Seanad Éireann - Volume 146 - 20 March, 1996
Order of Business.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: Today's Order of Business is items 1 and 2. Item 1 — Irish Steel Limited Bill, 1996 — Second Stage to conclusion and by agreement, there will be 20 minutes per speaker; if that is not sufficient we can change it. Item 2 — Refugee Bill, 1995 — Second Stage to conclusion, also.
Mr. Wright Mr. Wright
Mr. Wright: Can I take it from the Order of Business that there is no time to bring the proceedings of the House to a conclusion tonight?
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: No.
Mr. Wright Mr. Wright
Mr. Wright: Will all those who would like to contribute to the Second Stage of both Bills be accommodated?
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: Yes.
Mr. Wright Mr. Wright
Mr. Wright: The Order of Business is agreed. This morning the BBC reported on a private letter to Minister Gummer from Mr. Frank Davis, Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission relating to lack of funding; it was suggested that he could not guarantee safety in the workplace because of cutbacks — we must remember that nuclear power stations come within his remit. That  would have serious consequences for this island. I would ask the Leader to ensure that our Government is aware of this and that the Minister in charge, whether it is the Tánaiste or Minister for the Environment, would be made aware of that and that they would take whatever action is necessary. Two weeks ago in Private Members' business Fianna Fáil raised the need for legislation with regard to Sky television's position of control of sports coverage. Our spokespersons and those who contributed, who were not reported by RTE that night as Senator Magner stated, made the point that if legislation was not implemented, our national sports would be under threat and the taxpayer would be the loser in that event.
Within two weeks of that debate, the head of sport at RTE, Mr. O'Connor, in the Irish Independent on Monday suggested there was a need for a major television licence hike so that he could compete with Sky television for sporting events. The FAI is in discussions on the possibility of Wimbledon football club playing in Dublin and the PRO for the GAA announced yesterday that the GAA would be foolish and imprudent not to examine the evolving media situation. We ask the House to bear in mind that as the situation evolves we should allow more time between now and the summer to ensure further debate on this important issue.
The Cheltenham races was a sporting event not raised on Private Members' Business last week but it would have been a disaster if the country had not been in a position to enjoy the success of the Irish bred horses. I ask the Leader to include that sport in any future debate so that it will be safeguarded for all those who would wish to see it.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: I am happy with the Order of Business. However, with regard to Senator Wright's point, I am of the opinion that almost everybody was at Cheltenham watching that race and did not need television.
 I take this opportunity in a week when the eyes of the world were on Ireland to ask the Leader to congratulate the Minister for Tourism and Trade for his great effort to enhance the St. Patrick's Day parade this year. It was praised more among the public than in the media, and the Minister should be congratulated for the attention he gave it.
I ask the Leader whether it is possible for the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications to come into the House before any decision is made on the bidding for Telecom Éireann? According to the newspapers there have only been two bids at only half of what was anticipated. We should be careful, and ensure the Minister is aware of the feelings of this House before any decisions are made. I am not sure of the process by which this takes place. It may be better for the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies to address the matter. I ask the Leader to keep the Minister aware of our concern and disappointment with regard to these bids.
Few Bills have been initiated in this House in the past year or two. When I first came into the House three years ago, a number of Bills were initiated here. When the House examined the Trade Marks Bill, 1995, a couple of weeks ago, we found that a great deal of the work had been done in the other House. It seems there is quite a logjam in the other House and this House is capable of doing much more work than it is being asked to do. We must earn that right to have the opportunity to debate Bills here before they go to the other House. I ask the Leader to bring these points to the attention of the Minister.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: I join Senator Quinn in asking the Leader to make time available for consideration of the sale of Telecom Éireann. It would be useful if the Minister could come to the House and clarify the position for us because there seems to be considerable confusion.  Newspaper reports suggest that the bid is around £200 million for a 35 per cent stake. The Minister refuted that figure but did not give the amount of the bid. What we are dealing with here is a strategic alliance, although in this context, “strategic” may not be a particularly appropriate word to use.
