Seanad Éireann - Volume 152 - 15 October, 1997

Order of Business.

Mr. Cassidy: Today's Order of Business is items 1, 2, 3, 4 and item 6, motion 8. Items Nos. 1, 2 and 3 are to be taken without debate. As Members are aware, debate on the Second Stage of the Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill commenced before the general [239] election. I suggest that the time limit for Second Stage should not exceed 15 minutes for spokespersons and ten minutes for other speakers. Members may share time.

Motion No. 8 dealing with the National Roads Authority will be taken between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. I propose ten minutes for spokespersons, seven minutes for other speakers and Members may share time.

Mr. Manning: The Order of Business as proposed is agreed. However, as there will not be many contributions from my party on the Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill, will the Leader arrange for 15 minutes per speaker? I believe only two members of my party, the second of whom has strong views on the issue, wish to contribute.

Last week the Leader outlined the programme of legislation for the coming months and indicated that 90 pieces of legislation would be taken. Will he take a short-term view and inform the House of the specific legislation he proposes to deal with during the next three to four weeks? It is important that spokespersons be afforded an opportunity to carry out research and prepare properly.

The disgraceful way in which a large number of refugees were treated on Friday last outside the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform was raised in the Lower House yesterday. I believe Members in this House also feel strongly about this matter.

Mr. Norris: Hear, hear.

Mr. Manning: The scenes which occurred outside the Department were reminiscent of Ellis Island at its worst. This is no way for a civilised country to behave. Promises have been made that it will not happen again. We must ensure that such scenes are not repeated and that the people involved are treated in a humane way.

Will the Minister for Finance come before the House tomorrow during the debate on economic and monetary union to explain Government policy on the future of corporation tax? Will the tax be reduced to the 10 per cent target promised in the Fianna Fáil manifesto or will it be set at 12.5 per cent as stated earlier in the week?

Mr. O'Toole: Is it correct that item 3, which is being taken without debate, will restore the Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill to the Order Paper and the debate on it will continue this afternoon? As I was in possession on the last occasion on which the Bill was debated, I presume I remain in possession and will be the first speaker.

Mr. Connor: Full marks to the Senator for trying.

Mr. O'Toole: I am merely seeking parity of esteem. As I was in possession during the previous [240] debate, I presume that will remain the case. I hope I can depend on my former colleagues on this side of the House who moved to the Government benches following the election. I trust they will not try any tricks. I presume there will be no ministerial speech and that Second Stage will resume with my contribution. I look forward to the Cathaoirleach's confirmation of that fact.

An Cathaoirleach: On a point of clarification, I understand there will be a ministerial speech and that the Second Stage debate will be taken again in its entirety.

Mr. O'Toole: I am prepared to defer to the Minister and make my contribution following his.

Miss Quill: The Senator is shipwrecked.

Mr. O'Toole: I hope the Government does not make a U-turn on the Loran C mast at Loop Head. Before the election my colleagues opposite and I raised the importance of the need to introduce mandatory reporting. There was a clear commitment by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats to introduce mandatory reporting through legislation. It is disgraceful that this has not happened. I do not wish to enter a debate on the matter at present, but will the Leader arrange for the relevant Minister to come before this House to explain the matter? Many of us do not understand how a protocol can be made mandatory. We understood that for something to be mandatory a legislative basis is required. This is an unacceptable U-turn. I have no problem with U-turns if they are in the right direction but this one is regressive.

Mr. R. Kiely: I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, on the reopening of the live export trade. He successfully acquired £1 million to ensure the trade will re-open. It is good news that a ship sailed from Ringaskiddy for France last night with nine lorry loads of cattle on board. It has resulted in an increase in the price of weanlings which is good news for farmers. This is in contrast to the previous Minister's achievements. He could only try to get Michael Keating and Peter Bolger, who were in the news for the wrong reasons recently, to try to organise a sailing to Gambia.

An Cathaoirleach: That is not in order on the Order of Business.

Mr. Norris: I join Senator Manning in deploring the appalling scenes outside the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is intolerable that people should be treated in this manner. Several thousand people were left waiting for four hours in the pouring rain.

Will the Leader arrange for a Government spokesman to clarify for the House the Government's attitude to the people from County Louth who are taking legal action against BNFL's reprocessing plant? The matter requires further clarification. [241] The Government appeared to be trying to get off the hook for a sum of £200,000 as an ex gratia payment. However, as a result of a debate in the other House yesterday the situation appears to be more open. The Minister has declined to meet the people involved. Because of the interest of the House in the matter it would be useful if it were clarified by a Government spokesperson.

Mr. Finneran: I thank the Leader of the House for organising a debate on EMU tomorrow. Hopefully, Members who have an interest in the matter will have the opportunity to contribute.

