisation of community bodies is taking place and it would be of assistance if he came before the House to provide an explanation on how he proposes to deal with these issues.
I would welcome the opportunity to debate the issue of rendition at some opportune time. A draft report of discussions that have not yet been completed was leaked in advance of the Minister’s visit to Brussels today to provide evidence to the relevant committee. I wish to condemn that development in the strongest possible way. I do not believe there will be any difficulty debating these issues when the final report becomes available. However, all that exists at present is a draft report and this does not contain evidence to be provided today by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The draft report was deliberately leaked and one need only have listened to yesterday morning’s radio interviews to have a good idea of from where the leak came. The leak was deliberately designed to embarrass the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and those who work at Shannon Airport.
Mr. Quinn: In light of people’s outrage and their calls for a debate on the collusion that occurred 30 years ago, it seems almost trivial to raise any other matter. However, I am of the view that the Government does not recognise the frustration of citizens at the lack of interest in traffic delays that are occurring due to the system relating to road repairs. I raised this matter on previous occasions. If a road needs to be repaired, the work is done within normal working hours, namely, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. If 100 hours of work need to be done, the job takes 12 days to complete. In other countries, such repair works are done on a round-the-clock basis, under arc lights during the hours of darkness. In such circumstances, jobs requiring 100 hours of work take only four days to complete.
I cannot get over the amount of work being carried out on our roads. I accept that repair works are necessary but citizens are extremely frustrated and they will repay the Government in kind if it does not take action in this regard. As already stated, in light of other matters, this issue seems trivial. However, people are frustrated and the Government should do something. I am not sure how it deals with local authorities and I do not know whether the National Roads Authority has responsibility in this regard. However, when road works need to be carried out, we allocate time in respect of them over a period of months rather than days. The Government should take action or it will suffer at the general election.
Mr. Dooley: I support calls for a debate on rendition. I would like the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come before the House without delay because it would afford him and Members the opportunity to place on record their abhorrence at the principle of extraordinary rendition and, in particular, the kind of torture to which the draft report refers.
Mr. Dooley: ——via political efforts on the part of some organisations to muddy and damage the good names of Shannon Airport and the people who work there. I read the report in detail last night and it contains nothing new. However, a different spin is being placed on matters. I agree with Senator Daly that in some cases — not necessarily that of Senator Norris — there have been efforts to portray the Americans in a particular light. I have no issue with that. However, I do not want the good names of Shannon Airport and the people who work there being muddied in an unfair and political manner in order for certain individuals to gain credence for their views in a European context.
Mr. Cummins: The Acting Leader stated that it was not possible to get a Minister to come before the House between 3.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. It is absolutely appalling that the House is being treated in this way and that it must take a two-hour break before continuing with its business. It is not acceptable and it is unfair to Members, staff and everyone else that a Minister cannot come before the House during the period in question. Ministers should treat the House with more respect and should not oblige it to interrupt its business for two hours.
I support calls for a debate on the report of the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report. The sub-committee, of which I am a member, published its report yesterday. The latter pulled no punches in respect of its conclusions regarding what happened during the period in question. When we debate the issue, we should ensure the families and survivors lie at the heart of our deliberations. We should urge the British Government to give the Historical Enquiries Team the resources necessary to investigate all the facts and provide a report. The only hope survivors and families of victims have is that the Historic Enquiries Team will do a proper job. I would welcome a debate on the issue.
Mr. Browne: Last Tuesday I called for a debate on the nitrates directive which I am now seeking to extend to include farm inspections. Farmers should be given the courtesy of 24 hours, if not 48 hours, notice of an inspection. Given that so many operate on a part-time basis, it is the least they deserve. It is totally unfair that inspectors can arrive at a farm claiming to cover up to 1,200 items without telling the farmer what they are examining. I was amazed to learn recently that more than 1,600 inspectors were employed by the Department of Agriculture and Food. Some 54 staff are employed to carry out inspections in nursing homes, yet both sets of inspectors deal with approximately the same number of clients. Is the Department of Agriculture and Food trying to make work for its staff and make farmers’ lives a misery? Out of courtesy, farmers deserve notice of inspections.
I also support Senator Bannon’s comments on the provision of defibrillators which have been proven to keep people alive for longer. They are successful and, given that many parts of the State are isolated, ideally suited to treating people who do not have access to a local hospital.
Will the Acting Leader ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he will establish the working group to examine the prenuptial issue? We agreed to the substance a few weeks ago in the House but disagreed on the methodology. I suggested the involvement of the Law Reform Commission, while the Tánaiste suggested the establishment of a working group because it would be quicker. However, four or five weeks later, its terms of reference have not been agreed and the group has not been established. This is a serious issue which should be examined. I do not understand why the working group is not up and running, its establishment having been agreed unanimously by the House. Why the delay?
Mr. Scanlon: I support Senator Browne’s call for a debate on farm inspections. In the past 18,000 inspections were carried out annually but that number has reduced to 8,000. The Minister for Agriculture and Food has been in discussions with the German Federal Minister for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Horst Seehofer, prior to Germany assuming the EU Presidency on 1 January 2007. He is a strong supporter of eliminating the red tape faced by farmers, of which there is too much. On-the-spot inspections are very unfair. For example, last night the weather in the west was bad and silage wrap or plastic could have blown all over the land. If a farm was inspected this morning, the farmer concerned would have had a problem regarding cross-compliance. Many farmers have part-time jobs and it is crucial that they are given at least 48 hours notice of an inspection.