As far as I am aware, the original bid was £460 million. We are a long way from that and there seems to be considerable difficulty arriving at the amount being proposed for this sale. There is an element of three card trick economics about this. Is there consistency between the positions being taken by the Labour Party, Fine Gael and Democratic Left on the matter? If one was to suggest that when Kerry Co-op or Avonmore Co-op went to the market, they were to give 35 per cent of their stock to another company outside the State, they would not have got on as well as they did. Kerry Co-op floated for £40 million on the stock market and it is now worth around £800 million. There is a message here somewhere.
Why is there no Private Members' time this evening? It has been a long standing tradition that Private Members' time is available on a Wednesday evening from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. If a party cannot find a matter of merit for Private Members' time or does not want a matter on which there will be a vote, time should be given to somebody else who is prepared to use it.
Mr. McAughtry Mr. McAughtry
Mr. McAughtry: I ask the Leader of the House to make time available for a statement from the Minister setting out the Government's position on the elective process for Northern Ireland, which will be announced tomorrow. I make this request because I am concerned with the amount of debate about the form of election that may be agreed on and the arguments that will arise from it. I would also like to hear a statement from the Minister that will narrow the discussion to the matter of consent. It is a waste of time arguing about decommissioning. We should discuss consent, which is the nub of the matter. If it is  granted by all parties at the round table talks, everything else will flow from that.
Mr. Enright Mr. Enright
Mr. Enright: The conduct of China to Taiwan is a matter of serious concern to Irish people and to people in all democratic countries. China is conducting ground, naval and air military exercises off the coast of Taiwan and in the Taiwan Strait; it is using live ammunition and threatening lives. This is obviously an attempt by the Chinese Government to influence the presidential elections in Taiwan next Saturday. We should discuss this matter. China is attempting to bully and intimidate the Taiwanese people and prevent them voting for a particular candidate. Would the Leader consider providing time for such a debate? I am certain the Tánaiste will agree to come to the House; the Leader may also be interested in it.
Mr. Fitzgerald Mr. Fitzgerald
Mr. Fitzgerald: Will the Price Waterhouse report on the review of BIM be brought before the House as soon as possible? It is rumoured that when this review was presented by Price Waterhouse to the Department of the Marine, it was so critical of that Department and of the Department of Finance that it was returned to Price Waterhouse to be watered down. If this happened it is a disgrace. The whole purpose of this review was to find out what had gone wrong with these Departments. If those Departments exercised undue interference — and I contend that they did — in the affairs of BIM in recent years, it is no surprise that our fishing industry is in its current state. Will the Leader attempt to clarify the position and provide time for a debate on the review?
Mr. Neville Mr. Neville
Mr. Neville: I support Senator Wright's request that the Leader of the House urgently bring to the attention of the Government concerns regarding the safety of nuclear fuels in the UK. This issue was recently debated in the House with the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and  Communications, Deputy Stagg. It is a frightening issue and we must ensure that there is a high level of public awareness of the dangers involved. This is the first occasion on which I have become aware that questions exist with regard to safety. The implications are terrifying when one considers previous disasters, such as Chernobyl.
Mr. Mulcahy Mr. Mulcahy
Mr. Mulcahy: Will the Leader of the House join with Opposition Members in expressing his condemnation of, and revulsion at, the terrible murder which took place at Jack White's public house in County Wicklow in the early hours of Tuesday morning? Would he agree that recent debates in this House on law and order and crime have focused mainly, perhaps correctly, on the issue of drug trafficking and drug abuse? Would he also agree that it is time to engage in a serious and wide ranging debate on the necessity for new legislation in relation to gun control? Guns are widely used in this city and throughout the country and can be hired easily and cheaply.
People reading today's newspapers will be shocked to discover that 26 murders have taken place in the past 12 weeks. The Government appears to have the worst possible crime record. Members on this side of the House demand urgent proposals from Government to deal with gun control and with the criminal gangs and thugs who operate in this city.
Mr. Cregan Mr. Cregan
Mr. Cregan: In reply to Senator Quinn's point, I thought that this year's St. Patrick's Day parades were excellent. The Minister deserves credit for the allocations given to parades in Dublin, Cork, etc., and long may this continue. The parades placed more emphasis on arts, culture and our young people. The Minister deserves great credit for considering what can be achieved by such parades. For far too long there has been an over-emphasis on commercialisation. He is to be heartily congratulated.
