Seanad Éireann - Volume 157 - 12 November, 1998

Order of Business.

Mr. Cassidy: Today's Order of Business is items 1, 2, 3 and 4. Item 1 is to be taken without debate. Item 2 is Committee Stage. On item 3, the statements are to be taken from 12.30 p.m. to 1.30 p.m. and the contributions are not to exceed ten minutes. Business is to be interrupted from 1.30 p.m. to 2 p.m. Item 4 is to be taken from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Spokespersons' contributions are not to exceed ten minutes and all other contributions are not to exceed seven minutes. If the previous item is not concluded, it will resume after that.

Mr. Manning: The Order of Business is agreed. I thank the Leader of the House for agreeing so readily to put item 3 on the Order Paper today. I am grateful for that.

Will he confirm that item 2 is Committee Stage only?

Miss Quill: Yes.

Mr. Manning: We are anxious that Report Stage be taken at a later stage. I do not think I am out of order in saying that one of the most long-standing members of staff, Mr. Paddy Dowdall, retires after 31 years' service. On behalf of all of us, this is an opportunity to say how much [70] we appreciate the work of the ushers and to wish Mr. Dowdall a long and happy retirement.

Mr. Ryan: Obviously, we all wish to be associated with Senator Manning's remarks.

Will the Leader, as a matter of extreme urgency, ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs, not the Minister of State, to come into this House to explain the extraordinary attitude the Government is taking towards overseas development aid? It is a defining moment in the history of the Government that it has decided to abandon the poor of the world, to reduce disaster emergency aid by £1 million and to effectively reduce overseas development aid in real terms in the Estimates. I do not care what face-saving happens in the budget. The Estimates have revealed how the Government thinks. This was never announced in advance or put in an election manifesto. The Government has ducked its responsibilities to the poor. It is prepared to be bullied by the Department of Finance. The Houses of the Oireachtas are entitled, not to an innocuous debate stuck in at 2 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, but to a serious debate on a motion with the Minister for Finance either here or in the Dáil or in both Houses. This is perhaps the most disgraceful revelation of mean-minded Government philosophy I have seen in my many years in this House, and I mean that quite sincerely. I have rarely witnessed such an appalling decision by a Government.

Mr. Gallagher: I want to be associated with the remarks expressed by Senator Manning on Mr. Dowdall's retirement. Is it intended to conclude Committee Stage of item 2 today?

Yesterday I asked for a debate on the health services both in the context of waiting lists for hospital admissions and for services for people with intellectual and physical disabilities and the exacerbation of those situations due to current budgetary difficulties in many of the health boards. Perhaps the Leader could suggest an early date for that debate.

I strongly support the call by Senator Ryan for a proper debate, not just a series of statements, on the overseas development aid budget. After a number of years of progress since 1992, it is scandalous that at a time of budgetary plenty we are choosing to cut our emergency humanitarian aid for disasters such as that in Central America and our bilateral aid programme for the poorest countries in Africa. No member of the public would stand over that. This must be redressed immediately. Having had such an interest over many years in this subject and having supported the increases by the last two Governments in this area, the House will have a lot to say on the issue.

Mr. McGowan: I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on funding for the National Roads Authority. It appears it is concerned only about [71] bypassing towns. I strongly protest that elected members of local authorities do not have an input into designating or designing routes. This is done by officials in the Department of the Environment and Local Government and executive engineers and local authority members are told about it only when it is a fait accompli. It is undemocratic and this House should have an opportunity to discuss it. It costs £30 million to build a bypass, which sometimes wipes out business in a small town. Local authority members have expertise in this area and they should be allowed to have an input.

Mr. Ross: I support what Senator Ryan said about overseas development aid. I am a little surprised we have not had any support from the other side of the House, but I am sure it will come in the next few minutes.

A debate on this issue is essential. I do not want to get involved in details but I will give the House two statistics which will put this matter in proportion. We have given £400,000 in emergency aid to Central America. That is the amount of money the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Finance spend on telephone calls and postage each year. It is paltry and pathetic. I support keeping public expenditure down. We are allocating £300 million for public service pay increases next year, yet we are spending only £400,000 on saving lives in Nicaragua. There is something wrong with a nation as prosperous as ours when that is the way we view things.

Mr. Bonner: I ask the Leader for a debate on the effects of EMU which will come into force in six weeks' time. On the last occasion we debated it we were told the banks would carry the loss of the profitable currency exchange business. However, there have been two cuts in interest rates in recent weeks which have not been passed on to the consumer. Today, the largest bank in the State announced a record half year increase in its profits. We should also have a debate on the high level of interest charged on credit cards, particularly when the wholesale money rate has dropped substantially over the past four or five years, as this is important for the consumer.

I support Senator McGowan's comments about the National Roads Authority. The Government should increase the overseas aid referred to by Senators Ryan and Ross, particularly as we are great beneficiaries of other types of funding, such as IFI.

Mr. T. Hayes: I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Science to come into the House to explain the situation in relation to remedial teachers. There is an increasing need for remedial and special needs teachers. Many teachers and parents are concerned that they have not been provided in recent years. Commitments [72] have been given but not honoured. It is important that the Minister comes into the House to discuss it.

Mr. Lydon: I ask the Leader for a debate on enlargement of the European Union. Negotiations on this began the day before yesterday. We must discuss the implications of enlargement for Ireland, particularly in terms of Poland whose entry will affect CAP which will have profound implications for farmers. This is a pressing matter which should be discussed, especially when the Polish Prime Minister is visiting this country.

Mr. Cassidy: We will take only Committee Stage of item 2 today. Senators Manning, Ross, Bonner, Ryan and Gallagher expressed their concerns about our overseas development aid. I have confidence in the Government's ability to address this in the budget. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Members.

Senator Gallagher asked for a debate on health issues. As I said yesterday morning, I will allocate time for such a debate in this session.

Senators McGowan and Bonner called for a debate on the National Roads Authority. We had a debate last night on this issue. Senator McGowan, one of the longest serving Members of this House, said that local authority members should have more direct input into how the budget of the National Roads Authority is spent. I will pass on his comments to the Minister.

Senator Bonner asked for a debate on EMU, the currency exchange business and the high level of interest charged on credit cards. I will make time available for such a debate during this session.

I thought Senator Tom Hayes was going to make a point about agriculture. I know he must be pleased with the Estimates published yesterday because he did not refer to it this morning and he has a keen interest in this area.

Mr. Manning: Do not tempt him.

An Cathaoirleach: The Leader, without interruption.

Mr. Manning: The Leader is inviting interruptions.

Mr. Cassidy: It is a good sign that he has accepted the Estimates. I will pass on his comments on remedial teachers to the Minister and we will have a debate on that matter at the earliest possible opportunity. Senator Lydon requested a debate on the enlargement of the European Union. I assure the House it will be held during this session.

Order of Business agreed to.