Seanad Éireann - Volume 144 - 12 October, 1995

Order of Business.

Mr. Manning: I originally intended making two days available for the Second Stage of the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution (No. 2) Bill but I was informed by Members on all sides that the matter could be exhausted today and it might not be necessary to meet tomorrow. I, therefore, propose we take Item 1 today; there will be a time limit of 30 minutes on each speaker; Members may share that time and we will review the matter later. If [1401] there are a considerable number of speakers to be accommodated we can arrange to sit tomorrow but if it seems we can dispose of the Bill today, we will do so. There will be a sos.

Mr. Wright: I take it that we will only deal with Second Stage this week, whether we sit tomorrow or not, and that Committee Stage will be taken next Wednesday. I presume the sos is between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

Mr. Manning: Yes.

Mr. Wright: Yesterday, we were given a list of the legislation the Government proposed to take. This side of the House would appreciate it if the Leader identified the legislation it is proposed to deal with in the coming four weeks. Many Members from my party have asked, on the Adjournment and during Private Members' Time, for a debate on nuclear issues in the UK. I ask the Leader to give extended time to such a debate so that the House could express support for the Government's efforts in dealing with this problem.

Mr. O'Toole: We have no objection to finishing Second Stage today if that is possible. Did I understand the Leader to say it was possible to share time at any point during the day?

Mr. Manning: Yes.

Mr. O'Toole: I support Senator Wright's call for a discussion on nuclear power and its implications. The harrowing and disturbing reports on RTE from Ms Nell McCafferty give a great indication of people's worries. She articulates them well and the reports are a lesson to all of us.

On the last occasion we met I said we needed a date for a debate on education and the interaction between the educational and political systems. We also need a discussion on foreign affairs on a monthly basis; that practice had been agreed before the summer. Senator Magner's remarks about public life in [1402] extending his sympathy to the family of the former Senator Cassidy brings home the need for a debate on public life — how we perceive our role in society, how ethics are regarded and how we need to discharge our——

An Cathaoirleach: A question, Senator.

Mr. O'Toole: May we have a debate on that issue? The Leader has indicated that he would be in favour of such a debate.

At the beginning of every session we ask for an outline of the timetable of legislative proposals to be dealt with during the term. Could the Leader indicate when the Refugee Bill will be put through both Houses? The need for this legislation has been raised time and again in this House.

Mr. Dardis: I have no particular objection to the Order of Business. Is it not unusual to share time during a Second Stage debate? My understanding is that time is not shared on Second Stage. However, I do not have any particular problem if the House wishes to regulate the debate in that manner. My understanding is that we do not share time on Second Stage.

Did the Leader suggest a time at which the House would rise this evening?

Mr. Manning: No.

Mr. Dardis: When does the Taoiseach intend to fill the vacancy left by the death of Senator Gordon Wilson? I accept that it would be very hard to fill his shoes, but I strongly recommend that somebody from Northern Ireland, who could bring a similar perspective to our debates as that of Senator Wilson, be appointed by the Taoiseach. When Senator Wilson was with us he insisted upon regular debates on Northern Ireland. I believe we should continue that process, particularly in the light of what occurred during the summer and the statement by Gerry Adams which [1403] indicated that a window of opportunity exists.

Mr. Magner: Could I ask the Leader to extend the appreciation of the House to the Tánaiste for the very strong——

Mr. O'Kennedy: Tell him yourself.

Mr. Magner: ——stance he took on East Timor, a matter which was debated at great length in this House. We have seldom seen such firm action by any Minister for Foreign Affairs from this country and I believe this House should congratulate him.

Mr. Daly: Would the Leader arrange for the Minister for the Environment to make a statement on the present position on EU Cohesion Funding for vital water and sewerage schemes? Many Members will be aware that, even though the cohesion funding has been approved, no allocations have been made to deal with some vital schemes which have been delayed pending a decision from the European Union. This is a very important matter because many local authorities, with plans prepared for such schemes, are not sure of the current position and whether funding will be forthcoming. It is important that the Minister give some indication. Perhaps he could make a statement to the House on this matter.

