Seanad Éireann - Volume 145 - 12 December, 1995

Order of Business.

Mr. Manning: Today's Order of Business is item 1, Committee Stage of the Harbours Bill, 1995, until 8 p.m. There will be a sos from 6 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. We will start tomorrow morning with Second Stage of the Courts and Court Officers Bill, 1995, and return to Committee Stage of the Harbours Bill, 1995, at 4 p.m. to allow time for drafting of any amendments which may be accepted today.

It is proposed to sit on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

Mr. Wright: Is the Leader saying we will take Committee Stage of the Courts [1135] and Court Officers Bill, 1995, at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow until 4 p.m. and resume Committee and Final Stages of the Harbours Bill, 1995, after that; or will he go into Thursday, if needs be?

Mr. Manning: If needs be.

Mr. Wright: The Order of Business is agreed. I wish to raise two issues, although time may not allow the Leader to bring them to the House before Christmas. Since the Minister and Minister of State in the Department involved will be in the House over the next three days, I ask him to raise the question of a suggested deal made between the EU and Norway on fishing stock. If at all possible, could one of those Ministers explain exactly what is happening? There is a possibility that up to 500 jobs may be lost in our fishing industry because of this deal, and that is worthy of some explanation. We will be putting down a motion on that matter but it may not be dealt with until after Christmas. However, I ask the Leader to tell the Minister to explain his position. A spokesperson for the Minister said he did not agree with it, and rightly so. We support the Minister in his efforts not to accept this deal at the Council meeting next week, which could entail up to 500 job losses in our fishing industry.

The Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Lowry, is to announce a £200 million light rail investment for the Dublin area this evening. I find it absolutely unbelievable that, despite a £200 million investment, Dublin Airport will be the only airport in any capital city in Europe without a rail connection. Following the Minister's announcement tonight, will the Leader arrange for him to attend the House this week or next week and give us the opportunity to discuss the matter with him? It may well be that the Government could change its view on this matter.

When one considers the investment that has taken place at Dublin Airport [1136] by all Governments, the industrial development and the possibility of ten million to 15 million passengers coming into the airport, it is unbelievable that the airport is to be left out of the proposed £200 million investment.

Mr. Norris: Senator Wright has raised the issue I wanted to raise. Will the Leader arrange for a debate on this issue? It is an extremely important one for the city of Dublin. What is going on? It appears that a collection of corporate corbógs are determined to destroy the city of Dublin. It is a half measure and an idiotic proposal.

The city of Dublin needs an underground railway system with a spur out to the airport. It can be done much more efficiently and would regenerate income in the city of Dublin. There are details and costed proposals available which would make this plan clear. In the light of this very substantial investment, could we have a reasoned debate in the House which looks at the various alternatives before it is too late and we have yet another half measure added onto the DART, which will destroy the traffic circulation? I am old enough to remember when I was five years of age, when they removed the trams from Dublin. The argument then was to get them out of the way of the cars.

An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing the matter today. A question to the Leader.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I was 15 years of age at the time.

Mr. Norris: I always knew that Senator O'Kennedy was considerably older. Could we have time to discuss this matter? It is one of considerable public importance and I am glad that Senator Wright raised it and made a significant point about the airport. It is simple madness to leave the airport out of this connection.

Mr. Lanigan: The Leader suggested last week that the Minister would be [1137] making a statement on flooding. He still has not made it. A number of people want a non political, factual, straightforward statement as to what is happening.

Mr. Farrelly: It might be possible to do this for the Senator.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Langian without interruption, and a question to the Leader.

Mr. Lanigan: Will the Leader arrange for a factual statement to be made by the Minister, which would allay many fears that exist at present?

I asked last week that we have a debate on the Office of the DPP, and the Leader suggested that the matter might be discussed within the parameters of Courts and Court Officers Bill, 1995, which is to be considered this week. Following discussion with various people, I do not believe this is the proper place to discuss the operation of the Office of the DPP. Is there any way we can have a discussion on this matter, which is causing enormous problems throughout the country?

