Seanad Éireann - Volume 128 - 03 May, 1991

Order of Business.

[1474] Mr. Fallon: It is proposed to take Nos. 2 — Presidential Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 1990, all Stages to conclude not later than 4 p.m.

An Cathaoirleach: Is there to be a sos?

Mr. Fallon: I had not planned for a sos but, if the House agrees to a sos of half an hour, that would be possible although I do not think it will be necessary.

Mr. Manning: On the Order of Business may I ask the Leader of the House about the proposed local government, so called reform, Bill——

Mr. Norris: Is that the correct title?

Mr. Manning: Senator Naughten has asked on a number of occasions about the publication of this Bill. Though nobody on this side of the House has received a copy of the Bill yet, we are told, in the public prints from Government sources, that the Bill must go through both Houses in the space of two weeks. That is not acceptable. In fact, it is an insult to the Oireachtas that this be asked of us. Even if it were a good Bill it would require detailed scrutiny and attention. From what we hear it does not appear to be a good Bill but, if it is a bad one, it will require even more scrutiny, care and attention. Indeed it would appear to be a profoundly anti-democratic Bill.

As we are all aware, the Leader of the House is a reasonable man. He knows that the system in this House works best on the basis of co-operation but I would say to him that co-operation and coercion cannot coexist. I should like the Leader to take that message here this morning. If this Bill is forced through in the manner in which the Government have indicated, there will be no co-operation from this group, none whatsoever. We do not want such circumstances to prevail but we are prepared for them if that be the case.

I should like the Leader of the House to clarify the position, to convey what I [1475] am sure is the considered view of all groups in this House, that the Bill go through in a normal manner and not be rushed. The overall question of local government is too important to have rushed through a Bill which could have been introduced at any time in recent months. I would ask the Government colleagues in the Progressive Democrats — who are, after all, dedicated to reason and higher——

An Cathaoirleach: I am sorry, the Senator cannot pose questions to persons other than the Leader of the House at this time.

Mr. Manning: They can hardly tolerate tactics of this kind. I would ask them to express their voice also.

I thank the Chair for his indulgence and I would ask the Leader of the House to give a reasoned reply.

Mr. O'Toole: I want to raise two items. First, I should like to press the Leader of the House to allocate a week to debate the state of education in this country. I understand the pressure of business and I am not pressing that that debate be taken this week or next week. I just want a week allocated so that we can agree and plan therefor. I have no difficulty about that.

The other issue I should like to raise is the need for a debate on foreign affairs since it is a while since we had such a debate in this House, in particular on the Middle East region. I refer particularly to the decision of the Turkish authorities to arrest Robert Fisk last night. On a number of occasions we have debated the question of civil and human rights in Turkey. I would ask the Leader of the House to convey a request to the Minister for Foreign Affairs that the Irish Government intervene, through the Twelve, to make representations to the Turkish Government to ensure that Robert Fisk is allowed discharge his professional responsibilities. Robert Fisk, John Pilger and Hugh McLoughlin are three of the [1476] most respected world affairs commentators. Certainly Robert Fisk is someone to whom many Irish people would relate.

Finally, Turkey has applied for membership of the EC. They have given commitments to us — indeed to myself personally — that they would improve their record on human rights, civil rights, prisons, laws, constitution and so on. Therefore, what has happened would appear to me to be a very regressive step on the part of the Turkish Government. Our Government should make it clear to the Turkish Government that, unless there is an improvement effected in conditions there, unless this arrest of Robert Fisk is reversed——

An Cathaoirleach: Point made, Senator.

Mr. O'Toole: ——we would oppose their application for membership of the EC.

Dr. Upton: Like Senator O'Toole I should like to express my concern about the welfare of Robert Fisk and the way in which he has been treated since. By any standard, he is one of the most outstanding journalists of our time.

On the question of the proposed local government reform Bill, can the Leader of the House say when it will be before this House and the manner in which it will be processed? I join with Senator Manning in expressing my grave concern at the noises being made about this Bill. It appears to be quite daft that it is to be forced through within the space of a fortnight having taken years of reports and commissions to reach its present stage. If that happens I contend it is an insult to this House.

Mr. Cosgrave: May I raise a couple of matters on the Order of Business? Is it intended to introduce legislation abolishing ground rents? If so, when? Second, I support what has been said by our Leader, Senator Manning, about the Local Government Bill, 1991. In recent months we on this side of the House have [1477] been co-operative with our colleagues on the Government benches. Certainly I got on very well with my opposite number, Senator Wright and with the Leader of the House. But I would have to stress to the Leader of the House and the Whip that if they succumb to the pressure being exerted by the Minister for the Environment — who is presiding over local authority chaos and who has become known as “Pádraig of the potholes” and “Pádraig of the craters”——

An Cathaoirleach: Much as the Senator would wish to address the Minister in his absence, I would ask that he confine his remarks to the Order of Business.

Mr. Cosgrave: In so doing may I ask the Leader of the House to give us an assurance that the Local Government Bill, 1991 will not be pushed through willy nilly. If we were talking about enabling legislation to deal with VECs or borough elections I am sure he would have the support of this House but we have waited many months for the Bill to reform the local authority structure.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has made his point.

