Seanad Éireann - Volume 157 - 24 November, 1998

Order of Business.

Mr. Cassidy: The Order of Business is item 2, Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997, Committee Stage to be taken today.

Mr. Manning: I assume from what the Leader said that, as this is a substantial Bill, it will be dealt with in a steady and ordered way and that there is no intention of concluding it today given that there are so many amendments. Perhaps the Whips could agree that it will be debated until 7 p.m. and resume tomorrow. Since this is the first serious legislation the House has debated this session and some Members have a deep interest in it, it should not be rushed. Will the Leader give an assurance that there is no intention of concluding the Bill today and that it will be dealt with in a flexible and orderly way?

[330] Will the Leader indicate what legislation he intends to take in the remaining three to four weeks of this session? Will he confirm the Mental Health Bill will be published this session?

Mr. O'Toole: I remind the Leader there are 96 amendments tabled to the legislation and that it will not be possible to deal with them today unless it is intended to sit through the night, in which case he should indicate that is his intention. Even on that basis, they would not be concluded. It is not a good way to conduct business. The Leader said Committee Stage would be taken today and, as Senator Manning said, that does not indicate if his view is that it should conclude today. As the legislation has been in existence for more than two years, this is no time to rush it. It would be wrong if people did not have their say. At same time, for business to be conducted with a certain amount of dispatch, people should be able to plan their way around the debate on the legislation. I would agree to some arrangement as outlined by Senator Manning where it would be discussed until 7 o'clock or 8 o'clock tonight and resumed tomorrow. If it were concluded tomorrow, Report Stage could be taken next week. As it is, the Minister has tabled a number of amendments to the legislation which means it must return to Dáil. There is no immediate rush and it is hugely important people have an opportunity to air their views. Perhaps the Leader would give a clear outline of today's business so that we can co-operate to deal with business efficiently.

I again ask for a debate on literacy or education. I will insist on this next week if I do not receive a date or time from the Minister. Another report from the OECD today indicates the need for greater investment in resources for primary education. Will the Minister and the Leader keep it in mind as an issue which needs to be discussed?

Mr. Costello: I agree with what Senators Manning and O'Toole said about the Order of Business. If the Leader persists in taking Committee Stage today and Report Stage tomorrow, as has been indicated, we will certainly oppose the Order of Business. The Bill should be presented in an orderly fashion. There are 96 amendments, many of which are substantial, that have been tabled by the Minister. In its previous form, the Bill spent approximately a year in the Dáil and now, as the Education (No. 2) Bill, it has again spent most of a year in the Dáil. Two years or thereabouts have been devoted to this Bill, which is the most important legislation to come before this House or the Dáil since the Government took office. It is not proper for us to take Committee Stage today and Report Stage tomorrow. A breathing space is required so that we will have an opportunity to reflect upon it and ensure that a full contribution is made by this House in dealing with this important legislation.

Senator O'Toole called for a debate on literacy and adult education. The Minister of State at the

[331] Department of Education and Science today published a Green Paper on adult education and this House would be the appropriate forum in which to introduce the debate on it. The Leader should arrange for a debate on the Green Paper on adult education at the earliest opportunity, perhaps next week.

Will the Leader find out if any legislation is planned to deal with the demolition of our architectural and literary heritage, given what happened over the last couple of days to one of James Joyce's homes in Millbourne Avenue, Drumcondra? The planning regulations were broken and a house that had enormous cultural, literary and architectural value was demolished without any planning permission; indeed, it was contrary to and in breach of planning permission. Such architectural and cultural vandals should be prosecuted and should receive the full rigours of the law. Seeing that the house was in the Taoiseach's constituency, I would like to know if there are any plans to provide legislation that would protect our architectural heritage.

Mr. Norris: I agree with Senator Costello with regard to the house associated with James Joyce. Because of their unfortunate circumstances, the Joyce family lived at about 17 different locations throughout the city of Dublin. Not all of them were of great architectural distinction, and that could also be said of No. 2 Millbourne Avenue. It was not of great architectural significance but it was very significant in terms of a passage in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It simply beggars belief that the developer did not know this. It is a classic case of a northside planning permission being activated. Legislation exists for taking this kind of house into public ownership but, unfortunately, on this occasion the corporation was too slow. That should be recorded in the Seanad as a matter of regret.