Mr. Norris: I strongly support Senator Magner's remarks about the firm stance taken by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. This issue is dealt with by Motion No. 19 on the Order Paper which was tabled by myself and the other Independent Senators. It was very refreshing to see a degree of strong principle motivating the expression of views by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in New York. I am very grateful that he was so forceful on the issue of East Timor. In the interest of not seeming partisan, I must say that Deputy Andrews, in his time as Minister for Foreign Affairs, was almost equally [1404] forceful in dealing with the Indonesian Ambassador. I believe that our small country has a very honourable role to play in this area.

An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing that issue Senator.

Mr. Norris: I was simply questioning and raising the issue. In relation to Senator Dardis' comments with regard to filling the vacancy left by the death of Senator Gordon Wilson, it would be a pity if we engaged in tokenism with regard to Northern Ireland and fished around for anybody so we could say we had a Senator from the North. I would like to canvass for Mr. Tom Hyland of the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign. He has affected foreign policy in this country and in Europe.

An Cathaoirleach: That is not a matter for the Order of Business.

Mr. Norris: It has already been raised. If the Seanad is to be relevant and reflect community values, as was intended when it was established, people such as Mr. Hyland should be Members.

An Cathaoirleach: That is a matter for the Taoiseach.

Mr. Norris: When will it be possible to take Item 16, Motion 19, so that the issue of East Timor may be properly debated? Having congratulated Senator Magner on his intervention this morning, I also congratulate him as chairman of the committee responsible for the refurbishment of the Oireachtas restaurant. He has done a superb job. I hope it will be followed by the provision of gym facilities which Members deserve and need.

Will the Leader find out from the Minister for Equality and Law Reform when the equal status legislation will come before the House? We frequently congratulate Irish football teams, pugilists and others on their athletic prowess, and I am surprised nobody has mentioned [1405] that Séamus Heaney won the Nobel Prize. This House should recognise this great honour paid to an Irish citizen who is a great artist.

Mr. Lanigan: There is a good opportunity for the Taoiseach to appoint a Senator from the North who is a poet.

Mr. Finneran: I support Senator Daly's request for the Minister for the Environment to come to the House to give an explanation as to what is happening with the Cohesion Funds. Will the Leader also ask him what his approach will be to the many requests from local authorities for funding for those areas flooded in 1994? My understanding is that no local authority has been given any money to date to help the communities which suffered the hardships of severe flooding although submissions were made by the individual local authorities. As we are now approaching winter the matter must be addressed and I ask the Leader to bring the matter to the Minister's attention and ask him to attend the House.

I also ask the Leader to organise a debate on health. The Minister for Health has been in the House once in 12 months and that was to deal with the information legislation. There are a number of outstanding matters related to health that require debate, in particular, the White Paper on mental health and the crisis looming in the VHI. It is overdue for the Minister to come to the House so we might debate such matters.

Mr. McGowan: I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the future of county enterprise boards. At present there is a crisis which might result in the failure of many county enterprise boards. There are 127 applications in County Donegal for funds and we are £600,000 short. On 22 September the Department of Enterprise and Employment sent a letter indicating that the closing date would be 30 September. People in rural areas have high hopes — and expectations — in the county enterprise boards. If Mr. Gay Byrne has time to [1406] discuss the matter on his radio programme this morning, surely this House will have time to discuss it.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has made his point.

Mr. McGowan: I sincerely ask the Leader to arrange a debate on a matter which is of fundamental importance for rural Ireland and I hope he will respond positively to that request.

Mr. Mooney: Will the Leader convey to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht the concern expressed in the media in recent days about the alleged abolition of the position of Chief Herald of Ireland? There has been correspondence in The Irish Times on this matter and I was informed by the Department yesterday that the Minister was preparing a statement. The correspondence suggests that this is a matter of great concern both North and South of the Border because of the all island nature of the office, which dates back to the 16th century. I share that concern and ask the Leader to request the Minister to issue a public statement to clarify the exact position of this office.

Mr. Roche: We would all look forward to the provision of a gym in this House because we would then have the extraordinary sight of Senator Norris in his spandex leotard.

An Cathaoirleach: That is hardly a matter for the Order of Business.