Mr. Cosgrave: I ask the Leader of the House not to stampede it through this House, otherwise he will find us more of an obstruction than usual.

Mr. Dardis: May I too ask the Leader when it is proposed to take the Local Government Bill 1991? I suggest that it be taken as soon as possible so that the positive reforms contained in it can be introduced.

Mr. Manning: Has the Senator seen the Bill?

Mr. Dardis: When Deputy Howlin was speaking on radio this morning he appeared to have possession of the Bill because he could tell us the very positive aspects he saw in it.

An Cathaoirleach: I must remind the [1478] speaker that Deputy Howlin is not a Member of the House yet and should not be referred to.

Mr. Dardis: May I remind also Fine Gael that they were invited to participate in an all-party process on local government reform but they declined to do so. An expert committee was set up and produced an excellent report. I look forward to the Leader's reply.

Mr. Norris: I would like, first to support fully my colleague Senator O'Toole in his request that the House should take very seriously developments in the Middle East and, particularly, in Turkey and with the arrest of Robert Fisk. I am glad to note that the Leader was making copious notes at that time. I hope concern will be expressed in the right quarter and I rely on the Leader to do that. It is due to the efforts of people like Robert Fisk that we have knowledge of the disastrous situation of the Kurds. I do not think the point needs to be pressed.

I support what Senator Manning said about the Local Government Bill. We have waited a long time for it. It is a very important matter concerning local democracy. The Leader was questioned repeatedly by my colleague, Senator Carmencita Hederman, on this matter over a number of months, as I am sure he will be gracious enough to acknowledge. There is concern about the Bill and I do not think people want it rushed through. I hope adequate time will be provided to debate it.

Finally, in relation to an item that has been on the Order Paper for some considerable time, and whose relevance was made absolutely clear yesterday, I would like to ask the Leader if it will be possible to give some time for the passage of the Interpretation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, a technical Bill which clearly all sides of the House agree with? The Taoiseach expressed his sympathy with it in principle, and it would clear up precisely the kind of legislative difficulty we have about sexist language which we experienced yesterday. Will the Leader give an indication if it will be taken? It would be [1479] good for the House, it would demonstrate some kind of collegiality that the Government were not totally dog in the manger in terms of legislation——

An Cathaoirleach: The point has been made sufficiently.

Mr. Norris: ——if they allowed, for the first time in 30 years, a Private Members' Bill through. That would be democracy.

Mr. Byrne: I should like to draw the attention of the House to practical matters. Since we returned to this House, this is the seventh time I raised the matter of falling farm incomes and, unfortunately, it would appear the message is not getting across. Farm incomes have fallen by 11 per cent following a 14 per cent fall last year. It is true to say that no other sector in the Community or could contemplate here would tolerate such a fall.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator, have you a question?

Mr. Byrne: It is because I have not been successful in the past that the matter needs more suportive argument. Therefore, I ask the Leader to consider the figures. It has been suggested that 90,000 farm families will have to leave the land and in that event——

An Cathaoirleach: What question would the Senator like to ask the Leader?

Mr. Byrne: ——they will be competing for scarce resources. They will be competing for housing, jobs and for social welfare.

An Cathaoirleach: I must remind the Senator that he will have to put a question.

Mr. Byrne: I contend that the cost to this country will be far greater if that happens than the cost of supporting the farmers on the land.

[1480] An Cathaoirleach: Senator, would you please put a question to the Leader?

Mr. Byrne: I ask the Leader to take a very serious look at this issue and allow a debate which I hope will be the beginning of a national debate on a very serious local issue.

Professor Raftery: I too would like to express my concern on behalf of Robert Fisk. I appeal to the Government to intervene on his behalf. Having said that, it should be noted that the Turkish Government behaved impeccably before the war, during the war and, particularly, after the war. They were the first people to show real concern and give help to the Kurds. I am appalled that the Left have been so silent about the activities of Saddam Hussein when they were so vocal——

An Cathaoirleach: A question, Senator, please.

Professor Raftery: ——when the Americans——

Mr. Norris: Blatant rubbish.

Professor Raftery: Will the Leader please take up the matter with the Government and see to it that we have a discussion on the matter in the House?

Mr. Norris: The right wing collaborated with Saddam Hussein and armed him; it was not the left wing who armed him.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Norris, withhold any remarks for the present please.

Mr. Mooney: It is a good job Senator Norris is not in Turkey. He might be asked——

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Mooney, do not pay attention to Senator Norris; I have dealt with him.

Mr. Mooney: I am afraid these minor [1481] irritants affect us from time to time. I want to raise a matter of a totally different nature. However, I share Senator Raftery's views and, as a journalist, bemoan the arrest of Robert Fisk. In the light of the Nazi war crimes Bill passed in the British House of Commons, are there any plans to introduce similar legislation in this country? Are the Government aware of any Nazi war criminals lurking in our country that would necessitate such legislation? Despite the fact it is 50 years since these crimes were committed, the horrendous nature of them dictates that these people be tracked down and legislated against in the event of there being any here. I have no idea whether there are any such people in the country. Perhaps the Leader of the House will investigate the matter and report back to us.