I move amendment No. 1 to the Order of Business: “That item 29, motion 17, be taken today”. This motion deals with East Timor. The item is extraordinarily prophetic because 60 people were murdered recently by Indonesian troops. Once more there has been a massive infusion of Indonesian troops into that tragic island and we are poised for an even greater tragedy. Students have invaded the parliament building in Dili and are holding a protest there. This is an opportunity for us to do something, with your indulgence, a Chathaoirligh. We often hear it said on the Order of Business that we want to make this House more relevant, both nationally and internationally. Will the Leader facilitate us with even half an hour, giving people four or five minutes each to pass this motion? I think everyone in the House would agree with that in the present tragic circumstances.

A large number of amendments have been put down on the Education Bill. Debate on them might not conclude today so there should be room for flexibility. The Minister for Education [332] and Science would probably welcome a coffee break or sos. I appeal to the Leader to provide half an hour for the House to pass this motion. There would then be an instrument which the House could transmit to Jakarta indicating its concern.

The issue of overseas development aid will probably be raised again by my colleagues on this side of the House. I have just left a conference in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs, on Irish aid and non-governmental organisations. It is a superbly organised conference. Perhaps the Leader will convey to the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, my congratulations on it.

I asked who financed it and whether anybody from the Department of Finance was present to see what good value the Department is getting. Not one person from that Department was present despite an invitation having been sent. This is the Department which is sitting in judgment on spending money on overseas development aid. If it wishes to do that, it should send a representative to see the excellence of the product the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his Minister of State are providing.

Mr. J. Cregan: I heard an alarming statistic on the radio this morning. Approximately 55,000 people under the age of 25 years have failed to register to vote. This is disturbing given that tomorrow is the closing date for registration. Will the Leader allocate time for a debate on this matter? It is extremely relevant and important.

We should adopt a co-ordinated approach to this issue and initiate a promotional drive to make people aware of their responsibilities. While it is their responsibility to register, there is also a responsibility on politicians to do something about this alarming statistic and to improve voter registration.

Mr. McDonagh: The Green Paper on adult education has already been mentioned while Senator O'Toole and others have called for a debate on literacy. Today, statistics were issued on the number of people leaving education after primary school. That number is substantial and many of the early school leavers are subsumed into Youthreach programmes.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Science to bring to a satisfactory conclusion the long dispute on conditions and pay for directors, resource personnel and other staff involved in the Youthreach programme? I brought this to the Minister's attention during the debate on the Education Bill. The people running these programmes are doing wonderful work and it is a pity that the dispute should be allowed to drag on for so long. Perhaps representations by the Leader might encourage the Minister to bring the matter to a successful conclusion.

[333] Mr. Dardis: I join Senator Norris in requesting that time be made available to discuss East Timor. There is considerable urgency about it. We must view with extreme concern the television pictures depicting what is happening in Indonesia, particularly the fact that a religious war appears to be developing. It is desirable that this would be an all party motion

Mr. Norris: Absolutely.

Mr. Dardis: That is the course we adopted on the Lisbon declaration following the conference on East Timor. An all party resolution from the Seanad would also be desirable in this case. I ask the Leader to deal with this as early as possible, if not today at least on Thursday when the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs will be in the House to discuss overseas development aid. She could also attend the debate on East Timor.

Mr. Norris: Having it today might save lives. I am happy to agree to it being a Government motion.

Mr. Dardis: I will leave the decision to the Leader.

Mr. Ryan: I wish to raise a matter which should be of concern to everybody and which the Leader should raise with the Minister for Public Enterprise and possibly debate in the Seanad: it is the alarming fact that the ESB is in serious jeopardy of having to reduce power supply to its customers because it is not permitted to build another power station due to ideological rigidity on the part of the Government and the EU. The latter claims the ESB cannot build another power station until full competition comes into operation. However, by the time the ideological niceties are met, it will be too late to build it because of the amount of planning time required. There is a danger of an electrical supply crisis within the next two years, which makes this an extremely urgent matter.

