Seanad Éireann - Volume 154 - 05 March, 1998
Order of Business.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business is items 1 and 2.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed.
I wish to draw to the attention of the Leader and the House a series of allegations currently being made in the media of a conspiracy of silence as far as the implications of the Amsterdam Treaty are concerned. In The Irish Times today, Dr. Frank Barry writes about arrogance on the part of politicians who are refusing to debate the issue.
There is no such conspiracy, but there is public concern about the lack of debate on the Treaty, although the State is open to whoever wants to make a case. Will the Leader consider using the House to make a contribution to the debate by inviting a number of people, especially those who are strongly opposed to the Treaty, to make their case here and to answer questions from  Members? Such a procedure could be open to the House and the Committee on Procedures and Privileges could discuss it. The House could make a useful contribution to the debate, especially since charges are being made that politicians and others are reluctant to engage in debate on the issue.
Mr. Norris Mr. Norris
Mr. Norris: I support Senator Manning's remarks. There is a debate in the European Commission office tomorrow at 12.45 p.m. to which members of the public are welcome. Will the Leader consider making time available on an all party basis to discuss item 13, motion 17, which deals with the difficulties of the Iraqi civilian population in acquiring medical supplies in the aftermath of the Gulf War and the blockade on Iran? Children are suffering and dying unnecessarily from cancer, simply from the want of ordinary available drugs. Every Member wants this subject debated so that a message can be sent, in particular, to the Americans and British. Causing small children to suffer and die is not the way civilised nations conduct their affairs.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: I support Senator Manning's call for an early debate on the Amsterdam Treaty and how that might be best organised. It will be better if we are able to bring in outside people to present a case.
We should express our horror at the double slaying at Poyntzpass in Northern Ireland. I know the Leader and others expressed reservations about holding a debate on Northern Ireland, but it is timely to have one so that the House could express its view on the peace process. I have no doubt there are strong views on progress in the process, including condemnation of tragic slayings such as those on Monday. Perhaps, ironically, some good will come out of that double evil in that both traditions are wholly united in condemning those awful murders.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on industrial relations? He indicated he was willing to consider it but it should be brought forward as many industrial relations issues have been raised recently, particularly the Ryanair dispute, which is in its eighth week with no sign of any acceptance of mediation by the company. It is time the House was seen to voice its opinion on Partnership 2000 and express its outrage at a company effectively breaching that agreement. The previous and present Governments signed up to the agreement and a rogue company is breaching it. Departments should not make travel arrangements with Ryanair for the duration of the dispute.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: I concur with Senator Manning in stating that there is no reluctance by anyone in either House to debate the Amsterdam Treaty in public. It is ironic that newspapers, particularly The Irish Times, lecture in the editorial columns on the lack of debate on European issues, but  when politicans debate them or issue press releases, we are fortunate to get a single line in the paper which tells us we will not debate the issue.
We debated the Amsterdam Treaty when we debated foreign affairs recently. I see no reason we should not return to it. It is an important issue. Many of us have been involved with the Irish European Movement and have volunteered our services to them to go to meetings around the country to debate the issues at a local level. I do not see any reluctance on the part of any politician to debate the Amsterdam Treaty.
Mr. Coogan Mr. Coogan
Mr. Coogan: I thank the Leader of the House for the prior notice, given yesterday, of intention to bring various matters before the House. In view of the fact that he has given a commitment to debate local government reform, I ask the Leader to give us some idea when it is intended to debate the matter in view of the fact that some of the changes to local government are occurring now. It would be useless having a debate retrospectively.
Mr. Lanigan Mr. Lanigan
Mr. Lanigan: I would like to support those who mentioned the debate on EMU. As Senator Dardis said, the Council for the European Movement has held seminars at regional level. The newspapers have not been good in reporting what happened at those meetings. The media have not attended 90 per cent of those meetings and as a result the attendance has not been good. If there is to be a debate let it be a rational debate and let the newspapers and media not tell us we are not interested when they are not interested themselves.
