Seanad Éireann - Volume 146 - 06 March, 1996

Order of Business.

Mr. Manning: Today's Order of Business is item 1, Second Stage of the Trade Marks Bill, 1995, until 6 p.m. and item 18, Motion 30, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Mr. Wright: We agree with the Order of Business. I ask the Leader to make time available between now and the summer recess for a debate on coastal erosion. I understand this issue is being debated at European level. This House is an ideal forum for such a debate which would be of great interest to many Senators. For the first time funding is now available for coastal protection.

Perhaps the Leader could tell us when time will be made available to discuss education. He has asked us on several occasions to come up with ideas on the type of debate we should have. Following the recent agreement between the Minister for Education and the unions, it is appropriate for this House to discuss education and to allow Senator O'Toole to elaborate on his negotiating prowess.

Mr. Manning: Flattery will get the Senator everywhere.

[1159] Mr. O'Toole: I am ashamed of myself.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator Wright, without interruption.

Mr. Wright: Will Senators receive a copy of recent correspondence on the Finance Bill, 1996, which was circulated by the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy E. Fitzgerald? Perhaps we could all have an opportunity to see such material and to participate in any discussion, instead of reading about it in newspapers.

Mr. O'Kennedy: It has been circulated widely.

Mr. O'Toole: I agree with the Order of Business. If any Member wants to receive a full briefing on any aspect of the recent agreement between the Minister for Education and the unions, I will be happy to arrange it.

An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing that matter now.

Mr. O'Toole: I cannot guarantee access to the Minister for Finance but I will do my best.

An Cathaoirleach: Senator O'Toole on the Order of Business.

Mr. O'Toole: I express my thanks to my press liaison officer, Senator Ross, who is doing extraordinary work to improve my status and reputation in the trade union movement.

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

Mr. O'Toole: I would be happy if the Leader of his group would encourage him to continue doing that in the future. If he cannot continue in that vein——

An Cathaoirleach: A question for the Leader on the Order of Business, Senator O'Toole.

[1160] Mr. O'Toole: I am trying to hide my hurt at those terrible articles. On a more serious note, it would be in everyone's interest if we had an early debate on item 17 on the Order Paper, concerning the report Putting Children First and mandatory reporting of child abuse cases. There is much confusion on this subject. Teachers, including myself, are often asked why we are opposed to mandatory reporting, for some reason people think we are. This should not be used to delay the process, since the present debate is similar to that which took place after the Kilkenny incest report. Mandatory reporting should be brought in as quickly as possible because it is the only protection for everyone involved in this area.

I congratulate the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht for his wise decision to ensure Anois begins to resemble an ordinary newspaper by moving to put it in the private sector.

Mr. Dardis: The Leader is aware that, arising from the Price Waterhouse and EAG reports, we have been looking for a debate on defence for a considerable period. Since proposals for a voluntary redundancy package have now come from Cabinet, this is an opportune time to discuss the future of the Defence Forces, given that their strength is to be reduced.

Senator O'Toole raised item 17, concerning the report Putting Children First. Last week we sought a debate on childcare. Senator Magner had a narrow focus and while we have no problem with that, my request was to discuss aspects of residential care on the basis of disturbing reports in the newspapers. When we consider the matter, I ask the Leader not to confine the debate to the report but to make it broader in its scope.

I assume Senator O'Toole will use his newly found gold card to bring Senator Ross to dinner, as appropriate thanks for the publicity he gave him last weekend. Finally, does the Leader propose time limits for contributions on item 1?

[1161] Mr. Magner: In response to the last speaker about the debate on children, I specifically stated — and intimated subsequently to the Leader — that I wanted a tight, focused debate on street children and not an omnibus discussion. I understood that a wider debate should go ahead but the street children issue should not be included in it. I intend to pursue it either with the assistance of the Leader in Government time or by putting forward a Labour Party Private Members' motion. I am collecting data on the subject at present.

Last week on the Order of Business I attacked RTE's coverage of this House, with much justification, particularly in relation to Senator Mooney's Private Members' motion on Sky Television's encroachment into exclusive coverage of events which are part of our national heritage. I subsequently received a telephone call from RTE and met the editor of “Oireachtas Report”. I raised three points with him and am happy to tell the House that we made substantial progress. First, I said the opening credits to the programme were misleading: the programme covers the Oireachtas, which consists of two Houses, yet the opening sequence shows one House exclusively. RTE has undertaken to replace the opening.

Second, I said the Seanad did not have a Question Time and that normally the Order of Business is used, with your indulgence, Sir, to raise questions Members have for the Leader of the House. RTE did not cover that in the past but has undertaken to do so in future. Their other bad practice was to cover frontbench spokespersons in the morning. If one spoke in the morning one had some chance of coverage, whereas if one spoke in the afternoon or at midnight one had no chance. They have also undertaken to rectify this.