I wish to comment on the appalling decision taken by the Department of the Environment and Local Government to make life difficult for asylum seekers who wish to apply for driving licences. This is one of a succession of ideas — which also includes keeping them in detention, depriving them of social welfare payments, etc. — put forward to deal with asylum seekers. Why not simply do it properly and ask these people to wear yellow stars, given that week after week they are obliged to endure new forms of abuse? The Government should oblige them to wear such stars and we will then know the nature of its thinking in respect of them. We are being embarrassed by the leaks, hints and undercover suggestions asylum seekers are somehow unworthy. These people are frightened and they deserve to [334] be supported, not subjected to this malicious campaign of denigration.

Mr. Norris: Hear, hear.

An Cathaoirleach: I have given Senator Ryan a great deal of latitude on the Order of Business, to which this matter is not really relevant.

Mr. Ryan: I second Senator Norris's amendment to the Order of Business I also wish to amend the Order of Business. My amendment reads: “That item 17, motion 30, to be taken at the commencement of business today.” This motion is in the names of all Members on this side of the House and deals with overseas development aid. A debate without a motion in which the Members opposite are not obliged to defend the indefensible is not a debate, it is a token gesture. Such a debate would be of no benefit. Church leaders, ordinary citizens and delegates at the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis have commented on the scandal of freezing overseas development aid. Everyone is prepared to criticise the Government in this regard while the Members opposite support its action. The House should be given an opportunity to oblige them to defend what has been forced on them by the Minister for Finance.

Mr. Coghlan: What steps are being taken to ensure that traditional fishing rights cannot be interfered with? It has been brought to my attention that a consortium is claiming rights to, if not ownership of, the internationally famous stretch of river known as “the Caragh”, where people have fished the tidal stretch since time immemorial. Will the Leader indicate the steps, if any, the Government is taking to ensure that the traditional fishing rights obtaining on the river will be maintained?

Mr. Connor: The first matter to which I wish to refer is this morning's rail chaos which prevented between 60,000 and 70,000 travelling to work in the normal way. I deplore the unofficial action which brought about this problem which, it is threatened, will continue. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Public Enterprise to come before the House to outline the contingency plans she has put in place to deal with further occurrences of this type in the near future?

I agree with Senator Norris' comments in respect of East Timor. In the past 48 hours at least 60 people have been killed by the Indonesian Army in the city of Dili. We had hoped, because of changes in the ruling regime in Jakarta, that the situation might improve. There were many indications that there had been a change of attitude in Indonesia towards East Timor. I suggest that 60 minutes be made available this evening to allow those Members interested in this issue to make statements on it. Following that, a resolution should be adopted [335] which can be sent to the Indonesian Embassy in London.

Is it intended to introduce the wildlife Bill — it would be ideal if it were initiated in this House — during the current session? This is important legislation because the Minister cannot fully implement all sections of the controversial Habitats Directives without it.

Mr. Lydon: I support Senator Norris. I was present at that conference with Senators Dardis and Henry and the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, when the Lisbon Declaration was produced. This is an important issue. I know the Leader is pressed for time. However, we do not need a long winded debate; we are all in agreement. As Senator Connor said, a statement from the House might help save lives.

Dr. Henry: I second Senator Ryan's amendment. The international group reviewing the Dublin Institute of Technology with a view to awarding it university status reported yesterday. The report suggested that with certain modifications the institute should receive university status. Can we have a debate on this report? There needs to be a sense of urgency about the conditions which the group says need to be implemented, starting with finance. If the recommendations are not implemented rapidly those students who entered the institute this year will not receive university degrees — they will fall between Dublin University and the new university to be established. I would be grateful if the Leader asked the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House to debate the report.

Mr. Gallagher: In view of the importance of the Education Bill and the views expressed, I appeal to the Leader to allow Committee Stage to be taken over two days. I do not think anyone on this side of the House is trying to be obstructive. We are trying to give Members who put down amendments, including the Minister, due time to make their points and have them considered. It was to the credit of the Government that, despite temptations to do otherwise, all Stages were allowed run their natural course in the other House. That should be allowed here.