I would like to comment on the matter raised by Senator Norris concerning the plight of the people of Iraq. We have to hit back at the media again here. There was a major two page story in The Independent yesterday attributed to Robert Fisk and The Irish Times had a full page report by a stringer foreign correspondent on the situation in Iraq. Channel 4 News had the situation as a breaking story on Tuesday and last night RTÉ picked up the story. During the debate on foreign affairs here on 20 February I raised the matter and gave details of what was happening in Iraq. There was not one single line about that in any of the Irish media. It shows the abysmal coverage afforded us by the editors. The reporters here on a day-to-day basis do their best but the sub-editors in the Irish media have not given this House the consideration it deserves. An international story was broken in this House on 20 February and the media are only taking it up now.
I agree with Senator Norris that we must do whatever we can, in this House or outside it, to try to alleviate the problems associated with the depleted uranium dropped by the allied forces into Iraq . The Americans and the British would  like us to believe that the problems exist because of anthrax or the activities of Saddam Hussein. Let blame go to where it is deserved.
Mr. Caffrey Mr. Caffrey
Mr. Caffrey: I ask the Leader of the House if he would he would consider having a debate on the document on tourism marine policy for Ireland, published by the Marine Institute. The institute was set up in 1991, produced this document in 1996 and it has been gathering dust ever since. It is a comprehensive document and when we consider that most Irish land has a coastal boundary, the critical value of the marine industry and the sea to Ireland cannot be over emphasised. I urge Members to get a copy of the document, it is well worth reading.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: I support the statements made by Senators Norris and Lanigan. I also agree with Senators Lanigan and Manning on the issue of the Amsterdam Treaty. The eccentricities of the media on the debating of major treaties is a matter of concern. The debate we should have had on the Maastricht Treaty about economic and monetary union is being conducted now in the media. It should have been conducted in 1992, but instead was ignored while there was a wild goose chase about the irrelevancy, in terms of the treaty, of abortion. I hope we can have a debate on the Amsterdam Treaty, I am happy to debate it anywhere with anyone and I am sure there are many others in this House who feel the same. I agree with Senator Lanigan that unless we mention abortion in the Amsterdam Treaty it will not be reported because everybody has decided it is uninteresting.
The point raised by Senator Caffrey is very important and I appeal to the Leader to find time for a debate on it. Since we joined the EU between £15 billion and £20 billion worth of fish in our area of economic interest has been caught by trawlers not registered in this State. It is part of an EU sum which we do not add up and I would like us to add up the real sums on the issue.
I was at a celebration yesterday to celebrate 25 years of the Irish Women's Movement and the National Women's Council. The question of family friendly politics was raised. In terms of how we do our business here, arranging times when the Houses begin and end which are family friendly, the Oireachtas is living in the middle of the 19th century. The idea that the business of the Oireachtas could be organised so that people could have reasonably orderly family lives seems to be regarded as beneath the dignity and macho image of politics. We should have family friendly politics and family friendly times of sitting in these Houses which would enable Members of these Houses to have reasonably orderly family lives.
Mrs. Ridge Mrs. Ridge
Mrs. Ridge: I would like to draw the attention of the House to remarks made by a prominent judge on safe havens for children who are out of  control. In view of the inadequate response I got from the Minister about the burgeoning problem of children who are not being cared for properly, could the Minister for Health and Children come before the House to tell us what is going to happen to these children? They are not living at home and are in terrible danger, some of them under 12 years of age. I am most concerned about this and I would appreciate a realistic approach rather than throwing the problem back to the Garda.
Ms O'Meara Ms O'Meara
Ms O'Meara: In relation to Senator Manning's proposal about debates in this House and the wider question of the relevance of this House and how the media reports it, his suggestion is valuable. I suggest on behalf of our party that in a debate on a subject such as the Amsterdam Treaty the invitation should extend to Commissioner Flynn and to members of the European Parliament. Concerns are expressed regularly in this House about to how the media reports us. We should ask ourselves how relevant our debates are or how the media, as representing the public, see the relevance of this debate.