Mr. R. Kiely Mr. R. Kiely
 Mr. R. Kiely: I congratulate Commissioner Flynn on having the decision on beef fines relating to Ireland deferred. I hope the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, who has not been as successful as Commissioner Flynn, will put every effort into ensuring that the fines are reduced.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: I support Senator Enright's request for a statement from the Tánaiste on the situation in Taiwan. The House should be aware that, under legislation being enacted, we as Members must declare vested interests. Therefore, I declare a vested interest on behalf of Senator Enright and myself in that we should have been landing in Taipei Airport at this time to observe the presidential elections taking place in Taiwan at the weekend. The Senator and I are present today due to current events in the Taiwan Strait and because the Department of Foreign Affairs was extremely hostile towards our trip. It would be instructive if the Tánaiste were to make a statement on the matter in this House.
Our trip was planned on the basis of an invitation received and accepted by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. However, the Tánaiste saw fit to write a somewhat hectoring letter to the chairman of that committee criticising its Members for accepting the invitation because Ireland does not recognise Taiwan. Many countries do not recognise Taiwan. For example, the United States does not recognise Taiwan but is currently involved in its largest military build-up in the Strait of Taiwan since the Vietnam war. This is a very strange policy for a country which does not recognise another country. The Americans are present in defence of the Taiwanese. It would be instructive to clear the air about where this country stands on what is happening in Taiwan as opposed to sticking our heads in the sand and saying we do not acknowledge or recognise Taiwan and therefore do not care what happens. That is not good enough. I hope the Chinese will see sense about the build-up in the Taiwan  Straits and demilitarise. All they are doing is intimidating a fledgling democracy. The Tánaiste should come to the House and I hope the Leader will convery my strong feelings as a Member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs about the attitude taken by the Department to this trip. Some Members of the other House have gone and although Senator Enright and I have not, I hope we will have an opportunity in the future. It is kind of you to indulge me on this issue, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. It is important.
Mr. Enright Mr. Enright
Mr. Enright: I hope representatives from Taiwan and China come here for the debate.
Mr. Mooney Mr. Mooney
Mr. Mooney: I do also and I hope the press gallery takes note of our concerns. We cannot officially inform the Taiwanese because they do not officially exist, so we have to rely on the media.
As spokesperson on communications, I endorse the call for clarification about Telecom Éireann's strategic alliance. At this morning's meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee of Foreign Affairs, a group of visiting Canadian parliamentarians paid a warm tribute to “Irish Telecom”, as they called it. They had attempted to become involved with Telecom on a bilateral basis but other factors intervened. They praised the company's efficiency and standing. In that context the Minister has an obligation to clarify the matter. I echo our spokesperson, Deputy Brennan's call for him to go back to the drawing board. Telecom workers should not be left in limbo. Will this strategic alliance go ahead with an underpriced tender — as has been alleged — and with up to 1,200 workers losing their jobs? This will not be good enough. The Minister should come to the House. Our party will not agree to the sale of the valuable national jewel which is Telecom Éireann.
Mr. Finneran Mr. Finneran
Mr. Finneran: I join our agriculture spokesperson, Senator Rory Kiely, in complimenting Commissioner Pádraig  Flynn on his positive initiative. His intervention was necessary, considering the record of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry on those fines in recent times.
When will we have a debate on the Government's White Paper on Mental Health? It has become a bore calling for this debate on the Order of Business for the past nine months. The Leader should give a positive response and I ask him again to name a date for a full debate. There are many issues to be discussed and several Members apart from me have called for this.
Barnardo's, the child welfare agency, today made the welcome announcement of an information and counselling helpline for people who were adopted or in care. The agency has publicly called on the Government to give it about £90,000 to run the helpline. It is appropriate that money should be given to provide this valuable service for the next few months and perhaps years. It is a small sum in response to this human problem and I ask the Leader to convey the wish of Members that Barnardo's should receive this money.
