Seanad Éireann - Volume 128 - 25 April, 1991

Order of Business.

Mr. Fallon: It is proposed to take item No. 2, the Radiological Protection Bill, 1990. We will continue with the Second Stage debate and if we find we have time [1070] we will take Committee Stage. If we can conclude the Bill, we may do so but it is unlikely that will happen. We will have a sos from 1 p.m. until 2 p.m. Then we will take item No. 3, Statements on the plight of the Kurds, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Mr. Manning: First, I would like to be associated with item No. 46 on the Order Paper, which probably is not going to be taken today.

On the Order of Business yesterday we were on all sides of the House very patient because we did not want to in any way interfere in the negotiations that were taking place on the ESB strike. But today, a Chathaoirligh, we cannot be patient any longer in face of the extraordinary anger and bitterness being felt by all groups in the country because of the irresponsible strike which has plunged the country into chaos and which is little more than an act of national sabotage. It is our duty here, as the Second House of the national Parliament, to ensure that the feelings of the community are expressed in the strongest possible terms so that those who are inflicting this hardship on our community are left in no doubt as to its consequences for the old, sick, jobs and industry and that these consequences are brought fully home to them. I am proposing that the Order of Business today be amended to allow for short statements from each group of no more than five minutes on the current crisis, to be taken either at the start of public business, when one of the Ministers responsible will be in the House, or to be taken between 1 p.m. and 1.30 p.m. It is a formal proposal that these statements be taken either at the end of the Order of Business or at 1 p.m. for half an hour. I am making a formal proposal and Senator Liam Cosgrave will second that proposal.

Dr. Upton: Certainly, I have no problem with supporting Senator Manning's suggestion on statements. I would welcome the opportunity for us to be able to place our views on the record of the [1071] House in relation to this matter. Accordingly, I support Senator Manning's proposal.

Mr. McGowan: I strongly support the call by Senator Manning for a special debate in the House. Many people in rural Ireland are in a serious plight. If we were to order our business in a way that would prohibit us from discussing a problem that is fundamental to the nation then we would be tied up in a straitjacket and would not be responding to the needs of the country. I strongly support the call for time to be set aside for a debate.

Mr. Cosgrave: As spokesman on Energy for my party I formally second our leader's proposal. I mentioned this matter yesterday and I think all of us in the House were very restrained in what we said. In fact, we suggested yesterday that speeches or comments on it would probably not be appropriate. Last night the Minister came in here and gave us the up-to-date position and his was the only statement made. It might be useful that a certain amount of time be made available for short statements from the various groups. On behalf of this group I would appeal again for a resumption of work until such time as talks can, hopefully, resolve the difficulties.

Mr. Cullen: In view of the very serious crisis that now exists and the way the country is being held to ransom—every-body in every walk of life is being affected, particularly those in industry— and the commercial fabric of our country is being threatened by the strike, the Progressive Democrats would support a call for an urgent debate in this House. We believe that the Seanad must be seen to take a very strong line on this matter and that the views of fair minded and fair thinking people should be expressed in this House. We support the call for a debate as soon as possible to give the Minister an opportunity to come to the House to put forward his views on the [1072] efforts he has made to resolve this extremely serious matter.

Mr. Norris: I would like to support the call for statements. I hope they will be reasoned and moderate. In the light of what Senator Manning has said, may I say that I understand the leading article in The Irish Times today lays the blame squarely on management? I do not think it would be helpful in these statements if we try to apportion blame. What the Seanad should try to do is to assist the parties to an accommodation in the national interest. I am very interested indeed that a spokesperson from Fianna Fáil spoke about the national priorities, the sense of urgency. The Progressive Democrats talked about the serious crisis and urged a debate. Can I point out that yesterday when I used the machinery of the House under Standing Order 29, this was not regarded as a crisis at 4 p.m., but at 7 p.m. the Minister thought there was a crisis and came into the House.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Norris, you may not discuss a ruling of the House as made by me yesterday. Furthermore, I have allowed a reasonable opportunity for all Members, and rightly so, to express an opinion on whether this matter should be debated or statements made in the House. The Senator has taken considerable latitude and moved into totally different areas and that is unfair.

