Seanad Éireann - Volume 131 - 05 February, 1992

Order of Business.

Mr. Wright: The Order of Business for today is item No. 1, the Patents Bill, 1991, Committee Stage, and whatever other Stages may be taken, depending on progress, but certainly Committee Stage for this afternoon until 6 p.m. and then Private Members' Motion 46 from 6.30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Mr. Manning: On the Order of Business, I would like to make a point about the current strike in RTE. I do not think it would be helpful if the House went into a detailed discussion of the rights and wrongs of that strike but I think it is important that we place on record the strong sense of public anger and outrage that this strike should continue for so long.

An Cathaoirleach: May I point out that we had an Adjournment debate on that matter last week?

Mr. Manning: Yes, indeed. I listened to it but I will not comment on the debate itself. I think — and perhaps my colleagues behind might agree — that there are two sides to the story and we heard one put very well last week. That is not the point. After this strike has been settled — and hopefully it will be very soon — will the Acting Leader of the House make time available for a full discussion on the future of public service broadcasting? It is an issue which we should discuss in a calm way once this episode is over.

[239] Mr. O'Toole: Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Seanadóir nua do na binsí seo. I would like to compliment the staff of the House on having so quickly put back the sixth chair, which we lost recently.

An Cathaoirleach: May I remind the Senator that he should not invite interruptions?

Mr. O'Toole: Indeed. I assure you that I will be much more careful in my next comments. Will we need extra chairs or will we need a new location when the Government announce that the Shannon stopover will be abolished?

An Cathaoirleach: That has nothing to do with the Order of Business. Has the Senator a query or question, please?

Mrs. Honan: You got votes on the west coast as well. Do not forget that.

Mr. O'Toole: I put that question to the Acting Leader of the House. He could well lose some people. It is important for us to note that the debate on Seanad reform continues today. We should bring it to a conclusion very quickly in order that the recommendations are brought back into the House and that we see some change taking place along the lines that is indicated through consensus.

An Cathaoirleach: It was not ordered today.

Dr. Upton: May I express my dismay at the events which took place in Belfast yesterday? It was absolutely tragic and I hope nothing will be done by anybody now which would make things worse. On that point, may I ask the Acting Leader what is the situation in relation to a debate being held in this House on Northern Ireland. Secondly, is it possible to have a debate on industrial policy. I am simply supporting the calls that come from a number of other Senators in this matter. Finally, I would like to ask the Acting Leader of the House what the present situation is in relation to the [240] Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) Bill. I raise this matter because I have had representations about it from a Member of the other House who is very anxious to know the present position of this Bill.

Mr. Norris: Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Seanadóir Pól Ó Foighil faoi bheith in a bhall den ghrúpa Neamhspleách.

I would like to congratulate Senator O Foighil. It is particularly appropriate that he should so have swelled the percentage of Irish speakers to the extent in fact that the Independent group are now by far the most proficient group of Irish speakers.

An Cathaoirleach: It has nothing to do with the Order of Business.

Mr. Norris: May I point out also that in the exchange with Senator Ross we undoubtedly increased the level of English speaking in Fine Gael, so there is a kind of equivalence.

With reference to the debate on the role of the Seanad, I support my colleague, Senator O'Toole. We have had this debate for a very long time. May I ask that the Acting Leader of the House will consider some response to the extremely inaccurate and damaging comments of Deputy Mitchell at the weekend, that no amendment of any significance has been inserted in recent years in Dáil legislation as a result of an initiative from the Seanad. This, as the Cathaoirleach will know, is incorrect. He said the Seanad is now as politicised as the Dáil and, therefore, useless. Could the Leader of the Opposition perhaps indicate whether he thinks it honourable for Fine Gael to receive remuneration for doing nothing——

An Cathaoirleach: I have to remind the Senator that it has nothing to do with the Order of Business. It is not appropriate on the Order of Business.