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: I join Senator McAughtry in asking the Leader to ensure we will have a presentation of the Government's position on the electoral and referendum process which is to take place in Northern Ireland. These matters should be disclosed to the Houses of the Oireachtas because we are accountable to the people. We should have a fully informed discussion on such issues of crucial importance before the Government takes another step.
RTE and The Irish Times had the capacity to be made aware of issues related to the forthcoming White Paper on foreign policy which should have been made available to the Oireachtas. I compliment the media for their capacity to get information the Oireachtas cannot. The White Paper concerns matters of important foreign and security policy and the Houses of the Oireachtas will not have a chance to  discuss them before the Intergovernmental Conference meets in Turin next week. The White Paper will be published next week giving only a day or two to absorb and discuss such important issues. Does the Government's concept of openness mean leaking? What is its idea of accountability or transparency?
Mr. Farrelly Mr. Farrelly
Mr. Farrelly: The Senator would know all about that.
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: I commend the media for making us aware of what was leaked. Perhaps the Government might leak some information to the Houses of the Oireachtas and it could then make the official communication to the media.
The Intergovernmental Conference meeting next week in Turin is of great importance yet the Houses of the Oireachtas will not have time to discuss the implications of the White Paper on foreign policy. The Government sat on the White Paper for 18 months and then promoted it by leaking it. That is a new concept of openness and is a strange concept of responsibility.
Mr. Fahey Mr. Fahey
Mr. Fahey: Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time on matters in the University College Hospital in Galway? I am reticent to make this a political issue. However, given the nursing staff has followed the junior doctors in the hospital in announcing a strike in two weeks, it has become a national issue. I appreciate the Minister for Health has responded to the crisis in the hospital but the situation is now likely to get out of control. I ask for a debate on the provision of acute medical services in the Western Health Board area and in Galway city, in particular.
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: I join Senator Enright and Senator Mooney in asking for a debate next week on Taiwan. I understand the Leader is making efforts in that regard.
The efforts to take on a strategic partner for Telecom Éireann are obviously floundering. I agree with Senator Quinn  it is time the issue was discussed in the House. The price seems to have fallen from about £450 million to about £220 million. Telecom Éireann is a valuable asset and we should have a say in the matter before it is undersold. It would be in everybody's interest to debate the matter.
Will the Leader make time available to discuss the changes made to the summer jobs scheme for students? Surprisingly, the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, has effectively excluded post leaving certificate students. Many students who have obtained their leaving certificates but are not yet formally in third level education will be seriously disadvantaged if they are not allowed participate in this scheme, as are their parents. Members on all sides will be appalled at the Minister's decision.
As on five or six previous occasions, I abhor the fact that we have not yet had a debate on the post Maastricht treaty and the Intergovernmental Conference. This issue arises next week. After the Turin conference there will be a discussion on matters relating to common foreign and security policy. We have not yet had any debate in either House on issues such as the Western European Union.
The mishandling of this matter by the Government will ultimately lead to a rejection of Government policy at a referendum. There must be a debate. France has issued an extensive discussion document on the Intergovernmental Conference and the UK has issued an extensive White Paper. All we are getting are leaks, which is reprehensible. This is a very sensitive issue to the people. We should debate it in the next week. If not, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs will bear personal responsibility for a disaster in the next referendum.
Mr. Lydon Mr. Lydon
Mr. Lydon: I support the call by Senator Mooney and others for a debate on Taiwan. I hope we can voice our support  for this nation, which is being attacked by a large aggressor.
Mr. Townsend Mr. Townsend
Mr. Townsend: During the last session there were many calls from the other side for a debate on the economy. It is in the national interest to debate this issue at least once a month. The people cannot be reminded too often of the state of the country at the time of the last election in November 1992. Interest rates were over 20 per cent and jobs were being lost at the rate of 50 a day. We should have a positive debate to highlight the achievements made since then.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: I assure the Leader of the Opposition that there will not be a time limit on the two matters we are debating today. I am pleased he raised the nuclear power issue. I will bring it to the attention of the Minister and, if necessary, will try to arrange time, either tomorrow or next week, to have the matter debated.