I suggest that we invite RTE to attend the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to copperfasten the agreements made with me and to broaden the debate because there is still much work to be done with regard to coverage of the House.

[1162] Mr. Fitzgerald: Will the Leader ask the Minister for the Marine, Deputy Barrett, to attend the House to make a statement on the EU ruling yesterday which gave Spanish fishermen the right to register their boats in the UK? The ruling means that they can register in any country within the EU, which will enable them to fish the quotas of the country in which they register.

This is an outrageous ruling against which we should protest immediately. While we cannot include an extra boat in our fleet without taking out equal tonnage, the ruling yesterday allows Spanish fishermen — their case was the only one under consideration but it applies to other fishermen — to register their boats in Ireland and take fish from our quota.

I urge the Minister for the Marine to contact his counterpart in the UK immediately and lodge a protest because this ruling means the end of the fishing fleet as we know it. It is useless to suggest that there is a reciprocal arrangement whereby Irish boats can register in Spain because there is no fish to be caught in Spanish waters; we have the fish.

Mr. Mooney: I endorse the remarks of my friend and colleague, Senator Magner, and commend him for his initiative with regard to his discussions with RTE as they affect the House. When representatives from RTE meet the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, they should look at radio coverage. The radio coverage of “Oireachtas Report” is a direct link to the television coverage — the radio represents the sound track from television; they are not two separate entities.

An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing this matter. I allowed Senator Magner to raise it because he raised it last week.

Mr. Mooney: Given that it is of concern to the House and given also that the Senator has made a specific proposal to the Leader, which I support, I [1163] ask that, in the context of the proposed meeting, the issue of radio coverage should also be raised, especially the coverage which has now been shifted unilaterally by RTE radio from its traditional night time position to a later, variable time. The House does not deserve this kind of treatment from the national broadcasting station.

On a matter of perhaps greater importance, especially to those of us who are supporters and lovers of Leitrim Boxty, this wonderful potato delicacy — Senator Bohan tells me he consumed some of it this morning — has not been included on the list of delicacies of a national character submitted for registration to the EU by An Bord Bia in the absence of a list submitted by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry..

With Sweden, this country has failed to register such a list. For example, Dublin coddle, Cork drisheen, Clonakility mussels——

An Cathaoirleach: This matter is not pertinent to the Order of Business.

Mr. Mooney: Given that the list is being compiled — it should have been submitted to the EU long ago — will the Leader convey to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, who is responsible for An Bord Bia, that I saw no mention in any reports of the inclusion of Leitrim Boxty? I am concerned about the survival of this potato based dish.

An Cathaoirleach: You have certainly put it on the map.

Mr. Sherlock: Will the Leader indicate when the concluding Stages of the Waste Management Bill will be before the House?

Mr. McGowan: I ask the Leader of the House to bring the Minister responsible for funding of county enterprise boards into the House. I have raised this matter on a number of occasions and [1164] the situation is getting more serious by the day. Our county enterprise board has a greater budget for administration than it has for supporting small industry. I am sure that the Leader of the House would want to open up this debate. The county enterprise boards were set up in a blaze of glory and people in rural Ireland were given the impression that they would contribute to setting up small industries. This issue is serious. It would cost £930,000 to fund approved projects in my area but we have only £90,000. That could be equated with like having one sweet for ten children.

An Cathaoirleach: Do you have a question for the Leader, Senator?

Mr. McGowan: I ask the Leader to provide time for this debate as soon as possible here because it is no longer a joke. I have to live with an announcement that was made this week in Donegal——

An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing Donegal now. You must put a question to the Leader of the House.

Mr. McGowan: I am trying to put a case to the House. An announcement was made in Donegal this week that a new theatre would be funded at a cost of nearly £2 million. There will be no shortage of actors for the theatre because that is all we are doing now as far as funding for county enterprise boards is concerned.

An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing this matter any further, Senator. If you want to put a question to the Leader of the House on today's Order of Business, do so.

Mr. McGowan: I appreciate your leniency, a Chathaoirligh, and I am almost embarrassed to raise the question.

An Cathaoirleach: A question to the Leader, please.

[1165] Mr. McGowan: I ask the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on this matter.

Mr. Maloney: I thought Senator McGowan was going to thank me for delivering the theatre. I have no doubt it will be the second Chamber he and I will appear in, the way things are going.

I wish to raise the nurses' dispute. The public is concerned about people who work in psychiatry and with the mentally handicapped. Talks are not progressing quickly enough in this dispute. These people have a special place in society and the worst thing that could happen would be if they went on strike. Very few people who have not worked in that area understand the situation. I have done so and I know these people are overworked and overstressed, yet they give their time freely. The message should go out from this Chamber to the Minister that we are concerned. The process should be speeded up as much as possible and a strike should be avoided.

