Seanad Éireann - Volume 146 - 29 February, 1996

Order of Business.

Mr. Manning: It is proposed to take items 1 and 3. Item 2, which was originally ordered for today, is being deferred by agreement. Item 1 will be taken from the conclusion of the Order of Business until 1.30 p.m. There will be a sos from 1.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. Item 3, statements on Northern Ireland, will be taken from 2.30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Last week we had a seven hour debate on Northern Ireland. With regard to item 3 it is my intention to give time to as many people as wish to contribute. If those who wish to do so indicate this to the Whips, we will be able to decide on a suitable time arrangement for these statements.

Mr. Fitzgerald: We agree with the proposed Order of Business. We will decide later on the amount of time which should be given to those who wish to contribute to the statements on Northern Ireland. We welcome the outcome of the summit meeting yesterday between the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the British Prime Minister, Mr. Major, and we call on the IRA to cease fire. It has been clearly demonstrated on this island since the ending of the ceasefire that the people of Ireland, North and South, want peace and a continuation of talks and discussions. I hope yesterday's summit will result in the start of peace talks and an end to violence once and for all.

Dr. Henry: I support Senator Fitzgerald in his expression of the wishes of all the people of the island that the progress which was made yesterday in London results in peaceful progress towards political talks. I hope the issue of prisoners will not be delayed too long and that the political talks will not have to be concluded before it is addressed.

[1051] Mr. Dardis: I congratulate the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the two Governments for what I believe was a good day's work. I hope Sinn Féin and the IRA will respond and that we will proceed in an atmosphere of non-violence because the alternative is unthinkable. I accept each statement should be brief but if a large number of Members offer, would the Leader consider extending the debate past 4 p.m.?

Ms O'Sullivan: We will have an opportunity this afternoon to express our views on Northern Ireland in more detail. It is appropriate that all sides of the House join with Senator Fitzgerald in congratulating the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the British Prime Minister and the others involved in yesterday's summit and in supporting his clear call and that of many others that the IRA should now take the opportunity for peace and resume their ceasefire. In doing so it would allow Sinn Féin to become involved in the peace process and all of us to move forward in negotiations for peace.

Mr. Farrell: I pay tribute to the Government on its good work in getting the peace initiative back on the rails. I particularly pay tribute to Mr. John Major who took a bold line and showed he was in charge and that he was not going to be dictated to by the unionists. He acted fairly and I hope that, in the next general election in Britain, Irish people there will support him for the brave stand he took.

Could we have a debate on telephones and Telecom Éireann? A big scam involving telephone sex numbers is taking place. This was highlighted in the Sunday papers and on “The Gay Byrne Show” on radio this morning. People are receiving large bills because of calls made on these telephone lines. We should have a debate on how the Government can keep ahead of these scams and abreast of modern technology. This would not be easy but we should debate how it can be done.

[1052] Two or three years ago we had a debate on the collecting of money by charities and we should have another such debate. There never seems to be accountability on the part of many charities. We never see balance sheets at the end of the year showing how much money they raised and what they did with it. There are people with collection boxes on every street and outside every chapel gate. No doubt they collect for worthy causes but we would like to see how much money goes directly to these causes and how much is spent on administration.

Mr. Magner: I welcome the fact that there will be statements this afternoon on Northern Ireland but I am certain that they will get the same derisory coverage from RTE that this House was given yesterday. It is time we either rip the television cameras from here or RTE treats the House as the second Chamber of Parliament. I am sick and tired of seeing it superseded not only by the Dáil but by Oireachtas and Dáil committees and all other output not involving this House. Last night we discussed an important Fianna Fáil Private Members' motion. It dealt with a topic in which everybody has an interest — the capture by multinationals of national sporting events — and not a single word of it was broadcast. The motion was proposed by Senator Mooney, who is involved in broadcasting. The tiny clip shown was the nomination of our new colleague, Senator McAughtry. It is not good enough and we should not put up with it. Without The Irish Times and its journalist, Mary Cummins, this House would not exist in the public eye. I intend to raise the matter with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The House should consider whether it should take out the sham cameras or get proper coverage of its proceedings.

