Seanad Éireann - Volume 139 - 22 March, 1994

Order of Business.

[1378] Mr. Wright: Today's Order of Business is Items 1 and 2; Item 1 is the Committee and all Stages of the Industrial Training (Apprenticeship Levy) Bill, 1993. Item 2 is the Terms of Employment (Information) Bill, 1993, Second Stage.

As Members will be aware, the Order of Business has been changed from the original Whips' notice. That happened before and this was not within the control of the office. The first Bill we will discuss requires early signature and must be dealt with within the next week. There are amendments to the Bill so it must go back to the Dáil where it will be dealt with on Thursday before being sent to the President.

Mr. Manning: My party does not agree with today's Order of Business. I understand why Item 1 must be dealt with today. However, there should have been notice of the change. The Department responsible for the legislation should have been aware of that and should have communicated earlier with the Government side of the House. This is another example of the business of the House being messed about because of a lack of competence and foresight in Departments. It is not good enough. It is unfair to the Opposition groups.

Three Items were ordered for today and spokespersons were so informed. Members had made their preparations. At mid-morning yesterday we were informed of the change; some Members of the Opposition only heard of the change today. It is not only unfair to the Members but also to the Bills which will not receive the scrutiny they deserve. This has not occurred previously in this term and I accept that the Leader of the House is embarrassed about it. It is not his style of running the business of the House. Nonetheless, the House cannot be treated in this way and should not be forced to alter its work because of lack of planning and competence in Departments.

We will oppose the Order of Business.

[1379] Mr. Dardis: The Order of Business is entirely unsatisfactory. It is one matter to change the Order of Business, and I can understand why such a change might be necessary, but I do not understand why it is not done in consultation with the other parties. I first became aware of the change in the Order of Business at about 11.30 this morning when I telephoned the Government Whip's office. I was advised that notification had been faxed. I never received such notification. Given the size of the Progressive Democrat Front Bench, the alteration does not, perhaps, create the same problems it would for other parties. However, the Leader must accept that this is not the way to order the business of the House. The House decides its business not the Government parties.

One of the Matters on the Adjournment relates to An Post. This matter should be fully debated in the House. Perhaps deficiencies in the postal system were the cause of us not being informed of the change in arrangements for today. Communications from this House to our private residences do not reach us in time. Last week's notification of a sitting day did not arrive to my house until about 12 o'clock on the day of the sitting. That was not the fault of the staff of the House, but the fault of the postal system and it must be addressed.

We were given an undertaking that East Timor would be debated today. It is a very important topic and the need to debate it has been raised by Senator Norris and myself on several occasions. Time was allocated but now this issue will not be debated. When will it be debated? Will it be discussed before Easter as it should be?

Would the Leader allocate time for a debate on Northern Ireland? Such a debate has been requested several times. It is a matter of urgency and must be discussed. On the one hand people are using the airwaves to peddle their propaganda; and on the other, when a policeman is killed in front of his pregnant wife at a dog track and when mortars are launched into Heathrow Airport with the potential to cause loss of life, those [1380] people are not accountable on the airwaves. We must discuss that issue in this House.

Dr. Henry: According to a report in the newspapers this morning a large sum of sponsorship money has been offered to the GAA — more power to the GAA, I am delighted it can receive large sums in sponsorship. The reported sum has since been denied. However, I noticed that only football and hurling were mentioned; camogie was not receiving anything. Would the Leader discuss this matter with the Minister for Sport and the Minister for Health? The Irish Ladies Hockey Union has secured the world women's hockey championship for Ireland. Tens of thousands of overseas visitors will be going to this event in July. The House will be glad to hear that I have no complaint with the Government because it has given it excellent sponsorship.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Put your question to the Leader, Senator.

Dr. Henry: Would the Leader ask both the Minister of State with special responsibility for Sport and the Minister for Health to point out to firms that sponsoring women's sport is also worthwhile? An example of this will be the large numbers of tourists who will come to this major event. Most of the money had to be raised by the Irish Ladies Hockey Union, but it would be good if sponsors looked at sports other than traditional Irish sports.

