Seanad Éireann - Volume 143 - 08 June, 1995

Order of Business.

Mr. Manning: Today's Order of Business is items 1 and 2. Item 1 will be taken from now until 1 p.m., with ten minutes for each speaker. The Minister will speak later in the debate as Statements on the Economic Conference are taking place in the other House. Item 2 will be taken at 2 p.m., with a sos from 1 p.m. until 2 p.m. The proposal is 20 minutes for the first speaker from each group and 15 minutes for each speaker thereafter.

Mr. Mullooly: Could the Leader provide 15 minutes for the first speakers from each group on item 1? Our spokesperson has indicated that he would like a little longer than ten minutes to deal with this important matter. Is it proposed to deal only with Second Stage of the Minerals Development Bill today? Would the Leader be in a position, perhaps next week, to indicate the Bills which will be taken between now and the summer recess?

Mr. O'Toole: I agree with the point raised by Senator Mullooly that it might be better if the first speaker had 15 minutes on item 1. Could the Leader confirm that next week's business will include Report Stage of the Civil Legal [1738] Aid Bill? When this Bill was previously discussed, the Leader said he expected it would be taken around 14 June. I wish to establish that this is the case.

Mr. Daly: Could the Leader ask the Minister for Social Welfare to clarify the situation regarding the application of means tests to the summer jobs scheme? Many young people are deprived of work on this scheme because of the rigid and unbalanced way in which the means test is applied. In some cases the children of people on high incomes qualify, while in other cases they do not qualify. The system is being applied most unfairly. It is also creating problems for some of the groups organising schemes because of the difficulty in getting young people to take up available positions. This scheme operated most successfully over the last number of years.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: A question to the Leader, please.

Mr. Daly: Will the Leader ask the Minister for Social Welfare to clarify the position? Perhaps the Minister could make a statement either publicly or in the House in relation to how the means test will be applied this year. Perhaps he could ensure that there is some flexibility to enable many young people, who are now out of school and looking for work, to take up available positions on the scheme.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: An Adjournment debate might be more appropriate.

Mr. Fitzgerald: I always seem to ask about the Harbours Bill, but I am anxious that it is put through the House. It was speeded up considerably by the last Minister for the Marine, Deputy Coveney. Could the Leader find out whether the Bill will definitely go through the House before the summer recess? Second Stage has been completed in the other House. It is an important Bill and much work could be [1739] done over the summer holidays if it has passed through both Houses. Will the Leader ensure that this Bill is dealt with by both Houses?

Mr. Norris: Could the Leader give the House any news on the progress of promised anti-discrimination legislation? I ask this question for two reasons; first, I was disturbed by a case involving a man who had lived with another man for 20 years, which was reported in the newspapers. The relationship was not recognised and the man was expelled from his house as a result. This seems a highly discriminatory and regrettable practice and suggests that relationships between persons of the same sex should receive the same degree of legal recognition that they receive in some other jurisdictions in Europe.

The second reason involves a related area of prejudice. I am sure the House will join me in expressing utter abhorrence of what is taking place in Moate, County Westmeath. I do not want to make specific points about the issues involved as I am sure they are complex. However, I am sure most people felt a shudder of horror when they heard somebody on the radio this morning describe a family, who are originally from the travelling community, as “inferiors”.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: That is not a matter for the Order of Business.

Mr. Norris: It is a matter about which the House should show great concern.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: It is not a matter for today's Order of Business.

Mr. Norris: It clearly fits into the entire area of discrimination.

Mr. Cassidy: It is not a matter for the Order of Business. The Senator is making a speech.

[1740] Mr. Norris: Is the Senator making that point because he has a particular interest in this matter? It is in his part of the country, but I expect he feels just as ashamed as I do.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Norris, a question to the Leader.

Mr. Norris: Perhaps the Senator could communicate that to his constituency in Moate, County Westmeath, unless he agrees with them.

Mr. Cassidy: The Senator is my neighbour and he has many friends like ours sitting close by.

Mr. Finneran: I support Senator Daly's call for a statement from the Minister for Social Welfare regarding the summer jobs scheme. It seems to have come unstuck this year insofar as that some of the decisions that have been made as regards students are hard to understand. I know of one family who had one of its members included in the scheme and another who was not, even though both of them were third level students. There have been a lot of queries and the matter should be cleared up. I fully support the call from Senator Daly that the Minister for Social Welfare would either make a statement on the matter or get it clarified.

The chairperson of the private nursing homes association stated she thinks that many of our nursing homes will have to close because of the inadequate supports that are being provided by the Government. This would be a retrograde step and I ask the Minister for Health to make a statement on this. I know that the Minister is due in this House — we have been waiting for him for a good while on a number of issues — but this is a matter of great public importance.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: It would be more suitable for Private Members' Business, Senator.

[1741] Mr. Finneran: There are over 10,000 beds in the private nursing homes sector. It cannot be left to paddle its own canoe at this stage. It needs the intervention of the Government and the Minister.

Mr. Magner: I would never disagree with any ruling that you would make, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, but I support Senator Norris. If this House can discuss discrimination or oppression in East Timor or in any other place, it is an apt subject for this House on the Order of Business when we subject our own people to oppression. It is a matter of concern to this House that 300 people would block the main highway between Galway and Dublin to oppress one family. It must be a terrifying experience for that family.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: This matter is more appropriate for Private Members' Business but it is certainly not appropriate for the Order of Business, Senator.

Mr. Magner: We can discuss any country in the world but our own.

Mr. Fahey: Before I raise my own issue, I concur with and support Senator Norris's statements. It is terrible to hear, as we heard this morning, anybody being described as inferior.