I wish to state my concern at the lateness of the arrival of the Government amendments on the Employment Equality Bill. They arrived in the Seanad office yesterday evening, which is highly unsatisfactory. We welcome the initiation of Bills in this House and I have put a great deal of work into this legislation. We treat this House with the respect it deserves in debating legislation, tabling amendments and having a good discussion. It is almost impossible to give a Bill due respect and debate when one receives amendments a few hours before consideration of the Bill. Is one supposed to stay up all night comparing amendments? I was forced to table more amendments than I intended on Report Stage because I did not know the intentions of the Minister and the Government. If I had received the amendments on Tuesday evening it would have been different. I ask the Leader to discuss this with the Minister. It is not an effective way to deal with a Bill of this size and importance.
Mrs. A. Doyle Mrs. A. Doyle
Mrs. A. Doyle: I raised a number of topics in the past few weeks which we might discuss every Thursday and which might attract more interest as well as having intrinsic merit. Several Members raised the media reporting of this House. Perhaps we should look at the way discussions are structured. In order to be relevant and capture attention, our contributions must be different from the Lower House. On Thursday, we should get away from sterile statements where a case is made by us and a reply is made by the Minister — the “rent-a-Minister” syndrome where someone is given a script to read to keep us happy. If there is dialogue with a Minister or an expert on whatever area, we can tell the press we need to be heard by the public.
 We risk repeating what is said in the Lower House the previous week, especially as regards legislation, which is no longer news by the time we deal with it. I ask the Leader and those who make decisions behind closed doors to look at the type of discussion we have in this House so there is dialogue between different interests rather than fixed positions where nothing is moved forward. This is an important Chamber and I have been here long enough — perhaps not by choice most of the time — to know we can make an important contribution. We must tackle the fact that no one outside knows about it.
We must get the best from the wonderful talent on both sides of the House. We will do an enormous service to the country if we have properly structured dialogue on biogenetics and genetic engineering. The Minister can obtain advice from experts, present a case and we can all express our different views.
We should also do justice to the bicentenary of 1798. There will be different views on all sides but we must mark the bicentenary of that most important watershed in Irish life. I raised the 2K bug several times. It is important we find out if the public service computer system is prepared for it.
There should be a discussion on the Freedom of Information Act so we know how prepared the Departments and the public service are for when it will be enacted on 1 April. We will do ourselves and the public an enormous service if we examine the Act and receive an up-to-date report from the relevant Minister.
I support Senator Caffrey's call for a discussion on the fishing industry. We sold out our fishermen for our farmers in 1973. Now with the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the reform of the reform, all sides are losing out.
Will the Leader indicate the progress of the ad hoc committee on the management initiative in the public service? I am a member although I do not know who else is, but I am sure Members are interested. When is that committee meeting and can we get it up and running quickly?
Mr. Chambers Mr. Chambers
Mr. Chambers: I wish to refer to the press and the lack of coverage of the business of this House.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: It is not in order to debate that matter on the Order of Business. The matter was raised and points were well made by Senators. I do not want to prolong the discussion on it.
Mr. Chambers Mr. Chambers
Mr. Chambers: Most of the Order of Business is directed by what is featured in the daily newspapers. Therefore, the press dictates the business of the House in some way.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: The Chair has endeavoured to get away from that and to ensure that matters raised on the Order of Business are relevant to the business of the House.
Mr. Chambers Mr. Chambers
 Mr. Chambers: I am not talking about what is in the newspapers this morning. I am alluding to the business of the House. This House should be more meaningful if it is to be reported. I agree that the business done here should be more effective as regards national policy, the responsibilities of Ministers and how this affects the State.
I support Senator Caffrey's call for a debate on the Marine Institute, which is important for those living on the western seaboard and around the country. This House could give direct attention to the matter and make a substantial contribution. The Minister should come to the House to outline his strategy for future development.
Mr. O'Toole Mr. O'Toole
Mr. O'Toole: Some months ago I raised the need for a debate on the mutuality of building societies. People are concerned about the increase in house prices. Everyone may cheer today's decision by First National but it will put up the price of houses. It is now a public company, which does not give away money. This will be reflected in the price of houses. The Minister should come to the House and outline the Government's policy on mutuality. If all building societies depart from mutuality and become profit making groups, we will all pay the price. The debate is important and relevant to the future cost of housing for young people.