Mr. Magner: I share the sentiments expressed by Senator Manning on the Order of Business. Changing the Order of Business at such short notice is not satisfactory. The House does order its own business. However, there are occasions — it has happened in Governments of which both Senator Manning and I were part——

Mr. Dardis: It must have been a long time ago.

[1381] Mr. Enright: It shows the problems they caused.

Mr. Magner: It would have been longer if Senator Dardis had not intervened.

Mr. McGowan: Senator Magner is lucky enough to have a solution.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Magner, will you put your question to the Leader of the House?

Mr. Magner: None of us would like to see a system introduced where one would be dealing largely with ad hocery. We did not plan this situation; it was outside our control. The Opposition should accept that in good faith. We accept its legitimate criticism and concern. We will respond to that on our side by saying that we will do everything possible to ensure it does not happen again.

Mr. Cosgrave: I support Senator Manning's statements. We have tried to have a reasonable relationship with the Leader and the Whip when it comes to conducting business in this House. However, this situation brings matters to an all time low. While we welcome Senator Magner's address to Senator Manning, a similar address may be in order to those waiting in the ante-room.

The change in today's Order of Business has caused much difficulty to Members on this side. Senator Dardis referred to delays in communication. A party or group leader deserves better than receiving a fax at 5.15 on a Friday evening. Contact should have been made by telephone and not by indirect forms of communication.

We will oppose the Order of Business. The report on Oireachtas Library facilities, the situation in East Timor and the Developing the West Together report were to be discussed today. There may be legitimate reasons for taking these new matters, but they did not arise recently. Maybe the Leader can tell the House the date by which the legislation must be passed, if a motion for earlier [1382] signature is involved. When does the Leader envisage the introduction of the local government Bill to the House? In light of a report in a paper yesterday, it appears that more Members of this House may be taking an interest in the matter than they would have a week to ten days ago.

Finally, I support Senator Dardis' call for a debate on the postal system which has caused great problems both to businesses and individuals in Dublin city.

Mr. Sherlock: I also oppose the Order of Business. Nothing Senator Magner could say would change my opinion on this matter. This is an appalling state of affairs. Senator Manning may have known about this change at 11 a.m. yesterday but I did not know until 12.45 p.m. today. I have a telephone in my office and someone could have telephoned me to say that the Order of Business was being changed.

The delay in sending mail through the system or the delay in An Post may be attributed to the Government parties. Representatives from An Post spoke in my area yesterday. Senator Magner said it was an edict from the Government and that in order for An Post to become more profitable, people had to be made redundant. That is causing a delay in postal deliveries.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: We are not discussing An Post now.

Mr. Sherlock: I appreciate that but I had to respond because of the manner in which this important matter is being dealt with by Government spokespersons.

Mr. McGowan: I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the tourism industry as soon as possible because, according to the newspapers, there will be structural changes in Bord Fáilte and more support for the regions. We would welcome such a development, but we would like to have a debate prior to this restructuring. Such a debate is of paramount importance, especially in areas which have not been developed. We look forward to the changes [1383] in the structure of Bord Fáilte and regional tourism and we would like a debate before these changes take place.

Mr. Enright: I received notification about the original Order of Business last Thursday week. I was going to write to the Leader to congratulate him on his efficiency because it seemed the Government side was getting its act together. However, on Monday morning I discovered things were not as they seemed and that there was a major change to the Order of Business. When announcing the Order of Business, the Leader said the changes were outside his control and the Order of Business had been changed on other occasions. I accept that, but this time it is wrong; it is an offence to the House.

One item on the original Order of Business for today was statements on East Timor. This matter has been raised continuously. There has been gross abuse——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to put a question to the Leader.

Mr. Enright: ——of human rights in East Timor. Tortures and killings are taking place and in one incident more than 200 people were killed. It is an affront to this House not to debate this issue today as arranged. I do not know why we cannot debate it because we are prepared to facilitate the Leader and the House to discuss this issue. When will this debate take place?