Mr. Roche: The Chief Herald may not be a position which attracts public attention but it goes back a considerable time and is one of the few all Ireland institutions. It is a very important position in its own context and there should be a public statement as the position has been vacant for some time.

I have asked the Leader on several occasions to make time available to discuss the Western European Union in the context of the forthcoming Intergovernmental Conference. The [1407] Western European Union is a very odd organisation, as Senator Manning knows, and has gone through a variety of changes since it was first set up in the 1950s. It is alarming that it is increasingly accepted, without question, that it is the institution on which European Union defence policy — whenever that emerges — will be based. That is a dangerous assumption.

Last week I questioned EU officials on why they had selected the Western European Union. I was staggered by their response; they said it was because it was there and did not seem to be doing anything else. That is not good enough. If we are to have a debate on the outcome of the Intergovernmental Conference and a referendum on that issue, we must have a very clear view in this country. Otherwise, that referendum will be defeated.

An Cathaoirleach: Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Mr. Roche: Will the Leader make time available for a discussion on that matter?

I agree with Senator O'Toole's request for a debate on political life in this country. I would specifically like a debate on the role and future of the boards of State-sponsored bodies. They have received a tremendous bashing over the last few years and board membership has increasingly left business people open to all sorts of charges and allegations, which is wrong. We need to discuss the matter in an apolitical way. It would be a good idea to have a discussion on the role and future of the boards of State-sponsored bodies and the appointment of board members.

Mr. Lanigan: When will it be possible to have a major debate on defence issues? Over the past 12 months, numerous people have told us through the media what will happen to the Defence Forces in the future. Last week, at the PDFORRA AGM there were suggestions that they should join SIPTU. It is [1408] time for the future of the Defence Forces to be aired in this House. There is consensus among Defence Force personnel on which policies should be adopted. However, major issues will arise post-1996 as to our defence role in Europe and our neutrality. Will the Minister for the Marine and Defence attend the House, as he has not yet done so, to enable a general debate take place on defence issues?

I agree with the call for a debate on flooding. There is hardly a county in Ireland that did not have a visit from the Minister earlier in the year following the floods. Moneys were allocated to various counties, of which we have not seen a single penny. Will the Minister attend the House to advise when the moneys will be allocated, or will he issue a statement to the county councils advising what is happening? We are returning to a flooding situation again and there is no reason to believe that next season will be different to what happened last season.

I am not aware if there was a call for a debate on education matters. There has been utter confusion throughout the university cities and campuses over the past number of weeks on the issue of accommodation because of the hugely increased intake of students, whether it be at regional technical college level or at university level. A huge number of children have taken up substandard accommodation in the country. It is time that efforts were made to have some kind of policy within the universities, perhaps to add to their stock, which would be commercially viable. We should take these matters into account if there is to be a debate in this area.

Mr. Lydon: I support the call by Senator Mooney and Senator Roche for a statement on the office of the Chief Herald. I raised this matter during the last session and the Leader of the House said that he would revert to me on it. The role of the office is very important and it should not be abolished.

[1409] There is a report in The Irish Times today on a shop called Secret Obsessions which sells hard core pornography, bestiality, paedophilia and so on. The Garda cannot act because under present legislation this stuff cannot be seized and it cannot be stopped by the customs. Will the Leader of the House inquire of the Minister for Justice if she has any plans to introduce immediate legislation to stop the spread of this filth throughout the city? Hard core pornography demeans people, children and women, and it is not fun.

Mr. Manning: The House will deal with Second Stage only of the Bill before it today. Committee Stage will be taken next Wednesday, 18 October 1995 and, if need be, next Thursday, 19 October 1995.

With regard to the question raised by Senator Dardis on time sharing, it has become common practice in the other House and in this House that if Members wish to share their time on Second Stage, it is permissible. Members do not have to do so, but if they wish to make short speeches and share their time, it has become the practice to do so. It is something which, with the agreement of the House, we would allow today. If Senator Dardis has any concerns we could discuss them at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and lay down a guideline on this matter.

Senator Wright asked for a debate on nuclear issues. It is important to have such a debate and I will try within the next two weeks to arrange for one. It will not be next week.

