Seanad Éireann - Volume 140 - 15 June, 1994

Order of Business.

Mr. Wright: Today's Order of Business is Item 1 between now and 6 p.m. and Item 42 between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. With regard to Item 1, I suggest that party spokespersons speak for 20 minutes and other speakers for 15 minutes.

Mr. Manning: I wish to raise three issues. The first has been raised by Senator Crowley, that is the extraordinary low turnout in the European elections. This reflects a general lack of linkage between the European Parliament and the Irish electorate. Time after time we have suggested, with the support of all parties, that this House become a European forum. It is possible within Standing Orders to invite members of the European Parliament here on a regular basis, perhaps on a Friday or a Monday once a month or every two months, for a debate on matters which concern the electors of both the European Parliament and the Oireachtas. Contrary to what I said about there being an election in the near future, [1394] I believe there is a certain stability, notwithstanding recent events, in relation to the life of this Oireachtas. Now is the time to look seriously at this possibility. If the Committee on Procedures and Privileges cannot do this, it could set up a subcommittee to report back in the autumn session on ways by which this could be realised. We might have Senator Crowley back here even earlier than he anticipated.

Requests for a debate on Northern Ireland have been repeated from all sides at regular intervals. Could the Leader give a definite indication when such a debate can take place?

Nobody knows when the report of the beef tribunal will be published. This is outside the hands of all but the tribunal itself. We, on this side, would expect that if the report is published during the recess, agreement be reached in advance on a fairly immediate recall of the House so that the report, which was initiated by the Oireachtas, can have a full airing, not on the airwaves or through the media, but in Parliament.

Mr. Lanigan: I ask the Leader to arrange an early and full debate on the European Parliament. There is a certain euphoria among those who have been elected to the Parliament throughout Europe. We must not forget that Europe is not the end of the world. The European elections have not stopped the carnage in Rwanda or solved other problems throughout the world. The new Parliament must discuss the major problems in Europe. There was an absolute lack of cohesion among the nations of Europe during the last session of the Parliament on the major problem of unemployment. This problem was not addressed at all and I ask those who have influence to address it. I ask the Leader to ensure that we have a major debate on Europe, perhaps over two days.

Mr. Belton: I propose that we send the best wishes of this House to the Irish World Cup squad. I would also like to congratulate you, a Chathaoirligh, on your success in the election in Athlone. [1395] You might also succeed in getting on the Taoiseach's eleven for the World Cup to represent this House.

Mr. Cotter: I want to raise a matter of great public concern, namely the alleged leaking of leaving certificate papers which has not been raised here. There are many questions to be answered about that episode and we should have a full investigation. Perhaps the Minister has already carried out that investigation. There will be a debate on education in the House tomorrow and if the Minister is here for that perhaps it could be arranged to have a short discussion on the matter.

People are asking many questions — did the leak occur and, if so, were the papers actually sold? We need to get those answers quickly so that we can restore public confidence in the examinations. Last year we had difficulty with the examinations in so far as there were a number of errors in the papers. I wonder if this year the proofreading went so far that the Minister distributed the papers all over the country and somebody forgot to return them. There were no mistakes this year. The examinations were run very smoothly.

An Cathaoirleach: This matter is more suitable for an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Cotter: We need to restore public confidence as soon as we can.

Mr. Lanigan: The public has confidence in the examinations.

Mr. McGowan: I ask the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on the report of the Foyle Fisheries Commission because this is one of the joint ventures of the Irish and British Governments. We have to examine how successful the Foyle Fisheries Commission has been and if we have any suggestions to make about management and financing. The whole area could be usefully looked at in this House, especially because it reflects [1396] the ability of the Northern and Southern Administrations to operate jointly.

I support Senator Manning's request for a debate on the North of Ireland now that the elections are out of the way and we have a calmer atmosphere where we can discuss the problems in a very positive way.

Mr. Howard: The first issue I wish to raise relates to the point made by Senator Manning on the desirability of providing a forum here for Members of the European Parliament. I also join in the congratulations to Senator Crowley. The Cathaoirleach may recall that 12 years ago the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of the day agreed in principle that a forum would be provided for the Members of the European Parliament to attend here on occasion. My recollection is that the biggest problem was where they might be physically located within the Chamber. This was agreed in principle 12 years ago. I appeal to you, Sir, and to the Leader to reactivate that proposal.

The European Parliament is very important to us and its profile is high because we are in the aftermath of the European elections. However, that will change a year or two down the road and we will forget about it. There is an opportunity now which should not be lost.

I am sure I can depend on the Leader to support my second point. I join with Senator Belton's good wishes for the Irish squad on the other side of the Atlantic. I want to wish the team and the fans every enjoyment and success. We must recognise that there is another body of fans which will be very involved and some of them will seek their enjoyment in licensed premises. Some of them will be discriminated against as they will be obliged to leave certain establishments while other establishments doing exactly the same business can remain open for longer. That discrimination can be rectified if the Minister for Justice signs a simple order. I appeal to the Leader to convey the desire of this House in that regard to the Minister. Perhaps he could [1397] also convey those sentiments to the Taoiseach.

Mr. Magner: The issue raised by Senator Howard is probably one of the few issues on which I would agree with Fine Gael.

Mr. Belton: Thanks very much. We are delighted that the Senator does not agree with us. We would be very worried if he did.

Mr. Magner: I will disagree with Senator Belton presently. Despite the words of congratulations, nobody can take comfort from the turnout for the European elections. The scorn visited upon politicians and political parties is laughable when one considers that if the parties did not get their core vote out, nobody would have voted in the European elections. It was the political parties through their own work and efforts that kept the democratic system on the tracks here.