I support Senator Caffrey's call for a debate on marine policy which also deals with parts of the inland waterways. Fianna Fáil, while in Opposition, proposed a body to take responsibility for the Shannon. Something similar should be done for the Barrow. There are many developments on inland waterways and they and the marine could be debated together. There is huge potential there for industry and tourism.
I support Senator Costello in reminding the Leader of his commitment to a debate on industrial relations.
Mr. O'Donovan Mr. O'Donovan
Mr. O'Donovan: I support my colleagues' request for a debate on the fishing industry, which the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources should attend as soon as possible. This is the third time I have raised this matter since September but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. There is a saying where I come from that there are very few votes in fishing, but the way the Irish fishing industry is going there will be very few boats either.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: Senators Manning, Norris, Costello, Lanigan, Brendan Ryan and O'Meara spoke about the Amsterdam Treaty. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges is due to meet tomorrow so perhaps the issue could be addressed then.
Senators O'Toole and Chambers, among others, expressed their views on press coverage of this House and I agree with them. Editors make statements in newspaper editorials about this House, yet when debates occur they are not  covered. That is hard to take. It is the editors' prerogative to cover what they wish but they should realise that the standard of debate in this House is very high. The House has some very eminent Members representing local authorities and other areas of Irish life. Senators have a great deal of experience in local affairs at all levels and it is fair to say that the House is not receiving its fair share of coverage. Perhaps the Committee on Procedure and Privileges could discuss this issue and perhaps we could meet with newspaper editors to see how we might be able to ensure better coverage in the future.
Senators Costello and O'Toole called for a debate on industrial relations. I promised to hold such a debate at the earliest possible opportunity but there is a great deal of legislation coming before the House at the moment and it must take precedence over other matters. The debate will be the first to take place outside of legislation as soon as I can arrange it.
Senator Coogan called for a debate on local government and I will facilitate this at the earliest possible opportunity. Perhaps I will discuss the issue with group leaders to ascertain whether it might be possible to hold such a debate during Private Members' time as it may be difficult to take it at any other time due to the amount of legislation coming before the House.
Senators Caffrey, Brendan Ryan, Avril Doyle, O'Donovan and O'Toole called for a debate on the fishing industry. The Government Chief Whip is particularly anxious that such a debate take place and I would be pleased to facilitate Members in this regard. I remind Senators that we did discuss a publication on marine policy in a previous Seanad term as some of them may not be aware of that. The debate will take place within four to six weeks.
Senator Brendan Ryan expressed his concern about sitting day times and was anxious that these would facilitate Members and their families. I will discuss this issue with the leaders and perhaps the addition of extra sitting days might answer his request.
Senator Ridge raised an issue of great concern. The number of young people sleeping rough on the streets in terrible weather conditions is very alarming. I will discuss this with the Minister for Health and Children to see how we might facilitate the numerous requests Members have made on this issue. I will report back to Senator Ridge.
Senator Doyle had a very large shopping basket. I congratulate her on her appointment as Vice-Chairman of the Management Committee on the Public Service and I know she will be a worthy holder of that position.
Mr. Manning Mr. Manning
Mr. Manning: Flattery will get the Senator everywhere.
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: We look forward to many enlightening contributions from her. I have  already given a commitment to the House to hold a debate to commemorate 1798. I have also given a commitment to have a debate on genetic engineering.
Senator Doyle referred to the fact that statements were taken in the House on Thursdays. Senators will be aware that this House initiated six Bills in the last session and there are another four to six due to be initiated in this session. I do not think Senator Doyles comments were fair. It is the procedure of the House from time to time to take statements on Thursdays on matters of extreme importance which are requested by Senators. Generally speaking, the amount of legislation being initiated in the House is greater than that initiated in many previous Seanads, certainly in the 16 years during which I have been a Member of the House.
Senator O'Toole requested a debate on building societies. This is a very timely request and I will be pleased to accede to it.
Order of Business agreed to.
Seanad Éireann 154 Order of Business.