May I ask the Leader how we can have an early debate on a matter regarding the UNICEF report of this week, which is of relevance to everybody in the country and to many people throughout the world? The report proves that over two million children have been killed over the past decade in various wars throughout the world, and that a number of them have been killed in Europe. We must have an early debate on the effects of such wars, especially on children. It has emerged in the UNICEF report that children as young as six and seven years of age have been recruited to armies.

An Cathaoirleach: Thank you, Senator. We are not discussing the issue today.

Mr. Lanigan: We should have a debate as soon as possible on the effects of these wars on these children. I also [1138] ask that we have a further debate on the effects of mines, especially on children.

An Cathaoirleach: You have made your point, Senator.

Mr. Lanigan: If mines were eliminated, they would reduce the number of deaths.

I also ask that we have an early debate on the situation in the former Yugoslavia. Apparently, peace is about to ensure there. However, Pat Kenny on “The Pat Kenny Show” on radio this morning suggested that the Serbs are the most hated nation in the world.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator, we are trying to get through the Order of Business. You have made your point.

Mr. Lanigan: There are no regulations on what can be said on the Order of Business. When can we have a debate on suggestions that the Serbs are the most hated people in the world?

Mr. Farrelly: Pat Kenny said that.

Mr. Lanigan: It is worthy of debate.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator is making a speech. I ask Senator Lanigan to resume his seat.

Mr. Lanigan: I ask the Leader to organise an early debate on the situation in the former Yugoslavia.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has repeated himself a number of times on that issue.

Mr. Lanigan: I accept the Chair's ruling.

Mr. Cregan: Can the Leader organise, before the Christmas recess, for the relevant Minister to inform this House about the situation in Irish Steel? This issue is now very serious. We allowed the matter to be put aside last week and the week before to await the results of further discussions. However, the [1139] House now deserves to be informed about the true situation.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I understand that we will be dealing with the Appropriation Bill next week. Can the Minister for Finance, in the course of his presentation to the House, explain what understanding the Government might have reached about reducing numbers in the public service? This is a matter of major concern. The Minister's party consistently and doggedly opposed the actions we took in Government in 1987 to reduce numbers in the public service. Now he, as Minister for Finance, who increased those numbers, three weeks ago——

Mr. Farrelly: The Senator's party was involved in Government at the time. It did not all happen this year.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I want to give notice——

Mr. Farrelly: The Senator is waffling.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator O'Kennedy without interruption. Senator O'Kennedy should ask a question of the Leader.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Will the Leader request the Minister to inform the House, first, what has been the increase in numbers in the public sector in the last few years——

Mr. Farrelly: During the time the Senator's party was in Government.

Mr. O'Kennedy: ——second, what the cost has been; and, third, why belatedly this Government and particularly the Minister and his party have now reached the view that what was done in 1987 was right and they were wrong?

An Cathaoirleach: I am sure the Senator will have the opportunity to make those valid points next week and, knowing the Senator, he will not miss it.

[1140] Mr. O'Kennedy: Is the Minister just announcing an intention to reduce numbers?

An Cathaoirleach: Senator O'Kennedy, a question for the Leader.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Is the Minister just announcing a pious intention when he knows that the tough job will have to be done again by a Fianna Fáil Government, as was the case before?

Mr. Mulcahy: Will the Leader of the House welcome the decision announced yesterday by British Nuclear Fuels Limited not to proceed with two nuclear power stations in England? Perhaps the authorities in England listened to the excellent debate on nuclear power which was held in this House two weeks ago. That might be wishful thinking but I hope the Leader joins me in welcoming that announcement.

My first question relates to the schedule of proposed Bills that was circulated to us some months ago. The schedule grouped the Bills according to whether they would be taken in this session, published in this session and so forth. The Leader will be aware that there were inaccuracies in the schedule. It was promised, for example, that the Drug Trafficking Bill would be published this session but that has not happened. I am not seeking to make a political point. Can the Leader say if it would be possible before Christmas to have an accurate and detailed statement on when the Bills proposed by this Government will be published and debated in the House?

I support what Senator O'Kennedy said about the Appropriation Bill. We do not have any function in debating the budget or the Book of Estimates. Given that the Book of Estimates has not yet been published, would it be appropriate to have a debate on the Appropriation Bill this side of Christmas so that Senators could make their concerns known on matters, such as whether the proposed prison in Castlerea will be included in spending plans for next year?