I agree with the motion to debate East Timor. I compliment Conor O'Clery for the first hand information he is relaying from Dili which is informing our debate directly. I agree with Senator Dardis that we should table an all-party motion. If that is the case as regards East Timor I hope it is the case as regards overseas development aid. We should be speaking to a motion urging the Government to rectify the situation outlined in the Book of Estimates and not just having statements on Thursday as originally proposed.

Mr. Cassidy: In response to the many Senators who called for statements on East Timor, I propose [336] to allocate one hour tonight from 6.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. with seven minute contributions.

As regards Senator Manning's question, we can review progress on the Education Bill at around 8 p.m. I do not intend that any part of this legislation will be rushed through the House. Senators will be given as much time as necessary to make their contributions. I have before me the various Second Stage contributions made last week. Many amendments have been put down but 23 are grouped with other amendments, 11 of which are related to one amendment.

Senator Manning asked about the Government's proposed legislation between now and the Christmas recess. I will inform the House of that tomorrow morning. Senators Manning and O'Toole asked about the Mental Health Bill; I will give them the information tomorrow morning. Senators O'Toole, Costello and McDonagh asked for a debate on adult literacy and education a number of times. The Minister for Education and Science will be in the House this afternoon, I will see if time can be made available for a debate on this matter in the near future in light of the OECD report published today.

Senator John Cregan informed the House that 55,000 voters have not yet registered. This is a serious matter. The Government might consider extending the period, if the article is correct. The figure is alarming. I will inform the Minister for the Environment and Local Government immediately following the Order of Business.

Senator Ryan called for a debate on the ESB and the imminent power shortages envisaged in the next two years. I will make time available for a discussion on this matter at the earliest opportunity. Senator Ryan asked for a debate on overseas development. I have set aside time on Thursday afternoon for a discussion on this matter. The time will be agreed on the Order of Business on Thursday morning. I will be flexible and try to allow Senators as much time as possible to make their contributions.

Senator Coghlan expressed a view on traditional fishing rights which I will pass on to the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources.

Senator Connor called for a debate on the one day strike which occurred today. The Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, will be in the House tomorrow evening when the Senator can air his concerns. We all share these concerns and the Minister is doing everything she can to solve the problem.

I hope to be in a position tomorrow morning to inform Senator Connor and other Senators when the wildlife Bill will be taken and to inform Senator Henry regarding the matter she raised.

An Cathaoirleach: There are two amendments to the Order of Business. I will deal with them in the sequence in which they were moved. Is amendment No. 1 in the name of Senator Norris being pressed?

[337] Mr. Norris: May I seek clarification from the Leader? Can I take it there will be a motion from the Government containing one or two ingredients?

Mr. Cassidy: I propose that the Leaders meet immediately following the Order of Business and an all party motion be put to the House.

Mr. Norris: I am extremely grateful to the Leader. I withdraw my amendment.

[338] Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Cathaoirleach: Is amendment No. 2 in the name of Senator Ryan being pressed?

Mr. Ryan: Yes. I move amendment No. 2:

“That item 17, motion 30, be taken at the commencement of business today”.

Amendment put.

The Seanad divided: Tá, 12; Níl, 22.

Coghlan, Paul.

Connor, John.

Cosgrave, Liam T.

Costello, Joe.

Cregan, Denis (Dino).

Gallagher, Pat.

Henry, Mary.

Manning, Maurice.

McDonagh, Jarlath.

Norris, David.

O'Toole, Joe.

Ryan, Brendan.

Níl

Bohan, Eddie.

Cassidy, Donie.

Chambers, Frank.

Cregan, John.

Dardis, John.

Farrell, Willie.

Finneran, Michael.

Fitzgerald, Liam.

Fitzgerald, Tom.

Fitzpatrick, Dermot.

Gibbons, Jim.

Kett, Tony.

Kiely, Daniel.

Kiely, Rory.

Lanigan, Mick.

Leonard, Ann.

Lydon, Don.

Mooney, Paschal.

Moylan, Pat.

O'Donovan, Denis.

Ó Murchú, Labhrás.

Ormonde, Ann.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Ryan and Henry; Níl, Senators T. Fitgerald and Gibbons.

Amendment declared lost.

Question, “That the Order of Business be agreed to”, put and declared carried.