Seanad Éireann - Volume 144 - 19 July, 1995

Order of Business.

Mr. Manning: Today's Order of Business is items 1, 2, 3, 4 and 15, motions 21 and 16. Item 1 will be taken immediately and will be followed by item 2, Social Welfare (No. 2) Bill, 1995 — Committee and Final Stages. Item 3 will not commence before 2 p.m., on the assumption that item 2 has been completed. If item 2 is not completed at 2 p.m., item 3 will start immediately on its completion. Item 4, Powers of Attorney Bill, 1995, will be debated for one hour on Second Stage and it is not expected that Second Stage will be completed today. Item 15, motion 21, will commence not earlier than 3.30 p.m. It may commence later, depending on how business is running.

I am proposing to allocate one hour for item 15, motion 21, with seven minutes for the principal speaker and five minutes for speakers thereafter, but I am flexible on that. If the Whips feel there is a need for more than one hour and there are more speakers offering, we can extend that time by up to an hour, as necessary. I gave a commitment previously on item 15, motion 16, and had forgotten about it. It is a motion upon which all sides of the House can agree and we will allocate ten minutes to it.

Mr. Wright: I thank the Leader for the extensive Order of Business and in particular for item 15, motion 21. As he will be aware, this side of the House has highlighted this problem on the Order of Business for the last few weeks. Will there be a Minister present to outline the Government position on this issue?

Mr. Manning: Yes.

Mr. Wright: I welcome that. I also welcome the fact that, if there are more speakers, the Leader will be flexible, with the agreement of the House. Is [1167] item 15, motion 16, being taken without debate?

Mr. Manning: It was meant to be, but Senator Norris would like ten minutes to explain what it involves, if that is agreed.

Mr. Quinn: I ask the Leader of the House to consider whether we should go into total recess for three months. Many things may occur during such a long period and we are sending a specific message to the rest of the world. Let us take one instance which is concerning so many people around the world at the moment — Bosnia. Two world wars started during summer months. We should not set an example by taking a three month recess. I am not suggesting we should come back on a regular basis, but perhaps the Leader could consider this issue, particularly because of what is happening in Bosnia and because of the call I made here last week to urge our Minister for Foreign Affairs to urge other nations to consider military intervention when necessary.

An Cathaoirleach: We had a debate on that last Friday.

Mr. Quinn: Yes but we will go into recess for that length of time and things are moving so fast in Bosnia. The Leader should seriously reconsider that question of reconvening the House.

Mr. Dardis: Senator Quinn has a point and I am sure that the Leader would take the view that, if there was a matter of significant gravity during the recess, he would consider reconvening and the case Senator Quinn instanced would merit possible further discussion. While the Cathaoirleach has rightly remarked that we did discuss it last week, events are changing at such a pace that it would be important, particularly given our membership of the European Union and the UN, that we continue to raise our voices to defend life and human rights in Bosnia. I am [1168] sure the Leader will take that on board and, if necessary, reconvene the House.

The Leader will be relieved to hear that I am not going to launch into a diatribe as to why we have the Consumer Credit Bill, 1994, back with us once again. I will leave that for when we debate the matter. It is a very unsatisfactory way to do business. There have been far too many amendments. The Bill should have been redrafted and brought back because we would then have had far less work to do on it. I was not clear about item 1; I assume we are taking it without debate.

Mr. Fahey: Bureaucracy is alive and well in this country and it does not matter which party representative is sitting in the Leader's chair. During this session I said some harsh words about the flooding problem, particularly in south Galway. Everything I said has turned out to be true. It is no reflection on the Minister. It is frustrating that despite all the promises made — it shows how irrelevant this House and indeed the Oireachtas are — no Government money has been paid to the householders in south Galway. No work has taken place despite the promise that work would commence during the summer.

An Cathaoirleach: I understand the Senator's deep interest in this matter but it does not arise on the Order of Business.

Mr. Fahey: I appreciate that and I will conclude. No consultants have started work yet. At a time when we profess to have a modern high-tech economy, it is a tragedy that bureaucracy should treat people this way.