Mr. Norris: In that case I will turn to an issue that is appropriate and ask the [241] Acting Leader of the House if he has had time to ascertain the Government's response to the question of the Government's approach to the decision in the European Court case. I have this morning received information from a Member of the Dáil containing a response to a question there. I hope the Minister will be able to deal with that. I am not going to put the matter to a vote at the moment as I think the Acting Leader is entitled to time on this.

May I join with Senator Upton in his absolute condemnation of the appalling events in Belfast? It is important that we condemn each outrage from whatever source it emanates. This was a particularly tragic one. May I ask that we take a debate on the North? The Acting Leader will realise there are motions down on this subject, including one that has been put down by a number of the Independents, taking note with concern of the independent inquiry into the killing of Fergal Carraher?

An Cathaoirleach: We do not want a speech.

Mr. Hourigan: I would just like to ask a question of the Acting Leader, through you, Sir, and if he cannot answer the question perhaps he might ascertain the situation for us. What has become of the repeated assurances we got from the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications and also from the Government vis-á-vis Shannon Airport? Is there a change in the Government's position with regard to the status of Shannon Airport? We have been assured repeatedly that there would be no change.

Mrs. Hederman: Ba mhaith liom freisin comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Seanadoír Pól Ó Foighil. Ta an-áthas orm é a bheith linne. Ní féidír leis bheith anseo inniu mar tá fliú air.

I think this is the start of a substantial move in this House towards the Independent benches. The raison d'être of this Chamber is that there should be genuine [242] independent thinking without people having to kowtow to a party Whip.

An Cathaoirleach: It has nothing to do with the Order of Business. We are not allowing speeches on matters like that. It is not appropriate to the Order of Business and I have so ruled on two occasions in the past ten minutes.

Mrs. Hederman: You are not allowing any comments about the change on the part of Senator Pól Ó Foighil to these benches? I think that is most inappropriate, but I will bow to your ruling.

An Cathaoirleach: That is what I said. It is inappropriate.

Mr. B. Ryan: Níl le rá agamsa ach go bhfuil mé ar chomhaigne le mo chomhbaill sa ghrúpa Neamhspleách faoin gceist sin.

I would like to ask you, Sir, to pursue through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges the remarks of a Member of the other House about this House. They were a complete breach of the conventions that exist. I suppose it would not be inappropriate for me to point out that the only member of the Fine Gael Party who was actually congratulated by Young Fine Gael was a Member of this House, Senator Neville, on his action with regard to legislation on suicide. Perhaps the Member in question would be advised to reflect on the activity of his colleagues in this House vis-á-vis the other House if he has anything to say.

May I ask the Acting Leader, as I asked you, Sir, in a previous incarnation on many occasions if we can have a debate on the single biggest social problem this country has, which is not divorce or anything else, but which is unemployment and which gets lost in the welter of the liberal agenda and gets buried for months on end. I would like us to have a long, open-ended, continuing debate on the issue of unemployment. It is well beyond being an issue of ideology or indeed of party politics. It is the biggest social problem in this country.

[243] An Cathaoirleach: Will the Senator ask his question and leave it at that? I am sure the Acting Leader will reply to it.

Mr. B. Ryan: I am sure he will. May I simply ask him if we can have a debate on unemployment?

Mr. Neville: I ask the Leader of the House two questions. First, will he ask the Minister for Justice to introduce the Criminal Evidence Bill, recently published, into this House? It is a most appropriate Bill for this House and would be well teased out here. It is a very important Bill. I have called over a period of two years for the necessary changes in the law.

My second question is to request the Acting Leader to ask the Minister for Justice when he hopes to introduce the Bill to decriminalise suicide and attempted suicide. The Minister promised on 27 November that he would introduce such a Bill before Christmas. We are now six weeks on from that date and we have no sign of a Bill to deal with the matter. It is unfair to make such a promise. I believed at the time the Minister was sincere in making that promise. I would like to get an indication from the Minister before he leaves his position, as to when he intends to introduce the Bill.