Senator Wright and Senator O'Toole asked about Bills to be presented before the House for the coming session. Next week we will be taking the Industrial Development Bill, 1995, from the Dáil, which is on the Order Paper, together with Committee and Final Stages of the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution (No. 2) Bill, 1995. The week after we will be taking the Irish Medicines Board Bill, 1995, and the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1995.

[1410] Legislation which will appear in the near future will include the Harbours Bill, which has been raised here on a number of occasions. In addition, the Refugee Bill was mentioned by Senator O'Toole. The Bill is ready, but unfortunately it is starting its life in the other House. I tried to have it taken in this House. However, we will see it this session.

Senator O'Toole asked for a debate on public life. Senator Roche also mentioned this issue. If a motion could be framed I would be happy to accept it and give it prominence. There are issues that are worthwhile for us to discuss.

Senator Dardis raised the question of the vacancy in the Seanad. Two proposals have been made this morning. Senator Lanigan proposed Séamus Heaney and Senator Norris also made a proposal. I will refer these to the Taoiseach. I guarantee that the person selected — I do not know who he or she will be — will be of the highest calibre. I would remind Members on the other side of the House that there are six Taoiseach's nominees who rarely vote with the Taoiseach, so there is a small political problem also there. I am sure they would appreciate, if they were in my position, that there are political sensitivities on the matter. A debate on Northern Ireland would be of help and I will see if it can be structured in the near future.

Senator Magner raised the question of East Timor. All of us agree that the Tánaiste spoke decisively and emphatically for the overwhelming view of this House on that matter. I also join with those who congratulated Senator Magner on his role as chairman of the Joint Services Committee, where he has made an extraordinary impact over the last three years, the latest example being the marvellous refurbishment of the Members' Restaurant. I am sure he can take up the suggestion of a gym. I remind Senator Roche that a toga, rather than a leotard, is more appropriate apparel for a Senator. Senator Daly raised the question of cohesion. I will bring it to the attention of the Minister and see if we can get a response on that.

[1411] I agree with Senator Norris that everybody in this House would like to pay tribute to Mr. Séamus Heaney. His extraordinary and well-deserved achievement on being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature has brought pride to everybody in this country and it would be churlish at this stage not to pay the warmest tribute to him. The most telling phrase used was “ethical purity of his poetry”. It encapsulated the essence of Mr. Séamus Heaney's contribution to poetry. All of us, from both sides of the House, would like to send our warmest congratulations on a marvellous achievement to a wonderful person.

The Equal Status Bill is unlikely to appear during this session, but I will make further inquiries on it. Senator Finneran made a good point about the House being given an update on the issue of flooding. This House raised the issue, the Bill came from this House and I will seek to have an update on flooding as soon as possible.

The Minister for Health would have come into the House yesterday had we been sitting, but we were not because the Dáil had not finished this Bill. He will come in for a wide discussion on health, including the White Paper on Mental Health, which was asked for on a number of occasions. I also recognise that the VHI position is serious and worth having a discussion on. I cannot guarantee Senator McGowan a debate on the county enterprise boards in the short term, but I will see if time is available. The question of the Chief Herald was raised by Senator Mooney and others. I will immediately communicate with the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and try to report next week on what the position is and I will convey the concern of Senators on this issue.

Senator Roche raised a number of issues. I have referred to one: the debate on public life. If he and others can get together and frame a motion on that, I would be happy to give it priority. The question of a debate on the Western [1412] European Union is important, but we have had experience in the past of debates being asked for and then having a small participation. If I was satisfied that a sufficient number of Members would like to contribute, we could structure that debate. Senator Lanigan raised the question of a debate on the Defence Forces, which might fit in with the debate on the Western European Union. There could be an omnibus motion there.

I am conscious of the overcrowding in universities due to the increased intake and there is, especially at the moment, an accommodation problem. I am not sure what can be done in the short term. All the universities have provided housing over the last number of years and there is a need to look at that question again. I will refer Senator Lydon's concerns to the Minister. Perhaps he could give me the newspaper reference and I can forward that to her also.

Cathaoirleach: Before proceeding, I take it than spokespersons can share their time in this debate also.

Mr. Manning: If they so wish.

Order of Business agreed to.