Mr. Norris: I would not wish to be unfair, a Chathaoirligh. It raises very serious and important questions but I understand your position and I will ask the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to give some indication as to how these rulings were arrived at.

An Cathaoirleach: The ruling is a matter for the Cathaoirleach and I had decided, in the light of the information available to me, that it was appropriate at that time. The Senator is well aware of the procedures that were open to him to raise the matter, if he considered using them. Clearly the Senator did not. The Senator came in here yesterday and [1073] expected in some way that I would be intimidated into responding to him when I had sound advice to the contrary.

Mr. Norris: I did not discover there was any contingency in the matter of national urgency contemplated by the Order.

An Cathaoirleach: I am not going to get into any debate with you, Senator. Resume your seat please, Senator.

Professor Conroy: As we discussed yesterday on the Order of Business, this is a very serious matter indeed. It is probably the most serious industrial dispute that has taken place in this country for many years. On both sides of the House yesterday it was taken in a very responsible and serious manner. I am sure we will continue to do so today. I certainly would, as spokesman for Energy on the Government side, support the suggestion that perhaps there should be some statements in the House on the matter.

Mr. McDonald: I rise to support Senator Manning's proposal for a discussion or statements on this dispute. Most people are concerned with the problems it is causing in industry and the inconvenience to the public. With respect, a Chathaoirligh, the level of fear engendered in ordinary people, both young and old, even in the city of Dublin, when the lights go out, is intolerable. I appeal to all concerned to continue with their discussions but not to victimise ordinary people who are trying to pay their bills.

Mr. Foley: I, too, want to support the call for statements. We now have a crisis and many workers will feel the brunt of this unfortunate strike. I would appeal to the leader to allow time for statements.

Mr. Ross: It is with a great sense of relief that I find I can support both statements made by Senator Manning this morning.

[1074] Mr. Norris: Did he support the Senator on Mr. De Klerk?

Mr. Ross: Would the Leader of the House consider marking President De Klerk's visit here by inviting him into the Seanad this afternoon? I gather he is coming to Leinster House at 2.30 p.m. and maybe there are already plans to invite him to the Seanad — I do not know — about which we did not get advance warning. In view of the fact that last year Nelson Mandela——

Mr. Norris: He is joining Fine Gael.

Mr. Ross: ——was invited to address the Dáil, it would be appropriate that President De Klerk would at least be invited into this Chamber this afternoon even though his visit is a working and not a State visit. In view of that, I formally propose that we take item No. 46 today, but in view of the fact that the Leader of the House said such gracious things about me yesterday I will not press it to a vote.

Mr. Fallon: The moral of the story——

Professor Murphy: I support the call for statements on the crisis. I would also like to support my colleague in referring to item No. 46. I hope Seanad Éireann will have some opportunity to recognise the presence of President De Klerk. After all, it has been customary for us to draw attention to the presence in the visitor's gallery of lesser luminaries over the years. Quite recently, in fact, we hailed the presence of Alexander Dubcek. By any standards it seems to me to be extraordinary if the Seanad does not have an opportunity of recognising the President of South Africa.

Mr. B. Ryan: I would have great pleasure in recognising the President of South Africa if he came into the gallery, however, I am not quite sure, a Chathaoirligh, that you would be happy with the form of recognition I would give him. I am astonished at this proposal from my colleagues. When Nelson Mandela can vote in parliamentary elections [1075] in his own country I will then recognise the person who is elected under those elections as the President of South Africa. As far as I am concerned, South Africa has no president. It has a dictatorship of a minority and until it has a president who is recognised by all its people we should not be recognising him and we should not be making a fuss of him.

An Cathaoirleach: I think the Senator has explained what his reaction would be.

Mr. B. Ryan: I was simply hoping, a Chathaoirligh, as you did, that you would give me the same indulgence as my colleagues had.