Mr. Costello: May I ask if we have a Leader of the House or have we still an Acting Leader?

In relation to Senator Ó Foighil——

An Cathaoirleach: Can we leave Senator Ó Foighil his independence? It has nothing to do with the Order of Business. I have ruled on that three times already.

Mr. Costello: A misconception has arisen and I wanted to correct that misconception. There seemed to be a presumption that Senator Ó Foighil had not only left one party but that he was joining a grouping. All the Senator has said——

An Cathaoirleach: Where he sits in the House is absolutely a matter for himself.

[244] Mr. Costello: I merely wanted to correct the impression that was given from the backbenches here.

In view of the terrible atrocity in Belfast yesterday, and indeed following on the other atrocity two weeks ago in Tyrone, we cannot really allow the situation to continue in this House without having an opportunity of putting on the record our view in relation to what is happening in Northern Ireland. We have not had the opportunity to have a full debate on this issue and it is most appropriate that we should at this stage. I ask the Acting Leader of the House if he would consider having such a debate at an early date.

Finally, I think the remarks made by a Member of the other House were quite inappropriate. It was certainly downgrading this House. I would like that brought to the attention of the Member in question.

An Cathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to leave it at that.

Mr. O'Reilly: I would like to raise two issues with the Acting Leader of the House. First, I would ask him to take very seriously the proposition by Senator Ryan — one which I raised myself previously some weeks ago when the present Cathaoirleach was Leader of the House — that there be a debate on unemployment. I will not elaborate on that. We all know the gravity of the issue. I appeal to the Acting Leader of the House in that context to ask the Government to give more thought to taking on board the proposition by our party leader. Deputy John Bruton, that a national jobs forum be put in place. I appeal to the Acting Leader of the House to do that as a constructive positive step in relation to jobs.

Secondly, I appeal to the Acting Leader to convey to the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications and the Minister for Labour the anxiety of my group in relation to the RTE strike.

An Cathaoirleach: Again, Senator, it [245] is not appropriate to the Order of Business for today. I indicated that previously.

Mr. O'Reilly: We are just requesting the Acting Leader of the House to convey to the Ministers that it is ironic that people in the communications business cannot sit down and solve their dispute. We are concerned about that.

Mrs. Doyle: In view of the multiple tragedies yesterday in the North, we would like to join with those Senators who have called again today for an urgent debate on the North of Ireland. I urge the Acting Leader to find time on our agenda as soon as possible to allow all sides of the House to have a well considered and balanced debate on the ongoing tragedy there. I would also like us as a House to congratulate our President, Mary Robinson, on her visit to the North yesterday.

I would like to support the remarks made by Senators Norris and Ryan in relation to a Member of the Lower House on his views on the Seanad given at the weekend and to say that this group does not support him.

An Cathaoirleach: I have to be consistent and also say to you that it is not appropriate——

Mrs. Doyle: I accept that, but I think it is very important since this House was being badly reflected upon in the remarks. He did not offer the views of Fine Gael. The remarks were ill informed and unwarranted and we have asked our party leader to respond to the Fine Gael group on them.

Mrs. Jackman: I would like to ask the Leader of the House if it is Government policy to take decisions before the findings of a task force set up specifically to investigate an issue are made known. I refer to the overflying of Shannon.

An Cathaoirleach: I would have to remind the Senator that it is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

[246] Mrs. Jackman: I think it is very appropriate.

An Cathaoirleach: It is not on today's Order Paper.

Mrs. Jackman: There were many things discussed today that are not on the Order Paper.

An Cathaoirleach: I have suitably replied and indicated so.

Mrs. Jackman: I am asking a question about Government policy: if a task force is set up, do the Government respond before its findings are make known? The other question is: now that we have a Cabinet in waiting, who has the collective responsibility regarding that decision when we are in this sort of limbo between a Cabinet and a Cabinet to be formed? On a positive note, I would like to congratulate the Minister for Defence for making an effort to remove a barrier for women in relation to access for women——

An Cathaoirleach: It is not appropriate, Senator.