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

Mr. Fahey: I hope common sense will prevail in Moate. We had this problem in Galway and it is terrible to see the treatment this family has got over the last few days.

Would the Leader allow time next week for a debate on our escalating crime situation? There was a horrific crime committed against an Australian lady in Galway two days ago. I raised the crime problem in Galway in this House two weeks ago. During that Adjournment debate, I asked the Minister [1742] if she would consider, on a pilot basis, making a number of detention places available at the Renmore Army barracks and that we would look at the possibility of creating a number of detention places at selected Army barracks around the country. In view of the unsatisfactory reply that I got to my motion, could the Leader arrange for a debate on our general crime situation to be held as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Maloney: I want to support Senator Fitzgerald's call for some movement on the Harbours Bill. We have a serious number of problems in County Donegal with our harbours and piers. This is an urgent matter and I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the Minister for Defence and the Marine and to have this Bill moved as soon as possible.

Mr. Cassidy: I ask the Leader if he would consider giving time for a discussion, at the earliest opportunity, to the major problems that are facing the Irish Press. This paper has had an influential voice in Irish affairs since the 1930s and 60 jobs are now at risk. The Minister has failed to act adequately in this regard. Could the Leader bring the Minister to the House so we could put our views to him and be able to hear his current position on the matter?

Mr. Lanigan: I join with the Members who have condemned the attitude of certain people, both at county and local levels, in County Westmeath. Could I ask the Leader for a discussion in this House on discrimination and if the Minister would discuss the application or non-application of the regulations on the settlement of itinerants or people of disadvantage? Various matters could be discussed under that heading and we might be able to get over your problem of not being able to take questions on it in this way, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.

Could the Leader ask the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications to come to the House and explain the absolute disgrace of the cost of cellular [1743] phones in this country? One can buy a certain cellular phone in Northern Ireland or the UK for £19.99, but Eircell and various Dublin retailers are charging £352 for the same phone. Equally, mobile phones that cost £45 in the UK are costing £520 in this country.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: We are certainly not discussing mobile phones on the Order of Business.

Mr. Lanigan: I ask the Leader of the House to ask the Minister to come to the House. I am looking for information from the——

Mr. Neville: The Senator is looking for a phone for Senator Roche.

Mr. Kelleher: Give him a ring.

Mr. Lanigan: It has been stated that the cost of phone calls in the UK is higher than here. I disagree with that. It is about time that the rip off by Telecom Éireann and the sellers of these mobile phones was stopped and we should get an indication from the Minister as to what will be done about it.

Mr. Manning: Senator Mullooly raised the question of time for the first debate. I have no difficulty with allocating 15 minutes for the first speaker, but I was trying to ensure that as many Members as possible contributed to the debate. If there is pressure on time later, perhaps Members may share their time. We are discussing only Second Stage of item 2 today. I will have a fairly complete list of the Bills to be debated for this session, but this depends on when the session ends and that date has not yet been fixed.

For the information of Members, the House will be sitting on by-election week and by-election day. This is a break with the past but I think Members will deem it appropriate.

[1744] Mr. Cassidy: That is how serious the Government is taking it. It is throwing in the towel already.

Mr. Manning: That is simply an indication of quiet confidence.

I am fairly certain that the Legal Aid Bill is coming to the House next Thursday but I will confirm that with Senator O'Toole after the Order of Business. Senator Daly raised a question about the applications of means testing. I will communicate with the Senator on that matter some time today.

The timing of the Harbours Bill is out of our hands. The Bill is currently on Second Stage in the Dáil and is then moving to one of the Dáil legislation committees. I understand that this committee will be sitting in July and September. That would seem to indicate that it might not come back to us until we meet again after the summer recess, but I will keep Senator Fitzgerald informed of any developments there. However, I will convey the urgency which both the Senator and Senator Maloney have indicated about this Bill.

Senator Norris has raised an important point on discrimination. All of us find what is happening in Moate to be disturbing and saddening. I do not think any of us know enough as to the specific causes, but we hope that this issue can be sorted out as quickly as possible and in the proper spirit. I am not aware of the progress on anti-discrimination legislation but I will find out for the Senator.

I raised the point Senator Norris made yesterday about the alleged apology to the ASEAN ambassadors. The Minister has confirmed to me that no such apology was given nor was there any reason to give one. The discussions were entirely on the matter of trade. Senator Norris can be assured that what he was doing was regarded by the Minister as being totally legitimate and within his rights.

Senator Finneran raised the question of private nursing homes. I am genuinely trying to get a major debate on health organised as soon as I can. The [1745] Minister is willing. There is a pile up of legislation but I am keeping it in mind.

As regards Senator Fahey's proposal on crime, we cannot do it next week because the time for that period has already been allocated. However, I will certainly try to organise a debate on that between now and the end of the session.

Senator Cassidy raised the question of the Irish Press. My own views on that are well known. All of us regard it as a tragedy that a newspaper with the traditions and place in Irish life of the Irish Press should be under threat. I do not agree with Senator Cassidy that it is the Minister's fault, because the fault lies elsewhere. Everyone knows where the fault for the failure of the Irish Press lies. However, it is not an issue for point scoring. My own view is that at the present time the most hopeful sign for the Irish Press would be if some consortium or some other investors were seen to be around. The Minister does not really have a role in that.

Mr. Cassidy: Irish.

Mr. Manning: Well, hopefully, that; but jobs are jobs, Senator. I think that those people who are out of work might not be terribly concerned about the colour of the investor's money. Anyway, I am trying to answer your question. All of us would hope that some sort of investment package will be made available to try to save that newspaper.

I will communicate the points made by Senator Lanigan. The figures that he has given would seem to indicate an outrageous rip off.

Order of Business agreed to.