Mr. Minihan: The issue was also raised by Senators O’Toole, Ryan, Ó Murchú, Mansergh, Norris, Jim Walsh, Bannon and Cummins. The consensus of the House is a debate should be held as soon as possible which I will endeavour to facilitate, although given the time remaining before the Christmas recess, I cannot guarantee this.
Senator Coghlan also asked about the Defamation Bill 2006 and the Privacy Bill 2006 and the consultations under way. Second Stage of the Defamation Bill will be taken next Wednesday, while the Privacy Bill is not scheduled to be taken this side of Christmas. I do not know what the position after Christmas will be.
Mr. Minihan: Senator O’Toole referred to Seán Ryan and the redress board and his comments about non-co-operation on the part of the Christian Brothers. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Education and Science.
Senator Ryan asked why motion No. 20 remained on the Order Paper. The Article 35 committee placed a report before both Houses of the Oireachtas on 14 November. The motion will appear on the Order Paper until the Leader proposes to withdraw it. I will bring the matter which was raised previously to her attention.
Senator Ryan also called for a debate on the draft report of the EU committee on the rendition process, as did Senators Daly, Dooley and Norris. However, the final report will not be available until next January or February and it is more likely a debate will be scheduled then because it is a matter of timing. While Senator Norris and I may differ on the rendition process and the evidence, his comments portrayed the Taoiseach as telling falsehoods and being misleading. They should not have been made in the House.
I fully support Senator Ryan’s views on Cork Airport’s debt. We may differ on the break-up of Aer Rianta and similar issues but we both know, as Cork representatives, that the issue of addressing the debt is hanging over the future development of the airport. I will join him in asking the Minister for Transport to seek a speedy solution to the problem. I am unhappy with the Dublin Airport Authority’s influence on the decision making process because it has a vested interest in the ultimate decision. I constantly ask the Minister about this issue which I will continue to highlight.
Senator Terry referred to listed buildings and highlighted a case in south County Dublin. While that is a matter for local authorities, they must take clear action in such cases, otherwise it will become the norm. Retention and other issues in the planning process can be abused by individuals. I support the Senator in this regard.
Senator Terry also referred to the report on smear tests at Cork University Hospital, an issue highlighted by her colleague, Deputy Stanton in the media. There was a blip in the timing of test results because of the change to a liquid-based test. Staff have been trained in this regard but it has resulted in delays. The HSE and the Minister for Health and Children are concerned about the matter and steps have been taken to address it. Because of the unacceptable turnaround time, a tender was issued. Two laboratories, one of which is located in the United Kingdom, will also conduct tests to speed up the process. Contracts were signed earlier this month and it is hoped the matter of the delay will be addressed. While the new testing procedure is more expensive, it has been deemed as being more accurate and efficient and better able to prevent the need for second tests.
Senator Mansergh raised the issues of rendition and Turkey’s accession, welcoming the Pope’s statements. Despite hype prior to the Pope’s visit to Turkey, I am sure Senators will join me in saying we are glad the visit has been successful. It is in everyone’s interests that our diverse cultures and traditions can meet in a civilised manner.
Senator Norris raised the issue of the age of consent. The report to be published today should be debated because there are diverse opinions on this broad matter. This morning on the radio, I listened to the opinions of young people, those involved in the supervision of young people and those who legislate. I will endeavour to arrange a debate on the report.
Senator Bannon raised the issue of defibrillators. His point was valid because evidence in that regard exists, but providing defibrillators alone is not the solution. People must be trained in their use. It is not a case of hanging a defibrillator on the back of every town hall. The Knights of Malta, the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade and people involved in training in sporting organisations can be trained in the use of the equipment. The clubs that buy the equipment would pay VAT, a matter I have raised previously. No one disputes the merits of the issue, but it would be useful for the Senator to table it as a matter on the Adjournment and to have the Minister for Health and Children debate the issue in the House before Christmas.
Senator Daly raised the issue of community affairs relating to the Cohesion Fund. Given that the time in question is the end of the year, I would encourage the Senator to table the issue as a matter on the Adjournment.
Senator Quinn raised the issue of the public’s response to road works in general. Regarding main traffic routes, the point concerning 24-hour contracts rather than eight-hour days is valid. I experienced such a situation in Cork city, the centre of which underwent major sewerage and drainage works and was disrupted for years. That the work was confined to eight-hour days was frustrating. As opposed to residential areas where people are sleeping, we should move towards 24-hour and seven days per week contracts in the commercial areas and on the main thoroughfares. While it has been the case in certain major road works, it has not happened often enough. I support the Senator and I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister.
Senator Cummins raised the issue of today’s schedule, which I highlighted at the outset of the Order of Business. Yesterday, the Leader made every effort to avoid the break between 3.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m., but the Minister and Ministers of State in the Department are meeting with the Taoiseach. Should that situation change, we will contact all Senators and try to bring the debate forward, but the matter is out of our hands at this time.
Senator Browne raised the issue of a debate on agriculture. Last week, he raised the matter of the nitrates directive and this morning highlighted the matter of farm inspections. He was joined by Senator Scanlon in that regard. Speaking on part-time farmers and the issue of notices, Senator Browne highlighted the number of inspectors visiting nursing homes. To follow the Senator’s argument, is he suggesting nursing homes should be given 48 hours notice prior to inspections?
The Minister made a commitment regarding the working group on pre-nuptial agreements. While I do not know the answer to the question on the group’s establishment, I will endeavour to find out. I hope it is not delaying any of the Senator’s personal plans.
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