I wish to raise the major variation that has arisen in house prices in the last 12 months. Prices increased by 14 per cent in Dublin as against 3 per cent in the north. The Department of the Environment and Local Government is carrying out research at present in this regard. Will the Leader arrange for a debate on this issue? As representatives elected by local authority members we are in a position to offer a national perspective on the matter. Perhaps the Leader would consult with the Departments of the Environment and Local Government and Finance and arrange for a debate. If the present trend continues young married couples in Dublin will not be able to build or buy a house unless they have very high incomes.

An Cathaoirleach: I wish to clarify for the House that the Leader intended item 4 to be the Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill, 1997.

Dr. Henry: Like Senator Manning and Senator Norris, I was appalled by the scenes I witnessed outside the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform last Saturday. I hope they will not be repeated. Will the Leader indicate the status of the Employment Equality Bill, in which we took a great deal of interest and which was declared partly unconstitutional? Will it be reintroduced with the section on disability rephrased? It is very important legislation.

Mr. Callanan: I join Senator Kiely in congratulating the Minister for Agriculture and Food on his achievement which resulted in the provision of a boat which will sail from Cork. The boat is of the highest quality and will provide transport for 25,000 cattle between now and Christmas. The quality of the boat is one thing but the benefit to the farming community is another. Unfortunately there was some criticism of the Minister and the Government here recently, but congratulations are now in order.

Mr. Connor: I join with the previous speaker's comments on the export of live cattle. I missed the debate on the subject last week. I do not think congratulations to the Minister are in order yet. I would ask the Leader to inquire when the live export of cattle to Egypt will reopen. That is our [242] most important market where there is a potential to sell at least 100,000 cattle.

As regards wildlife legislation, a new wildlife Bill or amendments to the existing Wildlife Act that would give statutory authority to the creation of special areas of conservation, SACs, and also areas of natural importance in terms of wildlife has been promised for a long time and I wish to know when it will be introduced in both Houses.

Mr. Dardis: I join in congratulating the Minister for Agriculture and Food on the reopening of the live cattle trade to the Continent and the establishment of the ferry service with Purbeck. I would point out to Senator Connor that there is no need to re-open the Egyptian live cattle trade because in a press release on 6 June, which was read into the record of the House last week, the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, announced the trade had been re-opened. Even though Deputy Yates said on that occasion that he had re-opened the trade, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, is making every effort to re-open it. It is intended to have a trial shipment and the veterinary officials from the Department of Agriculture are going to Egypt to iron out the technical difficulties.

An Cathaoirleach: May I say, for the information of Members, that mobile phones should not be used in the House.

Mr. Dardis: I agree with those who said it is intolerable that so many people should have had to queue outside the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Because of the vigorous economic growth we are experiencing, it is expected that we may have immigration into this country in the very near future. It will be interesting to see how we will deal with that phenomenon given the way we have been welcomed in countries around the world.

I welcome what has taken place in Northern Ireland and hope that there is rapid progress towards an agreed settlement. Last week there were suggestions that the matter be debated here. I was pleased to see during the week that Senator Manning made the observation that the meeting with Sinn Féin and Mr. Blair was not in any way similar to the meeting which took place some 70 years ago between Lloyd George and the then leaders of Sinn Féin, which is not the same Sinn Féin we have today.

Mr. Quinn: I would draw the attention of Members of the House to the fact that a piece of algebra that was rejected by several academic journals in 1973 yesterday won the Nobel Prize. It is a reminder to us of the need to invest in education. I ask the Leader of the House to invite the Minister for Education and Science into this House in the near future, particularly in view of the fact that many of the jobs created in recent years were as a result of the high standard of our [243] education. We are now becoming short of manpower with the necessary ability and skills, particularly in high tech areas. I know the Minister is aware of this and I would welcome an opportunity to have him come into this House in the near future to talk about his objectives in this area.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána on their recent success in the fight against crime. We can all rest a little easier in our beds as a result of some of the steps that were taken recently.

Mrs. Ridge: Will the Leader call on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to review the disabled person's grant? We have recently come across terrible cases of hardship where people in private houses are literally reduced to carrying loved ones around the house. There is a need for such a review of people on very low fixed incomes. The fact that they are in private housing as distinct from public housing should not prevent the best possible care being afforded to the disabled. It is time for somebody to make a quick decision on the matter.

Mr. Mooney: While I fully agree with the sentiments expressed about what happened in St. Stephen's Green last weekend, it is also imperative for this House to acknowledge that many Irish citizens are still queuing outside immigration centres and social welfare offices abroad. Will the Leader initiate a debate on emigrant matters, as has been the tradition in this House over the last number of years? I compliment the former Leader, Senator Manning, who facilitated such a debate in the last Seanad.