Mrs. Jackman: I am a spokesperson on women's affairs and there was never legislation on this matter in this House to which I could respond. I welcome the action of the Minister for Defence, a Fianna Fáil Minister, in relation to removing a barrier for women to have access to becoming pilots and that they can now apply——

An Cathaoirleach: I am sorry. You are not allowed to make a speech on the Order of Business, Senator Jackman.

Mrs. Jackman: Not even to welcome a positive decision?

An Cathaoirleach: You know the rules as well as I do, Senator.

Mrs. Jackman: I think it is extraordinary in relation to the fact that somebody has done something constructive. It [247] shows the commitment of this House to women and women's affairs. I am delighted with the action of the Minister and I hope other Ministers will work to remove any barriers that prevent women getting to the top of the Civil Service, particularly to the rank of Secretary.

Éamon Ó Cuív: I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom deaghuí a ghabháil le mo chomhghleacaí as Conamara, ach——

An Cathaoirleach: It is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Éamon Ó Cuív: ——fágfaimid an scéal sin mar atá sé. Tá súil agam go gcloisfimid an oiread Gaeilge ó na Comhaltaí neamhspleácha feasta agus a chualamar inniu. Ba mhaith liom a fhiafraí den Cheannaire tacú leis an éileamh atá ann go mbeadh díospóireacht faoi chúrsaí tionsclaíochta. Tá tuarascáil mhaith foilsithe le gairid agus tá súil agam nach mbeidh sé ag bailiú deannaigh agus go n-inseoidh an Ceannaire dúinn cén uair a bheidh an díospóireacht ann.

Mr. Staunton: I would like to ask the Acting Leader to consider allowing a debate in relation to regional policy in the context of the west of Ireland. In recent months the bishops have got together and have drawn a huge response to public opinion by massively attended meetings throughout the province of Connacht. In a most apolitical sense there is alarm at what is happening in the west — depopulation, unemployment and all that goes with it — and dissatisfaction at the lack of a fundamental regional policy for the west in the context of our membership of the European Community. The Seanad could respond to public opinion in the west by agreeing to have a debate on that issue.

Mr. Cassidy: I totally support Senator Staunton in that request. I also lend my weight totally to a full discussion on public service broadcasting. In fact, a [248] discussion on all broadcasting is necessary as a review of the legislation which came in 18 months ago.

Mr. Wright: May I reply to Senator Manning first and say, yes, we would have no problem agreeing a time for a debate on public service broadcasting. Senators O'Toole and Norris mentioned Seanad reform. It may well be, subject to the Whips, that we have had enough discussion on that issue. As Senator O'Toole is aware, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges have made quite good progress and, hopefully, we can come back to the Seanad quite soon.

In regard to Northern Ireland, I mentioned last week in reply that it would be my view that no issue should be outside debate in this House. The former Leader, now Cathaoirleach, had made progress on that issue and I hope in the coming weeks we will be in a position to come forward with a more definite decision.

In regard to a debate on industrial policy, it is Item No. 7 on the Order Paper. I would link that with the views of several other Senators on unemployment. Perhaps we could deal with the more positive role of employment and perhaps the debate on industrial policy would be the way forward on that. Anybody outside seeking to create jobs would welcome a positive debate in this House on that issue.

Most of the matters mentioned by Senators today are outside the ambit of the Order of Business. Senator Neville mentioned a couple of Bills. I will try to ascertain the position regarding the possibility of the Criminal Evidence Bill coming to the Seanad and I will also find out about the Suicide Bill.

Senator Doyle mentioned President Robinson's visit to Belfast yesterday. I would certainly like to be associated with her remarks regarding the success of that visit. I hope it will lead to more positive thinking on all sides.

The Ministerial Pensions Bill was also mentioned. I hope it will be dealt with this month.

[249] Order of Business agreed to.