An Cathaoirleach: It is not a matter for the Order of Business; there are other ways in which to raise it.

Mr. McDonagh: I ask the Leader that, when we resume in autumn, we will continue the debate on education, particularly the responses to the White Paper. [1169] Many people wonder about the direction in which the educational process is moving. It would be opportune to discuss education as soon as possible after the recess.

Mr. Daly: On a number of occasions I raised with the Leader the serious decline in county roads. He indicated that the Minister for the Environment had some proposals to deal with the matter and was about to make some announcements. At this stage the county councils are in a state of crisis and are laying off staff. Some of the roads in the most scenic parts of the country, including west Clare, are impassable and tourists are flocking into areas where the road structure has broken down. Can we have some indication before the recess whether the Minister intends to do anything about it or if there is any prospect that he may provide additional finances for the local authorities?

Mr. Norris: A Chathaoirligh, it is a pleasure to address you properly for the first time as Cathaoirleach. The last time I did so I was simply anticipating events. I thank the Leader for making provision for taking a brief note of the report on the AIDS meeting in Barcelona. It is important that the text goes on the record and that is all I seek to do.

I concur with my friend and colleague, Senator Quinn, about the need for us to be ready to reconvene should there be a further serious escalation in Bosnia. The House will be aware that the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs is meeting at 4 p.m. and Bosnia will be the principal item on its agenda. I hope we will not use the occasion for sentimental evasion of reality by simply dealing with humanitarian aid and war crime commissions because it is far, more serious than that. I said in the House and at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs when the safe havens were established that they would turn out to be a cruel deception, and that is what has happened. I find it astonishing and [1170] repulsive, although understandable in human terms that troops which have been committed as peacekeepers to monitor the safe haven should now have representatives of the United Nations saying their primary objective is to save their own skins. How can that be the primary objective of peacekeepers who are supposed to protect the civilian population?

An Cathaoirleach: We cannot discuss this matter any further.

Ms Honan: I thank the Leader for including item 15, motion 21, on the agenda today and ask if I will have seven minutes to speak on the psychiatric services. I also support what Senator Quinn and Senator Norris said about Bosnia. Since we will not be meeting for some time we should ask the Leader if the Tánaiste would speak out strongly on the Serbian atrocities and, through our European partners, actively support action as proposed by France. Humanitarian aid is also important and we should indicate our willingness to take more Bosnian refugees.

Mr. Norris: The French are completely cynical and their proposal means nothing.

Mr. Farrell: I ask the Leader to convey my sympathy to the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, who is doing her best to come to grips with crime and drugs but is being stifled by the Government. Her proposals for a jail in Castlerea, to change the bail laws and for seven days detention have all been rejected.

An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing that; it does not arise on the Order of Business.

Mr. Farrell: Is there a conspiracy within the Government to aid and abet [1171] criminals? That seems to be what is happening.

Mr. Sherlock: That is uncalled for.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I, clearly, without qualification, support the request of Senator Quinn and other colleagues that the House be available to debate not only Bosnia but other issues which are now of burning concern to the people. I took part in the debate on Bosnia and we were anxious the Minister would report to us and use the debate to make the case we felt should be made. We should now receive that report.

There are a number of major issues on which this House has also expressed a responsible, mature and reasonable political attitude and we should at least be here to discuss them. Bosnia is clearly one of these. The drugs issue is another; the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen would be reassured by the support she would receive from us for the crackdown on the drug barons and we should give her the opportunity to come here. The third such issue is Northern Ireland; I am my party's spokesperson on that subject and we have always taken a responsible position. The matter is in abeyance at present and this House should be available to speak on behalf of the Irish people, as this is the only House sitting.

I ask the Leader to convey these suggestions to the Government, who will find us more supportive than obstructive. It is important that these issues would be fully discussed in the House.