Mr. O'Toole: There was also an Independent vote.

Mr. Magner: And the Independents as well.

Mr. Dardis: The Greens got their core vote out.

Mr. Belton: They got the grassroots vote.

Mr. Magner: Why should we pander, as Senator Belton chose to pander, to the remarks made about Ministers and the World Cup? That is the sort of thing which contributes to the low opinion in which politicians are held at the moment.

Mr. Belton: The Senator is very vexed today. What is wrong with him?

Mr. Magner: I listened to Gay Byrne this morning. Where was he broadcasting from? New York. Rodney Rice, who is probably the only person left in Montrose at this stage, was then heard asking [1398] Deputies Quinn and Andrews why they were going. Every Minister in every Government from every party always went to the United States.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Magner: Do not pander to unfair criticism. We should not let ourselves down as we consistently do. It is time we grew up.

Mr. Quinn: It is difficult to follow that with a more serious matter. Senator Magner is quite correct. We should encourage young people to take an active part in politics. We should lead by example and awareness. Many have not because of the scorn visited upon them.

My point is more relevant to the long term. Last year we debated the GATT negotiations on a number of occasions. We are now under an obligation to ratify the GATT negotiations as is every other country involved in the Uruguay round. The number is somewhere in excess of 120. If Ireland is going to benefit we should set an example by ratifying early. I urge the Leader of the House to ensure that ratification takes place. I also ask for time to debate this matter in order to draw attention to the benefits we are going to get from the Uruguay round of the GATT negotiations.

Mr. Dardis: I did not think I would have to expand on the point I made earlier about a right of audience for MEPs and possibly Commissioners. I support Senator Manning on this. This was discussed at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges during the last Seanad and there was a long debate on Seanad reform. It might be useful to have another debate on reform in the coming weeks. There is no procedural reason why we should not grant rights of audience to MEPs. The Maastricht Treaty provides that there should be inter-parliamentary links. This would be a good and useful way to do it and the Seanad could do this work very well.

I support the call for a debate on Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin said that [1399] they would respond after the European elections. The elections are now over and we are eagerly awaiting their response. We could contribute by having a debate in the near future, possibly before that response is made.

The Cathaoirleach will understand my reluctance to have EU affairs debated in the House at present. However, it is important that we debate the document on the Structural Funds which was presented by the Commission. Those funds now appear to have shrunk from the £8 billion which was allegedly in the bag to £6 billion. It would be useful if the House examined the Commission's proposals, and particularly its proposals regarding the so-called “flagship” projects.

Mr. Wilson: I support Senator Manning's appeal for an early debate on Northern Ireland for two reasons. Senator Dardis has already mentioned one of them, which is that Sinn Féin has promised an answer before the end of this month. This House has something to say about Northern Ireland and it should be said before the Sinn Féin response, not after it. Second, we have also had a European election in Northern Ireland. The results of the election were quite significant and constitute an additional reason for holding such a debate sooner rather than later.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I endorse the requests for discussions on Northern Ireland and European issues. As Senator Wilson pointed out, they are in many ways interrelated. My request does not take from the significance and priority of those issues or the GATT issue.

It would be useful to have a broad debate on the environment. Ireland will have a high profile in that regard in the immediate future. People who visit our country will find poisonous emissions from public vehicles, rivers and lakes, which are the treasures of Europe, being polluted by nitrates and phosphorous and an Ireland that is special and unique [1400] being destroyed because of a lack of common purpose and control. It would be most appropriate to hold a debate on the environment and how to protect and enhance it at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Finneran: I support the call for a debate on Northern Ireland. It is both appropriate and timely that we have such a debate, particularly in view of Sinn Féin's statement that it will give its response to the Joint Declaration shortly.

It is imperative that we have a debate on European issues. Since it is obvious the Irish and European public are not well versed or do not much care about European issues, a debate in the Seanad could be important in explaining and publicly airing the intricacies of the European Union and its enlargement.

I am seeking a full debate on Sellafield and THORP. A public debate on that issue is taking place at present but it is not in either House of the Oireachtas. It is being carried out on the airwaves. That is unfortunate. The place to debate such a serious issue is in one or both Houses of the Oireachtas. While there are arguments on all sides, there is genuine public concern about the emissions from Sellafield. This House should lead the way by having an early debate, possibly next week, on this issue. The Minister for Energy, Transport and Communications should attend and every Member of the House should be given the opportunity, over a period of many hours if necessary, to discuss this serious issue which affects the lives of all citizens.

Ms Gallagher: I endorse Senator Wilson's request for a debate on Northern Ireland. We must give every encouragement possible to the peace process and the Seanad is an ideal forum for such a debate.

As the youngest candidate in the European election, it was depressing to see the number of young people who know nothing about the election, politics or democracy. Many previous speakers have mentioned this issue. The best way to address the problem is to include politics, democracy and civics in the curriculum [1401] so our young people can grow up with an understanding of how the political system works and of the essence and importance of democracy. I ask the Leader to hold a debate on including this in the school curriculum, because it would be the best way to combat the lack of information on our political system.

Mr. Wright: Senator Manning requested that this House become a forum for European issues and I have supported this in the past. Perhaps the Committee on Procedure and Privileges could bring a proposal to the House for further discussion.

Many other issues were raised: Northern Ireland, the extension of the EU, the environment, the Foyle Fisheries, and GATT. The Chief Whip and I have taken note of those concerns and we will bring forward proposals to deal with these issues between now and the summer recess.

On behalf of those of us who are punters at home, I will express Senator Howard's concerns to the relevant Minister.

Order of Business agreed to.