Seanad Éireann - Volume 147 - 01 May, 1996

Order of Business.

Mr. Manning: Today's Order of Business is item 1 and item 17, motion 30. With regard to item 1, there will be 15 minutes per speaker, with the Minister to conclude not later than 5.45 p.m.

Mr. Wright: The Order of Business is agreed. On behalf of my party I wish to express my disappointment for the employees of Packard Electric Ireland Limited. I welcome the fact that the Government is to set up a task force. I hope it will lead to the saving of the many jobs that unfortunately are to be lost.

After 20 years of making a profit and an excellent working relationship between the company and the IDA, the company and its management should play its part in ensuring that the property and the site become a possible asset for the IDA to attract another company or companies to use them and save the jobs.

[111] The visiting committee to Mountjoy Prison issued a frightening and damaging report on the prison today. It will convince the Minister and the Government, if they still need convincing, of the need for more space to be made available. Perhaps we will have the opportunity to discuss this issue if the Minister publishes the report. If we do not resolve the overcrowding at the prison, trouble will continue to spread in the city and the problems of those on remand and engaged in drug related activities in the prison will not be resolved. The report got an airing of at least 20 minutes on the radio this morning. It was frightening to listen to some of the statistics cited by a former Member of the House who chaired the committee which issued the report.

Mr. O'Toole: It is important that the question of Packard Electric Ireland Limited not be seen as a political football. Nothing demeans politics as much as people trying to play politics with unemployment. I accept Senator Wright's remarks. This is a matter for all parties. There has already been a hint of somebody trying to blame the Government for the loss of jobs. People standing for election on the basis that they can solve the unemployment problem bring us all into disrepute. It is a problem for all of us to deal with.

On another issue not unrelated to the perception of politicians, we now have a comprehensive and multi-layered structure of committees in both Houses. Last week a difficulty arose where, because of confusion over committee meetings, speakers were unavailable here. The same difficulty could happen this afternoon where committee meetings are timed to start at the same time as the Order of Business.

I do not know where this problem should be raised; there must be a co-ordinator. The organisation and operation of committee meetings should be timed to facilitate the working of the Houses. While I do not suggest there should not be overlapping, committees [112] should not clash with the Order of Business or other crucial times of the day. The present situation is becoming impossible. The manner in which people are attempting to bilocate to fill quora at different times in different places is not doing justice either to the committees or to the workings of the Houses.

Recently, some Members were unfairly singled out in relation to a Friday meeting. It is grossly unfair to expect Senators and Deputies from the country to be available for committee meetings on a Friday. It would be the death-knell of politics if people were not in their constituencies for at least half of the working week. More politicians should say that publicly because there is work to be done in the constituencies. Arranging meetings for Fridays is bad; we must reassess how we order work for committees and the Houses and I ask the Leader to deal with that. Some form of management is required so that we may work properly and effectively.

Mr. Dardis: I support the remarks made by Senator Wright about Packard Electric and I express the hope that the task force will be successful in attracting investment and jobs to an area which badly needs them. I will not go over the coals which have been well racked on this matter, but we all agree the way the termination of their employment was announced was most unfortunate and unfair.

Could we have a discussion on Northern Ireland before 10 June? It is important that we discuss it and our record on the matter has always been good in that we have always had a balanced and reasoned debate. It is important that the Government speaks with a united voice on this matter, which is one of the things which might emerge from a debate in the House. The situation is particularly sensitive at present and the Taoiseach needs everybody's support in his efforts to progress the path towards peace. I was worried by remarks made by David Ervine of the PUP, which I heard last night. It would be most unfortunate if the people he [113] represents felt compelled by circumstances to return to violence. Everything must be done to prevent that from happening in addition to encouraging Sinn Féin to bring pressure to bear on the IRA to restore the cease-fire.

I wish to refer to a matter on the Adjournment this evening. While I do not want to take from what will be said about providing blood testing results, I appeal to the Leader to go to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Minister for Finance——

An Cathaoirleach: That matter will be discussed on the Adjournment.

Mr. Dardis: At present there is a delay of a fortnight in the submission of area aid forms. EU schemes are being slowed down by the public service dispute. I appeal that something be done to end the dispute immediately in the interests of farmers.

Mr. Finneran: I join with Senator Wright in asking the Minister for Justice to respond quickly and positively to the crisis in the Prison Service. I call on her to allocate the necessary funds for the completion of the 150 cell secure prison in Castlerea.

I wish to raise the crisis of funding for nursing homes. The Health (Nursing Homes) Act, which promoted the opportunity for subvention by the Department and by the health boards, cannot work unless the necessary funds are made available. I call on the Minister for Health to provide the necessary funds so that the health boards can make the necessary contributions to the nursing homes. I understand from the Association of Nursing Homes that some homes will have to close their doors, which would be an unfortunate development.

Mr. Norris: I would like to be associated with remarks about Packard Electric. We discussed this matter and the rights of the workers some time ago. It seems they have been treated extremely shabbily, particularly in relation to the [114] manner in which the information about the termination of their employment was released. That was inexcusable behaviour on the part of management, which may itself have been placed in a difficult situation in the international market. I am glad this matter has not become a political football.

With regard to the question raised by Senator O'Toole about clashes of meetings, such a clash happened last week and today in the case of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. It is a pity that its meetings should coincide with the Order of Business. I made my concern known to the committee and I was given to understand that last week's clash occurred because an important delegation from Turkey was visiting the committee. Some of our distinguished friends from that delegation are in the Visitors' Gallery. I am sure that you, a Chathaoirligh, or the Leader, would wish to welcome them.

An Cathaoirleach: I will do that in due course.

Mr. Norris: The good thing is that if they are here they cannot be visiting the committee. They may share my inadequacy in terms of bilocation.