Mr. McGowan: I have asked the Leader of the House a number of times for a debate on the funding provided by the Government to county enterprise [1053] boards. The problem has become more serious. The county enterprise board in County Donegal has sanctioned £900,000 worth of small projects. It has £90,000 which covered two projects in 1995. We had 27 projects on an agenda for a county enterprise board meeting and we were not able to approve a single project.

I will keep raising this issue until we have an opportunity to debate it. We have had to listen to many clichés about community involvement and bottom-up development, yet in every rural area the county enterprise boards are dead in the water. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate so we can express our frustration. A senior executive administering one of the county enterprise boards said he had no doubt they would fold.

An Cathaoirleach: We cannot debate the matter now.

Mr. McGowan: There are 77 such organisations in the country and none of them has funding. We are entitled to have a debate to try to find out what will happen.

Mr. Roche: I agree with Senator Magner. It would seem in Montrose, where the editorial decisions are made, that Ireland is treated as if it had a unicameral Parliament. It is not good enough. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges should immediately raise the matter with the Director General of RTE. It is obviously not possible in the programming time available to the broadcasting unit in RTE to give reasonable coverage to this House. There has been a debate as to the usefulness of this Chamber of Parliament and it is not helped by the coverage. I also agree that were it not for The Irish Times and Mary Cummins, the people would have no knowledge of what happens in this House.

RTE lobbied long and hard to have Parliament covered by television and radio. I ask the Leader of the House to take the matter up urgently. We are [1054] treated in an outrageous fashion; we are considered fill-ins for days when there is nothing else to show. It is not good enough. It is a perverse and not particularly subtle assault on democracy. I know there is frustration in the unit which compiles the parliamentary broadcast in RTE because they have sought and not been given the resources or time for the coverage.

I ask the Leader to arrange an immediate debate on the crisis in closed institutions, particularly child care institutions. In the last couple of years we have had problems with Madonna House, Trudder House and revelations about the Goldenbridge orphanage. At 6.30 a.m. this morning I had a call from a journalist to tell me two child care workers had been removed from an Eastern Health Board funded home and I am investigating that matter.

Since 1981 I have consistently suggested we need an ombudsman and an inspectorate with the right to go into all closed institutions, particularly child care institutions. There can be no confidence in the child care institutions until we have independent scrutiny. There is an excessive degree of secrecy and an almost automatic reversion to denial in the health boards whenever there is a problem.

Mr. Sherlock: All sides of the House agree there is a serious problem with RTE's reporting of the proceedings of the House. Last week we had Statements on Northern Ireland to which I made a contribution which I had prepared well. The amount of coverage given was amazing and my contribution was excluded. That was prejudice. I support the criticisms expressed.

Mr. Townsend: I agree with Senator McGowan that we should have a debate on the county enterprise boards. I have found the county enterprise board in County Carlow is working well and helps many small industries. The chief executive officer and his staff help people to avail of funds other than [1055] county enterprise board funds. A debate on the issue would be helpful.

Mr. Manning: Many Senators referred to Northern Ireland and yesterday's breakthrough which has revitalised the peace process. The House will welcome the generous remarks of Senator Fitzgerald in his appeal to Sinn Féin to use its influence to persuade the IRA to allow the peace process to become a reality. We all echo that sentiment and we hope there is now a framework within which real progress can be made.

Senator Farrell requested a debate on the telephone system and on charities. There is no time available in the shortterm but I will see if the issues can be dealt with at a later date.

Senator Magner, Senator Sherlock and others raised the issue of RTE's coverage of the House. I made representations to RTE on this matter recently. I am assured more resources will be made available to Seanad coverage which will make it possible for Private Member's Time to get greater coverage in future. However, it would be no harm to take the matter to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and to request a meeting with RTE. I will ensure that action is taken.

Senator McGowan and Senator Townsend raised the question of the county enterprise boards and I am sure time can be found for a debate on the issue. Perhaps the Senators might get together and agree an all-party motion on the matter.

Senator Roche raised the issue of child care and the ramifications of recent cases. The issue has also been raised by Senators McGennis, Henry, Honan, Maloney and others recently. I have arranged that there will be a debate on this day fortnight on the issue and I will confirm the arrangements later today.

Senator Dardis asked if the Statements on Northern Ireland could be extended and the Whips can discuss that possibility.

[1056] Order of Business agreed to.