[1141] An Cathaoirleach: You have made your point; you should put your question to the Leader.

Mr. Mulcahy: The Leader has my questions and I look forward to his replies.

Mr. Fitzgerald: I support the point made by Senator Wright. If 500 jobs were to be lost in any other section of the community there would be an outcry. It is estimated that this number of jobs will be lost as a result of the cutback in mackerel quotas in the total allowable catch. I would welcome a statement from the Minister for the Marine explaining what is happening. It appears from a statement by a spokesperson for the Department that this was decided by the European Commission and Norway; no other country was involved. This is very high handed. Approximately two months ago I warned the House that things were happening in Europe about which we know nothing. I support Senator Wright's call for the Minister to come to the House to bring us up to date on the situation. I am not blaming the Minister for this decision but there is a great deal he must do to preserve jobs. My own harbour will be discussed during the debate on the Harbours Bill today. Its future depends on mackerel and other fish quotas.

Mr. Daly: I support Senator Fitzgerald's and Senator Wright's comments on the eminent collapse of the mackerel fishery. The Leader will be aware that there is a proposal to reduce the total allowable catch of mackerel for Ireland by approximately 100 per cent, a massive cut. This will result in the demise of the mackerel fishery. The Irish fishing industry is heavily dependent on mackerel stocks and catches. This cut is particularly alarming given that from 1 January 1996 there will be an invasion of Spanish boats off the south-west coast. In view of the chaotic state of the policy on our sea fishing industry, it is imperative that we get some indication [1142] fairly soon from the Minister as to what is happening because it is likely that quotas will be set before the end of the year. The Council of Ministers meeting which decides quotas is usually held before Christmas. We need an opportunity to discuss the issue before the Minister attends these negotiations in Brussels; this would strengthen his hand.

A disturbing and alarming report has been issued recently which indicates that 700,000 houses are in urgent need of insulation. The lack of proper insulation is causing the deaths of many elderly people. The Leader should arrange for the Minister for the Environment to come to the House to discuss this report and to tell us how the Government proposes to deal with this.

Mr. Farrelly: Does the Senator have the money?

Mr. Enright: I join with other speakers who called for a debate on the new transport system announced by the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications. Providing a service for the two areas he mentioned will be of immense importance to commuters in Dublin who spend hours in their cars each day. If the Minister goes ahead with this initiative, it will benefit everybody. I would like a structured debate on this issue. I live a long way from Dublin but I congratulate the Minister.

I welcome the decision by British Nuclear Fuels Limited not to build two nuclear power stations in Britain. However, I am worried about the extension which is being considered for Sella-field. The Government fought a strong campaign on this issue which may have helped to ensure that the nuclear stations were not built.

An Cathaoirleach: A question to the Leader.

Mr. Enright: It may not be possible to have a debate on this matter before Christmas but perhaps the Leader [1143] would consider one early in the new year.

Mr. Farrell: Would the Leader ask the Minister for Justice to make arrangements with the gardaí in rural areas to look after old people over Christmas? A number of old people are being robbed in rural Ireland at present. Now that postmen do not work at weekends and no longer visit every house, it is important that the gardaí make some arrangements to look after old people in isolated areas. We do not want a repeat of the two terrible cases in Galway where old people were tied up for a couple of days. They could have died from the cold or from starvation.

Perhaps the Leader could ask the Minister for Finance to consider small industries which are starting up and employ five people. In the preparation of his budget, perhaps he could give them a three year tax break. Most small industries fail in the first five years because they are overpowered with the amount of bookkeeping needed to satisfy the Revenue Commissioners. They should be given a breathing space of at least three years to create jobs.

Mr. Roche: In the light of last week's excellent “Prime Time” programme by Mr. Peter McNiff which illustrated yet again the breakdown in children's services, particularly in children's care homes, would it be possible to have a debate on the issue of child abuse, and specifically on the oversight by State services of closed institutions?

Would it be possible to have a debate on the Prison Service in general, not just on whether Castlerea goes ahead? Reports are produced from time to time but as far as I can recall we have not had a debate on the direction and development of the Prison Service. It would be timely to do so now.