Mr. Neville: I would like, first, to support Senator Manning in his call for a reasoned and comprehensive debate on the Bill published this morning. I would like also to support Senator Byrne on his call for a debate on the crisis in farm incomes. It is now established that over 100,000 farmers——

An Cathaoirleach: I must remind the Senator to put a question.

Mr. Neville: I thought I would get the same latitude as Senator Byrne.

An Cathaoirleach: Repetition does not get any latitude and I must deal with the Senator in that context.

Mr. Neville: Senator Byrne did not mention the figure of 100,000 farmers.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has mentioned it and he had better put a question.

Mr. Neville: There are 75,000 farmers who have less than £70 per week. I ask the Leader of the House to give time for such a debate.

Pól Ó Foighil: Ba mhaith liom a fhiafraí [1482] den Cheannaire an bhfuil aon seans amach anseo go gcuirfí díospóireacht ar bun sa Teach seo ar ábhar éigin as Gaeilge — ní gá go mbeadh sé faoin nGaeilge nó rud ar bith a bhaineann leis an teanga — agus go mbeadh a fhios againn i bhfad roimh ré go raibh díospóireacht as Gaeilge le bheith ann. Thabharfadh sé sin deis dúinn uilig, do Sheanadóirí atá ag freastal ar ranganna Gaeilge agus do na Comhaltaí a úsáideann an Ghaeilge go rialta, caint a dhéanamh as Gaeilge. Chomh maith leis sin ba mhaith liom tacaíocht a thabhairt don Seanadóir Manning maidir leis an mBille Rialtais Áitiúil agus tá súil agam go mbeidh am againn é a phlé i gceart mar, cuid de na rudaí atá á gcur faoinár mbráid faoi láthair ag an Aire Comhshaoil, tá an smaoineamh céanna aigesean faoi bhóithre na hÉireann.

An Cathaoirleach: I cannot allow that.

Pól Ó Foighil: Tá mé ag iarraidh air a chinntiú go mbeidh am againn an cheist seo a phlé i gceart, go mion agus go minic.

Éamon Ó Cuív: Ba mhaith liom a rá i dtosach báire go bhfuil sé thar a bheith tábhachtach go mbeadh díospóireacht ann faoi chúrsaí talmhaíochta. Ba mhaith liom a fhiafraí chomh maith den Cheannaire an bhféadfadh sé an cheist a thógáil leis an Choiste um Nós Imeachta agus Pribhléidí lena chinntiú go bhfaigheadh díospóireacht trí Ghaeilge sa Teach seo a ceart féin ar Theilifís Eireann agus go bhféadfadh an coiste socrú a dhéanamh leis an stáisiún náisiúnta go mbeadh clár seachtainiúil ann do shleachta as Gaeilge sa Seanad.

Mr. Fallon: Senator Manning among others referred to the Local Government Bill. I accept that Senators Hederman, Naughten and others have been asking about that legislation. I have been consistent in saying that my information was that the Bill would be published roughly in the first week of May and that it would be completed during May to allow the Local Government elections to take place. Even yesterday, I said that the [1483] publication of the Bill was imminent, I have not seen a copy of it but I understand it will be published today. Quite clearly there is a legal requirement that the Bill be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas before a particular date towards the end of May. I am not sure of the actual date but that was always the intention.

It is my wish that we give as much time as possible to that Bill. On seeing it I will have discussions with our Whip and with the other Whips to make arrangements on the approach we will take to it.

Senator O'Toole asked for a debate on education. I have given an assurance to some Senators that a debate could take place on both the prison and education systems. These are priority matters so far as I am concerned. The normal legislative programme will be long. I repeat that legislation will be the priority rather than debates on other items such as education and various other aspects of life.

I hope the debate on education will take place the week after the debate on the prison system, which, as I have indicated, will be taken on either the 15 or 16 May. I have noted what Senator O'Toole and others have said in regard to Robert Fisk. He is an outstanding journalist and I will express the concern of the House to the appropriate authorities. That point was raised also by Senator Norris and Raftery.

Senator Norris referred to the Interpretation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill. I have no proposals at this time for taking that Bill. Senator Cosgrave asked about a ground rent Bill. I have no knowledge of any such Bill, but I will make inquiries and find out if legislation is being prepared. Senator Dardis queried the local government Bill. Senators Byrne, Raftery and others asked about the agricultural debate. I do not propose that we will have a debate on that. Legislation, I stress, will take priority during the next number of weeks and indeed for this session.

Senator Mooney asked whether we would introduce legislation on Nazi War Criminals. I have no proposals for a [1484] debate in that regard. Senator Neville asked about agriculture and local government reform. D'iarr an Seanadóir O'Foighil go mbeadh díospóireacht trí Ghaeilge. Níl mé cinnte fós, but I will examine it and see what can be done further down the line. Senator Ó Cuív asked the same question.

Order of Business agreed to.