One of the last official acts of the previous Minister for Foreign Affairs, former Deputy Ray Burke, was to visit a number of Irish immigration centres in New York and Boston. He announced an increase in the financial allocation to these centres, which largely went unreported here like many emigrant issues, I am sad to say. While I do not wish to be seen as a crusading light on emigrant issues specifically, as a former emigrant I try to spend as much time as I can keeping in contact with Irish emigrants in various countries. Such a debate would be welcomed by the House.

Mr. McGowan: Will the Leader arrange a debate on the current talks in Northern Ireland? It is now safe for the House to debate the progress that has been made. It is so important to the southern Border counties that have suffered serious deprivation as a result of over 25 years of violence. We would like an opportunity to encourage those involved to reach an understanding so that we can live in peace. Peace on this island is the number one priority. It has to be said loud and clear from every platform that all of us are anxious to see progress and, ultimately, a settlement of the troubles in the North of Ireland.

[244] Mr. Doyle: Yesterday, Dublin Corporation announced plans for the refurbishment of O'Connell Street to make it a thoroughfare worthy of a capital city. I call on the Leader to request the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance to make necessary funds available to carry out this work.

Mr. Norris: Hear, hear.

Mr. O'Dowd: Will the Leader of the House bring to the attention of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the fact that great concern is being expressed about the level of grants available to disabled persons? In order to get the £8,000 grant, disabled persons must find one third of the money available themselves. That is creating exceptional demands on them because most disabled people are unemployed and are, therefore, not in a position to have the extra downstairs bathroom provided.

I agree with Senator Norris that the Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise, Deputy Jacob, ought at the first opportunity to explain the Government's position on the case taken against Sellafield by the Dundalk residents. It is a matter of great concern to everyone in County Louth that funding should be provided for this legal action.

We should not treat immigrants any differently from the way we expect our emigrants to be treated on the streets of New York or London.

Mr. Cassidy: I agree with Senator Manning's request for a time allocation of 15 minutes per speaker. Last week I announced 21 pieces of proposed legislation, although it might have sounded like 90 it took so long to read it aloud. I will come into the House at the earliest opportunity over the next sitting day or two and let the Senator know the business intended for the next four or five weeks.

I totally concur with all those who spoke about the problems experienced by the refugees we saw on television last week. Nobody in their right mind could condone what happened. I will also bear in mind the views of Senator Mooney who is vastly experienced in this regard.

Senator Manning asked that the Minister for Finance come into the House to clarify the Government's long-term proposals on corporation tax and taxation in general. I understand the Minister was in Brussels and I do not know whether he will be back tomorrow, but I will try to have that point clarified. Maybe we can take statements on tax matters or have a debate on it at a future date.

Senators Dardis and McGowan want a debate on Northern Ireland; I do not have any difficulty with that. I will discuss this with the leaders over the next day or two to see if we can facilitate the Members who want to participate.

Senator Quinn wants a debate on education; I have no objection to that either. Tomorrow I will be only too pleased to facilitate the Senator with statements on EMU, one of the most important [245] challenges the country will face over the next number of years.

There was a call for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to clarify various points; this does not pose a difficulty. Senator O'Toole made various points about the Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill. I know you clarified this, a Chathaoirligh, and that the Senator will concur with the Chair's ruling on this matter, as I do. The Senator always has a great gift for being mischievous toward the Leader on the Order of Business, and I take his comments as such.

Senators Norris and O'Dowd referred to the debate in the Dáil on the Government's attitude to the residents from County Louth who are taking legal action against BNFL. For the information of the new Senators, the previous Seanad took a lead in that regard. We can all be proud of our actions, the way we voted and where our hearts lay in relation to this major problem. The people of the island of Ireland are concerned about this but in particular it seems to have most affected the people from County Louth and those living along the east coast. I fully agree with the sentiments expressed. The debate is continuing in the Dáil tonight when the matter will be clarified further. Politicians in general must take the lead and the Civil Service must recognise and accept that a serious situation exists. We gave the lead when the matter last came before this House.

Senator Henry asked about the employment equality Bill. I hope it will be before the House in the next session.

Senator Connor asked about the wildlife Bill which is at an advanced stage. I will come back to the House next week and let the Senator know exactly when it is proposed to take it.

Senators Ridge and O'Dowd raised various points regarding the disabled. I will facilitate statements on the disabled at the earliest opportunity.

Senator Joe Doyle wanted the support of the House to the proposal, which will be before Dublin Corporation this week, for the refurbishment of O'Connell Street. I concur with the Senator's request and will convey the House's views to the Minister. These improvements to the principal street in Ireland are long overdue and I welcome the corporation's findings yesterday.

Order of Business agreed to.