Mrs. McGennis: I thank the Leader for arranging to take item 15, motion 21 today. Since the Minister for Health will be in the House, I ask the Leader to arrange to make an additional five minutes available so that he may respond to a problem in my constituency, which is that over 150 women in the Blanchardstown area are being [1172] refused access to comprehensive family planning services because a GMS doctor has said she will not prescribe the contraceptive pill for her patients, although she did so for 13 years. I wrote to the Minister about this two months ago and received a one-line acknowledgement but nothing else.

An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing that issue today.

Mrs. McGennis: During those two months there may have been many unplanned pregnancies due to lack of family planning services.

Mr. Lydon: That is hardly due to a lack of condoms.

Mrs. McGennis: It usually is.

Mr. O'Kennedy: It might be due to a lack of responsibility.

Mrs. McGennis: Another women's health problem is that the breast screening clinic in Eccles Street is closed and will not take appointments until after 8 August.

Mr. Mooney: Some weeks ago I asked the Leader to organise a debate on emigration and related issues. He responded graciously and agreed in principle to hold such a debate but indicated time constraints might preclude having it before the end of the session. I would be grateful if he would initiate such a debate at the earliest opportunity. Could he also comment on reports that the Cabinet is about to publish draft proposals for the creation of three Seanad seats for emigrants — which was part of the Programme for Government — and that these proposals will come before the Cabinet in the next two weeks, during the summer recess? There is also a strong indication that the referendum required to create these three seats will take place on the same day as the divorce referendum, which is not helpful either for the divorce referendum or the issue of emigrant [1173] rights. I am concerned by these reports and I would be grateful if the Leader could convey to the Government the importance of debating the issue of emigrant rights and of these Seanad seats rather than having them lost in the more dominant debate that will take place on the divorce issue. Can the Leader organise a debate as soon as we return after the summer recess?

Dr. Henry: While we in Ireland have a tremendous reputation for raising humanitarian aid for all sorts of emergencies abroad, we will have to do far more than that now given the situation in Bosnia. When the United Nations protection force went into the former Yugoslavia they had a mandate to protect the Bosnians. Can the Leader find out what the Minister for Foreign Affairs meant when he said that the UN Secretary General must use all the resources available to him to restore the status of the safe area of Srebrenica? As that comment was made a few days ago we should now include Goradze and Tuzla also. We need to know more definitely what exactly he meant by that, in view of the fact that the mandate of the UN was to protect the Bosnians which it patently is not doing at the moment.

Mr. Enright: This House should express its thanks to the Minister for Justice for her efforts to tackle the major problem of drugs.

Mr. O'Kennedy: We wanted to do that.

Mr. Enright: I am pleased that there have been a number of important meetings and I am satisfied that she will achieve positive results in the near future.

I want to raise the issue of French nuclear testing which has been raised before on a number of occasions. The French propose carrying out not just one but a number of such tests. Our Government and other member states of the European Union, as well as the [1174] Governments of Australia and New Zealand, have condemned the resumption of these tests. This House passed a resolution outlining our objections to them. I presume that the French Ambassador has been contacted and, if so, I would like to know what was the outcome. What results have we achieved? The real fear I have is that once the French Government commences these tests other governments will pursue the same course. It is a serious matter for everybody.

Mr. Finneran: I thank the Leader of the House for arranging the debate on item 15, motion 21. Over the past few weeks I have been seeking a debate on health and while this is not a broad debate it deals with a particular problem that is of public concern.

Senator Fahey raised a matter concerning compensation for flooding. I understand that no local authorities have been reimbursed for work on flooded areas nor has any money been paid to them for the alleviation of flooding in future. Each local authority, including our own, has made a submission to the Minister, yet no response has been forthcoming. Can the Leader find out if any money will be paid to the local authorities which are strapped for cash?

An Cathaoirleach: You are supporting the question raised by Senator Daly?