Mr. Dardis: They should not under-estimate the Senator's capacity for bilocation.

Mr. Norris: Nobody should. Has the Leader any intention of providing time for a debate on deserted husbands? This issue has been raised in the media on a number of occasions in the recent past and it is of considerable concern. A man was deserted by his wife and divorced by her in England, yet she succeeded in gaining compensation from him.

An Cathaoirleach: That is not relevant to today's Order of Business. I am sure you will find some other way of raising it.

Mr. Norris: I certainly will. Perhaps the Leader would consider allowing a [115] debate on this general area because a considerable anomaly seems to exist.

I support the call for a discussion on Northern Ireland as soon as possible. This is a period of the year when there are inflamed sensitivities there. As a member of the Church of Ireland, I appeal to the bishops to deny permission to Orange lodges to start or to end their parades on their grounds when it is clear those parades will pass through areas where there may be sectarian flash points. Somebody recently made this point and I thought it was extremely good. There is a responsibility on the churches if they provide places for these marches to start and terminate.

An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing this situation today.

Mr. Norris: We ought to discuss it as soon as possible.

Mr. Hayes: Does the Leader consider it appropriate to allow time for a discussion on the crisis afflicting my area of central Tallaght following the decision by Packard Electric a few days ago to pull out of the area? Does he agree that the manner in which employees were informed of that decision represents a new low in Irish industrial relations? Will he send the best wishes of the House to the task force which was established yesterday by the Department of Enterprise and Employment? I look forward to a debate in the near future to discuss these important issues.

Mr. Byrne: Veterinary livestock offices throughout the country are affected by the work to rule action of staff. I respect the right of unions to go on strike or to take go slow action, but this has been the worst year for farming in living memory. There have been low prices, bad weather and the problem of mad cow disease. Approximately 10,000 farmers who have been held up by the testing process are not being getting [116] back their blue cards and they cannot sell their livestock. I ask the Leader to appeal to the Minister for Finance to do something about this.

An Cathaoirleach: There will be a discussion on that issue later this evening.

Dr. Henry: I support Senator Wright's concern about Mountjoy Prison. Problems with regard to medical and psychiatric services in the main prison seem to be ongoing. We tried to get a look at this visitor's report. This is the third year running that such problems have been highlighted in the report. Can the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House as soon as possible to discuss what is obviously an appalling problem in one of the State's main prisons?

Mr. McAughtry: I wish to be associated with the expressions of regret concerning the Tallaght situation. From my experience in the North of Ireland I know what can happen when multinationals come and go when it suits them because this island is on the periphery of their endeavours. The most tolerant period in Northern Ireland's history was when there was plenty of work there. It was a time when my own trade union was able to affiliate with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and bring organisations that had represented the majority Protestant population into all-Ireland bodies. It was only when the multinationals began to leave the country — as Packard is doing in Tallaght — that unrest and the breakup of various peaceful manoeuvres began to take place. The troubles in Northern Ireland can almost be dated from that time. I join with other Senators in hoping for an early debate on this issue

I also wish to join Senator Dardis in requesting a debate on Northern Ireland, particularly given the fast moving events we have had recently. A case in point was the Taoiseach's speech in which he talked about an indicative time scale to give momentum to the peace process. The Fianna Fáil Leader replied [117] that the Taoiseach was making a reasoned appeal to the republican movement. In the course of that debate, if it takes place, perhaps someone could explain to me the difference between the republican movement and the nationalists, because one seems to speak for the other and I get mixed up between them.

Mr. R. Kiely: Last week I raised the crisis in agriculture, especially beef prices, and the delay in issuing results which will be raised on the Adjournment this evening. I am reluctant to criticise the Leader but I was disappointed when, in his reply, he congratulated the Minister on doing good work. I hope he conveyed our concern to the Minister regarding the issues I raised last week. While we have had several debates on agriculture, another such debate is now urgently required.

An Cathaoirleach: I am sure the Senator will have the opportunity of putting that on the record tonight.

Mr. R. Kiely: The British-Irish Interparliamentary Body met in my constituency this week and hosted a dinner on Monday to which three Members of the Oireachtas in my constituency were invited.

An Cathaoirleach: That does not arise on today's Order of Business.

Mr. R. Kiely: The fact that some Members of the Oireachtas were invited and others were not is discriminatory.

An Cathaoirleach: It does not arise on today's Order of Business.

Mr. R. Kiely: It is definitely a matter for today's Order of Business. It is unconstitutional.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator will have other opportunities to raise such an important matter, but this is not the place.

[118] Mr. R. Kiely: I wish to protest because the Seanad was ignored and it is as important a body as the Dáil.

An Cathaoirlach: There is a procedure whereby the Senator can raise that matter, but the Order of Business is not the time to raise it.

Mr. R. Kiely: I will ask the Leader of the House to protest to that body because of the discriminatory manner in which invitations were issued.

Ms O'Sullivan: I support what has been said about Packard Electric, and I welcome the task force which is an appropriate response to such a crisis. It will gather the main players together to concentrate their minds on the devastation which the loss of so many jobs will cause in that area.

In broadening that issue, the Department of Enterprise and Employment brought out a very good document a week ago which was circulated to Members. It identified trends in employment and unemployment, and contains many statistics and a number of recommendations. The Seanad should debate that worthwhile document. We respond quickly when there is a crisis in relation to jobs. It is important, however, that we have an input into the broader debate of employment creation, particularly when it relates to the long-term unemployed.

It is opportune that this House should debate the issue of Northern Ireland, particularly, as Senator Kiely stated, in the context of the recent debate of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. We should take note of the Tánaiste's suggestion that decommissioning be dealt with as a separate matter because it will prove a very thorny issue on 10 June and subsequent days. There are a number of other issues which could be fruitfully debated in this House.