We have been hearing a lot from Downing Street in recent weeks about decommissioning. While I welcome the decision by British Nuclear Fuels Limited not go ahead with two more people [1144] killing power stations, it is the bottom line rather than any human consideration which led to that decision. Could this House request, through the appropriate Minister, some indication from Britain that it will put in place a programme to decommission the shortly to be defunct nuclear power stations? My understanding is that British Nuclear Fuels Limited only has plans to decommission a 25 megawatt station which was built as an experiment in Wind-scale. That station is the size of a single-decker bus.

An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing that issue today.

Mr. Roche: I know that and I would not dream of suggesting that we should.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator is drifting close to it.

Mr. Roche: Would it be possible to have a debate on this issue and on how we, as a nation, could encourage the British to look at another form of decommissioning?

Mrs. McGennis: I join in the request to the Leader for a debate on transport policy. I know the Minister is unveiling his £200 million plan at a press conference this afternoon. It is important that he should come into the House and discuss various elements of it. While Senator Wright and Senator Norris have raised the Ballymun link, I would like to put it on the record that there is a part of Dublin called the northside. I am really disappointed that this socialist-led Government appears to have forgotten completely about the northside all of a sudden. In that debate the Minister should discuss the idiotic proposal to put tolls on the motorway ring road around Dublin. To quote a Fine Gael councillor and a good friend and colleague of mine, it is a “stupid” proposal. The Minister should be aware of the feelings of all parties in Dublin about that.

[1145] An Cathaoirleach: You are supporting a debate on that, I take it?

Mrs. McGennis: Absolutely. If anyone has the time this evening to go to the Minister's launch, could they ascertain from him if this new light rail system will be accessible to the disabled? I am not quite sure if what is being proposed will help those people at all. They have been completely left out.

I would ask the Leader for a debate in the new year on the health service. There is a disturbing report that health treatment waiting lists have increased by something like 18 per cent in a period of 12 months. That is approaching a crisis.

Mr. Farrelly: The waiting lists have been there for years.

Mrs. McGennis: In 12 months the lists have gone up, Senator. I tend not to interrupt other Members when they are speaking on the Order of Business. I am talking about the last 12 months for the benefit of the Senator, who likes to heckle but does not say an awful lot other than that.

Mr. Farrelly: No more than yourself.

An Cathaoirleach: If you want to ask a question on the Order of Business you will get an opportunity, Senator Farrelly.

Mr. Doyle: Can the Leader confirm that the proposals the Minister plans to make have followed exhaustive consultation, especially with the public, in relation to the DTI proposals? The removal of water, electricity and gas services for a DTI service are one of the main factors. The Harcourt Street line through Dundrum is free of these services and so it is an obvious choice in the first instance. The second choice is Tallaght because of the social need for that service there where almost 100,000 people are living. I have no doubt that at a future date the Government will propose to extend it to the airport and [1146] to Ballymun. As Senator McGennis pointed out, facilities for handicapped people should be provided on this service.

Mr. Lydon: I support the request for a debate on fisheries as mooted by Senators Wright, Fitzgerald and Daly. It is an important issue. To put what is happening in context, it is as if one of us suffered a 40 or 50 per cent loss in salary to some German, Italian or French senator. Our fish quota is based on a historical catch and takes no account of the actual or potential increase in our fleet. It is not Government versus the rest, this is Ireland versus the rest. I am asking the Leader for a debate next week on this issue which concerns 400 to 500 jobs. South-west Donegal is going to lose a couple of hundred jobs. No other industry would suffer this loss and say nothing. It is because there are not many fishermen and they do not have a big voice.

Mr. Finneran: I support the call by Senator Lanigan for the Minister to make a statement on the money that was promised for flooding. It is now ten months since that call was made in this House and it is about time that we had some response. The local authorities are awaiting some statement and we should certainly have it before the end of the year.

There is disbelief in my county and in the north west generally about the proposed omission from the Book of Estimates of money for the Castlerea prison project. Can we have some response from the Minister for Finance on this when he deals with the Appropriation Bill? Regardless of any financial constraints in which the Government finds itself, which we appreciate, and given the climate of crime, we cannot contemplate such an omission.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator can put those points to the Minister for Finance.