Mr. Finneran: That is right. Last week I raised with the Leader the question of grants for the control of farmyard pollution. However, when he responded he did not mention those grants nor did he say if he would bring the matter to the attention of the Minister. I raise it again today because it is a matter of grave public concern that those grants have been suspended. There seems to be a contradiction in the fact that the Minister for the Environment is introducing a Waste Bill, which is an anti-pollution measure, while the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry has removed [1175] grants for the control of farmyard pollution. Can the Leader convey to the Minister the grave concern among the farming community about this matter?

Mr. Roche: I welcome the debate on item 15, motion 21, and compliment the Leader of the House for arranging it. It is a good example of the Seanad being used to deal with something which is timely and is causing a great deal of concern. Will the Leader of the House impress upon a Minister the will of this House? The issue I raise is the matter of Clonmannon. It comes before the High Court on Friday next and a number of us have sworn affidavits in regard to it. The Minister for Enterprise and Employment, who has indicated his and the Government's concerns in this House, has a confidential document which was produced on examination under section 19 of the Companies Act. Will the Leader of the House approach the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, and ask him to make that document available to the High Court on Friday so that the High Court can fully consider all of the issues relating to the receivership? I welcome the appointment of an interim receiver last Friday.

In regard to the issue touched on by Senator Finneran, there is a link between fish kills and farm pollution. The problem here is that the farm pollution scheme is effectively in abeyance. Will the Leader express the concerns of Members to the appropriate Ministers that undoubtedly as the summer progresses, the Government's inaction on the control of farm pollution grants will cause further fish kills, which none of us wish to see?

Mr. Fitzgerald: I know we do not have much time to discuss what I want to bring up but will the Leader of the House convey our deep concern at figures released yesterday from Bord Fáilte showing a reduction of 8 per cent in the tourism traffic at Shannon Airport. This spells disaster for the west, the midlands and the south-west. In [1176] view of the grave concern it is causing throughout the tourism industry and because there is no time to debate the matter here, will the Leader bring it to the attention of the Minister who is a native of the west and ask him to take remedial action, even at this late stage? A reduction of 8 per cent is a colossal one in tourism coming into Shannon.

Mr. Kelleher: I support the calls by various Senators for the recall of the House in the event of circumstances requiring it. The first day of September is a very historic day and we should be recalled at some stage to discuss the peace process in Northern Ireland. This process is slowing down and this House would not do itself justice if it did not reconvene between now and the official reconvening to discuss the matter.

I too sympathise with the Minister for Justice. In future, instead of her publishing details to the Cabinet, she should bring them to this House first, because there is more agreement in this House than there is at Cabinet. I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister for Justice our wholehearted support for her endeavours to ensure that crime and law and order——

An Cathaoirleach: I have no doubt that the Leader fully understands what you are saying.

Mr. Kelleher: I hope so but the rest of her Cabinet colleagues do not understand what she is trying to do, so I assure her that she has the support of the vast majority of people in this House in ensuring that crime and law and order is at the top of the agenda.

Mr. R. Kiely: I indicated some time ago. There have been many calls from Senators for a debate on agriculture. Agriculture is in crisis with the vets' dispute and the suspension of the control of farm pollution scheme which was already referred to. As Senator Finneran said, when the Leader was replying to the questions raised on the Order of Business he ignored the issue of agriculture. [1177] I imagine this was not deliberate; I am sure it was an oversight.

I concur with Senator Fahey in regard to flooding. It has been some time since the Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Act was passed, and many schemes on the priority list given were to be undertaken immediately. Has the Leader any information whether any of these schemes have been started or will we have to wait for more flooding? August is nearly here and action will have to be taken fairly soon.

Another point, which was raised last week by Senator Fitzgerald, relates to the facilities in this House. I appreciate and cherish the facility of having newspapers available in the Library and it is disgraceful that they are taken away.

An Cathaoirleach: That is a matter for the Committee on Procedures and Privileges.

Mr. Sherlock: I commend you on your latitude, a Chathaoirligh. It is amazing how urgent issues can become when positions change in certain establishments. There was a brief reference from both sides of the House to fish kills——

(Interruptions.)

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Sherlock without interruption.