On the position of the strike in the ESB, I, of course, agree that we should have statements. I regard the issue as a matter of public importance requiring urgent consideration and I must say that it is perhaps late, but nevertheless necessary, that statements should be made. I agree the workers should go back to work but I would draw the attention of the House to the editorial this morning in The Irish Times. There are two sides to this dispute. That does not justify it, but there are two very serious sides to it. This is the consequence of many other things. I agree that we should have statements, but who will make the statement on behalf of the Independent group I am not sure. I am sure Senator Ross would love to have a swan-song on this one.

An Cathaoirleach: Before I call on the Leader of the House to reply, I would ask Senator Manning to clarify the time he is proposing for statements. He suggested that the matter be dealt with at the commencement of Public Business, or between 1 p.m. and 1.30 p.m.

Mr. Manning: I am prepared to accept either, at the Minister's convenience. Either at the commencement of Public Business or before the sos.

Mr. Costello: I support the calls for statements in relation to the ESB dispute. [1076] It was a rather unwholesome situation yesterday evening. The Minister for Labour came into the House when I was in the midst of speaking on the designation of Dublin as the cultural capital — which had to be abruptly stopped — yet we did not have an opportunity afterwards to raise any matter in relation to the statement that was made.

Professor Murphy: It was a pointless exercise.

Mr. Costello: When I listened to the television I heard that there had been an opportunity to debate it in the Dáil. That is creating a two-tier system where one House has the opportunity of debating a matter of current importance and the other House is denied it. That is unfortunate and I certainly would welcome the opportunity that statements be made in this House on this matter.

In relation to the visit of the President of South Africa, Mr. de Klerk or, as Senator Brendan Ryan has suggested the provisional President or dictator at the moment, I would not put it as strongly as that. He has certainly made quite an amount of progress in the right direction. I must say that it is an inappropriate time for an invitation to go forth from the Government on behalf of the people of Ireland when the security legislation is still in place and the vast majority of that country have not the right to vote.

Mr. Cathaoirleach: We are not going to get into a debate on President De Klerk. The point has been made but this bears no relationship at all to the business this morning.

Mr. Costello: Outside the House, in Merrion Street, there will be a major protest against President De Klerk within half an hour. We still have not had an opportunity of discussing this and putting our views before the House.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator knows the procedures and can avail of them and the House can then decide.

[1077] Mr. Costello: I would like the Leader of the House to address that point.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Manning has indicated that the leader of the groups or a person nominated by them should make the statements and he has also indicated that 1 p.m. should be the time. The Leader of the House has indicated that we will have a sos from 1 p.m. That may need some resolution.

Mr. Fallon: The point raised by Senator Manning and others is, of course, a very valid point. I accept very much that it is extremely urgent that this whole matter be resolved as quickly as possible.

Mr. Norris: So it is extremely urgent now?

An Cathaoirleach: If Senator Norris persists I will deal with him in another way.

Mr. Norris: I would welcome that.

Mr. Fallon: I indicated yesterday that it was a matter of extreme urgency and that remains my opinion. This is a delicate and sensitive area. Senator Harte, the wise owl of the Seanad, came to my side yesterday, as did others, when I said that the way forward was through the talks which have been going on now for 39 hours and which will resume at 11.30 a.m. with the Labour Relations Commission. This morning Senator Manning, and other speakers on all sides, supported the idea that statements be made in this House. I would not object if, as outlined by Senator Manning, we had statements from the leaders of the groups, or people nominated by them, from 1 p.m. to 1.30 p.m. followed by a sos from 1.30 p.m. to 2 p.m. If the House agrees to that, I am agreeable to it.

Senators also mentioned the visit of Mr. De Klerk, and motion No. 46 on the Order paper. I have no plans to take that motion or to mark the visit of Mr. De Klerk who is in Ireland this morning.

In regard to the statements on the plight of the Kurds, we should have [1078] agreement that speeches do not exceed 15 minutes. In regard to the statements between 1 p.m. and 1.30 p.m., speeches will be limited to five minutes for each group.

An Cathaoirleach: Does that apply to the leaders of the groups or their nominees?

Mr. Fallon: That is right.

An Cathaoirleach: Is the amendment to the Order of Business agreed to? Agreed.

Order of Business agreed to.