The question raised by the Leader of the Opposition regarding Sky Television is appropriate. We started a debate on this last week. The issues are complex, but it is important that the body of opinion as represented by him should find expression. If need be, we will return to this subject in the near future.
I thank Senator Quinn for raising the issue of the Dublin St Patrick's Day parade, which was subject to a great deal of criticism. I thought it was a great success, as did those with me. Anything that could be controlled was done very well, but unfortunately, we have no control over the weather. However, it was an innovation and it worked out very well.
Senator Quinn and others raised the question of the current state of the Telecom Éireann strategic alliance. I will ask the Minister to attend the House to indicate the current state of play.
Senator Quinn also raised the question of the initiation of Bills in this House. The recent Powers of Attorney Bill, the Irish Steel Limited Bill, the Arterial Drainage Bill, the Johnstown  Castle Agricultural College (Amendment) Bill, the Civil Legal Aid Bill and a number of others were all Seanad Bills. The Taoiseach has made the Leader of the House a member of the Government legislation committee to ensure that as many Bills as possible start from this House. I will continue to try to press for as many Bills as possible to start here.
Senator Dardis raised the sale of Telecom Éireann and the question of Private Members' Business this evening. It was Fine Gael's turn this evening but because I was particularly anxious that two major pieces of legislation be given as much time as possible, I forewent our opportunity to have Private Members' business. I also want to try to clear the schedule so that we will have time for some of the topics raised by the Opposition later in the session.
Senator McAughtry raised the question of Northern Ireland. We all agree that the question of consent is central to any resolution of the situation there. I will consult with the Leader of the Opposition and other groups and when it is appropriate I will arrange a further debate on Northern Ireland.
Senator Enright and others raised the question of Taiwan; it was also raised last week and the week before. It is an open secret that there is a very sharp division of opinion between official thinking on this matter and a strong body of political opinion on all sides in these Houses. I have asked the Tánaiste to address the matter; it may be possible to have that debate next week. I will press to have the issue debated. Senator Fitzgerald raised the question of the Price Waterhouse report on BIM. I will make inquiries and inform the Senator on the Order of Business tomorrow morning on the status of that report.
Senator Mulcahy asked us to express our sympathy to the family of the victim of the murder which took place on Tuesday last. The savage murder of Mr. Nevin was reprehensible and we send our sympathy to his family. This should not be turned into a political football and I have no intention of doing so.
 With Senator Kiely, I applaud the part being played by the Irish European Commissioner in backing up the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. We all hope the best solution can be found to a problem which was not created by this Government.
Senator Finneran raised the question of the health debate. I have promised the Senator that we will have that debate. I hope I will be able to announce a date for it tomorrow. I am sure the Senator's point about Barnardo's will find a sympathetic hearing. We all pay tribute to what Barnardo's has done recently for a great number of people at a particularly traumatic stage in their lives.
Senator O'Kennedy raised the question of the leaking of the White Paper on foreign policy. I do not know how that part of the White Paper was leaked. A colleague of Senator O'Kennedy once told me never to look to the obvious place for the leak, that it always comes from somewhere else. It is a pity the White Paper was leaked in this way; I hope it will be published soon. I can promise a full debate, with no time limit, in this House as soon as the White Paper has been published. It deserves a full and open debate and we will all be very keen to provide the time for that debate.
Senator Fahey's question on the University College Hospital, Galway, would be more appropriately dealt with on the Adjournment. If that avenue does not prove fruitful, we can talk about Government time but he should first try to deal with it on the Adjournment.
Senator Roche raised a number of questions on Taiwan, Telecom and the summer jobs scheme for students. The Social Welfare Bill will be in the House next Thursday so he will have a full opportunity to raise the issue of the summer jobs scheme for students there. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges at the request of the House recently invited former Senator James Dooge to speak to us about the Intergovernmental Conference. That session will take place at 2 p. m. next  Thursday and I will be moving a motion tomorrow to begin that debate. Senator Townsend always talks sense. Senators from Carlow will always be listened to with great respect.
Order of Business agreed to.
Seanad Éireann 146 Order of Business.