Mr. Norris: Senator Sherlock, speak a little less loudly. I can hardly hear the interruptions.

Mr. O'Kennedy: The Government has declared——

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Sherlock without interruption.

Mr. Sherlock: I am not surprised that it is in this House that you are.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Sherlock, have you a question for the Leader on the Order of Business?

[1178] Mr. Sherlock: Will the Leader ask the Minister of the Environment to give attention to the fact that local authorities have not drawn up by-laws——

Mr. Cassidy: That Minister is a member of the Labour Party.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Sherlock without interruption, please.

Mr. Sherlock: Where ignorance is bliss, it is folly to be wise.

An Cathaoirleach: A question to the Leader.

Mr. Sherlock: Local authorities have not drawn up by-laws under the Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Act, 1990. They have shied away from this. The serious fish kills which we are experiencing might be avoided if there was more local authority participation in drawing up by-laws.

Mr. Manning: I sympathise with the Leas-Chathaoirleach in waiting.

A number of points were raised on the Order of Business. On Senator Quinn's point in relation to the Seanad going into recess until the autumn, that is not the case. This House is adjourning sine die. That means we can be recalled at short notice at any time without a fixed date.

On Bosnia and on a point raised by another speaker about the French nuclear testing, we have had two debates in this House on these issues. We had a debate last week on Bosnia, when the Minister came into the House at short notice, and I must say there were very few people offering after the great entreaties on the Order of Business.

The Committee on Procedure and Privileges and the House will keep an eye on developments. We are in a position to come back at very short notice should circumstances warrant it. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges will be meeting by agreement quite frequently [1179] during the summer to keep matters under review.

Senator Dardis again raised the Consumer Credit Bill, 1994. I happen to agree with him that there are some times when it is better to go back to the drawing board, but we did not. The Bill is now as near good as it can be and is at completion stage so I appeal to the Senator for his continuing co-operation and a positive approach to it later today.

Senator Fahey raised a point about which I am concerned. I will speak to him afterwards. Senator McDonagh raised the question of an education debate in the early days of the next session. That will take place.

Senator Daly has consistently raised the question of county roads. I am informed that there is a major package in preparation. It is not ready yet. I had hoped to come to the Senator with information but I did not have it. I did not overlook the points he made so consistently.

Senator O'Kennedy raised the point, and I agree with him, that we will be in a position to come back urgently should that be thought useful.

On the health matters raised by Senator McGennis, while each is important, I do not think either is appropriate to the focused debate which we are having today. The Minister will be present and, no doubt, you can raise the issues with him.

Senator Mooney raised the question of emigration. I am not aware of any draft proposals. That does not mean they do not exist, but I am not aware of them. I will make inquiries. It would be worthwhile to have a fairly serious debate on the whole question of emigrant representation fairly early in new session and that will be done.

I will refer Senator Henry's query to the Department of Foreign Affairs. I join Senator Enright in expressing my total confidence in the Minister for Justice and in her ability to lead the fight against drugs. The Cabinet is totally behind the Minister, and I will convey——

[1180] Mr. Farrell: The Leader must be joking.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Manning, without interruption.

Mr. Manning: ——the Senator's remarks to her. A comprehensive package is under preparation. I will also convey to the Minister that the quality of her response is being recognised by all sides of the House. This will greatly hearten her and I thank Senators on the other side of the House for their support for the Minister and the Government on this matter.

Senator Finneran and Senator Kiely raised the issue of farmyard pollution. We should have spent more time debating agriculture this session and I will endeavour to arrange a major debate on agriculture and the issues raised next session.

As the Minister will attend the House today, Senator Roche can raise his issue again. However, now that it is in the legal arena, I do not believe it is appropriate for debate.

A number of Senators raised the issue of fish kills. I will convey their views to the Department, especially the very positive point made by Senator Sherlock.

Senator Kiely's question on facilities is more appropriate to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Senator Kelleher voiced his support for the Minister for Justice and his recognition of the very fine part she is playing and I will convey his remarks to the Minister.

Order of Business agreed to.