Mr. Farrell: I support Senator Wright in asking for a debate on coastal erosion. This is a serious problem. We have been asked on several occasions to prepare a policy and documentation to show what needs to be done. This has been done on numerous occasions in Sligo but no funding has been forthcoming.

I also call for a debate on the local improvements schemes; in my county we have a ten year waiting list. Our funding amounts to £110,000 and it would cost £1 million to fund all the applications. It is time we had a debate on this subject to see how we could get money to update the scheme.

Senator Ross wrote two very fine articles in the newspaper on the last two Sundays about how banks overcharge their customers. It is time we had a debate on this issue.

An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing last Sunday's newspaper.

[1166] Mr. Farrell: We do not know what the banks are charging; we have been overcharged. I am a golden years customer now but people in business do not know what they are charged or for what the charges are. We should have a full debate on how the banks operate.

Mr. Quinn: Senator Farrell will have ample opportunity to put forward his views during this evening's Private Members' debate on banking which will also enable the House to discuss the points he made.

My question to the Leader relates to currency which has been discussed on previous occasions. I am aware that the Leader is anxious to have a good debate on the matter. I am afraid that monetary union will sneak up on us like a brass band. We have been hearing about it, we know it is coming but we have not debated its implications. I urge the Leader to provide time for a debate on monetary union, which will be critical to exports, employment and the economy, as soon as possible.

Mr. O'Kennedy: The Tánaiste has been very generous in appearing before this House to keep Members abreast of developments in relation to Northern Ireland. However, it now appears that there are in-built preconditions in the joint communiqué which were not previously obvious and which might provide some parties with a right of veto against the participation of other parties in the talks process. With regard to the talks that will take place between now and 13 March, could the Tánaiste inform this House about the prospect of bringing about the all-party negotiations to which the Taoiseach referred? I acknowledge the importance of such negotiations.

Will the Tánaiste make a statement to the House regarding the intervention of the Taoiseach, from the point of view of his fraternal associates in the British Labour Party, because it seems that confidence in Ireland is higher than in Britain that the Conservative Party will remain in Government? It is important [1167] that a statement be made in this House as to the propriety of such action.

Would it be possible to invite the Minister for Finance to appear before the House at whatever fee he believes appropriate — it need not necessarily be £100 per head — to hear the views of Members as to what might or might not be included in the Finance Bill? We will charge him a little less than £100.

Mr. Daly: I support Senator Fitzgerald's statement about the undermining of the Common Fisheries Policy by a recent court decision. Irish fish stocks will be placed at great risk as a result. Not only does that decision create difficulties for fishermen but it places hundreds of jobs in the fishing and processing industries at risk. It is urgent that the Minister for the Marine gives some indication of how he proposes to deal with this issue at European Union level. The decision is serious and will place severe pressure on Irish fish stocks.

The Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, Deputy Gilmore, recently met the British authorities with regard to the dumping of waste ammunition, radioactive waste and other substances in the vicinity of the Irish coastline. Such action is causing widespread concern in coastal communities because quite an amount of material has washed up on our beaches. Perhaps the Minister of State could give this House some indication of the outcome of his discussions with the British authorities and the nature of both Governments' proposals for dealing with this serious problem which has given great cause for concern.

Mr. Lanigan: I support Senator Dardis' request for a debate on defence issues because avenues for discussion have recently opened. I have requested such a debate on a weekly basis for many months.

I believe this House should express its horror at the events which took place in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv during the past [1168] two weeks. I request that the Leader invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs to join with his European counterparts in ensuring that the EU plays its part to ensure that the peace process in the Middle East does not go off the rails due to the activities of a minority of people with no mandate. The parallels between events there and what could potentially happen here are too obvious to state.

Given the television coverage in recent days of the prisoners in Rwanda who will face trial when the international war crimes tribunal is established, will the Leader continue to ask the Tánaiste to press the EU to ensure that that tribunal is set up? Thousands of people, from ten years of age upwards, are in jail and although some have committed horrific war crimes and must be punished, many people are dying in these jails every day. Until they are brought to trial——

An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing the matter today, Senator.

Mr. Lanigan: ——many more people will die in jail. Innocent people should not be held in jail, but those who committed horrific crimes should be brought to justice.

Mr. Fahey: Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister for Health to intervene in the dispute involving junior hospital doctors in Galway and the Western Health Board before it becomes a serious issue? Will he consider arranging a debate this session on part-time workers because there are many anomalies in the social welfare legislation which discriminate against such workers. It would be a most useful debate. For example, I recently encountered a case where dock workers in Galway are seriously discriminated against because social welfare regulations have not kept pace with change in that industry. Now dock workers, who traditionally had good employment, may have only three months work in a year.