Has the Leader any plans to debate the incidents which took place in Grafton Street on St. Patrick's Day? Over 40 or 50 arrests were made by members of the Garda Síochána, but only five were detained and charged. The remainder were released and will be summonsed at a later date. However, some of these people will never receive summonses because, according to a survey carried out by the gardaí, many summonses are never served. It is important to debate this issue in this House because it is an affront to the people of Dublin and of Ireland that [1384] a riot should take place in Dublin city especially on St. Patrick's Day when there are so many tourists here.

Mr. Dardis: And so many Ministers abroad.

Mr. Enright: It is a day of national importance.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

Mr. Enright: I ask the Leader if he will have an immediate debate on this issue. Will he, through the Office of the Attorney General, contact the Director of Public Prosecutions to find out why those people were not detained in custody and did not have their offences heard the following morning? This is a serious matter. This party believes that people in Dublin should be entitled to enjoy the national day——

Mr. Cregan: When and where they want.

Mr. Enright: ——without intimidation and rioting——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: We are not discussing that now Senator.

Mr. Enright: ——and young people damaging our image abroad.

Mr. Roche: I agree that what has happened in East Timor is an affront to human rights and time should be made available to discuss the matter. I ask the Leader to make time available to discuss another heinous affront to human rights, namely, today's decision by Her Majesty's Government to throw further bureaucratic impediments in the way of inquests into the trials of people who were the subject of injudicial murder in the case of the shoot to kill policies in the North of Ireland.

As we are on the issue of human rights, we should be concerned about the human rights of citizens on all parts of this island.

[1385] An Leas-Chathaoirleach: We are not on the issue of human rights, we are on the Order of Business.

Mr. Roche: I ask that time be made available to discuss the extraordinary situation where, 12 years after official murder was performed on this island, there have still not been inquests. I ask that we have a debate on that issue to try to assist the families concerned and bring an end to their trauma.

Mr. O'Toole: I wish to put the record straight about the Order of Business for today. It was three weeks ago today that the Government Whip discussed with me what today's business would be and, at that stage, his difficulty was trying to accommodate Members of the main Opposition party. He asked me to agree to a particular change on the Order of Business to take the original proposed plan for today.

I have always called for long term planning, but when I talk about long term planning I do not mean inflexible planning. I recognise the need to change now and again. I accept the need for changing today's Order of Business, despite the fact that the call for the debate on East Timor came from these benches in the first place and has come from these benches repeatedly over the last five or six years. It was necessary to do so and it is important that we come back to those issues again, but I never seek good notice of issues on the basis that it might never change. I accept the Government Whip's good faith in trying to address those serious human rights issues.

On the question of human rights and equality, I never thought it would be necessary for me in the life of this Government to raise the question of equality and human rights, not 3,000 miles away or even in the northern end of this island but in this town. It is a disgraceful affront to democracy and to our Constitution, which forbids invidious discrimination, that outside the gate today is a group of blind workers seeking equality with sighted workers. It is extraordinary that in this day and age that [1386] matter should have to be raised by any elected public representative.

The Leader of the House should take on board the consideration that people suffering from disability and handicap deserve our support at all times. They should not be required to take such a stand and I ask that this matter be raised immediately with the Minister for Health or, failing that, it should be raised as a matter for debate in this House. It is not good enough that people should have to fight for equality on the basis of their being unsighted or suffering some disability or handicap. It is an untenable position for the Government.

Mr. Cregan: I want the Leader to ask the Minister for Health to come to the House to discuss the ongoing problem for VHI members. There are 1.3 million people who are not well enough informed about exactly how much they must pay for consultants. A third of all consultants will not now take part in the VHI scheme when it comes to patients' costs.

A serious situation exists in the Southern Health Board area; two floors of the regional hospital in Cork have been given to private consultants. Neither the Department of Health nor the health board can say what is the cost of one of these beds. That is a serious matter because we are talking about public beds.