[1147] Mr. Finneran: The Leader should forewarn the Minister so that he will be a position to comment. People — and not only in County Roscommon and the north-west — await a statement on that matter.

Mr. O'Brien: I ask the Leader when it would be possible for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to come to the House to debate the serious drop in cattle prices. Export credit refunds have been cut by 38 per cent since September and this has had a considerable effect on factories and live exports. There has been a sharp decline in prices over the past two weeks. The last reduction in export credit refunds was 25 per cent. We must have a debate on agriculture, although I am not sure if it will be possible for the Minister to come to the House before Christmas. However, this is a serious matter and has caused hardship for many farmers over the last few weeks. The Minister should intervene immediately because this cut was made in Brussels. I support Senator Wright's, Senator Fitzgerald's and Senator Daly's plea for support for fishermen.

Mr. Maloney: I call for a debate on the fisheries deal. The largest fishing port in the country, Killybegs, is in County Donegal. I congratulate Mr. Joey Murrin of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation for not blaming the Government for what happened. He said we must sit down with the Commission and try to see what we can do to hammer out a better deal. There is a great deal of unemployment in the area and this concerns the people because we cannot afford to lose any more jobs in west Donegal or Killybegs. We must have a debate on this matter as soon as possible.

Mr. Manning: When Senator Wright, Senator Fitzgerald and others raise the question of fisheries, what they say is listened to seriously. I will make every effort to see if we can have statements on this next week, although I cannot [1148] guarantee it. Like Senator Wright and others, I welcome the initiative of the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications in announcing the largest single investment in transportation in Dublin in our lifetime. I confirm everything Senator Doyle said. Senator Wright always looks after the interests of Dublin Airport, in which he has a special interest. He has made a valid point which will be conveyed to the Minister. Today's announcement by the Minister will be of enormous benefit to the people of Dublin.

The question of flooding was raised by a number of Senators. I said there would be statements before the end of the session next week. Senator Lanigan raised a question about the Director of Public Prosecutions. Perhaps that could be raised during the Court and Court Officers Bill, 1995, or we could have a debate on the office in the next session. I suggest that Senator Lanigan telephone RTÉ to talk to Pat Kenny if he is concerned about some of his remarks. This House is not the appropriate forum for dealing with disc jockeys.

Mr. Lanigan: It depends.

Mr. Manning: Senator Cregan asked about Irish Steel. The Minister for Enterprise and Employment is keeping in touch and, if appropriate, he may come to the House to answer questions. Senator O'Kennedy has been around long enough to know that his queries can best be addressed directly by the Minister for Finance rather than through a third party. However, I will pass on the Senator's comments and queries to the Minister for Finance.

My answers to Senator Mulcahy's first two questions are “yes”. The Appropriation Bill will be taken in the normal way and I intend to give an update of proposed legislation and its current state next week. Senator Daly raised the question of fisheries, which I mentioned, as well as the insulation of houses, which would be appropriate for next session because there is not time now.

[1149] Senator Enright mentioned British Nuclear Fuels Limited among other matters and I have addressed that. There is a general welcome for what is happening, although it falls far short of what anybody in this country would want done. This point was also raised by Senator Roche and is one to which we will return next session, having had a useful debate on it a few weeks ago. Senator Farrell raised a matter which is of concern to everybody, that is, the series of attacks on isolated elderly people in country areas. The Garda Síochána will be giving every priority and urgency to that issue. Senator McGennis raised the question of transport policy and toll roads. It would be useful to have a debate on transport policy in the next session in which all of those issues could be raised.

There will be a debate on health early next session. I confirm everything Senator Doyle said. Senator Finneran mentioned flooding and the Appropriation Bill. Senator O'Brien raised the question of cattle prices and that will be dealt with next session. I do not know about the Senator, but the rest of us will not be having four weeks holiday after Christmas. It is called the recess and we will all be working hard during it. When the House is back I will let the Senator know and we can include the matter early on the agenda.

Order of Business agreed to.