[1169] An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing the matter now, Senator.

Mr. Fahey: They now find they would be better off on the dole than working.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator wants a debate on part-time workers.

Mr. Fahey: It would be useful to debate this area.

Mr. Manning: Senator Wright asked for a debate on coastal erosion. The Senator is aware a debate on coastal erosion in County Wicklow was shared last week by Senator Ross and Senator Roche. However, I am happy to arrange a debate on the issue which will cover the entire country.

The Senator referred to some articles in a Sunday newspaper. I am a great believer in pleasant Sundays and I do not read that particular newspaper. However, I am sure I can find it in the Library and I will pass on the Senator's comments. I did not receive an invitation to that lunch so I cannot comment on it. However, I am sure the Minister, in her inimitable way, will defend it and that everything she has done is defensible.

I am sure the House will be glad to receive the briefing Senator O'Toole offered on educational matters.

A number of Senators raised the question of a debate on childcare and child abuse. I intend to order that debate for Thursday, 14 March, and to focus it on the Minister's recent report. However, this is just a focal point and it does not mean the debate must only be about that matter. All matters relating to childcare and current issues may be considered at that time. I hope the debate will not conclude next week, but will remain on the Order Paper so that it can be pursued at a future date.

Senator O'Toole made a point about Anois about which I have no comment. Having listened to the discussions last evening, only a fool would rush in on that particular issue.

[1170] Senator Lanigan and Senator Dardis requested a debate on defence issues. The Minister is taking Question Time in the other House today but he is anxious to come to the House to talk about the issues, given that most of them have been reasonably resolved. I will try to arrange this debate; I am aware it has been asked for over a long time.

Senator Dardis asked about time limits on item 1. There are no time limits as I do not think they will be necessary. Senator Magner raised the issue of childcare with which I dealt already. The Senator spoke to RTE personnel last week, as I did also. I assure the House, and the Senator will agree, that there is goodwill on the part of RTE. It is no harm to remind them, as they were forcibly reminded last week, that this House expects better treatment than it has received in the past. I also received the assurances the Senator received that coverage of the House from now on will increase significantly.

Senator Fitzgerald and Senator Daly raised the question of yesterday's EU ruling and I will make immediate contact with the Minister in that regard. As I said, he is taking Question Time at the moment in the other House but I am sure he will want to address that issue as a matter of urgency.

Senator Mooney drew our attention to the variable timing of the radio coverage of this House. I have not recently listened very much to RTE radio in the evenings. However, I am glad the Senator has drawn attention to the fact that the coverage is not broadcast at a fixed time and we will put that on our agenda. On the question of the delicacy he raised, perhaps he might arrange a tasting for Members so that we can convey his concern to the Minister.

Senator Sherlock asked about the Waste Bill, the Committee Stage of which will be taken on Thursday week. I am sorry Senator McGowan was embarrassed but, in answer to his question, we will have a debate on that matter soon. I will convey Senator [1171] Maloney's concern on the nurses dispute to the Minister.

Senator Farrell apparently believes that Senator Ross should receive an increased fee from Independent Newspapers for the quality of his articles, although that might not be unanimous.

Mr. Magner: Ask the Taoiseach about that.

Mr. Manning: Senator Quinn helpfully reminded us that the debate on banking this evening will take on board many of the issues raised by Senator Farrell. I will attempt to have a debate on currency fairly soon and I will speak to the Minister about that matter this evening.

Senator O'Kennedy asked about a briefing from the Tánaiste, for which I will ask him. In regard to the other matter which the Senator raised, it is my understanding that confidential conversations remain confidential. However, as an old Parnellite, I am sure that the Senator would not have any objection——

Mr. O'Kennedy: Me, an old Parnellite?

Mr. Manning: I have always thought, from his earlier speeches, that the Senator was a Parnellite.

Senator Daly raised the question of fisheries. The Dumping at Sea Bill will be taken in this House within the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I will pass on the urgency of the Senator's points to the Minister of State.

I am glad Senator Lanigan raised the question of the atrocities in Jerusalem. All Members will wish to express their absolute abhorrence, horror and detestation of what has happened and our concern at the parlous state in which this has put the peace process in that country. I will convey to the Tánaiste the urgency of what the Senator said about how the EU must do everything — as it is doing — it can to preserve the [1172] peace process there. I have also noted the Senator's comments on Rwanda.

I will convey Senator Fahey's comments on the Galway dispute to the Minister. The Social Welfare Bill will be in this House before the end of the month and will cover many of the issues raised by the Senator about part-time workers. If those concerns are not adequately dealt with in the Social Welfare Bill, I could then talk to the Senator about a debate on the matter.

Order of Business agreed to.