Mr. Maloney: I congratulate the Garda and the Defence Forces on the arms find in Sligo this morning. When one considers the size of the find and the death and destruction which could have accrued they deserve praise.

I ask the Leader if time can be made available to discuss Somalia. The Americans are now pulling out and we must be concerned for our Defence Forces and their families. There should be a debate on this matter as soon as possible.

Mr. Burke: I support Senator Manning. The first debate on Developing the West Together was over one month ago and it was due to continue today. I deplore that it is being postponed and [1387] that we do not know when it will be taken.

Is it intended that the House will sit next week? If so, what legislation is it intended to bring before us?

Mrs. McGennis: I have asked the Leader on numerous occasions to make arrangements for a debate on drug abuse. It appears there is no great urgency about doing so at present but I ask him to ask the Minister for Justice to ensure cooperation between customs officers and the Garda.

We all welcome the seizures of large amounts of drugs by customs officers. However there has been a suggestion in recent days that because of premature intervention by customs officers in seizing pornographic and paedophilic videos, the gardaí will not be able to bring charges and no one will be brought to account and I fear the same may happen in some of the large drug seizures. I ask the Leader to ensure a co-ordinated and cooperative approach by both bodies.

Mr. Wright: It is regrettable that difficulties arose on today's Order of Business. However, there are few Senators on any side of the House who have not been accommodated in debates, legislation, Private Members' time or their own concerns over the years. We on this side of the House have always endeavoured to accommodate Senators where possible. It has happened on this occasion that the position is reversed and we are asking the other side of the House to accommodate our request to change the Order of Business.

I received a passionate plea from Senator Norris last week not to debate East Timor this week. As always I have done my best to respond to any passionate plea.

Mr. Enright: As always the Leader has given in. Mr. Paddy Lane will be watching what the Leader is saying.

[1388] Mr. Wright: East Timor will be debated next week. To answer the question from Senator Burke, we will be sitting next week and we will be dealing with that subject and many others.

I agree with Senator Henry that women's international sporting events should be highlighted as much as men's events. The Minister and the Government should be congratulated for the money given to the world hockey championship. It will be a tremendous event and, having seen the facilities which will be provided, I know it will be of the highest international standard. The GAA Congress is being held at Easter weekend and the Senator will be able to make her views known to the general secretary, Mr. Mulvihill.

We will take the local government Bill before the summer as the Minister announced yesterday. I am sure there will be a lively debate on the issues in the Bill.

The House as a whole would welcome a debate on tourism and Senator McGowan can be assured there will be one in the next session.

Many other issues were raised by Senator O'Toole, Senator Roche, Senator Maloney and Senator McGennis. I assure them that the Ministers involved are well aware of our concerns and our desire to have a debate on those issues. It is a matter of fitting such debates into the Order of Business and we hope to do so between now and the summer.

Mr. Enright: When is the debate on East Timor?

Mr. Wright: Next week.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The question is: “That the Order of Business be Committee and Remaining Stages of Item 1 and Second Stage of Item 2.”

Question put.

[1389][1390] The Seanad divided: Tá, 21; Níl, 9.

Cassidy, Donie.

Daly, Brendan.

Farrell, Willie.

Finneran, Michael.

Henry, Mary.

Kelly, Mary.

Lanigan, Mick.

McGennis, Marian.

McGowan, Paddy.

Magner, Pat.

Maloney, Sean.

Mooney, Paschal.

Mullooly, Brian.

O'Kennedy, Michael.

O'Toole, Joe.

Ormonde, Ann.

Quinn, Feargal.

Roche, Dick.

Townsend, Jim.

Wall, Jack.

Wright, G.V.

Níl

Burke, Paddy.

Cosgrave, Liam.

Cregan, Denis (Dino).

Dardis, John.

Enright, Thomas W.

Farrelly, John V.

Manning, Maurice.

Reynolds, Gerry.

Sherlock, Joe.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Mullooly and Magner; Níl, Senators Cosgrave and Burke.

Question declared carried.

Order of Business agreed to.